I got some sleep on the flight to Japan, so - while my body desperately wanted to go to bed at 2130 Tokyo time, I probably should have stayed up later. I woke up at 0615 - and am apparently free from jet lag.

The hotel includes a free breakfast, which as usual consists of coffee, orange juice, and a selection of starches. But there were some oddities: first, the starches were actually pretty good. Second, I could have "beef consommé," "cream of corn soup," or "cream of edamame soup" from the "Soup Station" in the corner. The "cream of corn" was too loaded with dairy for me (and not enough corn). I'll probably try the edamame tomorrow.

I made my way to Shinjuku station, and from there took the Chuo line to Mitaka. I'd call it "the suburbs" but the city extends FAR beyond Mitaka. Although it's somewhat off the beaten tourist path - except for one thing, the Ghibli Museum. It's in a park, and there was a big line (although we all had paid admission tickets or we wouldn't be there). Whatever the architects and interior designers were paid for that place, it wasn't enough. Dark wood panelling and doors, and wrought iron railings evoke the 1880s ... although it opened in 2001. But there's light - because the central atrium has a massive skylight. And there's stained glass on most windows (with scenes from the movies), and on a lot of the lamps. The exterior is very rounded, feeling like something from one of several of the movies. Some of the rooms are set up to mimic scenes from the movies, or an animation artist's workshop. They have a lot of original cell animations, and a lot of development sketches of characters. There's a short film available on site that changes every few months, and I don't think they're released to the public - so they're only available here. Your ticket to that movie is included with entry, and consists of three cells from one of the Studio Ghibli films in a stiff cardboard holder (which is very cool). I think I drew (no pun intended) cells from "Ponyo," not my favourite. On the roof is a small roof garden that contains one of the battered robots, life size (?), from "Castle in the Sky." Beautifully detailed. And at the far end of the roof, if you look down, you realize you're walking on railway tracks embedded in wood, and there's even an artfully placed set of discarded railway wheels nearby to go with the track.

photo: the "Castle in the Sky" Robot at Ghibli Museum

a large, spiky, and battered humanoid robot

When I got back closer to the centre of Tokyo I headed for Shinjuku Gyoen, the park that was the model for the movie "Garden of Words" (out recently by Makoto Shinkai who isn't part of Ghibli although I bet they wish he was). Sadly, I should have checked the guidebook: closed on Mondays. From there to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to visit the observation deck. And then for the garden tour - I hit all of them recommended by Lonely Planet in the Akasaka area. My firs stop was the Canadian Embassy, which has a carefully sculpted rock garden (no plants to speak of). It was sparse, but nice. A couple doors down the street is the Sōgetsu Kaikan - a business that hired a famous artist to make them an indoor rock garden. While it gets called a "rock garden," and it is multi-level, involves water, and is climbable, it definitely slides over into the territory of big wet sculpture ... It was an intriguing thing and a really lovely sculpture, but I had actually wanted to see plants ... So the next stop was Tokyo Garden Terrace, a hotel surrounded by really lovely gardens. I stood in one small area of it that pretty much made you feel like you were in deep forest, and wondered why I go to cities when I could, actually, go to a forest. Sadly I know the answer to that: I find travelling from place to place every day when I don't have a companion excessively stressful and I don't like doing it. I can handle it if it's my language (think Lake Superior or even Newfoundland), but in a foreign language while driving on the wrong side of the road? Probably not. In a city you stay put because there's so much to see in one place ...

The last stop of the day before dinner was the Hotel New Ōtani. I can't imagine how much those grounds would be worth as real estate in central Tokyo. And yet they remain gardens. Gorgeous gardens, complete with running water, many features, and a miniature Niagara Falls (which gets shut off at 1800 as I discovered sitting there reading my guidebook!).

photo: The Garden at the Hotel New Ōtani

lovely gardens surrounding a pond

Dinner was at Sushi Zenmai, near my hotel. Their service is accomplished with a great deal of yelling. The sushi is pretty good, better than most Toronto places anyway, and probably warranted a higher grade than they have on Google ... but that's because I always assume that a Google ranking is based on the quality of the food alone. But it's also based on service, and the service - at least for gaijin - sucked. So much so that I wouldn't consider going back, even though the better pieces in my set dinner were actually really, really good. <sigh>