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 Monday, June 16, 2008
Ah, the countryside...

So the last two days have been filled with lots of traveling and lots of traditional Japanese things. On Sunday, we woke up early and hopped on the Shinkansen to head to Fukuoka / Hakata. The train trip took about 6 hours, but it wasn't bad at all! Instead, it was quite relaxing and provided a nice overview of central and southern Honshu. While the train isn't as quick as a plane, there is no stress and much more space. I was really impressed with how nice it was! Once we got to Hakata, we met up with my friend from high school. We wandered around, and got a bite to eat at the best ramen restaurant. The ramen was amazing, with not too much richness to the soup and good noodle texture. The flavor was very full and I added some garlic and roast pork slices to be a little extravagant. Natalie describes it as "jizz in your mouth." The restaurant was the type where you select and pay for what you want outside at a machine, and then you take the tickets that the machine gives you inside to the kitchen counter. You sit in a little box so no one can see if you are a messy eater ... or if you are alone. It was a really fun experience! Afterwards, we headed to the trendy shopping part of Fukuoka and checked out the local shopping scene. We played around with taking Purikura and having fun, and then headed back to the station to take the train to Okayama.
Okayama is a smaller town, about 45 minutes from Osaka on the train. It's very near to some hot spring resorts, so that's where we headed yesterday. We drove for about an hour, and then we got to the hotel. We went into the outdoor hot springs for about an hour to soak and relax, and then were treated to a delicious traditional Japanese meal. After lunch, we continued our drive and went to an extremely old Japanese temple. The people there were so nice and showed us around the entire thing ^^ We headed home afterwards, and then went to the office so that I could help Keigo with some of the work he needed to get done. For dinner, we went to an extremely cheap revolving sushi restaurant. Dinner for 5 people was $30 USD! It was a good deal ^^


We finally got to go shopping on Saturday ^_^ And what a treat it was! We explored all over Shinjuku, and spent way too much money, but we had a great time. It was so neat getting to see all of the new and trendy fashions that are popular in Tokyo. Also, because it was Saturday, everything was packed with people trying to look around. It was amazing to see the power of Japanese consumerism at full throttle. When we finished shopping, we looked around for a cute place to eat. However, it took us so long to just find a place that had chairs! The department stores had lots of little food shops, but no where to sit. After a long day of shopping and looking around, that wasn't what we wanted at all, no matter how good the food looked. We stuck it out though, and ended up being rewarded by finding a cute soup place that was reasonably priced and quite tasty. They also had chairs =) It provided a nice vista to do some people watching before heading back to our Inn.
In the evening, we got a little bit dressed up, and headed out to Akihabara. Akihabara is the electronics center of Tokyo, and is where you can find mostly anything that runs on electricity. We spent the majority of our time in Yodobashi camera, a huge 9 story department store that has everything you could think of when it comes to consumer electronics. The best way to describe it is taking Best Buy, filling it with everything people actually want, making it awesome, and then hiring helpful staff that actually know a lot. After dinner and Yodobashi, we walked around Akihabara for a bit and came across a very interesting sex / cosplay shop. Too bad there were no pictures allowed ^_~
Next, we headed to Roppongi to check out the nightlife and see Tokyo Tower. While I knew it was a neighborhood frequented by foreigners, I didn't expect to see so many! It was a huge change from everywhere else we visited in Tokyo, where we hardly saw anyone who wasn't Japanese. Roppongi is packed with bars of all types, and is quite an interesting neighborhood. We had to be up early the next day though, so we headed home on the last train and got some good sleep.

 Friday, June 13, 2008
My new love...

We adventured off to Disney Seas yesterday, for another amazing and exciting day. What we didn't know before we went in, is that Disney Sea is the most expensive theme park ever built, and it definitely showed. While normal Disney parks are extremely detailed already, Disney Sea was incredible. No matter where you looked, every scene was breathtaking. The amount of care that went into each building, and the time that they must have spent on everything...the only way to describe it is "wow".
It was another very fun day as well, with lots of rides, shopping, and shows. Of course, even though we tried to go home earlier, we still ended up totally exhausted and ready to go straight to bed once we left the park. We'll have to save going out for tonight perhaps!

 Thursday, June 12, 2008
Day 2

I woke up far too early yesterday, to the sounds of rain and a pleasant lack of humidity. After playing around on the internet looking for things in Tokyo, we finally had the energy to get ready and head down for breakfast. We ate at the Inn, which was amazingly cheap and delicious. I was really surprised by the quality of everything that they do here. While it's essentially a cheap hostel, they take care of their customers very well and try really hard to provide the best level of service that they can. Also, everyone that I've spoken to has amazing English skills.
At breakfast, the nice Swedish woman and her son were there as well. It turns out that they were bound for Disneyland as well, so we walked together to the train station to help each other navigate through the subway system. It was nice to talk to her and see how her perspective differs from ours. She also knew a faster way to get to Disneyland, so that was nice as well. It was still quite muggy and wet when we arrived, so not too many people were at the park. It was nice not to have to fight through huge crowds of people when we wanted to see something. Natalie and I also estimated that we were 2 of approximately 20 foreigners there yesterday. Although we got quite a few stares, everyone was very polite and appreciated my poor attempts at understanding their instructions.

Seeing as I haven't been to Tokyo Disneyland for a good 7 years, I didn't remember a ton about it. What shocked Natalie and I the most was how immaculate the park is. While Disneyland in California is quite clean, in Tokyo there was nothing on the ground, no gum, and no wrappers. Their janitorial staff is extremely efficient, and they do their jobs very well. Also, the technology for some of the attractions is much more advanced here. While the Winnie the Pooh ride is somewhat boring in California, here it is "trackless" and is just amazingly put together. Both Natalie and I were constantly impressed by the level of detail and care that was put into the park.
We were also impressed by the variety of snack choices. In California and in Tokyo they have the standard popcorn and churros, but in Tokyo they flavor everything. We spotted Soda, Curry, Carmel, Honey, Chocolate, and Salted popcorn as well as Honey-Lemon, Maple, and Cinnamon Churros. All in all, we spent an enjoyable but exhausting day at Disneyland, and we're going back for Disney Sea today.
Want to see the pictures? Check them out!

 Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Hisashiburi Nihon!

I set out on my adventure to Japan early this morning, mostly because I needed to take public transit to get to the airport. I rode with Will to his work on the outskirts of the city, and then from there took Muni and then Bart to get to the airport. Conveniently, I didn't bring much with me besides my computer and a few outfits, so the transit systems weren't too difficult to navigate. After finally checking in and getting to the gate, I was met with a very pleasant surprise. A friend from Fanime was also on the same flight! We weren't able to sit together, but it was very nice to see him before he goes off on the next stage of his life.
On the plane, things have been quite uneventful. A bit of turbulence as we got close to Alaska/ Russia, but as we head in to the final 2 hours of the flight, it's just as smooth as can be. More from the Airport!
So, we finally got to our Inn from the airport after a good 90 minutes riding trains and navigating stations. We had to make 2 transfers, which didn't look hard on the map, but ended up with us having to pull our suitcases up about 20 flights of stairs, wander through the streets in Ueno getting lost, and spend way too long figuring out how to get to the Inn from the station. Thank goodness a helpful Sweedish mom and her son noticed us! They were also staying at the same Inn, and when they overheard us talking about being lost, they lead the way. I don't think we would have ever found it on our own, so yay!
After checking in and sitting until we had our wits with us, we gathered the strength to walk over to the local store to get nibbles and rejuvinate before bed. Today's adventure will consist of Tokyo Disneyland and then wandering the streets of downtown Tokyo tonight. And, of course, Natalie's quote from this morning? "I'm like a fucking Chia Pet."


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