Day 13, Tokyo, that’s all folks!

It is with much sadness that I begin writing tonight’s blog. This is my last blog post since I am flying home tomorrow and as of tonight, my trip is basically complete. It was without a doubt that best two weeks of my life. I lived my dream and it ended up being better than I ever thought it could be. I might do a wrap up at the end of this post but for now, let me keep up the tradition one last time and go ahead and discuss my day.

I woke up in the hostel, about 4 inches off the floor since that’s how far off the ground the bed padding provides. I didn’t rush to get up because I can hear he rain outside again, I was afraid to see how heavy the rain was. I finally stood up and saw it wasn’t bad, I realized I was going to be able to have my last day in Japan and enjoy it.

I get an email from my parents to get one last Skype session in prior to me coming back to Seattle, where presumably the Skype sessions will cease to happen every day or so. My dad thanks me for putting that story about him in yesterdays blog post, I told him he was welcome and I’m pretty sure no one finds that stuff as funny as we do since we know him so well. Another dad story was his inability to focus the lens on the web cam. I love my dad, he cracks me up.

Anyways, I wake up and realize I have to take a shower in the communal shower area. It actually isn’t bad, it’s one shower with a lock on the door with a full bathroom attached to it. It’s a pain having to go downstairs to use it but once you’re there, it’s not really that bad. The important part is I was clean because I hate going out for a day not showering and feeling gross the entire time, that’s not fun.

I lock up my room, and swap my Japanese slippers for my sneakers and walk out of the building. I snapped a picture of the entrance as well as the street my hostel is on.

It looks nice enough from the outside, the inside looks like a YMCA though.

It’s a weird street, especially considering Shinagawa is such a business area, this is very back alley Tokyo looking. Fast and the Furious probably raced down this street.

On the list of things to do today was go see the Sunshine City Aquarium in Ikebukuro. Honestly, I am sooo excited to go to this, not because of the aquarium, but because I get to go back to Ikebukuro, that was my home for the entire duration of the 6 nights in Tokyo last week. It was like going home, it felt so safe and comfortable which is ironic because Ikebukuro is neither of those words if you ask most people but I love it. I didn’t even know it existed before I booked my hotel there and I fell in love with it. Here are some pictures I took that make me feel like I’m going down memory lane.

Aww, the Ikebukuro Station, I know this place like the back of my hands!

I bought many a breakfast at the ISP. Speaking of…

This place looked interesting. Tough to choose when there are about 75 vendors but it looked good enough to buy food from, so I did…

Hmm, ok, let’s see here. Fried chicken with sesame seeds and some sort of sweet and sour sauce up top. Below that is some pickled cabbage. Underneath that is a teriyaki noodle with shrimp and carrot. Next to that was the sticky rice. I love the rice in Japan because it’s so sticky you basically cut it up like a brownie and eat it in slices. Above that was some egg salad type thing and above that was squid ink pasta.

This is an ironic sign considering the weather outside today was less than sunny but this was actually the direction I was going to. Sunshine stands for Sunshine City but it’s such a lovely thing to see, this way for Sunshine, I wish every city had this.

I get out of the train station after spending quite some time in it. It’s amazing, the train stations in Japan are actually places that you want to spend time in, that’s unheard of in America. Also unheard of in America is food vendors near major transportation hubs that don’t charge you an arm and a leg for food knowing that you will buy it regardless of the price because you don’t have many other options. Here in Japan, prices are cheap for food in train stations, that’s why I ate there so much, good food cheap! Sorry for the rant, after the train station I start my walk to the Sunshine City Aquarium.

I get to the Sunshine City complex and have a bit of a tricky time finding the aquarium but that’s because the signs in this place make no sense. It never said the aquarium was on the 8th floor, signs just kept pointing in all directions on the first floor. I randomly got into an elevator to see signs for it. Come on Sunshine City, it’s an aquarium, it shouldn’t be this difficult to spot! Anyways, here is a few pictures of the Sunshine City mall I walked through for a while…

This is Sunshine City, at one point the tallest building in Tokyo.

The inside of the mall at Sunshine City.

The fountain at the Sunshine City mall. I swear, I had to wait twenty minutes for this stupid thing to start being a fountain, but it paid off and I got my picture. I have an unhealthy love for fountains, it’s ok, I’m ok with it.

I get in the elevator and there it is, pictures of fish on the ceiling. Yep, the signs didn’t tell me where to go but I figured it out all on my own!

I get to the 8th floor and there I am, the aquarium. It’s probably been 10-15 years since I’ve been to an aquarium. I don’t know why it’s been so long, I guess I’m about to find out. I’m about to post a ton of pictures in a row, some with and some without captions, just giving you all a heads up that this is how I plan on covering the Sunshine City Aquarium.

Japanese school children are so well behaved. The girl being spoken to in the front was crying for some reason, poor kid, she probably didn’t want to be at the aquarium, I would soon sympathize with her.

There was a Doraemon exhibit going on. This is a famous Japanese manga character. The first few pics have to do with that. I don’t know anything about Doraemon so I’ll just show you the pictures. This first one is Doraemon in a water tube.

That’s water over my head at the Doraemon entrance.

Don’t all aquariums have scrubbers and fake bars of soap?

The fish are inside the glass, outside the glass it’s a waterfall from the top to the bottom. It sorta looks like a transparent wedding cake.

I couldn’t read the sign cause it was in Japanese but can someone confirm that this is a blowfish or a puffer fish?

This little jerk wouldn’t turn around for a picture. Come on man, you’re in an aquarium, do your job and make me happy!

I never understand the joy people getting in this being their jobs.

Stingrays look so harmless, especially when they do their Roomba impersonations on the ground, but it’s not just a clever name.

This is a seal that is alive but was in this position for about 10 mins. It was weird so I took a picture.

I saw this huge giant crab and all I kept thinking to myself was “I wanna eat that!”.

Ok, this picture is gross and was the moment I first realized why it’s been so long since I’ve been to an aquarium or zoo. These are two animals, not sure what kind, but they were fighting pretty hardcore. They were gnawing at each others faces and really struggling to get away from one another. They actually went into alligator like death rolls at some point. It was gross, I thought I’d see blood, I took this picture and walked away quickly. I don’t care if it is the animal kingdom, it’s disgusting.

There’s that scuba person again.

I thought turtles were supposed to be slow, this little bastard wouldn’t stand still for a picture. I guess under water they get super powers!

I see you’re not so fast outside of the tank you little turtle you. Doug 1 Turtles 0.

Nemo’s!

Ok, after walking around a bit, I realize that I am completely grossed out by the fish and animals I’ve seen. Unless it’s a dog or cat, I don’t want anything to do with it. I walked by snakes, fish, some in open cages, some in closed, I was officially grossed out. This is why it’s been so long since I’ve been to an aquarium or zoo, I hate them. I hate wildlife. I spent money on this but at this point, I just want to leave so I run through the rest of the aquarium and do drive by picture taking. Here are the results of the frantic pace…

A petting zoo, my nightmare.

Penguins in an open area, lovely, they could jump out and attack me.

Same goes for these guys. Ok, I’m done here and I’m terrified, where’s the exit?

Ok, after running for the door, I finally get the heck out of there. I spent 1,800 Yen to be terrified which stinks because not only do I hate wildlife and ocean life, I hate being scared, double whammy! I didn’t even have the chance to realize how cool it was that there were animals on a rooftop in a downtown building! I walk out of the building and I’m still in Ikebukuro. There is one last thing I want to see in Ikebukuro but I have no cell phone service to look on the Internet to see where it is and the tourist maps don’t show it and no one speaks English to help me out so I’m on a hunt. I spend about 2 hours looking for what I’m looking for and end up stumbling on it accidently. Some stuff happened before this, that was just my teaser paragraph to keep you on the edge of your seat.

This is an 8 floor store dedicated to anime and manga. I went in and didn’t understand a thing. The Japanese kids who were in there seemed completely happy there and that’s all that matters.

Toyota has offices here and on the first floor is what they call the Toyota Auto Salon.

Here is one of the things on display at the Toyota Auto Salon. Pretty ironic isn’t it considering recent events? Toyota – Moving you forward…whether you like it or not.

They had this big ball type thing hanging from the ceiling so I took a picture of my reflection in it. I have a very similar picture taken in Rockefeller Center several years ago that I can show anyone if you want.

During my hunt to find what I’m looking for (not the U2 song), I see this crepe store being ran by a bunny. I’m gonna miss you Japan.

Aww, my home for the first 6 nights I was in Japan Hello, how are you, I miss you. The thing with me and the hostel is just a fling, it won’t last I promise.

This just sounds painful.

I didn’t give up on what I was looking for but I did get to one of the places I wanted to go to, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space. This is not a full museum just a collection of art exhibits that I am really looking forward to seeing.

This is the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space. I’m pretty happy to see it because I’ve done a lot on this trip but I haven’t done anything artistic and this really is going to be good. I walk inside the building and holy crap, look at what I see…

This is it! This is what I was looking for! The worlds largest escalator! I had no idea where it was and anytime I asked someone where this was, they just thought I meant the closest escalator to wherever i was at the time. I was looking for this and I stumbled on it, major win for me! It took me 2 hours to find this and almost wasted my last day in Japan not finding this. Here is a video of me riding the entire thing.

So I tried verifying this online but couldn’t find any hard evidence but the people around here keep saying that this is the worlds biggest escalator. I want to believe them because I was on it. The girl in front of me wasn’t planned, she hopped on right before I did.

No matter what I do, I won’t be able to show you how big this thing is. It’s 5 floors tall! It takes 90 seconds to ride to the top!

At the top of this amazing escalator is the actual art space. Here are some pictures I took from it along with some descriptions of what each one is and why this was an amazing art exhibit.

This is an amazing exhibit. This is work done by patients in Tokyo psychiatric hospitals for mental illness. They aren’t doing this for therapeutic purposes but instead they are doing it so that the world can see what the creative mind of someone with a mental illness is capable of. The most interesting thing is how similar it looks to other art we see by people without mental illness. The next two pictures are from this display so they are all done by people with mental illnesses.

After this I turn the corner and hear spoken word poetry next to a guy playing a guitar.

Around these people are some other art pieces I decide to take pictures of. Most don’t need comments.

The TV was showing the pictures of the hand scanned into a computer and put together to form a movie of the hand opening and closing.

I love seeing the old man reading manga. Manga definitely belongs in any art museum in Tokyo.

The bottom left part of this piece was made out of chicken bones.

After this, I leave the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, I leave very happy because not only was the art exhibit fantastic, but I found the escalator! My checklist of things to do and see in Japan should be all done now. I’ll have to make a new list for next time!

At this point of the day, I realize it’s time to start souvenir shopping for people. I go to Harajuku because they have some great shopping and I was right, I find most of the items I was looking for there. There are a few other things I still need to get and the airport better have them or else I’m coming home empty handed and will have to apologize to these people. I really don’t want to do that so I’m putting a lot of faith in the airport.

I took this picture on the subway to Harajuku. I think this is my favorite city name in Japan. I love hearing the overhead speaker lady say it, I smile each time.

I felt a little weird taking this picture but come on, he’s in a school uniform including the hat, I’m from America where you just don’t see something like this on public transportation, it’s awesome!

Ok yes, the name of this store in Harajuku is creepy, but trust me, they had some great stuff in there and I got a lot of souvenirs from here. Oh, and they took American Express, you don’t understand how rare this is in Japan.

After getting the souvenirs, I decide to walk to Shibuya because it’s early and I want to see Shibuya one last time and it’s not far at all from Harajuku, just one train stop over. Once I’m over there, to get out of the rain for a bit, I go into a mall near the train station to stay dry and get a quick bite to eat.

My comment here is that this is the kind of place where in America, soccer moms would frequent. Another comment is that it’s Friday night, I am the only guy here and there are about 15 women there alone. Remember what I said about people eating alone in Japan, it happens all the time!

Alright so, miso front and center, to the right of that is pickled cabbage, above that is my green tea, next to that is a shrimp salad with watercress and sesame oil. Next to that almost tastes like an antipasto. The rice was bad, it was brown rice with no flavor and this place didn’t have the soy sauce containers sitting there so I couldn’t add flavor It wasn’t good but I finished it because that’s what I do.

After this dinner, I start making my way back to my hostel and debate pulling an all nighter (spoiler alert, I’m still writing this at 7am so I’m on my way to making that dream a reality). I realize this is the last day to go crazy and not care about my diet. With that in mind, I eat the following foods.

Chicken, scallions, rice, and egg. I love cracking the egg and mixing it in with all of the ingredients, really makes them all come together in an eggy goo. The things to the right are something I don’t know but they were sweet and tart and have a pit in them. Kevin, any idea?

The egg and rice dish above was in the restaurant in the last picture, the Japanese corn dog you see below was from Family Mart and eaten in my room. It wasn’t good, I don’t know why I got it. It was very sweet and I forgot I don’t like corn dogs. I love the dog part though!

Here is the inside in case seeing the outside didn’t gross you out enough.

This was a raspberry cheesecake desert, it was decadent and delicious!

After this dessert, I squat down in front of my computer to kill some time. I am in no rush to start this blog post because it’s my last one and I know that I can’t go to sleep until I do it so basically I’m forcing myself to stay awake by not writing the blog. Oh, the reason for staying up all night is so I fall asleep on the plane. The plan is taking off midnight Seattle time and lands at 9am. If I can sleep during this time frame, I think I will adjust to Seattle time instantly, making jet lag a non-issue.

Anyways, at about 3am I realized I needed some fuel to keep me going. There is a McDonalds near my hostel but unfortunately it’s closed, what is open though is an Italian restaurant that’s 24 hours. Note to anyone traveling to Japan, do not eat Italian food in Japan. Here is what I got, hopefully you can see it through all of the oil they used.

This is possibly one of the last thing I will be eating in Japan. This means that in the morning (or now I guess since it’s 7:29am), I need to eat something good, so I can go out on a high note. I wish I could go back to Sex Machine in Osaka and have some prime short ribs, mmm…

And that’s it, tomorrow is a travel day and I won’t be photographing or documenting it so that’s the end of my blog. It was a lot of work making this blog but I have no regrets. I have an incredibly detailed journal of the vacation of a lifetime. I can read it whenever I want and relive the entire thing like it’s happening all over again for the first time. I also got to share my vacation with those close to me. I never felt alone over here even though I was here all by myself, I feel like I took you all with me and you shared everything I shared and for that I thank you all for reading this and commenting.

This trip has changed my life, I can’t wait to see all that comes of this once I adjust back to life in the states. It might have only been 2 weeks but it feels like I’ve been here forever. I won’t be a new person, I’ll just be an improved version of myself. I want to take a lot of what I saw in Japan and apply it to my life and maybe the lives of others as well. Leaving Japan will be incredibly sad, everything I saw here I loved. I am not happy about going home, the good thing is Japan will always be here.

Thank you to Japan for being more than I ever wanted you to be and constantly amazing me with your beauty and excitement and contradictory lifestyles. You are amazing and we will meet again.

That’s it for me, this is Doug signing off.

Oyasuminasai.

– DAK

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Day 12, Shinagawa, rain, rain, go away, no seriously, you made your point.

Anyone who is going to read my blog today expecting my typical very very long and detailed blog should probably walk away, because you won’t be happy about my post today. The crazy downpours from Osaka to Tokyo stopped me from pretty much doing anything, so overall the entire day was a wash, both literally and figuratively. Walking around was a nightmare and since Tokyo isn’t like Kyoto or Osaka and doesn’t have those covered outdoor malls, Tokyo really becomes shut down when it rains this much. I have some stuff to talk about but it’s probably 10% of a normal post for me. I’ll try artificially increasing the length of it but I can’t promise anything. Here goes nothing, sorry in advance…

I wake up in Osaka and have to pack up because I know I need to catch a train back to Tokyo. I don’t know why but it has rained every single day I moved from one city to another. It makes getting to new places very difficult and annoying. I realized the day was off to an ominous note with the weather being what it was especially coming off yesterday which had the most beautiful weather I’ve seen since I’ve been in Japan. I get up and hop on Skype to talk to my mom and dad since we had planned on doing that before I left for Tokyo. I’m only on about 5 hours of sleep since the blog kept me up super late the night before and I had to do my part 1 of packing that I always do the night before I leave.

I’m on Skype and it’s a good phone/video call. I am really tired though, I keep yawning and since it’s video, I get busted each time by my mom but it’s ok, I’m on 5 hours of sleep, it would be weird if I didn’t yawn. My parents tell me they love the blog and how everyone they told about it keeps reading it (sorry about today’s blog everyone). My dad tells me that he loves reading the stories, and in an he attempts to tell me a story about what’s been happening to him recently. He tells me that he was on his deck trying to swat a bug with his glasses in his hand and accidently jams himself in the nostril with the glasses. It’s a funny story, but about 4 hours later on the train I randomly burst out laughing thinking about it. If you know my dad, you know he has some klutz tendencies. There was one incident once while we were eating dinner on the deck that you had to be there for, I almost peed my pants laughing and as I write this, I laugh out loud at the thought of it, oh man.

Anyways, sorry for the tangent. I pack up my stuff and leave my hostel and walk outside and yup, pouring rain. Not light rain, not torrential, somewhere in between. Not the kind of weather that you want to be in. It rained like this when I was in Shinjuku last time but this is more persistent and colder and heavier rain. I see that place Festival Gate across the street that I talked about yesterday, I am really considering going in there since it’s abandoned but open but the weather stopped this from happening.

I get on the train at the station near my hostel and head to the main station in Osaka to catch the JR rail to Tokyo. I am not sure if I did this right but I took a JR train from Osaka to Kyoto to then go from Kyoto to Tokyo. I’m not sure if there was a direct from Osaka to Tokyo but it’s ok, it worked out, I’m here in Tokyo. Anyways, backing up the story a bit, before getting on the train I pick up this bento box for breakfast/lunch…

Hmm, lets see…rice of course with black sesame seeds. Not sure what that thing on top was, I don’t remember it being great. Next to it was what tasted like bbq pork which was great. The purple thing above it that I thought was a fish cake wasn’t a fish cake, it was some sort of root vegetable. Next to the pork was a sweet potato, carrot, random bean (I didn’t like it so I’m assuming it’s the same bean in the steamed bun I hated from last week), string bean, and some picked items. Oh, the red cap on the bottom was a mini soy sauce. The fish there was great, I don’t know what kind of fish it was though. It had the bones still in it so it was fun standing up with chopsticks trying to get the meat from the bones. I am happy to report I did it successfully though, thank you very much.

My drink was a hot green tea. I love that hot tea comes in bottles here and the bottle itself is warm. I put it in my back pocket since I didn’t have any free hands so my buns were kept warm like on a toilet…

I eat all of this before getting on the train because i would actually eat this stuff standing up that trying to eat it on the train where space is very limited, especially in the non-reserved section that I sit in. I get on the train and much to my surprise, I get a seat with an open seat next to me for my luggage. I snapped a picture of me and the train behind me from the seat I’m talking about.

I tried this picture several times, I love that one of the times there was a guy walking down the aisle and actually looked right into the camera.

Say cheese! You’re now on a blog that is read by about 5 people a day!

At the first station, the person sitting alone in the section next to me leaves. This is a set of two seats compared to the set of 3 seats I’m in right now. It’s 3 and 2 all the way up and down the train as far as how many seats there are. I took over his seat and sat next to the window and gave the other seat to my luggage. I would’ve moved it if someone needed it but no one ever did, thankfully, cause my luggage is mighty big!

I snapped a few more pictures on the train and even a video, very similar to one from last week.

I really love reflection pictures. The one from last week came out better but this one shows the ugly weather built up on the outside of the window.

Ok, so here is the story behind this picture. A mom and her daughter were walking on the train to get some food, and while they were gone, I snapped this picture. I wanted to show how big their cell phones are. Everyone has cell phones this big. All of Japan’s technology is getting smaller and smaller yet for some reason their cell phones remain huge, they look like the cell phones did in America in 1999! I look over peoples shoulders from time to time to see if the phone itself is special with some crazy futuristic technology and it doesn’t appear so. I must be missing something, this is Japan, the technology capital of the world, how are their cell phones so dated? I do see some iPhones from time to time, I vomit a little each time I see them.

I know I took a similar video of this the other day but my blog is light today so I’m filling it up. Besides, I think this video gives off a better sense of the speed of the train.

I know I took a similar video of this the other day but my blog is light today so I’m filling it up. Besides, I think this video gives off a better sense of the speed of the train.

Ok, I get back to Tokyo and to my surprise, the train stops right at the station I need to get off. I don’t need to transfer at all, tada, I’m there! I try following the instructions that I got from hostelworld.com to find my hostel and of course the directions are horrible. It’s raining like crazy and I have my luggage and I’m getting lost and not having fun at all. This didn’t improve at all once I found my hostel. The hostel by the way was about 15 mins from the train, not convenient at all. Strike 1 of about 40 this hostel currently has, and counting.

To be fair, I’ve never stayed in a hostel. The hotel in Osaka was a hostel but it was basically a hotel with nothing at all about it resembling a hostel other than the fact that it’s on hostelworld.com. I get the hostel because I am told it’s something I needed to do. I got a private room which isn’t very hostel like of me to do but I don’t care, it’s not like being in a room with others would’ve made me enjoy this anymore.

I get to the hostel and have to take off my shoes. This part I’m ok with and actually want to start this rule in my own apartment. It’s official, anyone coming into my apartment has to take off their shoes. I will provide sandals and flip flops to anyone who comes over. I’m not going to start turning Japanese but there are some Japanese cultural traditions I plan on starting in my life like drinking tea, using chopsticks, being more dedicated to what I am doing in my life, putting eggs on noodles and rice!

Ok, back to the hostel. I get here and the guy at the lobby is out to lunch for an hour so I wait. Yes, this is strike 2. He gets back and he shows me to my room, after me paying 200 Yen for a US adapter for my computer (something the hostel in Osaka gave me for free) and 200 more Yen for a towel (something my last hostel gave me for free as well). Strike 3, yes, we are going to go well beyond 3, trust me. Here is my Japanese prison cell…I mean hostel room…

Yes, this is my entire room. I don’t know why my voice is so high pitched, maybe it’s because of the shock knowing that I am staying here and not a hotel in Ikebukuro instead. Eh, I’m in a real hostel so at least now when I say I hate hostels and they aren’t for me, people will know I am saying that from experience.

Here is my full length mirror. Strike 48.

The bathroom is public, which for the record I didn’t even have when I was in college, even my dorm had private bathrooms. I’ve been holding off on peeing for the longest time because now I need to prepare to do that and make sure I am wearing pants since I have to walk around other people. I’m not looking forward to showering in the public shower. I was thinking of sneaking into a hotel pool around here and using theirs when no one is looking, I’m still thinking about it. The heater barely works. My bed and pillow are my desk seat. The one thing I do like is that it looks Japanese, and the low bed does seem very culturally accurate for what I think about when I picture a Japanese living situation. Ok, that was just me finding a silver lining in all of this.

I immediately want to leave the hostel so I put on my rain jacket and head to the train station. It’s still pouring but it’s ok, I didn’t want to see the hostel anymore. The train is annoyingly far away from the hostel so I am determined to find a shortcut. Unfortunately in my attempt to find a shortcut I hit a dead end but this is after walking for 15 mins. I am angry with myself for being stubborn and thinking that the hostel directions weren’t the best ones. I shouldn’t have done this and I walked a lot more than I should have and got soaked as my Karma payback.

After a long walk which basically puts me back to where I started, I get stuck behind a train crossing.

You gotta believe me when I say it took 15 mins for all the trains to stop crossing and the gates to finally go up. Standing in the rain while this happened was awesome!

I FINALLY get back to the train station and get on board. I really don’t know what I plan on doing tonight, so I just head to Shinjuku assuming just walking around there will be awesome and I can’t really go wrong with it. It’s like Tokyo’s Dōtonbori but a lot more unsavory. I get there and it’s soaking wet, walking anywhere I get drenched in seconds. I duck back into the train station because I am starving and need a snack. Thinking I will be in Shinjuku longer, I just get some sweets to hold me over. I go to the food area in the train station (remember, the food courts in the train stations are amazing out here!) and I find a snack store. I get the following items…

A green tea doughnut.

A Japanese scone the size of my hand!

See, it’s a scone inside.

I know, it says New York, but I don’t see what is New York about green and red apple tea, unless the apples were from New York which is very likely actually.

All of this was 400 Yen, about $4.25! I love how much I get out here for so little!
I sat down to eat all of this, but that was not easy. I know I said that finding a garbage can in Japan was pretty much impossible, and it is, but finding an actual place to sit down anywhere is even more difficult. I really think that Japan wants to keep people up and active and never sit down. This is why people are always moving, they have no where to stop. I wanted to sit down so I can take pictures of all the food I got, instead I sit on the floor in the train station eating it. I did take a picture showing you that I’m sitting in a hallway eating like an animal.

The chairs you see in this picture belonged to a restaurant, I couldn’t sit in them.

I finish up these snacks and prepare myself to brave the elements for as long as I can. I decide to walk the streets of Shinjuku. Unlike Kyoto and Osaka, the streets here are never covered so it’s rain all the time. I walk around a bit, basically following the neon lights and droves of people. I snap some pictures to show you how unbelievably dismal it is out there.

You would think I’d be used to this living in Japan and I think I am but this is vacation, I don’t want to be used to rain on a vacation.

I stop to get a bite to eat because I am pretty sure I’m heading back for an early night. I know that Shinagawa has no good like all of the cities I’ve been in so far have had so I need to eat in Shinjuku. I want to make it quick and cheap and look at this, this entire meal was 250 Yen, about $2.65!

More beef strips on rice with onions and miso in the background. Oh, what’s weird is I went to a mall in Richmond, British Columbia and it was an Asian mall with Asian stores and Asian restaurants. All of the restaurants gave you tea instead of water. Asking for water was offensive. For some reason in Japan, it’s about 50/50 on the places that give me water and give me tea. I complained in Richmond about only getting tea but here in Japan I wish I got more of it!

Ok, as it gets darker, it’s only getting uglier out…

The clouds are very low and I can’t believe this picture doesn’t have raindrops in it. I tried taking it quick so my camera wouldn’t get wet and I guess I did a good job. I was wet, luckily the camera was saved.

Umbrellas, a familiar site.

Ok, so I tried, I tried my best to stay out tonight but mother nature was being an absolute jerk. I decide this is enough, I had to go back to Shinagawa. I realize that Tokyo today is like a vacation to Hawaii with rain, all you can do is stay inside and play board games only me staying inside is horrible because I’m in a room where I can touch both side walls at once when I stretch out my arms.

On the way back, I try stopping at the very few things there is to do in Shinagawa. As you can see, I tried making the most of this night, I really truly did.

The Shinagawa train station. Since it is a big business area of Tokyo, the train station definitely is really really nice looking. There is the bright spot when it comes to Shinagawa.

On the way back to my hostel, I see the Prince Hotel which is a big hotel with a mall/entertainment complex attached to it. It’s indoors so you know I have to stop there just to get out of the rain and actually be able to do stuff.

This is one of the entrances for the Prince Hotel.

Here is the main entrance to the mall part of the Prince Hotel.

Of course there is a bowling alley in this entertainment complex. It’s so interesting, arcades and bowling alleys, two things that died a long time ago in America are still huge in Japan. I’m happy they are still big out here, they might be the only country keeping these things afloat!

This is a carousel in the Epson Aqua Stadium, a complex with a restaurant, aquarium, and a concert hall. This was inside the Prince Hotel mall, very impressive to have this inside of a mall that also has a huge movie theater and the bowling alley. All inside of a hotel, very impressive. It makes me so excited to walk back to my hostel.

This is a stain glass window in the Prince Hotel lobby.

This is my reaction to the rain, and the lack of things I was able to do today because of it, and also because I had to go back to the hostel for the night.

As the icing on the cake that was today, I was stopped again in the rain for about 15 mins by that dumb train crossing. Grr...

That’s it for today. I guess I ranted enough to make this a decent size blog post which is impressive because I barely did anything today.

So here is tomorrows forecast…

So now I’m trying to figure out the indoor activities I can do in Tokyo tomorrow. Luckily I did everything in Tokyo I wanted to do last week, so now I can do stuff I didn’t think about, like go to an aquarium, art museum, or if I feel like heading out to Yokohama, I can see the ramen museum. That would be two food museums since I went to the takoyaki museum in Osaka. Either way, no more trying to brave the elements like I did tonight if the weather is anything like it was today. Ok, time to go to bed. I wonder if I’ll get bread and water in the morning like in prison. Actually, I bet you here they’d charge for it, at least in prison it’s free!

Oyasuminasai.

– DAK

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Day 11, Osaka, you definitely proved me wrong!

I liked talking about the Japanese game show last night to start my blog so I think I’ll do it again tonight. This time I’m watching something that isn’t a game show, instead, it’s one of the many English language TV shows they have on out here. This one in particular is interesting since they are using cartoon characters to talk to real people. Oh, and while this is happening, there is a little box in the corner with people watching this as we watch it. I don’t know why but Japan loves showing people watching the very thing we are watching, it’s weird. It’s a little but like “Being John Malkovich”.

Ok, now for today. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do today, originally I had planned to go to Spa World, the onsen right near my hotel and I was planning on being there all day. I quickly decided against this when I realized that it would have involved being naked in front of other men in a hot spring and even though the Japanese are completely cool with that, I don’t think I was so I changed my plans. Today was going to be rough, I didn’t get to bed until 4:30am thanks to the late night I had in Dōtonbori and then coming home and working on the blog which takes quite a while, I just had to fight the tired like I have been since I got here, I can sleep in a few days when I’m home.

I get up surprisingly easy even though I only got about 6 hours of sleep but I think that’s because my body is getting used to that type of schedule. Before I leave for the day, since it’s the first morning I am in my hotel, I decide to take some pictures of the view from my window…

Yes, it definitely looks a bit like a slum, especially with the roofs of the houses right outside my window.

This is another picture out of my window, all the way in the back right of the original picture. This is of Tobita Shinchi, the largest brother in Western Japan. Apparently it’s like Amsterdam.

I leave my apartment and get on the train and I realize that it’s been a week and a half that I have been out in Japan without showing you the beauty of their train system. Here it is in pictures…

First you find the train you will be taking. Then, you see the part that shows “O 1~8”? That part is explained in the next picture...

You look for the circles for numbers 1-8. This means that the train you want has the doors opening up at those locations. It’s great for knowing just where to be when the train gets there, this helps improve efficiency which is why the Japanese freak out when their train is 30 seconds late, because they really never are!

Each track in each station has it’s own speaker system. When you hear this song playing on yours, it either means a train is on it’s way or the one in the station is about to leave. It plays for a while to make sure everyone has enough notice before something happens.

The trains here are amazing and the above are just two reasons why. I really enjoy taking the trains here and since it was my main mode of transportation, I’m thrilled the Japanese have perfected this system as much as they have. I didn’t even discuss the ticket system to even get on the train, this is amazing as well!

Oh, I didn’t even tell you where I am taking the train to. Since I decide to skip out on the onsen, I decide to counteract the amazing nightlife of Osaka with a bit of it’s own history by seeing the Osaka Castle, “the heart of Osaka”. This is an amazing complex and it’s huge with a lot to see. I spent several hours here and have the pictures to prove it. Here they are, be prepared for a lot of pictures with a lot of comments.

This is an architects model of the entire Castle Osaka area.

Osaka has SOOO many cats. Here was one just randomly lying around in the park near Castle Osaka. These are all rogue cats, I never see any owners anywhere around. They are the property of Osaka I guess.

This is the train that takes you around the entire park. I was nervous seeing a train because they would only have that if there was a ton of ground to cover. I was right, there was a ton of ground to cover but I took my time and did it all.

Just continuing my new found love of photographing flowers. There are a few more of these pics you’ll see later on. I really loved the depth of the next few pictures.

Ok, so there was about 10 people here with huge camera photographing nothing as far as I can tell but they seemed really into it.

I’m not kidding, here is about 10 more in another area of the park with cameras. Keep these people away from children please.

This is the moat and huge stone wall outside of the Castle Osaka. You can see the castle in the background.

Taken from the bridge over the moat looking at what is being called Osaka 21st Century. It’s Osaka re-inventing itself as a modern town with huge skyscrapers. I think they want to rival Tokyo.

More people taking pictures. I count at least 20 in this picture bringing the total to about 40. It has to be a photography club of some sort.

So peaceful with people having picnics under the trees right outside of the castle entrance.

More people having a picnic, this time under a cherry blossom that is still lingering around even though the season is ending quick.

A close up of a cherry blossom. I love the depth in this picture, thank you very much macro mode on my camera!

My breakfast. This was some sort of melon/lime ice drink. It was surprisingly warm today in Osaka and I had on too many layers, this felt very very nice cooling me down from the inside out. One of the best things about being alone on this trip is if I get sweaty, no one gets to deal with it but me!

This is a picture of the Hōkoku Shrine which is located immediately outside of the castle gates.

I felt a little creepy taking a picture of someone else taking a picture but look how cool this is, how can I not take a picture of this? Watching him get into position was awesome.

Ok, I spent quite some time in the area outside of the Castle Osaka, it was time to enter the castle grounds.

These huge stones to the left and the right of the entrance are said to have images of a dragon and a tiger appear on them when it rains. It was sunny so i couldn’t see if this was true but I really really want to believe it is.

This was random. This is the Osaka City Museum and I could’ve taken this picture in America and no one would be the wiser. To see this very unique design literally next to the Castle Osaka was quite a sight.

Here is the base of the castle. It’s amazing after seeing so many temples and shrines this week to now seeing a castle. It’s a whole different idea. Seeing the moat and walls for protection, this is much much different than all of the religious items I've been seeing.

Here she is, the Castle Osaka. Quick back story on this place. It was originally destroyed in the siege of Osaka in 1615, then it was rebuilt in 1620, then lightning destroyed most of the castle in 1660 and the rest of it in 1665. In 1843 after raising money, the castle was repaired. In 1868 the civil conflicts surrounding the Meiji Restoration burned it to the ground. It was rebuilt in 1928 only to be destroyed again in 1945 due to bombing raids. In 1995 the Osaka government approves it to be rebuilt as a museum. In 1997 the rebuild is complete, it is now a complete reproduction of it’s original design based on photographs. The inside of the castle isn’t a castle, it’s a museum. I really hope they rebuilt it for the last time.

This is me next to the castle overlooking the moat. With this kind of design, I can’t believe anyone was able to get into this place. The walls must be 100 feet high and completely smoothed and flat.

This is me failing at taking a picture. It’s ok, the angle wasn’t good anyways.

Here we are inside the castle. It’s weird, you go from something that is a full on castle on the outside but since the entire building is only 13 years old and was rebuilt as a museum, the inside seems to totally conflict with the outside.

Some really cool stuff in the museum though. It had a very modern art feel to it. I love the orange railings, very Japanese temple like. Also, this museum is 8 floors going all the way to the top of the castle. You can take the elevator or walk it, I walked it.

A recreation of the siege of Osaka battle that destroyed the castle.

Here is a close-up side view of that scene. I love this angle, besides the very white ground, there is some odd realism to this picture.

I love that Japan still uses holograms to tell stories. I guess this tech didn’t fade away here like it did in America. It’s still as hokey as ever, I love it!

I make my way to the top floor where you can walk out on the balcony and get a great view of the city from this central point. One of the good things about this being rebuilt with the inside not being a castle is they can make it more tourist friendly than it would’ve been as an actual castle inside and out.

This is the Tsutenkaku Tower I walked by yesterday, the one that made me think Osaka was dirty and ugly. You will see this again later on in today’s blog.

Here is a zoom-in on the 8th floor viewing area from the courtyard just outside the castle itself.

I tried spending as much time as I can in the castle because it is such an amazing history that I couldn’t pull myself away. I finally did and continue to walk around the property of the Osaka Castle Park.

They have a peach and plum grove on the park grounds. They are just starting to blossom but you can see this peach is slowly growing. This is my favorite flower picture of the day even though it’s not technically a flower.

As I walk away from the castle, I see it peeking over the trees and just had to take a last photo op.

Right on the edge of the park where the castle is, this is the Osaka-Jo Hall. One of the many music venues Osaka has to offer.

This is a shot of the river next to the Osaka-Jo Hall.

By now I'm getting hungry. I see a Subway, which is also the first one I've seen out here, and I realize even if I got the teriyaki sandwich, they have that in America so nope, I pass on this. I do want to try a KFC before I leave but that’s because like McDonalds, they made a Japanese flavored menu.

I made my way into the Panasonic Center (I’ll give you a high five if you can guess what it’s named after) because there is a full on food court here. Not a food court of Sbarro and TCBY, but a food court with full restaurants. I find one with this on the picture menu out front and it looks so delicious. Tuna with seaweed, rice, and egg on top. Very simple but very delicious. It was also one of the few times I’ve had fish on this trip so I didn’t want to pass that up.

I leave the restaurant but before I leave the building I snap this picture. If I told you this was a library you’d believe me. Apparently they were having a book sale in the main floor area of the Panasonic Center.

I love this picture. It’s a picture of the entire Panasonic Center and the Fujitsu building right in front of it. Two huge companies are located on the same street.

Ok, so after the hours I’ve spent in this part of town. I decide to head to my hotel for a bit of a break. I also love how I went from the slums of Osaka yesterday to the crazy amazing nightlife last night and now to the major downtown areas of today. Osaka definitely has it all.

As I am walking home, I see a Family Mart selling these triangle rice ball things I had the other day. They are on sale for only 88 Yen! I paid 105 the other day, you better believe I was getting one of these. This one is salmon flavored. Mental note, I NEED to make these when I get home and just keep them in the fridge for snacks.

I get back to my hotel and spend about an hour here, watching some Japanese television and messing around on the computer. I may have even used the bathroom and enjoy the heated seats.
I leave my hotel and head out for the night. You can probably guess where. I don’t repeat things on this vacation but Dōtonbori definitely gets a second run through.

As I walk around, I see the Tsutenkaku Tower from yesterday but this time it’s lit up. I love that Hitachi saw this tower as a chance to advertise. I guess space is a premium out here with all of the neon taking up most available space.

This is Spa World, the onsen I was going to go to today and decided not to.

Interesting story, across the hall from this is a place called Festival Gate. This is where the roller coaster I saw from yesterday is located. The roller coaster never ran so I was curious about it. I looked into it and apparently the place opened up in the 90’s. It was funded by the city of Osaka and ran by a private company. The private company went bankrupt and the park closed. It’s been closed for about 10 years but they haven’t destroyed it. So, right now, there is pretty much a ghost town amusement part sitting in the middle of Osaka. I hear you can go in there since it’s still open and even cleaned on a daily basis but I didn’t get a chance to. That would’ve been an amazing ghost town.

I continue the walk to the train to go to Dōtonbori and when I get out of the station, I see about 30 kids practicing break dancing.

I knew break dancing was still big in Japan, I'm happy I actually got to see it myself.

He’s spinning on his head!

I continue walking to Dōtonbori and see some stuff along the away, time for pictures with captions…

Walking out out the train station, some great art installations to look at like this long lit up wall...

...and whatever this is.

This is the grass covered elevated bridge crossing over the Dōtonbori River. I came back to a few repeat areas from yesterday, but one in particular requires some explaining. Remember this...

Well apparently, this is a part of town designed for foreigners such as myself. The official name is Amerikamura but it's known locally as American Village.

They were playing Taylor Swift and Rihanna just before I started filming.

After going through Amerikamura, I make the walk over to Dōtonbori. I know Osaka is known for it’s food and I saw that with my own two eyes yesterday. Tonight, I plan on showing that to my stomach but eating all of the food I can while I’m here. I want to have everything Osaka is famous for. I start with a restaurant that I read about several days ago but knew for sure I wanted to go to after my friend Rob also mentioned it.

Sex Machine! Yup, that’s the name of it. The reason this place is so popular is because they only use Japanese beef and only prime cuts. I ordered the prime short ribs. It wasn’t cheap but hell, I'm in Japan, who cares?

Here is the little grill I will be using to cook my food.

Here is the AMAZING Japanese prime short rib that I will be cooking.

Here it is cooking. I’m trying my best Bobble Flay impersonation because since I'm cooking it, I don’t want to ruin it. I gotta be a grill master!

Here is the final product. A little rare in the middle, absolutely perfect. The chef who was making sure I didn’t over cook it gave me a thumbs up!

Here is the best picture I can get to show you the inside of the short rib. I can’t even put into words how delicious this meal was. Besides the cowboy rib-eye I had on my 25th birthday with my parents, the first steak I had in about 13 years, this has to be up there with that as far as best things I ever ate.

Sadly I knew that I was just beginning my night of food and I started it off on a really high note with those short ribs though, tough seeing what can be better than this! Here are some more glamour shots of Dōtonbori between eating.

This building is crazy. It’s called Namba HIPS. It’s a leisure building with a golf studio, a gym, a restaurant, and a Pachinko parlor. Also, see that hole on the side of the building? Yea, there is a free fall ride down from the top to the bottom. Only in Japan!

Another fugu restaurant. I didn’t need to go in, me and Rob took care of this already.

This clown is the Kuidaore Ningyo and was installed in 1950. Sumo wrestlers each year at the big sumo tournament would line up in front of it for pictures. The restaurant it was built to stand in front of is no longer there and now this clown is set to be demolished as well. Very sad, it’s basically a mascot of Dōtonbori.

Here is the next food place I went to, this is the view right on to Dōtonbori.

I got my gyoza here. I put some sesame chili oil to spice it up a bit, so freakin good! This is now the second thing I ate tonight, continuing to eat what Osaka is known for.

I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I take a picture of it anyways.

The Glico Man. Glico is like Nestle or Hershey in Japan.

The giant size billboard neon Glico Man.

Look at all of those bikes! Dōtonbori is jam packed on a Wednesday. This place is crazy like Times Square but Times Square is 90% tourists at all times, where Dōtonbori is pretty much all local kids. It’s amazing how it doesn’t matter the night of the week, this place is packed to the brim!

This huge monstrosity that from the side I thought was a ferris wheel is standing over a store that you would think would be amazing to warrant this but nope, just a food store.

This is the actually beautiful recently redesigned Dōtonbori River promenade. It’s so nice and even romantic even with all of the neon all over the place.

Here is the next stop on my Osaka food adventure. You know I had to have takoyaki! This one was really cool though. Same as I head yesterday in that shrimp chip sandwich type thing except this one had an...

...egg! You can’t see it but it’s under the scallions. This was soo good. I love the crunchiness of the shrimp chip bread type thing and the puffed rice. I loved this because I could walk with it.

Last on my list of things to eat was dessert. I had found this really nice outdoor cafe near the Hatch and decided to go there. I loved the idea of eating outside in a really nice cafe so this was a no-brainer.

This is the place from the front.

Keeping with the Japanese theme, I got a piece of green tea cake. It was surprisingly good. I say surprisingly not because of the green tea but because I'm not a big cake person.

After this, I head home. In almost 36 hours, Osaka went from being a place I regretted coming to, to a place I’m going to be really sad to leave in the morning. I kinda fell in love with this place really really quickly. It began feeling very much a home in less than 2 days. I was not expecting this at all and I was so happy to have come here and experienced this electric, eccentric, and lively town. I will be heading to Tokyo in the morning and that will be so much fun, it will be like returning home! That happened to Rob when he came back to Tokyo and I can easily see that happening for me as well. I can’t wait but also I can wait because after Tokyo, I leave on Saturday. Ok, let’s not talk about that, I don’t want to believe it’s happening.

Oyasuminasai.

– DAK

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Day 10, Osaka, a mixed bag.

As I begin writing today’s blog, I want to note that I am currently watching a Japanese game show in Japanese with no English and I am trying my best to figure out what is happening. I am actually happy I don’t know for sure what is happening, it’s even more insane this way. To give you a hint of what’s happening, there are two teams of two and they are eating Japanese curry and then dancing and answering a questions and one player gets an electric shock if they answer the question wrong. Now they are doing impersonations of what I can only imaging are famous Japanese celebrities. Now they are eating pizza and Italian people are giving them scores. I’m not sure what the scoring is based on but I don’t think that really matters. Oh, also they are taking shots making bets on whether it’s water or alcohol. Yes, it makes as much sense reading what I wrote as it is for me watching this. Ok, now to today’s blog.

It was weird starting today after having the best overall day of the trip yesterday, I just knew that no matter what happened today, that it wouldn’t be as good as yesterday. Combine this with the fact that I know nothing about Osaka other than the fact that it is supposed to have the best food in Japan, and today was starting off rather auspiciously.

I packed up the night before and finished packing this morning before I had to check out of my hotel. Here is what it looks like when I’m ready to leave…

Oh, remember that drink I bought the other day from the vending machine and didn’t realize it was carbonated until after I bought it? Remember how I was going to let it sit out for several days and let it get flat so I can finally drink it?

I tried letting it go flat but not enough time passed, it was still fizzy so I threw it out. What a shame, it smelled delicious!

I leave my hotel and navigate the streets and subway to connect to the JR station in Kyoto. I need to figure out how to get on the train that goes to Osaka. This is the train you don’t want to miss because it’s not like a subway around town, these are trains that go far. Although, Osaka is only about a 30 minute train ride from Kyoto so this wouldn’t have been horrible but still, no fun missing a train or getting on the wrong one.

I finally get on the train and unlike the one from Tokyo to Kyoto, this one is basically a subway so I end up standing the entire ride. Not the fancy long distance train I took the other day, that’s for sure!
After a bit of confusion in the Osaka station trying to figure out what I need to do to get to the part of town where my hostel was, I get to my station. The first thing I see is this…

I should’ve known right away that Osaka wasn’t going to be the normal town.

I get to my hotel and this is my first hostel of the trip. Now before you think to yourself that I’m in a room with 4 other people, that’s not the case. I decided to make my hostel like a hotel and I got a single with a bathroom in the room. I know, it’s barely a hostel at that point but the price is definitely a hostel price! It was also voted best hostel in Osaka so I knew I was in good hands. Here is the room, very dorm like…

This toilet has the heated seats, I missed those very much while in Kyoto. This one is almost too warm, I want my buns toasted not burnt!

The front of the Hotel Chuo Oasis, my home for the next two nights.

Before I start talking about my day in Osaka, I should have you know that I know nothing about Osaka. I’m not even really sure why I booked this part of the trip. Everyone says the food is amazing, there is even a famous proverb “Dress (in kimonos) till you drop in Kyoto, eat till you drop in Osaka”. I honestly thought Osaka would be some historical smaller town similar to Kyoto.

I put my stuff down on the floor and bed and don’t spend too much time here, just enough to figure out if I have Internet which clearly I do. I am very hungry at this point and considering Osaka is the major food part of my trip, I can’t waste any time. I go to the lobby and ask where the best food is and they say Dōtonbori, the same place Rob said so I knew that I was immediately going to this part of town, once I find it that is.

My hostel is in a part of town that while it’s not horrible, it’s near some iffy areas and unfortunately, to get to the places I want to go, I need to walk through some sketchy parts of Osaka. I can’t wait to get to Dōtonbori so I get a quick snack at a 7/11. This won’t fill me, it’s just to sustain the walk I have ahead of me.

Ok so this was rice with chicken and carrots with some noodles and vegetables and fried chicken with pickled ginger. Pretty good and cheap and light so it didn’t fill me for the day. Just gave me energy to keep on walking.

After I eat this, I am stopped in my tracks after seeing this…

This combination of two Japanese traditions begs the question, what do the Japanese love more, Cup of Noodle or vending machines? I guess when both are combined into one, you don’t really need to answer that question.

I start walking up towards Dōtonbori instead of taking the train even though the train is free since it’s all part of the JR system. I like seeing the sites along the way, I just hope it works out that the areas are actually nice to look at.

More of the outdoor covered malls I'm seeing all over Japan.

The difference with this outdoor mall and the other ones is that this one is ghetto with a capital G. At this point, I am instantly regretting leaving Kyoto or not booking Tokyo for now instead of waiting till Thursday for that.

It doesn’t get any better when this tower is a landmark, the Tsutenkaku Tower, in all it’s glory.

I’m feeling a little sad by Osaka so far, so I eat, and I get this snack. Basically a Milano cookie. Very good and it soothes me for a bit.

Next thing I see is this, a videogame store. This is actually very rare, I never see any videogame stores. Yes I know that’s shocking considering I’m in Japan but I’m blown away by how difficult it is all over Japan to find a store selling videogames. I’m not sure how they are so big if no one can walk into a store easily and find one. Anyways, I spend about 2 hours in this store since I think Osaka has nothing to offer me. I even managed to almost beat a game on one of those display units (Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was really good on super easy mode).

This isn’t even out in the US yet, I want it very very very badly. I would’ve bought it but it won’t work with US games. Very smart Nintendo. As soon as it’s released, I'm buying it. I don’t care if I have 2 Wii’s, I need to get the black one!

I finally pull myself out of this store and muster up the energy to continue on my way to Dōtonbori. I keep wondering how good can this place be, I have 2 full days in Osaka after all. I finally get there and the area around it is definitely alive and well. Not sketchy at all, all of a sudden it’s like someone turned the lights on in Osaka. There are people, a great energy, and lots and lots of places to get food.

The entrance to Dōtonbori. There is so much on the other side of that gate, it’s amazing.

Yea, it’s definitely an eccentric part of town.

Ok, so this is more takoyaki. Apparently Osaka is the takoyaki capitol of the world. As you read the rest of the blog, you will see this is most definitely true. The above picture is two takoyaki balls with the mayonnaise and rice krispie type rice all inside what tasted like a shrimp toast taco. It was fantastic.

I have no idea what’s going on with this hotel, but it’s definitely worthy of a picture.

If I was to count all of the love hotels I've seen so far on this trip, I'd guess it’s somewhere around 200 or so. There is about 5 on this street alone.

I really really really wanted to say something bad about this Apple store, like I did the other day when I saw one in Akihabara but I can’t, thanks to this Apple store and it’s free Wi-Fi, I was able to sit outside of it and get online on my phone for the first time since I left Seattle.

Just a big mall, nothing to see here, moving on.

Hopefully you can see what’s on top of that building, it’s lady liberty herself. I don’t know why but when it comes to Japan, I try not to ask why.

See those six balls on that building, yep, that’s takoyaki. Like I said, Osaka loves it’s takoyaki.

They call this “the Hatch”. I don’t know why, hold on, let me Google it…ah ok, it’s a concert hall. I guess the concerts happen about 100 feet up in the air inside of that thing, very cool!

The Hatch sits directly next to the Dōtonbori canal which is next to the cleverly named Dōtonbori.

These guys were fishing in the Dōtonbori canal, yea I'm not eating anything they are catching.

Ok, after having my thoughts on Osaka change 100% for the positive, I decide to head back to the hotel and take a bit of a break. Thanks to the free and unlimited JR pass and pretty much everything in Osaka being on the JR system, it’s so easy to get around whenever you want. So going back to my hotel is easy peasy. My JR pass expires on Thursday so I gotta enjoy it while I can.

Anyways, on the way back to my hotel, I change my mind about heading back there. Instead, I switch trains in Nishikujō and head to Universal City. Yup, that’s right, Universal Studios Japan is only about 5 minutes outside of Osaka and a stop on the JR line. This is also where I prove that Osaka is the takoyaki capitol of the world, you’ll see…

Before I get to the Universal Studios pictures, this guy is doing a no-no. This car on this train is for ladies only. He is asleep with nothing but women surrounding him wondering why he doesn’t realizes he’s on a ladies only car. The reason there are ladies only cars in Japan is that train groping is actually a big issue over there, this was their way of fixing that situation. I hope it worked!

The train I took to get to Universal Studios. I love being a big kid, even in a foreign country!

I really wanted to go on this rollercoaster but...

...admission was 5,000 Yen! After 3pm the price went down but only to 4,200 Yen. Basically it costs $45-$55 to get into this place, that’s absurd. Six Flags Great Adventure which has a ton more to do costs much less! So, I took this picture through the front gates.

This is a zoomed in version of the picture I took from the entrance gates. I don’t know what that backdrop is, I think I see the Flatiron Building.

Ok, now that I see Universal Studios, I move on to the City Walk portion and one thing grabs my attention more than anything else. It’s called proof to something I hypothesized on earlier…

See! Osaka loves takoyaki!

There are about 8 takoyaki food stands in this place.

Yes, there is a takoyaki themed gift shop...

...and takoyaki themed arcade games.

Did you think I'd come here and not get takoyaki even though I already had some earlier today? The prices are so cheap for takoyaki all over Japan, but in America it’s expensive. Oh, the drink is Calpis water, yummmmmy!

I don’t know if this is a gross picture of me about to eat a takoyaki ball but I don’t care, I'm posting it anyways. Note, I'm not actually listening to music, just didn’t take the ear buds out.

That’s it for the takoyaki museum. I think it’s safe to say that no one I know has done this and probably won’t so yay me! Oh and one more thing before I leave Universal Studios…

That is a picture of Shakira in the window of the Hard Rock Cafe. Does anyone else see anything wrong with this? Why even bother having the words “Hard Rock” in the title anymore?

After Universal Studios, I take the train back home and go to my hostel. It’s getting dark out but I want to explore the area south of my hotel. BIG mistake! The area south of my hotel is as close to the slums as I’ve seen in all of Japan. I keep walking into it not sure why I haven’t turned around and I keep saying to myself “I shouldn’t be here”. Eventually I turn around but not until I walked about a mile into this area and now having to turn around and head back. I try putting on a mean face so no one messes with me and since no one did mess with me, I’m going to pretend it was all because of my mean face.

The best part about walking back was finding a vending machine that sold the large size Pocari Sweats for only 100 Yen…

Score!

So I get home and I realize it’s only 9pm and Osaka is a nightlife town. I would’ve kicked myself if I stayed in early after only having 2 days in Osaka to enjoy it. It’s funny saying all of this considering how early in the day I wanted to leave Osaka as fast as I got here. Here are a bunch of pictures from my night out going to Dōtonbori which by the way, is as crazy a place as anywhere I saw in Tokyo and that’s saying a lot!

See, this really does exist and that guy shouldn’t have been there considering what time it was during.

I don’t know what store this was, but I can tell you it’s not a Jewish temple.

This is the Shinsabashisuji outdoor mall. This is the most popular place for kids at night and it also goes on for blocks, like the Nishiki Food Market/Teramichi Street in Kyoto. These malls are so popular in Japan, I guess the weather allows it. This place is really busy also because it crosses over the Dōtonbori.

So now I decide that even though my trip isn’t over yet, I have done over a weeks worth of damage to my body from walking and bike riding and lugging around my luggage from city to city, it’s time to fix this. I know that Osaka is a major onsen city (onsen’s are hot springs in Japan) and also they have some great deals on massages. I go online and find one with great reviews and I go to it. It’s in the Shinsabashisuji mall and it’s 60 mins for 3,980 Yen (about $43). I know that’s a great deal because I know how much an hour massage costs in the US. Also, in Japan you don’t tip or pay tax, it’s all in the prices already so that $43 was the total paid. Here is the place…

This massage was brutal, the guy absolutely destroyed me. I know that the pain is good but I wanted to tell him to stop but I fought through and realized that in my life, I’ve never paid money to be hurt this bad. As I walked away down the street, I almost fell because my body was so relaxed so even though it killed during, afterwards I felt like a new person. The guy was good and it’s making me consider an onsen tomorrow, we’ll see.

After this massage, I casually walk through the Shinsabashisuji mall and the surrounding area and take some pictures of the nightlife…

The weather is perfection!

This is a store in Dōtonbori, good luck pronouncing it correctly.

One of my favorite parts of my days out here, the late night meal. This place is called "Pepper Lunch".

This is basically shabu shabu but instead of cooking the food in water, you cook it on your plate. It was delicious, peppery but delicious with the rice and the corn and the juices it’s sitting in and cooking in at the same time.

Ok, I took a few wrong turns trying to get to the last train of the night but I'm happy I got a little lost, I got to see the Hotel Mickey Cookies with the teddy bear over the entrance!

One final note, I love going into the fast food type restaurants and convenience stores in Japan. In America, the people who work at these places tend to hate their jobs and it shows. Here in Japan, a lot of young people do these jobs that in America they would hate to do but here, they do it and always have a smile on. When they have to wear uniforms, they don’t wear the hat tilted to the side or their shirts un-tucked in, they are always dedicated to their jobs regardless of what it is. Very admirable and hopefully will be some lesson I take home with me.

This was a late night, I didn’t see it coming. When I go to Osaka I wanted to leave and once I was here for a bit, I end up getting on the 12:32am last subway back to my hotel. This was one of those days where you realize you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Osaka is great. Tomorrow will be interesting though, cause I ended up doing so much of Osaka tonight. I think it’s going to be an onsen day, if it is, I won’t have pictures for you all but I’ll have some awkward stories of naked men. Hmm, on second thought, maybe this isn’t a great idea.

Oyasuminasai.

– DAK

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Day 9, Kyoto, all I can say is wow!

Let me start off by saying that if you come to Kyoto and don’t rent a bicycle, you’re insane. After the last few days in Kyoto, I really really enjoyed it here, after today, I now love Kyoto. It’s amazing what a difference the bike made. After the disaster that was yesterday and the miles I put on walking, I knew I couldn’t make the same mistake twice. I woke up, skipped over breakfast and lunch and went right to pick up a bike from the local rental place by 10am. I knew I was going to be covering a lot of ground and wanted to start the day as early as the rental store opened up. Here was my ride for the day…

This is the upgraded model, it cost 1,500 Yen for the day. The base model was 1,000 Yen but I spent the extra for one without a basket case, I’m pretty happy I did. This thing drove amazingly, I want a bike just like this! Also, while on the subject of bicycles, you can buy a bike at a store in Japan for about $50 – $100. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that everyone has a bike in Japan since it’s so ridiculously cheap and easily available. As you continue reading today’s blog, you might not see as many pictures as I’ve normally posted but I tried going for quality over quantity with the pictures I’ve chosen to post today.

I drive around the block for a few mins just to get the hang of the bike and instantly I feel like I’ve been driving this thing for years. Also, without hesitation, I’m crossing right in the middle of streets, going on and off sidewalks, and darting in between the traffic of people on the sidewalks. In just minutes, I went from feeling like a tourist to feeling like a local who has been in Kyoto forever. The sense of familiarity was amazing even though I only knew the places I’ve already been to and everything today was going to be new. I was so happy on this bicycle, I couldn’t contain it.

My first stop was the Kinkakuji Temple. This temple was about 4 miles away and unlike yesterday when it took me about 2 hours to walk 6 miles, this only took me about 20 mins. I knew that of the 4 things I had on my must-see list today, the bike would make sure I saw them all. Knowing that no more time would be wasted walking was exhilarating. Also, the feeling I get from riding a bike is infinitely better than walking, with the wind in my face, and the feeling of owning the road.

Ok, I can talk about how amazing riding a bike in Kyoto felt but I’ll spare you. I get to the Kinkakuji Temple and I need to figure out how to store my bike while I go see the sights. I find where all the bikes are and where I need to park but can’t for the life of me find where to lock up my bike. Turns out in Japan, Kyoto at least, all you do is you lock your back tired to the frame of your bike and that’s it. This boggled my mind that the bike wasn’t locked to anything except itself. I lock it up like everyone else and walk away assuming that when I get back it will be stolen.

Here is the walk to the Kinkakuji Temple from the front gates.

Yes this was my breakfast. I was too excited to stop somewhere and eat so I had a liquid breakfast. This stuff is amazing, it’s like eating an actual orange!

This is the Kinkakuji Temple. It’s called the “Golden Pavilion” and for good reason. The 2nd and 3rd floors are covered with gold-leaf on Japanese lacquer. It’s an amazing sight to behold seeing this gorgeous temple covered in gold sitting on top of a completely still lake. There are times when silence is amazing to hear the world around you but there are times like today when music makes everything better. I forgot the song I had on but everything was clicking, the music, the scenery, it just clicked. This is the first of many times this happened today.

Here is a close up of the gold-leaf so you can see that it really is golden.

These are the stairs leaving the Kinkakuji Temple. Have I mentioned how much the Japanese love their stairs?

After finishing the Kinkakuji Temple, I come back to my bicycle and find it sitting exactly where I left it. Unbelievable, they just don’t have crime out here, whether it be violence or theft. My bike would be gone in the states in 3 mins after I left it unlocked, whether I lock the back tire or not!

As I leave the spectacular Kinkakuji Temple, I plan on going to something called the Path of Philosophy but with the bicycle at my disposal, things just come up that aren’t planned. For example, I saw signs for the Kyoto Botanical Garden and it was a good walk distance away but with the bike, nothing is out of reach. So this is how my list of 4 must-see things in Kyoto grows exponentially and eventually I lose track of how much I did today.

I get to the area near the Kyoto Botanical Garden and it is also near the Kamogawa River, the same river I saw several times a few days ago. The paths on the side of this river look very welcoming so I take the bike and decide to head on over there and relax for a bit along the river with everyone else who is spending their beautiful Monday here.

I wanted to show you what it’s like riding on my bike along side the Kamogawa River directly next to the Kyoto Botanical Gardens.

The cherry blossoms are unfortunately beginning to get out of season for the most part in Japan but there are some still left around that are still very much blossoming. The cherry blossom season is very short, that’s why timing is so important. Unfortunately in mid-April, it’s not the peak anymore so my trip was a tad late but it’s ok, what is still left around is still amazing.

I love that in Japan, you don’t need to ask people to take your picture, they come up to you and insist on it. I can’t say no to that! This lady was meditating by the river and stopped what she was doing to take this picture, such a generous society!

She didn’t take this one, I took this one. I was inspired by the similar picture of my friend Rob. It’s just too good of a picture to pass up on!

After I leave this area, I continue riding around without paying much attention to the map. I figured that no matter where I go, I’d be able to find my way back. I actually started using the Sun to determine my location, it worked, I was able to guess I was heading East because of the Sun’s position in the sky, I was very proud of myself. It’s all these boy scout tricks I learned by never being a boy scout!

After riding through the main campus of Kyoto University, I came to this, the Kyoto Concert Hall.

Easily one of the best surprises of this random route I decided to take was stumbling upon the Kyoto University of Art and Design. We all know that Japan is a very very weird country, now take that weirdness and now think about what the art school students would be. They are normally the out of the box eccentric people to begin with, in Japan they are that to the nth degree. The next few pictures are all from the Kyoto University of Art and Design…

The stairs to get up to the main entrance.

A gigantic umbrella/parasol/bumbershoot next to a pond of water. I’m surprised Seattle doesn’t have one of these.

More stairs. This time, you’re only seeing about 1/10 of all of the stairs I took to get to the top of this campus. I didn’t count but I’m convinced it had to be 400 stairs in total at this campus since it is built into/on a mountain.

I finally get to the top and there is so much going on, it’s difficult to digest it all. The random balloon in the middle with people holding rope attached to it is something I completely didn’t understand.

This is the view from the top of the building. It’s quite the vista you get and it must be incredibly inspiring for the students working a few steps away from where I was taking this picture.

Ok, I think I know what’s going on here. The girl on the left of this picture is where the camera will be, so she's telling the guy down below how to place tape so that from her angle, it looks like a seamless image but from the side it looks like nothing. I’ve seen this before actually, here is a link to show you an example of what I think they’re trying to do (click here).

I walked the several hundred steps to get to the very very top of the mountainside campus of the Kyoto University of Art and Design. It was amazing at the top with all of the kids working on their school projects with the majestic view of Kyoto in the background.

Here is another picture of some more kids taping up the walls to further make me think I'm right about my guess. It must be some school project. If I am right, the amount of time and work involved with setting this up is extremely daunting and impressive.

After seeing all of this, I make the long trek back down the stairs and leave the Kyoto University of Art and Design. I know this isn’t high on the list of things to do in Kyoto but I really recommend it if you have the opportunity. It’s a very modern location in a very historic and traditional city.

After these diversions from my destination, I finally get to the Path of Philosophy. This little gem tucked away behind some busy streets is an incredibly beautiful, quiet and remote walk along a little river with tiny retail and food stores and private residences all along the sides. I get off my bicycle and decide to walk this because it’s too relaxing to fly through on my bike. I want to let the sound of the water guide me along this path.

The colors of the trees and cherry blossoms are magnificent and you really do forget about all the wrongs in the world and anything going on in your life at that moment and just let the tranquility of the path overwhelm you.

After the approximately 30 minute walk through the Path of Philosophy, I make my way towards my next destination. I get a little distracted by a baseball game being played at about 3pm on a Monday by a group of grown men. Doesn’t anyone work around here? What happened with that inhumane Japanese work week I keep hearing so much about?

I stopped to take a picture because I love the fact that you can see the temple that I am on my way to in the top left corner of this picture. Just shows how Kyoto was built around the temples, not the other way around.

I am completely beginning to see the obsession the Japanese have with taking picture of flowers and trees. I almost can’t help myself anymore when I see a flower. Even the youth of Japan do it, that speaks volumes.

Next on my list of must-see places in Kyoto is the Heian Shrine. This was on my must-see list but once I get there, I remember why.

This is me on the bicycle darting through traffic to get this picture.

If this looks familiar to any of you out there, then you get a high-five from me. The second time Charlotte (Scarlet Johannsen) in Lost in Translation visits a temple, she comes here. Unfortunately she said it was a temple but Heian is actually a shrine, whoops!

I love this picture because I turned around and saw EVERYONE with their camera/cell phone out taking pictures of the shrine.

I went into the garden at the Heian Shrine and it is without a doubt the best garden I've seen in all of Japan. It’s huge and gets more and more beautiful as you walk through it all. The water is crystal clear, you can see the bottom and the fish chasing each other.

From where I took this picture, it looks completely fake because nothing can be this perfect, but I was wrong, this can.

Here is the waterfall that filters into the several ponds that are located throughout the Heian Shrine garden.

Here they are, the steps made famous (to me at least) in Lost in Translation. Charlotte walks these very steps, the same steps I have now walked. Here is a video of me to prove it...

I now think I’ve done about 90% of the things shown in that movie. I’ll have to come back to Japan another time and do the remaining 10%!

There might not be a ton of cherry blossom trees still around but the ones left are beautiful.

I leave the Heian Shrine overwhelmed with peace, it was easily my favorite part of today, well, up until this point that is, I’ll get to this soon. Now I am off to my last must-see location of the day but I get distracted by the Maruyama Park. I was already here a few days ago but there is something I should’ve seen but didn’t. Of course, even this I get distracted from. I see another temple and have to take it’s picture…

This is the Chion-in Temple. Through this entrance are a ton of stairs in front of me, unfortunately this temple closes early so I don’t bother buying a ticket to get in. It’s a shame because I would’ve loved taking pictures at the garden at the top of those steps.

While I’m here I decide to get another drink, gotta replenish myself from all this bike riding. And yes, I know, I still haven’t had anything to eat and I’ve already been awake for about 8 hours at this point.

This stuff is amazing! It tastes just like apple juice with a hint of tea, the perfect subtle taste of tea. If you see this, buy it, you will be very happy you did!

Yes, a sign in a park showing what to do in case of an earthquake. “Quickly put out fire” seems easier said than done.

This is the famous weeping cherry blossom tree. It normally gets lit up at night when it’s in full bloom but since it’s not anymore, they don’t light it up anymore. Here is what it should look like when it’s in full bloom, I found this on the Internet as an example...

You can see the pink color it should be, compared to the color it is now in the picture I took above.

After this diversion, I’m back on track to my last official stop of the day, the Sanjūsangen-dō Temple. As I ride my bike to this temple, I completely forget why it’s on my list of must-see items. I get there, park my bike, pay the admission fee and take my shoes off to enter the temple. I still for the life of me can’t remember why I needed to come here. I walk past the visitor information booth, I round a corner, and immediately I am reminded why I came here. Unfortunately, they basically threaten your life when it comes to taking pictures so I can’t show you what made me come here but I did find a picture on the Internet that shows you an example of what I saw…

Sanjūsangen-dō Temple is home to the 1,000 statues of Kannon. Trust me when I say this, the brain has a very very hard time absorbing what it is you’re seeing in this building. The above picture is about 500 of these statues. In the middle is a large version of these individual statues that they are modeled after and then on the other side is the remaining 500. They are supposed to represent the 1,000 arms of Kannon (the goddess of mercy). They are all life size and perfectly lined up. The building is 100 meters and is Japan’s longest wooden building. You take this walk very very slowly and you can’t begin to lift your jaw up off the floor over what you are seeing. It is easily the most amazing thing I have seen on this trip, and possibly in my life. I am in awe of this temple.

I continue walking behind the statues to read about this temple and it’s history and keep contemplating taking my camera out but I refuse to disrespect the people who work here as well as the belief that pictures should not be taken of religious statues. I respect that 100% and it just makes what I saw with my own two eyes that much more amazing knowing that they really want you to be here to see it.

I leave the Sanjūsangen-dō Temple with a new found sense of astonishment. I walk around the grounds afterwards but I feel like my feet aren’t on the ground and that I am floating above it on a cloud. Here are some more pictures I took before i left here for the day…

I wanted to get a picture to show off the size of this building but I don’t think pictures can do it justice.

The door was open very slightly and even though one of the workers caught me, I managed to sneak this picture of two of the 1,000 statues in this temple. Imagine 998 more of these, each bigger than the average size man.

After the Sanjūsangen-dō Temple, I don’t know what else to do, I mean, what can possibly top this? I decide to not try and top it and return the bike. I ride through the Gion District one more time since it’s on the way back to the bike rental place. I see a few geishas and this time I see the theater they perform at. Here they show off their art and play music. Unfortunately tonight’s show was sold out. I’m hoping in Osaka they might have something similar that I can go see.

The bike ride to Gion along side the Kamogawa River.

The theater in the Gion District where the geisha perform.

After this, I finally return the bike to the rental place. I am pretty sure I used that bike as much as I possibly could’ve. I must’ve done 20 miles in Kyoto alone. I saw more than I ever expected to see and really can’t stress enough that anyone visiting Kyoto should rent a bike, you will not be sorry.

I finally decide to get myself a meal after this long day. I definitely worked up an appetite beyond the few drinks I had earlier. I decide I’ll take it easy since the next few days in Osaka will be a food extravaganza. Here was my one and only meal of the day…

On the left was udon soup with tofu and some bok-choy. In the middle was some more pickled vegetables. On the right was what tasted like beef cartilage and onions over rice. It was amazing, I think I may have even licked the bowl after it was that good!

Oh, and one comment on eating in Japan. Unlike in America, it is completely normal for people to eat alone. This has made the idea of me eating alone all the time not weird at all but instead completely normal in this culture. Every time I go somewhere to eat, there is easily 10 or so people eating alone. More people eat alone than together with someone else. I’m really happy about this because I never mind eating alone even though in the American culture, this is seen as sad and something lonely people do. This is not the case in Japan and I just wanted to comment on that.

Also, one more thing I want to comment before I sign off the for day. When you look at temples on maps in Japan, they are represented by a swastika. It takes a bit of getting used to when it comes to this because of the stigma that most people associate with a swastika. I come to find out that in the Buddhist culture, it is a very important symbol representing temples. Historically it is said to represent a lucky object, and this definitely applies to temples. I just wanted to make note of this for those visiting Japan to not be put off by seeing these on all of the maps you will use.

Ok, that’s it for Kyoto, tomorrow I take off for Osaka. I really have no idea what to expect there except for a lot of good food from what I hear. They also have an area called Dotonbori which is supposed to be some of the best night life in all of Japan and amazing food to boot! Leaving Kyoto is sad, I liked it the last few days but after today, I fell in love with it. This day in particular was not only my favorite day of this trip, but one of the best in my life. This trip just continues to get better and better!

Oyasuminasai.

– DAK

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Day 8, Kyoto, or how I need to gain a sense of distance.

Today was interesting, but ultimately I didn’t do it right. I know that there is a lot in Kyoto I want to see and of course, it’s on the outside perimeter of the city itself. Kyoto almost seems designed as a city made for bicycle riding, that’s why almost everyone here is on a bike, it just makes sense. I planned on renting a bike today to cover some ground but after looking at a map, I decided against it. Instead, I told myself I can slow walk it, like I did the day earlier when I went to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and I can see the sites along the way. My walking goal was Arashiyama to the East to see Nakanoshima Park and Bamboo Path near the Tenryuji Temple.

Before I start my journey, I realize I need food. I stop by a restaurant right near my hotel and I get this…

Alright so this meal is the standard miso up top with the white sticky rice next to it. Next was some raw tofu, definitely not bad, I did put a little shoyu on it just to kick it up a notch. The main meal on the left was tempura shrimp and fried chicken in a ground beef and egg mixture. Japan really doesn’t like well done eggs so I’m getting used to eating runny eggs, something I usually hate and still prefer well done.

With breakfast/lunch being done, it’s back to my walking journey. I looked this up on Google Maps the previous day and it said 5.6 km, about 3.5 miles. I know that seems long but I figured a slow walk would get me there in a little over an hour and I can see the sites along the way. My first mistake was realizing that Google was showing the 5.6 as miles and not km, so it was 2 miles more than I had originally thought. My second mistake was thinking there would be sites to see along the way. Starting from central Kyoto and going West, you get a lot of beauty and shopping districts and the Gion District. Going East, you are in the suburbs, and not nice ones, these seemed to be the financially hurt suburbs.

Here is a map of the walk I took today. That’s 5.7 miles on a map starting from the right and going to the left along the red line.

First thing on this walk was walking by the Nijo Temple I tried seeing last night. It’s day time so now I should be able to get a picture of it and I did just that. Here is the gates that are now open…

This is a picture of the side of Nijo Castle. You can see the moat around the side and the impenetrable walls that definitely kept people out. There was no getting into here unnoticed.

As I continued walking, again, not realizing how far my destination was for the time being, I realized this is an area I probably shouldn’t be in. It’s not nice to look at, seems very poor, and not somewhere a tourist typically goes to. This is why there is a big gap between pictures for today, there just wasn’t anything to take a picture of along the way. If you want to visualize it, picture that part of town that isn’t filled with crime or violence but you can just tell that it’s not the part of the town that the visitors bureau would put in a brochure.

One thing I did want to show was a Pachinko Parlor. Even in poor areas these things are huge. Japan loves their Pachinko. Also, I’m not sure why but if you walk inside of a Pachinko parlor, it’s about as loud as standing directly behind a jet engine. I don’t know how much power it takes to run these places but it sure sounds like a lot.

After about mile 3, I was convinced the end of my journey was never happening. I did realize I need hydration because at this rate I felt like I was walking back to Tokyo!

This walk was through very residential areas which is why this park was so nice to see. Kids playing and families hanging out. Nice break from the narrow ugly streets I've been navigating for well over an hour now.

I finally get to Nakanoshima Park and I couldn’t be happier to be here. I really felt like this walk would never end after about 2 hours of non-stop walking, fast walking, not the casual walk I expected. This park was great and there was an entire town built around it like most temples and shrines have in Kyoto. These temples and shrines bring in the tourists which brings in a need to have restaurants and shops in the outlying areas.

Near every temple and shrine, there are rickshaws which are very popular. I was under the assumption that rickshaws were inhumane and as I go to Wikipedia to look this up, I find that I am completely wrong and I’m happy I am. Here are some pictures of the rickshaws near Arashiyama.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure that the guys who operate these rickshaws use it as a way to meet women because they flirt like crazy with the women and ignore the men completely. Pretty good racket if you’re looking to meet women I guess.

After seeing the Togetsukyo Bridge along the Hozu River, I decide to make my way to the bamboo path that I am super excited about. This was one of the things I was most looking forward to in Kyoto. In America we have the Redwood Forest, in Japan they have entire forests made of bamboo. On the way there I stop and see the Tenryuji Temple, a leading Zen temple in Japan. I also see a random collection of Buddha statues. Also, note in the first picture the kid running, he was running for about 6 city blocks. His guardian was never far behind but this kid definitely slept well tonight (much like I will after all of this walking!).

After all of this walking (about another 1/2 a miles worth of walking), I finally get to the bamboo path. This area was awe-inspiring. This was definitely one of those “only in Japan” opportunities that I am so happy I did. This made it worth the 6 mile walk and made the pain in my legs a distant memory. I couldn’t get enough of the majesty that was this bamboo forest. Enjoy the pictures, I don’t know if they can fully portray the beauty of this area, hopefully it does. I really hope the vastness of the forest comes across.
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Nearing the entrance of the bamboo path.

A little garden outside the entrance with beautiful trees. The Japanese people, even the youth, have a huge love of taking close up pictures of flowers, it’s quite remarkable that they appreciate things like that.

I notice Japan tucks away their cemetery's and make them very difficult to see and get to.

I loved this, there was a wife and husband selling food in the middle of the forest. It was so serene and just makes you feel completely removed from society in a good way.

I know that seems like a lot of pictures of the bamboo grove but trust me, there is a lot more on my hard drive I chose not to show. I couldn’t get enough of this area.

After taking some more random turns (I always tend to go in the opposite direction from where the crowd is going, gets me into some interesting places and situations), I stumble on what appears to be someone’s house with an amazing mirror pond right outside of the property. I was almost completely alone and stayed here for about 30 mins just relaxing and enjoying the tranquility.

Further down my walk was this tiny store. There was nothing in any direction for about 1/2 a mile besides the bamboo path and that random house in the previous picture. This reminded me of those random fruit stands on the middle of a country road in America. You are amazed they ever have customers but you’re happy they stay open because it’s usually quite a sight to see. The people who own this place must be very calm and happy people and for that I admire them.

As you walk this area, you see train tracks. This is because it’s not only part of the Japan Rail System but in this area, it’s also the Sagano Romantic Train. It is a train that only goes for about 30 mins from one end to another but it’s through forest, mountains, and along the Hozu River. The train is open air and very romantic and beautiful. Obviously I didn’t do this, I do a lot alone on these trips but something with the word romantic in the title is probably something I’ll avoid. I hear romantic and being alone and thing about Pee Wee Herman.

The Gion District isn’t the only area with geishas. These are the local geishas of Arashiyama. Oh, and after doing some research, these are the highest ranking geishas, you can tell from the red collars on their kimonos and the napes on the back of their necks. They were enjoying the bamboo forest like the rest of us!

After all of this time, it dawned on me that I am now about 6 miles from my hotel and unlike America, I can’t simply call a taxi to take me home. I’m in a really quiet residential area where taxi’s didn’t venture and with no Internet on my phone, I couldn’t look up a taxi company anyways. I knew I had to get home and I realized I would finally give in and find a train station. About 1/2 mile later I find a Japan Rail station. It was a life saver. I felt no guilt taking the escalator up instead of the stairs, my legs needed a break. This train goes directly to the Kyoto Station which is only about 1 mile from my hotel or I could take a connecting subway to get even closer to my hotel.

I get to Kyoto Station and I have no idea why this was happening but a group of young men were tossing their friend up in the air. Of course I had to take a picture…

They actually repeated this with several people. I decided to walk away in fear that they would see me looking and want to throw me up next. In hindsight, I kinda with I stuck around, that would’ve been a great story to tell!

Here are some pictures of the Kyoto Station and the Kyoto Tower.

This is inside the Kyoto Station. Huge cathedral ceilings, very industrial looking.

Sorry Kyoto, the Tokyo Tower is better than yours!

This is the entrance for the Kyoto Station, if you enlarge this image you can totally see an Astroboy statue on the left. Japan loves their anime/manga!

This is where I think my brain stops working because what I should do is go back to my hotel and take a bath or a nap or something to make my body feel better from walking so much, instead I decide to continue on because there is something very VERY important that is just south of the Kyoto Station.

I’m not sure who makes the map I have been using all day but they make things seem so much closer than they truly are. What looks like a few blocks away actually is a full mile away. It’s also a full mile through a really really ugly part of Kyoto. Here is a picture of it from the overpass…

Hmm, for some reason it looks better in pictures than it did in person.

Ok, so let’s do a quick recap of my life. I’ve been to several of my Mecca’s/Graceland’s, I’ve been to Safeco Field, I’ve been to the Nintendo of America building, I’ve now been to the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. If I’m not almost done with my checklist of all the places I need to go to, I’m getting very close and now we can check off another one, a major one…

It sits in the background like a god on Mount Olympus.

For those of you unaware why this is so amazing, this is not the Nintendo of America headquarters in Redmond, this is the headquarters for the entire company of Nintendo. This is where Iwata and Miyamoto have offices. Miyamoto created Zelda and Mario and Donkey Kong! I own stock in Nintendo, I should get an office here!

The entrance gate was open, I was close to making a break for the door.

Even though this now makes my walking for the day somewhere in the 8-9 mile range, my body was completely fine, rejuvenated from seeing this building. I slowly walked the perimeter in hopes that someone would see me and offer me a job, this didn’t happen unfortunately.

After somehow pulling myself away from the Nintendo office building, I was overwhelmed yet again with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I keep doing everything I say I want to on this trip, at this rate I’ll be coming home with no regrets! On the way to the closest subway station (yes, me and walking are done for the day, I give up), I found this…

It was a plant growing out of an old green tea bottle. Something about it just brought this sense of peace over me. I don’t know why, maybe about how even in an industrial/business part of town, there can still be simplicity and beauty. Quite the wonderful contrast.

Like I said, even though I walked to Nintendo instead of taking a train that is near their office (because the map made Nintendo seem closer than it was), I decided to take a subway back to my hotel. My legs were done for the day. The Kyoto subways have padded seats, they are even softer than my hotel bed, this was needed very much by this point. Sitting down was a novelty.

I get off the train and need to get above ground and my tidbit to everyone who wants to visit Japan is this. They are not very fond of escalators, especially in subways. You will have to deal with stairs, some are small, others are insane like this one…

After this long day of walking, seeing this staircase that I HAD to take made me laugh. I happily did the walk upstairs knowing that I was a stones throw from my hotel and getting to take my sneakers off.

I am also starving, after the insane walk today, the last meal I had was breakfast/lunch and that was several hours earlier. I decide to get a quick snack from 7-11…

The top left is another chicken filled seaweed and rice triangle. The top right is another rice ball with some veggies in it, pickled vegetables if I remember correctly. The bottom one is shrimp with egg and mayonnaise on rice. These were great snacks and much needed at this point.

I realize at this point I need a nap. It’s 8pm and I set my alarm for 9:30pm just to recharge myself. I fall asleep with no problem, it’s the getting up that wasn’t easy. I look at the clock and realize no way, I’m in for the night now. I need to get a full night of sleep and that’s what I’m doing. Tomorrow I am renting a bike because I won’t be stupid like I was today. Fool me once… I have a lot of ground to cover tomorrow but with wheels it should be much easier and me and bikes are friends, we get along just fine.

So that’s it for tonight, the night didn’t have to end as early as it did but for the sake of my body and knowing tomorrow will be a jam packed day, I think it’s ok to call it early a little bit. If I actually rented a bike today instead of being dumb and walking, it would’ve been a much much different day, but alas, I am dumb. That’s all for tonight from me, tomorrow will be a lot of pictures and I’ll be seeing a LOT of stuff.

Oh, also, one last thing, I don’t see any garbage on the streets of Japan but at the same time it’s almost impossible to find a garbage can. What’s that about?

Oyasuminasai.

– DAK

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Day 7, Kyoto, We’re not in Kansas anymore!

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect with Kyoto. I mean, I did know about it and why I booked part of my vacation here but after being in the chaos known as Tokyo for several days, I don’t know if I was going to be able to adjust to the more traditional and quieter Kyoto. I don’t think I’m completely adjusted yet but if today is a sign of what’s to come, I can’t wait to continue the transition.

For those expect some humor from me on today’s blog post, assuming you think what I’ve written so far on this blog has been funny, you probably won’t be getting much of that today. The takeaway from today’s activities don’t lend themselves to be humorous, it’s more contemplative, awe-inspiring, and thought-provoking and you’ll understand as you continue reading. This will probably be the case for the next several days during this part of my vacation in Kyoto and Osaka. Days like these were the main reason I came to Japan.

I started my day off by waking up early for a traditional Japanese breakfast in the restaurant in my hotel. This was why I called it a relatively early night last night, I have to factor in the time it takes to write these blogs (they don’t just write themselves, each of these takes at least 2 hours). I get up early, I don’t even shower, I figured I’d do that after and time is of the essence since the restaurant in the Hotel Gimmond closes at 9:30am. I walked into the restaurant and it definitely isn’t your normal Howard Johnson type hotel restaurant, it’s very traditional Japanese.

This was the view from my seat, looking through the bamboo curtain onto the traditional seating area.

This was the traditional breakfast meal. Ok, let me see if I remember it. On the right is miso, something the Japanese have at every meal. Moving counter clock-wise you have egg, not well done, very soft eggs here in Japan. Of course above that is the tea, yummy! Next was some kind of fish, a big piece, with some other fish type thing with it and then some lettuce and cabbage. After that is the rice and then you have two dishes of pickled vegetables. The packet on the bottom is nori.

After this delicious breakfast (for $8 mind you), I walked to the front of the building and then to the roof top to snap some pictures, here they are…

Front door of hotel looking right.

Front door of hotel looking left.

Roof top of hotel looking right.

Roof top of hotel looking left.

After taking these pictures, I go back and shower, spend a lot of time trying to figure out which temple/shrine to go to today and if I’m going to take a subway or walk. I play it safe and head for the popular temple here in Kyoto, and decide it’s only about a 2 mile walk, and the weather is ridiculously beautiful, I’ll slow walk in and see the sights along the way.

As soon as I leave my hotel, I see this…

I thought I was seeing a geisha already, little did I realize I’d be seeing women dressed like this all day and no, they aren’t geishas. They might be a meiko, a geisha apprentice but odds are it’s just Japanese women in traditional Japanese kimono’s. Still a good picture of them wearing these outfits in the middle of a major metropolitan area.

Here are some things I saw along the way to the temple I decided to go to today. I’ll come back and talk before I get to a certain set of pictures.

This was interesting, in a city full of Buddhist temples and shrines, here was a Catholic church. It definitely stood out to me, like a Jewish temple in Seattle.

This is the Kamo River that goes right through Kyoto and on both sides is a bike path and people sit on the little beaches on the side of it.

This is a statue of the supposed founder of kabuki theater. Kabuki started with the geishas and this statue is very close to the geisha district so it seems plausible.

This street is called Mikoji Dori and is a stark contrast from the chaos of the streets all around it. This area is very traditional Japan with tiny restaurants, porcelain stores, and girls in kimonos. It’s also incredibly peaceful even though it’s tourist central.

These aren’t even shrines, these are private residences in these areas. There are a lot of homes around here. They don’t have a lot of real estate but they are so beautiful, you can easily confuse them for religious grounds.

If you remember a few days ago, I talked about people tying paper onto rope or wire with their prayers and wishes on it. This is one of those but with the dial turned to 11!

The ways to sanitize your hands before entering a temple are getting more and more elaborate and beautiful.

These are the kind of things you see as you walk through these private residential areas. It never gets old seeing a temple just as you turn a corner.

Ok, so you’ve seen a lot of what I saw along the way, and had the next thing not happened, those would’ve been amazing experiences but instead, they couldn’t hold a candle to this next part.

I was finally in the Gion District. I had planned on doing this tomorrow but my walk to the temple today took me through here. I was shocked and thrilled that during my walk, I got a chance to see some geishas. Maybe it’s because I’m American but geishas are almost mythical creatures that can’t possibly exist and when you see one in person, your brain truly can’t comprehend what it is seeing, at least that’s what happened to me. Seeing them in person, you stop dead in your tracks, you are in awe and it really is a surreal out of body experience. The legend of the geisha and any ill-conceived notion I have about them goes out the window and the pure majesty of them is all that remains.

You’ll see more of these women later, but I had to show that now and talk about it a little bit so that hopefully you at home can understand what went through my mind. It’s hard to put on paper what’s going on in my mind but I think I did a good job just now. The next few pictures are of the temple the geishas were standing in.

I don’t know exactly what these are but they were hanging in almost every temple I saw today.

As you can see, whatever those things are, they are all over this little shrine.

This is a close up of the temple I took a picture of from earlier from down the street.

The next series of pictures is from the walk to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and what you see along the way.

Space is a premium, especially considering most of these stores, restaurants, temples, and shrines are built into or on the side of a mountain. Tight and narrow streets and alleys are the house special here.

I wasn’t kidding about it being built into a mountain. Be prepared to see a lot of pictures of stairs and quick elevation changes. The stairs are great though, it’s a great separator between sections of restaurants and shops.

With the weather being perfect like it was today, this scene was awesome. People sitting in a Japanese cafe that had an odd European feel, but I think that’s because the people sitting at those tables were European. Then again, soon you’ll see a picture of some architecture that I swear has some European influence.

This wasn’t a temple or a shrine, just some random parks built into this path up to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Beautiful and a taste of what was to come once I reached the summit.

I love this scene because it was perfect landscaping and architecture and if you click on the picture for the large view, you will see the schoolgirls at the top. It just seems straight out of a movie in a lot of these photographs from today.

More stairs, I probably didn’t have to take this many stair pics but it’s my blog and I'll do what I want! Oh, also, the stores are built right into the stairs, causes a lot of traffic but makes the situation even more unique.

Ok, the walk up to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple is over, I’ve finally reached it after countless twists, turns, and staircases. This is the most popular temple in Kyoto. The next set of pictures probably don’t even need captions, but of course I’ll add some if necessary. Worth noting is that the Kiyomizu-dera Temple was built completely WITHOUT the use of a single nail.

I love that the people of Japan actually go to these temples for religious purposes and not just for sightseeing. There are tons of people actually praying and spending the admission fee for that purpose and not what foreigners tend to come for and that is the pictures and sights.

This was an off the beaten path hand purifying station. I still have yet to do one of these even though I've educated myself on how to use it correctly. Maybe tomorrow.

This picture and the one after it go together. This falling water is used for purification and drinking as a source of good luck. The water comes from a waterfall on the mountain the Kiyomizu-dera Temple is built into. This is them grabbing the water in the cups…

…and this is them drinking it.

I walked these twice, getting lost is good for my calf muscles.

You can see this structure while walking the stairs in the picture above this one. This is what holds the temple up on the mountain. Remember, not one nail is used anywhere in that structure, it’s insane.

This is a cemetery on the temple grounds. I didn’t want to go in to get a closer look because I didn’t want to disrespect anyone by taking pictures of something i didn’t think I should be taking pictures of.

You can’t hear me very well on the video but I am trying to explain what’s happening here. I don’t know the religious or cultural reason for this but people keep trying to walk from one stone to the next with their eyes closed. People try guiding them with their voices to help them out. People keep doing it so it clearly has some meaning, I’m just not aware of what that meaning is.

After quite a while at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and more pictures than you can imagine (you only get a sample on the blog, what I consider the best to tell a story, the rest, and trust me there are a lot more, hang out on my hard drive), I decide to move on to something new. On the walk back down the mountain, I see some interesting things because I took a different route home. My travel advice, never take the same route twice. If you go one way to one place, take a different way back. You won’t be sorry.

Free samples of a dessert I see all over the place. It’s almost a mochi skin with a red bean inside but the inside is sweeter than a red bean. I’m not sure what it is. It wasn’t great but I ate it. When in Japan right?

Ah, now we’re talking! A steamed bun with pork and rice inside! This was delicious, and much better than that red bean nonsense from the other day.

This is that picture with the European influence I was talking about earlier. It really looks like an Italian plaza or some Parisian square. Really interesting seeing this in Japan because it seems to be combining quite a few cultures design-wise.

This was an entrance to a restaurant. A lot of the restaurants in this area have the traditional entrance like this.

This was a great picture, not only is it more geishas, but this was actually a picture using the geishas camera that they asked this lady walking by to take for them. I thought it was interesting, even geishas want pictures of the geishas!

Geisha again. They don’t call it geisha alley for nothing!

Not having directions is the best thing you can do on vacations like these, cause you never know where you’ll end up. I take a random turn and end up seeing in the distance a hug Buddha statue. When I saw huge, I mean huge, take a look.

This is the memorial for the unknown soldier of World War 2 to remember the thousands who died on Japanese soil or for Japanese, it’s called the Ryozen Kwannon. The incense in my hand is given to you when you pay to get in. I was really honored to finally partake in some religious custom because I've been nervous about being disrespectful trying to join in.

This is where the incense goes. I tried saying a little prayer before putting this into the sand but I doubt I did it right.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to take this picture but I am so happy I did. This is a monk banging on a drum while chanting. It was AMAZING. It’s like an out of body experience being in the middle of a temple in Kyoto, Japan and watching a monk run a religious ceremony in a Buddhist temple. This is life changing stuff.

I walked away from the temple and went down a path I don’t think I was supposed to, I do this a lot. I saw this almost Roman inspired room where it had a sign talking about the entire memorial for the unknown soldier.

Once I finish with the Ryozen Kwannon, I decide to go back through geisha alley. Honestly, I can’t get enough of this. Seeing them just blows me away. That “click” moment I talked about having the other day, yes this entire day was the “click” moment and it came to a peak in the next two pictures.

I was walking alone down a alley and saw these two geishas with a man I can only assume was one of their courtesans. They were nice enough to let me take a picture.

Then the man asked if I wanted a picture with them. I was speechless, I nodded, I mean who wouldn’t want a picture with actual geishas? This was surreal, I don’t know if I look excited but I was frozen with fear and amazement. Inside I was nervous and excited and shocked this was happening. I was so afraid to move in fear that I'd break them somehow. I walked away from this picture in disbelief and I believe I muttered the words “ok, I can die now”. I had a huge smile on my face walking away and kept thinking to myself, wow, just wow, thank you Japan.

As I began walking on this street in the geisha alley, I saw a geisha walking towards me with a man. I knew I had to start recording this to watch them walk towards me since this was quite a sight to behold. This was the geisha walking her courtesan to a tea house or private property for their time together. It seems fake, like it’s an amusement park but it’s completely real. This world really exists!

I saw more of these girls but again, they could be geishas in training or just young women dressed in typical Japanese outfits.

More classic Japanese alleys. These are so beautiful, and extremely well kept. These outdoor back alleys are nicer than the inside of a lot of apartments I've seen.

The next several pictures are taken in the Maruyama Park, a park notorious for a huge weeping cherry blossom tree that is lit up at night. I will be seeing this tomorrow.

I’m not exactly sure how I ended up here or why there is an amphitheater in an old Japanese park but here is a video showing you what’s going on.

I love seeing the Japanese businessmen in a group like this. It seems so badass Yakuza style!

Two things I love about this store name. Obviously love the Engrish but I also love that it says Taka. I know that’s because it’s named after the street it’s on but I love that word because I think it’s also Yiddish. Anyone want to confirm this?

This is right outside Maruyama Park, some residential property near the Kamo River I showed you earlier. These houses are beautiful especially with the river running behind them. You can see a bird standing in the middle of the river if you enlarge the image.

Here is the same Kamo River from earlier, it’s later in the day and now more people have gathered to sit along side of it in this beautiful weather on a Saturday early evening.

After all of this walking and sightseeing, I decide it’s time for a snack/early dinner. I head back to the Nishiki Food Market/Teramichi Street and look for some more food options. I remember one from the day before that I wanted to stop at but chose Mr. Young Men. I still made the right choice but it’s time to try the place I passed up on. It’s a food stand more than a restaurant.

It smelled delicious, that got me to stop dead in my tracks.

Ok, another meal with an egg on it. Along with the egg it’s stir fry bok choy and noodles in what I think is some peanut sauce. It’s fantastic, totally filled me up.

Well, it sort of filled me up. Next to the little fountain area I was eating my meal, there is a crepe store that has lines around the corner, I had to check it out. For 250 Yen, I got a strawberry and graham cracker crepe with whip cream. It was delicious and I definitely worth the wait.

After these snacks, I go home to rest up a bit. It gets dark out and I realize in Kyoto, night time is not the best time since it’s more of a day time city. Also, I am going to be riding my bike a lot tomorrow so an early night actually sounds like a wonderful idea. Of course this lasts for a short amount of time before I realize I want another snack. I also wanted to see the Noji Castle which is near my hotel and see if they light it up at night.

They don’t, this is the best I can do of the gates to the castle.

Here is my dinner. Hmm, ok, starting from the miso soup in the top left going clockwise. The tea is a cold tea, it tastes like the flavor was toasted, it was amazing and I had about 5 glasses before I left. After that is a fish stick of sorts on cabbage. Next is an egg (surprise!), teriyaki burger, with French fries underneath. After that is good old deliciously perfect Japanese sticky white rice. In the middle is pickles. This meal was fantastic and of course cheap.

After that I came home and Skype with the parents, sister, and niece and nephew. All in all a great day, I seem to be having a lot of those. Tomorrow is a bike ride around Kyoto since the weather seems to be a repeat of today.

Oh, and sidenote, my friend Rob came to Japan and lost weight, how come I feel like I’ve been doing the opposite? Ah well, I’ll eat healthy when I’m home, no point in starting that now!

Oyasuminasai.

– DAK

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