Japan – Day 13: Tokyo – Day 7

Thursday – April 20, 2017

We had booked our MariCar tour for today at 11. Knowing we wanted to get breakfast before hand, the initial game-plan was to get to Akihabara by 10. But, as is the case most days here, things never go according to plan. We ended up leaving late and not getting to MariCar until 10:50. Cutting it a bit close if you ask me.

We then paid for our “tour”, signed the waiver, got on our costumes -Pete was Mario, Dan wore a Yoshi hat and I didn’t bother- and headed out with four other rando’s to the go karts.

MariCar

For those who don’t know, MariCar is a company that takes people on 1, 2, or 3 hour tours of Tokyo while driving in formation on go karts. It is supposed to be like the video game Mario Kart and so they have costumes you can put on to dress like the characters.

IMG_8630Pete, myself and Dan (back) driving through Tokyo in go karts

After a super brief tutorial we selected our karts and started the tour. We chose the 2 hour tour which took us over the Rainbow Bridge, to Odiaba (where we stopped for a bit for a photo op), back over the Rainbow bridge, past the Tokyo tower, through Roppongi and then back to the store.

It would be impossible for me to account for all of the things that went on during the drive becuase the two hours flew by and it was all a blur. I will say that driving across the Rainbow Bridge at 70-80kph was definitely the coolest and scariest part.

MariCarThe on-ramp to the Rainbow Bridge felt like Toad’s Turnpike from Mario Kart 64

Also being amongst downtown traffic, you realize just how small and vulnerable you are. Plus because it is an open air vehicle and you are so low to the ground, 40mph feels like 100mph. The only complaint I have is because you are sitting so low, exhaust fumes go directly into your face. Thus, I’m pretty sure I now have the black lung.

Oh well, totally worth it. This may have been the most fun thing we did the entire trip. We all loved it and it was worth every Yen (it cost 6,000 Yen or ~$55.00).

Hanayashiki Amusement Park

After finishing MariCar we grabbed a bite to eat at Mister Donut, a chain we had been seeing but had yet to stop into. Pete and Dan grabbed a quick bite where as I was going to be eating in. Since we all had different plans, they wanted to spend MORE time in Akihabara (I literally don’t know how that is possible) we once again split up.

IMG_6722Hanayashiki Amusement Park

After finishing my breakfast I headed to Hanayashiki Amusement Park, the oldest amusement park in Japan. There, I was on a mission to ride their roller coaster. It is tiny and barely worthy of note. However, if I’m not mistaken, it is the same roller coaster feature in the film Enter the Void.

Being the movie and roller coaster and movie nerd that I am, I had to ride it. After getting off at the nearby subway station, walking the short distance to the amusement park and figuring out after minor confusion how to get in, I paid the 1000 Yen entry fee.

Once inside I had to buy five tickets (at 100 Yen a piece) in order to ride the roller coaster. I literally rode it, filmed the entire thing, got off, took a few pics of the park and left. One more thing to check off the list.

Snoopy Museum

Next I made my way to the Snoopy Museum which, despite the fact that their hours are 10:00 – 20:00 seven days a week*, was closed when I got there. For whatever reason I am having shit luck with museums on this vacation.

IMG_6723Snoopy Museum

However, to be honest, because I knew I had other things to do with my day, I didn’t really mind. In the distance I could see the Tokyo Tower and since I had yet to get a close look at it, I decided to start making my way there.

*I should know, I’m the reason their hours are posted on Google. I checked the website, submitted them to Google Maps and they were approved by Google. I even have the emails to prove it.

Reiyuka Shakaden

However, along the way I got side tracked by a familiar site. Down some side street, off the main road I was using to head to the Tokyo Tower, I caught a glimpse of a temple I had put on my list to check out. Thus, I made my way over to it.

IMG_6729Reiyuka Shakaden

The Reiyuka Shakaden is a Buddhist temple/community space that is open to everyone from 6 to 17:00. I arrived a little after 16:00 and thus decided to head in. Apart from a police security guard and a few janitors, there was no one out side the place.

I slowly made my way up the ominous stairs and, at the top, pulled on one of the giant doors. It opened and I entered like the fellowship of the ring entering the doors of Durin. When I stepped inside there was no one there either.

I was in a lobby and so I made my way through a second set of doors into the main hall. I was floored by what I saw there. The hall was massive and beautiful. Again it was filled with no one but me and the 204 empty benches. It was absolutely silent.

I walked as lightly as I could trying not to disturb the silence. After walking to the front of the rows of benches I made my way back to the back and took a seat in the last row. I closed my eyes and reflected on the trip the far and the trip (what little left there was) to come.

After a few minutes of peace, I exited the main hall and then walked around the rest of the facility before heading to the Tokyo Tower. I was a truly excellent experience.

By the way, before stopping at the temple, I knew I was near the Hard Rock Cafe so I made a little side trip to grab a pic of the temple before heading on my way.

Tokyo Tower

The Tokyo Tower was a short walk from the temple. To be honest, I really just wanted to see it up close and get a few unobstructed pictures of it. I had read that the top observation section was closed which, to be honest was fine with me. After doing the Skytree I was basically done with observation towers, simply because they are all the same.

IMG_6764Tokyo Tower

I did however pop into the gift shop which was multiple levels and filled with restaurants as well. I found a bench and plotted my route to the nearest subway which would take me to Ikebukero. I then left and walked to said subway station.

Ikebukero

I made it to Ikebukero a little before 18:00. I had three main goals here. The first was to find Tokyu Hands because it is a store featured in Durarara, an anime I enjoy. The second was to find more locations from Durarara and the third was to go to the Kit Kat store as Kit Kat is known for having Japan only flavors.

After a bit of walking around aimlessly, I made my way to Tokyu Hands. This muilti-level department store has literally everything. Each floor is a different “topic” and it is stacked wall to wall with a little something to everyone.

IMG_6768Tokyu Hands

I gravitated to the stationary section where I found a beautiful little Field Notes sized notebook. Despite not needing it, I decided to buy it. Made by a Japanese company called Delfonics, what drew me to the notebook was they livery.

There were several colors to choose from but this one was yellow with deep blue typography on it. In addition the logo and the typeface that had been chosen -Helvetica- reminded me of the airline Lufthansa. To top it of there were some words and phrases on the front that were in German so it just added to the the feel of Lufthansa.

IMG_6771Kit Kat Chocolatory

After getting the notebook I made my way to stop number two, the Kit Kat Chocolatory. Despite what appeared to be straight forward directions on Google maps, I was having a tough time figuring out where to go. Eventually, after a bunch of walking around and digging a bit deeper I found the Kit Kat place.

Rather than being a store, it was more of a kiosk. Slightly disappointed, I grabbed a variety pack to bring back as a shareable souvenir.

Though I wanted to try and find sights from DRR, I had done no prior research on the matter and my feet were simply too tired. Thus I decided to head back to the room to rest for a bit and do a some blogging.

Brewdog Roppongi

Once Pete was back, we headed out to Roppongi to try Brewdog Roppongia bar I had found on Google maps while researching the trip. After a few stupid subway screw ups we made it to the bar. I had no idea how Westernized it would be. When we enter we were greeted in perfect English by a young woman whom we later found out was American.

IMG_6772Brewdog Roppongi

Most of the patrons were caucasian and spoke english. All of the waiters, though not all Amercian spoke English. The bar was rad and felt like it had been transplanted from Central Square in Cambridge or from Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

The music was great too. They played Do I Want to Know by Arctic Monkeys, followed by either I Don’t Know What To Do With Myself or I Can Tell That We Are Gonna Be Friends (I forget which) by The White Stripes, followed by Supermassive Black Hole by Muse.

I ordered a Chili IPA, and a kabab. Pete got a burger, typical, and a curry chicken app which we split. The food was great and we ended up finishing up around 23:30. I headed back to the room afterwards because I was so tired from the day. Pete wanted to stay out longer, so he did.

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Japan – Day 12: Tokyo – Day 6

Wednesday – April 19, 2017

Knowing me and knowing that I like to get to things early, I woke up a little before 6 so I could leave by 6:30. The train ride was supposed to take about an hour and though the park wasn’t set to open until 8:30, I wanted time to scope out what I could (such as their “Downtown Disney” section) before they opened.

Despite the fact that Google had other plans for me, I listened to my app which took me exactly where I needed to go. I took two subway trains and one JR train. Before making the transfer to the JR I grabbed a quick bite to eat. Then, two stops later… I was there.

Tokyo DisneySea

I arrived at 7:33. When I got off the train I was instantly giddy. I ran back and forth taking pictures of EVERYTHING. I had no idea the JR would take me, basically right to the entrance. After getting pictures of the gift shop and the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, I made my way to Ikspeari (their version of “Downtown Disney”). Unfortunately however, that section did not open until 10.

IMG_6525Mediterranean Harbor at Tokyo DisneySea

After running around for a bit longer I eventually made my way to the Monorail station where I figured out that I needed to take it from where I was in order to get to the entrance of DisneySea. Weirdly, rather than being free, you had to pay to ride it. Fortunately, it accepted Pasmo.

Their monorails are fully autonomous; because of that I was able to sit right up front and pretend I was driving. The monorail made two stops, one at each hotel, before arriving at DisneySea.

I got out, ran down the stairs and immediately got in line to get a ticket. This was strange because I’m so used to already having my ticket before I ever arrive at the park. Regardless, the line moved quickly and I actually ended up paying with cash rather than putting it on my card (I actually have more than enough Yen to sustain me).

After getting my ticket, I got in line to wait for the park to open. While waiting I put on suntan lotion and looked at the park map. Before you knew it the park was open and I was ready to start my Disney day.

Tower of Terror

The first ride I went on was the Tower of Terror; it is one of my favorite attractions at Disney World in Florida. Also, because it is one of the closest attractions to the front of the park it was a natural fit to start my day. Also, because no one was in the park yet there was only a 10 minute wait. The 10 minutes was mostly due to the pre-ride show you watch.

IMG_6545Tower of Terror

Unlike the one in Florida which is Twilight Zone and Hollywood themed, this one is New York and African god themed. Basically this explorer guy Hightower-san, stole this tiki god thing and now he’s cursed. At least that was the gist I got from the pre-ride show; naturally it was all in Japanese.

The ride itself was pretty good, not as good as the one in Florida for 3 reasons, 1) it is not as tall, 2) it doesn’t do as much, ie. move forward through the “The Twilight Zone,” and 3) and it doesn’t drop as much in terms of, not height, but how many times it goes up and down. Nevertheless, Tower is always a good ride.

Aquatopia

After Tower of Terror I made my way towards the back of the park. Along the way I passed a ride called Aquatopia. I was going to pass it since it was a family ride, but there was barely any line and I knew I was gonna be there all day so screw it.

It ended up being as lame as I expected but who cares. I was trying to do the opposite of what I usually do and actually smell the roses, rather than pass them by.

Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull

Eventually I made my way to the back of the park where I found and rode the Indiana Jones ride.

IMG_6563Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull

When I got to the front of the 45 minute line, I met a guy named Russ who told me there was a single rider line. I told him I didn’t mind the queue because it was well themed but that that was good to know. We got to chatting before the ride set off and it turned out that he was from Attleboro, MA; small world.

The ride was basically a version Countdown to Extinction (aka Dinosaur) in Animal Kingdom. You drive a jeep through a temple and, rather than being chased by dinosaurs, you are chased by evil spirits. Also, you get to see Indiana Jones speak Japanese. Fun.

Raging Spirits

Right next to that ride is another Indiana Jones themed ride called Raging Spirits. It is a compact little roller coaster with a loop in it. The cars look like mine trains and there are two cars per train. They were running about 6 at a time so the line had a steady flow. Though short, it was fun.

IMG_6567Raging Spirits

When I got off the ride, I checked my email and finally I had something from Dan. Because I had told him I was going to leave so early and I knew he wanted to sleep in, he decided he’d meet me there. However, since he had gone out late the night before, I thought he might bail. To my pleasant surprise, he was writing to say he was on his way and would be at the park soon.

After reading the message, I figured out a game-plan; ride one more ride then slowly make my way to the front of the park.

Journey of Sinbad

The next land over was Aladdin themed. There I came across the Journey of Sinbad ride. I had no idea what it was but I figured I’d try it. There was virtually no wait and it ended up being, essentially a Sinbad themed It’s a Small World -slow boat- ride. It was very childish and again, all in Japanese but the message, from what I could understand was to follow your heart.

After that I strolled through the Little Mermaid section before heading to Mount Prometheus, the main feature (Cinderella’s Castle) of the park. This section, because it was steam punk themed was by far my favorite.

IMG_6583The Mysterious Island section of the park

One of my favorite movies growing up was 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. This section had a 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea ride so I was pumped. I hadn’t been on it since before it closed at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, so probably since 1994.

Knowing I didn’t have time, I decided to hold off and save this section for Dan.

Cut to me at the front of the park checking my email. Dan had written that he did not need to ride the monorail to get to the entrance of the park. This made me nervous that he was entering The Magic Kingdom despite the fact that I had warned him that he’d need to take the monorail to get here.

He then wrote back saying he was looking at a big volcano and not a castle so clearly he was in the right place. I walked over to the lagoon and sure enough, there he was. I later found out that rather than take the JR, Google had made him take a bus which must have dropped him off right at Disney Sea, rather than where I had been dropped off.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Since I had just come from the Mysterious Island section of the park and had wanted to save Journey to the Center of the Earth to ride with Dan, that was where we went. When we got to the ride there was a 70 minute wait. I immediately grabbed Dan’s ticket and had him hold our place in line. I then went to the FastPass machine and came back with two FastPasses, that way we would be able to come back between 17:00 and 18:00 and skip the line.

IMG_6587Entrance to Journey to the Center of the Earth

Because Dan is not a Disney pro like I am, he was completely blown away by this concept. Despite the relatively long wait time, the line moved right along. Not only does Disney do lines better than anybody else, because they are themed, but having someone to talk to makes things go faster.

The ride was pretty cool. The ride vehicle was a sort of digging machine and you bore through the “center of the earth” until you reach the conclusion where you speed up a hill and erupt from the top of Mt. Prometheus.

Immediately following the ride, we were both starving, so we ate at Vulcania Restaurant. The place was really cool and the food was great. They had a sampler, which we both got, that had dumplings, rice, and other stuff I’m forgetting but all of which was great. After getting sufficiently filled up, we made our way to the nearby 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

I had been on the original 20,000 Leagues ride when it was at Disney World back in 1994. It has since closed down and so I was excited to ride it again. However, when we got to the ride vehicle, I knew something was a miss. The ride was more akin to the Peter Pan ride at the Magic Kingdom than a submarine ride that actually goes underwater. Regardless, the ride was kind of fun and was cool to check off the list.

IMG_6582 Queue for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Next we made our way to the back of the park to ride Raging Spirits. Since it was to be my second time riding it and Dan didn’t want to wait 45 minutes, we decided to do the single rider line. It probably ended up taking about 25 minutes so still a win. After we got off the ride, Dan went to the bathroom while I grabbed us FastPasses so we could come back to ride it later.

We chased Raging Spirits with a ride on Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull. Again we did single rider and again it worked to our advantage. After that we made our way to the front of the park to ride Toy Story. The line however was super long and for whatever reason we were unwilling to wait. Instead Dan got an ice cream and we sat and chilled for a bit.

Following that we explored a few of the shops at the front of the park. Naturally we took an infamous picture of us in Mickey ears hats. We then slowly made our way back to the the back of the park, along the way stopping to check out this DaVinci castle thing before getting back to the Mysterious Island section.

IMG_6621Blurry selfie of me and Dan in Mickey hats

There I grabbed an ice cream sandwich before we got back in line for Journey to the Center of the Earth, using our FastPasses of course. We chased Journey with Raging Spirits again (also with the help of FastPass) before grabbing food at the Arabian Coast Section of the park.

Again we both grabbed the sampler meal which was pretty good before making a game plan for the rest of the day using the park map and a Sharpie. Because we had seen it earlier and not gone in, we decided to go to the show at the Magic Lamp Theater. It wasn’t until the line started moving that Dan realized/pointed out that the show was probably all in Japanese. Sure enough, it was.

The show, as expected, was sort of childish, but a nice excuse to sit for a while. From there we took the electric railway from the back of the park to the front of the park and waited in line for the Teddy Rosevelt bar. The cool thing about this bar was/is that it is located on the SS Cloumbia, a “steamship” they have in the American Waterfront section of the park.

IMG_6647SS Cloumbia which houses the Teddy Rosevelt Bar

The bar seemed cool and I was craving a beer and a cheesecake. However, we were also pressed for time as the Fantasmic show was set to start at 20:00 and it was already 19:20. On top of that there was a line to get into the bar. While Dan held our spot, I explored a little bit of the boat. More that just a prop they had actually built out some of the decks where I got to have my Jack and Rose moment.

When I got back to the line we had barely moved. Since time was running out we decided to go to the lagoon only to find out from a cast-member on the way that, due to the wind, the show was not happening. We were bummed two fold, one because we had waited in line and bailed for nothing but also, because it meant we skipped the bar.

Toy Story Midway Mania

We once again rerouted and found ourselves in a 70 minute wait for the Toy Story Midway Mania ride. Once inside the building, the line was cool and a little bit lifted our spirits. The ride, as usual, was a lot of fun. Dan kicked my ass and the girl in the other car kicked both our asses. We chatted with her and her friends for a bit after the ride before doing one last thing each.

IMG_6646Toy Story Midway Mania

I wanted to ride the Tower of Terror one more time (this time at night) and I knew Dan still wanted to do the bar. I sped through the line for Tower. When it got to the part half way up where they fake you out by turning off the lights (knowing this was a fake out) I let out a blood-curdling scream.

What I forgot is that after the lights go off, they turn them back on. When the lights came back on I had an entire elevator of Asian people staring at me. Half started laughing and the other half started clapping; mission accomplished. After the ride I exited through the gift shop to find Dan waiting for me. Apparently, the bar was closed by the time he got there.

I was bummed that he had missed Fantasmic and the Teddy Rosevelt Bar. Oh well. For the most part the day was a good one and it gives us a reason to one day come back.

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Japan – Day 11: Tokyo – Day 5

Tuesday – April 18, 2017

Today was set to be a day away from Tokyo. Because it was supposed to be crappy weather I tried to figure out a day that would involve mostly indoor things. (The day, by the way, ended up fine; the weather was perfect.) The first thing I had on the itinerary was an arcade, but not an ordinary arcade.

Kawasaki

We made our way to Kawasaki, along the way having to transfer to the JR. At our transfer station we grabbed breakfast at a place called Bagel & Bagel. I hadn’t had a bagel the entire trip and these were actually pretty good. I got my breakfast sammy with hummus and twas quite good.

Anata No Warehouse

Once we arrived at Kawasaki station, we walked about 10 minutes to the Anata No Warehouse. The warehouse is meant to look old and rundown. The outside looks rusty and decrepit and even the sign for the parking lot appears to be crooked and falling apart.

IMG_6351Anata No Warehouse

I had purposely not told Dan what the place was all about because I wanted it to be a surprise. The front doors slid open as we approached and left us in an empty room with another single door in front of us. I slowly approached and suddenly a light turned on, there was a loud unsealing noise and the door slid open. Frankly, it scared the shit out of me.

Once inside, you’re in what feels like some back alley in Kowloon, China. It’s dark and creepy, you’d almost believe you were outside if not of the ceiling. We walked towards the back of the alley and saw the escalator that took you to the first floor, the main floor of the arcade. However, before going up, we saw this cave-like thing and had to check it out.

When we walked in, I was hoping it was going to be what I thought it was going to be. Sure enough, it was. The cave led to a stone pathway over a small green body of water that led to a circular door. It was mystical and creepy and cool until the illusion was broken by someone entering through said door. Apparently it is not only the exit, it’s also the entrance from the parking lot. (We had entered from the street).

IMG_6363Inside the warehouse

After getting a few pictures, we made our way up the escalator to the first main floor. We decided to do some scoping before we tried any of the games. Walking around, apart from the theming, it wasn’t much different than most of the other arcades I’d wandered into. After doing a lap, Dan and I decided to race each other in their arcade version of Mario Kart.

After I beat him (by a hair) in Mario Kart, I watched him play a bit of Time Crisis before we headed up to the second main floor. That floor was basically a casino with slot machines and games of chance. Dan also came across this weird pachinko type game that featured his favorite anime characters. I watched as he tried to figure out how to play it (all the games were in Japanese).

Once he was done, we headed up to the top floor. This one was the most chill. There were table tennis tables, pool/billiards tables, darts and two random pinball machines. Dan played the Elvis pinball machine and I played The Sopranos machine. I ended up getting a little over 2,000,000 points, which I thought was good… until I saw the high scores which were in the hundred millions.

IMG_6360The warehouse exit

Once we were both done with our games we decided to play a few games of pool. On the first game, despite the fact that he ran the table, I ended up coming from behind to win the game. On the second game, I left the table with three or four stripes still in play. I was glad that we both won one.

Lastly, after all that was done, we did one more lap of the first main floor. I played an Initial-D drifting/racing game and Dan played some fighting game. The place ended up being super cool I was glad we’d made the trip out there.

Yokohama

Next we made our way to Yokohama on the JR train. We hopped on one of the double decker cars. We rode it for about five minutes before an attendant came up to us and asked to see our tickets. We showed her our JR pass and she told us we were in a first class car and that we needed to go to scum, er I mean an “ordinary” car.

Luckily we were only going one stop and the rest of the ride was only another five minutes. When we arrived at Yokohama station we had to take the subway a couple of stops before arriving in the part of town we needed to be. We then walked about 10 minutes to Cosmo World.

Cosmo World

I was really only going there to ride one coaster, Diving Coaster Vanish (named so because there is a drop that “dives” underwater). As we approached the park, it looked like a ghost town and didn’t seem like many of the rides were running. I assumed this was due to the fact that it was a Tuesday and that there simply weren’t many people there.

IMG_6385Cosmo World

As it so happened, when I approached the ticket window to pay for the ride, the women told me it was closed. I was pretty bummed to have come all that way and to have dragged Dan with me to not even ride anything.

Cup Noodle Museum

However, I had a trick up my sleeve. I knew that literally across the street was the Cup Noodle Museum. That’s right, an entire museum dedicated to Cup Noodle brand ramen. Unfortunately when we walked up, we saw that the museum is apparently closed on Tuesdays. I was once again defeated. I only had one last ditch effort to make our trip to Yokohama worthwhile.

IMG_6384Cup Noodle Museum

We made our back to the train station and took the train to the end of the line. From there (after a bit of Google mapping) we switched to the #58 bus which would take us to Mooneyes Area 1.

Mooneyes

Mooneyes Area 1 and the abutting Moon Cafe are both centered around 50s, 60s and 70s era American car culture. The Moon cafe is, for all intents and purposes, an American diner. Being that it was around 14:00, we decided to get lunch.

IMG_6390Mooneyes Area 1 and Moon Cafe

The Moon Cafe was really cool. The food was exactly the sort of fare you would expect to find in a greasy spoon such as this. We took our time enjoying our respective sandwiches, mine a ham and egg, his a pulled pork. Though I haven’t been straying too much, it was cool to have “normal” food. Additionally, it felt weird to be using a fork and knife instead of chopsticks.

After eating we checked out Area 1. The “gift shop” had two levels. The first floor had all the merchandise; shirts, hats, stickers, mugs, etc. The top floor had car parts and accessories, like an AutoZone except specializing in things that actually look cool. Period correct rims and dashboards as well as other parts one might need.

IMG_6408Moonbug in the garage out back

I knew I wanted a sticker so I somewhat hastily picked a set, then headed downstairs. When I got down there however, I saw two that were exactly what I was looking for. I was sad that I had peaked too early and expressed this sentiment to Dan. He reminded me that I had no idea the next time I’d be in Japan, so I knuckled under and bought the other two stickers as well.

After I was done we exited out the back as there was a garage and a few cool custom cars in the back parking lot. I grabbed a few pics and then we headed to the bus stop to make our way back to Tokyo.

Tokyo

It was only around 16:00 but I wanted to get back sort of quickly. Now that the day was turning around, I wanted to see if I could sneak at least one more thing in to make the day even more of a success.

I had looked up a few cruises that not only gave you good views of the city but also took you from one part of town to another. The only problem was that the last cruise was set to leave at 17:30 and I knew our bus/train ride was over an hour. It was going to be close and so the race against the clock was on.

To my amazement, we arrived at Asakusa station at 17:07. However, we weren’t out of the woods yet. Despite the fact that Google Maps said it was only a 1 minute walk from the station to the dock, we still had to navigate the subway (not an easy task in Tokyo rush hour) and figure out how to get from the station to the dock.

IMG_6412Tokyo Skytree as seen from the dock

Usually GM is really good about labeling the station exits (all exits in Japanese subways are numbered, this can be super helpful) so you can see which is closest to the thing you’re trying to see. Unfortunately the labels for this station were not clear and we exited to some alley.

I then navigated us to the main road but, as has been my way on this trip, started heading in the wrong direction down said road. Dan course corrected us and, as we were running out of time, we both started lightly jogging. When we arrived at the ticket station we asked if there were still cruises. Happily there was.

We went to the ticket machine and we both grabbed one way tickets to Odaiba. The ticket printed at 17:19 and the boat was set to leave at 17:20. Can’t cut it more close than that.

Cruise

We boarded the Hotaluna which looked like a spaceship just as it was about to disembark. We then rested while enjoying the view out the glass roof from below deck. Eventually, once we’d passed under all of the low bridges, they opened the top and we were allowed out on deck.

IMG_6459Fuji TV building at seen from the deck of our boat

The views were much nicer from the top, unobstructed and with cool evening air. Dusk fell as we approached Odiaba and made our way under the Rainbow Bridge. Though we had rushed, I was really glad we were able to do the cruise. Being able to get out on the deck made it totally worth it.

Odaiba

Arriving at Odaiba, we were greeted by a familiar sight, the Statue of Liberty. For whatever reason there is an inexplicable SOL in Tokyo. It is, of course, much smaller, but was still weird to see.

IMG_6465Rainbow Bridge and our boat as seen from Odiaba

We then made our way to Aqua City, which, despite it’s name, is just a mall. We walked through it to get to Decks, another mall. However inside is an indoor theme park/arcade called Joypolis. This is on my itinerary for a different day (probably Friday) but I at least wanted to see it from the outside since we were here.

After grabbing obligatory photos, we made our way to Diver City, yet another mall. However, as was the case with the other two, I wasn’t there for the mall. I was there for the Gundam statue that was on the other side. Or should I say that was supposed to be on the other side.

Now mind you, Dan had warned me that it had been taken down just a month earlier in order to make way for a new statue to take it’s place. However, I wanted to see for myself that it was not in fact there. Low and behold, when we exited out the other side there was only a construction site. Sad.

IMG_6503Empty business district of Tokyo

We finished our time in Odaiba by grabbing a few pictures of of the Fuji TV building. We then took the train back home, however that too was an attraction in itself. Because of where we were, the train had to use the Rainbow Bridge to get to mainland Tokyo.

I’m a little kid when it comes to this stuff. I love bridges, and I love traveling trough a city at night. Because this train was elevated, it soared through the city, above the streets and between buildings. It felt like Batman Begins.

We arrived at our transfer station at 19:58. Two minutes later we heard this cool music and when we looked over, we saw this giant clock was doing a performance to announce the hour. I had no idea this was a thing, a happy accident. Dan and I ran over to it to enjoy the performance before it ended. It was a really great way to top off our night.

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Japan – Day 10: Tokyo – Day 4

Monday – April 17, 2017

Unlike yesterday which started out great and ended up only mediocre, today started out crappy and ended up great. I started my day by leaving the room before Pete in order to get to Ginza early enough to scope things out before he got there. Also because he was taking too long to get ready and I didn’t want to wait for him.

My first goal was to get breakfast at the Monocle Cafe. However, upon my arrival at Ginza station, despite doing Google map research, I was having a tough time finding the place. Eventually I busted out my phone and tried to find it on Apple Maps. It appeared it was inside of a building, rather than having a street-side location like I expected.

I went into the building and did a bit of snooping but could find nothing. Eventually I asked a security guard for help and he took the time to walk me to the cafe. I was pissed because I had literally just come from there and had missed it and because I wasn’t set to open until 11am! Who does that?

I called off Peter and told him that I was going straight to our first stop, the Tokyo Skytree, and to just meet me there. This was a bummer not only because I wanted to eat there and cross it off my list, but also because my plan was to find it fast, just to know where it was, then go to the Kit-Kat store and grab some Japan only Kit-Kat flavors to bring back to the states.

Tokyo Skytree

So, after this first failure of the day I made my way to the Tokyo Skytree. For those of you who don’t know the Tokyo Skytree is the second tallest structure in the world., second only to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Additionally, since construction was completed in 2014, this thing is only three years old, who knew!

IMG_6271Tokyo Skytree; the second tallest structure in the world

I exited the station, turned around and boom, there it was. The tower is disorientingly tall. You just can not get over how big it is, especially the closer you get. In any case, being that I hadn’t grabbed food at the cafe, I stopped into the Tully’s Coffee that was right there and grabbed a bite. Shortly after, Pete joined me and once we were both finished, we headed to the tower.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was not a “Disney World length line,” to get in. Which is what the internet had promised. Haha internet, turns out you don’t know everything. We actually got our tickets super quickly and got right on an elevator. The elevator too, despite having to take you up to 1,150 ft, is surprisingly quick doing the job in what felt like maybe 30 seconds.

Once at the top (technically there is a bit higher you can go but you had to pay more money so I was like ‘eff that) I walked around and checked out the views. After about 10 minutes I was bored. The thing about observation towers that I will never learn, is that they are all the same. Pete wanted to look around some more and he actually did take advantage of the higher observation deck.

However, at around 12:20 we called it quits and started to make our way to our next destination.

Rauh-Welt Begriff

I won’t bore you with the details of our train ride, however, I will just say that involved taking three trains and, including the walk from the final station, the total travel time was about an hour.

FullSizeRender 3Panorama of Rauh-Welt Begriff garage

We arrived at RWB a little after 14:00. When we got there it felt very surreal. I was finally at this place I’d read about on so many blogs and seen featured in countless Instagram pictures and YouTube videos.

Pete and I approached with caution. We started taking pictures of some of the cars outside the garage and as we approached, we noticed that the garage door was open. We peeked in and, at the back, I could make out a shadowy figure with poofy hair. Could it be? We said hello and the man waved us in. Low and behold it was none other than Akira Nakai AKA Nakai-san himself.

IMG_6311RWB 964 911

This man is a legend amongst car enthusiasts. Particularly Porsche fans and tuners as he is famous for making wide body kits for ’90s era 911s. I could not believe I was meeting him. He was just a regular dude, chill as he always in his videos. I fully did not expect him to be there and so I was bummed I hadn’t gone through with buying him a 6-pack of Stella Artois, his favorite beer.

Nakai was busy packaging some body kits that were bound for Canada but he was super accommodating. He let us see everything and take pictures of whatever we wanted. Whether you love or hate what he does with 911s, you have to respect a man who has been able to make a living out of doing what he loves.

IMG_6289This Mint Green one was my favorite

I zipped around the shop snapping pictures of everything inside and outside while Pete chatted his ear off. Nakai popped in a signature cigarette and was very respectful despite the fact that he seemed to be only half listening to everything Pete was saying. I then asked about buying a t-shirt. He told me they were 3,000 Yen and so I found a design I liked and pulled out my wallet.

I then bothered him for a picture, which he obliged and then, basically was on my way. Pete hung back to take it all in, take more pictures and to continue to talk his ear off. I just do not have the attention span for that. Also, being that it was going to take over an hour to get back to the apartment to drop this stuff off, and that I still wanted to do more with my day and didn’t want to get back super late, I dipped.

Roppongi

I got back to the Air BnB around 16:30 (the train ride back was a lot smoother for whatever reason) and checked my itinerary to see what else I could accomplish. I found two things that weren’t too far away from the apartment nor from each other and after making a game-plan, headed back out.

IMG_6328Tokyo Tower as seen from Roppongi Hills

The first stop on my list was Roppongi Hills, a shopping district with a bunch of cool stores. However, I specifically wanted to visit their Tsutaya Tokyo Roppongi book store. While making my way through the Roppongi Hills complex, I grabbed my first glimpse of the Tokyo Tower. I grabbed a shot then continued on my way.

When I got to Tsutaya, I did a bit of a walk around before asking for the item I had come to purchase. As I expected they would, they had it, Terada Mokei. I had first heard about this Japanese paper craft through the website Tested dot com.

I knew however that I had to buy some if I could while in Japan. Though they were a bit expensive, actually much more than I expected them to be, they would make great gifts. After finishing my purchase, I made my way to my last stop of the day.

Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu

Just a few blocks down the main drag from the Roppongi Hills complex is a restaurant called Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu. This place was the inspiration for the “House of Blue Leaves” from Kill Bill Vol. 1. Upon entering, you immediately get the same vibe. It feels exactly like the set built for the movie.

IMG_6336Overview of the layout

In the entrance there are photographs of celebrities that have visited the restaurant and once inside there is a little Kill Bill plaque inside a case. Despite not having a reservation I was seated almost right away. I had arrived at 18:15 so the dinner rush hadn’t really started yet.

I was seated at the “bar” right in front of where they cook all the food. Everything on the menu looked great and, despite the fact that the restaurant was somewhat upscale, the prices (as I’ve found has been the case with most things in this country) were very fair. I ordered a beer and two appetizers for my meal; the personal pizza and the pork belly.

IMG_6340The seat with the red jacket on the back is mine

After I placed my order, I walked to the upper level of the restaurant to get a few pictures of the layout. Because of the theming, it felt a little like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney. Shortly after I sat back down, my food came.

Though the portions were relatively small, they were incredibly delicious. I tried to take my time and enjoy them, rather than just scarf them down. After I was done, my waitress brought me a cup of tea. I ordered dessert and it too was fantastic. I couldn’t place the flavor of the ice cream, but whatever it was, it was good.

IMG_6346My dessert

Being that I had spent my allotment of cash for the day (between breakfast, putting money on my Pasmo, buying the t-shirt and the paper crafts) I put the meal on my credit card. I was completely full and very satisfied. Not only with my meal, but with my day. This was the first day in Tokyo that I felt I got a lot done and it felt good.

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Japan – Day 9: Tokyo – Day 3

Sunday – April 16, 2017

After a late night last night we all slept in thus giving us a late start to the day. We didn’t end up leaving the room until after 10am. We skipped breakfast and took the train straight to Tokyo Dome City.

Tokyo Dome City

Once there, we grabbed breakfast at a bakery. We ate outside in the shade and then grabbed tickets for Thunder Dolphin (the roller coaster). Luckily you can buy individual ride tickets and it was only ~$10. They were running two trains and because it wasn’t very busy, we only had a 10 minute wait.

IMG_6199Panorama of Thunder Dolphin

Because LaQua (the name of the amusement park; part of the Tokyo Dome City complex) is in such a confined space, Thunder Dolphin has to make due with what space it does have. Both the lift hill and drop are steep and the ride is relatively compact, but, despite that, it packs a punch.

What I loved is that you never get the chance to ride a roller coaster in the middle of a city. It’s a great way of not only getting a ride/entertainment, it’s also a way of getting a 360 view of the city.

The ride ended up being great, we all loved it and were kicking ourselves for not getting a five ride pass so we could ride it five times in a row.

IMG_6207The Tokyo Dome; pretty self explanatory I guess

We then made our way over to the Tokyo Dome (literally next door) which, apparently had a baseball game going on. After getting a few pics, we made our way to the train station. Ignoring my directions, we ended up going to a station that was a bit further than the one I was taking us to. Whatever. We took the train three stops (instead of just two) and ended up in Akihabara.

Btw, while walking around Tokyo Dome City after having ridden Thunder Dolphin, we totally came across a small Muji store. Super dope.

Akihabara

I don’t remember how this got on the itinerary. It must have been either Dan or Pete’s suggestion. Either way, Akihabara is the anime district/electronics/video game district of Tokyo. Imagine if everything you think about Tokyo were located in one place, this would be it.

That said, it was immediately apparent that this was not my scene. Dan and Pete on the other hand were loving it. Being that I was going nuts staying in the manga and card shops with them, I told them I wanted to walk around and we decided to meet back at the JR station in an hour (14:00).

IMG_6212This is a general overview of what Akihabara looks like

I spent my hour popping in and out of arcades, exploring the different levels but not actually playing any of the games. I also sat and posted my Instagram for the day. Additionally, I used the change machine to get smaller denominations of Yen as I keep getting screwed by big bills.

When I went back to meet up with the boys, I fully expected them to be ready to move on to the next thing seeing that I had walked the entire area. To my surprise, they said they had only just finished the building we had started in!

IMG_6216One of many SEGA arcades

I decided that this was my que to split. I grabbed my things from Dan’s backpack and took the JR two stops to Iidabashi Station. I then walked about 10 minutes to the Yushukan War Museum.

Yushukan War Museum

Not gonna lie the main reason I wanted to go was to see the Zero (airplane) they have on display. As you enter, it is literally the first thing you see in the lobby. I admired it and took some pictures before buying my ticket and entering the main part of the museum.

IMG_6235One of two Zero’s on display at the museum

I sort of perused at a steady pace. I couldn’t really take it all in because only a few of the plaques were English. Eventually however, I made it to the room with the vehicles. There they had a tank, a boat, miniatures of battleships, a mini-submarine and another Zero.

I ended up spending an hour and a half there. As I was walking out through the lobby, Pete Facetime Audio called me. I told him I was done at the museum and was heading back to Akihabara. We decided to all meet at MariCar.

MariCar

For those who don’t know, MariCar is a company that allows you to rent a go kart and, if you want, dress up as a character from Mario Kart while driving around on the streets/taking a tour of Tokyo.

IMG_6240In the lobby of MariCar – Akihabara

I arrived first, despite being the furthest away, and found out that they were all booked up for the day. When the others arrived, we agreed to reserve an 11am slot on Thursday. I was a little bummed that we weren’t gonna do it today, but I was glad that we at least put it officially on the itinerary.

Food

After booking our tour, we grabbed a bite to eat. Pete went to Carl’s Jr. and Dan and I ended up at Mos Burger. Once we were done eating, I wanted to go to the Park Hayett Hotel to make up for my not going last night. Pete realized there was some car meet near by, so once again, we split up.

Park Hayett Hotel

Dan and I took the train to Shinjuku Station. I had done my homework this time and wasn’t going to make a mistake with regard to directions again. Unfortunately, despit all that, that is exactly what I did. We walked for about 10 minutes in the wrong direction before I realized my mistake. I was so bummed and angry.

IMG_6252The entrance to the hotel

We then backtracked to the station and started over again. As we got to the station, I realized my mistake, we had come out the wrong exit. I had figured out how to walk to the hotel from one specific exit and, despite following the signs to what I thought was the right exit, we had somehow screwed it up. Whatever.

We then walked 15 minutes to the hotel which normally would not have been bad. However, when you’re tired and have had a long day and are pissed off, 15 minutes seems like forever. On top of that, when we got there we realized that the hotel is part of a much larger building complex.

This meant navigating the complex in order to find the entrance to the hotel. Once in the lobby of the hotel, we had to figure how to get to the New York Bar. This meant taking two elevators, one to the 41st floor and then a second elevator to the 52nd floor.

When we arrived at the New York Bar we were told we couldn’t be let in because Dan was wearing shorts. He insisted I go but I simply took a peek before heading back down to 41. Clearly I am not meant to have a drink there.

IMG_6248My “mocktail” and Dan’s whiskey at the Peak Bar

Instead however, we grabbed a drink at The Peak Lounge, the more casual but still upscale bar on the 41st floor with great views of the city. This actually ended up working out well because rather than just getting a beer, I was able to get a “mocktail”. Dan ordered a Japanese whiskey and though the drinks took forever, they were delicious.

I told Dan I’d grab the tab as I had dragged him on this somewhat fruitless endeavor and because he had had to deal with my shitty attitude.

Shibuya Crossing

After our drinks we made our way to Shibuya Crossing where we met up with Pete and took some pics and vid of the famous crosswalk. After a little bit of that we walked around the area for a bit before taking to the train back to the apartment.

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Japan – Day 8: Tokyo – Day 2

Saturday – April 15, 2017

I started the day by doing laundry. This was becoming necessary as I was on my second to last day of clean clothes. Luckily I planned it so that I would only have to do one load the entire time. Additionally, there was a laundromat 5 minutes away from our Air BnB. Lastly, I was able to figure our how to use the washer and dryer despite the directions being in Kanji.

Harajuku

Once I was done with what I needed to do, I wrangled up the troops and we made our way to Harajuku for breakfast. I had found a place on Google Maps while doing research for the trip called Eggs and Things, apparently a Hawaiian joint. Clearly I had picked a good spot because when we arrived there was a small line out front.

IMG_6124Eggs Benedict with spam at Eggs ‘n Things

The three of us checked out the menu while in line and knew what we wanted before we were seated. Dan and I had eggs Benedict and Pete got chocolate chip pancakes. The place was a little pricey and felt like something you’d find at a Disney Resort but it was very good.

After eating, we explored a few of the shops in Harajuku. There were a lot of street-ware brands represented there; I went into Stüssy for a bit. But one of the main places I wanted to visit was Deus Ex Machina.

IMG_6135Deus Ex Machine – Harajuku

Ever since going to the one in Sydney I’ve wanted to go back to one. So once I found out that there is one in Tokyo, I immediately added it to the itinerary. I’d love to grab breakfast or dinner there one of these days/nights, but, if I don’t, I’m glad we at least went.

Ghibli Museum

Next we split up. Pete left to go to a drift event that was happening in town and Dan and I went to check out the Ghibli Museum. For those who don’t know, Studio Ghibli has produced some of the most famous Anime such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke.

IMG_6146Ghibli Museum

Dan and I took the subway to the JR, then hopped on the bus from the JR station to the museum. We go in the line to enter the museum -yes, there was a line to enter the museum- and waited a few minutes only to find out that tickets need to be purchased in advance. What kind of museum does that?

We tried to grab same day tickets at a kiosk in a Lawson connivence store across the street. (Apparently a location where you can get tickets… go figure). But they were sold out. I felt so bad for letting Dan down.

Temari no Ouchi

After that we made our way to Temari no Ouchi, a cat cafe (as in there are literally cats there just chillin’ while you eat… because Japan) I had seen featured on the show Girls on HBO. We went in the lobby and took our shoes off (because we had to) then entered the cafe. Weirdly, no one greeted us or directed us where to sit.

IMG_6149Temari no Ouchi – the cat cafe from the HBO show Girls

There were a bunch of groups of people sitting around petting cats. Some may have had food, I don’t remember. Dan immediately noticed that it was super hot and humid in there. The vibe was also really awkward, so we decided to bail.

After failing at two things in a row, we decided to split up. Dan decided to go back to the room to take a nap. I, after looking at the itinerary, decided to check out a bookstore which I had been told stocks a magazine I’m unable to get in the states.

Tsutaya Daikanyama T-site

After a bit of a train ride and a short walk, I found myself at Tsutaya Daikanyama T-site. Tsutaya is apparently a chain. However, this one is not only their largest location (spanning three buildings with two levels in each one) but also has crazy long hours; 7am to 2am!

IMG_6151Tsutaya Daikanyama T-site

To start, the architecture. These buildings are architecturally beautiful. All minimalist rectangles, they incorporate intricate and ornate concrete design with glass. This design flows to the inside where the motif continues as well as adding wood to the mix.

The books are extremely well organized and there is a plethora of them. The secion I stopped in first was the car section as I was looking for Motorhead Magazine. What I found was a section that spanned books, magazines, videos, new, used, makes, models, maintenance; literally everything on the subject.

This theme continued through out the various sections and topics they covered. On top of that they had a floor dedicated to music, another dedicated to movies, one floor was a restaurant (naturally they had a Starbucks too), there was even a Family Mart. In addition to books, the store also sold writing paraphernalia such as pens, pencils and notebooks.

There was even a small museum style exhibit of Belstaff jackets which had been featured in movies. I could go on about all the things that the place had, but I won’t. All I’ll say is that if you needed it, this place probably sold it. There were so many books I wanted to buy but I ended up leaving with just the magazine.

Shibuya Crossing

After spending at least two hours walking around the book store, I made my way to Shibuya station so that I could get my first glimpse of Shibuya Crossing. Think of it like Times Square only even more insane. I only went at 17:00 (shit gets apparently gets poppin’ at around 19:00) but it was still fairly busy.

IMG_6154Shibuya Crossing

I took a few pictures of the famous crosswalk and the surrounding buildings before playing a game of human Frogger. When the cross sign goes green, hundreds of locals and tourists (let’s face it, mostly tourists) cross and criss-cross diagonally through the massive intersection.

I ended up on the other side at Shibuya 109 Men, a mens clothing mall. I went through a few of the floors before getting back on the subway and heading back to the apartment.

Park Hayett Hotel

I was only back for maybe half an hour before I left again. Dan was still sleeping and Pete wasn’t back yet. I had a feeling we weren’t going it make it to the Robot Restaurant again, so I decided I’d selfishly try and hit another bar on my list.

My plan was to visit the New York Bar at the Park Hayett Hotel as it is the one featured in the movie Lost in Translation. However, to spare you the details of this pathetic attempt at a trip. I ended up going to the absolute wrong subway station and ended up way out of my way.

I had been rushing too because they start charging a cover after 20:00 so now my legs and feet were unnecessarily tired. It was a total bummer. Tail between my legs, I made my way back to the Air BnB where I met up with the boys and after checking in on our respective days, we all went out to eat.

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Japan – Day 7: Tokyo – Day 1

Friday – April 14, 2017

Today was initially planned to be our first day in Tokyo. Dan and Pete however wanted to spend more time in Kyoto. Being that I had things I wanted to get done in Tokyo, once again, the group split up.

Shinkansen to Tokyo

I got up at 8:00, got showered, dressed, packed and left. I took the subway to the Shinkansen and walked to the back of the train and waited for my train to come. Then, realizing I was hungry and that I had 10 minutes to spare, I walked down the platform to the kiosk where I grabbed a few little things to eat and drink.

I then boarded the 9:32 Shinkansen bound for Tokyo station. Once we started going I got everything set up, plugged in my phone, ate and listened to music on shuffle. Interestingly enough they actually checked my JR Pass on the train, something they had yet to do thus far on the trip.

I had been keeping my eye out for a “certain something” that was supposed to appear out the left side of the train, the side I was sitting on. The only problem was that I wasn’t sure how far along the train ride it would appear. Additionally, though I had calculated that it should be about 10 miles away, I had no idea how far away 10 miles was or how big what I was looking for would look.

IMG_6060Mt. Fuji

Then shortly after hitting one of the stations and going through a tunnel, there it was… Mt. Fuji. I could not have missed it if I tried. I took tons of pictures because I wanted to ensure that I got at least one good picture of it. I did not realize how big and how majestic it would be. My heart literally stopped when I saw it.

Tokyo/Shinjuku – Day

Eventually I arrived at Tokyo Station. Imagine Grand Central Station times ten. I then easily found my way to the Air BnB via the subway (12:38 train). The app I had downloaded with the Tokyo Subway map on it worked perfectly. I found the bicycle with our key card in it right away but had a little trouble finding the entrance. Eventually, with the help of an English speaking local, I found the entrance.

However, due to how our key was linked to our phones I was not yet able to check in. I then put the building key back and made my way to the Shinjuku Loft. I was in search of tickets to the 5.6.7.8’s show on the 22nd, our last night in Japan. It took me a while to find the place and when I did (a little after 13:00) I was told that the box office didn’t open until 15:00.

IMG_6063Robot Restaurant

Thus I began to venture through Shinjuku. I ended up stumbling upon the Robot Restaurant that we plan on hitting up before we leave. I kept walking and found an arcade that I stopped in to use the restroom and put on sun-tan lotion.

I ventured on and again stumbled upon something from my list, Tiato Station Arcade. The place was at least 4 floors of games and in it I found an Initial D racing game. There was even free wifi which I took advantage of.

IMG_6079Cocoon Building

Then, in the distance, I saw the Cocoon Building. I was in sensory overload. I walked through a mall in order to try and get closer to it. I tried to walk to it but lost it in the shuffle of other buildings. However, I found a little pharmacy where I got more contact solution -mine was running low- and this special salt toothpaste that I’d heard about before I left for the trip.

By the time I was done with all that, I walked back to the Shinjuku Loft to grab tickets to the show. To my pleasant surprise there were still tickets left for the show. I was going to see The 5.6.7.8’s in Japan! After that, I took a second stab at reaching the Cocoon Building and this time was able to find it. I entered a side section of the building and grabbed food at Tully’s Coffee.

IMG_6082NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building

There I relaxed, mooched free WiFi, caught up with the boys via iMessage/email, sent an email to my Mom and wrote to this point in my notebook. After that I walked to the NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building which is, apparently, the second tallest clock tower in the world. Who knew. As a side note, it looks like the Empire State Building.

I then walked back to our subway station to check that my locker was not charging me more than it was supposed to (I wasn’t sure if it was based on time). Luckily, it was all good. After exiting the subway I went into my backpack to grab my hat as it was getting chilly. Dolly zoom to an “Oh fuck” reaction on my face. My hat wasn’t there.

I suddenly tried to think back to the last place I remembered having it. A flash of the Kyoto Station came to mind. I had put my hat on the handle of my suitcase but I never put it in my backpack. It must have been lost somewhere on the platform. I started to formulate a plan involving emailing JR East about if they have a lost and found and how I would be able to get my hat mailed back to America. I knew though that realistically, all hope was lost, my hat was gone forever.

I had been having such a great day; I saw Mt. Fuji on the Shinkansen, I got tickets to The 5.6.7.8’s and now I was completely deflated. The hat had been a gift from a friend and was my favorite article of clothing. The hat itself had become a companion and now it was dead. I was genuinely devastated.

I took a stroll around the block and eventually made my way back to Tiato Station to mooch more WiFi. I reached Pete who told me I could now get in a 19:00, it was 18:34.

IMG_6084Godzilla

I slowly and sadly made my way back to the Air BnB. Shortly after, I met up with Dan outside the nearby subway station. We then met with Yuko who let us into the room and showed us around. After she left I went down to the subway locker to grab my suitcase.

I opened the door to my locker and to my disbelief, there it was! My purple beanie! I had no recollection of having thrown it in there. I was unbelievably happy. I wore it back to the Air BnB smiling the whole time. Dan let me in and shortly after Pete needed to be let up.

We then all swapped the stories of our days and then I wrote all of this.

Tokyo/Shinjuku – Night

Afterwards, Dan said he was hungry, so I led the boys into Shinjuku. We were in search of anywhere that did not close at 22:00. It was starting to look like hope was lost until we found a place that not only had food we all wanted to eat but also was open 24 hours a day; win, win.

As we were eating, Dan mentioned he wanted to go to a bar after we ate. I told him about the Golden Gai district that has a lot of tiny bars down an alleyway. He was down and so was Pete, so that’s where we went.

IMG_6111Golden Gai

I was super excited to go, but when we got there, not only did we think it was pretty underwhelming but also, all of the bars had cover charges. However, we soon simply turned a corner and boom, we were on another alley filled with bars.

We eventually found a bar called Deathmatch In Hell. It was a horror themed bar that played heavy metal music and horror movies and charged no cover. The price of the drinks was 666 Yen.

We drank there for a bit and chatted with some of the other tourists before heading back to the apartment. We didn’t get back till around 1:00. Not bad for our first night in Tokyo.

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Japan – Day 6: Kyoto – Day 2

Thursday – April 13, 2017

We started our morning at a breakfast place that Pete had spotted yesterday. Literally, a half block away from our Air BnB, Komeda’s Coffee was this crazy IHOP on steroids with great food and super fair prices. Any of the specialty drinks or coffee orders come with toast. On top of that they have these massive breakfast sandwiches for no money at all. I took half my meal home it was so much.

IMG_5935

Iwatayama Monkey Park

After dropping off the leftovers in the room we hopped on a couple of trains and made our way to the Iwatayama Monkey Park. The park is a bit outside of the city and is located half way up a mountain. Getting to the park requires navigating your way through a small but crowded village down a busy main street with no sidewalk and tons of visitors.

IMG_5940Panoramic view of the mountains near the Monkey Park

There are great views of the mountains as you approach the entrance. Admission to the park is only 550 Yen. Once you pass the gate entrance, you still have to hike 20 minutes up a narrow dirt path with two way traffic and the occasional motorized scooter. The hike is really scenic and is in the woods/forest.

It felt like we were walking through Jurassic Park or something. About 90% of the way up the trail there is a little play-ground area with a small zip-line, swings, a see-saw, and a slide. I obviously tried the zip-line and the slide before continuing up to the top.

IMG_5963Overview of the monkey park

The top was filled with tourists trying to get their best Facebook and Instagram selfies. There was a little section where you could go in, buy food and feed the monkeys. To be honest, the place wasn’t as littered with monkeys as we though it would be, but it’s not like we didn’t see any either, there were plenty of them.

It was also just a great spot to look out at the city and nature below. To top it off, today was the best weather we’ve had the whole trip. Not only was it sunny but it was warm too, about 68 degrees (20c).

Tenryu-ji

After we’d had our fill of monkeys. We made our way back down the mountain and along the water to Tenryu-ji Temple. To be honest, we weren’t super interested in checking out the temple, but I had read that the North exit leads to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

[perhaps add the bit about how, as usual, Pete, like a squirrel with ADD, got sidetracked by a car in the parking lot and preceded to take pictures of it for 20 minutes while Dan and I waited impatiently.]

Unfortunately, in order to exit from the North of the complex, you need to enter, which means paying, which we didn’t want to do. So, we figured out the general direction we needed go and headed back to the main street to get to the bamboo forrest.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

After passing what should have been an obvious entrance to the bamboo forrest, (everyone was going there), we made our way back and eventually into the grove. The place was packed with people and was, I’ll admit, a bit underwhelming at first. I thought, based on pictures I’d seen online, that the trees would be more tightly packed.

IMG_5996The Bamboo Grove

Eventually however, we found a different section that was closer to what I had in mind. That said, there was one section of the path that we never explored and I’m wondering if that was the section I was thinking of/looking for.

After chillin’ in the grove for a bit we were ready to move on to the next thing. Cut to a montage of us walking back and forth on the main drag looking for the train station to take us to the next stop only to realize that we had to go to the same station we had arrived at in the first place.

Rioan-ji

We eventually took the two trains that got us the closest to where we wanted to go and after a short walk through the local town, we made our way to the Rioan-ji Zen Garden. The place was more than what I expected it to be. Rather than just being an indoor/outdoor Zen garden, it was an entire complex.

Admission was 500 Yen but you got to explore all the grounds. There was a small pond with an “island” in the middle you could walk out to. There were also small paths with these cool little trees and plants in them. But obviously the highlight was the Zen garden itself.

IMG_6024Zen Garden

This was the first place (and last place) we went to that required us to take off our shoes. We walked the wooden walkway out to the opening with the Zen garden. There I waited my turn to sit at the edge and contemplate in silence. Despite the fact that I was acutely aware that the longer I sat, the more people I prevented from doing the same, it was a good moment of “Zen” from the fast pace of this trip.

Once we had all caught up to each other, we made our way to the final stop on the list, the Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion. 

Kinkaku-ji

The pavilion was a 20 minute walk from the Zen garden and I knew it was set to close at 17:00. I was somewhat aware of the time but figured that even if we couldn’t enter the temple, we could at least enter the park.

We arrived at, I shit you not, 16:59. There were guys at the entrance shooing people away. We stuck around long enough for them to leave but we still weren’t able to go in far enough to see anything worth while.

Being that we had a full day, we decided to pack it in and head home. We walked to a nearby bus stop and took a bus that took us to a train that brought us to our station. There we went back to the apartment where I ate my leftover breakfast and, after realizing that we DID in fact have Wi-Fi, posted the blogs from the past two days as well as today’s post.

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Japan – Day 5: Kyoto – Day 1

Wednesday – April 12, 2017

We woke up early (8am) this morning as it was our last day in Osaka and our first of two days in Kyoto. We got the Air BnB tidy before we left and then made our way to Shin-Osaka station. There we took the 10:43 Shinkansen to Kyoto. Being that the bullet train gets you to Kyoto in about 10 minutes I figured we’d get a pretty good jump on the day. Little did I know how wrong I was.

Kyoto

When we arrived at Kyoto station, we had to take two trains to get to Sanjo station; the station nearest to our Air Bnb. It was too early to check in so we put our bags in lockers so we could retrieve them later in the day when we got back from our adventures.

IMG_5848Area near our Air BnB

We then exited the station and crossed the bridge to where our Air BnB was. Our plan, before doing anything else, was to grab a bite to eat. Being that I had done a bit of Google street view snooping a few months before, I knew that there was a quaint breakfast spot right on the corner of where our Air BnB was. I pointed this out to Dan who vetoed it.

We then crossed the street to a pizza place but upon inquiring, the wait was over an hour and this was time we didn’t have to spare. I was getting antsy, not because I had been vetoed, but because I just wanted to pick a place and eat so we could get started on our adventures.

Dan, misreading my frustration, was also getting frustrated because we couldn’t agree on where to eat. Thus, he made the executive decision for all of us to split up and find our own place to eat. I suggested we meet back in 20 minutes and that is exactly what we did. Though this idea was the right decision to make I hated that there was now tension in the air.

That said, I went to the aforementioned breakfast place on the corner. Dan went to a local Japanese place. And Pete, being unadventurous and predictable as usual, went to Burger King. And he says he’s gonna lose 10 pounds on this trip… yeah… right.

IMG_5849Area across the street from our Air BnB

I got this makeshift pizza thing which was very good but not very filling. Needless to say, I finished first and so I went into this designer t-shirt store I saw across the street. They had all of these really cool t-shirts. Though another t-shirt is literally the last thing I need, I might grab one I was eyeing before we leave Kyoto because, fuck it, I’m on vacation.

We reconvened at 12:40 and made our way to train station. This is where things went from bad to worse. I don’t know how it happened but despite us all reading the same sign I somehow managed to make us take the wrong train. We went all the way to the end of the line and then had to backtrack to fix the problem.

I was very disappointed in myself and felt the weight and anger of the others pressing down hard on me. I was super depressed and knew that Dan in particular hated me. Eventually however, we made our way to Daigo station where a woman helped us figure out where we needed to go, and we took the bus to Daigoji temple.

However, to add insult to injury, because I only had large denomination bills and not smaller 100 Yen coins, I didn’t have the bus fare to pay for the ride. I literally gave the driver all of the change I had and, thankfully he let me off without hassle.

Daigoji Temple

We arrived at Daigo-Ji temple around 14:00. We walked straight to the mid section of the park (btw the temple is basically part of a big park) only to realize that we needed to buy a ticket to access the various sections.

We went back to the front where I broke my 10,000 Yen note to pay the 1,500 Yen fee to get a ticket. This gave me the change I needed to pay for the bus ride back. We then made our way to the back of the park, specifically to the Bentendo shrine.

As we made our way through the nature paths I felt a lot of the stress start to dissipate. The trees, cherry blossoms, shrines and running water were all very tranquil. This was why we came to Kyoto. Everyone’s mood lightened. Then, suddenly, it was right in front of us.

IMG_5874Bentendo at Daigo-Ji

The Bentendo Shrine is like something out of a Japanese fable. Nestled in the woods on a pond with mountains in the background, you simply don’t see things like this every day. We made our way further into the park and then back out through the other few sections before moving on to our next stop.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

We took the bus back to Daigo station and took two trains to get to Inari station. We arrived at Inari around 16:15 and literally crossed the street to get to the Inari Shrine. When we arrived we found it was packed with tourists.

I really hated seeing that many white people in one place. I hated hearing so much English being spoken. I came to Japan to get away from Americans, not to interact with them. In any case, we made our way up the first of many stairs and were faced with yet another famous Kyoto site, the Tori gates.

IMG_5903Tori gates

As we walked through them, they were packed with people. However, the higher up we got, the thinner the crowds and soon it was possible to stop and take pictures. Eventually we got to a high point on the path where there was a lookout where you could see the city and the mountains in the distance. It was there where we realized we had a ton further to go to reach the top.

Because there was so far to go and because I was cold and hungry and because it was getting dark we decided to head back down the mountain. We took a 18:07 train back to Sanjo station and grabbed our stuff out of the lockers so we could finally check into the Air BnB. Once there I immediately dropped my stuff off and went out to grab food because I was starving.

Air BnB/Avocado Restaurant

Earlier, when we were all on our own food hunt for brunch, I had found a Mexican restaurant called Avocado that looked interesting so I decided to try it out. The place was a little hole in the wall but was exactly what I was looking for. I grabbed three orders of tacos; beef, pork and shrimp.

IMG_5929Bar at Avocado restaurant in Kyoto

Each order came with two tacos and I made sure to get one flour tortilla and one corn tortilla. I also got a Day of the Dead Hefeweizen beer which was delicious. As much as I want to have Japanese food while I’m here, it was nice to have something I know I love.

The place was a bit pricey for the amount of food I got, but since I’m on vacation and I had budgeted and I hadn’t had lunch and I was hungry as shit, I didn’t care. After I ate, I came back to the room and wrote yesterday and today’s blogs before organizing my shit for tomorrow and turning in for the night.

PS While walking back from Sanjo station to the Air BnB, Pete spotted a Midnight Silver “Spectre” Model S.

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Japan – Day 4: Osaka – Day 4

Tuesday – April 11, 2017

I started the day getting up early, as I usually do, and writing the blog post for yesterday. After that I woke up the boys and once they were ready, we figured out a game plan for the day.

We left the apartment by 10am and got breakfast at Y and A, our local breakfast spot. We then walked to the train station were, upon getting on the platform, we split ways. Pete went to the Glion Auto Museum and Dan and I  went to the Nara Deer Park.

Nara Deer Park

Our train ride took about an our and we arrived at 12pm. We then walked to the park. Along the way, as we got closer, we started seeing deer on the sidewalk. The closer we got, the more deer we saw. Eventually we reached a little stand where you could buy snacks to feed the deer. Dan bought a thing of snacks and was immediately surrounded by deer. He started feeding them the snacks but they were pretty aggressive; one even bit him.

IMG_5740Dan feeding the deer at Nara

After that we made our way into the park where we walked around for a bit. The one cool thing was that the deer are so accustom to seeing people bow at them, that if you bow, they will bow their head in return. There wasn’t very much to see there and the weather was kind of shitty so after a about an hour of walking around we were ready to go.

Tsutenkaku Tower

We got on a 12:56pm train back to Nippombashi. The ride back was only about 45 minutes. From there we took the train to the Tsutenkaku Tower

IMG_5756Walking from the train station to Tsutenkaku Tower

Though from the outside it looked old and cool, the tower itself was really tacky and filled with weird stuff. It’s hard to explain but I really didn’t like it. To top it off, the tower wasn’t very tall so the views were only ok.

Nanbayasaka Shrine

Dan and I basically raced through the place and the only thing I literally got out of it was a small box of Pocky. After that we made our way on foot to the Nanbayasaka shrine. There we met up with Pete. We also met these two Canadian tourists who were cool and whom we may meet up with again in Tokyo.

IMG_5779Lion’s head at Nanbayasaka Shrine

From there we walked to the subway Pete had taken to meet us. We took the train to Shin-Osaka to switch to the JR to Kobe. On the platform we were trying to to figure out which train we needed to take. A native must have seen that we were struggling and asked if we needed help. We told him we were trying to go to Kobe and he informed us that we we in fact at the right platform and that the next train would work for us.

Kobe

We took the train to one of the stations in Kobe and started to exit the station. However, I informed Dan of my game plan and so we then had to get back on a train heading in the same direction to get to the station we wanted.

When we arrived at Shinnagata station, we had one mission, find the Gigantor (from Tetsujin 28) giant robot statue. We started walking the right way, thanks to Dan, but then, thanks to me, we ended up going to the wrong way. Eventually, we got on track and found Gigantor.

IMG_5793Gigantor from Tetsujin 28-go Manga

We spent about 10 minutes getting pictures with him before splitting for food. We walked through one of the many shopping streets we’ve come across. We were in search of a spot to get some famous Kobe beef for dinner.

However, when we realized that we were nowhere near any of the restaurants we had looked up on Google, we made our way back to the train.

After getting off the train and walking a few blocks away, we found ourselves on a side street that was littered with restaurants. We walked to the one we had looked up but it was way too expensive. We walked to a second one but it too was pricey. We then just walked in the next place that looked decent and relatively inexpensive.

IMG_5820Kobe Port Tower and the Kobe Maritime Museum

The place we found did serve beef, but it served all the parts that are unappealing. At least unappealing when you read it off a menu. I’m sure intestine and tongue are delicious, but I don’t want to know that’s what I’m eating. We eventually all found something on the menu that satisfied all of us and everything we ate was really good.

However, the pre-search for food combined with being hangry, combined with not being able to agree on where to eat had led to some tension. This however was solved at a nearby pastry shop Isuzu Bakery where we all grabbed a few items for dessert.

IMG_5819Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel

Next we made our way down to the port where we got great views of the Kobe Maritime Museum, the Kobe Port Tower and The Kobe Meriken Oriental Hotel. We walked around the port area for a bit, grabbing pictures of the aforementioned things lit up in the night. Pete and I even checked out the lobby of the hotel which was dope.

After chillin’ in the port area for a while, we decided to go back to one of the bars we had passed on the way to the port. The bar was called Brugge. Dan and I liked that they sold craft beer. He got in Asahi Dark and I got a Kobe Lager which was very light. I mainly got it because it was a local brew and because it was seemingly made just for the bar we were at.

After finishing our drinks it was kind of late so we went straight back to the Air BnB. I was cooked. Partially because we had had a long day and partially because beer makes me sleepy I conked out the second we got back to the room.

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