Texans in Japan – Day 9 – LAST DAY!

April 13th, 2010

It is our last day in Japan, and it is POURING rain. Absolutely coming down in buckets. We didn’t order this weather!

Keisei Skyliner Train

Keisei Skyliner Train

We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, packed up our belongs into our large backpacks, and headed out to find a Japanese block print for our home. Jinbocho is famous for their used book stores and block prints. We couldn’t afford an original (starts at $30,000 yen and goes up from there). A replica goes from $30 yen and up. We could afford a replica. We arrived in Jinbocho around 10am only to find that all of the stores were still closed. Isn’t this a Monday? What do you mean you don’t open until later? *sigh*

Smoking is ONLY allowed in designated areas outside

Smoking is ONLY allowed in designated areas outside

Tony & I in front of the Imperial Palace

Tony & I in front of the Imperial Palace

We hopped back on the subway to another shopping district, Ameyoko. The rain was making it difficult to enjoy window shopping, so we decided to find lunch. We found a conveyor-belt sushi bar for the guys. These places are really interesting. The sushi chefs stand in the middle of the restaurant with a circular conveyor belt and bar surrounding them. You pull up a seat to the bar and grab different colored plates with the sushi you want on them. When you have had your fill of fresh sushi, you have the waitress add up your colored plates (each color is a different price). I only ate the cooked shrimp tails on rice. My guys had fatty tuna, salmon, and other raw delicacies. Lunch for the 3 of us came to less than $30.

Traditional vs. Modern

Traditional vs. Modern

As the weather was just horrible, we decided to take the Skyliner Train to the airport. We checked in our bags, and headed to security. Here is where our problems began. First of all, my husband travels A LOT. He is travelling around the country usually 3 out of 4 weeks a month. He is a Platinum status flyer (2nd only to Executive Platinum with over 100,000 miles flown a year). His status is printed on his tickets. With that said, he gets the double inspection pretty much every other time he goes to the airport. If you were to see him, you would think him one of the most non-threatening people out there. He is a big, blond teddy bear. Anyway, our son & I got through security with no problem. My husband was told that he would need a secondary screening and to please step aside. The agent called over to her supervisor a moment later. We thought it was to have him screen my husband. Nope. She wanted to tell him that she needed her break. She made my husband stand there for 10 minutes before someone came over to relieve her for break. The relieving agent saw my husband, and then had someone take my husband to a different area to screen him. His bags were opened, he was patted down, had the magnetic wand run over him, asked questions, had his hands & bag swabbed down, and finally released. It took him approximately 20 minutes to get through security. HE IS A MAN THAT FLIES ALL THE TIME, PEOPLE!!!

My silly, egg eating husband

I am the Egg Man..Coo Coo Ka Joo

@ Yodobashi Camera being silly

@ Yodobashi Camera being silly

Our son eating his traditional Japanese breakfast

Our son eating his traditional Japanese breakfast

Me

Me

So adorable!

So adorable!

To calm our frazzled (and really upset) nerves, we went to the Admirals Club for a drink & snack with 10 minutes to go until our flight. The flight from Tokyo to Chicago is over 11 hours. I don’t care if you love to travel by plane. Being on one plane for 11+ hours is gruelling. It is hard to sleep on a plane with turbulence, and glaring television monitors from the seats in front of you. I watched three movies and a television show, took a short nap, read some of my book, and ate. Did you know that American Airlines feeds you two meals and one snack on a flight 11+ hours long? Their food wasn’t that bad either. There was chicken/pasta or beef/rice for dinner. We didn’t take the snack box when it came around. Breakfast was croissant w/fresh fruit. The flight attendants also come around 3-4 times asking if you want something to drink. You are definitely full when you get off the plane.

Delicate Cherry Blossoms

Delicate Cherry Blossoms

Upon arriving in Chicago, we needed to go through Customs. The airport was VERY CONFUSING when it came to which area to go to if you were a citizen or just visiting. The US citizens line was pretty short, where the visitors line was a mile long. I have to say that the Customs agent was HORRENDOUS to visitors. For being the first person that these people will see, she should be polite and welcoming. The agent we saw should have been fired for the abusive way she spoke to these other world travellers. She screamed at them and talked down to them like they were dirt on the bottom of her shoe. As an American, I was embarrassed that someone would treat people like that. If I had the power, I would’ve fired her right there. NO ONE should be talked down to like that. We NEVER experienced that abuse when we visited Japan. They were all VERY POLITE to us, and even thanked us for visiting their country. The agent gave the impression that these people weren’t wanted. Yup. I would’ve fired her if I could have.

Another weird Japanese Ad

Another weird Japanese Ad

Sad trash can :(

Sad trash can ūüôĀ

Our flight from Chicago to Austin was uneventful. We were all looking forward to a shower and sleeping in our own beds. Our dogs were incredibly happy to see us when we got home. I missed my dog so much. As I brushed my teeth before bed, I asked my husband about how long our Monday was. He said that we had started our day 28 hours ago. We saw two sunrises and two sunsets. How amazing is this marble that we live on?

Would I travel to Japan again? I would, if given the opportunity. However, the world has so much to offer. I just might find somewhere new to go to next time. Hmm….I wonder if we can save up for Ireland/Scotland next. Hmmm…. ūüôā

Texans in Japan – Day 8

April 13th, 2010

Today’s adventure starts when we get off the subway at Tsukiji. We wanted to catch an act at a Kabuki theater. When we got up top from the subway, we heard loud drums banging. What is THAT?! We walked down the sidewalk a bit to find huge children’s festival. A tradition Japanese drum band was performing. It was AWESOME! There were adorable Japanese children dressed in formal wear enjoying the performance as well. After watching the performance (and taking lots of pictures), we watched a sampling of a traditional tea ceremony, petted baby farm animals (the baby chicks were my favorite), and had green tea ice cream in cones.

We headed towards the Kabuki theater while enjoying the sites. As Kabuki is an all-day performance (usually over $200/person for tickets), we thought we would just take in one act (approx. $30/person). Sadly, all tickets were sold out for the day. No Kabuki this trip.

We hopped back on the subway to Harajuku. Each Sunday, young adults dress in their craziest fashions and parade themselves down Takeshita-dori. I thought we had some unusual style in Austin with our cowboy boots, but that doesn’t hold a candle to these folks. We saw girls dressed as anime characters, Little Bo Peep, a goth Holly Hobby, a Rainbow Brite wanna-be, and what looked like an 80’s men’s Hair Band (including the PVC clothing and dyed/spiked long red hair). It was quite an experience to see these young people walk around. The more outrageous their clothing, the more looks they got (which is just what they wanted).

Rainbow Brite

Rainbow Brite

Cat Street Crowd

Cat Street Crowd

We jumped back on the subway to Asakusa and the Sensoji Temple for a little more window shopping. As the children of Japan go to school six days a week, Sunday is the only day that most people can get out to do shopping and enjoy their surroundings. Needless to say, the shopping districts were packed with shoppers. We found a few magnets to adorn our refrigerator, and headed back to Shinjuku.

One of the things that Tony wanted to try while in Japan was Fugu. You can really only get it in Tokyo or San Francisco. We walked around Shinjuku, and found two restaurants that served it. However, we found that the cheapest of the two places served TWO PIECES for $70! Tony couldn’t justify a bit of fresh puffer fish for $35, so we found something else for dinner.

This was a day full of color and unexpected surprises. I particularly loved the children’s festival. The children dressed in traditional Japanese formal wear were ADORABLE! Tomorrow will be our last day in Japan. Part of me is looking forward to my own bed. However, the other part of me is sad. I have thoroughly enjoyed this trip. The people of Japan are so different from those of the United States. I will miss it.

Texans in Japan – Day 7

April 10th, 2010

We got up this morning and headed to Azabu Juban. This area is famous for upscale shopping. All three of us thought it was famous for “everything looks the same”. It was completely boring. The only highlight of this area was being able to

Cherry trees in bloom

Cherry trees in bloom

go into a full scale Japanese super market. We could only identify about 5% of the goods in the store, as most of the packaging didn’t give away what was inside.

From here, we rode the train to Asakusa to see the Sensoji Temple. This is the largest shrine in Japan. Apparently, Saturday is the day to go to the temple as there were hundreds upon hundreds of tourists there. The temple face is being preserved/renovated, so the entire facade was covered in cloth to protect it from the elements. It made exterior photos impossible. We walked around a bit, had our fortune given to us for $1 (You shake a container that has a slim stick come out. The number that is on the stick is the fortune paper you receive.), and took photos of the surrounding gardens. We say a “geisha in training” girl outside of the temple. She was about 12 yr. old and dressed in all of her finery. Simply beautiful.

img_0840The area around the shrine is surrounded by various shops including clothing, restaurants, camera stores, and stationers. We bought a few small trinkets for family, and then Tony took me into Nakamisa, a kimono/robe shop. He spoiled me by buying a navy robe in a cherry blossom design. I’m sure I will treasure it until the day I die.

We had lunch in a restaurant that served both sushi and cooked Japanese food. Tony had sushi (including salmon roe), and Dakota & I had pork over rice with a cooked egg on top. We did more window shopping, but didn’t find anything we had to have.

From there we went to Akihabara. Tony had been debating on buying a camera. He found one he really liked, but he wanted to check the yen/dollar value online first. Unfortunately, the yen rose today, so our dollars were worth even less. It made the camera that he wanted the same price as in the U.S. It just wasn’t worth buying here and carrying home.

Shopping beside Sensoji Temple

Shopping beside Sensoji Temple

As we were in the electronics district (and I wasn’t really interested in most of the shops), I asked if I could sit a while. I encouraged the guys to park me on a busy corner with chairs, so they could go off and explore. They went off to go look at tiny, handheld computers. Tony said that we can’t get them in the U.S. I know he would love bringing one home to the envy of all his friends. They ended up not buying one afterall.

The night lights of Akihabara glowed like Times Square. It would’ve been great to

Akihabara at Night

Akihabara at Night

take long exposure photos, but the constant stomping of pedestrians made it impossible. A few quick photos, and we were off to our hotel.

We called it an early night by heading to the Hilton Honors floor for a drink and some appetizers. We have been spoiled all week with few business men/tourists using the Honors floor. The weekend is a whole new thing. We weren’t the only ones enjoying a drink & snacks.

We will be leaving Japan in two days. I think I will be sad to leave. We’ve done so much, but seen so little of this beautiful country. The people are shy, but friendly. The environment is cutting edge, but treasures it’s history. There is so much to see, and so little time. We will try to fit in something new tomorrow. Only two more days to go.

Texans in Japan – Day 6

April 9th, 2010

Today’s adventure begins at 4:45am. We needed to get up this early to see the Tsukiji Fish Market in all its chaotic glory. This is where all of the sushi restaurants and fish sellers come to buy their fresh seafood. It is just off of the Tokyo bay.

img_0744I have to say that this is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. The smell of fish is fills your nostrils to a whole new level. There are hundreds of fast moving carts driving around with baskets of fresh fish being taken from one area to the next. There are hundreds of booths filled with every seafood item imaginable. Huge tuna (flash frozen out at sea to preserve freshness) are laying in a large warehouse. Bidding wars ensue for top dollar. These tuna will be served to sushi lovers tonight.

img_0774After we walked through the chaos for about an hour, we headed towards nearby stalls. For sushi lovers that want the freshest seafood items, nothing beats eating right next to Tsukiji. Tony and Dakota found a tiny sushi bar for breakfast. I know that having raw fish for breakfast sounds weird to Americans, but it is completely normal for Japanese. The guys went in, and I decided to walk around the area (with my trusty Clif bar breakfast in hand) to people watch. The guys had: abalone, ark shell clam, tuna, mackerel, sardine, and yellow fin. They sat next to two guys from New York, and chatted a bit.

img_0749After breakfast, we came back to our hotel for a much needed two hour nap. Feeling energized we hopped on the subway to Ameyoko. This is a local shopping district filled with: jewelry, food kiosks, and clothing stores. We found a store that had what appeared to be American clothing. Upon a closer inspection, you realized that many of the t-shirts were either misspelled, or had sayings on them that made absolutely no sense. Tony and I both found shirts on a clearance rack for $8 each.

We had a quick meal at Yoshinoya (the¬†equivalent¬†to a Japanese¬†McDonald’s¬†with rice and meat). We dropped Dakota off at the hotel with two movies to watch, and then Tony and I headed out for some nighttime walking. We found ourselves just a few blocks away in the Kabuki Cho district. This is the entertainment district of Tokyo. You can find: massage parlors, Pachinko bars, t-shirt shops, sushi bars, dance clubs, and even brothels. Brothels are regulated by the government. Only the older ones are around as the government stepped in and stopped allowing new ones to form. Walking by these places, their windows are plastered with photos of the “entertainers” inside. Unlike the U.S., you don’t see the “entertainers” walking the streets.

Tony and I were hitting the tired wall so we headed back at 8:30pm for a quiet night in the hotel. I don’t ¬†know how much walking we’ve done on this trip, but it feels like a hundred miles.

Texans in Japan – Day 5

April 9th, 2010

It rained all night long! Tony & I woke up at 6:30am and headed over to a private hut for a bath. The air was very cold, but the hot springs felt wonderful.

After our bath, we packed up and headed down for a traditional Japanese breakfast.

Traditional Japanese breakfast

Traditional Japanese breakfast

All I can say is…different. Breakfast consisted of 2 broiled butter fish (including skin, bones, and head), a salad with sushi on it, miso soup, rice porridge, a small piece of boiled potato, a raw egg, green tea, steamed rice, and two tiny pieces of pineapple/grapefruit. There was also a plate with many mystery foods on it that smelled HORRIBLE. We think it was some sort of fermented vegetables and fish. None of us had the nerve to try it. I ate the fish, fruit, and steamed rice. I couldn’t bring myself to eat the rest.

After checking out, we headed over to the cable car, and then ropeway to

On the railcar

On the railcar

Owakudani (a look-out approx. 20 miles away from Mt. Fuji). The rain from the night before had turned into snow, and it was really cold up there. The sun was out, but the wind went right through you.

Yummy! Black eggs from Owakudani

Yummy! Black eggs from Owakudani

The place was busy for 10am. There were volcanic stream vents and springs everywhere you looked. Tony realized that this tourist spot was not only famous for viewing Mt. Fuji, but for EGGS. They take regular eggs and boil them in the hot springs. The sulfur turns the egg shells black. People come from all over Japan to eat these eggs. It is said that for every egg you eat, you are extending your life by 7 years. My guys ate 2.5 each. I had about a year’s worth. The guys loved them.

We hiked to the top viewing area to take pictures of the mountain. Wow! The area smelled HORRIBLE! The sulfur made me think of when I ran a daycare. Wow! It smelled exactly like dirty diapers. Whew! We took lots of pictures, although Mt. Fuji was mostly covered by clouds.

We spent a few hours playing tourists, and then headed for the ropeway, cable car, img_0656and train back to Shinjuku. We checked back in with the Tokyo Hilton, and rested a bit in our new room. Our room was made up for two, not three, so the maid came in to fix that. She didn’t speak english, but she motioned that our son was very tall. He was happy with that. He is about the same size as most Japanese men.

After our rest, we walked several blocks to the Tokyo Metropolitan building. This is a famous building in the financial district that encourages tourists to go to their 45th floor. You can see all of Tokyo from this floor. It is absolutely breathtaking.

One view from Tokyo Metropolitan

One view from Tokyo Metropolitan

From the Metropolitian building, we wondered over to Odakyu, a 14-story department store. Our son forgot a heavy jacket, so I thought maybe we could find him one at the local department store. I was wrong. The 11th floor clearance area did have jackets, but they were around $200-$300+. That is for CLEARANCE. No jacket there, buddy.

We were all getting really tired from two days of walking, so we found a noodle shop around the corner for dinner. On our way back to our hotel, we walked through the tiny streets full of clothing and camera shops. I found two clearance track jackets for myself & our son. They obviously were translated from japanese to english, but the literal translation didn’t work. They will be treasured additions to our wardrobes.

Tomorrow holds a special field trip that we had been looking forward to. Time to get to bed because 4:45am comes really early.

Texans in Japan – Day 4

April 8th, 2010
img_0560

Crunky? You mean Crunchy, right?

We woke up to take the Odakyu Romance Train to Hakone/Gora this morning. The ride takes 1.5 hours. It started to drizzle on the way up the steep mountainside. The landscape is lush and green. Bamboo forests, various mosses, and a stream blanket the terrain. The higher our train climbed, the more the clouds rolled in. The sky turned dark quickly and it wasn’t even noon.

By the time we got to our final destination in Gora, the sky opened up and it was pouring rain. It took us a while to find our hotel as the map that was given to Tony was wrong. We finally found it, but check in wasn’t until 3pm. The desk agent asked us what we wanted for dinner. The options were “interesting”. We left our backpacks with hotel, and went in search of a diversion for three hours. We had to buy cheap umbrellas from a little shop around the corner as we didn’t plan on it raining.

The streets were very narrow, and most tourists were hiding from the nasty weather. We wondered up a very steep road, and came across a restaurant that was connected to a house. The proprietors lived/worked in the same building. The great thing about most restaurants here in Japan, is that many have windows with plastic foods mimicking the dishes they serve. A tourist may speak a different language, but can still order something by pointing at the window. It sounds funny, but this REALLY helps those that are “Japanese language impaired”.

Tony had the fried pork over rice. I had the curry rice, and Dakota had an omelette filled with rice & topped with ketchup (sounds gross but he said it was great). We ¬†had hot sake to warm us after walking in the rain. When we paid and went to leave, the proprietor woman gave us 3 nice pair of wooden chop sticks rapped in a napkin. I was touched by the gesture, and gave Tony a look to say: “We should tip her for these”. Tony got my message and left a stack of change before we walked out. The proprietor RAN after us and gave Tony back his money. Oops! No tipping allowed, buddy!

Our room in Gora

Our room in Gora

When we got back to our hotel, we were told to pick out a formal japanese robe and belt. We assumed that they were to wear to the hot springs. I chose one in pink/purple/red with cherry blossoms, Tony chose one that looked like a hawaiian shirt print, and Dakota went for a standard blue stripe.

Our room was sparce in decoration as it was in a modern japanese style. There were two mattresses (one for Tony & one for me). There was a 20″ table with three seat backs w/cushions around them. It is a traditional table for eating/having your tea ceremony, etc. Dakota’s bed was a mat (which he said was comfortable to sleep on). There was a front entrance where you took off your shoes. Sandals were provided. The toilet room had a warmed seat (very nice on winter/spring days), and a sink mounted on top an efficient use of space. The whole room was covered in mats. There was an attached washroom with a transition shower that led to the balcony. On the balcony was a personal hot spring tub. Bamboo blinds could be rolled down to give the nude bather privacy.

We set the tub up for Dakota, and Tony and I  decided to chance getting into a

Dakota in Japanese dress attire

Dakota in Japanese dress attire

private hut on the grounds. We put on the provided robes and headed over. Unfortunately, the private ones were all in use. Neither one of us felt like going to the public, segregated bath. Call me shy, but I don’t miss the days of showering with a large population. Junior high & high school showers broke me from that.

We headed back to the room, and waited for Dakota to get done with his bath. Before taking a hot spring bath, the bather is required to thoroughly wash. We took a hot shower, and then got into the 2-person cedar tub. The air temperature was very cold & rainy, but the tub was at 104 degrees.

We played our travel Settlers of Catan to pass the time until our dinner reservation at 8pm. We went down to the hotel restaurant only to find that our american clothing were not allowed at dinner. This is where our fancy japanese robes came in. We ran back up to our room and changed.

When we got downstairs, we were taken to a small room where another family of 4 were just starting their meal. We were seated at our table which already had our first course waiting Рsushi. There were three decorative plates that had the craziest sushi we had ever seen on them. One plate had a mustard sauce  with a WHOLE squid (all parts intact minus the eyes) on it. Another plate had what looked like a typical sushi roll, but with a dried whole fish on it.

Squid with mustard, anyone?

Squid with mustard, anyone?

The meal went on and on with 7 courses. The main meal for Tony was eel & egg. *gag* Dakota and I had beef stew (2 tiny pieces of beet, a chunk of carrot, a chuck of potato in broth). The waitress lit up three burners on our table and brought our meals in metal bowls. Tony said that his eel/egg dish would’ve tasted better if they hadn’t put a big cube of seaweed tofu in it. Those were the only cooked items in our 7 course meal. Both of the guys said that all of the sushi rice was made with a strange fish broth that completely overtook the fresh fish. It ruined the flavor of the food.

As so many of the courses were raw, I didn’t eat much for dinner. I did splurge with a glass of plum wine (Yum!). Both of the guys were disappointed with the food. The presentation was amazing, but everything was VERY fishy to the point of not tasting right. Tony figured that the meal was at least $100/person. Thankfully, that was included with cost of our stay.

After dinner, Tony and I went back out for another bath on the balcony. All I can say is: We NEED one of these! It is very relaxing. We wound down the night by playing more games and listening to it pour rain (still) outside. Maybe tomorrow’s weather will be clear to see Mount Fuji? I sure hope so.

Texans in Japan – Day 3

April 6th, 2010

Our adventure today takes us to Ginza. This is the Rodeo Drive/Beverly Hills of Japan. It is estimated that this is the most expensive shopping area in the world. Stores such as: Swarovski, Burberry, Coach, Prada, Abercrombie & Fitch (12 stories of it!), Gucci, Tiffany & Company, and Dior line the streets of this shopping mecca.

My husband said that he read an interesting fact: Take a 10,000 yen note

World Famous Zebra Crossing in Ginza

World Famous Zebra Crossing in Ginza

(approximately $110 US @ today’s exchange rate) and fold it as small as possible. Drop it on the ground in Ginza. Your note couldn’t afford that tiny piece of land that it is sitting on. Ginza is EXTREMELY HIGH real estate!

Although we couldn’t afford even the shopping bags from these high priced boutiques, we did find a few fun stores.

Our son fell in love with a 6-level toy store, where he bought nano blocks. I’m sure he would’ve been happy to spend the entire day in there.

I found an adorable shop that specialized in chop sticks. You could find sets for as little as $3, and as expensive as up into the hundreds of dollars. I found 3 pair that I had to have. I actually own about 8 pair of chopsticks at home. I don’t use them for eating. I use them to put up my hair. My favorite ones? The set that look like colored pencils, of course.

Lovin' these noodles!

Lovin' these noodles!

We found another noodle shop for lunch. There are ramen shops all over Tokyo. They have pictures posted outside the restaurant with a number on each photo. You go in and place your order with a machine by the door (giving it your selection number). You pay the machine and get a ticket. You take the ticket to the counter and within 5 minutes, you have a hearty (and very filling) lunch for under $6. You can’t beat feeding a family of 3 for under $20. Also, there is no tipping in Tokyo.

After lunch, we hopped on the train to the Imperial Palace. The grounds are amazing with waterways, well-manicured grounds, gorgeous buildings, and cherry trees bursting with blossoms.

Emperial Palace

Imperial Palace

The grounds are surrounded by huge stone walls. They meander up a steep slope that levels out at the top. Here is where you will find a large grassy area surrounded by cherry and magnolia trees. There were several hundred people sitting under the trees and relaxing. It is said that having cherry blossoms fall on you is good luck.

The three of us took half an hour to sit in the sun under a beautiful tree. The light breeze made sure that blossoms blessed each one of us. It was a very peaceful break in the day.

We needed to take a rest after all of our walking, so we came back to our hotel. I had to soak my feet for a while.img_0520

The guys decided that they wanted to eat sushi for dinner. We found a cute little sushi bar where the chefs put selections on a carousel. Patrons grab what they want to eat and set their stacked plates aside. Once they have finished, the waitress comes by and adds up how much you spent on dinner. We ate for $30. Not bad for fatty tuna, sake, shrimp, eel, etc.

Tomorrow we are headed to hot springs and the Hakone/Mt. Fuji area. We were originally going to take the Bullet Train, but found out that it was going to be over $200 for a 25 min. ride. We decided to purchase the Hakone package where we get to take a different train, mountain rail, boat, and bus in the next two days.

A wonderful day

A wonderful day

I’ll be sure to post how everything went in a few days. Until then, Sayonara!

Texans in Japan – Day 2

April 5th, 2010

4-4-10
It seems that sleeping for 9 hours has helped us all mostly recover from jet lag.

Happy 20th Anniversary!

Happy 20th Anniversary!

Tokyo is rainy & foggy this morning. We called back home (5am here – 2pm in Texas) to wish the family Happy Easter.

I have to say that I was happy that our hotel has a “normal” toilet. It does have a wash/bidet option. The wash was surprisingly pleasant. The toilet seat is heated as well. LOL! Our son is grossed out by it. I did some yoga last night & this morning which seemed to help get the kinks out of my 40yo body.

We are headed down to breakfast. I couldn’t believe that they charge $40/person for breakfast here at the Tokyo Hilton. Thankfully, my husband’s Diamond status lets us eat for free. Woohoo! Today’s breakfast was miso soup, stewed prunes, banana, and cappuccino for me. The guys had miso soup and a normal english breakfast (i.e. bacon & eggs).

Geek nirvana

Geek nirvana

Our day started with a train ride to Akihabara, the electronics district of Tokyo. The rain was just starting. The first area we went through was filled with tiny (no bigger than an average family bathroom) full of electronics. These shops were jammed into alleyways down busy streets. My guys were thrilled to investigate each booth, where you could find components to build anything electronic your heart desires (i.e. computers, radios, robots, etc.)

After going through these shops, we found Club Sega. This is a 7 level video arcade. The bottom floor was nothing but crane machines with prizes from food to electronics. The upper levels were tradition video arcade games. When we saw the full-sized Tetris game, we knew that we had to take a moment to play a few rounds. The game’s joy sticks were as big as a basketball. That was too weird. LOL!

Rain doesn't keep the shoppers away

Rain doesn't keep the shoppers away

We then wondered down the street to a 9-story electronics story called Yodobashi Camera. This store was full of: computers, cameras, toys, movies/cds, games & game systems, etc. I always thought the multi-level B&H store in New York was amazing. This store made B&H look like a Radio Shack. I know that the guys could spend our entire vacation just in this store.

For lunch, we found a tiny sushi bar around the corner. Tony says that the sushi in Japan is amazing and just melts in your mouth. I wouldn’t know as I like my food cooked. I had the clam miso soup.

After lunch, we walked around the district for several more hours before heading back to our hotel for a nap before dinner. Dinner was just around the corner at a little ramen shop. The three of us ate a huge ramen dinner for under $20. Not bad by Tokyo standards.

Observations on Day 2:

* The Japanese culture is extremely polite. Salespeople bow a lot.

* Japan is extremely clean. You hardly ever see trash anywhere. You also don’t see trash cans. We were hard pressed to find a place to throw away a soda bottle.

* Fashion is very important here. We walked through a department store by Shinjuku station. I happened to see a cotton blouse that would be about $25 at Macy’s ON SALE here for $167! How on earth do people afford to buy clothing here?!

* People don’t own cars here. Folks get around with bicycles, scooters, or take the train. The Japanese also do a great amount of walking.

* I’ve seen very few overweight people here. While wondering through stores, I have seen candy and sugary soda for sale. There are vending machines practically on every corner. However, I haven’t seen much in the way of junk food (i.e. chips, cookies, greasy snack foods, etc.) like you do in the U.S. I believe that most Japanese eat healthily and do a lot of walking. Americans would do well to follow their example.

* Advertising campaigns are overly exaggerated. This applies to written as well as visual media. You see a lot of wide smiles and silly actions in their marketing.

* The train system is extremely clean and always on time. The seats are heated too.

* This society is sexually oppressed compared to the U.S. I haven’t seen women wear suggestive clothing like they do in the states. I have seen short skirts, but almost all women wear dark tights and high boots to go with them.

On the flip side, their anime females all seem to have large breasts and are in positions that accentuate the female form (sometimes to the point of REALLY pushing modesty). This can even be seen in anime directed towards children. Photography with live models doesn’t do this. You don’t see a poster of a Japanese model in a suggestive position. You would see it if it were drawn. Interesting, huh?

* Many people wear paper masks over their mouth/nose. I can’t decide if it is because they are feeling ill, or because they don’t want to be exposed to something.

* Most people seem to know a little english. I found this to be true when we were walking in a crowded electronics alleyway. I walked by saying “Crazy”, and a man started to laugh. Apparently, he understood me and agreed. I wish my Japanese were as good. My 40yo brain is learning spanish right now. I can’t seem to fit another language in there.

Texans in Japan – Day 1

April 4th, 2010

On the way to Shinjuku

On the way to Shinjuku

On the way to Shinjuku

4-3-10
Woke up at 4:45am Texas time. Jumped on a plane to Dallas, and then one headed for Narita, Japan. The plane flight was 12+ hours. If you ask me, that is WAY TO LONG TO BE SITTING! We spent most of Easter 2010 in the air. Thank goodness for in flight movies (i.e. Sherlock Holmes, Avatar, Knowing, The Office re-runs). The airline gave us 2 meals, and a snack. The meals weren’t bad actually (pizza & chicken with rice). The seats didn’t recline much, so we barely slept.

We took a train from Narita (for $60) to the Shinjuku (financial district) around 5pm. Our room wasn’t ready, so we headed out for a quick meal. We found a Yoshinoya, which is the equivalent to a japanese McDonald’s. They have them in the U.S. Tasty meat/onions over rice.

We got back to our hotel after walking around a bit around 6pm. We went up to the 37th floor to have a free cranberry/vodka (thank you, Diamond Status). We settled into our room on the 35th floor, and marveled at the view. Wow! Tokyo at night is gorgeous! After being awake for over 24 hours, we got to bed at 8pm Tokyo time. What a long day!

NOTE: Just some observations here. Most people don’t drive in Japan. You see TONS of scooters and bicycles. As folks don’t own expensive cars, they own bikes manufactured by car companies (i.e. Land Rover, Chervolet, Hummer). Interesting, huh?