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.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Japan Day 9












Today's Tim Quotes:

- C'mon, man! That's a word you learn when you're a kid. "Hey Mom, can I have some ice cream?"

- Holy crap! I haven't eaten with a fork in awhile!

Today we intended to set our for Okayama Castle, but things didn't go exactly as planned. After waking up and getting washed and dressed and everything, we went to Cafe Onsaya. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible. Rain was pouring down and it was the coldest day we had experienced in Japan so far. I had some bread before we left, so I just had a cup of coffee. Tim ordered mango juice and chiffon cake. Patrick had tea and toast. We then set off towards Okayama castle. We passed a Mister Donut on our way and it turned out to be right around the corner from the hotel! We were about to catch a street car to the castle, but we ducked into Biccamera for a bit to take a look at headphones and other various electronics. After leaving Biccamera, the rain was still coming down, but we decided to walk to the castle since it was only 1.5 kilometers away.

Tim had read about this old shopping area in the Lonely Planet guide, so we walked down there to keep dry. Shortly after entering the enclosed shopping street we found an arcade. We stopped in for a bit to play some Shining Force Cross and see what else the arcade had to offer. After killing some time there, we continued on our way to the castle. There was a new shopping area that we decided to check out first, just in case everything was closed after we were done at Okayama castle. Unfortunately, we found too much to do in the shopping arcade and got distracted almost all day.

First of all, we found a store called Animate. Basically, another geek shop. Comics, DVD's, figures, etc. We must have spent close to two hours looking around. Though there were many, many things that I wanted to buy, the limited space in my backpack and the thought of lugging more stuff around detracted me. Tim and Patrick ended up buying a couple of small things each. As we continued down the shopping arcade, we foiund another hobby store called the Albion. This one specialised in figures and had a very good selection. By this time, we were all getting very hungry, so we set out looking for a soba restaurant that was near by. It was recommended by the guide, so even though we passed many other restaurants on our way, we kept going. However, we couldn't find this restaurant, much to our chagrin. After much searching and a stop in a near by department store, we finally settled on a chain restaurant that specialised in udon dishes. Since it was near the man street and it was nearing 5pm when we finished eating, we just decided to go back to the hotel. The rain was still pouring down and it was freezing cold. Okayama castle would remain a mystery to us.

Tim went straight back to the hotel, but Patrick and I stopped at Mister Donut for some donuts and coffee. The waitress who served us was well versed in english and gave Patrick and I each a Misdo (Mister Donut abbreviated) points card. This was awesome because last time we went to Misdo, Tim was given a points card but neither of us were. Actually, Tim had been given a couple of points cards while the two of us were neglected. We're now going to try to get enough Misdo points to get some free coffee mugs! The rest of the evening was spent at the hotel relaxing and trying to read Japanese gaming magazines. All in all, the day was kind of a bust, but we're off to Hiroshima tomorrow and the weather should be much nicer. :)

Also, I have a Flikr account now with more photos from the trip. http://www.flikr.com/photos/somanton/

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Japan Day 8












Today's Tim Quotes:

- There are beautiful Japanese girls everywhere. We can't touch them, though.
- Moe moe kyun~! (This is kind of an in-joke. It makes sense if you've watched K-ON! Image of what he's talking about here: http://http://girlamatic.com/files/2009/08/mio3.gif)

Tim: Om amnamn no mamndabom.
Anton: I didn't understand anything you just said.
Patrick: He said that he's "afraid to bite down." ... This should be your Tim quote for today!
Anton: That's going to sound very wrong.


Sadly, it was finally time for us to leave Osaka. It was a very cold morning and it had started to rain a bit when we left the hostel. Again, we went for breakfast at Mister Donut. It was a bit of a walk, though. About 20 minutes away from the station. Totally worth the trek, though. As we were walking, Patrick kept jumping into every convenience store we passed looking for a certain magazine. So, Tim and I got to Mister Donut first and ordered our food. There wasn't space enough for all three of us at a bench, so Tim and I sat down at a two person table. There was a gentleman sitting at a table next to us and he politely offered up his seat when Patrick arrived. As thanks, I offered him a package of tissues that I had on me, and he struck up a conversation with me. His English was quite good. He gave me his business card and asked where I was from. I told him that I was visiting from Canada and he began telling me that his daughter was currently in California. A really nice guy. I'm telling you, people from Osaka are just friendlier! I don't know what it is.

After our delicious donuts, we headed back to Shin-Osaka station. I stopped along the way to grab a couple of photographs of some interesting grafitti. Unfortunately, I didn't get too many other photos today. I kept forgetting my camera in the room everytime we went out. In any case, we got back to the station and went to get our tickets for the shinkansen (bullet train). When I turned around, Patrick was gone! Since we were already in line and people were waiting behind us, we couldn't really go and look for him, so Tim and I ended up getting tickets on a seperate train car. It was a silent car, mostly for those traveling long distances and who want to sleep. It was a short trip to Okayama, and it seemed like it was even colder there than in Osaka. It took us a moment to find our hotel, but we found it and got checked in. We thought that we were going to have a western style room this time, but again it was a traditional Japanese tatami room. The inn keeper was a very friendly man, though he spoke little english. He seemed to be having a good time showing everything in the inn. Especially the toilet for some reason. o_o

After getting settled into our room, we went out to explore the area a little bit. We started walking down this old shopping arcade and saw some interesting shops. There was a cafe called Onsaya with the menu written entirely in english that grabbed my attention, but we kept walking. I decided I would come back to it later. Soon we found a small comic book and hobby shop and looked around there for a little while. After that, we stopped at a curry shop for lunch and then went back to our room to warm up and relax. We spent a good deal of time watching television including this anime called Heroman that takes place in the USA with an invading army of space aliens. Some kid named Joey, who looks like a girl, but is actually a guy, controls this Heroman robot or something ... I wasn't really paying too much attention. Anyway, we finally decided we should go out and get some dinner.

Since I was still pretty full, I decided to not eat dinner just yet and headed towards that cafe from earlier. Tim and Patrick went to Yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurant to eat. As I walked down the shopping arcade from earlier, it was pretty dark. I thought that maybe the cafe would be closed. Fortunately, it was open! I walked in and was greeted in Japanese by a young woman wearing a ska t-shirt. I ordered a cup of coffee and sat down. At $4 for a cup of coffee I thought it a bit expensive, but it was worth it for the atmosphere. A warm, homey atmosphere welcomed me into the shop. I wasn't sure where I should sit down; the wooden bench along the counter of the kitchen, one of the antique sofas in the centre of the shop, or the round wooden table in the back corner? I finally decided to sit on one of sofas since it looked so soft and inviting. Cool jazz was playing over the vintage speakers placed haphazardly above the room. Posters of blues, soul, and jazz legends adorned the walls. There was a piano against the wall behind me where performing musical guests had left an autograph or message scrawled in black sharpie. A rolling bookshelf was placed against the small green wall that divided the room. Onsaya cafe reminded me very much of a place from my hometown called The Spill, yet it had an atmosphere all its own. Shortly after I sat down, a young man served my coffee. It was excellent. It was not the typical type of American coffee I had been ordering at Mister Donut, but a much stronger Japanese style of coffee. I decided that I would have to come back tomorrow to explore the second floor.

Shortly after my coffee, I headed back to the yakiniku place to meet up with Tim and Patrick. My timing was impeccable, as they had just finished up. We stopped at a 7-11 to grab some snaks and then went back to our hotel room. We then turned on the TV and waited to see if we could find a channel that would be airing Durarara!! tonight.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Japan Day 7












Today's Tim Quotes:

- Oh, really? He was about my height? Everyone is 'about my height!' Did he have black hair, too, Anton?!

- Can you guys stop reading my profile page? It’s embarrassing.

We started out the day with nothing particular in mind. We figured we'd just go into Osaka and walk around, see what there is to see. I did want to check out this one arcade called Monte 50, though, since it was on a list of recommended fighting game arcades in Japan. We first set off for breakfast at Mister Donut. Seriously, that place is amazing. The sign says "World's best coffee and donuts" and I agree. Light, fluffy, and tasty donuts served with flavorful coffee. I never wanted to leave that place. We then started walking in the direction of where Monte 50 should be. On the walk we saw more of the city of Osaka. It is quite nice. We also saw an Outback Steakhouse, but it didn't open until 5pm. On our way there, we were passing by an arcade when I saw this table flipping arcade game!! I had seen pictures and stuff about it on the internet, so Tim and I gave it a try. It was so much fun! Honestly, I can't tell you the kind of satisfaction that flipping a table can give you. Turns out it was a Taito Special arcade, so we spent a bit of time there.

Continuing our journey, we then stopped at Namco Land, another arcade. This one was huge. Three floors of games and amusements. The first level was filled with UFO catcher type games. Mostly stuffed toys and candies were available as prizes. The second level was full of games I didn't fully understand. Large games in which multiple players could participate. The third floor had more UFO catcher games with prizes aimed mostly at geeks (figurines, collectibles, etc.) as well as derby horse racing games, and Shining Force Cross. Spent a good amount of time watching Tim spend roughly $20 on a UFO catcher only to get four small Kimi ni Todoke plush toys. After that ordeal, we spent another 45 minutes or more playing Shining Force.

After we left Namco Land, we began looking for a KFC, since the directions to Monte 50 said that it would be near a KFC. Just down the street, we found the KFC. We turned right and started walking into a covered shopping street and there it was, Monte 50. Personally, I thought it was awesome since I really enjoy fighting games (though I suck at them), but Pat and Tim didn't stay there too long. They took off and I played some Street Fighter Third Strike. After round 4, I was getting my ass kicked, so I went and looked around the shopping area. I found ANOTHER arcade close by that was mostly UFO catcher games, and then met up with Pat and Tim to tell them about it. We wasted some more money there, and Tim won an alarm clock from Bakemonogatari (an anime series he really likes). As we looked around, we realized that the whole area was full of arcades. Arcades and Pachinko parlors. We went to several different places and spent WAY too much money on UFO catchers and arcade games. Patrick ended up winning a messenger bag and I won a cool new wallet from one arcade with very helpful staff that was giving us tips on how to win the items. This was definitely a clever ploy, though, since it encourages the player to keep playing.

Soon we stumbled upon a place called Mandarake, which is a Japanese comic shop. It was incredible. Most of the staff was dressed in cosplay from popular anime series, there were new series, old series, doujin (fan made) series, video games, figures, DVD's, and CD's. It was absolutely incredible. We tried not to stay too long for fear of spending more money. Just outside of Mandarake was Club Sega. Patrick continued to browse in the comic shop so Tim and I played some Taiko Drum Master (a rhythm based game) while we waited.

It was starting to get late, so we all began heading back to the central station and grabbed some dinner. It was an incredible day. Nothing like these arcades exists in the West. They're basically like casinos. No windows, no clocks ... you just start playing the games (a lot of which are like gambling) and lose all track of time. I think that we all learned a valuable lesson today: we must be wary of arcades! Not to say that we didn't enjoy ourselves. Today was a blast. I had more fun today than I have on the whole trip so far. Going forward, though, I'm going to try to avoid these types of arcades.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Japan Day 6




















Starting in this entry, I'm going to introduce Tim Quotes. All along this journey, Tim has been saying some hilarious things, so I'm going to chronicle his funny sayings in these new Tim Quotes. Here are some of the best so far:

- Anton, sometimes I want to cry, but the tears just won't come out.

- Or as Patrick likes to say, "douchebag." You're a douchebag.

- I like the white stuff. Please don't quote that.


Day six in Japan, day two in Osaka. For breakfast, we took in a traditional Japanese breakfast at the hostel. I believe it will be the last time we eat fish, rice, bamboo, and miso so early in the morning. It was good, but not what I would consider breakfast food. After breakfast, we went into Osaka to explore the city. We ended up spending a good amount of the afternoon shopping. I ended up buying a couple of shirts at UNIQLO and a t-shirt from X-Large. We were also in this crazy awesome department store. It was a total geek heaven. Figures games, and all kinds of other awesome stuff. It took a lot of will power to not buy anything.

After some lunch at this sweet burger place called Big Man, we headed to Osaka castle to take in some culture for a change. On the walk through the park to the castle, we saw some young guys playing baseball, and all kinds of people sitting under the cherry trees. The act of viewing cherry blossoms is called Hanami and it looked like everyone was enjoying themselves eating and drinking under the trees. Osaka castle was pretty cool. Though, it cost money to actually go up into the castle, so we just kind of walked around the outside and took some nice pictures.

We were getting pretty hungry, and the park was closing, so we headed back to the hostel. Looking for a good place to eat that we could all enjoy (Patrick doesn't like curry) was proving fruitless, so we ended up getting dinner at a convenience store again. It was kind of a surprise when we got to the hostel cafeteria to find it full of young Japanese women in uniform. Looks like they were part of some tour group? I wasn't too sure. Anyway, it felt like we weren't allowed to be there, but we ended up eating anyway.

Around 8 o'clock the hostel served coffee and tea in the lobby and they had a special event. There was a singer/songwriter from Kyoto named Naoto Takahashi performing a short acoustic set. He was really good. Though I couldn't understand everything in his songs, there seemed to be a continuing theme of giving. It was pretty awesome. After he was done performing, he hung around with some of the people in the lobby. Tim and I started arm wrestling and I was defeated. After that, some of the other guys in the lobby, including Naoto Takahashi, began challenging us! It was a lot of fun. :)

By that time, it was getting late, so we all turned in for the evening.