Monday, November 15, 2010

Hong Kong Day 9

It was far too early of a morning on the 9th day. It was probably around 5am when my brother and I got the wake-up call from my parents. I struggled to get out of bed and then had a shower. Most of my packing had been completed the night before, so I was ready to go in no time. Around 6:30am, we headed over to Sha Tin Plaza to meet with Li and Kuen for a farewell breakfast. The restaurant didn't open until 7am, so we spent some time just waiting outside trying to stay awake. The restaurant opened just as Grace's parents arrived, and we all sat down together and ordered our meal. I got a pretty basic ham and egg breakfast with toast. It was pretty good. I also ordered a coffee, which was made in the Hong Kong style with condensed milk. The coffee was okay, but the condensed milk always leaves a chalky texture in my mouth which I don't really enjoy.

Once we were all finished breakfast, we made a quick stop back at the hotel to grab our bags, and then headed to the bus stop to head off towards the airport. Li and Kuen came with us all of the way, which was a good thing, since the terminals are split on two different sides of the Hong Kong airport and it was somewhat confusing trying to find out way around. My parents flight to Hainan province was on one end of the airport and left about 30 minutes before my flight. We spent a lot of time walking back and forth between the two terminals, but I saw my family off to Hainan. They would stay there for another week before coming back to Hong Kong for a day to catch their flight home. As for me, I had to head straight back to Ottawa for work. I was really sad to leave Hong Kong. The city was far more wonderful than I remembered, and Grace's parents invited me to return the following year. I'm almost positive I will be back.

Unfortunately, my flight home was not a direct flight, and I had to transfer in Beijing. It was only three hours to Beijing from Hong Kong, and it was a very different climate. While the day had been a sunny 25 degrees Celsius, it was a cloudy 6 degrees in Beijing. Once the plane was grounded, we exited the craft on the runway and were bused to the airport terminal, which seemed very strange to me. Once inside, it was a very long wait through screening and customs. While waiting in line for the transfer, I met a nice young woman from Vancouver who was on her way to Korea for her sisters' wedding. We passed the time waiting in line chatting about our travels and such. Overhearing a conversation while waiting in line, I learned that the transfer wait usually isn't so long, but there were several flights of transferring passengers arriving at the same time. One flight included 120 transferring passengers, so the customs agents were a little overwhelmed. After nearly two hours of waiting, I was finally cleared and ushered through customs. I raced off to find my flight, and 13 excruciating hours later, I was back home in Canada. It was cold when I arrived, but at least there was no snow. Already I was missing the warmth and sun of Hong Kong. Only one more year before my next visit.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hong Kong Day 8

I thought that I would get the chance to sleep in after such a late night at the races, but no such luck! It was another early morning for me in Hong Kong and my parents and myself met with Grace and her parents early at a dim sum restaurant for breakfast. It wasn't really all that early in the morning, but I felt so tired. The restaurant was a nice big place and had delicious food and of course I ate way too much, as per usual.
Grace was a little late getting to breakfast since she had been up until 3am packing for her trip to Fiji. Ben couldn't make it to breakfast since he still had some last minute things to take care of.
Before we could dig in to our morning meal, Grace presented us all with some lovely gifts. It was really too much, but I certainly appreciated it. For my mother, a lovely scarf, a really stylish hat for my dad, my brother was given a really hip v-neck shirt, and I was given a lovely pair of glove/mittens. They're especially awesome. Honestly, they're the nicest gloves I've ever had. We all finished breakfast and walked Grace to the bus stop so she could catch the shuttle to the airport. We bid her farewell and safe travels, and then away she went to the airport. Before we all split up for the day, we made plans to meet with Grace's parents in the evening for dinner and then shopping at the night market on Temple Street.

With the afternoon to spare, I went out on my own to take some photos and do some shopping. The previous night, on the way home from the races, Grace told me about Lucky Plaza. According to her, it was the place where most of the locals shopped. Lots of neat little stores where I could buy video games and snacks and things. It wasn't far from the hotel and was attached to all of the other malls and plazas in that area. Once I was there, I remembered it from my last visit to Hong Kong. I spent a good amount of time wandering around and checking out all of the shops. There were a few stores selling games, but nothing really caught my interest, though I was little surprised at the amount of North American games they were selling, but maybe they were all bootlegs. While I was looking, I came across this one shop selling all kinds of clothing and fashion accessories for men. They had some really nice stuff, but I only looked since I figured it was probably expensive. After buying some snacks, I headed back to the other plazas to look around.

Attached to Lucky Plaza was Sha Tin plaza. It was a pretty nice place, but the most appealing part of it was the restaurants. From Sha Tin plaza, there was the New Town Plaza. It was the newest shopping mall in the area and definitely had the nicest shops. All I could do was look since I really didn't have a lot of money with me on this trip. Besides, I wanted to save what little I had left for picking up souvenirs at the night market. Heading back towards the hotel, I snapped some pictures of the Yata mascots. They were just cute and fun and I thought it would be good to have some pics. I ran into my brother and my parents, and we all spent the rest of the evening hanging out. We went to get some coffee at Starbucks, and then to the station to meet Grace's parents. When we got there, only her father, Kuen, was there. Though he didn't speak much English, we understood enough that we had to take the train to another stop to meet with Li after she was done work. After a transfer of trains, we all met up and headed down to Kowloon to grab some dinner.

Li and Kuen took us to this nice little place not too far from the station. It had a really cool two-floor set up and was kind of like a 50's diner. They served mostly Chinese dishes, but there were some American ones in there, too. Having had my fill of Dim Sum for the week, I opted for the pork chops with potatoes and vegetables. I was expecting the worst, but I was actually quite impressed with the food. After the meal, we headed to the night market. It was around then that I realized I had forgotten my camera back at the hotel! I was really bummed out since I was really looking for getting some night photos along Temple Street. Turns out that it was probably for the best since Temple Street, aside from being known for the awesome night market, is a haven for pick-pockets and thieves.

We walked all along the crowded street that was overflowing with people, mostly tourists. Booths lined either side of the street with merchants selling all kind of wares. Most of the things for sale were bootlegs and imitations of name-brand clothing, sunglasses, and accessories. There were also lots of tables selling souvenirs and traditional Chinese ornaments. I recall there being a lot more booths selling pirated CDs and DVDs, but I only noticed a few along the way. After haggling with some of the vendors and getting some cheap souvenirs, we caught the bus back to the hotel. Once there, I packed up all of my things and went to bed, prepared for the flight home the next day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hong Kong Day 7

I thought that day 6 was busy, but it was nothing compared to today. My brother and I got a wake up call around 7am to let us know that Grace's friends from Minnesota were leaving. Waking up, I quickly showered and got dressed, but by the time I got to the bus stop, they had already left. I'm sure we'll meet again someday, though. I then got a call from Grace's mother to let me know where everyone was. They were just down the street at a diner about to get breakfast. When I arrived, I found Ben, Grace, her parents, and my family waiting for me. I had a light breakfast, and then we parted ways. Grace and Ben went to get packed for their honeymoon in Fiji, and the rest of us went to catch the train. We rode the rails downtown and then caught a ferry to Cheung Chau island.

The ferry ride was about 30 minutes to the island. It was a really nice spot with a gorgeous beach, though it was a little too cold to go swimming. Cheung Chau also has an athletic school with a really nice track and soccer court. There were many students there on an excursion. I'm not sure if it was for training or an athletic meet. Around 12 o'clock we met up for a huge lunch that was absolutely delicious. So much fresh fish. It was great. We took a different ferry back to Central Hong Kong and it took about 40 minutes. It was a really nice view coming in, though, and I snapped some great pics.

Since we had to come back to Central that evening for the horse races, it didn't make sense to go back to Sha Tin. To kill time, we took a trip up to the Peak. I had been there 10 years ago, but to be honest I don't really remember much of it. The view was incredible, and the trip up there and back was also really exciting. Once we were back downtown and off the bus, we caught a street car to the race track and met up with Grace and Ben. Now, I have been to horse races before in Canada and the U.S., but none of the tracks can come anywhere to even comparing with the one in Hong Kong. They take their racing very seriously. Also, betting on the horse races is the only form of legalized gambling. I only placed a few bets throughout the evening and one once. My brother also bet on a few and one pretty big on one of the races. My parents did a fair bit of gambling, but ended up losing more than they one. Grace's parents had never been to the races before, and Grace's mother bet only on one race and won! It was pretty awesome.

Once the races were over, we took a long train ride back to Sha Tin and got some much needed rest. Tomorrow will be my last full day in Hong Kong, but I wish that I could stay much longer.

Hong Kong Day 6

Today felt like the longest day in Hong Kong so far, but it was an excellent day.
First thing in the morning, my parents and I went and met with Grace's parents for a Hong Kong style breakfast. My brother was still asleep, so we let him be. The breakfast was pretty good, but was a lot heavier and different than what I'm normally used to. My meal consisted of chopped pork and mushrooms covered in sauce, wrapped in sticky rice, and then all wrapped up in what I'm pretty sure was a lily pad. I had eaten it before when I was in Hong Kong, but I don't remember being too fond of it. This time, though, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

After breakfast, we went back to the hotel for a quick rest, got my brother, and then met Grace's parents once again for a trek up to Sha Tin's 10,000 Buddhas Monastery. Aside from the wedding, the monastery has been the highlight of my trip so far. It was about a 20 minute walk up a mountain to the temple, and the path was lined with statues of Buddhists, each one different. Once at the temple, there were more and more statues and carefully manicured bonsai trees every where. The trees looked to be decades, some of them possibly even hundreds, of years old. Inside the temple itself there were shelves lined with Buddha statues, each one with a little light. I couldn't count them all, but I would guess that there were 10,000 of them. Since photos were not allowed in the temple, I wasn't able to capture an image. To give one a general idea, the ceiling was about 35 or 40 high, and starting from about 5 feet up, there was a wall-long shelf every foot lined end to end with Buddha statues. It was incredible.

The path of the temple wound up and up, and as we walked we saw more and more statues. In different areas of the temple grounds, there were different shrines. One of which was being restored, which was interesting to see. Near the summit, there was a little pond filled with Koi fish and turtles. At the top, there was a giant white Buddha statue with a small water fall behind it. It was quite mesmerizing. There was an alternate path down from the temple which we took, and it too was lined with more and more statues. Now, I didn't count all of them, of course, but I'm not entirely convinced that there are 10,000 of them as the temple name suggests. Perhaps one day I'll go back and count them all!

Feeling kind of hungry after our hike, my parents, brother, and I stopped by our hotel rooms for a quick bite to eat. Then it was on a bus downtown to Mong Kok. When I was in Hong Kong 10 years ago, I remember Mong Kok being really awesome. This time, though, I wasn't too impressed by it. On Nathan Road, it seems like there are the same 5 shops on every block. Not only that, but it's mostly new shops that can be found anywhere in any city. Maybe my memory of Mong Kok is fuzzy, but I remember it being filled with lots of unique little shops. Some of the side streets were like this, but it wasn't what I recalled. My brother and I separated from my parents, and after doing way too much walking, we finally decided to catch a bus back to the hotel.

It seemed like were back for only minutes before we had to go meet up with Grace and Ben for dinner at Ben's mother's home. It was absolutely delicious, and Ben's family was great. We ate until our stomachs were bursting and conversed for hours. After dinner, we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the hotel. All I wanted to do at this point was go to bed, but we had made plans to meet with Grace's parents for dessert. Though I was really tired, I'm glad that I went for the dessert. We went to this place called Honeymoon Dessert, which is always packed and always has a queue, and the desserts were delicious. Because of the long wait, my brother got to draw for a free dessert. At first he drew this durian parfait, but was allowed to draw again when we told them that we didn't like durian. I'm not even sure what kind of fruit it is, but it has a bitter, rank taste, but sweet after-taste. Anyway, we ended up getting some rice balls to dip in honey and crushed peanuts. They were great. For individual desserts, I ordered the mango pancakes, which was mango and whipped cream wrapped in a very thin crepe-like pastry.

Finally, it was off to bed. Tomorrow is an extremely early morning and is sure to be another busy day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hong Kong Day 5

Today turned out to be another adventure, thought that wasn't what I had planned on. I was expecting to go to Mong Kok and find some souvenirs, but before I knew it, I was off to lunch with everyone. After a short bus ride, we all arrived at Star Seafood Restaurant, which is a floating restaurant built upon an old boat. The place is extravagant and huge. Not only that, but the food was delicious. I wish that I could eat steamed pork buns every day forever.
Once we were done eating, we said farewell to April, one of Grace's friends, who had to catch her flight home. We parted ways and then Grace and Ben invited us over to see their new home. Their place was located at the top floor of a 35 story apartment complex. The view was spectacular. Grace told us that her and Ben looked at about 10 different places before deciding upon that one.

Our visit to their home was very brief, and soon we were on another bus heading out to Sai Kung, a fishing town outside of the city. It was a really beautiful spot. Along the docks fishers would fill their boats with little buckets containing what they had caught that day and will sell them right off the boat to customers. The town also had all kinds of little shops, pubs, and cafes. We stopped at one spot and had some drinks. It was great. A beer just tastes better after walking around in the sun all day. Sai Kung is also home to a lot of foreigners living in Hong Kong. Though we probably still looked like tourists, we didn't stand out as much in the town.

We all went back to the hotel together, and while I spent the next couple of hours relaxing, many of Grace's friends spent their time packing, as their flights home were leaving that evening. Before they all left, we all gathered together once more and said our farewells. I'm sure it won't be too long before we all meet again.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hong Kong Day 4

Today was the big day: Grace and Ben's wedding day.
I've never experienced a traditional Chinese wedding before, and I'm really glad that I was able to be a part of such a special occasion. While the first part of today's ceremony was quite traditional, the second part was more modern. It was the perfect blend.
The day seemed far too long to explain everything in detail, so I'll give a quick run down and highlight some of the key points.

To start out, the bride's party convenes with the bride (which was at the hotel) and must all be there before the groom and his party arrive. Now, this is where some of the more modern aspects of the wedding show up. Before the groom was able to see the bride, he had first to undergo a series of tasks, questions, and trials. These were mostly just fun little games, but it was really entertaining and also really sweet.
After this, the bride and groom sit down and have tea with the bride's parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. and gifts are give to both the bride and groom. These are usually pieces of expensive jewelery, and the more pieces the more prosperous the marriage is said to be.
Also, the groom gave out gifts (an envelope containing money) to the guests of the bride. I'm not sure if this is part of the tradition or not.

Once the tea was finished, the bride and groom (followed by the wedding party) join the groom's family for tea and the exchanging of gifts. In our case, the wedding party had to board a shuttle bus to the groom's home. Already the day was turning out to be quite the adventure! Once the ceremony concluded at the groom's family home, the wedding party took a break at a nearby restaurant for lunch. It was pretty delicious. There were steamed pork buns which tasted better than any pork buns I had ever had before
We then headed back to the hotel for a quick break and to change clothes, then it was off to the marriage license office. Luckily, the building was right next to the hotel, so it was just a quick stroll through the park. Along the way, many, many, MANY photos were taken by the photographers. It was a lot of fun, though!

After a short wait at the license office, forms were signed, rings were exchanged, and the bride and groom were now happily married! After stopping for more photos, the wedding party boarded another shuttle and were escorted to the reception, which was taking place at the Hong Kong Banker's Club (members only?).
Wow. The view from the 43rd floor was pretty spectacular. Plus, the reception hall was extremely classy.
Evelyn, one of Grace's friends from Finland, discovered a way up to the roof of the building while out for a cigarette. She later showed me the way, and I was able to snap some unbelievable pictures of Hong Kong at night. After eating more food than I think I've ever eaten in one sitting, it was back to the hotel to get some sleep. Best night ever.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hong Kong Day 3

Today was a very lazy day. Too lazy, if you ask me.
The day started off just fine. We had no planned events, so after having a coffee in the morning with my parents, we all set out to see about finding a bank and a post office. This was around 9am, but nothing was open yet aside from a few cafes. As it turns out, most places don't open until 11am. Not sure if it was just because it was Saturday or if that's a daily thing. In any case, we all split up and agreed to meet up at 12:30 for lunch.

After walking around the mall for about an hour, I headed back to the hotel room to rest. After all, I had no money and nothing was yet open. The rain was still coming down outside, so I followed all of the covered paths back to the hotel. Around 1pm, everyone came back to the hotel. It seems that my brother and I were under the impression that we were meeting back at the rooms, while my parents thought we were meeting back in the lobby. In any case, we all set out to find something to eat.

We ended up taking in lunch at Shakey's, which is known for its pizza. The food was really delicious, but the portions were quite small for the high price. After lunch we grabbed some treats from a nearby bakery, some coffee from Starbucks, and headed back to the hotel to relax. I grabbed some melon bread from the bakery, and it was delicious. Far better than any of the melon breads I had tried while in Japan. My parents decided to go explore the hotel and find the swimming pool. They left my brother and I do to what we wanted, but they charged me with a small errand to get done that day.

After spending some time in the hotel, I noticed that the rain had finally let up. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I grabbed my camera and set out to take a walk. I explored a bit of the area but spent most of my time walking through Shatin park. Though I had spent a good deal of time in the area during my last visit to Hong Kong, a lot had changed. Everything looked much nicer and cleaner.
I snapped a few pictures and sat down on a bench. Two little kids approached me and asked me a question, but I didn't understand and told them I only spoke English. The nodded and carried on. They then stopped and asked a man the same question, and it seems they just wanted to know what time it was.

Finally, it was about time I headed back to the mall to get that errand done. Since it was Saturday afternoon, the mall seemed more packed than ever. I got turned around in the wrong direction, but finally found the book store I was looking for. I had spotted it that morning during my wandering. It was right next to this neat little hobby shop. The shop had all kinds of figures and fashion magazines. The store even had the Lawson's limited edition Evangelion Revoltech figure. Something I may have to go back for.

Once I got back to the hotel, a wave of exhaustion fell upon me. I don't know why, but I was suddenly so tire. Laying down, I fell almost immediately to sleep. From this point on, my memories are a bit hazy. I remember my parents trying to wake me to go eat, but I couldn't get up. Sleep was all that was important. Around 9:30pm Grace called an told me that the hair brushing ceremony was about to start. This was the first part of the wedding ceremony and it takes place the day before the wedding. I didn't know what to do. My parents and brother were gone and I didn't know where they were and had no way of contacting them. I told Grace I would let them know when they got back, but I fell right back to sleep and was plagued by nightmares.

Thirty minutes later Grace called back to let me know that the ceremony was over. I felt so ashamed. Here I was in Hong Kong for her wedding, yet I couldn't keep awake to make it to the first part. She told me that we would meet tomorrow morning at 8:30 at her room for the wedding. I said good night and fell right back to sleep. Sometime later, my brother and parents came back. I passed along the message, and then immediately fell back into a deep sleep. Tomorrow was the big day. Here's hoping I don't sleep through it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hong Kong Day 2

After getting a call from my parents' room, they came over and joined my brother and I for a light breakfast. We had some bread, cheese, pineapple, and apple to go with our morning coffees. Very soon, we were meeting with Grace, her parents, and her many friends in the hotel lobby for the days' adventure. Around 9:30am, a tour guide named Jennifer joined us in the lobby and quickly ushered all of us onto a tour bus that was waiting just outside the hotel. As the bus sped us all away from central Sha Tin, Jennifer began outlining the events for the day as well as providing us with some history and facts about Hong Kong.

Our first stop was at the cable cars near the Novotel outlet malls. The cable car ride would take us to the site of the world's largest Buddha statue and temple. I had been here ten years before, but back then there were no cable cars to take us over the mountains and the area hadn't been developed yet. It was a incredible view on the ride over the mountains, despite the thick fog. Once we arrived, I could barely recognize the area. It seemed that most of the immediate area around the Buddha statue had been developed to service tourists and there were gift shops and cafes a plenty. Quite a difference from the forest and unpaved roads from a decade before.

Though the rain was pouring down, we enjoyed the visit to the Buddha and the temple. We also got to have a delicious vegetarian lunch with everyone at a restaurant directly adjacent to the main temple. I should also note that we were not allowed to enter the Buddha 10 years ago, but we were this time. Inside houses many scrolls and paintings dedicated to the Buddha and it was pretty amazing. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos inside.

Around 2pm, we all met up again and took another bus to a fishing village in Hong Kong called Tai O. Some of the buildings in the village were very old and built in the old style. We took a boat out into the ocean near the village with hopes of seeing some of the white dolphins, but it was too cold for them to be out. After the boat ride, we took another bus all the way back to the cable cars and we were given the option to check out the outlet malls. Since we were all pretty exhausted from the busy day, everyone agreed to just catch the bus back to the hotel.

After getting cleaned up and taking a quick nap, my family and I joined Grace and her family at their apartment for dinner. It was all delicious homemade food that her grandmother prepared for us and it brought back memories of all the great meals I had eaten all of those years ago. Once dinner was finished, we stayed a bit chatting and gave some gifts we had brought for Grace and her family. We then made a quick stop at the
market for some breakfast foods for tomorrow.

Since there are no real plans for tomorrow, we have a day to ourselves.
I wonder what kind of adventures are in store?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hong Kong Day 1

This year has been one awesome year of adventures for me so far. I took a three week trip to Japan in April, came back to Ottawa and started meeting new people who have quickly become such great friends, started a new job and quit my old one, went on a couple of exciting road trips, and now I'm back across the sea for another adventure. In the summer of 1999, my family hosted a student from Hong Kong named Grace. She became such a good friend that we welcomed her and her parents back to Canada the following year. After that second visit to Canada, Grace became like family to us. Her and her parents welcomed my brother and I to Hong Kong in the summer of 2000 and it was an experience I'll never forget. After 10 long years, I'm back in Hong Kong and the city is just as gorgeous as ever.

Several months ago, my family received an invite from Grace to attend her wedding in Hong Kong. Of course we all agreed, and yesterday we found ourselves together, bags packed, boarding a plane. After 15 excruciating hours in the air, we arrived safely in Hong Kong and we were greeted happily by Grace and her family. Though so much time has passed, we all look the same, but maybe a little more mature.
We boarded a double-decker bus at the air port, and took off toward the city. I felt a little nostalgic as the bus cruised towards the city and I began recognizing certain buildings and locations. I was a bit amazed at how many giant new apartments had sprouted up everywhere. I thought a city so big could never grow any bigger, but I suppose that you can't stop progress.

 After getting checked into our hotel rooms, we all got cleaned up from the flight, and took a quick nap before meeting with Grace, her family, and her many friends for a lovely dinner. The dinner was lovely and I was able to meet so many of Grace's wonderful friends from all over the world. During dinner, Grace told us of the plan for the next day. After eating, we all quickly rushed to the supermarket for some snacks and supplies for the day ahead of us. What tomorrow holds will be kept a surprise for now.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Back in Canada

Okay, so it's been over a week since I've been back in Canada and I've begun to adjust to my regular way of life.Though I still have some general fatigue, I believe that I'm over my "sleep madness", as my friend Max likes to call it. I'm beginning to adjust to being back in Canada. There are things that I've noticed about Japan and North America. Things that annoy me.

1. In Japan, just about everyone dresses very well. Even store employees do because they all have uniforms and they all look nice and neat. In North America, most people do not dress well. In fact, they dress like homeless people do. Honestly, for the first little while I was in Japan, I thought that there was no homelessness, but then I realized that homeless people there dress about as well as normal people here. I guess North Americans just suffer from a general lack of self-respect and discipline.

2. Despite the lack of available garbage cans in Japan, the streets are nearly spotless. It was only on the rare occasion that I would notice trash lying about. Contrary to North America, where there are trash cans everywhere (at least in my city) and the streets are full of garbage.

3. It seems like nearly everything in Japan is recyclable, while here in North America we're limited as to what we can put in our blue box every week. Honestly, with the current ecological state of the world, this seems damn irresponsible.

4. Just about every store in Japan has some kind of points card or loyalty program. I find this both awesome and a bit of a pain. It's a good way to keep business booming and to reward the customer, but it also promotes consumerism and fills people's wallets with tons of point cards that ultimately have little use.

Just some of my personal observations from my experiences in Japan.

Also, even though I should be saving my money for important things, I can't seem to stop buying stuff that I don't need. I wish there were some way to just turn off this lust for material things. Why do I feel a compulsion to buy all of the time? It's beginning to make me feel sick some days.

To end this on a positive note, I've been eating a lot better recently. Much better than I was eating before I left for Japan. This is a very good thing.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Japan Day 21

The Park in Ikebukuro.

Our final day in Japan saw me awake at 5:30am to some torrential downpours. We had our fair share of rain since coming to Japan, but today was probably the worst. Since the showers at the hostel didn't open until 6:30, I spent the next hour in bed trying to sleep some more. After an hour had passed, I got up and started getting everything ready. Since we didn't have to check out until 10am,

spent the next three or so hours trying to kill time. Mostly I bothered Tim and Patrick who were still trying to get everything packed and ready to go. Once 10am rolled around, we checked out of the hostel and made a final trip to Akihabara.

We stuff our giant backpacks and suitcases into some coin lockers. I made my way to Mister Donut and Tim went to find a small backpack to use as a carry-on for the flight. Once at Mister Donut, I bought a coffee and exchanged my points for my mug. Victory! My new mug in hand, we then went to Animate for a final visit. I wanted to get the latest issue of Famitsu since Siliconera had posted some scans of the Last Story coverage. Once in Animate, it was impossible to not browse and after exploring several floors, I ended up leaving with a few more souvenirs as well as Famitsu.

After that brief adventure, it was finally time to get to Tokyo station and head to the airport. We got our tickets for the Narita express train and sadly said goodbye to Tokyo. The train ride was very quick and before we knew it we were at Narita airport. We went to gate D to check our baggage, but they wouldn't be doing bag check for our flight until 2pm. With about an hour to kill, we decided to search the airport for something to eat. We ended up going to Subway, and while Patrick and Tim had eaten at Subway in Japan before, this was my first experience. It was pretty awesome. They have a different variety of bread and the meal comes with potato wedges instead of chips or cookies. Not only that, but the potato wedges came in a variety of flavors including regular, barbecue, cheese, and basil. It was a satisfying lunch.

Our bellies full, we explored the airport for a bit and I ended up purchasing a couple of last minute souvenirs. Soon enough it was time for us to check our baggage and it was waiting in one line after another. Waiting in line to check our bags, waiting in line for security checks, waiting in line to board the plane, etc. No wonder airports want you to arrive at least three hours before your flight departs.

We made a quick stop at the duty free store where I bought a couple more last minute souvenirs. After that, it was time to wait to board the plane. It was a long wait, too, since there was a delay in boarding. I guess the plane needed to be finished being cleaned properly. Unfortunately, unlike our flight to Japan, this flight was packed so there were no seat changes. We were all sitting together in row 28. It was thena gruelling 12 hours back to Canada.

Our flight back had some new choices of movies, though, and I ended up watching The Book of Eli, (500) Days of Summer, and Defendor. Book of Eli was pretty good. Great acting from everyone involved. (500) Days of Summer was also good. Not as good as my friends said that it was, but I would definitely watch it again. Defendor was amazing. Honestly, it is the best movie I've seen in a long time. Also, it was not what I had expected it to be from the preview. Defendor is a Canadian movie starring Woody Harrelson who plays a want-to-be super hero. I would say more, but I don't want to spoil the movie. It is amazing and I highly recommend that everyone watches it. Watching Defendor made the sadness of leaving Japan bearable.

The landing of our flight was delayed due to too much air traffic, which was frustrating. At this point, I just wanted to be home. I hadn't slept the entire flight and since I was awake at 5:30am, I had been awake for almost a full 24 hours. At the airport we were greeted by friends and family. Our friends Andrew and Kelsey came to pick us up, but also had my brother, father, and cousin there to greet me. After saying farewell to Tim, Patrick, Andrew, and Kelsey, I headed to my uncle's place to have some dinner. All I wanted to do was sleep and dream of the day I would return to Japan.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Japan Day 20

Today's Tim Quote:

- Look what you did! You almost made me hit an old lady!

Today was our last full day in Japan. Though I would try to get as many things done today as possible, I really didn't end up doing a whole lot. Unfortunately, the weather was poor. Dark clouds and rain hung over Tokyo all day long. After having a shower and getting everything packed, we went to Tully's Coffee for a quick breakfast and coffee. It's interesting that there are so many Starbucks clones all over Japan. Ther's Tully's, Excelsior, and some other place I don't remember the name of. And those are only the bigger chains. There were smaller cafes similar to Starbucks everywhere we went.

After checking out of the seedy Sakura Hotel, we ventured off to the station to catch a train to Yokohama. Tim and Patrick wanted to visit the Pokemon Center in both Yokohama and Tokyo today, so they got off and stored their bags in some lockers at Tokyo station. I continued all of the way to Yokohama and stored my stuff there. It was a long train ride and the weight of my backpack made it feel even longer. Once there, I ventured towards the harbor front. Even with the rain and clouds, Yokohama is beautiful. I took a lot of pictures, especially of the giant ferris wheel at Cosmo Land. From the station, it took me about 30 minutes to walk all of the way there, but that was with several pauses for photos. Once I arrived at Cosmo Land, I stopped in one of the malls next to it. It was really nice, but kind of empty. There was an HMV store in there, too, and it reminded me of the old HMV location I used to work in before it was shut down. I have a feeling that the same fate awaits this Japanese HMV.

There were lots of nice shops with some trendy stuff. As I was browsing, I realized I needed to find an ATM. Once I found one just outside the mall, I withdrew some money and then began exploring more of the harbor. It was lovely. I kept stopping to take photos. I made my way along this really nice path that looked like it had once been part of the railway. I got to another part of the harbor where a vessel called the Nippon Maru was docked. The Nippon Maru was the flagship Toyotomi Hideyoshi's 16th century fleet, or so I discovered when I read some of the info on it. Still, it was neat to see. Yokohama was just an incredibly nice place to explore. There were interesting sculptures and architecture to see almost everywhere.

Wondering where Tim and Patrick were at, I sent them a quick text message to find out what was up. They informed me that they were at the Pokemon Center in Landmark Mall. Since I had no idea where that was, I told them I'd meet up with them later and continued to wander. Feeling a bit hungry and wanting to get out of the rain, I ventured into a shopping center. Turns out, it was Landmark Mall! I sent the guys another message to let them know I was there and we all met up. We were all hungry, so we walked to the nearest JR station and then rode it one stop to the main Yokohama stop. Once there, we got some food to eat. While Patrick ate at Pepper Lunch, Tim and I tried this awesome curry place in the station. It was a bit more expensive than what we were used to, but the portions were very big by Japan's standards. Even Tim, who was seemingly never full, said that he couldn't eat another bite.

Our bellies full and our energy replenished, I grabbed my bags from the coin locker, and we caught the train back to Tokyo. Once at the main Tokyo terminal, Tim and Pat had to go grab their stuff, so I just continued onward to Iidabashi. Decided to stay at the Tokyo International Hostel again since it has a very convenient location to the JR station, it's inexpensive, and it's very accomodating. There was one person already staying in the room. A really cool guy from New Jersey named Omar. We talked a bit about Japan and Tekken. He was just starting his adventure in Japan, so I gave him some recommendations about what to do in Osaka and advised him to stay at the Shin-Osaka Youth Hostel. After I got settled in and had a drink of grapefruit juice, Patrick and Tim showed up and got booked in a different room. Since they still hadn't gone to the Tokyo Pokemon Center, they headed off their while I decided to make one last trip to Akihabara. Making a quick stop at Mister Donut, I had to pay quickly and leave since the store was closing. Since Tim and Pat sent me a message saying they would meet me there, I let them know it was closing. So, though I have the required points for my souvenir mug, I haven't gotten it yet!

Running around Akihabara at night is a lot of fun. There were some souvenirs I was looking for, but regrettably, could not find. However, I did run into Omar! He was out taking photos of the Japanese night life. He asked me where else he should go in Tokyo for some great night photos, so I recommended Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku. Looking back, I should have also said Roppongi. It's a shame that myself and the guys never got to see the inside of Luida's Bar, but maybe next time I'm in Japan? After saying so long to Omar, I bought a cheap backpack as a carry on for my flight, and a couple of games that were on sale at SofMap. Wondering what to do with the rest of my night, I sent the guys a text to see where they were at. They had found a Mister Donut in Shinjuku that was still open so they were heading there to buy enough donuts and get enough points for their mugs! Since I just had Mister Donut, I didn't want to go back. I told them to meet me at the hostel, and I did some last minute shopping. Bought a bunch of Japanese hair products. Gatsby brand is very popular, and my housemate Jason asked me to bring some back for him.

Once back at the hostel, the guys arrived with a ton of donuts. Patrick ended up buying $15 worth of donuts just to get his mug. All in all, though, we all spent the same amount. With tomorrow being my last day, I will walk into Mister Donut for the last time and bring home a souvenir mug. Makes me wonder if it was really worth all of the trouble? Half a day left before I catch my flight back home. I'm going to miss Japan, but tomorrow holds one more adventure, I'm sure.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Japan Day 19

So, we're on day 19, and we had different ideas of what we wanted to do for the day, so we ended up splitting up. My plan was to hit Akihabara first for breakfast and a stop at Tora no Ana. After that, I would head to Ikebukuro and take some photos. I was up and ready first, so I took off for Akihabara to grab breakfast at Mister Donut. I'm only a few points away from getting that mug as a souvenir! On my way there, I got a text from Tim asking me where I was. Told him my plans and he met up with me at Misdo. Stopped at Tora no Ana and got the latest issue of Shonen Sirius. Cover featured art from Suzuhito Yasuda as well as a bonus CD and an alternate book cover for Yozkura Quartet volume 8 (which hit stores that same day).

Tim and I then took off for Ikebukuro and stopped at Tora no Ana there to browse a bit. Once we left, we explored Tokyu Hands department store where Tim bought some souvenirs. While Tim venutred into Ikebukuro, I hopped into ABC-Mart and ended up buying some sweet new Puma's. I got a text from Tim saying that he was in Sunshine City, so we met there and dropped our stuff off in a locker. We then visited a park near by and took a bunch of pictures. It was pretty nice, but there were quite a few homeless people. Though it's quite common to see the homeless for us, it's only recently that it has become a bigger issue in Japan. While in Kyoto last week, I was reading an article in the paper saying that it wasn't until last year that the Japanese government released the figures of those living in poverty in Japan.

Across the street from the park was Mandarake, and while the one we visited in Osaka was awesome, this one was not. It was solely for those of the girl-geek culture. That is to say, comics that focus on male couples. We then realized that were back near Otome Road. We left there and just started exploring more of Ikebukuro. It's a really nice area. Lots of shops, but it's a really fun place. To me it seemed like Akihabara, only with less maids, less crowds, and less electronics. After grabbing some lunch at Sukiya, we grabbed our stuff from the locker and headed back to the hotel.

We dropped our stuff off and chilled out for a bit playing Coropata, a DS game Tim bought here. It's like The Incredible Machine. Lots of fun with puzzle solving. We then began repacking everything so that we'd be ready to go in the morning. Once everything was put away, we set off to find some dinner and explore the area. Since we had only really seen the exit of the metro and the route to the hotel, we were amazed at the awesome neighborhood! This was Tokyo's bookstore district and they were everywhere. Not only that, but there were tons of cafes and fancy restaurants. Seeing that we only had another day left in Japan, we ate dinner at a fancy steak place. It wasn't too expensive, but it was really delicious. We then wandered around some more and saw all kinds of sporting goods stores. Stopping in a small bookshop, I found the limited edition copy of Yozakura Quartet volume 8, so I had to buy it. We then stopped at Tully's Coffee (which is basically Starbucks, only slightly cheaper), and then went back to the hotel. After testing out a new set of headphones I bought, I went to bed thinking about my plans for my last day in Japan.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Japan Day 18

Today was another day of shopping. I had been waiting this whole trip to visit Harajuku and Shibuya to get some new threads, and it happened today. First of all, though, we got seperated and lost looking for the right train. Tim had a map on his iPod, and it said Harajuku station was part of the Keio line, but that was on the Tokyo Metro. We took the Keiyo line on the JR and ended up going out near Yokohama. Once we got back to the right station, we hopped on the Yamanote line and then jumped off at Harajuku. It was crazy. It's hard to describe, but I got some photos. Just wall to wall people snatching up whatever caught their eye.

At first we were checking out some of the small local shops, but it was hard to browse and move around, so we took a quick break at Starbucks and then checked out H&M. Most of the stuff was the same as what H&M sells in North America, but there were a few items I had never noticed before. Once we were done there, we took off for Shibuya where we spent most of our day and evening. Shibuya was also pretty insane. People everywhere shopping. We got to see the famous Hachiko statue and the Scramble Crossing. I spent a good part of the evening taking photos. It was incredible. I also discovered that HMV still exists in Japan, and since I couldn't find everything I was looking for at Tower Records, I stopped in and grabbed a couple of CD's. After my stop at HMV I headed to 109-2 (there are two buildings named 109, one strictly for women's clothing, the other is mostly men's fashion) and bought some nice stuff at a store called Disrev. The staff was very nice and even gave me a free souvenir mug.

Once we had all met up again at the station, we headed back to Akihabara to transfer to the Tokyo Metro to get back to the hotel. However, once we stopped off, Tim and Patrick wanted to get some ramen. Since I was sick of ramen and still kind of full from lunch, I went and explored Akiba's Book Off. Ended up buying more CD's, but they were used so they were also very inexpensive. Once we all met up again, we caught the metro back to the hotel we were staying in. It's called Sakura Hotel and comes recommended by the Lonely Planet guide, but I don't find it to be all that great. As a plus, it doesn't have a curfew, but the place is pretty seedy. The location is also inconvenient for JR pass holders. In any case, another day of adventures awaits me tomorrow.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Japan Day 17

After a restless night, I woke up late in the morning (around 7am), and was in a rush to get ready. Tim sent me a text to let me know that he had already left. With the grand opening of the Gundam Cafe, we knew had to be there really early to get in line. I hurriedly got ready and then asked Pat if he was ready to go. He said no and to go on ahead. Shortly after I left the hostel, I got a text from Tim saying that he was in line for the cafe. I caught the train to Akihabara just as I got to the station. After only a couple of stops, I got off and took the exit towards Electric Town. As soon as I exited the metro, there it was: Akihabara's Gundam Cafe. I snapped a photo and then quickly got in line. I sent Tim a text to let him know that I was there and asked him where he was in the line. He said he was near the front, but I didn't see him anywhere when I got there. After several minutes of texting eachother in line, Tim realized that he was not at the Gundam Cafe. Turns out he was in line for some concert that was happening in Akiba.

Shortly after that, Tim arrived and we talked briefly before he got in line behind me. It was a really cold morning, but at least it was sunny. Tim and I kept texting while waiting in line, and finally we started to move forward very, very slowly. Once I had moved up a few more metres in line, Patrick passed by. I told him that Tim got the wrong line and was somewhere behind me. He seemed kind of pissed off. His fault for not getting up early. After about an hour and a half, I was near the front of the line. I could see Tim in line behind me. There were at least a dozen people between us. After he quickly chatted with the Bandai staff, they agreed to let him move up with me in line.

Once we got into the cafe, we were greeted by a very cute girl in cosplay who seemed extremely surprised to see a foreigner. She allowed us to take a picture and then we were informed that the cafe was only serving select beverages in the morning. We each ordered a coffee with a Gundam Cafe mug. It was about $11, but we got to keep the mug. The place was pretty cool if like Gundam. Heck, even if you don't like Gundam, it was awesome. Finally, Patrick arrived and sat down with us. After finishing our beverages and snapping lots of photos, we checked out the little gift shop next door. It mostly had Gundam themed snacks, but there were some other cool things. They also had Gundam taiyaki bread!

After the cafe, we headed into Akihabara to do some shopping. It was nuts. Akihabara is known as Japan's Electric town. It used to be an area to get radios, televisions, and the latest electronic gadgets, however, it was now the centre of geek culture in Japan. Girls dressed as maids lined the streets handing out flyers and tissues advertising Maid Cafes, every second store housed video games, comics, anime, or a combination of the two, and the sidewalks were absolutely packed full of shoppers. It's insane. We visited all kinds of shops and got seperated lots, but it was fun. I ended up buying a couple of games and three CD's. I probably spent entirely too much on the CD's, but it's stuff I can't get in Canada.

Our shopping bags full and our stomachs now empty, we began looking for the next hotel we were staying in. It took us some searching and directions from a helpful train station employee, but we found it and got settled in.

Japan Day 16

This was the day I had been waiting for since the trip began. Our visit to the Ghibli Museum. A magical place where we would lose our way together. I was up really early. Like, 5:30 am early. While waiting for the shower to open, I read the latest issue of Famitsu. Once six thirty rolled around, I got showered and cleaned up, waited for the guys to be ready, and then we grabbed some breakfast at Denny's. After that, we hopped on the train and headed to Mitaka. We had to transfer to another train, but it was going to be several minutes before the next train arrived, so I quickly used the restroom. When I got back on the platform, the train was there so I hopped on. I didn't see the guys anywhere and it turns out that they didn't see me get on the train, so they were still waiting at the platform.

Once I got to Mitaka, I waited around for a bit. Once they arrived, we followed the signs to the Ghibli Museum (GM). Our walk took us through a very nice neighborhood with some big houses (big by Tokyo standards), and then through a lovely park. Then we saw it. The big Totoro. We had arrived. Honestly, the place was pretty indescribable. Let's just say it was magical. They even had a cafe! We ate what was probably our healthies, and most expensive meal, since arriving in Japan. It was totally worth the price. Prepared entirely with organic ingredients. It was fantastic. We spent most of our day there and made many trips to the gift shop. Five hours later, we decided we had seen all there was to see and headed back to the hostel.

After dropping off our stuff and getting a quick bite to eat, we thought it was time to go to Roppongi to visit Luida's Bar. Luida's is a bar themed after the video game Dragon Quest and the menu changes on a regular basis. We ventured out into the rainy night and made our way though the wild Roppongi streets. After going the wrong way for several minutes, we found Luida's Bar. Unfortunately, the place only houses a capacity of 25 and admission tickets need to be acquired in advance. Turned out that our adventure to Roppongi was a complete bust, Though, we did make plans to go back, so stay tuned for Roppongi round two.

All in all, it was another incredible day spent in Japan. We made plans the to attend the grand opening of the Gundam Cafe in Akihabara the next day. With this in mind, I went to bed early.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Japan Day 15

View of the sun set from Miyajima island.

The morning in Nagano was a cold and rainy one. Not to be discouraged by the bad weather, I packed up my things and checked out of the hotel. I had spotted a Mister Donut the night before right near the station and even though I was sick of donuts, I was only 50 points away from getting myself a souvenir mug. Making my way to the donut shop, I made a quick stop by the Gust building. It was open this morning and I was tempted to go inside and see if I might be able to check out the studio. However, I had to be back in Tokyo and my gut feeling was that they would likely kick me out if I could even get access to their floor.

After getting some coffee and donuts to go I was back at the train station. This time I would be taking the bullet train back to Tokyo, so it was only 1.5 hours. It was still a nice view heading back to Tokyo, but the bullet train took a more direct route. On the train, I was texting TIm to find out what was going on today. Since it was also raining in Tokyo, he was headed to Ikebukuro's Sunshine City to do some shopping. After I got to the central Tokyo station, transferred to a local JR train, and stashed my luggage in a locker at the Ikebukuro station, I set off for Sunshine City to meet up with Tim and Pat. Ikebukuro is a really busy area of Tokyo. It's mostly all shops and arcades, but there are a couple of universities in the area, too. Sunshine City was okay. Most of the shops there are for women's fashion, but we found a couple of cool stores and ended up buying some clothes.

Once we had seen all there was to see at Sunshine City we ventured back into the rain to check out a couple of anime shops, including an Animate location that had 8 floors. An interesting thing about Ikebukuro is that there is a street that houses shops devoted entirely to anime and comics for a female audience. So, the Animate store I went into was full of young women. It was kind of scary to see so many fangirls all gathering in once place. Exploring the 8 floors of the Animate tired me out, so we decided to head back to the hostel in which we stayed when we first arrived in Tokyo. Patrick wanted to check out some other shops, so he said he'd meet us there. TIm and I went back to the station and ended up getting seperated. Once I was on a train, I got off at Shinjuku and realized it was the wrong stop. After trying to find my way to the right train in Shinjuku I found a map, but it was entirely in Japanese. Asking the information booth which train took me to Iidabashi only gave me directions to the local Tokyo metro, not the JR line. Finally, I found a JR worker who gave me directions to the right train. This must have taken about an hour, but I finally got back to the hostel and then Tim took us to this awesome ramen place for dinner.

All in all, it was an exhausting day. I was planning on turning in pretty early, but I didn't get to sleep until after 11pm since I ended up talking with a gentleman from Holland about Hiroshima and Japan in general. We were heading off to the Ghibli Museum the next morning. It's going to be an exciting day!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Japan Day 14

Japan Day 14

When I woke up in the morning, I realized that we only had one week left in Japan. I was both sad and excited. The night before, we had all decided to split up for the day, since we all wanted to do different things. Patrick wanted to go to an amusement park that was themed after the anime One Piece, Tim was going to head back to Tokyo and start exploring Akihabara, and I was headed for Nagano. Since I was the first one up and ready, I told the guys so long and then headed back to Kyoto station. Once there, I had breakfast donuts at Mister Donut and a coffee from Starbucks. Before eating though, I took the time to explore Kyoto station. It was amazing! A giant staircase leads to the top of the station with a fantastic view of the city. Unfortunately, they had glass window panes to look out from, so any attempts of mine at taking photos was ruined by reflections.

As I descended the staircase to grab something to eat, I bumped into Tim. I guess once he was ready to go he took off as well. As our backpacks were really starting to get heavy, and we knew we'd be buying more stuff once back in Tokyo, we decided to get some suitcases. Actually, we had planned on buying some before, but our attempts at finding one in the Kyoto downtown proved fruitless. Everything was way too expensive. Fortunately, there was a place right in the station that was having a sale of 20% off of their luggage. Once we had our suitcases, we said farewell again. Turns out we were on the same train, just in different cars, though. While Tim continued all the way back to Tokyo, I got off at Nagoya and transferred to an older train. From there, it was almost three hours to Nagano.

Shortly after leaving Nagoya, the train started moving through more rural parts of Japan. Before long, beautiful mountains began to spring up. It was amazing. It reminded me of the kinds of worlds that Hayao Miyazaki created in films like My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki's Delivery Service. Since we were going to the Ghibli museum in a couple of days, I was pretty excited. About half way through the train ride to Nagano, I began to see mountains with snow covered peaks. Though it was nice and warm in the train, I began to think that it looked rather cold outside. Once I finally arrived in Nagano, I was a bit surprised at how warm it was. Typical spring time weather. However, there was a bit of a chilly wind blowing, so I wore my jacket.

I got checked into my hotel (Holiday Inn), and then set out to get some pictures and explore. My main reason for visiting Nagano was to see the building where Gust Corporation operates from. They've created some of my favorite games of all time and I'm kind of a huge geek, so I wanted to see where they work. For the first half of the train ride I kept thinking to myself, "Why would Gust be based all the way out in Nagano when most of the major game companies are in Tokyo?" At first I thought that it probably had to do with the cost of workspace (and that probably has something to do with it), but after seeing the beautiful country side that surrounds Nagano, I began to think that it was for the inspiration. The games they create often take place in beautiful worlds, so I think that perhaps the beauty of Nagano helps to inspire. This is just me theorizing, though, so I could be totally wrong.

After snapping some photos, wandering around the city, and doing some shopping, I headed back to my hotel and got some sleep. It was really nice to sleep in a real bed after sleeping on futons for so long. Less than a week of my journey is left. I have a feeling that it's going to be the best week ever.

Japan Day 12 & 13

It's been a couple of days since an update, but we didn't have internet access at the last hotel. Well, no internet access for my computer, anyway. It's been an interesting couple of days, though. We left Hiroshima after wandering way out of our way for more Mister Donut. Honestly, I am so sick of donuts now, but I keep going back for the points! I want one of those damn coffee mugs to bring back. We took the bullet train to Kyoto and it was a warm and sunny day. Absolutely gorgeous weather. Couldn't have asked for a nicer day. Immediately we left the Kyoto station to begin looking for our hotel. Patrick's mother had booked this one for us ahead of time using some of her travel points, so thank you Mrs. Moylan! Patrick had the map on his iPod, so he lead the way and we headed off in that direction. After twenty minutes of walking, the heat was starting to get to me. Well, probably it was getting to all of us. We passed a castle on our left, but we didn't want to stop to sight-see with our giant back packs, so we kept walking. After about an hour, we arrived at the hotel, which was conveniently located next to a Kyoto subway station. Talk about poor planning on our part! :P The hotel seemed really nice and fancy. It was probably a really expensive place to stay. The room was Japanese style and kind of small. It had a really nice bathroom, though, and a good view of the exquisite garden in the hotel courtyard. Seriously, there was a swan swimming in the garden pond. After we got settled and relaxed for a minute, I suggested that we head out and see a temple or something, since the weather forecast was predicting rain for the next day. After consulting a map, I found a temple that wasn't too far out of the way, but it involved more walking. Walking there was pretty nice, though. Along the major road we were following, a small river ran beneath it. There was a really nice path made that went all along the river. Plus, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom lining the way. :D The sun was just beginning to set when we got to the temple, and most of it was closed. I found it really nice, though, since we were mostly alone and there were no other tourists. We explored the grounds a bit and took some photos. After that, though, there wasn't much else to see, so we headed back to the hotel and got some rest. It was raining the next day, so we took the subway back to the main station and decided to look around the town a bit. After exploring the shops in the station area for a bit, we headed towards the main downtown area, though we had no idea that we were headed that way at the time! On our way there, we found some cool game stores and I picked up a copy of Soma Bringer for less than $10. After some more walking we found the downtown and shopping arcade area. It was pretty crazy. Lots of people everywhere. One thing I noticed about Kyoto is that there were far more tourists here than anywhere else we had been so far. I felt as if I didn't stand out so much. Shops in Kyoto were crazy expensive, though. We did a lot of browsing and not a lot of buying. It was another day full of walking and by night we were all exhausted. I remember getting back to the hotel, eating some snacks, and then passing out.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Japan Day 11

No Tim quotes for today. Sorry! Day 11 was a lot of fun. We woke up in the morning and met Aaron in the hostel lobby. While waiting around, we met a guy from Germany named Hanas. I think that was his name, anyway. I didn't quite catch it. While waiting for Patrick to finish getting ready, the four of us decided to take in a baseball game since the stadium was right around the corner from the hostel. Since Aaron was leaving for Osaka in the evening, his stashed his stuff in our room while we went to the game.

Tickets started at about $16 each, and those were for seats up in the bleachers. For $20 we decided to get some better seats closer to the field. We ended up with some nice right field seats right below the brass section. Yes, that's right. Every team in Japan seems to have a cheering section with a small brass ensemble. It was awesome. Team spirit was very high. It was the Hiroshima Carp vs. the Nagoya Dragons. Hiroshima got off to a rocky start giving up a run in the first inning. Nagoya scored another run at the top of the 6th inning, but then Hiroshima came back and tied the game up. It was tied until the bottom of the 8th when Hiroshima scored two more runs. However, one of their pinch hitters was struck in the head by a wild pitch near the end of the inning. Fortunately, he was okay, but was unable to finish the game. With Hiroshima up 2 runs at the top of the 9th, they brought in one of their relief pitchers. With two outs and a runner on first, it was a tense final pitch, but Nagoya struck out and Hiroshima was victorious!

The baseball game was a ton of fun, but perhaps it went on a little too long. The game itself was about four hours, and we got there a couple of hours early to secure tickets. All in all, we were at the stadium for six long hours. After the game was over, Aaron grabbed his stuff from our room and then headed off to Osaka. We got his contact info so we may meet up with him again once we're back in Tokyo. After we bid our farewells, we went to a nearby okinamiyaki place for some dinner. It was delicious! Better than the first place. After dinner, we went for a walk to stretch our legs since we had been sitting just about all day. I had intended to go to the manga library, but unfortunately it was closed. We began to make our way back towards the hostel, but we were kind of lost. Only kind of. We knew we were headed in the right direction, since we could see the stadium to our right and Bic Camera (which Patrick kept calling Big Camera) to our left. Tim wandered down some strange alley, and that was the last time we saw him.

Just kidding! He did end up going the wrong way, but he found his way back to the hostel. We were all pretty exhausted, so we ended up watching some TV before bed. I was watching this awesome cop drama, but I can't remember the name! The actor in it kind of reminded me of one of my friends, though.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Japan Day 10

On the way to Okayama Castle.

The gate at Miyajima.

Today's Tim Quote:

- ... nice purse.

So, we're about half-way through our trip at this point and today was probably the busiest day we've had so far. It was a beautiful morning, which was a relief since the weather had been so terrible the day before. We were a little late checking out of our hotel, but once everyone was finally ready we dropped our bags off in some coin lockers at the station and grabbed some breakfast at Mister Donut. After some delicious coffee and donuts, we headed off to Okayama castle. It was nice walk and I kind of wished I had left my jacket in the locker with my bag since it was so nice and warm. Okayama castle was very nice and very peaceful. Not as impressive as Osaka castle, though. We then wandered around the castle area to kill some time. We were going to check out the castle garden, but we had to pay an admission, so we decided to head back to the station.

We got our bags and our tickets and then just waited around for the next 40 minutes until the train arrived. Tim and Patrick went back to Bic Camera, but I just waited at the station. It was already quite warm and lugging my backpack around a department store did not seem appealing. Once the train arrived, it was only a short 30 minute trip before we were in Hiroshima. We stopped by the information stand at the station to find out the exact location of the next hostel we were to be staying in. Even with a map and directions, it was still a little difficult to find. We weren't the only ones having trouble locating it, though, as we ran into a fellow traveler looking for the same hostel. He asked me in Japanese if I was looking for the hostel and I told him yes. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Aaron and that he was from Chicago. After turning down the next street, we found the hostel and got settled in. Since we didn't have any real plans, we decided to meet Aaron in the lobby in 15 minutes.

Fifteen minutes later, we were headed into the heart of Hiroshima looking for a place to eat okinamiyaki. If you're wondering what okinamiyaki is, it's kind of like a pancake. It's made with green noodles, green onions, bean sprouts, some kind of meat, and batter. It's all fried and pressed into kind of a pancake and then covered with oyster sauce. It is absolutely delicious! Without a doubt, it was the most satisfying meal I've eaten since coming to Japan. Our bellies now full, we left the restaurant to find a live band playing in the square across the road. It was pretty cool. They looked to be high school age, playing ska/punk style music. We then explored the shopping arcade in the area. It wasn't long before Tim found a Taito arcade. We spent a short time here, and then Aaron mentioned going to Miyajima to see the Gate and shrine at sunset. With nothing else to do, we all decided to go and see if we could make it before sunset.

It was about 20 minutes on the local JR train to Miyajima. Once there, we had to take the ferry to the island. The sun was just beginning to set and the view was beautiful. I probably took more photos today than in the entire trip combined so far. Since it was getting late, we didn't end up having time to visit the shrine. We did get to see the gate, though, and took a lot of picutres. We then explored a bit of the surrounding village before catching the ferry back to the shore. Once back in Hiroshima, we getting pretty hungry, and Patrick was craving ramen. Aaron asked a group of high school kids at the station if they knew a good ramen place in the area. They asked if we wanted good ramen and then proceeded to tell us that there were no REALLY good ramen places to eat in the area, but they showed us the best one. It was in a food court at the top of this department store. It wasn't bad, but certainly not great.

The day was very long and exhausting. There's so much more I want to write about, but I just don't have the energy right now. I ended up taking over 100 photos yesterday, but I can't upload to Flikr since I've already exceeded my monthly limit.