April 3rd, 2015 - Tokyo, Japan - Day 230

Big Pete's POV

We woke up this morning with a little bit of an agenda.  It was Friday morning and we needed to go to the Vietnamese Embassy to get our visas for the next leg of the trip.  We have delayed this for a long time because we were uncertain if we were actually going to make it to Vietnam, and the visa process is not that simple unless you can physically get to an embassy.  In addition to the visas we Lea was still on a mission to get a camera and I was in the market for a new lens for my camera.  The stores down in Akhiabara have great prices (like 30% off of what Amazon offers), so we figured it was a good place to do this.  In addition to those errands, we wanted to visit a big shrine in the center of the city.  

We geared up early and were standing on the train platform by 9:00.  The ride to our stop was only about 10 minutes.  The train system in Japan is incredible by the way, it is fast, easy and reliable.  We got off our stop and were into Yoyogi Park (where the shrine is located) in about 1 minute.  The entrance to the park was impressive in and of itself.  

The park is one of the largest in Tokyo and has a couple of significant facts associated with it.  It was the location of the first powered flight in Japan and was also used by the US during our occupation of Japan for troops barracks, we called it Washington Heights. In 1964 it housed most of the athletes for the Olympics.  However, it is most well known for housing the Meiji Shrine, which is dedicated to Emperor Meiji or Meiji the Great who ruled from 1867 to 1912 and is credited with bringing Japan from a feudal empire to a capitalist society.  

The park leading to the shrine was very nice, but did not have many Cherry trees, which we hunt everywhere we go.  

The Torii Gate - All shrines have these and they designate the separation of holy ground from the secular world

When you get to the actual shrine complex there is a station for you to wash your hands and your mouth out before you pray.  This is called the "temizuya" water pavilion and consists of a water basin and ladles. It is there to perform "misogi," a ritual to purify the body and mind with water before proceeding to stand in front of the deity. Originally this ritual was performed in the nude at special misogi locations (but to Lea's relief we did not have to disrobe) like the ocean or a river, but today the ritual has been simplified to rinsing your hands and mouth at the temizuya. The idea is to wash away impurities in your heart as well as from your physical self before you go to pray to the deity.

Once inside there were places to send prayers to loved ones, pray to the deity and to write prayers down which would be read and offered to the deity.  

We all said a prayer and then headed out the east gate.   It was about another 20 minute walk from the shrine to the embassy, which we found easily.  I am not sure how people managed before Google Maps, but it is an absolute godsend for us navigating our way though a big city where you can't read any street signs.  

When we got to the embassy it was pretty crowded and we had to wait in line after filling out our forms.  As we were waiting in line I asked if we could pay with credit.  The nice gentleman behind the counter told me I could not and tried to point me in the direction of the nearest ATM.  We have been noticing that a LOT of businesses in Japan are cash only and its driving me a little insane.  I hate using cash and having to go to the ATM, but that is what I needed to do if we were going to Vietnam, so I raced out the door telling Stacie and the kids I would be right back.  I hustled down the street to find and ATM and about 5 minutes later I found one.  However, when I tried to use it the machine just kept spitting my card back saying it was invalid.  So I went to the next spot I could find - same result.  I went to about 7 ATM's before I figured something was wrong with my card.  So I called my bank, Charles Schwab, and they told me everything was fine on their end, so I was even more confused.  It had been about 25 minutes since I left and I was sure Stacie and the kids were freaking out so I ran back to the embassy.  When I got there, Stacie was at the counter frantically cutting our passport style pictures and gluing them to our applications.  I had forgotten to tell here where those pictures were and had inadvertently caused a huge delay in the process by having her hunt them down in my absence.  This was all just going perfectly!  I told her about the problem and said I was going to go back out to try to find another ATM.  Peter came with me this time and we found another ATM pretty quickly.  I tried again and again it spit the card back at me.  Peter said - "have you tried pushing the International Card button?"  I gave him one of those "of course I have - what do you think I am an idiot" looks and said "yeah!" with a nasty bite to it.  But I gave it a try again and of course it worked!  Peter saved our bacon - we were back in business.  

We hustled back to the embassy and sat down to wait for our number to be called.  As we waited Lea decided it was a good time for a nap.  When we took this picture she was snoring pretty loudly and dead asleep.  I am not sure how she does it, but it is a gift!

We got our visa's just as the office was closing for a two hour lunch break.  At this point we were all a little tired and hungry, but of course we had no idea where to eat and we could not read any signs to tell us what we were in store for.  We stopped outside a restaurant to talk about our options and after about 5 minutes of everyone saying they did not care what we ate, Stacie turned and said "let's go here".  We wandered down into the basement of the restaurant and found it was traditional Japanese so we needed to remove our shoes and sit on the floor.  The food was udon noodles and was fantastic again!  

After lunch we headed back to Akhiabara to find Lea's camera, my lens and a new electronic drawing pad for Stacie to help with landscape design.  Lea had done some research and found the best shop in the district - Yodobashi.

We spent the next hour or so wandering through this MASSIVE electronics store with 7 floors of every gadget you can possibly imagine.  We all found what we were looking for and left as satisfied but exhausted shoppers.  

We made it back to the hotel pretty easily and laid down for a quick rest before dinner.  This time we wanted something other than Japanese, so we found an Indian restaurant and made a reservation.  We walked there in about 15 minuets and had the best Indian food of our trip - it was amazing.  Tokyo is right at the top of all of our lists for food - it has been simply incredible.  On the way home Lea and Peter we busy taking pictures and playing with Lea's new camera while Stacie and I were on a bee line for bed.  After another long day we were exhausted and fell quickly asleep - ready for another travel day tomorrow.