August 20, 2007

We got up pretty early and headed out to Shibuya to transfer to a train to go to Mitaka because we had reserved through JTB our tickets to the Ghibli Museum. When we walk outside the Mitaka station we take the cat bus themed shuttle to the museum. We walk inside the museum and are told that pictures are not allowed inside the museum but when we step outside we can then take all the pictures we wish to. We picked up the complementary packet and went to see the short film presentation, which turned out to be an original short film called Monmon the Water Spider (水グモもんもん Mizugumo Monmon).

The inside of the museum is really interesting, it had exhibitions explaining the old animation process as well as showing some moving models that, when moving fast, looked like it was animated. There were rooms inside that were set up like an artist’s room having original sketch books and different points of information. Stepping outside, we took many pictures, the roof had some extremely awesome statues of objects from Laputa, Castle in the Sky.

After spending the day at the Ghibli Museum we returned to the ryokan to pick up Lower’s luggage because he had to go back to Tsukuba to teach English the following day. We headed to Asakusa and had some dinner near Sensouji and then Ryan and I saw Lower off at the station for the Tsukuba Express.

We then headed back to the Katsutaro Ryokan because we had to get up early for our day trip to Mt. Fuji and Hakone the following day. Which is what I will write about next time, until then!


August 19, 2007

Extremely late coming, I apologize and here it goes. We left the capsule hotel around 10:00am in the morning and trekked over to the second and final ryokan we would stay in on the part of our trip in Tokyo; Katsutaro Ryokan. It was also located in Ueno but on the opposite side of Ueno Koen (Ueno Park). We crossed through the JR Ueno station and entered the park. We had to go Northwest to get to the Ryokan but Ueno Koen is pretty large and confusing, add on that the maps inside of the park don’t have compass directions. Needless to say, it took us a while to find our way to Katsutaro Ryokan, but when we did we basked in the glory of a working air conditioner (the capsule did not have a climate control or AC and the fan that it did have didn’t keep it that cool).

After cooling off, taking showers, and getting ready we headed out to Shinjuku because on the weekends they shut down the roads to cars and there are street performers. We got to the station and first headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office. Inside of the office the general public is allowed to ride an express elevator to the top floor of the building, which displays a great view of the city and, on a clear day, Mt. Fuji. We then went back, watched a few street performers and ate at a “kaiten sushi” restaurant for lunch.

Kaiten Sushi restaurants are unique in that you sit at a bar, more or less, and there is a conveyor belt that is on top of that bar containing many different plates of sushi. The plates are of different colors, the colors denoting the price of the sushi that rests upon them. You then take what sushi you want, keep the plates and when you are finished the waitress calculates how much you owe from the collection of plates that you have in front of you. I tried many different types of sushi that I probably would not have tried otherwise because of them being prepared individually, and learned that while Otoro (the “best” type of tuna) is expensive, I do not like it.

From Shinjuku we went to Harajuku. In Harajuku on the weekends teenagers, and sometimes older, do what is called cosplaying. Cosplaying is a Japanese combination of two English words: “Costume” and “Roleplaying”, which is exactly what they do. A lot of times they will dress up as their favorite band’s members, sometimes as anime or manga characters, or just in really elaborate costumes of the punk, gothic, lolita (or another Japanese creation: gothloli) outfits. They basically compete for attention and walk around desiring to have their picture taken because they have put a lot of time and effort into their appearance.

We split up because I wanted to try and get a cellphone (the key word there is try) and I didn’t want to hinder my friends’ travel. I won’t describe what happened in the cellphone shop for two reasons. 1; It really is frustrating and an irritating memory and 2; I successfully obtained a cellphone later so I will describe it in that post. While I was having a hard time in Harajuku my friends had a great time going back to Akihabara which one of them will describe in the first podcast episode (when I finally get that up, I will describe those problems later -_- ). We rejoined back at the hotel, another full day under our belt.

Next time I will try to get out more, now that I have finally settled into my living situation and have (semi)reliable internet. I apologize for it taking me so long to get this post out but in the next couple of days I want to get the rest of the Tokyo and Tohoku trip on here, we’ll see how that goes. Until then!

August 18th 2007

We got up early because we needed to switch hotels from the Homeikan Ryokan to a capsule hotel we found in Ueno because we called the capsule hotel in Akihabara and it was full for the night. We called ahead to the one in Ueno just to make sure that they had an opening for the night which they did. While packing I discovered something extremely disturbing… I no did not have my traveler’s cheques where I had thought I had packed them. Luckily I plan for the worst to happen and I had a back up plan, I called the number to receive the refund for the amount of traveler’s cheques I had purchased. I was told that I could pick them up at a Western Union center (of which there only seems to be one in Tokyo :-T ).

We checked out of Homeikan and made our way to Ueno to drop our bags off at the capsule hotel because we had to get to the pick-up for the Exiting Ninja Tour by Sunrise Tours at 1:40pm. Finding specific places in Japan is extremely hard, especially if they aren’t very large. We spent the better part of an hour trying to find the capsule hotel, quickly put our bags in our rooms and made it to the pick-up point with only moments to spare.

Leaving from Hamamatsucho Bus Station our first stop on the tour was to Odaiba where we had 40 minutes free time. Because all three of us frequent the internets we knew that inside the SEGA Joypolis, for a limited time, there is an arcade game called Initial D where they rigged an LCD screen to the front of the car and you drive the actual car. We headed strait over there taking a quick stop to see the miniature Statue of Liberty on the way.

The story that was told to us by the tour guide is that America built a miniature Statue of Liberty for France as a thank you gesture for them building the real one in NYC. Odaiba is a new city that was built a little while after Colonel Perry opened up Japan. It was built because the Japanese didn’t want America to come back into their harbors so they built many canons to shoot at the Americans should they choose to come back. Shortly after they found out that they did not have the range or the power that the American canons had and quickly welcomed the Americans back into their country ^_^.

After WWII Odaiba still did not have very much on it, so they had a “France day” where they invited artists and architects to the city. France brought along the miniature Statue of Liberty and let Japan keep it for one year. At the end of the year it was supposed to go back to France. However, the younger Japanese loved it so much (it had become a popular spot to take pictures and had even developed a legend that if you take a picture in front of the minature Statue of Liberty you will find love soon after) that they created a petition to the Japanese government to keep the statue. The Japanese government couldn’t keep the statue but they did come to a compromise, they had architects build another miniature Statue of Liberty so that Japan could have one of its own.

We took a few pictures in front of the statue just in case the legend was true then we headed over to the SEGA Joypolis. We spent all our time at the Initial D game, like the Hibiya Matsuri, I will let the pictures and videos describe our experiences there.

After our free time was up in Odaiba we headed back to the bus and ventured forth into Shinjuku to Kabuki-cho where the Ninja demonstration and entertainment would take place at Ninja Yashiki (literally translated to Ninja House but they had English signs saying “Ninja in New York” around the restaurant). The show was very good and Ryan became an official ninja, with a scroll and everything. We recorded the whole bit so watch the video and look at the pictures, they can describe what happened much better than I can with words. We had all you could drink beer and other alcoholic beverages, as well as juice and water of course. It was very entertaining and if you are in Tokyo I highly recommend the Exiting Ninja Tour.

From Shinjuku we took the JR Yamanote line to Akihabara where we walked around the electric city until our feet could take it no more. We went into the Radio Kaikan building where there are several floors of models of anime and monga as well as electronics galore. I bought a microphone on the second floor to record the podcast but, as I found out later that night, I didn’t have the AC adapter for the mixer so it didn’t help in the end. We took a good deal of photos inside the building which you can view on the flickr.

We then went back to the capsule hotel in Ueno, much easier to find after we knew where it was now. We were on the fourth floor, whereas the showers, and the laundry were located at the basement. We washed up and called it a night. The capsules were actually larger than you think and you could kneel inside without much trouble. It was worth the 3100 yen for the experience.

Last night we stayed in a ryokan that didn’t have internet so I wasn’t able to upload anything we have many pictures and videos that need to be uploaded but don’t have a connection where we can do said uploading. I’ll be writing subsequent entries on the shinkansen then uploading them to the site when we can get  to a net cafe or something, until then!

August 17, 2007

In the morning we woke up relatively early, ate at a standing soba and udon shop aptly named SobaUdon, and headedThe palace over to the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo. We got there, took some nice pictures and were about to go into the park (Koen in Japanese) to the North of the palace which contains a few museums and other neat stuff, because the palace itself is only open two days a year to the public, but promptly found out it was closed on Mondays and Fridays. Kind of disappointed we walked a little South to Hibiya Koen.

It was extremely hot (35 C/95F) and the humidity made it feel worse so we bought some popsicles at a stand and walked into the park to find about 18 young people dressed in kimonos pracLower displaying the sake at nihonshu jouhoukanticing a traditional looking dance. Ryan Lower, the English teacher from now on referred to as Lower, asked someone standing around what the youths were practicing for and we found out that there was a matsuri (festival in English) going on that night from 6pm to 9pm. Something to note: Lower and myself combined have about a 3rd grader’s skill in the Japanese language, maybe less, but both of us can pretty much get across what we mean to say. From there we headed a little farther South into Hibiya to a place called Nihonshu Jouhoukan (Japanese Sake Information Pavilion, or at least that’s what Lonely Planet translates it to) where we did tasting of 15 different sake. 520 yen to try 5 different sake. It was amazing, I will be posting what we thought of them at a later date. Walking out quite buzzed we headed to Ebisu to the Beer Museum, the next logical point of interest.

The museum was entertaining, unfortunately it was all in Japanese so we couldn’t read it. There was an awesome animation, well more accurately it was live action characters superimposed onto a diorama. Apparently the history of making beer involves both a beer fairy and a beer devil, we couldn’t understand more of the animation because it was in Japanese, none the less my life was fulfilled knowing that the beer fairy exists. We then proceeded down to an area where we tasted 4 different beers of Yebisu and Sapporo for 400 yen. I liked the Yebisu Black which was a dark beer and the Sapporo pale ale.

After we finished up in Ebisu we headed over to the matsuri in Hibiya Koen. It was very amusing I will let the pictures and the videos tell the story of the matsuri when they get online.

Click on one of the photos to be brought to my flickr where you can view the rest. I tried takoyaki (balls of dough with octopus inside) for the first time, and it was delicious. There was a really nice police man who, when I said that I was tired in Japanese (out of reflex), massaged my neck then took one of our fans and started fanning us for a couple of minutes (there’s a picture of that in my flickr). *sigh* If only cops were like that in the US we might have more respect for them. Overall we had a great night at the matsuri, we then proceeded to venture out to find dinner in the area. After dinner we went back to the Ryokan. Extremely tired, we crashed.

I was planning to post both Day 3 and along with the podcast tonight but after another full day of traveling in Tokyo I’m tired as hell and even writing this took great effort. I think we might redo the podcast as well so we’ll see what happens with that. The pictures will be are up as soon as flickr updates my account to a pro account and the videos will be up that we have taken thus far shortly as well. Tomorrow I will write about Day 3 and I think I’ll have the podcast up as well, no guarantees though ^_^ until then!

We landed in Tokyo about 3:30pm (Tokyo time), and after a 13 hour flight we, Ryan and I, were ready to get off the plane. On the plane from Chicago to NaritaThey had a few movies, and the food was surprisingly good bet the amount of time in that chair was killing me. It was just comfortable enough so that you weren’t moving around so much, but just uncomfortable enough so that you couldn’t sleep easily.

On the flight I saw Spider-man 3… It’s a horrible movie, if you haven’t seen it, don’t. I liked the first two Spider-man movies, well I wouldn’t say that I liked them-‘they weren’t bad’ we’ll put it that way, but goddamn I have no clue what they were thinking when they were filming the third movie. It’s like the director was like, “Okay I don’t like this whole script thing, and we need more characters. Oh! And we need a song and dance number, that’s what would make this movie great. Hmm, about that ending, would it be possible that Spider-man wouldn’t care about his uncle Ben dying… yeah, it’s not like that was important to the story or anything.” It was bad, worse than bad, I wouldn’t pay one dollar to see that movie again, just blah, but for some reason I watched the whole movie, I was just hoping that it would turn around and redeem itself somehow, to that end I was horribly disappointed.

There were several other things on the plane channel list, but none really worth mentioning, except for the Japan TV channel. It basically took an excerpt of real Japanese television, about two hours worth, for the viewers pleasure, and typical to Japanese TV it was highly entertaining despite language barriers. The first show was all about tea, and I learned a lot actually. Apparently, tea is best made by putting tea leaves in an oval shaped pot with water that has to be 95 degrees celsius to achieve maximum “jumping”. Unbeknownst to be there is a phenomenon called jumping that makes tea taste good, it’s where the bubbles attach themselves to the leaves which makes them rise, the bubbles then break and they fall. They also talked about how to make the best cup of tea from a tea bag. Again the water should be 95 degrees celsius with the bag in the bottom of the cup you wait until the bag has risen to the top you push it down twice then remove, and there you have it the perfect cup of tea.

The second show on the Japan TV channel was called “Cool Japan”. What they did was they had eight foreigners, released them in Tokyo and had them tell the hosts what they thought was “Cool” about Japan. They had one girl from the US (who was a typical blonde bimbo -_-; apparently that’s all we have in this country), a girl from France (the host made fun of her a lot, for good reason too), Germany and Italy (who was stereotypically addicted to fashion). They also had one man from Canada (the guy was a douche, he basically said that he thought Canada was better than Japan, and they didn’t show a video clip of him walking about Tokyo pointing out things he thought were “Cool” like they did with all the other people, I don’t really know why he was on the show…), England, Jamaica, and China.

It was a pretty good show, according to the foreigner panelists, the hanker-chief is the “Coolest” thing in Japan. Before you totally dismiss it, let me explain a little. The hanker-chief is used differently in Japan than it is in the US. In the US we use the hanker-chief to blow our nose, and almost no one carries one with them these days, unless they are tucked into a suit jacket. In Japan, you can buy a hanker-chief at any little corner shop, in every convenience store, and every place that could sell a hanker-chief, they do. They also use it differently, they mostly wipe their brows of sweat so it’s used to keep them cool. I didn’t realize how much of a necessity this was until we actually started walking in Tokyo, I bought a hanker-chief as soon as a saw a shop that was selling one. All in all, it was a good show, and I learned something from both shows even though I couldn’t understand most of the dialog (my Japanese is not as strong as I wish it was).

Anyway, we landed in Narita; went through customs which was painless and relatively quick, picked up are bags (none ofView of Japan out of the window of a Boeing 777 which were lost, yay!!), converted some dollars into yen, met with the english teaching friend, sent my two bags, which measured 160cm (L+H+W) and 50lbs each respectively, ahead of me to my college (for 3480 yen!! My God, I wish sending packages was that cheap in America and they deliver it next day, for no extra charge!!! Seriously FedEx and UPS and the USPS can die in a fire), and purchased our JR East passes (for Aug. 22nd – 26th, our trip to Northern Japan), and boarded the JR Keisei line bound for Tokyo. All of that took about an hour and a half to complete, we were making pretty good time. The train ride took about an hour to get to into Tokyo. Unfortunately for me each one of us forgot to print out directions to the Ryokan, so we had to rely on my memory of where it was (from when I went to Tokyo in the Spring of 2005) and asking at a Koban (police box) where the Ryokan was located. Needless to say it took us a while to find it. After we did finally find the Ryokan we ran into a problem because they lost my reservation, luckily I had my laptop with me and showed them the e-mail that was sent to me proving my reservation (I download my e-mail to a mail client), and we finally got into our room. The room is very nice, photos will be available in my flickr very soon I promise.

Something I almost forgot to mention, summer in Japan is fucking hot… forgive the obscenity but goddamn it’s hot here. It’s was about 35 degrees celsius (95 fahrenheit) with like 100% humidity, as soon as you stepped onto the street you were sweating. Carrying our bags was a burden at best, and they had wheels!! Remember I said how the Japanese use hanker-chiefs? This heat is why.

YakinikuWe eventually got our room all set, we then went out to get some food. We found a good yakiniku (originally a Korean BBQ type restaurant, it’s where you order meat, you get it raw and you cook it in a mini-BBQ grill in the middle of your table), it was delicious, then we made it back to our rooms about 10pm or so. Originally I had planned to record the first show in the podcast I mentioned in the last post, however, I happened to pack the microphones in one of the bags that I sent to my university in Osaka… I was pretty bummed out. We’ll have to pick up a microphone in Akihabara or something, then you’ll see a show in the podcast I promise.

So that was our first day(ish) in Japan, I am so glad that I’m back in this country, I didn’t realize how much I had missed it until I started walking around again. The next post will cover our first full day in Japan: August 17th, 2007. Until then!

So I landed in Narita last night, it was a loooooong flight. Just wanted to make a quick post. It was an effort getting to the hotel and everything but I will write about that later. My friend and I were going to record a quick podcast episode and I had everything with me… except the microphones which I packed in a separate bag -_-. I’ll be writing more tonight (my time), until then!