Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens, then home

Trip Start May 19, 2012
Trip End May 24, 2012

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Flag of Japan  , Kanto,
Thursday, May 24, 2012

Overcast and humid today. We started in the morning with a walk to the fish market again, this time in search of bowls for Kyla. We did find three she liked, at two different shops. Returning to the hotel, we checked email, then checked out.

The morning was spent at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens. The park, we learned, was originally the gardens of the house of a daimo. A few azaleas were in bloom, and the roses were gorgeous. Mostly, it's an oasis of shade in a city that seems to lack much local green space. (Later, taking the train to Narita, we commented how few small gardens – the ones every few blocks you see in New York or London that just provide a respite from the crowds and concrete – we saw in Tokyo.) The ponds in the park are lovely, and we particularly enjoyed the small building donated from the Japanese living in Taiwan. We also really enjoyed hearing bird sounds – other than the nasty "Haw! Haw!" of the giant black birds that seem to be everywhere in the city.

Eventually, it was time to head for the airport. We returned to the hotel, got our luggage out of storage, were escorted to the metro level by the bellman, then got on the train. Our journey was one stop, change, then one stop … easy, especially as it was not rush hour. Arriving the train station, we found the JR ticket office without too much difficulty. The express for Narita left in 7 minutes, but they said we would be too rushed to catch the 14.03, so they scheduled us on the 14.32. It actually worked okay because that gave us 30 minutes to go find some food. The Tokyo Station is massive, and it was difficult to find a place that sold takeaway food AND took Visa (since we had used up all of our yen). We were successful, and still made it to the platform in time for the train.

Although the train departed right on time from Tokyo Station, we almost immediately had a long, unscheduled stop on a siding. Combined with some periods of very slow motion, we were almost 10 minutes late arriving Narita. The train provides a bit better sight-seeing than the bus. Most of the trip is above ground, and the view is not usually blocked by walls. The trip takes you through miles and miles of blocks of flats, most no more than 10 stories high. Again, we were impressed with how little green was visible … although many people had tried to add plants on their balconies, and most of the streets had a few trees along the edge. But the trees were not large or shady, and the plants shared the balcony space with laundry. On a positive note, traffic was almost non-existent everywhere we looked. Amazing that a city this huge, this densely-populated can have such little traffic.

Arriving Narita, we checked in at the first class counter, then were ushered through the elite security entrance, which had no line at all but five people willing to help us. We then passed through immigration and headed for the United Club. The showers in the first class lounge were all occupied, but eventually they realized they had space in the regular lounge, so Paul and I were able to shower. The kids, unfortunately, didn’t make it.

Flight left on time. I had a brief conversation with the woman sitting across the aisle from me … she pointed out how many women were sitting in first class (she was right: two men, six women). She owns a wine export business … exporting to Japan. I asked how long Japan has been a wine culture … she said really only in the last 10 years. They have a wine region, but the vast majority still wine imported wine. In face, she said that one of her customers said, “If it has an alphabet, that’s all that matters … it doesn’t matter if it comes from Chile, Argentina, Portugal, or the US.”

Slept most of the way home … not sure the first class pods are superior to the new lay-flat business class, but it all sure beats economy when one needs to sleep. No issues with immigration or customs; got our car and drove home. Paul started a phone call minutes before we arrived at the house; I left almost immediately for work. Gruden greeted us with whimpering.
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