day 12 – last day :(

waiting for our flight in Narita

Nick’s flight was at 11am so he got up before 6 to ensure he didn’t miss it.  We got up to say goodbye, and promptly went back to sleep.  I couldn’t sleep well, so eventually just got up.  Jason was able to sleep until after 9am while I finished what little cleaning and packing we had left.

On our way out the day before, I had seen a really beautiful area that I wanted to explore for a bit.  It was only a few stops away and with our flight not leaving until 6:20pm, we had some time.  Before going to the station, we stopped at the post office to see about shipping a few of our larger items.  They didn’t have any boxes large enough so we went back to our place to drop them off.

We got off the train and walked a bit before making our way back.  (Turns out it was the wrong station, but it was still a pretty area.)

We stopped by Oven Fresh Kitchen to get some pastries to go, then returned to our place to grab our bags.  We were, thankfully, able to sit during the half hour ride to our transfer station.  We didn’t really have to deal with too many people the whole ride.  Because we were going to the station a few hours ahead of time, we were able to take our time getting around, using the elevator at almost every point.

We found lockers for our stuff, but had to take a few items out to get the larger bag to fit, then got our Skyliner tickets.  We would be leaving at 3:20pm and had about an hour and a half to kill.

We exited the station to see if another service could ship our stuff.  We found it easily enough but were told they wouldn’t be able to help us.

We headed back towards the station, getting more Cremia on the way to Ueno Park.  It was another beautiful day, with some random sprinkling despite the sunshine.  We left the park about 2:45 to retrieve our bags and wait for the Skyliner.

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The Skyliner has reserved seating so we found the section of the platform for our car and didn’t have to wait long before it pulled up.  Everyone arriving unloaded and we waited for them to let us on board.  We watched as the seats swiveled so that we weren’t sitting backwards and then were allowed to board.

The ride was about 40 minutes and we were dropped off at the 2nd and 3rd terminal train station.  We had to go up a few flights of escalators before making it to our floor.

Again, our bag was over the weight limit and they tried to convince us to rearrange our stuff so we wouldn’t be charged.  They seemed really surprised that we insisted that it’s okay for us to pay.

After checking our bags, we had to drop off our WiFi on the go device, which just required a post office box.  I should say here that I love eConnect Japan.  They made everything incredibly easy by allowing the customer to pick up and drop off at the airport.  We could have placed it in any post office box but wanted to make sure we had WiFi as long as possible.  They even provide the envelope.  And for the whole trip it only cost about$60.  My last time in Japan would have been much easier if I had had a smart phone and even just Google Maps.  We still got lost many times, just not as lost.

We got through security quickly and to our gate with about 40 minutes until boarding.  We had to sit on the tarmac for an hour, but I had downloaded a few movies on my phone, so was entertained during the wait.

We got to sit in the front of one of the section, in seats E and F (middle of the middle) and had lots of leg room.  As a result, we had to store our bags in the overhead bins during take off and landing.  We had thought that we just didn’t get to watch anything, but I realized from observing the man next to me, that the screens folded up from between the seats (herpa derp).  I was able to watch Creed during the flight.  My dad loves the Rocky franchise so I grew up watching them.  Now the only one I haven’t seen is Rocky Balboa.

waiting in Taipei

We made it to Taipei a little late and our final flight was also running a bit late.  We boarded and then proceeded to take our time taking off.  Again, I had stuff to entertain me, so I wasn’t too worried.

I watched a few movies (Joy, the beginning of Moana, the very beginning of The Descendents, We Bought a Zoo, and Passengers) but couldn’t stay awake (hence only some of Moana and The Descendents).  I ended up sleeping for about 2 hours and remained mostly awake during the last 6 hours of our flight.

It was sometime during the second flight that I noticed my feet really swelling up.  I think they had started to during our first flight, because walking to our transfer gate, my feet felt a bit tight in my shoes.  But it wasn’t until the second flight that I could really feel it.  Turns out this is caused by sitting with my feet flat for so long, which is what I had guessed.  It’s been going down, but my ankles are still noticably larger.  Super weird.

We landed a little after 8pm but were at the very back of theplane, and had to wait for all the other sections to unload first.  We then had to wait in line at customs, then a much quicker line to get to the baggage carousel, then one one last line to get to the main part of the airport.  By the time we got through all that, it was 9:45.  I hadn’t exchanged my bills and saw a foreign exchange booth next to an exit.  Upon arriving, we discovered that they closed at 9pm. -_- Hopefully we can exchange at a bank.

It is weird being home.  It will take a minute to adjust to the time, but I’m hoping that exhaustion will make it easier.  I went to bed at 1am, but awoke at 5:30am.

I really don’t want to go back to work or normal life.  I loved this time so much.  We all did, and have talked about “next time.”  We enjoyed each other’s company and it made the trip more of an adventure to go with a group.  Next time we’d like to explore beyond Tokyo, see some of the other big cities and less touristy parts.  I think those were my favorite parts, seeing things outside the big city.  I of course also loved all the parks we got to visit.  We would all like to have a better grasp of Japanese next time as well.  I’ve looked at some resources and plan on doing more research to see what’s out there to help us learn.  And of course, I can look forward to a visit from Mai in a few years.  Hopefully Yui can come as well.  We will all work on knowing each other’s language better the next time we meet.

I have one more post in mind about our Airbnb place, but otherwise, this is it for our 2017 trip to Japan.  Thanks for reading!

day 11 – tokyo disney sea

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We managed to get up at about 7:30 and out of the house, breakfast at Oven Fresh Kitchen, and on the train by about 9am.  This was Nick’s last breakfast at OFK.  :(

We made it to Disney Sea a little after 10 and got our tickets to enter the park.  Disney has always done a really great job with set design and overall aesthetics.  Disney Sea is no exception.  The park is split up into 7 sections: Mediterranean Harbor, Mysterious Island, America Waterfront, Port Discovery, Lost River Delta, Arabian Coast, and Mermaid Lagoon.  I think Mermaid Lagoon is my favorite:

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Upon entering the park, the first thing we did was go get a Fastpass for Journey to the Center of the Earth.  I’m very thankful we did, because the soonest time we could return for the Fastpass line was 6:45.  We explored Mysterious Island a bit before getting in line for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  The wait time was 45 minutes, and while it didn’t fly by, it was made more enjoyable by the set design:

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Tokyo Disney Sea is in addition to Tokyo Disneyland.  I’ve heard Disney Sea described as being geared for older customers.  I have been to Tokyo Disneyland, but I honestly can’t remember how it differed from Disney Sea.  That was over 10 years ago, after all.  Regardless, I enjoy Disney Sea immensely, and was happy to return and see how things had changed.

After finishing 20,000 Leagues, we wandered around some more, going through Mermaid Lagoon and a little bit of the Arabian Coast.  We decided to check out the Mexican restaurant in the Lost River Delta and enjoyed a pleasant meal of quesadillas.

We had seen an ice cream stand outside the restaurant and so went back to see what they had.  It was a very limited selection, the same as all the other little ice cream stands.  We reviewed the map and saw that the Sultan’s Oasis in the Arabian Coast had soft serve ice cream.  I really enjoy Japanese soft serve, it is not overly sweet and is very enjoyable.

We went back to the Lost River Delta and ended up standing in line for an hour and a half to ride Raging Spirits.  It was an impressive roller coast that packed a lot into a small space.  Once we were done, we headed towards the American Waterfront to see about getting the guys Fastpasses for the Tower of Terror.  Unfortunately, they were out of Fastpasses.  Deciding now would be a good time to see the show in the Mermaid Lagoon theater, we entered the underground mermaid area.  It was just as spectacular as I remembered.

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The wait for the show was only half an hour, so we decided to get in line.  The show itself was different from the one I had seen (understandably so), but no less impressive.  Unlike the last show I’d seen here, none of it was in English.  But the familiar tune of the songs made it easy enough to follow along.  Plus it was nice to sit down for a bit.

After the show we went to three different places to see about dinner.  All of them had theme park prices and weren’t impressive enough to throw down that kind of money.  We decided to eat something small and then have dinner outside the park.

We ended up at a little bakery in the Mediterranean Harbor.  The pastries were pretty good, but we decided OFK is better.  Still, look at these cuties:

fruit muffin

apple pie

We still had some time before our Fastpasses were good, so we went back to the Arabian Coast, since we hadn’t really explored it before.  We ended up on Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage, which was a similar to Pirates of the Caribbean ride in that it was a boat ride through scenery, but much less violent and more cartoony (which made it adorable and still enjoyable).  The ride was actually quite long and I was impressed with all the work they put into it.  Again, a great way to get off our feet.

Our Fastpasses were about to start, so we went back to Mysterious Island to get in line.  We got through very quickly, thankfully, because we had already stood in too many lines.  This is kind of like Indiana Jones, in that you’re rolling along in a large off-road vehicle.  There are many things to see on both sides of the car, and at some point there is a giant monster.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s a pretty epic ride, one that I wished I could have gone on again.

We exited the park to catch our bus, but found it eerily empty.  We sat on the bench for a bit before I walked across the parking lot to ask an attendant where we needed to go.  He was able to direct me and I joined the guys to find the right station.  We had to ask one more person but found it, about 10 minutes before it was to arrive.

We had decided to get curry for dinner, but weren’t sure the place close to our station would be open by the time we got there.  We decided to try our luck at the place we had gone to on the first Monday night.  It was open, and had many people enjoying a meal.  Thankful to be familiar with the process, we got our food and enjoyed the delicious curry.

yummy!

We found that it had started raining while we were eating, but not too hard.  We made our way to the station and back home.  Last night. :(

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day 10 – asakusa, ueno park, and cat cafe

Sierra and Riley were going to leave at 10pm so we had an almost full day with them.  We had wanted to go back to the nearby park, and finally found our opportunity.  It was a beautiful day and there was a group doing Tai Chi and another group playing a game that looked similar to golf.  I imagined what it would be like to retire and come to this park everyday.

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We stopped by our place to get Sierra and Riley’s luggage, then stopped at Oven Fresh Kitchen for their last breakfast.

Our train ride to Ueno was uneventful and we were easily able to find lockers to hold their bags.  We then went to the Keisei line to get their Skyliner tickets, which they would take directly to the airport.  Poor Nick had to get in line three times as his first two tickets for the Skyliner were for the wrong day.

Once everyone got their tickets, we were on our way to Asakusa to see Sakura on the riverside.  It was such a perfect day and there were tons of people also out to enjoy the beauty.  There were quite a few women in kimonos, and a few men also dressed up.

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We finally made it to Ichiran Ramen, but it had changed significantly since my last visit.  They did have private booths available, but most dined at tables.  We chose the tables since we wanted to eat our last meal together.  It reminded me of In-N-Out in the States, very busy with employees running around and lots of customers.  It was super yummy and I was glad to share the Ichiran experience.

We went back to Ueno to see the Sakura in full bloom.  And so did everyone else in the city.  It was absolutely packed down the aisle of trees.  We got separated a few times from the crush of the crowd.

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We had tried to go to the Tokyo National Museum before but it was almost closing time so we decided to return another day.  It’s a good thing we did because it is a big place.  There are four large buildings and one of them was closed, and we still ended up being there for over an hour and a half.  There were many artifacts from the 4th century, statues, earthenware, weapons, armor, and a lot if art.  It’s always amazing to see the items used by those many centuries ago.

Nick and I were excited about the ice cream truck outside the museum and quickly made a beeline for it upon exiting.

mango and caramel

soda pop

We tried to find a place to sit down inside before Sierra and Riley had to get their luggage, but it proved surprisingly difficult.  We eventually just went to get their bags and headed back to the Keisei line.  We stood outside the entrance for a bit, not willing to part ways just yet.  Eventually, they did have to leave and we made our sad goodbyes.

:'(

After seeing them off, we got back on the subway to get to a cat cafe.  There was one about 10 minutes away and we actually didn’t get lost.  It was very quiet and the cats were adorable.  We had expected more of a cafe experience, where we’d get to eat while cats hung out around us.  There are maid cafes after all.  But this was a place to read, relax, and have cats near you.  It does make sense that they wouldn’t serve food with cats around (I counted at least 11 cats).  I am missing our kitties at home, so it was nice to be around someone’s kitties.

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We had dinner at a local McDonald’s and made our way home.  It was really odd being there without Sierra and Riley. :(  As we wanted to get to Tokyo Disney Sea a little earlier, we went to bed before 11:30.  Go us.

only cool-ish

day 9 – fujino

We were up early as our host was supposed to pick us up at 7:30 and we didn’t want to make him late for work.  He works at an organic farm near Fujino and was giving us a ride so we could see the area.  We were ready and waiting by the door, but he ended up being a little late.  We piled into the van, along with Daniel, who is living near us and has been here for 6 months.  Apparently he also works at the farm to supplement his stay here.  We didn’t find out where he was originally from, but he said that he lived in Spain for 3 years and has also lived in Colorado and Chicago.  When I lived here before I encountered a lot of travelers who would stay in places for a while before moving on to the next.  I can’t imagine living like that, but am also a little envious.

It took us about an hour to get to our destination and we were well outside of the city by that point.  We were up on a hill, outside of Fujino and the views were amazing.  We were very lucky with the weather, it was very temperate and we had very clear skies.

He had told us about the morning market that happened every first and third Tuesday of the month and encouraged us to check it out.  It reminded me of our local farmer’s markets, only much smaller.  Jason, Nick, and I got some focaccia type bread and then Nick got he and Jason some coffee, which was apparently very smooth.  It made for a pretty picture:

the market entrance

olive, yummm

After we ate, we went to get tickets for the onsen (hot spring) that was up the hill.  Nick and Sierra were not interested in participating and waited outside while we were enjoying ourselves.

thank goodness for pictures

entrance to the onsen

Because I was in there by myself, I didn’t stay long.  I am, thankfully, not too embarrassed to get naked in front of strangers, as long as they are not too embarrassed in front of me.  I did have to close my eyes at one point because one woman was being friendly and said something to me in Japanese that I didn’t have a response to.  I just smiled and went back to being non-social.  I do really want to study up for our next visit.

I was probably in there for about half an hour before I started feeling a bit overheated.  It was very relaxing, and a great way to spend the morning.  When I went to take my towels back to the front desk, they asked for the ticket I had come in with.  They only allow you to stay in the onsen for a specific amount of time and they needed to stamp my ticket to show that I had not gone over the time.  Unfortunately, I realized at the counter that Jason had our tickets and I asked if he and Riley had come out yet.  The man didn’t understand my question and gestured at an area behind me.  He said that the guys were to wait there and I understood that I would have to wait for them to get out before I could leave.

I saw Sierra and Nick sitting outside and Nick came in not longer after that.  We talked about what it would be like to live here, and how aside from the language barrier, it wouldn’t be that bad.  I did enjoy my 8 months.  It would be too far from family to be here for long, but I could stand to stay for a month or two.

The area we sat in had rows of low tables and a stack of sitting mats in the corner.  There were several people who were full out laying on the ground and napping.  They had a small restaurant and, most importantly, ice cream.  When Jason and Riley came out, after about an hour and a half, Sierra came inside and we got some ice cream.  I got the sakura flavor and it was delightful.

We sat around for a little longer before heading out to explore and walk down to Fujino.  There was a bus that came about once an hour, but we decided to walk down to see more of the area.  Like I said, it was a lovely day and we enjoyed the mostly down-hill jaunt.

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We made it down to the Sagami river and decided it was time to get some food.  I googled the area and found a delightful looking cafe (ふじのタンポポ/カフェてくてく Japanese website), which we had unfortunately passed on our way downhill.  We trudged back up and went inside.  The main waitress was extremely helpful in translating the menu when our phone translators failed to do an adequate job.  Nick and I got the baked curry, while Sierra and Jason got the chorizo and potato pizza.  It was much better than his other Japanese pizza experience, thankfully.

ふじのタンポポ/カフェてくてく

We finished lunch and headed back down the hill and across the bridge. There weren’t a lot of shops that we could see, and no sidewalks to speak of on the hilly terrain.  I asked if we might go to the next station to see Sagami lake, as the waitress at the cafe had told me that it was easy to get to.

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We decided not to get a ride back with our host and would just take the train back home.  We made it down to the lake and back to our station before he would have left to come back.

We thought we would try our hand at pachinko, but once we stepped inside the smoke filled and load place, we changed our minds.  You literally had to yell right next to someone’s ear to be heard, plus, it looked much more complicated than we had thought initially.

almost luck

We went to Seiyu to pick up some groceries and gifts for co-workers, and had to go back home to drop everything off, then went back out to find dinner.  Nothing sounded appetizing to everyone, but we eventually decided on Mos Burger.  Not being one for burgers, I never visited a Mos Burger before, but I was told that their burgers were better than Japanese McDonald’s.

We headed back home and to bed.

day 8 – host family 2.0, tea ceremony

they are holding the mugs I got them :)

Not as early of a day, we were not due to meet up with Ayumi until 12:15, so we went to Kodaira-shi to a free foot bath.  I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t want to be rude.  They had two covered areas and a little  stream with a small bridge.  The water was very hot but once I’d left my feet in for about 20 seconds, they acclimated.  However, whenever I moved, the water was very hot again.  We stayed there for about 15 minutes.  One man kept talking to us and gesturing at the other covered foot bath area.  I couldn’t figure out what he was saying, but his legs were beet red.  The stream area was lukewarm water.  Because the water was so hot, the water quickly evaporated and I was able to put my shoes on before too long.

Higashi-Yamatoshi station

We had some time before our train so walked around the station a bit.  Found this Engrish sign:

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We accidentally got on the wrong train so ended up being about 15 minutes late.  Ayumi and Mai met us at the station outside the Laketown mall.  Everything looked so different from when I lived there, much more developed.  Ayumi and Mai were already wearing their kimonos, I would change into mine when we got to our destination.

We went to the Koshigaya public hall, where Ayumi had rented one if their Japanese rooms to conduct the tea ceremony.  We met her friend there (whose name we cannot remember) and they started on getting the room set up.

Ayumi helped me with the kimono (by “help,” I mean she put it on completely), and I was amazed as always with all the layers.  Once she was done helping me, she helped Jason put on his yukata.

Poor Mai tried to talk to me, but didn’t know how to say it.  Ayumi told me several times that both girls were frustrated that they couldn’t communicate.  They had a lot to say, but just didn’t have the English words.  I completely understood, having the same problem.  Mai said she plans on coming to the States when she’s in college in 3 years, and will use that time to practice her English.  I told her that I would practice my Japanese and we’d have an easier time communicating the next time we met.

Not long after this, we began the ceremony.  Typically one would kneel  the whole time, but I cannot as my legs and feet start to get numb.  Ayumi gave me a little stool to sit up on, but as a result, I could shift around at all and my left leg became numb.  When it was time to stand, my foot had lost all feeling and I had to use my hand to move my foot into position.

The Japanese rooms have the traditional tatami mat floors and sliding doors on all three walls.  During a tea ceremony there is a specific way to enter and walk through the room, you bow at specific times and even the way you hold your cup is specified.  It is a beautiful tradition and we were very honored to be allowed to participate.

We first did a thicker tea, and it was the longer ceremony.  Then Ayumi’s friend served Mai so we could see a different type of ceremony.  After the “practice,” Jason and I were served while Ayumi explained each step.  Then we each made tea for each other.

During the first ceremony, we all shared the same cup and Ayumi explained that each person needed to think of the needs of everyone else, not just themselves, to ensure that everyone got some.  I like this symbolism and feel it really encapsulates Japan as a whole.

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After the ceremony, we went to Daishō-ji Temple so see some Sakura.  Visiting temples, shrines, and parks is my favorite thing to do in Japan.  Shopping drains me, while going and seeing these outdoor locations energizes me.

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I very carefully entered the car (gotta keep the kimono clean) and we headed home.  Yui wasn’t set to get home until 7:30 so we would wait to eat until then.  Masayuki-san got off work early to be with us, which was extremely kind and thoughtful.  Ayumi, Mai, and I changed back into our street clothes and then joined Jason and Masayuki-san in the living room.  I showed them pictures of our cats, we enjoyed their talking Parrot, and I even petted his head.

Masayuki-san found an atlas and we showed them where we live, where my parents live, and where my grandma lives.  We talked about where we’ve been in the States and where we want to go.  Ayumi went to Sweden and Denmark last year and Yui went to the UK in June last year for a school trip.

While Ayumi and Masayuki-san prepared dinner, Mai, Jason, and I played Golf and Go Fish.  She picked up both games quickly and Yui arrived while we were playing.  We played a few more card games, including Sevens.

We enjoyed a dinner of curry and rice, rolling sushi (we didn’t have the rolling mats, we just filled the nori with whatever we wanted and rolled it up), miso soup, and chicken.  Yui told us more about her trip to the UK and Ayumi asked us to teach her Spoons after dinner.

While Ayumi and Masayuki-san cleaned up, Yui and Mai re-taught me how to play Bouzu Merkuri.  Mai and I played this game a lot when I lived there.  We taught Jason and played a few games before Ayumi was ready to join is in a game of Spoons.  We had a great time, laughing at all the foibles.  I love how games can bring people together.

playing Bouzu Merkuri

It was getting late and we needed to get back, as we had an early day.  They drove is to the station and we said our sad goodbyes.  We are planning on coming back and hope they will visit us in the States.  But it was still difficult to leave.

We made it back to our station at about 10:30 and got to our place not long after that.  Spending way too much time in Facebook and the like, I finally went to bed after midnight. -_-

day 7 – host family, warp station edo, 400 year old sakura tree, and kairaku-en

400 year old Sakura tree 0.0

We’ve now been here a full week!

Between the warm temperature in our place and the excitement of seeing my host family, I didn’t get a lot of sleep and eventually got out of bed at 7:30 to get dressed and ready to meet my host family at the train station at 8am.

We arrived right at 8am and I spotted Ayumi immediately.  She told me I looked just the same and it was easy to spot me (she looks just the same as well).  Mai, Yui, and Masayuki-san also came out to greet us and we all said hello and stood around a little awkwardly.  Ayumi explained it perfectly as nervousness and we headed to their rented van.

They drive on the right-hand side of the car here, which is something that tripped me up when I came back to the States.  When my parents first picked me up from the airport, I started to get into the driver’s seat.  Whoops.

Ayumi drove and would ask me questions every now and then.  She has the best English of the family, though sometimes she would ask Yui to translate a word or two, as Yui and Mai have been studying English very diligently.  We ended up talking about the difference between America and Japan quite a bit, how everyone here is very helpful, but you will not be greeted on the street, unlike America.  Convenience stores are much nicer here, whereas they sell mostly junk food in America.  The streets are also much cleaner here.

We spent most of the two hour car ride in silence though, as none of us spoke the other’s language fluently.  We did make one stop at a rest area.  Japanese rest stops are much nicer than the ones typically found in the States.  Their bathrooms are very clean and they will often have a convenience store at the very least.  This one looked like it had a few indoor shops and restaurants, along with a line of vending machines outside the bathrooms.

We piled back in the car and made it to Warp Station Edo at about 10am.  Warp Station Edo is an outdoor film set, where many Japanese movies have been made.  They had a lot of grand entrances with nothing inside.  It was quite fascinating and they made things look quite real:

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After exploring for about an hour, we returned to the car and traveled to Ryūgasaki to visit the Hannya-in temple and the 400-year old sakura tree.  It was truly spectacular.

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We had lunch at a local ramen place.  We sat on the floor, kneeling (or sitting cross-legged as the case may be) on the cushions.  Yummy!  I love ramen.

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Ayumi gave us the choice between a park or seeing traditional Japanese ceramic art.  I chose the park (surprise, surprise) and we went back to the car for another hour.  In Japan, it is not unheard of to spend lots of time traveling to see one thing as the island is so small.  Average commute time to work is two hours each way.

I am so glad I chose the park.  This park is known for its plum blossoms.  Unfortunately we missed the peak time, but we still got some spectacular views.

We visited the Kobuntei inside the park.  “The Kobuntei is a historic three-story wooden building.  It is made up of a main house and a one story annex, the nobility’s private quarters.  Nariaki played a key role in the Kobuntei’s construction.  He would invite writers, artists, and residents of his domain to the Kobuntei and host parties composing Japanese poetry and events to entertain the old.  The nobility’s private quarters also served as evacuation site in case a fire broke out on the castle grounds.  It was used by feudal lord’s wife and entourage.  The word “Kobun,” another name for the Japanese plum, originated from China.  On August 2, 1945, the Kobuntei was completely burned down as a result of an aerial attack, and took three years from 1955 to rebuild.”

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It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed being outside.  Because it would take us 3 hours to drive back to our place, we left at about 3:30.  Most if us slept and we made it back to our station in good time, about 6pm.  We said goodbye to the Fukuokas, though we’d be seeing them again the next day.

Sierra and Nick had gotten back to our place not long before us so we just headed home.  Soon after we arrived, I suggested that we go to the nearby park.  Within 10 minutes we were there.  The sun had already set so we had to make due with the fading light and lots of silhouettes.  There was a small playground and Nick, Jason, and I swung a bit before exploring more of the playground.

We decided we should come back when it’s light as there were many Sakura trees that looked almost fully in bloom.

After the park we started looking for a place to eat dinner.  We found something with curry and I was sold.  We entered and we’re greeted by a stooped older woman who didn’t appear to speak any English.  She brought us each some tea and then quickly came back to get our order.  We hadn’t had time to decipher the Japanese so we all got curry and rice, except for Sierra, who got tonkatsu (fried pork).

Everything was very delicious and we enjoyed our meal while watching some Japanese game shows.  Japanese game shows are very odd.  This one had a lot of different things going on, it might have been several different shows for all I know.  The last one we saw had three people who were to try and throw a dart at a target, but had a shock collar type contraption on their dominate arm.  The woman went first and every time they shocked her, her arm shot up and her fingers scrunched together.  She was laughing, so I’m guessing it wasn’t painful.

We paid and walked back to our place, finding Riley waiting for us.  He had separated from Nick and Sierra pretty much right away and had eaten dinner at a maid cafe.

We relaxed for a few hours and then headed to bed.

day 6 – shinjuku

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Finally got a proper night’s sleep, waking up around 8:30 and not feeling tired.  Poor Jason did feel sick and decided to stay home.  I needed to get some wrapping paper, but thought the store didn’t open until 11am.  We finally left the house around 10:45 and made it to Oven Fresh Kitchen before too long.

After breakfast we went to Seiyu again, purchasing medicine and oranges for Jason, and some wrapping paper.  We went back home to drop off the supplies, and headed back out.

We had decided to spend the day in Shinjuku as there was so much to do.  The station itself it very busy and has many stores housed within it.  Nick had been looking for a 10-key keyboard and found one at Bic Camera.

We made the 15 minute walk to the Tokyo Metropolitan Buildings, where you can view the city from the 45th floor for free.  We went up to the South Tower, as it closes at 5:30 and would return to the North Tower after nightfall.

The view is unreal:

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I had wanted to take everyone to Ichiran Ramen and there was a location nearby, so when we were done at the Metropolitan Building, we headed back to the busier section of Shinjuku. When we arrived, we were told the wait would be 50 minutes, and we were hungry enough to go somewhere else.  We found something down one of the alleys and ordered our food from the ticket machine.  One of the servers brought over an English menu for easier reference.

We throughly enjoyed the meal and then headed back outside.  We went back to the station and walked around the mall.  We encountered a lot of Engrish:

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One thing that happens a lot here, at least for me, is that I experience a lot of extreme temperatures.  We would go from the freezing cold to the closed in warmth inside either the train or the shops.  I was constantly adding and then subtracting layers as the temperature changed.  When we had entered the mall, I had wanted a hot chocolate to warm my insides, but when we found a Starbucks to satisfy this craving, I was already too warm for such a thing.  When we did decide to leave, I got a hot chocolate to stave off the cold, but then we ended up staying inside to find a bathroom.

After the mall, we headed back to the Metropolitan Building to go up the North Tower and see the city at night.  I won’t try and describe it:

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Wanting to get an good night’s sleep and anxious to see Jason again, we headed for home.  Unfortunately we got on the wrong train.  When we got off after one stop, we were surprised to find that it would take 40 minutes to get to our next station.  We talked to the station master who told us which platform to wait on.  We got back on the subway and returned to the pervious station.  We were able to cross the platform to get on the right subway and were on the right track (bahaha).

We met Jason at our station and found a restaurant that we hadn’t been to before.  Turns out it was Italian with some Japanese style spaghetti.  Huh.  Riley went down to the basement level to find something more his style.

We finished before him and I was sent down to see if he was almost done or if we should go home without him.  I entered the Smoky room and was promptly greeted by the staff.  I pantomimed looking for someone and one of the waitresses started leading me towards the back of the restaurant.  At first I thought she was showing me the bathroom, but then I saw Riley’s head behind a small wall and realized they knew exactly who I was looking for.  This greatly amused me.  I gave him the message that we were ready to head home and he agreed to meet is there when he was done.

We headed home and eventually went to bed.

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so Japanese

day 5 – temple university, shibuya, and lalaport pt. 2

We finally slept in, though going to bed at nearly 1am meant that did less.  But definitely the most rested I’ve felt the whole trip so far.  We didn’t leave for the station until after 10 and made our usual stop at Oven Fresh Kitchen before heading out.  We were headed to my former school, Temple University.

The subway station wasn’t far and as we traveled, I started to recognize landmarks.  Once we reached the school, I decided we should try and find the cafeteria, where I spent a lot of my time.  It wasn’t listed on the floor guide, so we just went up the elevator and got off.  We happened to go to the right floor and I saw the computer lab, where I also spent a lot of time as an art major.  The floor map did have the cafeteria listed and we made our way down the hall.  I didn’t want to take any pictures since there were quite a few people enjoying a break.  We went out to the balcony smoking area, and I couldn’t believe I was back.

i remember standing at this station a lot


We didn’t linger long, as there isn’t a lot to see besides the classrooms.  Once outside we decided to head to Shibuya, which was just a few stops away.  Shibuya crossing is famous for being very crowded.  At specific times, they stop all cars from crossing and people come from all directions, weaving here and there to reach their destination.  It’s quite crazy.  Before going through the crossing, we visited the famous Hachiko statue.

Nick and his best friend Hachiko

Nick wanted to go to Tokyu Hands, self described as a “one stop shop.”  I had been to Tokyu Hands stores before, but I think the Shibuya location is the largest one.  This one takes a little getting used to.  There are three sections per floor, but each floor isn’t level with each other, it was more like a spiral, that you could either travel up or down to see each section.  Each of the 7 floors had three distinct sections.  We eventually ended up at the cafe on the 7th floor.  Tokyu Hands was the only thing we visited in Shibuya, but I was okay with that as it was another rainy day.  Also, it’s like a mall unto itself, so it didn’t feel like a limited experience.

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Here are the items I got at Tokyu Hands:

paper hedgehog and cat, and coin purse

Walking quickly to the station to escape the rain, we headed to another Lalaport, this time to the one our host had told us about at Tachikawa Tachihi.  This one was smaller, but no less impressive.  Nick commented on how open the storefronts were and I again noticed how they really gave you a sense of what was inside without having to enter.  We wondered if they were so open because there isn’t a fear of theft.

we think they were going for “Mystery Woman”

We had dinner at a traditional but modern Japanese restaurant.  I got the curry soba, which came with a bib because of the high possibility of splashing from the slurping.  In Japan, it is polite and expected that you will slurp your noodles.  It shows how much you’re enjoying your meal.  I appreciate this as trying to not slurp can be a challenge.  We also got a wonderful dessert:

yummy

In the hour we had left after dinner, we managed to explore the whole mall, which I was personally impressed by.  We even found a Studio Ghibli store.  We didn’t purchase anything, but enjoyed the many adorable memorabilia from the movies.

Studio Ghibli store

Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle

We headed back home, but not before stopping at Seiyu to get a few supplies.  Jason had started coming down with something and wanted some hot tea for his throat.  He decided he probably wouldn’t be coming out with us the next day as he wanted to rest for our two days with my host family.

We made it back after 11 and then stayed up for a little longer before going to bed.

nature is the best physician

day 4 – Shigeko and yokohama

Yamashita Park in Yokohama

My phone rang at 5:30am and I couldn’t fall back asleep.  We finally left our place at about 9am and headed to Oven Fresh Kitchen.  There was no one else inside, which we had never encountered before.  It was nice to sit without feeling we were disturbing anyone.

We made it through the first leg of our journey with no incident.  Then we transferred lines and reached the end of the line about 8 stops too soon.  I tried looking up the schedule but the WiFi was spotty.  Eventually we ended up in the right place and met Shigeko at the exit.

Oh, Shigeko.  She is one of the most generous people I know.  When I lived here before, she gave me a lot of rides and was my translator on many occasions.  She is the reason my roommate Stephanie and I had a place to live.  She both gave us a ride and translated when we met with the Leopalace 21 staff.  She paid Steph’s half of the money when they insisted we pay the full amount before moving in.  That’s just one of the many examples of her generosity.

After greeting each other and making introductions, we headed to the taxi.  Jason, Sierra, and I loaded into the taxi, while Riley and Nick went in Shigeko’s car.  We made it to her house in about 10 minutes.

taxi

After washing up, I helped arrange the kabobs and stir the stove top curry while Shigeko got everything else ready.  Her husband, who is retired but now has his own business, came downstairs briefly to greet us.  We sat down to enjoy the wonderful spread.  She had made curry and rice, tonkatsu (breaded deep fried pork), scallop katsu, sushi, salad, gyoza (pot stickers), kabobs, and she also had rolls, pickles and carrots, and tofu.  She had placed the pickles and carrots in a cup that I had bought for her, saying that every time she used it, she thought of me. :)

She insisted that we eat until stuffed, saying she didn’t want to have to keep all the food.  Then she brought out dessert: egg and butter custard rolls, custard and whipped cream rolls, éclairs, ice cream mochi, apples, and nuts she had gotten from Israel.  I presented her with the gifts I had brought, chocolate from a local chocolaterie, and a watercolor painting made by a good friend of mine.  Shigeko also had gifts for us: many, many Japanese snacks, which we will enjoy throughout the rest of our time here, I’m sure.

After dessert we took the bus and the train to Yokohama bay so we could ride the Sea Bass.  Shigeko paid for our fare in each case, insisting on it (see, she’s very generous).  We got off at Yamashita Park and walked around a bit, eventually making it to the Cupnoodle Museum.  They had run out of normal tickets so we got limited access.  Shigeko quickly decided that it was lacking anything of interest so we left within half an hour of entry.

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Shigeko was pretty parched so we went to Queen Square, looking for a cafe.  We ended up at a French bakery (they’re very popular in Japan) where she again paid for all our drinks and two bags of mini croissants.  We enjoyed the chance to sit down and squeezed ourselves into a booth.

When we were finished, we headed back outside to find a tour bus that would take us in a loop around the city.  We chose to get off at Chinatown to explore a bit.

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We ended up in one of the many restaurants, after Shigeko had tried to get us to stop at a few other places.  We insisted that we weren’t that hungry and getting a set of 6 or 7 dishes was too much.  We ended up with fried rice and fried noodles.  Still a lot of food, but tasty.  We were a big enough party to get seated upstairs, where they had many parties of Japanese businessmen.  It was a bit loud, but we were tired from a long, but enjoyable day, and mostly sat in companionable silence.

We had to exit Chinatown to get to the train station, and Shigeko stopped a few people to make sure we were headed in the right direction.  That’s one of the amazing things about this place, everyone, and I mean everyone, is willing to help if you ask.  She stopped a group of men clearly coming home from work, and they almost missed crossing the street to give directions.  The second person she stopped had ear buds in and took them out to speak to her.  A few times people have actually walked with us a bit to ensure we didn’t get confused.  This friendly and helpful atmosphere lends itself to feeling very safe despite the language barrier.

We just made it on our train, which was quite crowded.  Shigeko got off after a few stops, hugging each one of us before exiting.  We had a way to go before our transfer at the busy Shibuya station.  We will return to Shibuya, but were feeling too tired to visit at that point.

We had a taste of the famous rush hour, though we weren’t pressed in like sardines, so not the full experience yet.  We thought we had gone to the wrong platform for our last transfer, but it turns out we were just at the opposite end of the platform for the wrong/right train.  We did have to get off at the stop right before ours to transfer one more time.  We finally made it back to our station around 9:45 and were thankful to be home.  We stayed up for a few more hours, just hanging out and talking, before going to bed at around 12:30.

day 3 – akihabara and ueno pt. 2, and karaoke

Woke up way too early at 6am.  Having fallen asleep around midnight, I knew this would be a rough day.  And I was right.  I ended up being pretty exhausted most of the day, though there were bouts of energy, thankfully.

We had our traditional breakfast at Oven Fresh Kitchen outside our station.  Oh, the yum:

roll with a baked potato inside & flaky apple pie

Engrish on our way to the station

We headed back to Akihabara so Nick could get some exploring in. On our way there, I was distracted and led us to the wrong station. We went through the turnstile and then discovered the mistake. When we tried to go back out, the machine gave us an error and we had to talk to the station master. He seemed confused but was able to clear the machine so we could pass through.

When we arrived at Akihabara, we first went into the Sega store, but discovered it was more of an arcade and so went to the next shop, which had 10 stories. There were a lot of rental boxes similar to the ones we saw at the shop where we bought Phil’s gift.  There were also lots of nerdy items to be found on the many floors and we were very curious about this floor:

Sadly, the store was closed.

Nick was looking for a computer keyboard and wandered into a few stores before an employee at Alienware pointed us in the right direction.  Sierra and I really needed to sit down, so we went to the McDonald’s next door.  The ground floor was where you ordered, then you could either go to the basement or 2nd floor for seating.  We chose the basement and enjoyed our cantaloupe smoothies in the crowded, slightly warmer than comfortable seating area.

The boys eventually joined us and we were on our way again.  We stopped for lunch at a crêperie.  Yummm.

waiting for our crepes

Crazy Crêpes – mixed berry flavor

Jason and I had used the last of our cash earlier and were looking for an ATM that would take our card.  I had signed up for a card that allows withdrawals anywhere in the world with no fee.  Any incurred fees are refunded.  I had tried a few ATMs and was starting to panic, when we finally had success at Lawson’s.  Yay!

We were on our way again and ended up back in Ueno park.  It was beautiful and there was a market of sorts going on.  Some people were selling random knick knacks, and there were tons of food vendors.  Jason got this ring and pipe:

lookin’ fabulous

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We wandered around the pond and ended up outside the park, on our way to the Tokyo National Museum.  We meandered through a residential area and stumbled across this temple:

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I love coming upon these temples and shrines in the midst of the big city.  The juxtaposition is startling and wonderful.

As we made our way back to the park, we came across a cafe and Jason voiced his craving for coffee.  I was thankful for the chance to sit down for a bit.

Bourbon Vanilla

Precious Moments

Kuromon (black gate)

We made it to the Museum and discovered that it was closing in an hour.  Deciding to come back another day, we crossed the street and were drawn to a street performer.  At one point he was juggling three katana and was very animated.  A great way to pass the time.

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We wandered through the park and made our way to the street level to get dinner in the food court.  Jason got a traditional Japanese pizza (it’s a thing), while I got the curry.  His pizza had teriyaki chicken with corn and small strips of seaweed (naturally).  I did warn him.

Gojoten shrine

seaweed cut out

After eating we went back outside and made our way through the street vendor section.  Not finding anything to capture our interest, we started looking for a karaoke place.  Karaoke in Japan is nice in that you can rent your own room. That way you don’t embarrass yourself in front of a crowd full of strangers.  The first place we found looked too fancy for us so we kept looking, eventually ending up at Big Echo.  For ¥2700 we could rent a room for an hour.  All but Riley sang our lungs out.  Good times.

We had been meaning to go grocery shopping every day, but had been too exhausted every other night.  While the night was still young, we made our way back.  But not before I had a delicious cremia.

We made it back to our station before 9:30, did our shopping, and headed home.  Great day.

day 2 – moomin park, akihabara, and sakura (kinda)

Tuesday found us waking up early again, though not as early as Monday, this time getting up closer to 7.  We again lounged around for a few hours, waking up and planning for the day.  Nick was to land around 5:15pm and we would meet him at the bus stop.  We stopped at Oven Fresh Kitchen for breakfast, each getting a few baked goods and relaxing for a bit before catching our train to Moomin Park.

I had discovered Moomin Park from a Youtube channel Texan in Tokyo (no longer uploading videos, but very informative and amusing) and this video.  I like free things, and this looked adorable as well.  The train ride was about 30 minutes and we were definitely outside of the touristy part of Japan, which I was very much a fan of.

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Google maps led us right to the park (unlike our journey to our Airbnb the first time).  And I was not disappointed by all the buildings.  We had to remove our shoes to enter each building, which proved a bit time consuming with tie-on shoes.  At one point we entered a no shoe area but then went upstairs where people were wearing shoes.  It was a bit painful on the rocky concrete, but we couldn’t be bothered to go down to get our shoes until we were ready to leave.  I’m going to post a ton of pictures, rather than trying to explain this place.  If given the opportunity, I highly recommend a stop here.

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We took a slightly different route back to the train station, stopping at our first convenience store (otherwise known as “konbini”), Lawson Family, for lunch.  When we exited, we discovered a temple across the street.  We hung around a bit, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and koi pond.  I love walking around because you discover so much about a place that you would miss by driving through.

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We had decided to head to Akihabara while we waited for Nick to arrive.  We traveled for an hour and a half, and easily made our way there.  Except when we tried to exit the last train station.  I was following the signs to the exit and ended up right back on the platform we had arrived at.  Fortunately I figured out my mistake before making another circle.

And oh, then we arrived at the Japan that most people think of.  Buildings with advertisements everywhere and many, many people milling around.  Here are more pictures:

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We were on the lookout for gifts for a few friends and family.  We ended up in a shop that had many cases of figures from all kinds of anime, and other popular shows and movies.  No pictures were allowed but we wandered around for a bit, knowing that there was a perfect gift for Phil somewhere in the building.  We figured out that each case was rented by the seller to display their figures and hope for a purchase.  We finally found the perfect gift for Phil on the basement level (much less packed than the ground floor).  Jason won’t let me unwrap the plastic around Phil’s gift, so I will not post a picture.

We didn’t get far, just the next shop over, before making another stop.  I had been looking for a tripod and this shop looked promising.  It did not have a tripod, but it did have tons of amazing gift ideas on the 5th floor.  I ended up getting gifts for all four of my family members on this floor.  As they are to be surprises, I will not post them here.  But look at this awesome umbrella we got!

so cool

We wandered around a bit more before making our way to Ueno, where our host said there was amazing sakura.  We walked through the street vendors and past this man who had an owl on his arm.  He was advertising the owl cafe, which I’d love to see, but feel is a bit unethical.

i love owls

the pressure is real

Ueno street vendors

We made it to Ueno park but sadly the sakura hasn’t quite bloomed, but we’ll return in a few days when they have.  There were a few that had some blossoms and you could easily spot them by the crowds of people gathered around, taking pictures of and with the tree.

even the manholes are pretty

this looks like it’s in full bloom

in the middle of the city

It was a short jaunt to the next station but when we got off, we were at the southern exit, rather than the northern.  We got lost a few times and at one point a man came up and asked if we needed help.  He then proceeded to guide us through the maze of people to point out the direction we needed to go.  People are so helpful here!  There was actually a sign that instructed Japanese people to help lost tourists.

We finally made it to the Tokyo Shuttle stop and settled down to wait for Nick.  Bus after bus arrived, but no Nick.  We started to worry when we knew he had landed a few hours before but hadn’t made contact.  While Sierra and Jason waited out in the cold, Riley and I went inside one of the nearby stores.  I wanted to find a tripod, and I did!  We made our way back to the bus stop, but still no Nick.

We finally made contact and he had arrived at the southern exit, where we had originally been!  We got lost again, and again were helped by a friendly Japanese person, who said we needed to go back the way we came.  Oh man, theme of the trip.

We had indeed passed right by the turn in our hurry and finally made contact with Nick!  Poor guy hadn’t been able to connect to the airport WiFi and wasn’t able to tell us when he boarded the bus.  The Tokyo Shuttle had apparently been very booked up so he took another bus.

look, it’s a Nick!

We decided to take the wrong/right way back home to avoid the crush of people and made it to our station by about 9:30pm.  Exiting the station, we stood around for a bit before deciding to go to McDonald’s.  We ate our meal, then returned to our abode, exhausted, but happy.

(full) day 1 – lalaport

Having gone to bed at 9:30, I was not surprised to get up rather early.  However, I also woke up around 2:30am and finally decided to get up around 4:30am.  Turns out everyone else had the same problem.  Our host had messaged me to say he was coming over at 8:30am if we would be up and so I of course let him know that would be fine.

We sat around the small coffee table playing games on our phones or, in my case, writing yesterday’s blog.  I was still writing it when our host showed up.  I had a question about the little stovetop thing in the kitchen and he showed me how easy it is to operate.  I think I’ll do a separate post about this place, it’s pretty unique and cool; thankful to have our own place to come back to everyday.

Jason and I had some small gifts from home and presented them to him.  I think he was surprised, which made me happy.  Gift-giving is kind of a big deal in Japan and I am very appreciative that we’re able to stay here.  He had offered to take us to Fujino and we solidified our plans to go on the 4th, leaving here at 7:30am.

After he left we stayed here for a little longer (you might have seen how long yesterday’s post was) before heading out to get brunch and then heading to LaLaport Tokyo-Bay.  It was about 10:45am by the time we got to McDonald’s.  There were more traditional Japanese places around, but we were too hungry to try and navigate.

Finishing our food and discovering that the train we wanted was to leave in about 4 minutes, we decided to go back to Seiyu to see what some of the other floors had to offer.  We only made it up to 4th floor (shoes and electronics) before having to head back to the station.  Our train was delayed, but we weren’t sure by how long, so we stood in the pretty frigid air for about 10 minutes.  It was raining again too, but there was a nice overhang at the station.

cold but happy

our train station

We didn’t get lost when transferring several lines, though we did end up on a local line (makes every stop), instead of the rapid (skips some stops).  Still trying to figure out the schedule.  The last line was a little confusing.  We only needed to go one stop, but the app said that it was on either side of the platform.  Maybe we could have gotten there with either train, but we ended up waiting for the second one.

Once we got off the train, there were signs directing traffic to LaLaport, so helpful!  We walked under the giant overpasses where freeway traffic lumbered above, and then an elevated walkway directly to the 2nd floor of the mall.

I was struck by how white and bright everything was.  The storefronts seemed to flow right into each other, not really having distinctive separation between stores.  Further in there was distinctive separation.  The mall was separated into two main sections running parallel, with some storefront walkways connecting them here and there.  We didn’t walk through it all, but we did walk through a good portion and it was huge.

Japan is known for many things, among them the prolific amount of vending machines.  We came across a slew of toy vending machines, stacked two or three high, with an indication of the possible items inside.  There were a few cat ones and I finally settled on the cat bread-face one.  Here’s what I got:

“in-bread,” haha

Sierra and Riley were in the Pokemon store for a bit while I made my decision and then wondered through a home decor store.  Jason’s co-worker had requested a salt and pepper shaker set so we were on the lookout.  We finally found them at Daiso.

salt and pepper, respectively

I had been pretty hungry and wanted to find somewhere to eat and drink something.  While we had our water bottle, it’s rude to eat or drink while walking around, so I had tried to refrain.  We found one place that looked promising, but they told us that they were closing at 3pm and it was 2:30 at that point.  We ended up at Ducky Duck and couldn’t decipher the menu, so just ordered dessert.  The ice cream wasn’t super sweet and I enjoyed the different flavor.

yummm

We were also looking for a video game for another friend, and found it in the Toys R Us.  Having accomplished two of our three missions (salt and pepper shakers being the first, and finding a good gift for another friend as the third), we started to head back.

While we had been inside the sun came out.  Yay!  The crazy cold wind had also stopped so the wait on the train platform wasn’t too bad.  We had to wait for a few trains to come and go before getting on ours.  We went the one stop and then transferred lines.  Unlike our travel to LaLaport, this time we got on the rapid and were able to make it to our transfer station within 40 minutes.

Riley wanted to eat at a real Japanese restaurant.  When we exited the subterranean train station, we were faced with a few options.  I spotted a curry place across the street and was able to “convince” everyone we should go there.  We crossed the street and entered the narrow space to take our seats.  The one staff member pointed to the machine at the entrance, and tried to explain with lots of gestures that we were to order from the machine before sitting down.  He had a menu with some English and we used it to figure out what we wanted.  Unfortunately, we had used the last of our ¥1,000 bills at the train station and were left with not enough coins, and bills that were too large.  We ended up going to a drug store down the street to get the bill split.  I tried to get the employee to just give us change in smaller bills (thank you, Google translate, for making that conversation much less painful!) but she said we had to purchase something.  I found a toothbrush for ¥100 and got our change.  Riley got some hand soap and we were back to curry.

Oh.my.gosh.  It was so yummy!  It was a little too spicy for me, I think I had 5 or 6 cups of water, but mmmm, it was tasty.  I had decided not to be vegetarian on this trip as I figured this would make eating much easier.  But honestly I have been eating around the meat.  The only thing I haven’t done this with is the McDonald’s chicken nuggets.  Because nuggets.  We’ll see how this goes.

We tried to go back to the station from whence we came, but there were no signs for our transfer.  We looked at a few maps, and a man who had been in the restaurant came up and asked if we needed help.  He told us to go back outside and walk down the street.  I thought he had said “take a right,” so we walked a few blocks before realizing that was definitely not what he meant.  We went back to the station to re-look at the map.  Unlike US maps, Japanese maps are turned so that the direction you are facing is up.  We figured out that we needed to take a left and quickly found the right station.

We got back on the wrong/right train we had been on the day before, and were thankful we had gotten on when we did, as the end of the line means everyone else gets off and we get to sit.  When we went back to the previous station, a ton of people came on and we were extra thankful for our seats.  This train helpfully had a screen showing us which stops were next.  I realized that we’d gotten on the right line but the wrong train, the end destination was not the one we wanted.  It shared the same stops as the one we wanted, up until the stop before ours.  Which meant that we got off at the stop before ours to transfer to the next train and then take it one more stop.  Ugh.

We got back to our station after 9pm and made the cold walk back home.  We only sat around briefly before climbing into bed at 10pm.

日本 redux

Well, I’ve made my way back to Japan. It’s been almost 10 years since I was last here (I came back to the States in May). This time I’m here with Jason and a few other friends, Sierra and Riley, and Nick (who will be here on Tuesday). I will try to post daily as this will preserve my memories the way it did 10 years ago.

We had to drive about 5 hours to fly out of SFO (waaay cheaper than our local airport, and less likely to get fogged in, surprisingly). Made it to Mom and Dad’s with about two hours to spare before  we had to leave for the airport.

Hung out with Mom and Dad for those few hours before Dad drove is to the airport. Our flight was to leave at 1am on Saturday so we got to the airport at 11pm to check our bag and get through security. I had checked the airline’s website for baggage rules and thought we were okay with our 66 pound check in. Turns out the limit is 50lbs. -_- Fortunately it was only $32 for the overage. However, our carry on was also juust over the limit too. Ugh. But the guy was super nice and said that he would let it pass. We got through security with no issues and made our way to the gate.

waiting for our flight at SFO

Tons of people waited to board and when we finally got on the plane, I was amazed at the enormity of the thing. We were in row 65, seats E and D, not even the last row. There were 10 seats across, and I was thankful not to be sitting at the window seat.

I unfortunately did not take any pictures inside the plane, but the accommodations were very nice. I have flown across the country a few times but have never had meal service (not entirely true, when I was young, my mom and I flew to Texas and I believe we did get meal service, but that was many years ago and things have changed). This flight we had two meals, and they were both very tasty. We also had a great selection of movies and I ended up watching 4 over the course of our two flights (The Girl on the Train, In Time, Never Let Me Go, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children).

I didn’t want to be super exhausted when we arrived in Japan, so my plan was to sleep during the last 8 hours or so of our first flight. This meant staying up for the first 6 hours. I was okay until about hour 5/5.5.  Thankfully we had brought our neck pillows and I was able to actually sleep deeply enough to dream for a few hours. After that, I would drift off for a little bit. I think I might have slept for about 6 hours but then they served breakfast and I was pretty much awake.

We arrived at the Taipei airport before our scheduled time and found our next gate, after going through a mini security where we didn’t have to empty our  water bottles or take off our shoes (yay!). I thought we were at our gate and have never seen such interesting seats at a gate.

Turns out the gate was downstairs:

that’s more like it

waiting in the Taipei airport

This next flight was only about three hours. When we first got seated, we were in the front row of the section and had ample leg room. The two ladies next to us (who appeared to be mother and daughter) asked if we wouldn’t mind switching seats with the younger lady’s husband and other child (she had a baby already in her lap). While we enjoyed getting the extra leg room, we were happy to switch, allowing us to have a screen to finish our movies. They served us another meal and I both finished my movie and watched another.

We arrived in Japan at about 11:30am on Sunday, pretty much completely skipping (or flying?) over Saturday.  We had to go through security and have our passports looked over, index fingers scanned, and pictures taken. Our passports have stickers that allow us to stay 90 days.

another airport picture

We went downstairs to grab our luggage and await Sierra and Riley’s arrival.  They were scheduled to arrive about two hours after us. Thankfully we were able to connect to the airport WiFi to connect with family back home and while away the time.

Not realizing there was another set of escalators further down, we weren’t able to greet them as they came to get their bags. By the time we realized and had gotten down to their baggage carousel, they were already in possession of one of their bags. The second bag was quickly retrieved and we made our way to customs, which we got through quickly.

Finally out in the main part of the airport, we had to get to terminal 1, where we could pick up our on-the-go WiFi. The information counter staff told us which free bus to take and I also utilized the currency exchange. The USD is a little stronger than Yen right now.

We got on the bus right away and were in terminal 1 within 10 minutes. Then it was back to the information counter to find out where to get the WiFi box. Up to the fourth floor and we were quickly connected.

We also needed tickets to get from the airport to our lodging and were able to purchase Tokyo Shuttle tickets for ¥1,000 ($8.98) each. The Shuttle wasn’t to leave for another hour, so Riley and I took the opportunity to find a machine to purchase Pasmo cards.  We had to go to the lowest floor and brave the crazy train station foot traffic (we had wisely left our luggage with our spouses). We did manage to find the machine (thank you, Tokyo Cheapo, for the helpful pictures!) and got the necessary cards, heading back upstairs and to our spouses. The bus was not long in arriving and we got out of the cold and wet (I haven’t yet mentioned that it was grey and rainy).

I am not sure how long we rode the bus, as I started to nod off. We made it to the station, and wandered down the street until I saw a stairway to somewhere underground. I figured there would probably be a train station somewhere down there and led our group down the stairway. . .

. . .and into a big underground mall. Huh. Anyway, we walked around for a bit, following vague signs for the JR line. Finally, we found it and the line we needed. Poor Jason was lugging around our ginormous bag and having to take it up and down the stairs and weave around the hundreds of people also wandering the station.

Made it to our first train and in 14 stops got off to make the transfer. Wound through foot traffic and down and up stairs, first going to the wrong platform (sorry, Jason!). Our train seemed to be going back in the direction we had just come from. When we stopped, I checked our app and realized we were going in the wrong direction. We were there for a little while and I was able to ask the conductor if we were on the right train. He said we were and so we all hurriedly got back on. Turns out we were at the end of the line, so I was both right and wrong. We made it back to the station we had just been at and in 7 more stops, were at our final destination.

We exited the station and were promptly lost. Having no idea which way we needed to go, tired, cold, and wet, we started in one direction, me navigating with Google maps. The dot was a little laggy so it wasn’t until we’d walked a few paces that we realized it was the wrong way. Turned back around and trying a different direction I started to panic when the dot drifted off course.

I stopped into an open shop and asked the man where we needed to go. Thank goodness for Google maps not being in English. The man did not speak any English but could see where we were trying to go. He reoriented my map to show me where the train station was in relation to us, and then came outside and walked down to the alley, showing me where we should turn left. Thanking him profusely, we were on our way again.

My allergies had been acting up since our second flight and I was now using my jacket sleeve to wipe my nose (tmi?). But the rain was also keeping my jacket pretty wet. Even though the air was cold, the movement of walking kept me warm. I also knew that, despite the current unpleasantness, this would make for a more interesting story (see how right I am now?).

We easily found our way down and across the street, then made a turn down a small alley and around another bend. Then, nothing. We couldn’t figure out where we were supposed to go. The dot indicated we were right on top of it, but it did not look right. All the addresses were in Kanji so we couldn’t use that to narrow anything down.

The rest of the party found shelter under a bike parking area with an overhang, while I went to figure it out. I started walking the way we had come, and saw a woman come out of one of the buildings. I flagged her down and she apologized, saying she didn’t speak any English. I showed her where we were trying to go, but we both determined that we had gone in the right direction.

I thanked her and made it back to the group, very puzzled. We were able to look up the Airbnb post and saw a picture of the front of our place. Based on that, and the caption of the picture, Riley figured out the approximate location. We shouldn’t have turned down the alley. We went back to the street and found it in no time.

Finally getting the keybox and door open, we were happy to be inside. No more than five minutes after our arrival, a knock came at the door. It was Melissa, a friend of our host. She showed us the space, which switch opporated which light, how to use the hilariously tiny washing machine, and how to use the shower.

the itty bitty washer/”dryer”; turns out the dryer side just spins the water out, you still need to hang dry.

After she left, we decided we should go out and get something to eat. It was about 7pm at this point and there was no food in our place. We had spotted a McDonald’s outside the station and a grocery store. We easily found our way back to the station and got our dinner. Then we headed to Seiyu for groceries. After wandering three of the possibly 8 floors, we got our food and headed back home.

I was still feeling pretty gross and knew it was very Japanese to shower at night (which is what I do at home anyway, but I was also very tired and considered waiting for morning), and made use of the shower while a load of laundry was being done. Not long after, we all went to bed, around 9:30.

shower

I am so happy to be back. I’m going to see my host family over the next weekend and another good friend, Shigeko, on Thursday. It’s still rainy today, but we’ll be fine. Hello, Japan!