Sunday, November 4, 2018

To Tokyo! (plus a LONG daytrip to Sendai and Matsushima)

Ok, Monday AM, we depart Ise.  We walk the couple of blocks from our hotel, the Pāru Pia, and grab the train from Iseshi Station to Nagoya.  We could have paid some bucks and taken the Kintetsu Luxury train, but our JR pass works for this leg, so we get the Mie train for "free."  I'm not sure why, but the train was delayed for at least 30 minutes and we almost missed our Shinkansen connection to Tokyo.  Also, I don't know why, but I got really anxious about this...  If we missed the connection, just go to the Midori no Madoguchi at Nagoya station, use our passes and get new green car tickets for the next train.  If it were a crowded time, like Golden Week, Obon, or New Years, we'd be very stressed, but the green cars are seldom full at other times of the year.  Anyway, we maneuver through Nagoya station to the Shinkansen tracks and board our train.  We made it with just a couple of minutes to spare.

By the way, the Mie train was two cars long, and it is really just a commuter train.  An hour and forty minute ride.  We had "reserved" seats, but only 1/2 of one car was reserved.  We had a bunch of empty seats in that area, and the rest of the car was packed at various points between stops.  Plus there was an awkward point, because the seats were set up facing each other, and for a few minutes, a lady with reserved seats had to squeeze into a facing seat (our luggage was in the way). She was very polite and said, repeatedly, it was fine.  

So, we get to Tokyo Station about noon, and we have some time to kill before checking into our Airbnb apartment in Shibuya.  I worry about our Yamanote ride from Tokyo Station to Shibuya with our luggage, but then I get the great idea to get reserved seats on the Narita Express, which travels from Tokyo to Shibuya.  

Anyway, we have several hours, so Connie and I walk to Shichisai, about seven blocks from Tokyo.  Em and Sam go to T's Tantan for lunch. I love Shichisai!  I am much more into Assari broths nowadays, unless it is a really good quality Tonkotsu.  Shichisai moved from Ramen Street in Tokyo Station several years past, and the lines are really non existent.  They have (relatively) English friendly ordering.

Here you can see them making the noodles from scratch.

Oh, very nice.

More about our Airbnb in a later episode.

The following AM, Tuesday, we go to Sendai, Shiogama, and Matsushima.  Matsushima is a beautiful town on the Tohoku coast, with many small islets in the protected bay with Pine trees growing.  It is, along with Amanohashidate and Itsukushima in Miyajima, considered one of the three most beautiful sights in Japan.  Now Connie, Sam, and Em can say they've seen it all. 

We're slow in getting out of the apartment, and we nearly miss our Shinkansen to Sendai.  I had reserved seats on the JR East website a month prior, and there was a snafu on picking up the tickets the day before...  Typical Japanese efficiency fail...  So, we had to get an earlier train to Sendai, and a later train coming back later that day.

This is not generally recommended as a day trip, but the Yamashita's don't do things the conventional way.  Besides, it's "free," and we usually don't mind train travel.

We get on the wrong car, to boot.  We were on the ultra luxury car (Gran Class, above Green Car), and when I realize this, we rush out the car to the other car...  Phew.  

Anyway, our Green car seats were nice.  Here's a pic of the fancy bathroom.

It goes pretty fast too.  Speedometer app on my iphone.

Transfer at Sendai to a local train to Shiogama station.  A 20 minute walk to the Shiogama fish market.

Not crowded.  This place is away from all the tourists.  Very quiet.  Too quiet, because the vendors often would hound you to purchase.  Basically, you buy a tray with miso soup and hot rice, and you go around to the various booths, and purchase, a la carte, what you want.  This is a very large commercial fish market, and the area we are in is just a small part of the overall market, but large enough to get way more variety than we need.

Seating for the four of us with plenty of empty seats.  This market closes early, so you have to eat breakfast only.

Really fresh Uni and Prawns

For those who want their fish cooked, there is a man who will cook your food for ¥100.

We take a short train ride to the Shiogama Pier to get a "luxury" cruise to Matsushima (about 30 minutes).  This is the modern pier building.

Our luxury outdoor seats.  One of us isn't really thrilled.

One of the islands.

All these little islands are named.  There's also a story attached to each.  I didn't understand the Japanese.  I wasn't paying attention.

Matsushima is a very touristy town on the Tohoku coast.  It was heavily damaged by the March, 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  But because of the bay, and the islands, it was spared catastrophic devastation like other areas in Tohoku.  It came back to life in less than a year.

Below is a storefront.  What caught my eye was the white sign.  Click to read it.  Amazing.

After being tourists, we get on board the local train back to Sendai.  We had a couple of hours to kill there.  We stayed in the Station area.  Sendai is a major metropolitan city in Tohoku, with over a million people.  They even have a T's Tantan restaurant there, which Sam and Em ate dinner at, while Connie and I had Tonkatsu.  It was amazing how much time it took us to figure out what to eat!  Though some of the time was taken up at the Muji store in the station.

Our Tonkatsu was quite good.  In my experience, many Tonkatsu places in Japan have English menus.  Also, they very often have a premium pork offering, which I almost always get.  This includes Katsukura, probably my favorite Tonkatsu restaurant in Japan (even though it is a chain with many many branches).

Connie and I have a system.  She gets the least expensive offering, has a few bites, because she is vegan, you know.  The rest goes to me.  I get the small portion of the premium offering and we share. Nearly always, at most Tonkatsu places, you get unlimited refills of rice and cabbage, so she fills up on that.

This was very very good!

Here is a restaurant storefront with miniature models of their food.

Sendai Station, with one of the Hayabusa Shinkansen trains.

Ok, Wednesday AM.  We still haven't gone out to explore Tokyo.  We first go to Tsukiji.  We wonder if this is the last time we'll see the excitement of the market.  However, now I learn that the Outer Market is still bustling with rude tourists, and big crowds.  The wholesale market has moved a few miles away, and just opened in October.

A sweet treat.

Two tots cooling off with ice cream

After purchasing a bunch of stuff, we head to Asakusa, and Sensoji.  There is Skytree in the background.

There is a famous place that makes Melon Pan in Asakusa, and we get one.  I think it is ok, but not really worth a lot of effort to get one.

This is, however, worth the effort.  Cooling off in the hot humid weather, this frumpy old man looks happy.

OK, we get hungry again, and we decide to get sushi.  Easiest to just go to a Kaitenzushi place.  I find one, using Tabelog.  Quite good, and very reasonable.  Sammie went crazy.

The day isn't over yet.

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