June 20, 2014

An anniversary getaway at the Conrad, Tokyo

Matt and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary on June 1st this year, and with my mom in town, we were able to getaway overnight, kid-free! We have had some Hilton points that we were able to cash in for a night at the very posh Conrad Hotel, Tokyo.

This hotel is very unique in that it begins on the 28th floor of a  building, so the views from every floor are stunning. This is the very sleek reception area.

The hotel lobby/bar, with spectacular views of Tokyo Bay. 

Our room had a huge window seat overlooking Tokyo Bay, I could've sat there all day long enjoying the view! 

The iconic Rainbow Bridge can be seen in the distance.

In the room was this small box of chocolates and some candied macadamia nuts, which were amazing.

There is always a teapot. It's much more common than a coffee maker in a Japanese hotel room.

Even a bath toy! 

This is the hotel pool with huge picturesque windows. 

We upgraded to the executive floor, and they had an afternoon teatime when we arrived. They had a lovely dessert buffet set up. This is the sundae bar. The silver decanters on the right had homemade ice cream. Yum! 

Chocolate fondue, anyone?

I finally decided upon an ice cream sundae, it did not disappoint.

But, Matt's mocha latte was even better! 

After dessert, we took a walk to the nearby Hama-rikyu Gardens, (the family gardens for the Tokugawa Shogun in the 1600's). It was a lovely green oasis in the heart of the city.

The hotel staff was amazing, and knew us by name immediately. Ari, at the front desk, asked if we needed water for our walk, and offered us this very cute water bottle in the shape of the famous Japanese shinkansen, or "bullet train". Kawaii!

 We walked around this lake to the matsu-no-chaya (pine teahouse), which has been reconstructed using its original cornerstones.

I love the lighting right at dusk, and it was such a beautiful evening to walk around outside. 

The teahouse was so cute inside, I want to come back for tea!  

This is the view of the Conrad from the park. 

This is a 300 year old pine tree. It is propped up with logs to help preserve it, very interesting.

Almost everywhere you go  in Japan, you can get a commemorative stamp. I really need to get a little book and start collecting them! 

Our next stop was the very high end Ginza shopping district, one of the most luxurious shopping district's in the world. We were only window shopping, of course!

The famous Wako store in Ginza, was built in the early 1900's and was one of the few buildings in the area left standing after the war. 

This is the Kabuki-za Theater, Tokyo's premiere kabuki theater.  

When we arrived back at the hotel, the hotel staff had left these swans, 2 Conrad bears and a nice card congratulating us on our anniversary. The staff was incredible! 

The executive floor breakfast was amazing with lots of western choices, even an omelet station. 

This was the Japanese breakfast selection, lots of fish options (I'll stick with the bacon).

 Sadly, our getaway had come to an end and it was time to go home (after another mocha latte, or two). It was so nice to just stroll hand in hand and have some time to ourselves. This is an anniversary I won't soon forget. Thanks mom!

June 14, 2014

A traditional Japanese tea ceremony

I have been wanting to experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony for awhile now, so I thought this would be a perfect activity for my mom's visit. We went to the very fancy Imperial Hotel, because I heard they conducted ceremonies in English as well as Japanese. The tea ceremony, or chanoyu, is of great significance in Japanese culture and is derived from Zen Buddhism. This is the beautiful rock garden at the hotel entrance.

We arrived at the tea ceremony room and sat in a very serene waiting area, I wish I had taken a picture! You could see this beautiful , peaceful patio through some large glass doors.

We removed our shoes and entered the tea ceremony room, through a "crawl door", which was just a very small door into a 4x5 foot tatami room. The scrolls are customary and usually depict what season is being celebrated.

The room was very small and darkened, it was a nice break from our busy day of sight seeing.

We began with wagashi, a traditional Japanese sweet. The sweet is thought to balance out the bitter taste of the tea.

On first glance, it looked like some sort of rice ball, but it was very smooth, and slightly sweet. This particular wagashi, was made from red azuki bean paste. They take the beans and mash them with honey or sugar to sweeten them. It almost had the texture of mashed potatoes or refried beans. Interesting.

And now for the tea....

 It takes many years to learn the proper way to perform a tea ceremony.

Everything she did was very precise, even how she held the utensils, and how she laid them down.

They stirred the tea, or matcha,  with a little bamboo whisk until it was frothy, of course it was the perfect temperature too! Green tea is pretty much a staple in Japan, you will always find it served at restaurants, usually complimentary. It is a bit bitter, but is supposed to be wonderful for skin and hair.

They served each of us in a very precise manner and bowed.

These ladies performing the tea ceremony were very elderly, but they got up and down off the floor with such ease.

The ladies said that the spirit of the tea ceremony is to encourage people to slow down and enjoy the small things, and that every part of the ceremony, including the small dark room, is to encourage unwinding.  She also said that in life, changing your mind, is not as important as changing your heart. I liked that.

These are the tea making utensils, and the tea is in powdered form.

Another look at the beautiful patio, just outside the tearoom. Ahhh, makes me wish I was there right now....

June 12, 2014

Asakusa and the famous Senso-ji Shrine

On the last day of our downtown stay, we decided to take my mom to the great neighborhood of Asakusa, home of the famous Senso-ji Shrine, an important Buddhist temple. We always pass this cute UK inspired telephone booth near the train station.

These two are pretty comfortable with train travel these days.

This is the Kaminarimon (thunder gate) outside of the shrine. This is very famous, you will probably see it pictured anytime a movie is set in Tokyo.

This is the shrine itself.

There is always an incense cauldron out front.

Also, a hand washing area.

This is the altar at the temple entrance for praying, there are also big grates to put money in.

This is the Senso-ji Pagoda, with its beautiful vibrant colors.

Quite a few monks were on the grounds, dressed in orange robes.

Not sure if you can tell from the picture, but there are many shopping bags just left on the side of this building. Crime is so low in Japan that it is quite common to see people's purchases left unattended, whether to save their table at a food court or to shop hands free. I hope they don't try this elsewhere!

We finally found a way to get a natural smile out of Ella. Ask her about her friend Stanley!

We enjoyed wandering the grounds of the shrine. Everything is always so beautifully manicured.

And there is always a koi pond!

These lovely ladies were happy to pose with the girls.

Ahhh, I just love this!

There are a lot of cool side streets near this shrine to explore, which is how we spent the next few hours.

This is Tokyo Skytree in the distance. We had really weird weather too, you can see the sky was sunny on one side and dark and cloudy on the other.

We passed a photo shoot for a wedding magazine, which was pretty fun to watch! (But, why do magazines always portray a bored bride? What is wrong with a beautiful smile?!)

There are lots of rickshaw's in the area. We will have to do that sometime.

The awesome Asakusa skyline. I really love this place!