Our day began with breakfast at the hotel (thanks again, Mom and Dad, for hooking us up with Marriott!). As much as I hold to the "when in Rome" philosophy of travel, it was really nice to have fruit and eggs for breakfast.
We packed up for the day but decided to stop by the concierge desk to ask a few questions. It turned into a much lengthier discussion than we expected, but boy, was it useful! We liked her when she started taking notes ("I like being organized," she said). We loved her when she pulled out her notebook of Michelin restaurants and started making phone calls for reservations for us. My second favorite moment was when she diplomatically promised to explain to the restraurants that Jason would be arriving without a jacket. She assured him that she sent a tourist to a nice restaurant just the other day in a t-shirt, and that she will "explain to the owner and it will be okay."
You could tell that it was totally not okay, at least not in Jason's book of etiquette (see: his blog's title), but we must have Michelin in Tokyo.
My favorite moment came when we asked about how to get to the onsen in Takagawa that we were planning on visiting tomorrow,
Concierge: Sighs a long sigh. Takes off her glasses, folds them, sets them down, and gives us a "we need to talk" look. That onsen is not good. It is smelly.
She directed us to a different town instead. Alas, the "bears in cages" that were promised at the other one will have to remain a mystery, as will Jason's possible tattoos - the other onsen is not co-ed and he is not sharing the racier of the "naked proof" photos he took in the Korean baths. Better that, though, then traveling a long way to smelly waters.
Once we had things sorted and a plethora of maps, we headed out. First stop - Meiji Jungu Shrine.
Emperior Meiji ruled Japan from 1868 to 1912. He and his wife frequently visited an iris garden in Tokyo, and after his death a shrine was built in the evergreen forest in his honor.
As with most sights we've seen so far on this trip, the shrine we saw today is mostly a reconstruction. Wooden structures do not make long lasting monuments, particularly in a country that's been through a few wars since then.
This (reconstructed) gate is made from cypress trees and copper:
It was very foresty. I can easily imagine fairy tales spinning out of woods like these:
Sake barrels wrapped in straw, offered annually from brewers around Japan to show respect for the deity:
And opposite those are wine barrels sent from wineries around the world to demonstrate the emperor's western outreach:
The main shrine:
The fountain for washing one's hands and mouth to set one's mind at ease before entering:
I'm not sure what this is for, but I did see people going through the bow-twice-clap-twice-bow-once prayer ritual in front of it:
Detail of a door:
Jason inside the main shrine complex:
This was my favorite part of the complex. Visitors write wishes and pay 500 yen, and the prayers are transcribed onto wooden tablets and hung around this holy tree before being burned and prayed for by the monks - kind of like a Shinto prayer roll.
There were huundreds of tablets on display:
(Amen, Benjamin from Texas!)
According to the guide, we were there at the perfect time for the irises (finally something works in our favor season-wise!), so we headed into the gardens.
We passed the Emperor's tea house:
And admired the koi fish and turtles swimming under the Empress' favorite fishing spot:
Then we found the iris garden:
Honestly, I was a little underwhelmed at first, but it kind of grew on me as we walked along the winding path. There were a couple of people painting the scene:
(Can you spot his completed painting drying next to him?)
and we did spot, picturesquely, two geishas walking over the bridge with parasols:
We also spotted what we think was a hyena: (Ben - you should weigh in here. Are there hyenas in the Tokyo forests?):