Hello again after a *long* break, during which we got married!
Yes! We kind of sprung it on everyone, even ourselves. We're happy though (well, we were happy before, but now we don't have to plan a wedding, so we're super-happy).
The trip to Honolulu, Tokyo, and Singapore seems such a long time ago, but we seem to have left the impression that all we did was watch TV, so I'd like to blog a little longer about it. What I liked best about this trip was our ryokan (inn), the Homeikan. If you're ever in Tokyo and want a cheap place to stay, we'd highly recommend it. A room plus a big breakfast every morning only costs about $90 a night, and you'll get a great feeling for Japanese culture.
We loved every minute we were in the Homeikan (perhaps we *are* homebodies). It is a little place located two twisty blocks west of Tokyo University. We were glad to have a cab with GPS to find the tiny alley where it sits, just at the top of a steep incline. We walked in and were greeted in fairly competent English, and told to take off our shoes and put on slippers. Our shoes went in a little cubby marked with our name; each of the guests had one. We were led down several dark, wood-walled hallways to our room. Our guide showed us the gate to our room, how to lock and unlock it, and where to place our slippers inside it. He then slid the rice paper door aside and place our luggage in tiny anteroom, where our robes and towels for bathing also waited. He slid another paper door aside to show us our room. As in the anteroom, tatami mats covered the floors, and he explained we must not walk on the mats in our slippers. Two futons lay on the floor, each covered by a heavy comforter. Beyond these was a small sitting area with two chairs and a table that looked out on a garden. Across from the futons against the opposite wall was a low table with a thermos with hot water for tea and two bowls. We were extremely thirsty after a 7-hour plane trip and 2-hour commute into the city, so we drank as soon as our host left.
Part of what I loved about the Homeikan rooms was that everything had a certain Japanese feel and integrity about it, but the room also felt a bit like a Stonington, Maine harborside motel my family stayed in back in the early 70's. You know, not so polished -- the little TV with iffy reception, the old-fashioned soda bottles in a tiny fridge with a bottle opener on top and glasses waiting under a plastic hood. There were shelves above the TV with curio dolls, also under plastic, that looked like they hadn't been touched in twenty years. Next to the shelves, a flashlight was mounted on the wall with precise operating instructions in Japanese and English. The walls themselves were a strange combination of knotty wood and fiberboard. Both charming and charmless, all these things combined to make us feel nested in a unique corner of domesticity within the overwhelming city.
The Homeikan has no private baths, but we were lucky to be a short walk from the first floor half-bath. The toilet (brand named Washlet*) had a cool feature where, when you flushed, the water that was eventually to refill the tank first ran through a faucet above, so you could wash your hands without wasting water, which drained into the tank. You were supposed to take off your slippers and put on special "toilet slippers" that waited inside, but I stopped doing this pretty quickly and hope I wasn't breaking any sacred traditions. Outside the toilet room was a very big, tiled sink that could accommodate four people at once. I expected this to be hopping in the mornings, but I almost never saw anyone at it, or walking in the hallways in general.
Every day in the evening we would put on our cotton robes, bundle our towels and toiletries, and head to the opposite end of the Homeikan for a bath. Bathing was a special treat. We left everything except our soaps in a changing room, then entered the hot and humid bathing room. It was octagonal, all tile, two stories high with clerestory windows lining the top, and with four bathing stations at one end and an enormous tub at the other. As instructed by our guide, we washed and completely rinsed ourselves using hand-held showers. Then, all clean, we hopped in the whirlpool tub, which was big enough to float around in. I could have stayed for hours, but we always took private baths so we didn't want to hog the room. We both remarked that, in our future dream house, we would build a bath with the same set-up. Such a luxurious and sensuous experience compared with the cursory showers we take back in the States.
After our baths, we would pull our futons together for a snuggle and immediately drop off to sleep. Tokyo during the day is exhausting. I loved this deep and restful post-hot tub slumber, each night knowing that we would be greeted by our maid knocking on the door, bringing in a seven-course breakfast. Miso soup, a pork dish, a vegetable, a fish dish, a tofu dish, pickled things, and desert fruits, along with rice and delicious hot tea left us ready to go forth and conquer the daunting subway system, on to our next destination.
*Turns out there are a whole lot of other features we missed out on, not being able to read Japanese. The site is great: http://www.cleanishappy.com/ Warning -- it contains partial nudity.