dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Here's a backdated index for all the posts I wrote about [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and my trip to Japan with friends!
  • Friday, July 15 to Saturday, July 16 - Chicago to Tokyo - Mostly on airplanes.
  • Sunday, July 17 - Tokyo - Meiji Jingu, shopping, and Shinjuku park.
  • Monday, July 18 - Tokyo - National Museum, Clothes shopping, meeting a friend of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd for dinner in Shinjuku, and the Final Fantasy cafe.
  • Tuesday, July 19 - Himeji and Hiroshima - Himeji Castle and a drinks truck in Hiroshima.
  • Wednesday, July 20 - Hiroshima - The Peace Memorial Museum, shopping, and a kagura performance.
  • Thursday, July 21 - Miyajima - Itukushima Shrine, climbing Mount Misen, and staying in a ryokan.
  • Friday, July 22 - Chiyoda! - Visiting and having dinner with our old students in the town we lived in!
  • Saturday, July 23 - Kyoto - Racist hotel, Pokemon center, and surprise festival performance.
  • Sunday, July 24 - Kyoto - Gion Matsuri parade, Fushimi-Inari, and parade at Yasaka-Jinja.
  • Monday, July 25 - Kyoto and Ōsaka - Sanjūsangendō, Shitennōji in Ōsaka, and the Tenjin Matsuri in Ōsaka.
  • Tuesday, July 26 - Kyoto - Hōnen-in in the rain, lunch in Gion, the Kanji Museum, and Torin yakitori restaurant.
  • Wednesday, July 27 - Tokyo - Otome Road, Akihabara, and gaming in an arcade.
  • Thursday, July 28 - Tokyo - Sailor Moon Cafe, the Ghibli exhibition in Roppongi, Super Potato, and dinner in Ginza.
  • Friday, July 29 - Tokyo and Toronto - Sakura manjū, one last ramen, and a flight home that worked out in the end.
What a wonderful trip!
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
The first thing we did this morning after showering, before we packed and before we even ate breakfast, was to finally eat the sakura manjū we bought on Miyajima in the Hello Kitty store.

I'm as tasty as four apples.

They were delicious.

Then we packed, checked out, ate toast and tea/coffee because the soup had pork again--I don't understand how Sakura Hotel offers halal ramen and then has pork in seemingly every soup they make--and walked to the train station. On the way, I learned about this exhibition which I'm now really sad I didn't know about a couple days ago, when we were over near Sunshine Mall and could have gone. Yōkai are one of the parts of Japanese culture that doesn't get much play abroad, like kagura or foods that aren't sushi or ramen, and this would have been a great chance to see them. Sigh.

We stopped at Chocoholic so [ profile] xoDrVenture could get a present for her roommate and then got on the Yamanote Line heading for Tōkyō Station, where we got off, went outside the gates, got tickets for the Narita Express, went back through the gates, and waited for the train. While we were on the platform, I got one last onigiri for the road. Fatty tuna and spring onions. Then the train started moving, and I said goodbye to Tokyo.


The train ride was an hour and the only problem were two businessmen sitting ride in front of us who randomly picked seats until they found an occupied one and then loudly spent the train ride discussing business. But that was short, and then we got off the train and made for our terminal. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had some お土産 (omiyage, "gift souvenirs") she needed to buy, and as long as she was doing that, I picked up some for my Japanese tutor as well. I hope she likes green tea. I've met Japanese people who don't. I've also met Japanese people who don't like fish or rice, which strikes me as almost debilitating. You know, like how I'm an American who doesn't like pizza or hot dogs.

Then we went to the food court and had our last bowl of reasonably-priced ramen.

¥880. About $8.25.

We went to go check into our flight but accidentally went to the wrong wing of the terminal, and then when we did go to the right wing, found our airline, and got in line, we got an attendant who must have been new. Her English wasn't that great (and my flight-related Japanese isn't either) and had some trouble finding our reservations and boarding passes. But she did eventually find us with some help from her co-workers, print out our boarding passes, and send us on our way.

We got through security in three minutes because Japan isn't invested in stupid security theatre that just wastes everyone's time and money, went through immigration in about the same amount of time, and proceeded to the gate.


We went through the airport, stopping to say goodbye to [ profile] tastee_wheat and [ profile] tropicanaomega at their gates, and then made it to our gate. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd went to buy some sakura-flavored kitkats to use up the last of our yen and we settled down to wait, along a few Buddhist monks and a giant horde of schoolgirls probably going on a school trip. No wonder the flight was full.

Fun fact: kitkats are popular in Japan partially because the name sounds like 屹度勝つ (kitto katsu, "I will surely win").

The flight boarded slightly late and we were sitting across the aisle from each other, but as soon as we got on [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd asked the man sitting in the middle seat to move to my aisle seat and he happily did so, so we got to sit together again!

We also sat next to the monks, but didn't talk with them. There was also a kid who thought having to put on his seatbelt when we hit turbulence was worse than being tortured to death and decided to shriek his head off for a while until, presumably, he tired himself out and fell asleep.

About a third of the way through the flight, I started to feel really cramped. I don't usually have problems with claustrophobia, but airlines are the exception. It wasn't until I compared seatbacks with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd that I realized the problem--the man in front of me had lowered his seat by about 15 cm and I really was dealing with less space. So I immediately rammed my knees into the back of his seat--by which I mean "sat normally, thanks airlines!"--and was rewarded by him shifting repeatedly as I did. And eventually, after enough shoving, he moved his seat back upright. I am not above petty revenge against people being inconsiderate.

We also flew above a lightning storm, but I was not sitting by a window.

Breakfast was pretty tasty:

No pork to pick out this time either!

We landed in Toronto to the news that they didn't actually have a gate for us and we'd have to take a bus to the terminal. Then we went through customs and I was all set to get annoyed until I realized that this wasn't bullshit Canadian security theater, it was bullshit American security theatre because we're going to America. The highlight was the customs agent saying he could tell we were married because we answered all his questions in unison.

Then we got to the gate and our flight was delayed an hour.

And then it was cancelled! So we had to go out through Canadian customs and pick up our baggage and hope we got another flight. Except our baggage wasn't showing up, and when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd went to ask about it, they told her that our flight wasn't canceled and they were loading our luggage onto the plane, so we ran back through US customs and back to our terminal to find our flight was delayed due

Ah yes, weather. Oh Chicago.

Ignorant Air Canada employees aside, after a two-hour weather delay we got on the plane. Then we sat there while they loaded in some extra luggage, and while I'm normally contemptuous of people who check carry-ons on the plane, I think it makes sense in this case. Then we taxied away and sat again on the runway. Then finally, finally, we took off at 8:35 p.m. Eastern.

Then we flew through turbulence pretty much the entire trip.

The sun and the storm.

We landed, taxied to our gate, and got our luggage in much less time than I was expecting because we went through customs in Canada. And now I'm posting this from the ride home, and unless our apartment has burned down in our absence, there's nothing further to report.

Thus ends the Japan Trip 2016. What a wonderful time! I'm so glad I got to go back and visit our old students and show all the places we came to love to our friends. The only problem I want to move back.

Maybe someday.

Steps taken: 13245

Tokyo: Thursday

2016-Jul-29, Friday 00:51
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
After a delicious and cheap breakfast of toast and butter and tea and no soup because it had pork and shellfish despite being beet soup, we left the hotel at 10:15 in order to have enough time to make our 11:30 Sailor Moon Cafe reservations in Shibuya. But we had more time than I thought, so when we passed by Ozz On and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd saw a blue and black dress in the same style as the previous skirt/shirt combo she had bought, we stopped in. That turned out to be a dud--it was a skirt and shirt just like the other set, but they didn't have the skirt in--but she did find a black vest and skirt combo that made her look like a vampire hunter. Just needed black boots and a ruffled top. And stakes.

Also, Ozz On takes Discover. Japan really is prepping for Olympics-related foreign tourism.

The train to Shibuya was only about fifteen minutes, leaving us plenty of time to walk to the cafe without having to rush. Except we did have to rush because we went out the wrong exit, and then we arrived at Q Cafe and got into line, so it was a case of hurry up and wait. The line ended one person behind us, too. But it moved quickly, and after a few minutes...

Fighting evil by moonlight.

Sugary desserts are a feminine thing in Japan--there's all kinds of sweet parfaits filled with ice cream and whipped cream and berries and so on for women. And this was the Sailor Moon Cafe, so they turned the sugar up to 11. When I ordered the Moon Faeries' Tea (upper left), I was expecting actual tea, not a blueberry smoothie with fresh cream and white chocolate on top. At least with Sailor Neptune's Praline ([personal profile] schoolpsychnerd would like to clarify that it is called the Elegant and Sweet Neptune Set ) , I knew what I was getting. And it was pretty good, mostly dark chocolate and a matcha base.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd also got the tea and the Cosmic Heart Macaroon, which wasn't actually a macaroon. It was more like a layer cake, and it was also loaded down with an enormous amount of sugar. I guess Sailor Moon is powered by love and also sugar rush.

My stomach hurt when we were done eating. I am not cut out for fighting evil by moonlight.

We ducked into the main store across the street after we ate to look around. The company running the cafe is famous for making jewelry inspired by desserts, so they had a lot of really cute necklaces that looked like macaroons but also like the warriors' regalia. I didn't get any pictures of those, but I did take one of the wall mural:

Senshi, assemble!

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was extremely tempted by some of the jewelry but realized that she wouldn't really have any opportunity to wear it, so we left and decided to walk to our next destination--Roppongi Hills Mori Tower for the Ghibli Exhibit. Plus, then we could stop at CoCo's for curry, which we did.

The walk was peasant mostly because we were in the shade of tall buildings and managed to go out in the open when the scattered clouds covered the sun. Mori Tower was a bit of a maze, the kind of place where a corporate espionage film would be set, but after going up, then down, then around, we bought tickets for the exhibit and took the elevator up to the 52nd floor.

Welcome to the sprawl.

The exhibit mostly didn't allow photographs or I would have taken a ton. Walking in was a hallway with posters from all the movies they've done, then a small section with storyboards and production stills from the next movie coming out this year (Red Turtle, I think?). Then a giant Totoro, a reproduction of Miyazaki's office, some soot spirits creeping through a corner, a full-size reproduction of the catbus, and a floating airship from Castle in the Sky, which I've never seen but know about because Sky Castle and Ancient Robots and Girl With Mysterious Pendant are all in it, and from there entered the top tier of JRPG tropes.

They didn't have that much from my favorite Ghibli movie (千と千尋の神隠し/Spirited Away), sadly, other than the Oscar that they won for it. And while I loved the Nausicaa manga, I've never seen the film.

I did find this article that has a lot of press pictures in it if you'd like to know what it looked like. And they allowed pictures later, so I got this picture of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd where she has always truly wanted to be.

All aboard the nekobus.

There were a couple people over in Akihabara, so we decided to go there next. Originally we were going to walk, but the map said it was four miles away, so we hopped on the Hibiya Line and rode straight to Akihabara. Then we alighted, went up the stairs, and walked over to Super Potato.

As soon as I walked in, I went like , because this is what it looked like:

It's Kirby season.

There were three floors: one floor of 16-bit and earlier games, one of Playstation and later games, and a retro arcade. I didn't end up buying any games, because I've realized that just about every game I play from now on is going to be on the computer one way or another. I did buy more plushies, though--a bob-omb and a winged goomba that we're going to hang from one of the pre-existing hooks into our kitchen ceiling.

After twenty minutes wandering through the promised land of retro gaming and meeting up with everyone after most of a day spent apart, we went across the street to the Akihabara branch of Animate so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd could look for Sailor Moon items. She found a small figure of Usagi sitting on a cake, bought it, and we went on to the Yellow Submarine hobby shop in search of tabletop RPGs. They had them--there was even a copy of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay translated into Japanese--but not Call of Cthulhu or Alshard. Sword World made a strong appearance, but I don't like the rules.

We left and I checked into our flight, getting [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I seats across from each other, and then we headed back to the station to meet up with [ profile] tropicanaomega and her friend, who came down from Aomori to see her, coming back from Mandarake.

We took the Yamanote Line to Yūrakuchō to walk to Ginza, but arrived a bit early to meet [ profile] aaron.hosek's friend, since his workday ends at 7 p.m. After trying a cafe and being told there were no seats ([ profile] tastee_wheat checked it out later and found plenty of seats. Probably another case of being too foreign), we walked to Hibiya Park and sat on benches overlooking the water.

Green space? In Tokyo?

After about half an hour of resting, it was close to the time when we were supposed to meet [ profile] aaron.hosek's friend, so we went back toward Yūrakuchō Station and waited until he appeared. After introductions, we all walked to Ginza to find a restaurant, since [ profile] aaron.hosek wanted to see Ginza at night and his friend knew where to go eat.

If you're not familiar, Ginza is a glitzy part of Tokyo, all neon at night and no vending machines. I figured that meant we'd have a hard time finding a place to eat, but the second sushi place we went had plenty of space and good food. We stayed there for two hours until the chef came out and started clearing glasses in a universal "get the hell out of my restaurant" gesture. [ profile] tropicanaomega did manage to pull off an awesome party trick, though!

That's a ¥1 coin suspended on water by surface tension.

And then we walked back to the train station and went back to our hotels to prep for the journey home. But it was lovely to have a last dinner together as a group!

Wonderful dinner with wonderful people.

Steps taken: 19942

Tokyo: Wednesday

2016-Jul-27, Wednesday 23:54
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
I woke up at 7:30 a.m. and decided not to go back to sleep, since we would be traveling today back to Tokyo for to last phase of our trip. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I lay around in bed for a couple hours, packed up our souvenirs and clothes, and headed out to find some breakfast. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's initial idea of Cafe du Monde turned out to be a dud because the one in Kyoto Station only sold drinks, but we found a small Italian restaurant in the dining area that had a morning set with panini and coffee or tea. Mozzarella, tomato, and pesto panini is exactly what I wanted to start the day.

After that, everyone assembled, we reserved our Shinkansen tickets, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I bought ekiben from a small shop in the station, and we got on the bullet train for Tokyo.

On the inside. My knees are a foot from the seat in front!

I spent the Shinkansen ride catching up on RSS feeds and listening to podcasts, and after two-and-a-half hours we were back in Tokyo. We got on the Yamanote Line and all got off at our destinations--this time, we were staying near separate stops--and walked back to the Sakura Hotel, arriving about five minutes after check-in time. We got our rooms, put some laundry in the provided laundry machines, and settled down to let it run, though we did go to the conbini to get some snacks since several other people had gotten food and we probably weren't going to eat until later.

Once out laundry was done, we put it away or hung it as befit its level of dryness and wandered out to find Otome Road. "Otome" (乙女, "little girl, maiden") is slang for female anime and manga fans, and there's a part of Ikebukuro dedicated to them the way that Akibahara is dedicated to male fans.

Well, more to tourists looking for electronics now, but the historical connection is there.

We went east through Ikebukuro Station and into the shopping streets past it, and after navigating past a few pachinko parlors and under an overpass, we found it:

Not visible: rows of capsule machines.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd dived into the capsule machine and won a Sailor Moon keychain on her first try, and then we entered the shop. It turned out that the main Animate shop had moved and this was the cosplay annex, for all your costuming needs. Cosplay in Japan doesn't have the same do-it-yourself impetus that it does in America, so there were pre-made costumes for a variety of characters. And pre-styled Sailor Moon wigs. Imagine a market big enough to support that niche.

The store was pretty neat but there was basically no way for us to get anything back to America without ruining it, so after a quick look, we checked the internet for where the main store had moved to--about 300 meters away--and walked there. It was a gigantic shrine to all things nerd, with a correspondingly large population of shoppers which [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was happy to see were indeed mostly women, and we looked a bit around the first floor.

Uh, I'm not hungry, thanks.

Unfortunately, the crowds also meant there was a giant line for the elevator, and we pledged to come back during a less busy time and went back to Ikebukuro Station.

During Tokyo rush hour. Oops.

Actually, it wasn't that bad. The station was packed and so was the incoming train, but nearly everyone got off at Ikebukuro. We even got seats! And then fifteen minutes later, we arrived in Akihabara and met up with the others.

Neon and moe.

[ profile] tastee_wheat wanted to check out a hobby shop called TamTam a bit off the main drag and, hoping for Japanese tabletop RPGs, I went with her. It had an extensive collection of model kits, model trains, replica military gear, and basically everything I'm not really interested in. After casing the joint, I told [ profile] tastee_wheat that I was going to head back and went off to find the others.

After dodging the maids and "schoolgirls" handing out fliers, I found everyone else at Kotobukiya, a hobby shop closer to Akihabara Station. It wasn't just entirely animu and mango stuff, though--there was an entire floor devoted to superheroes and Star Wars. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a Captain America towel, and would have bought a Black Widow statue if she hadn't been worried about transporting it back to America.

We were going to go to Super Potato, famous retro game store, afterward, but Google lied to us and it actually closed at 8 p.m., so instead we wandered around in search of dinner. After a couple of false starts, including one restaurant I'm almost positive turned us away for being foreign, we found a place called Tsuki no Shizuku with izakaya-style small dishes and a touchscreen ordering system. They also had green tea tiramisu.


Full of food for only ¥1919 each, we went on to the Sega Arcade building, which in the way of modern Japanese arcades had almost no racing or fighting games and was overly full of UFO catchers, card-based games, and Gundam battle pods. Okay, admittedly the last one there is pretty amazing, but at ¥500 a play it's not super practical for more than a play or two.

Instead, I challenged [ profile] aaron.hosek to Taikō no Tatsujin:

Locked in combat.

Unfortunately I ended up with battle damage on my hand, because the "1812 Overture" on hard is many more drum strikes than someone who doesn't actually play the drums at all is used to. That didn't prevent me from coming within 2% of my friend's score, though!

Despite a thorough search I hadn't found any danmaku games and some of the others were getting tired, so we called an early night. Early for Tokyo, anyway. We got back at 11:30 and it looked like the part of Ikebukuro we're staying in was just coming alive. But not us.

Steps taken: 14669

Tokyo: Monday

2016-Jul-19, Tuesday 06:59
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
Woke up early but at least this time I managed to sleep through the whole night. After leisurely getting ready and heading down to the attached cafe to eat--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had the sakura pancakes, which had a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top and a bit of cherry blossom flavor in it--some of us went back to the hotel to finish getting ready while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, [ profile] xoDrVenture, and I went to Ikebukuro Station to do a bit of shopping. Except we forgot that this is Tokyo and there's a reason that when Gibson wrote about Tokyo in Neuromancer, he called the part of it where the story took place "Night City"--almost nothing is open before 10 a.m., and even the bakeries don't open until 7:30 or so. We went to Andersen and got a bit of bread and sat around until the rest of the stores opened, and then went to look. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd found a shirt at a store called Ozz On, bought it, and around then everyone else showed up and we got on the train for Ueno.

Multiple people had suggested a lower-activity day after all the walking there was yesterday, so we went to the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Kōen. It's a Japan-focused art museum, though there was a Greek art exhibit that was hilariously advertised as "Land of the Immortals." There was a statue gallery that banned photography, but most of the rest of the museum was fine with pictures:

Look at this detailing!

The museum was roughly ten times as big as the part we saw, but after statues, clay works, Jōmon and Yayoi crafts, and Ainu and Ryūkyū art, it was after noon and everyone was getting really hungry and the sun had come out so we didn't want to do that much walking or eating at the food carts in the museum courtyard. We waited around for a bit while [ profile] tastee_wheat looked at the general Asian art building, and then we headed over to a building in the south of the park and split up between a Japanese restaurant on the middle floor and a Chinese restaurant on the bottom. I went for Japanese food, and after a steak bentō I had to get dessert because it looked like this:

I'm tempted to make a stupid panda joke, but it's not bread.

After the museum we split up. [ profile] tastee_wheat and a couple of the others headed off to Tokyo Tower to try and see the city from the top while [ profile] tropicanaomega, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and I headed back to the hotel, though we stopped on the way back to Ozz On to get a skirt that matched [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's new top. They ended up going out again before dinner, to a bunny cafe called Usabibi and met Bibi, Mikan, and Purin the rabbits. I tried to read for a bit, but pretty soon I got extremely tired and ended up napping for a bit, and again after [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd came back. At 6 p.m., I asked for three more minutes of sleep, and after that the two of us and [ profile] aaron.hosek headed out to meet one of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's old friends, who neither of us had seen since we got married.

We met up in Shinjuku outside a sukiyaki restaurant, and after [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd glomped her friend, we took the elevator up. Unfortunately, without a reservation the earliest they could fit us in was 8:30, so we left and went up to the top floor and another restaurant called Nanairo Temariuta, which had giant wicker balls built around tables in the center of the main dining space, all of which were occupied (手毬 is a traditional handball game). Instead they stuck us in the back room with the other group of gaijin, but that's the only (minor) complaint I had. It was great food otherwise, through the pictures were a little deceiving and we ordered way more food than we had the stomachs to eat. Two pots of nabe was probably one two many, though in our defense, the waitress did say each one feeds two people. Two sumo wrestlers, maybe.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's friend had to run to catch a show at the robot restaurant, but we didn't leave Shinjuku quite yet. We wanted check out the Square Enix cafe first, so after briefly checking out the lights of Shinjuku:

Night City.

...we followed google maps and two streets over, the crowds and lights pretty much vanished. We walked through darkened streets, deserted by almost everyone but a few people going about their business, and in maybe ten minutes of walking we arrived at the weird dome of Artnia, the Square-Enix cafe.

Well, sort of cafe, sort of bar, sort of gift shop. When we got there it was almost closing time and they didn't seem to have a menu out at all, so we looked at the gifts. Most of it was Dragon Quest oriented in honor of DQ's thirtieth anniversary, but there was a room in the back done up for Final Fantasy:

Not visible here is the way that the water appeared to be moving up into the ceiling.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a keychain because she felt bad looking without buying anything, and then we made our way back to the train station and headed back to Ikebukuro. A quick poll of our friends determined that nearly everyone was ready for bed, except for one unfortunate who had taken a five-hour nap, so we went back to the room and went to sleep. I didn't even get halfway through writing this before I fell asleep, and so I post it now.

Steps taken: 15565

Tokyo: Sunday

2016-Jul-17, Sunday 22:40
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
We woke up at various points from "before dawn" to "early morning" and eventually all made our way down to the cafe across the street from the hotel, where we took advantage of the ¥350 all-you-can-eat breakfast. It was super simple--coffee and tea, bread and butter, and soup of the day--but six of us ate it and the seventh got beef curry while we talked about what to do. The attendant came over and asked us in halting English if we were all friends, and I explained in Japanese that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had lived in Japan and were showing friends around. She asked if she could take our picture, we agreed, and now I wonder if it'll be up on the cafe wall eventually

Food done, and with a brief stop at Lawson to get some more snacks including the first store-bought onigiri I've had in five years, we headed off to Meiji Jingu, past the line of billboards with Password-senpai and User-kōhai encouraging people to strengthen their computer security.

Back again.

Meiji Jingu is the first place I went my first day in Japan, so it has a special place in my heart. But the other reason we went there is that nothing else was open, so we didn't hurry too much, even paying to get into the Treasure Museum and look around at the articles of the Meiji Emperor and taking the long--and much less crowded--route through the forest to get back to the main gate. Then it was time for lunch.

After wandering up and down Omotesandō and finding several restaurants that looked good but had lines out the door, we went to our old standard of Chaiyaphum, a Thai restaurant on the fourth floor of 原宿八角館, at the south corner of the 神宮前 intersection. It was still open and still delicious, and while I apparently confused the waitress when I asked for a dessert menu, we managed to order dessert too. Coconut ice cream with toasted coconut in coconut milk for me and durian ice cream for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, which pretty much was like using chemical weapons on the table.

[ profile] xoDrVenture also had a quote after using the bathroom in the building:
"Toilets here are either holes in the floor or robots."
After a quick stop at Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, where [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a set of hair ribbons on sale--as cute as most of it is, it doesn't have much practical utility or opportunities to wear it elsewhere--and then we set out to walk to Shinjuku Gyōen, since it wasn't that far and we'd get to see some of Tokyo along the way. And we did, working our way through the crowds until we passed a shōtengai and the crowds thinned out like they had been cut off by a knife. The rest of the walk was just us and a few people out and about, as well as a sizable police presence by the Turkish Embassy.

Shinjuku Gyōen has a lot of amazing trees:

It's like someone twisted a couple trees around each other.

We got turned around a few times and walked probably more than we had to, but we checked out the Japanese garden and the lakes before the fact that we had been walking for nearly ten hours finally caught up with most of the group, and we headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

Dinner was at Seikōan, a yakiniku restaurant that we found after a bit of wandering around and having our original choice be totally full. Filled with meat, we went to Penguin Bar to see if we could get in and see the penguins, but an ¥800 cover and a two-drink minimum drove us off. Instead, we headed to Taito Arcade, where two people split off to play a game called Gunslinger Stratos, where about all I could tell from a quick watch is that one of the characters (the schoolgirl, of course) exists only to provide panty shots. [ profile] tastee_wheat and [ profile] tropicanaomega found a Pokkén Tournament head to head setup, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd played Taikō no Tatsujin a bit. Then another friend challenged me to a game, and while that was going on, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd snuck off and won me a Neko Atsume plushie from a crane game!

I'm a real-life kitty collector!

After a quick stop at Mister Donut for dessert, several people expressed the desire to go back to the hotel and get some water, because it turns out that constantly seeping a thin film of sweat due to gigantic humidity and walking all day requires extra water to avoid dehydration!

And all that walking and dehydration kind of caught up to us, and we went to sleep pretty soon after.

Steps taken: 21704
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)

Two weeks off five years after we said our goodbyes and left, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are back in Japan! And this time with friends! [ profile] tropicanaomega, [ profile] tastee_wheat, [ profile] xoDrVenture, [ profile] aaron.hosek, and one more person all signed on when we said that we were going to go back to Japan and would anyone like to come, and, well:

The view from the Narita express.

We woke up at five a.m. to make sure that we could shower, eat a leisurely breakfast, finish our remaining travel checklist items, and still make it to the airport on time. And we did. Even though Midway had a three-hour-long line at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday for no reason, we sailed through O'Hare's security in five minutes, got to our gate, and then I wandered around for a while, because I was going to be sitting for almost twelve hours on an international flight and there's no reason to do too much sitting before then if I didn't have to. We boarded our Air Canada flight to Toronto, went through the perfunctory customs screening given to those making international connections, and then settled down to wait.

While we were waiting, we sat across from an elderly East Asian couple talking to each other, and I got a bit discouraged when I couldn't understand a word they were saying. All was explained when a tour guide came by and handed them a map that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd could see was clearly in Korean, though. Oops.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's nationalist former co-worker is probably fuming to himself right now and doesn't know why.

The flight boarded late, but once on board we were pleased to see that the projected flight time was an hour shorter than we had thought. Which isn't that much when it's already over twelve hours long, but I'll take it. There's not much else to say about the flight. It was long, it was cramped, the food was tolerable (beef yakiniku, then omelets we picked the sausage off of), someone's toddler kept making a break for business class, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd watched Batman vs. Superman and made a lot of faces, and I played a lot of Dragon Quest IV on my iPad. There was a USB charge port on the back of the seat just under the touchscreen menu, which was a nice surprise.

I especially liked the part where we arrived forty minutes early and then sat on the runway because our gate was still occupied. No good deed goes unpunished.

Japan's customs form was a bit more elaborate:

As the birthplace of the katana, Japan is well aware of the destructive power of swords.

But customs didn't take any real time at all. After maybe an hour we were through, had picked up our wifi (where speaking Japanese prevented a misunderstanding, so hurray me), and were waiting for [ profile] xoDrVenture to eat something before picking up our JR Passes and getting on the train to Ikebukuro.

We made it to the hotel, checked in without any trouble, and eventually went out looking for food with 5/7ths of our group, two of them having crashed out in the meantime. We ate ramen from a ticket machine ramen joint, came back to the hotel, and then everyone went to bed.

I'm not going to keep a super exhaustive account of everything I do this trip (Edit: That's a lie, I wrote down everything), because I'll be here for two weeks and writing takes time. But I had a lot of down time on the flight to write in between killing slimes in DQIV. And now, it's time for bed, because for my body it's 8 a.m. and I've been up for 27 hours.

Tomorrow, Japan!
dorchadas: (Teh sex)
2014-01-13 - New boots

I tend to have really good luck with footwear. I wore sneakers in high school, but I switched to boots when I realized exactly how difficult it was to find sneakers that were entirely black--though I did have one pair that I wore until they fell apart. Then I got a pair of boots that lasted me almost eight years, through most of university, all of Ireland, after I got back and through the period that I was dating [ profile] softlykarou and our marriage, into Japan, and then I only got rid of them because the sole wore down so thin that walking on wet pavement would get my socks wet (and I'm pretty sure I never saw a cobbler in Japan. Or maybe it's just that I don't know the Japanese word for "cobbler"). Then I asked my parents to send me a pair of boots from America, because there was no way I was going to find shoes that fit me in Japan without looking all over the country, and those lasted around three years until a few days ago, where I switched to the boots I'm wearing in that picture.

I had a lot of emotional attachment to my first pair of boots, because they'd been with me for years on three continents, but I didn't care much about the second set and I was happy to get rid of them, though that may have at least partially been inspired by how I stepped in a huge puddle the night before before I went shopping and they were still wet.

I'm not sure if my choice of boots says anything about my evolving taste, but my first pair were mostly fabric and I'm actually not even sure if they had any leather at all. My second pair looked a lot like motorcycle boots (they may have been, I don't know), and my current pair could probably double as dress shoes, since they're textured and have the same kind of toe modeling as the dress shoes I currently own. Or at least, they'll be able to once they stop ripping my feet apart. Having only had to break in new boots twice ever I'm not really used to it, though it has happened with other shoes too, like the time I wandered all around Tokyo in new sandals in the summer, which was not my wisest decision ever. I've looked around online, and gotten advice from the reasonable to the ridiculous, but I suspect the only thing to do is pay my debt of blood and hope it doesn't take too long for them to adjust.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
As the subject says. My parents and sister came over to visit, and we ended up traveling all over the place. Tokyo, Kamakura, Nara, Kyoto, Himeji, Matsue, Izumo, Hiroshima, was a ton of traveling. I probably walked over 100 kilometers, even with the times that we took public transit, and that doesn't count the extra effort expended from carrying my bags all over the place. On the other hand, we got to go to a ton of places I've wanted to visit since we came to Japan but didn't really have the time. Most of them were the same places I've already written about multiple times--Kinkakuji, Meiji Jingu, Himeji Castle, etc., so I won't repeat them here. But, I'll talk about the one that I think my favorite--出雲大社 (Izumo Taisha) in the eponymous Izumo. It's a shrine to the god of marriage, and fittingly, we saw no fewer than five couples in various stages of their wedding while we were there.

Funny story--apparently it's bad luck for a couple to go through the main gate to Izumo. Of course, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I didn't know about this until after we had already gone through it. :p Then again, there was a rope that people were trying to toss coins into (as in, getting them to stick between the fibers of the rope. It was about a meter wide) and I managed to make my coin stick on the first toss, so hopefully that will counterbalance it.

The shrine also had a museum on the grounds that had swords forged by Muramasa and Masamune, which were in amazing condition for being 500+ years old, and a lacquer box made in 1150 that looked like it had been made yesterday. Not bad for a small museum curated by one guy.
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
I'm tempted to replay Portal through again, since the new one comes out on Tuesday (before Episode 3, which is the new Duke Nukem Forever to me, even though it hasn't really been all that long). So much else to do, though...well, all in due time, I suppose.

I just beat Arcanum, and I do admit that it deserves all of the praise that was lavished on it. And a lot of the complaints, too. By about level 14 (out of 50), I could beat groups of monsters twice my level by abusing the magic system. By level 30, I was an unstoppable demigod who probably could have killed everyone in the game. The plot and mechanics are really good, though. It's entirely possible to be a crazed murderer and still finish the game because any important figure can have their spirit ripped from the afterlife and interrogated for important info. Similarly, if you know the Resurrection spell, a lot of quests take into account that you could find that the only person who knows the secret info has been murdered by assassins, resurrect them, and then join forces against the person who killed them originally.

The end boss annoyed me a bit, though, mainly because it's another one of the "Death is better than life, life is suffering, death is peace, I will bring peace to the world through death" negaBuddhist omnicidal maniacs you get so often in JRPGs. Plus one for the option to get into a philosophical debate and convince the guy he's wrong, though. Also the option to join him and actually wipe out all life on the planet.

We just this week got back from Tokyo to see [personal profile] fiendishfanfares, her husband and a couple of her friends. We went to a lot of the standard places I've been before, as is our custom, so I won't go into that again, I'll just deal with the highlights. The first was when we went to Meiji Shrine, we ran into a group (around 6-7) of Japanese college students who came over to talk to us and asked if they could show us around. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had been there before, of course, but [personal profile] fiendishfanfares and the others hadn't, so we agreed. Some of the things we were told we already knew (how to properly purify ourselves, etc.), and some things were new, but the main neat part was talking to some people who obviously cared about learning English and were actually pretty good at it. It turned out they were students at Tokyo Foreign Language University and most of them weren't actually studying English. The one who showed [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I around was a French Major, there was a Czech Major there too, and one English major whose accent was frankly amazing. We ended up friending our guide on Facebook, and she's said she'll show us around there and the Imperial Palace when my parents come to visit. Neat :)

The second is the first real racism I've experienced in Japan ([personal profile] schoolpsychnerd ran into some at Mt. Fuji, of all places, but I didn't go on that trip). We went to an izakaya in Roppongi that had a 400 cover charge for non-Japanese people. I mean, I suppose it's possible they charged Japanese people too...except that it was only mentioned on the English menu and in English signage. Nowhere in the Japanese literature I read said anything about it. This kind of thing is still perfectly legal in Japan, even though the UN is always on the Japanese government's ass to do something about it. The government's response is usually that it would be "impossible to enforce" (which basically translates to "Fuck you gaijin, we don't care about your standards."), so there's no much I can do about it other than pay extra and be extremely annoyed. Oh, and I guess ask my sister if she wants to experience actual racism, which would be so ludicrously clueless upper-middle-class hipster I might do it just for the total irony that wraps back around into idiocy. Or something.

While we were there, a lot of people kept thanking us for coming. The college students at Meiji and the chefs at the sushi restaurant in Tsukiji (which was deserted. When we went there a year and a bit ago, there were probably 200 people waiting for seats on restaurant row. This time, there were maybe 20, if that) were especially kind.

The other weird things was doing translations. I mean, I really actually liked it, a lot (and wouldn't it have been fucking lovely to find something I'm good at, have talent for and enjoy earlier? I'm good at and have a talent [or so I'm told] for writing, but half the time I don't enjoy it :p), but I'm nowhere near even conversationally fluent in Japanese, so it was still a bit strange to be always translating for other people. The context-based nature of the Japanese language does help, though. Leaving stuff out, leaving sentences hanging, and so on is a fixture in daily speech, which worked to my advantage. When the fare adjustment machine wouldn't refund us the 10円 we had overpaid by, we went to the ticket counter, and I got as far as "Ticket Refund Machine" and a slight pause to think of how to format "isn't working correctly" (I think you can use 働く, which usually means "to work" in the sense of "I work at a movie theatre," in the "that machine doesn't work" way, but I'm not sure) and he ended up refunding us the money and writing us a new transfer ticket that got us all the way there. That was nice.

Also, totally random thought. You visit tons of planets in Mass Effect, and lots of them have ruins. If you look at the dates, it quickly becomes obvious that the ruins all date back in in multiples of 50,000 years. Foreshadowing!
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
Wow, I expected that I would have posted earlier than this. Maybe I need to adopt some sort of project like [ profile] tropicanaomega did in order to make me post more often? You think nothing worthwhile happens in your life, but something like that shows you that it's easy to find a lot to talk about even in seemingly mundane things.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I did go to Tōkyō, as I mentioned. There isn't actually all that much to talk about there, since it was New Year's and almost everything was closed. This was actually the same problem we ran into last year when we went to Kyōto, and I'm not sure why we didn't think of it earlier. I showed [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd some of the places I went to when we first went to Tōkyō a year and a half ago, and we went shopping in Shibuya at 109, where [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a hat. The most fun part was for New Year's Eve, where we went into Ueno Park at midnight to a small shrine with a bell and rang the bell to welcome in the new year. It turns out the shrine was over 500 years old and had been mentioned in a poem by Bashō. That was a lot of fun.

I need to take more time and write these sooner after they happen. I'll try to do that in the future.
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
Okay, not exactly. I got most of it out.

I figured that if 90% of Japanese women under 30 can walk around Tokyo all day in 3 inch+ heels, then I can do it in sandals, right? Well, I can, but not very well--my pants are currently drying after I washed the bloodstains out. :-p

I walked from the hotel, past Shinjuku Station and down into Shinjuku Sanchōme before getting lost for a while. I could see Shinjuku Gyoen, but I couldn't find a way in. I eventually had to turn around and take several other streets before I found the main gate. It was a neat park--not amazing, but pretty. It used to be a private park for the Imperial Family, but after World War II it was opened up to everyone. There were a couple teahouses (closed, sadly) a Japanese garden, and English documentation was available from staffers who weren't actually there. There was an Engrishy wildlife guide which I grabbed, but I didn't see a single animal while I was there.

After leaving through the south gate and following the train tracks, I found the more interesting place of my visit--Meiji Jingu, the shrine to honor the spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken. I stood and watched people pray for a bit (and saw some shrine maidens, dressed in red and white with ribbons in their hair), took some pictures of the shring and tried to get into the Iris Garden except there's a 500円 fee to get in and I was too cheap to pay. :-p I now know the proper procedure for visiting a Shinto shrine, though. After wandering around the grounds I took the south exit and was relieved to see that Harajuku train station was right there.

While buying some peach nectar from a vending machine, I heard some people speaking English behind me and turned a bit to listen (you don't realize how much you miss it until 99% of the people around you are speaking a language you can't understand and most of them can't understand you either). They asked me if I spoke English, which I did, and we chatted a bit. They were both from California on vacation. We didn't talk long, though, because I was really tired, my feet were sore and I was right next to the train station. I wanted to wander around Harajuku a bit more, but...ah well. Maybe next time.

I'd like to live in Tokyo, I think--or at least a city with a mass transit system that's as good.
dorchadas: (Iocaine Powder)
So, Americans don't know from fast food.

Last night, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went wandering around Shinjuku again looking for food. After skipping out on an Italian restaurant because it had a long wait and we didn't have much time, we found some hole-in-the-wall noodle place (the third one we looked at). There was a large display of plastic replications of the dishes on the walls. I picked something that I could read ("クーリライスセット", Curry rice with noodles on the side), but it turned out I didn't need it. When we got inside, there was a big machine just inside the entrance with buttons on it. Each button corresponded to the number of one of the displays outside. You pushed your order, got the ticket, and gave it to the womean behind the counter, who then made your order.

It took her about 30 seconds to make both [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's and my food, which is the least time I've ever waited. After she was done, she asked both of us "Soba de mo udon?" (at least, I think that's what she said?) and then "Atatakai de mo tsumetai?" which means "Hot or cold?" Until yesterday, though, I only knew atsui and samui, which also mean hot or cold but only refer to weather or places, whereas tsumetai refers to objects, so I heard it as "takai," which means "tall." I asked "takai?" and she looked at me a bit oddly, but we got it straightened out. She later stopped by our table and said something--I'm not sure what, but with the hand gestures I'm pretty sure it had to do with the fact that I was a foot taller than her. :-p

Good food, too, and only 800円 for the both of us. Who says you can't eat cheaply in Tokyo?

A lot of women were walking around with open umbrellas yesterday even though it wasn't cloudy. I'm not sure if they were for protection from the sun, insurance against the T-storms that were supposed to show up later, or what.

Ow, my feet

2008-Jul-28, Monday 15:56
dorchadas: (Default)
I probably should have bought those sandals more than the day before I left. That way, my feet would hurt less after spending five hours walking around in them.

After looking at maps for a while, I realized I was as ready as I was ever going to be and headed out for Shinjuku Station, Tokyo's busiest train/subway station (though I waited until 10 a.m. to make sure that I'd miss the rush hour crowd--that's also why I didn't stay out later), spent 15 minutes watching people use the ticket machines while I tried to figure out how they worked, and then bought a ticket--which took all of 10 seconds -_-. I then proceeded to get on the wrong train, but fortunately the Yamanote line runs in a big circle, so the only problem is that it took an extra 10 minutes to get to Ueno Kouen (park).

When I got out of Ueno station, the first thing I noticed was the humidity. The second was the noise in the park--ever seen any of those anime that show a scene of the sky hazy with heat and then have cicadas buzzing or birds cawing to indicate it's summer? It was exactly like that, including the birds and cicadas.

Ueno Kouen has the highest concentration of museums in Tokyo, but unfortunately the big ones are closed on Mondays. T_T I still managed to find a bunch of neat stuff--the statue of Saigō Takamori, one of the most influential samurai of the Meiji Restoration; Tōshō-gū, a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate; and the Ueno Imperial Museum, which had a ton of wall scrolls and no English documentation whatsoever. I did manage to use my Japanese a bit, though--I went to sign in at the signing booth and wrote my name out in katakana ("ブライアンピット") with the calligraphy brush they gave me, after a bit of prompting when I forgot how to write ピ. I was planning on ordering lunch in Japanese at the restaurant I went to, but they sent the English-speaker waitress to take my order so I didn't get a chance. :-p

Also, you know you're in Japan when even the museum restaurant has a guy in a suit showing people to their seats.

After I left the park, I took the train back a couple stops to Akihabara to look around a bit. I didn't go far, because it looked really easy to get lost and I didn't actually want to buy anything anyway, but I did manage to find a gift for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd--a pink shirt with 萌, the kanji for "moe" on it. ^_^ I also walked a bunch of maid cosplayers selling things or advertising for something, but I spent enough already wandering around.

Then I came home, because my feet were killing me and I was hot and sticky and gross.

Haha, jet lag!

2008-Jul-28, Monday 07:03
dorchadas: (Broken Dream)
Well...[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I woke up at 5:30 a.m., which isn't so bad. We went to bed at 10 p.m., which is better than I did my first day in Ireland. (that was like...bed at 6 p.m., up at 3 a.m., and I did that for a week. I have [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to help me stay up this time, though, or vice-versa as it turned out.

We met a Japanese couple yesterday who asked us directions to Tokyo Tai(something). Unfortunately, we couldn't help them--even if I had gotten his second word, we can barely find our way around Shinjuku, much less anywhere else in Tokyo. We apologized profusely and went back to the hotel.

Speaking of directions...most streets here don't have names. The ones that do usually don't have signs. The ones that do usually aren't in English. It makes finding your way around almost impossible, even with a guidebook that has a detailed map or the occasional detailed street map. I did manage to nagivate us back to our hotel from a map entirely in Japanese, though, because I could read all but one character in the hotel name. That made me feel accomplished.

Of course, right after I did that we turned around and saw "Keio Plaza Hotel" in huge letters on a building 200 feet away, so really, it wasn't that much of an accomplishment. :-p
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
Literally. By the time I go to bed, it'll have been 39 hours between when the sun rose on my location and when the sun set on it. 14 hours flights are not my friend at all. It went better than I expected, though, mostly because the DS battery improbably lasted six hours (yay FFIV remake!) and because I managed to sleep, at least for a bit. was exhausting. And going outside and hearing lots of people talk, but mostly being unable to understand a word, is surprisingly tiring as well. I understood more of our waitresses' talk than I expected (I got the amount of yen we owned, though it didn't matter whether I understood it since it was on the check anyway), but still not even enough to do a rough translation. Just bits and pieces here and there, and some stuff I got the context of even though I didn't understand any of the words (like, "This plate is really fucking hot, don't touch it," but the plate had a paper wall around it and was steaming like crazy, so that was obvious).

The hotel is in Shinjuku, roughly a block from all the little shops with the neon lights. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I ate in a small restaurant about a block in and a floor down, which we selected because it had pictures on the menus and (vague) English descriptions. The food was pretty good--meat brought out uncooked on a sizzling platter so we had the option to decide when to eat it (sort of a pseudo-sukiyaki, I guess) with rice, pronounced "raisu" for reasons which I am unclear on (the usual Japanese word for cooked rice is "gohan"). We were going to go to a ramen stand, but it was quite a ways away and we're pretty tired.

The view from the hotel is great--looking out I can see a bunch of skyscrapers, cars moving around, the entrance to the maze of streets we went to and more. I wish I was a bit less tired so I could enjoy it.

Obviously, we made it safely in. Thanks everyone for your good wishes!

Edit: Also, going to takes me to Guess I'll use Google UK for the time being.


dorchadas: (Default)

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