Return to Tokyo

It was time to return to Tokyo for the final two days of our vacation. This time we stayed in the Sakura Hotel in Hatagaya, two subway stops from Shinjuku Station. Three twin sized beds crowded the room. You had to step up to get into the tiny bathroom and somehow that made me feel like I was entering a moving conveyance. On the positive side, the hotel had the virtues of being inexpensive and of having free internet access right in the room so Walt was happy. It also offered the same unlimited toast and coffee breakfast as the Sakura Hotel in Ikebukuro, but here it was free while supplies lasted.

That night we feasted on a wide assortment of goodies purchased from the food floor of a Shinjuku Department store. These food floors are like giant take-out food courts. There were so many things to choose from that it took us quite a long time to make our purchases. In addition to the stands of Japanese food, there were stands selling Chinese food and one that offered a wide assortment of interesting salads. Then, of course, there were the Japanese and European style dessert offerings. We impulsively bought too much, but, fortunately, our room also had a small refrigerator.

The next morning, after competing with a judo team from the Czech Republic for the free toast and coffee, we headed out to one of my favorite places in Tokyo - Meiji-jingu Shrine. The subway we caught at Shinjuku Station was more crowded than any train we had experienced on this visit. At one point, I was clutching a strap dangling from the ceiling and hovering inches over the lap the lap of the sleeping businessman below me. It seemed inconceivable that we would all be able to get off the train at the desired stop. When I mentioned this concern to Walt and Lisa, I felt like everyone around us understood what I was saying, and they probably did since most Tokyoites seem to have at least a minimal knowledge of English. Walt said that when the train stopped the young man behind him placed his hand on his back and pushed him gently but firmly in the direction of the door. Lisa and I followed in their wake, and we miraculously found ourselves on the platform.

As we walked under the cypress torii gates, we left the noise and bustle of the city behind. For some reason, there was a wall of paper lanterns at the entrance to the shrine.

A wedding ceremony was taking place. Tourists enthusiastically snapped pictures as the wedding party walked from an outside courtyard to the building where the ceremony would be held.

It was the season for chrysanthemum viewing. Here are some of the plants that were on display.

We spent the afternoon in my other favorite place in Tokyo - Asakusa. I never tire of wandering through all the little shops there. By now, we were down to our last 10,000 yen ($100) so we carefully considered our final purchases. We looked for the Italian restaurant where we had enjoyed a meal with Walt's brother Paul in 2005, but it was gone so we found another Italian restaurant nearby. The Japanese version of Italian food is very good. The tomato sauces seem less pasty and more flavorful than the usual Italian American fare. The only thing lacking is that Italian bread never seems to be served with the meal.

It was our last evening in Tokyo. Walt headed off to have dinner with some of his radio geek friends, and Lisa and I headed to one of her favorite places - Tokyo City View. As we looked out at the city, I thought about how much had happened since the last time I stood in that spot and how little had changed. In 2005, I was wondering where my career was heading now that Nissan Motor Corporation in Hawaii had closed. Since then, I've started over again three times - at Blood Bank of Hawaii, Hawaii Impulse Systems and Aloha Airlines - and endured the bankruptcy and closing of two. How unlucky is that? Some days I'm overwhelmed with feelings of despair, but I guess I'm just too stubborn to give up hope that I'll find another job I enjoy one of these days.

The next day we would drag our suitcases back through the subway and onto the train to the airport. The weather would be dark and rain would be drizzling. It was sad to think that our long-awaited trip was over, but we had a lot of happy memories and we were already planning our next trip in 2011.