Japan Trip

Day 20 – Tokyo National Museum

Well, today was the last day! I’m more or less packed up, and tomorrow I’ll be on my way to Narita airport to catch my flight home. I’ll have quite a bit of time to kill before my flight, hopefully there’s an arcade. I want to play more Gundam. If not, I bought some English-language books at the Tokyo National Museum today, which was pretty cool. There was a special exhibit on historical artifacts, with relics from the early days of the Japanese Empire but also some swords made a few centuries ago. Lots of calligraphy and scrolls, too, which were pretty to look at but impossible for me to read.

Hopefully I can catch some sleep on the plane. It will really help with the jetlag. When I check in I’ll ask if I can be put on standby for an upgrade or something.

Days 18, 19 – Akihabara, Ginza, Tokyo Tower

Tonight is my 2nd-last night in Japan. I’m not really sure what to say to this besides “wow.” Not “wow, already,” because the act of returning to Tokyo made it clear to me in advance that the trip was almost over. Also not “wow, finally,” because apart from the odd disappointing destination, things have been pretty good. Anyway, the last two days.

Yesterday I went to Akihabara Electric Town, aptly nicknamed nerdvana by someone I know online. In my last post, I said “I’m under budget, so maybe I can catch up by buying geeky things.” Akihabara had no problem supplying me with enough geeky things, but I restrained myself and didn’t buy some things I saw, for reasons of “I’ll never use/wear this.” If my PS2 could play NTSC-J games, believe me I would have bought the International versions of several Square Enix games. And God Hand. When I get back I’ll probably just buy the NTSC-U/C version.

Also in Akihabara, I found English instructions for the Gundam game I previously mentioned, Kid? Senshi Gundam: Senj? no Kizuna. I forked out some money and played a few rounds, it’s crazy fun 4v4 action in the original Gundam setting. Virtual On‘s got nothing on this. I dominated my first couple newbie matches but once I got to players closer to my level I started losing hard. I seem to have always had the high score on my team though. How about that?

I never found any Mega Man figures, but I did get a Mega Man Zero 3 strategy guide, which is written with furigana, so I think I’ll try to translate it in my spare time, develop my language skills. I’ve always learned best by doing. The furigana is important, as trying to decipher kanji I’ve never seen before would be an exercise in inefficiency at best.

On the way back from Akihabara, I stopped at a noodle place within Suid?bashi station for dinner, it was yummy and as often I burned my tongue by trying to eat too fast.

Today I went to check out the Sony building. It wasn’t open when I arrived at Ginza station, so I wandered towards Hibiya Park and the Imperial Palace grounds. Since the Imperial Family resides there, very little of it was accessible to the public but what I saw was all very well kept and pretty. Across the street was a park full of fountains that put on various shows of water, it was nice to sit and watch the waterworks for a while.

Finally I made my way back to the Sony building after a brief arcade stop. It was basically a several floor showroom of Sony products, not really worth the time for me to go since I had no plans to bring a new TV, camera, or PSP back to Canada with me.

So, off to Tokyo Tower. At the base of the tower is a four level building with shops, restaurants, and entertainment. The tower itself has two observatories, both with different and interesting views. It was pretty busy though, and hyperactive kids abounded. Still good times.

For lunch/dinner I had pizza and for dessert, a cool waffle/ice cream combo. Check it out in the photos, it was delicious. I would have gotten another crepe (there was a crepe place nearby) but that waffle bowl just looked too good not to try.

Tomorrow’s my last sightseeing day. What to do?

Day 17 – Harajuku, FF Tactics Concert

Today was a down and up kind of day. I went to Harajuku, specifically to Yoyogi Park, looking for cosplayers and oddly dressed people, as recommended by various sources. I had a slight Google Maps mixup and was confused into thinking the Meiji Shrine grounds were the same park, turns out they’re separate but adjacent entities. Regardless, I found only a very few people dressed up, on one of the shopping streets. In Yoyogi, though, I slipped on some mud and landed on my right side. Ouch. The skin broke on basically the tip of my wrist, no blood, and my vest and jeans got muddy, otherwise fine, I walked it off. I will be doing laundry tomorrow night instead of Tuesday, though. From further research tonight, it looks like I should have gone to Akihabara for cosplayers. Oh well.

I had lunch, a sandwich at a coffee shop, then picked up a Harajuku crepe. They’re large, thin, light crepes stuffed with all kinds of dessert-y toppings like fruit, chocolate, caramel, ice cream, even cheesecake! Mine just had chocolate sauce, strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream. So good!

Off to the Final Fantasy Tactics concert. I got there at 2:00 and there was already a sizeable crowd. Around 2:30 we started going in and the concert itself started at 3:10, a little late. It was very well done, it felt quite professional. I have been inspired to replay the game and actually finish it this time. Donations were taken on the way out, unfortunately the only bill below Y10,000 I had was a single Y1,000. I wanted to give more than that but not as much as Y10,000. I should have kept a better eye on my small bills. Oh well.

Tomorrow I think I will go to Akihabara! I’m under budget, so maybe I can catch up by buying geeky things. Or, I could bring unspent money back. That works too.

Day 16 – Shibuya

Today I went to Shibuya! My primary motivation to head that way was the World Ends with You, one of my favourite DS games. Nerdy, I know, but hey, that’s the way I am. The crowds were huge, and I think going during the week would have diluted the whole experience. I followed the crowd at first, crossing at the scramble, passing by 109 (104 in game) and up towards Dogenzaka. After that, I found Mark City (Pork City in game). I wandered the back streets, surprising myself with the number of love hotels around, it seemed there was one any time I looked at specific buildings instead of the scene in front of me. Next, a quick peek at the arcade below 109.

At Tokyu Hands (Shibu-Q Heads), I made some unplanned souvenir purchases for friends but one of them was too good to pass up and the others just seemed like things they’d like. On the way to Tower Records (Towa Records), I saw someone dressed in an unusual costume. With the wings on the back, I thought at first it might be a moogle, then I started picking apart all the differences. If anyone knows what that’s supposed to be, leave a comment, eh?

So, Tower Records. It’s huge and full of music, DVDs, and BDs. While on level 4, looking for the soundtracks for TWEWY and Megaman ZX, a woman started a live performance, drawing a small crowd. Unfortunately the soundtrack section appeared to only have movies and anime, no games at all, so I left without anything. On my way back to the scramble I wandered past OICITY (Cadoi City), and saw another live performance. I decided this time to take a look around for Hachiko, and found the Moyai, but not the dog. I figured I’d find it on my next pass and moved along.

Following the back streets, I found a MOS Burger! I had the tobikiri kinokoburger, a kurokke, and white grape soda. I’m not sure where the fries came into things, I didn’t order them but they came with my order. Yay? The kurokke was fine, veggietastic, not sure it warrants its own burger. The kinoko burger, though, was just awesome. I want more of them. Too bad there aren’t any in Canada… maybe something to look into. Or at least I should figure out the ingredients to try and replicate it at home.

I stopped by another arcade and played a couple games, including Beatmania IIDX and Taiko no Tatsujin. I played on beginner and felt a little silly playing at that level, but I couldn’t read the Japanese instructions and wanted to play it safe. I got multiple plays per credit so I was able to try some more challenging stuff.

Some more wandering later, I stopped at HMV (AMX), again looking for soundtracks, but they didn’t even have a soundtrack section. They also had a band playing but they were very loud and I didn’t stay for long. At my next trip to the station, I finally found Hachiko. I imagined he would be larger than he was, but it was cool to find him. Definitely a popular meeting spot and photo op. I had to wait a few minutes to get a clear shot without him being crowded with people.

At this point I was starting to feel I’d had enough of Shibuya and decided to check out the Meiji Shrine before returning to the hotel. So, I wandered off via Miyashita Park (same), which is basically just a bit of green space on either side of the train tracks, not much to see. At the shrine, there were at least two weddings going on, and plenty of people were shooting the processions so I joined the club. I suspected weddings, but didn’t get confirmation for sure until I saw a sign in front of one of the inner buildings, asking visitors to please be deferential to weddings in progress.

I returned to the hotel via Shibuya and here I am. Tomorrow I’m going to check out the cosplayers at Harajuku, then go to Tachikawa for the Final Fantasy Tactics concert.


Day 15 – Arrival in Tokyo

Well, I’m in Tokyo. Woo! I am excited about my trip again. After putting my things down in my room, I found my bearings and went to look around Ikebukuro. Holy crap, people everywhere. I’ll grant that it was Friday afternoon but still. Wow. Lots of people. Lots of really tall buildings and things to see. I have decided at this point that I have been good about trying many different things in Japan so from here until I get home I am going to eat or drink what I want to have, and enjoy the things I might not get to have again.

Days 13 and 14 – Nagoya

So here I am, back on the shinkansen, on my way back to Tokyo. Today is day 15 – the first day of the last week of my trip. It hit me pretty suddenly last night, but this time a week from now I will be home, probably in bed what with the jet lag and everything. I’m on a kodama shinkansen right now, the equivalent of a local train – it makes every stop. It’ll take 3 hours to do the Nagoya-Tokyo trip instead of 2, but whatever, I’m not in a rush.

So yeah, Nagoya. Wednesday, I went to the Toyota Museum of Industry and Technology. I would have been there sooner but I got lost on the way! I must have missed some signs, and I didn’t have a map, so I went way off course until I realized I was walking too far form what the information I read had suggested. On the plus side, I discovered just how awesome Calpis soda is, and I eventually got to the museum.

It was cool seeing how the company got started with machines for textiles and then became the auto giant it is today. There were lots of robots on display, between the Toyota Partner Robot, a small humanoid that can play musical instruments, and all the robots used in auto manufacturing. Also cool were the replicas of the materials testing lab and the prototype plant used for R&D on the first Toyota cars.

After that I went to Noritake park, which is pretty small and not all that special. It seems it was converted from the site of some kilns, so I guess pottery used to be produced on the grounds. I saw a really fancy looking restaurant, with an even fancier-sounding menu. Nothing really appealed to me, and I didn’t agree with the prices (they seemed low for what they were) so I continued on my way. Continuing to wander, I came across what appeared to be a photo shoot, in that there was a photographer with expensive-looking equipment and a pretty girl striking poses. I suppose the red brick buildings would be an interesting backdrop. I stopped at a Lawson convenience store for food and retreated to the ryokan to eat and veg.

Yesterday I went to Nagoya Castle, which is going some pretty significant and blatant renovations. I say blatant, even though it’s probably not the right word, because there’s a huge concrete structure that looks like it could become a warehouse on the approach from the castle gate to the castle itself that you are forced to go around. All in all the castle wasn’t nearly as good as Osaka or Himeji Castles. There was little English signage, probably around half of the exhibits. On the top floor observation deck/souvenir shop, you had to look out windows instead of being able to go outside, like you could at Osaka, and the grounds just weren’t that impressive. I’m mostly comparing to Osaka Castle here, since both have been converted into museums. Himeji Castle is on its own and scores huge points for authenticity. If you are reading this and considering going to Japan, skip Nagoya Castle and go straight to Osaka and Himeji.

On the plus side, the kishimen place on the grounds was great! Kishimen is a Nagoya specialty, handmade flat noodles.

After that I went to the city center and wandered a bit, and sat down by a fountain to people-watch and rest my feet. When two people came by and lit up cigarettes right next to me, it was time to move on. I started heading to the Nagoya Science Museum, since that was my backup if I found myself with too much free time. Enroute I stopped at an arcade and played a few games. At a couple arcades I’ve seen these large pods, the inside set up like a mecha cockpit, and it appears to be a networked Gundam team deathmatch game. I wanted to try it but the coin-op didn’t take my coins. It looks like you need to buy some sort of card first. I didn’t bother due to lack of English instructions. I figured I could sort out the game’s controls once I was playing.

The science museum was pretty lame. The content is geared towards grade school kids and there is no English signage worth mentioning. So around 3:15 I found myself wandering back to the ryokan. I discovered I had walked by robot ramen Tuesday night without knowing it, which was kinda cool. I wonder what is around Jimbocho that I want to check out but don’t realize is so close. Robot ramen itself was pretty cool. I took a video of my ramen being prepared, but Angelica took a better one when she was there. I also had robot gyoza, which was good but I think Kobe Chinatown’s was better.

As for the ryokan itself? The traditional room was interesting but sleeping was uncomfortable. Both the mat and pillow were hard, and my sides are sore as a result. It was difficult to get comfortable to say the least. I’m looking forward to my hotel in Tokyo, where I will have a bed again, and for the first time on my trip, a chair with a back in my room.


Day 12 – Arriving in Nagoya

Today’s a rainy day. Perhaps this is one of the better days for it to be raining since I’m changing cities. Better now than when I’m out doing stuff, right? I’m writing this from the window seat of the shinkansen from Osaka to Nagoya. I read that Nagoya Station is the largest train station in the world by floor space. Nifty. I will be staying for the next three nights in Ryokan Meiryu, which was recommended in my travel guide. I sort of ran out of things I wanted to in Kansai do a day or two early, so I hope I don’t regret spending so little time in Nagoya. Worst case, it’s close enough to Tokyo that I can always day trip back, I suppose.

The two things I want to see in Nagoya most (that aren’t closed, like the robot museum) are the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology and Nagoya Castle. So, I figure I will get set up in Nagoya today and do my laundry (it’s either today or tomorrow), then in the next two days hit those two spots and anything nearby that looks interesting. I’ll keep my eyes open for Mos Burger, but it’s not a must-have and I’m sure there are plenty in Tokyo. Probably in Nagoya, too, since it’s something like the third-largest metropolitan area in Japan. Google Maps has been annoying as hell to find things, though, since searching for things in a city using “search nearby” doesn’t actually search the whole city. For example, after pulling up Osaka City, subsequently searching for Shin-Imamiya Station, on the Osaka Loop Line, returns nothing. It’s less than 10km away! Oh well.

At Shin-Osaka station this morning, I got into one of those situations where you and another person are approaching each other and both move the same way to let the other person pass, then both move the other way, then back off. The woman on the other side of this said “excuse me” in English, which caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting it.

This morning after putting all of my things together, I had a little more trouble closing my bag than a couple nights ago, probably because I had left a couple things out when I was checking then. Everything will be fine I’m sure. The main compartment is expandable, so worst case I do that. I just need to make sure I don’t pick up more large, rigid souvenirs like my rice bowl, which is still under 30cm in diameter but it’s about 10cm tall and made of wood so it’s not exactly flexible.

I hope the subway stations in Nagoya have escalators, Shin-Imamiya station did not and it was annoying to carry my bag around. It’s not the weight, it’s the size.

It will be interesting to see the size of my room in Nagoya, since they use the same size rooms for single, double, and triple accommodations. I’m going to stop here for now, and figure out where to get a city map.

So the subway in Nagoya does not have escalators. Ugh. Oh well. At least I’m doing my major traveling during the day on weekdays, so the crowds aren’t that big. My room at the ryokan is nice and large (6ft by over 12ft), though washrooms are shared. I got out for a while and did some wandering/shopping and found myself a pretty sweet T-shirt that I will probably wear often once I’m back home.

For dinner, I went to a place where you order via a ticket machine and had curry rice with beef. Spicy and yummy. Fun fact: Japanese curry is an adaptation of British curry, which is an adaptation of Indian curry.


Day 11 – Midpoint

Well. Today was my last day in Osaka. Tomorrow morning I’m shipping out for Nagoya. Today is also the midpoint of my trip. Not really sure what to do, I wandered back to Den Den Town for more wandering. I ended up buying manga for Angelina, unsuccessfully looking for Megaman figures, and that’s about it. In my wanderings I saw an arcade game wherein you shoot targets with a lightgun to play music. The demo was playing the Evangelion opening. That took me back, as it’s one of the anime I watched in high school.

After recognizing the song, I suddenly started to notice all the Evangelion merchandise around me, figures of the female leads and model kits of the mecha. The only franchise with more model kits I recognized was Gundam, by a significant margin. I should start watching Gundam again, I always liked it. Not much else to report, really. I should start putting my stuff together to leave for Nagoya tomorrow, check out is at 10 AM.

Day 10 – Den Den Town

Something I didn’t mention in yesterday’s post is that with every third souvenir shop selling wooden swords, I succumbed and bought one for a little over Y1000. I didn’t consider the length when I bought it and so ended up with a wooden sword about a meter long, decidedly about 20 cm longer than my luggage. So this morning I set out looking for something to put it in for transport, since obviously I can’t just carry a wooden sword onto a plane. I checked the Y100 shops for poster tubes, and found nothing. I took the train to Osaka Station and walked to FedEx, they wouldn’t let me have a box unless I was going to ship with them. Sigh.

I met up with Angelica and Kenzo again at Den Den Town around 1 PM today. After deciding we would find food, then hit a maid cafe later, we set out looking for somewhere to eat that wasn’t McDonalds. We settled on a small okonomoyaki place run by an older woman who clearly knows her stuff, it was totally delicious. It’s a Japanese style pancake served with a small metal spatula, which you use to slice it and put pieces on your plate. When I get back home, I think I’ll be eating Japanese far more often than I used too, there’s just too much good stuff I’m enjoying.

Next we wandered around some arcades, and saw a game based off Half-Life 2! No other crazy games to report, just the taiko game you see sometimes in Canadian arcades. We hit up what Angelica called “Utensil Alley” next, since I wanted to pick up some Japanese cooking gear. In the first store, Angelica remarked that going here with them was like going to Disneyland with them, it would appear they are as fond of cooking as I am. I ended up buying the following:

  • A hangiri, used in the preparation of sushi rice
  • A makiyakinabe, used in the preparation of tamagoyaki. At Angelica’s recommendation I bought a marble one that her and Kenzo simply adore
  • Four sets of chopsticks
  • Two sets of cooking chopsticks, one long pair and one standard length pair
  • Four bowls for serving soup/rice in
  • Two makisu, used for rolling sushi

I should be set to make Japanese cuisine for a while, eh? I will be cooking when I get back, I figure, so why not get authentic supplies? We passed by a shop that was absolutely full of knives, including some pretty large meat cleaves and knives as long as swords, which Kenzo pointed out are probably used for cutting tuna in a single stroke.

Next up, the maid cafe! We looked around and saw a few, all of which had sitting fees for the maid to entertain. Angelica’s Japanese is the best out of the three of us (and mine’s probably the worst), she talked to a girl and directed us to e-maid. No photos were allowed, as expected. It was a very nice, upscale-looking cafe, and the waitresses were of course pretty and dressed up as French maids. Each of us ordered tea and a dessert. In my case, cinnamon royal milk tea and a slice of chocolate cake. Kenzo also had chocolate cake, and Angelica had a pear tart. The forks we were given to eat with were very small, about the width of my pinky finger, which gave us all some laughs when I pointed this out.

What was really cool is that I was given a piece of cinnamon bark to stir my tea with. Kenzo had a mint tea where the maid came and poured it for him, and Angelica had a masala chai. I can’t get enough of royal milk tea, I’m really enjoying it here in Japan. I’m probably going to violate my “guideline” to try and avoid duplicating brand/drink combinations on that first, if not bottled water. My slice of chocolate cake came with some fruit slices, whipped cream, and a cherry. Man, was it good. The small fork definitely forced me to eat slowly and enjoy it properly.

After leaving the cafe we started heading back to where we first met up, since I saw a bag store there that may have had something to fit my sword. Unfortunately, it did not. So, I headed back to the hotel with Angelica and Kenzo in tow. I took them through Janjan Yochoko and showed them where I had kushikatsu my first night. Wandering through the area with them, I noticed so many more interesting things since I was feeling confident and not totally wound up and anxious. We passed by a Y100 store where some gloves were on display, I picked up a pair of red gloves with black flames on them for Y105, really good deal. I’ll find a way to work them into my red/black ensemble for sure.

Back at the hotel, I took my purchases up to my room, brought the sword down, and gave it to them. Angelica said she’d probably put it in her lab, but if she found something to ship it in, she’d send it back to me in Canada. Sweet. Then I walked them to the subway and returned as well. Then I’ve spent some time organizing my stuff again and testing my luggage’s capacity – it still zips up easily so I have no problems with my souvenir capacity right now. Excellent! I also checked my numbers and I’m right around on budget for souvenirs.


Day 9 – Nara

Yesterday I went to Nara! I was in a “man, what do I do today?” mode so I didn’t get going until after 11 AM. Didn’t even get presentable until after breakfast stopped, so I was feeling hungry. Getting there was really easy, I just took the Yamatoji Rapid line from Shin-Imamiya, where I’m staying, to Nara station. I was approached about a tour of the city, which appeared to be a bus tour; I politely declined.

My Lonely Planet guide is showing its age (two years). The places I had marked off as possible eateries were nowhere to be found, presumably closed down. However, I did find another place, recommended by the book, and packed by locals: Bikkuri Udon Miyoshino. I was in the mood for donburi, and they had it. I tried the katsu donburi, which was topped with egg and came with miso soup (almost many dishes do in Japan). It was really good. Katsu is one of my favorites so far, maybe because it’s deep-fried, maybe because it’s just that good.

Moving right along into Nara Park. I knew there would be deer, but holy crap there were a ton of them. They’re completely used to people, and vice-versa, and there were many stands set up selling treats for the deer for Y150. There’s lots of temples, so I won’t go through the details of all of them, you can check out the photos for that. I’ll just mention the interesting bits. At Kofuku-ji Temple, there were vending machines made out of recycled tea, how cool is that?

There were rickshaws set up all around the park, which was cool, there was the odd person taking rides, and it was fun to watch them go by as the runner conversed with the passengers, presumably describing local landmarks. I saw a restaurant flying the French flag, maybe that’s somewhere Angelica and Kenzo might want to go. Just follow Nobori-Oji east past the Nara National Museum.

There was some sort of food festival going on, so I took a look around. It was pretty small and seemed to be centered on an outdoor restaurant with a huge line, so I didn’t bother sticking around. You may notice in the photos I took many pictures of the waterways. I don’t know why, but I just like waterways.

That’s about all, really. It was pretty but became more of the same after a while. Maybe I should have gone into the temple but everything was really busy and I just didn’t feel like crowds.

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