Let's talk about the Snorlax in the room

By now, most people throughout the US are aware of the insane revived popularity of 90's video game/anime sensation Pokemon due to the release of the smartphone app, Pokemon Go. You can't step out your front door without seeing people awkwardly pausing in the middle of a sidewalk wiggling their phone screens at seemingly uninteresting objects or scenes. Many of you have probably already tried playing it yourself, and if you're on the other side of the fence, then perhaps scratching your head in confusion as to why this game is so captivating.

The day it came out I went ahead and downloaded as my boyfriend has been anticipating Pokemon GO since its official announcement in September 2015. Already I have very mixed feelings about the game, least of which has to do with the actual game itself, and more to do with its impact on both the physical and economical environment, as well as society as a whole. Due to all these mixed thoughts, I've gone ahead and compiled a list of pros and cons:

PROS

Everywhere you go, so many people are trying to "Catch 'em all!"

Everywhere you go, so many people are trying to "Catch 'em all!"

1. Friendship for Everyone
What a strange and wonderful time we live in. I can't help thinking that this silly game could become a great uniter of humanity. As people wander the street (or forest) people occasionally take their eyes off the screen to look around for others in their area that are also actively searching for Pokemon. When spotted, said people will often exchange a few words to discuss where a nearby area for Pokemon or loot happens to be. People who would never have exchanged any words are suddenly a friendly face.

I was in Oregon with family when the game came out and being on a coast town, there wasn't as much visible interest in the game probably due to the lack of good reception. My boyfriend however informed me of how popular it instantly became in Bellingham, mentioning how strolling through a local park he noticed two families that probably never would have spoken to each other were bonding both with their families and with each other's family's interest in the game. Two fathers, one looking like a typical American nuclear family stereotype and the other, with a tattooed Cholo look, were talking to each other about the game, their kids and where to find a certain Pokemon. While I doubt they exchanged phone numbers, my boyfriend found it nice that two people who perhaps wouldn't have spoken to each other before or maybe even would have avoided it, were able to find common ground.

The beautiful waterfall attached to Maritime Heritage Park.

The beautiful waterfall attached to Maritime Heritage Park.

2. Safety in Numbers
The day after I got back from my trip in Oregon, I was able to experience first hand the social aspect mentioned above. As I was heading to the post office to pick up a package, I decided that since my boyfriend was with me, it would be safe to walk through a trail that normally I would be afraid to walk alone, due unfortunately to unsavory recent activities. While the walk was partly motivated by a desire to collect goodies at some Pokestops, I also just wanted to enjoy a walk through this beautiful trail that has a creek with a small waterfall running alongside. I spotted about 6-8 people obviously playing, and as I enjoyed the view of the creek, a guy rolling by on his bike stopped to ask if my boyfriend and I were there playing Pokemon Go. A short exchange had us discussing how although he's not playing the game, he has been enjoying the level of excitement players have been sharing together. I commented how the trail we were on would never have so many people to which he joked that it's called the "stabbin' trail" for a reason because of the level of homeless people and drug addicts that live in the park attached to it. This brings me to my next point.

The Pokemon GO app is allowing more people to explore the area in which they live, occupying previously rarely visited areas. More "safe" people in an area makes more people feel comfortable visiting it. While I'm not a particular fan of gentrification in that it often only benefits those who already have money, I am open to the fact that a beautiful park near my house might actually become less scary due to more visitors. This fact reminded me a lot of my stay in Japan and the fact that Japan is known for being one of the safest countries in the world. I never would have stayed in Japan alone for 3 weeks if I didn't feel like it was ridiculously safe. While a huge reason Japan is safe is due to the fact that it was demilitarized and very few people can legally possess guns, as well as the strict prison conditions that deter would-be criminals, I think it is also likely that the huge amounts of people as well as high respect for each other is a major role in the safety. When there are more law-abiding citizens in an area to bear witness to potential crimes, would-be lawbreakers are much less likely to do anything unsavory.

That's not to say people shouldn't still be aware of their surroundings, but one side-effect of this game I am hoping for is that more area use of player will make places safer for players and non-players alike.

3. A Sudden Interest in Environment
Without a doubt, Nintendo wanted to encourage a level of wonder not only in video games, but in the natural world. As a Japanese company, Nintendo has always sought to improve the lives of players through entertainment, health, and lifestyle. Furthermore, in Japanese culture an appreciation of the beauty of the surrounding world is always near to the heart. A wonderful aspect of Pokemon Go is that people are beginning to discover things about their hometowns that perhaps they wouldn't have ever batted an eyelash at before. I've lived in downtown Bellingham for 3 years, and since the game was released I've learned about of the landmarks I never knew existed or never paid any mind to until Pokemon Go pointed them out to me as a Pokestop. On my boyfriend's days off from work I enjoy going on walks around town. Because he wanted to find some pokemon that weren't in the downtown area, he suggested we go to a secluded statue garden stashed away in a neighborhood. I've lived in Bellingham for nearly 8 years and I had never even known of its existence and I don't think he would have ever mentioned it to me had it not been for this game. There were a handful of people at the statue garden that I doubt would be walking around there had it not been for the game as well.

Undoubtedly, I am not the only person who is experiencing new things in their town for the first time, and it opens up so many opportunities to learn more than you would have before at other places you might want to visit.

4. Business Opportunities
Nintendo is no fool when it comes to marketing and the Pokemon franchise is about to GO even bigger than it already has with all the card games, video games, plushies, apparel, and other nerdy memoribilia that the franchise has pumped out in the last 20 years. Nintendo has already sold out of accompanying device, Pokemon Go Plus, which is set to release later this month. The device retails for $34.99 and will allow players to send captured pokemon data to their phone without using the battery-sucking GPS.

I predict Nintendo and Niantic aren't the only companies that will benefit from the app, however. In just one week many local businesses are seeing a huge increase in foot traffic, therefore taking the opportunity to boost their business with lures. Lures are an aspect of the game where someone can place a lure in order to bring players to a specific place to catch more pokemon and get more essential goodies for the game. While lures are an in-app purchasable item, if businesses are able to convert passerbys into actual customers, then the cost of Pokecoins will be well worth the investment. Businesses I don't see this working so great for are retail shop owners since actually shopping would take your attention from playing a game. However, I can definitely foresee purchasing lures as a benefit for places where people would want to sit down and relax, like a bar or restaurant.

Besides local businesses, the cellphone, cellphone accessory and service provider industries are the most likely to benefit from the release of Pokemon GO. Because the app eats up a lot of battery life rather quickly, I feel certain that in the next few weeks a ton of cell phone businesses will be ordering a lot of extra portable backup chargers. Also, as the average cell phone users have limited data plans, I have a feeling a lot of people are going to start looking into how much it costs to have unlimited data which will prompt a lot of service providers to offer more deals to convert into sales. I'm not a T-mobile customer, but if you're one of those looking for unlimited data for Pokemon GO, apparently T-Mobile will be offering free data usage for players, plus a free frosty. Score!

The release of Pokemon GO alone has a friend of mine who has for so long refused to get a smartphone to consider finally buying one just so he can play the game. If that's not conversion, I don't know what is.

Other businesses that will reap the rewards of this game include artists being commissioned to do fan art, graphic designers (don't think for a moment I'm not considering how I can use this to my advantage), and probably even tourism. People already pay millions each year to have someone tell show them world heritage sites, statues, graveyards, historical markers, restaurants, and more. Why wouldn't people want to know where a rare pokemon is, especially if it's nestled somewhere they're already vacationing? 

Finally, if you're an investor, now might be the time to fork over your hard-earned cash for stock in Nintendo and Niantic. Just in the last week, Nintendo's stocks have risen 9% and Niantic has increased by 30%, which according to my boyfriend, is monumental in the world of finance.

5. Technology
As we discuss the the financial benefit that cellphone companies have from the sudden need to play Pokemon GO, we also need to consider that the companies that produce the technology for cellphones will be put under pressure to create a better product, which always benefits the users. Best-known smartphone companies such as Apple and Samsung are probably already figuring out how to make the battery last longer and will be working to release the latest and greatest new phones in just a matter of time.

Again, as the app is a battery eater due to the constant use of GPS to play the game, Niantic, the company that developed the game will need to continue to improve the app to ideally have it use less battery, or offer the ability for users to toggle between use of GPS. As the game begins to include a fighting system, perhaps players can choose not to use GPS while in battle. Servers will also need to be improved because as it stands, the game crashes a lot at log in. Truth be told, the game has a lot of improvement to be made, but I still applaud the efforts put forth so far to create this game.

6. Physical Health Through Exercise
All over the internet, people are having a poke at the fact that our government couldn't get people to stop being lazy ever, and suddenly Nintendo/Niantic release Pokemon GO and people can't seem to stop exercising as a side effect of the game. All joking aside, perhaps the greatest part of this game is that more and more people are getting off their butts and moving their bodies around to play this game. Although I don't think people will suddenly be shedding off all the excess pounds on their body, it does encourage more movement that people might otherwise ignore. While walking at a local beach with my friend (who doesn't play the game), we discussed that while its somewhat shocking to see so many people on their smartphones more than ever before, the fact is those people were probably always on their phones, just in the confines of their homes or office. Instead of playing games like Candy Crush on their lunch breaks or while lazily waiting for time to pass, people are walking around outside in order to play the games. In my experience so far, the game is more or less useless when inside because you can't really discover any Pokestops or Pokemon from inside. You have to be walking around in designated places to catch them.

Another aspect of the game offers pokemon you can hatch from an egg. In order to hatch the egg you are required to walk a set amount of distance. I've tested it out to see if it gauges distance travel on GPS distance or from the built-in smart phone pedometer. Driving around with the app active and checking it upon arrival to a destination has proven that the game relies on actual physical steps to "hatch" the pokemon. Most eggs require about 2-10km to hatch, which is far more walking around than most people would do in week if they weren't already active people. In a society that values weight loss, this is a great motivator for people who struggle with the venture, most often due to the boredom of going to the gym. But weight loss is not the only reason exercise is so important.

One only has to visit WebMD to find out about the huge array of physical conditions that affect people. Though not prescribed as a medication or aide, Pokemon GO has the potential to offer a low-stress, low impact game that encourages movement. Not constrained to daylight hours, the game can be played at night by those who want to exercise, but need to avoid sunlight due to albinism, allergies, or even as a side effect of antibiotics or anxiety drugs like doxapine. Furthermore, the gym is not always a practical option for people with varicose veins, or similar conditions, as it can be a struggle to find low-impact exercises necessary to increase blood flow.

Also, while I haven't seen any data yet, I would bet that some people's livers are going to be thanking them. While walking around downtown where I live, I noticed more people standing around popular haunts playing. While they are probably going out to drink, I'm sure some of them are enjoying not drinking just as much. Once I reached the age of 21, I began to notice a lot of my friends/co-workers complain that they would love to do more than just go out to bars and drink, but that drinking is one of the only common interests that can be done after a day at work, or that bars are the only place to meet people. Pokemon GO offers an alternative activity for people of all ages to enjoy without damaging their livers.

7. Social anxiety + Mental Health
Physical health is not the only benefit of the game, however, and it is important to note that many of the people participating in playing Pokemon Go are people that experience debilitating conditions like social anxiety and depression. I know a handful of peers that have spent years, if not their whole lives, struggling with these issues. I was amazed and so happy to see a Facebook friend's anecdote mentioning how for years, despite a desire to spend time with people, it had been hard for her to get herself to leave the house due to her social anxiety. Since the release of Pokemon GO, she had felt encouraged by a goal to "catch 'em all" to get out, and within the first two days she had clocked 13 km of walking, both alone and with others.

It should be noted that the creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Tajiri, has been said to have Asperger's, a form of autism. In a country like Japan, and even in the world, it can be incredibly difficult to be understood and to find sympathy for having conditions that are considered abnormal, weird, or different. Although mental health awareness is being spread more and more these days, it doesn't mean that it is an easy thing to deal with. Tajiri, with his brilliantly creative mind, however, managed to create one of the most beloved games to ever exist that appeals to all audiences, regardless of age, race, gender, orientation, physical or mental conditions. What a beautiful thing!

8. Acceptance of Nerd Culture
The angsty teenager that wants to be the only one who likes some subcultural thing is so angry that so many people have adopted such a nerdy thing into their lives as a "normal" thing. The actual nerd in me is pretty stoked on the fact that I don't have to be embarassed to admit I like something like Pokemon. I'm by no means a hardcore fan of Pokemon and arguably only ever liked it because of the cute characters. I am however a huge fan of sci-fi movies and books, Sailor Moon, Studio Ghibli, and share a higher than average knowledge of anime, Marvel comics, and Star Wars. This aspect of my personality I learned to keep hidden as a middle schooler because it was "uncool" to like such things. I never stopped liking those things, but I didn't go around spreading the word either.

I do think that popular culture has done a good job of adopting things once deemed "nerdy" if for no other reason than having commercial products to sell. It has only been in the last few years that I felt comfortable allowing my friends to see the nerdier aspect of myself. Although bullying will perhaps never cease, I am sure that a lot of "closeted" nerds are feeling safer to come out of the woodwork and openly proclaim their nerdom. And anything that allows people to be true to themselves is A-Ok in my book.

CONS

Although kidnapping is no joking matter, this is actually something people should be concerned with.

Although kidnapping is no joking matter, this is actually something people should be concerned with.

1. Safety
I know I started out my Pros with safety in numbers being a positive thing, but safety is also a major negative concern. Although the game issues a warning on load up to always be aware of your surroundings, most people don't seem to take that advice to heart. I've seen people stop in the middle of the sidewalk, causing someone behind them to bump into them, or even in the street, which is a danger to themselves and traffic. Just like texting and driving is an issue, so too is Pokemon and Driving. I'm pretty sure that the amount of cops I've seen patrolling the city is in direct correlation to the amount of drivers foolishly trying to Poke & Drive. The game is meant to be played while walking, but some people are taking the opportunity to hit up as many Pokestops while they drive, paying more attention to their phones than the road.

Another safety concern is the issue of lures. While I don't think it is going to lead to too many crimes, already people have been arrested for robbing unsuspecting players by setting Pokemon lures. A group of robbers set a lure that literally lured their victims to a secluded location where they would then mug the person. There is also the possibility for worse crimes which is why it is encouraged that if you are planning on visiting a lure, that you go to lures that you know are in safe, highly populated areas or don't go alone.

2. Lack of Actual Awareness of Surroundings
Tied alongside with safety comes the awareness of users, or the lack thereof. I've already covered safety, however, so let's move onto an actual awareness of the wonder that is the world around us. Yeah, it's pretty awesome that people are getting out of the house, walking around in nature, but what if they aren't actually appreciating all that surrounds them? People might be finding cool sculptures, but maybe they aren't seeing the sculpture for the art that it truly is, a piece that someone poured their time and energy into. Perhaps they see the sculpture and go "Oh hey, a pokestop! Better get my loot and find the next stop." There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but at the same time, it tends to defeat the purpose of enjoying your surroundings.

This same thing comes along with tourism in general. Often times people are more concerned about getting the perfect selfie in front of a historical site, rather than observing the site, interacting with it and learning about its history. While it's everyone's prerogative how they want to interact with nature and their surroundings, but it would be a shame if all users miss a beautiful sunset by the water because they were too busy trying to catch a rare pokemon. Furthermore, I can foresee the possibility of damaging natural areas because people decide they want to bushwack into some forested area because they think a pokemon is nearby, thereby harming actual living creatures' habitats.

3. Addiction
Addiction is a word that people usually attach to alcohol or substance abuse, or gambling, but video games are no exception. I've seen first-hand many people who become addicted to having a screen in front of their faces and truth be told, I am probably no exception to the rule. I sit at a computer doing graphic design while passively watching the latest episodes of Game of Thrones, Bob's Burgers, The Walking Dead, SupernaturalSailor Moon Crystal, etc... I check my phone constantly for emails from clients, and am probably a little addicted to Tsum Tsum, a game I discovered while perusing the video game arcades in Japan. There are probably at least as many hours in the day that I'm in front of a screen as there are hours that I'm not. Probably more. I hate to think I could be addicted to screens, and even more that I could be addicted to a time-waster like video games.

I'm no enemy of video games and actually see many benefits to playing as a form of relaxation, building hand-eye coordination and reflexes, and even social bonding. But no one should ever say that it isn't addictive, and what's not to be addicted to? Just like reading books or watching TV shows, you're allowed to enter a domain of someone else's imagination, take on the role of the character and interact with objects, environments and other characters. Pokemon GO is literally described as an Augmented Reality game, and with our real world being so often harsh, scary and downright difficult, it's not surprising that many want to turn to video games as an escape.

But with any escape which addictions serve out generously, it is is crucial that responsibilities aren't shirked, relationships aren't ignored, and that you are not harming yourself or others. Because people were already glued to their phones without invention of Pokemon Go, it is important that people realize when they are also in the presence of others. I make it a personal rule that when I spend time with friends or am on a date, that I'm not constantly texting other people (unless it's someone who's joining us), making phone calls, emailing, or playing games, unless I formally excuse myself. For this reason, I think it's important to be considerate of others when playing Pokemon Go. If you're actively playing it while hanging out with friends, great! But if you're ignoring someone who has given you their time, it's just plain rude to play and you might need to reconsider your priorities.

4. Bullying
I mentioned how letting your nerd flag fly is an awesome side effect of the game's popularity, but one aspect I am worried about developing, especially as the game becomes more interactive once player-to-player combat is granted, is the possibility of bullying. Cyber-bullying is not a new topic and the game offers three teams for users to choose to be on, creating division in the same manner that cliques do in high school settings. Whether in person or online, I've already seen many criticize the team choices people make while also trying to brag about the team they chose to be on. As players try to lock down Training gyms in hopes of dominating the game world, gamers are already putting down rival teams.

For those not playing the game, there tends to be a sense of superiority via memes and criticism both online and on the streets. Online people like to brag that they aren't playing games because they're "not immature children." This is a part about video game culture criticism I have always hated, particularly in Western culture--the idea that playing video games past the age of 18 means you have a stunted level of maturity and responsibility. In Tokyo, although considered a bit of a syndrome (called aruki samuwa or "smart phone walkers/zombies") people of all ages can be seen playing games on their phones while commuting and there seems to be no guilt in partaking in this form of entertainment.

As for non-players of Pokemon GO in real life, there seems to be passing judgement in a more obvious form of pointing fingers at players and laughing. Or even this evening, I had someone come up to me and some friends just to mockingly say "Do you mind if I talk to you guys? You see, you realize this is just the government trying to control you through your devices. They're making you do it." No, they're not making me do it, Nintendo and Niantic are providing a game that I actively chose to play. (Also, if you're going to try and school me on your conspiracy theories, puh-lease, I'm so well-versed in more conspiracy theories than most.)

In any case, going out of one's way to poke fun at others is never cool. There is nothing to be ashamed of for playing a game, just as there is no shame in enjoying a book in a cafe, drawing a scenery on a park bench, listening to your own personally terrible taste in music, walking your dog, drinking with friends, or practically anything else anyone does for entertainment.

5. Buggy game
Finally, I come to the last con of Pokemon GO, and this time it actually has to do with the game itself...

Oh my goodness, what a frustrating app! I understand it's a work in progress, and perhaps its popularity wasn't fully anticipated in relation to the game's servers, but what a f**king nightmare! It's not that it's a hard game, but it is constantly crashing. At most, I can walk around with it active for maybe 15-20 minutes if I'm super duper lucky. Once it crashes, however, it's a complete gamble of whether I'll be able to play it at any point in the nearby future. Are any other apps open? Oh, I better close those. Maybe I should check the app store to see if there's an update. Oh, no update. :( Maybe if I just turn off my phone and turn it on again. Oh yeah, that worked... but wait, now it's saying it can't reach the server?! Okay, let's turn it off and on again. Maybe a hard reset? But that's bad for my phone. You know what, I'm just going to ignore the game and enjoy this beautiful park. Gaaahhh, but what if I'm missing out on a rare pokemon!? All these other players nearby seem to be getting something, let's just try to restart it one more time... Oh my god! I got in. I got in! *two minutes later* oh gawd! Not again!? Stupid, stupid game. I should just delete this until it's more stable.. But what about the other players, they'll be so ahead of me! Maybe I just need a better phone? WHY cruel world?! WHY?!

And that's more or less the way it goes until your phone says, "Hey dummy, your battery is at 20%, maybe you should stop trying to play in case you know, you need to actually use your phone for its intended purpose.

And that my friends, is Pokemon GO.

Please feel free to chime in on your experience, some pros or cons you have considered. I'm quite interested in your thoughts, predictions, or whatever else you think about the game.

Settling Into Tokyo

With the famous Hachiko statue at Shibuya Crossing exit.

With the famous Hachiko statue at Shibuya Crossing exit.

Day 15

Apparently Superman is never too busy to hear what the people have to say. There was a protest going on, but I have no idea what it was about.

Apparently Superman is never too busy to hear what the people have to say. There was a protest going on, but I have no idea what it was about.

Because I was out so late the night before, I slept in til about 1pm. I had been hopeful about going to an artists meetup in Shinjuku but as it turns out I got the location wrong and the meetup was actually in Shibuya. I made my way towards Shibuya anyway and then eventually gave up on getting there in a timely manner. But I did finally find the Hachiko statue (read more about the famous pup, Hachiko here). I had seen so many other statues in the area and the Hachiko wall art, but could never seem to find the statue. After getting a photo with Hachiko, I went back into the station and made my way towards Shinjuku. The night before Tetsu invited me to the Golden Tiger for a rockabilly show. So I just sorta walked around until the time Tetsu told me to meet him at Iwamatocho station which has become our midway meeting place. We then made our way over to gig. By the way, this show didn't start at 12am like the last, it was the reasonable hour of 6pm instead. This meant that there would be 4 bands and dj between each set, ending the night around 10, just in time for us to all roll out and hit the last train. I missed the first band, but the second band played a lot of covers like "These Boots Were Made for Walking," "Why don't you love me like you used to do?," etc.. I even danced with one of the attendees. I was able to meet many people who all were friends of Tetsu. It seems the rockabilly subculture is all well connected. I spoke with Jun, who is the event coordinator, and Oshow, the owner of the bar, who just happened to be the bass player/lead vocalist for Asakusa Jinta--the band I saw the billboard for, and happened to live in Sasazuka, where I'm staying. Small world Tokyo, especially for 16 million people. Jun invited me to her next event so I told her I'd probably be able to make it.

Me, Tetsu, Shirrow + Kama

Me, Tetsu, Shirrow + Kama

I understand why we don't have lineups on display here in the US, but it would be nice sometimes to know the name of the band coming on next and when. Then again, people in the US are more likely to walk away from a $5 cover to see one band versus the $20-30 cover for practically all shows in Japan.

I understand why we don't have lineups on display here in the US, but it would be nice sometimes to know the name of the band coming on next and when. Then again, people in the US are more likely to walk away from a $5 cover to see one band versus the $20-30 cover for practically all shows in Japan.

One peculiar thing about being at the show, however, is that rather than speak to me directly, people would talk about me to each other in a conversation mostly like this: "This is Mandy, she's Tetsu's friend. She's from Seattle and plays in a rockabilly band. She plays upright bass." "Oh is that so? Ahh, so cool." All in Japanese of course. So strange to be spoken of but be unable to converse directly due to lack of ability to carry a conversation in Japanese and their shyness at their limited English. The fact is in general, as long as both parties know a tiny amount of each other's language, and added body language, I've found that it hasn't been too hard to communicate. Though it also helps if you have a dictionary app.

Anyways, after the show ended around 10:30, Tetsu, Kama and I grabbed a quick dinner and then headed our separate ways.
 

We had to take this pic fairly quickly under a corridor of cherry blossoms in Shibuya.

We had to take this pic fairly quickly under a corridor of cherry blossoms in Shibuya.


Day 17
I mostly hung out at the house on Monday but made plans to hang out with the Aussies since it was their last day in Tokyo. We met around 6:30pm at the Hachiko gate of Shibuya station. I had thought we could go to a cool lesser version of the Robot Restaurant but it turned out the ad I had seen was just an ad of the Robot Restaurant that Dom had wanted so badly to go to. It was sold out though so we weren't able to make it there. So we kind of did the whole wander around til we see something we like game, which can take forever in Japan because a lot of restaurants look amazing and you're stuck being like "but what if there's something better?" We ended up at an izakaya style restaurant because it had all you can drink for ¥1500 which Sian wanted to make the most of. This is less of a deal for me because don't drink so fast, but you have 2 hours to order as much beverages as you want. I think I drank 4-5 drinks, so a faster pace than my norm. I stuck to umeshu (plum wine) and soda since it didn't seem to affect me much and I enjoy it a lot. The food was good and we share varieties of fried snacks, fried onigiri type food, yakitori, etc.. After hour two hours were up and we were all somewhat buzzed, Sian suggested one more drink before we all head home. There was a bar called Shots they had looked up, but as it turned out, there was a ¥1000 cover. So we wandered into another nearby bar that had no cover, or so we thought. I had just enough money for one drink so I ordered a mojito, and lo and behold! It was actually made with real lime and mint, not just a sugary mix as I had so far encountered. The bartender was friendly and the decor was like an old vintage Hollywood bar, with framed photos of famous actresses and a small tv playing some films. It wasn't til we were about to leave that we found that our bill had about 1500 yen more on it than what we ordered. We came to the realization that there was a cover, albeit less than 1000 each, but it wasn't advertised. In Japan, there are a lot of bars that charge a cover, even though there is no entertainment. I believe this is because a lot of shops don't have tons of business in comparison to what I imagine rent costs in some of the urban settings, so it's how they keep their doors open. At least that's what I'm assuming.

Sian was kind enough to cover it since I used the last of the cash I had on me. We all walked to the station and parted ways. They were off to England where Dom's family is from. I really hope I can meet with them again down the road, especially since my next trip will likely be somewhere in Europe.

BBB

Day 14 (Bye Bye Boyfriend)

Saturday morning of Ian's departure had come. Although I wasn't allowed to check into my next sharehouse until 4pm, I still woke early to see Ian off from Tokyo Station. Waking at 8am wasn't so awful so much as the fact that it was hard to sleep the night before because our new roommates were two couples with partners that snored horribly loud. One was loud but has a consistent snore whereas the other had signs of sleep apnea with varying levels and speeds of snoring. In any case it was a miserable night of sleep. I accompanied Ian from Shinjuku to Shinagawa (where Tokyo Station is located) and it wasn't until he got on the express line to Narita airport that I realized I hadn't gotten a goodbye photo with him. 😭 I was pretty sad to see him go because I knew the next month would be packed full of excitement and while I was glad for that, I also knew I'd be sad I couldn't share the experiences with him.

I got sad when I realized I never even got a goodbye photo of us together. Also, I found Ian in cartoon form in this poster (He's the one with the DS and headphones for sure).

I got sad when I realized I never even got a goodbye photo of us together. Also, I found Ian in cartoon form in this poster (He's the one with the DS and headphones for sure).

Once his train took off, I drearily walked up to the main floor of the station and since I had nothing better to do with the next few hours, I spent about 20-30 minutes reading the display of history that was in the station. Interesting facts include that the Ueno station was once the main station and two political figures were attacked at different times, one ending in death and the other severe injury ending in death about 8 months later. The Tokyo Station was once a posh hotel, the first train station to ever have a hotel for convenience of travelers. A couple years ago it was revamped into a hotel again. And there are currently many stations undergoing construction in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.

Anyways, there's a breakdown of the more interesting facts. I then grabbed a snack at Andersen, my favorite train station bakery in Tokyo, and finally I dragged my way towards Sasazuka, the area I'd be calling home for the next month. Once I checked in I passed out in order to catch up on sleep from the night before. I have to admit, I was pretty bummed about my room. The ads for the Airbnb showed tatami mat rooms for a traditional home experience, my room however was just a box with white walls and two windows with bars. So basically a prison like room. In order to make it less droll I used cute paper shopping bags as decor on my window sill, as well as a handful of gashapon.

After settling in and getting in touch with my clients, I took another nap because I was going to have a very long night. I was going to meet my friend Tetsu for the first time at the venue he was playing that night. Tetsu and I met via FB about 8-9 months ago when I was browsing folks in Tokyo area with similar interests (music, rockabilly). We began conversing about music and have stayed in touch and he's been nice enough to put up with my attempts at learning to write in Japanese. Haha

Anyways, I left my place around 10:30 or so to make my way to Koenji where the venue, Club Missions, was. I admit, that without Ian around, I forgot to really eat that day, and many days following. 😖 The show that evening was actually a reggae show, and while Tetsu's band, The Discovers, doesn't really play reggae, I think they have a couple ska-ish riffs that made it match enough.

Just a restaurant I passed by with neat art in Koenji and the poster for the show.

Just a restaurant I passed by with neat art in Koenji and the poster for the show.

My friend's band, The Discovers, is the top right. Click the image to see video, or here for their YouTube Channel.

My friend's band, The Discovers, is the top right. Click the image to see video, or here for their YouTube Channel.

This was my first experience at a live show in Japan, though it wasn't necessarily the common show experience in Japan. For example, most shows start around 6pm, but this one started at 12am. I know, 6pm sounds sooo early, right? but that's so that the shows are over in time for everyone to catch the last subway train home around midnight. This show was an exception and I was a little concerned about how I'd get home. If I wanted to walk, it would probably take me an hour assuming I didn't make any wrong turns in an area of Tokyo I was unfamiliar with. If I wanted to take a cab, I'd have to fork over about ¥6000 ($60)!! And if I wanted to take the subway, I'd have to wait til 5am. Or hope my friend had friends with a car--most people don't have cars here in Tokyo because there's no room to park them anywhere and if you do want to park one it costs a zillion dollars.
 

Party on, my friends.

Party on, my friends.

When I asked my friend about how he and everyone there expected to get home, he said the subway. So staying up late it was! Now the two things I think I enjoyed most about the late night experience was the fact that because many people were tired as is reasonable at 3,4,5 in the morning, people were passing out on the floors of the venue even though music was blaring.

The second part I enjoyed was seeing the 'zombie walk' to the station in the morning as people from many venues and areas of Tokyo shuffled sleepily into the station at 5am. It was interesting to see who showed up at the time of morning, anyone from rock 'n rollers, clubbers, bartenders and businessmen (not sure if they're going home from a late night out, or getting an early start for work). In any case it was an experience I wouldn't have been able to have otherwise. I only wish I had gotten photos of it.

Train Hopping

Day 12

In the morning I met our new roommates, a couple from Australia, Dom & Sian (pronounced shee-ahn). They were having trouble because they were only able to book the room for two nights. Luckily Sian's mother had a friend in Kugayama who had a room available. They didn't know where that was, but it just so happened to be right next to Kichijoji, where Ian and I had planned on visiting that day anyway. So we offered to accompany them to their destination and see if they wanted to hang out. After they dropped off some of their belongings, we headed to Kichijoji. I had wanted to go to Kichijoji because I wanted to check out Inokashira Park, and a street food restaurant called Satou that is famous for its menshikatsu croquettes. Spoiler alert: the secret ingredient is horse. I know some of you might be grossed out by that, but I can attest to its deliciousness. Dom is vegetarian, however, so she and Sian headed to a vegetarian restaurant while Ian and I waited in line for about 20 minutes for our food.

Vengeful spirit Benzaiten curses you and your partner's love. Illustration by Zayra.

Vengeful spirit Benzaiten curses you and your partner's love. Illustration by Zayra.

Once we all reconvened, we took a stroll through Inokashira Park. I had wanted to go to Inokashira Park since last year's visit to Japan because apparently the river is cursed by a Benzaiten, a spirit who dooms any couple who rides the paddle boats. I really wanted to ride them anyway to test Ian and I's relationship, but my foot was still pretty hurt. During our walk, we passed the Studio Ghibli museum which to my dismay, tickets were sold out for my entire trip. :( So we passed by longingly before stopping for some Amezake (sweet sake). Joe-San, back in Osaka, said I ought to try it some time, but to be honest,  I can't say I'm a fan of it and neither was Dom.

It's okay, Totoro. I know you're trapped behind those bars, but I, too, feel terribly trapped out here.

It's okay, Totoro. I know you're trapped behind those bars, but I, too, feel terribly trapped out here.

Just typical cute crap you'll see in street displays in Harajuku's Takeshita Dori (street). And the izakaya owner's collection of photos from over the years.

Just typical cute crap you'll see in street displays in Harajuku's Takeshita Dori (street). And the izakaya owner's collection of photos from over the years.

Next stop was Harajuku--since I have been there before I wasn't all that excited about strolling Takeshita Street, the street famous for "Harajuku Girls" as Gwen Stefani calls them. Though I did encounter an interesting experience when I strolled into the punk rock shop. The owner was very excited in my interest in her clothes and started dressing me in all sorts of different jackets like a doll. While it was cool to have her undivided attention, and to find out that many of the clothes in the shop were actually her own unique designs, it was also a little overwhelming. 😯

Japan was the first leg of Dom & Sian's 2 year traveling journey, so she was on the hunt for a nice (cheap) pair of Doc Martins. Eventually we gave up on that search and found ourselves a nice little izakaya (basically a Japanese pub) to eat at. I drank some housemade bourbon-infused umeshu, and then we all shared in many different types of yakitori and otsumami (snacks). When we had spent about two hours of time at the izakaya, we headed to Shibuya to check out Alcatraz E.R., a restaurant/bar themed around being a prisoner in Alcatraz. The waitresses dress like E.R. nurses and the beverages come in containers such as pee cups, urine bags, syringes, beakers, etc... commonly seen in hospitals. The beverage I chose looked like a vodka type drink with a red and blue syringe--basically it looked like a safe bet. However, when the drink arrived, the 'nurse' insisted I open up so she could give me an oral injection of the blue liquid which turned out to be straight vodka directly down my throat. The rest of the beverage was fine, but I couldn't really shake off the vodka shock. Dom chose a beverage called Russian Roulette. We didn't realize the Russian Roulette part of it is the part where you don't know which one has the most and least alcohol and that she was supposed to share the shots. Well, she drank them all and we really don't know how many shots that was equivalent to, which wouldn't be a big deal, but we had a couple more bars to stop by.

Not a good representation of the album version of the song, but worth a watch for the visuals.

Not a good representation of the album version of the song, but worth a watch for the visuals.

Alcatraz E.R. was going to be closing up, so we headed to Shinjuku to show Golden Gai to Dom & Sian. Since Dom is a fan of horror, we suggested our beloved Death Match in Hell. Go, the Wayne's World cap-wearing owner, remembered Ian & I from last year. After two drinks, I wanted to go try karaoke at the bar near the entrance to Golden Gai. To my delight, I was able to select a song by Gackt, my first introduction to Visual Kei J-Rock genre. I chose the song "Lu:Na" as it has been one of my very favorite songs since I was about 15 years old. I don't recall exactly how I had gotten into J-Rock, other than it was probably related to researching anime theme songs online. In any case, I landed my first J-Rock & J-Pop CDs when my father, step-mom and I went to San Francisco or Boston (I know, vastly different places, but I honestly can't recall which it was anymore). I happened to be in an import shop and asked my dad to buy me Moon. I didn't know the songs, but I liked the dark, gothic imagery. And that is where I discovered one of my all-time favorite songs.

Watch a snippet of me singing "Lu:Na"

Watch a snippet of me singing "Lu:Na"

Anyways, I've heard the song easily at least a couple hundred times, so I was ready to shine at karaoke. The bar was filled with mostly foreigners, so the couple Japanese men who were there were stoked when they heard me singing Gackt. One girl nearly screwed me up by interrupting my song during the breakdown and asked where I was from. She was so astounded when I told her I don't speak Japanese fluently and am just an American girl who happens to like J-Rock. She then insisted on telling all her friends over and over again that I was an American and "can you believe it?!". Anyways, after my moment of glory was over, Ian, Don, Sian & I were ready to call it a night since none of the other songs I would want to sing were available. One thing I should note is that every single karaoke song had an accompanying music video on the screen. Not the video for the song, but videos recorded specifically for karaoke versions with non-famous actors and dancers. They were interesting to watch.

After so many drinks, we were all in agreement about our hunger, so Dom & Sian stopped at the McDonalds, while I busted out the menschi odango (fried meat-filled dough balls) I had bought at Satou earlier that day, but Ian... Ian tried McDonald's for the first time in his entire life. Yes, 28 years McDonald's free had come to an end. Ian had heard McDonald's was better in Japan, but it was all the disappointment he had always expected. Lesson learned: unless you actually like McDonald's, it probably doesn't taste any better in any other country.

A Big Buddha Belly Fulla Ramen

Once again, we wanted to get an early start towards Kamakura to see the Daibutsu (Big Buddha. dai=big, butsu=Buddha). After about an hour of riding on the subway we arrived in Kamakura. We didn't really know our way around so we just followed signs that said "Daibutsu Hiking Trail." I didn't think that it would really be a hike since the Japanese don't seem to actually like hiking. Well, I was wrong.

Throwing plates at rocks.

Throwing plates at rocks.

After walking on a forest trail, I heard voices and children laughing which I was certain meant we were to the Buddha. Wrong, again. It was just the halfway point, where you might be able to see Mt. Fuji if the clouds weren't in the way. There was a love shrine, areas for picnicking, and a "sacred" stone I could throw a plate at to cast away my troubles. I didn't throw very well. I attested that to the fact that I wasn't really troubled by anything. I mean, how could I be? I'm in freaking Japan! Haha

Anyways, after a momentary break, we followed the path that said it would take us to the Daibutsu. It was as long as the first half of the hike. I joked that this pilgrimage better be worth it and I better be able to touch the Buddha himself. Ian told me that was highly unlikely.

Click here to see me knocking on Buddha. Also, are they trying to encourage underage drinking with cute animals??

Click here to see me knocking on Buddha. Also, are they trying to encourage underage drinking with cute animals??

When we finally reached the temple, we found out we could have actually taken a path that wasn't the hike. It was the nice easy street walk that has lots of cute shops. But alas! We took the hard way. I consoled myself with the idea that this was probably the more honorable way and I felt no shame when I finally went and touched the Buddha. Yup, Ian was wrong about not getting to touch Buddha. Not only did I touch the statue, but I got to go inside too. I found out that if you knocked on it hard, the whole statue reverberated to my delight.

Yokohama station.

Yokohama station.

This is basically the most magic person on earth. Possibly related to Santa Claus. Maybe Gandalf.

This is basically the most magic person on earth. Possibly related to Santa Claus. Maybe Gandalf.

As Operation: Daibutsu was a success, we treated ourselves to a hard apple cider made in town, had a street shop snack of croquettes, and then made our way back to the station, so we could go to Yokohama. Upon arrival to Yokohama station, I saw the most magical human! There was a bunch of Gashapon machines in the middle of the station and this man was going and changing out the selection of items! And better yet, there was even a coin machine to exchange my dollars for ¥100 coins. 😱 After my excitement subsided, we realized we were actually not in the right part of town to see the Ramen Museum. That was actually in Shin-Yokohama (shin means "new", so New Yokohama). The station had some really nice art and sculptures, as is the way of most Japanese stations.

Here's a video of that big ramen bowl at the entrance.

Here's a video of that big ramen bowl at the entrance.

We hopped over to Shin-Yokohama, and the museum wasn't far from the station there. I requested the 3-month membership with the intention of returning to try all the shops. The clerk had to grab someone, who I think may have been one of the curators of the museum due to his excitement. He seemed pleased that not only was I requesting a membership, but that ramen is my favorite food. The ramen museum is basically like a themed food court with about 10 different ramen restaurants offering different regional varieties of ramen. I believe it was once a station called Narutobashi, as there are many floors and passages similar to the typical train stations in Tokyo. The entire room is set up to look like pre-war Japan with ads of films painted on the brick walls and little Vespas. We tried two different shops. The first was very yummy. The second was ok.. partly due to the fact that the guy working it was pretty rude, and then Ian felt betrayed by me. I had told him there was a piece of meat that was pretty tasty. I gave him what I thought was a piece of that meat which he feels certain may have been a piece of sponge that fell into the broth. We will never truly know, but to my defense, he really shouldn't have continued to chew on it if he felt it wasn't actually food.

Finally we went back to Yokohama station and decided we'd just walk around for a little while before heading back to Tokyo. We walked towards the water where there was a building that looked like a cruise ship. It was actually shopping center with some restaurants made to look that way. It was pretty cute actually, but since it was about 9 or 10pm, all the shops were all closed. So we headed on home to Shinjuku. Still Yokohama left a great impression and is worthy of revisiting.

Ye Olde Ramen Town

Ye Olde Ramen Town

The Sleeping Mountain

Day 10: The Sleeping Mountain
On our last trip to Japan, we spent the majority of it in Tokyo, so this time around we were curious about areas outside of the metropolis. Queue in Mt. Fuji, or Fujisan, as locals call it. In Japan, the mountains are often called -san at the end of their name because the Japanese believe everything has a kami (spirit), so it is given the honorary -san like "Mr. Fuji".

Weird sculpture, check. konbini snack, check. Lake view, check. While this area is pretty, I can say that the Chuckanuts still beat it out.

Weird sculpture, check. konbini snack, check. Lake view, check. While this area is pretty, I can say that the Chuckanuts still beat it out.

By following the directions by this travel blogger, we were able to navigate to Kawaguchiko, the area with the best view of Mt. Fuji--assuming you can see it. Once we arrived, we were pretty certain we wouldn't be able to see Fujisan, but we decided to walk towards the lake and have a picnic. On the way over we stopped by a little anime shop, and it was my first (and only) experience having to take my shoes off to shop in a store. I've had to take my shoes off to try on clothes in fitting rooms for some of the smaller boutiques, but never to simply walk around a shop. We stopped by the supermarket to grab some snacks on the way to the lake. It certainly wasn't a fancy meal, just croquettes and other konbini (convenience store) snacks. After taking a few snapshots, eating our lunch and walking up a hillside to see the lake view, we made our way to the station.

I've never tried it, but this is the stuff you can't import. It's called awamori. Photo from https://fluffykat.wordpress.com

I've never tried it, but this is the stuff you can't import. It's called awamori. Photo from https://fluffykat.wordpress.com

Ultra helpful map, right?

Ultra helpful map, right?

It should be noted that the only area map we saw was one that was created and sponsored by the local sake brewery. We did make a stop by the brewery where I had to convince Ian to buy some sake for his godmother, as he was concerned that he wouldn't be able to bring alcohol in his luggage back to the US. In case you're wondering, you're allowed to bring up to 1 gallon of alcohol as long as it isn't something banned like Wormwood Absinthe or that cobra scale booze famous in Okinawa. Anyways, it wasn't really the sake that mattered, it was the fact that the bottle was cute because it was shaped like Fujisan. 😝 The time we spent in Fuji wasn't more than about two hours, but it was still a really nice reprieve from the hustle that is Tokyo.

When we got back to Tokyo we decided we'd grab ramen at a couple shops in Tokyo Station. There is a "ramen street" under the station, named as such because apparently one shop opened up, and then another and another and they all competed. Also, it's not really a street so much as a restaurant corridor because when Japan makes a subway station, they're also making a shopping mall/food court/art gallery. The first restaurant I chose wasn't actually part of ramen street, as I assumed, but the displays looked so yummy. Unfortunately, the ramen was not very good. While ramen noodles are originated in China, apparently Chinese-style ramen is not my fortè. We then went to another shop, Rokurinsha, that was rated as the most popular in Ramen Street, with about a 30 minute wait in line. The style of ramen was called tsukemen which is where you're served the broth and the noodles cold on the side. You then dip the cold noodles in the hot broth and slurp away. While Ian had tried tsukemen, it was my first time and I can't say I was much of a fan. Oh, well. Win some, lose some.

Just a typical subway station. Really, though.

Just a typical subway station. Really, though.

Cute desserts, Ramen Street and artwork. All normal things at a subway station, right?

Cute desserts, Ramen Street and artwork. All normal things at a subway station, right?

Asakusa Revisited

DAY 9: Asakusa Revisited

Just here for the people watching...

Just here for the people watching...

Because we had such a great time in Asakusa last year, Ian was interested in revisiting for some people watching. It was less sunny than the last time we went which I think changed the mood of the visit to a certain degree. We were interested in checking out the streets we didn't go down previously. We had hoped to get lunch at Suki 6 Diner, a restaurant that looks like it's trying to be Portland, but being a Monday, it was closed. :( We ended up grabbing a Katsudon lunch in a traditional style restaurant that had been there for more years than I can remember at this moment. Then we wandered the streets and enjoyed the scenery of people, though avoiding the gaze of any monks as the year before we were conned into buying prayer bracelets. Essentially, these 'monks' hand you a wooden beaded bracelet and then ask for a donation. I recall thinking it probably wasn't worth much so I offered 200 yen, to which they insisted I pay at least 1000 yen. So, naturally, we avoided that scheme any time we were approached.

Because if you're going to name your street, Orange Street, you better have a mascot, too.

Because if you're going to name your street, Orange Street, you better have a mascot, too.

We then hopped over to the Skytree since we both wanted to see the new items at the Studio Ghibli shop. I also maybe spent a good 20 minutes in the character shop as well. Can't be helped. We bounced back to Asakusa main area and grabbed dinner at a yakitori restaurant we discovered last year. Ian had not wanted to go in last year, but I insisted it looked good, and sure enough it was. We returned right when they opened at around 6pm and the lady said she recalled us from our visit a year ago. As we had hoped, it was super yummy. We headed back to our sharehouse and on the way were struck by a hailstorm. Luckily we are smart and brought both the Sailor Moon umbrellas Ian had purchased for me for Christmas. As we ran down the street, the lady who owned the fruit shop thought our matching umbrellas were adorable. The hail was actually pretty heavy and the stones were pretty big actually. Once the storm had passed we took a stroll around the neighborhood before turning in for the night.

Katsudon for lunch and yakitori for dinner. The set up of greasy pots & pans somehow reminds me of Howl's Moving Castle.

Katsudon for lunch and yakitori for dinner. The set up of greasy pots & pans somehow reminds me of Howl's Moving Castle.

Things You'll See in Yoyogi Park

DAY 8: YOYOGI PARK

Just a typical scene of hanami. Note the man in the right who tried so hard to keep his shoes off the mat. Next time, buddy.

Just a typical scene of hanami. Note the man in the right who tried so hard to keep his shoes off the mat. Next time, buddy.

Well, we never found those businessmen at Ueno the day before, so we decided to go to Yoyogi Park. We never got to go last year, but we knew it was supposed to be a happening place where the rockabilly dance crew and Harajuku girls sport their latest weird fashion trends. I had suspicions this is some outdated news though, and to be honest, neither of those things was seen during our stroll in Yoyogi. I could go into detail about our day, or I could just make you a list of all the things we saw at Yoyogi...

Let's go with a list:

Click here to see a small bit of the performing

Click here to see a small bit of the performing

"Ma, let me down."

"Ma, let me down."

Because, of course.

Because, of course.


- Unusual pet animals, like meerkats & owls
- Tons of people wearing Iron Maiden shirts, possibly a fan club??
- Flare bartender practicing in the park
- Annoying drum circles
- Teenagers practicing their dance routines
- Teenagers putting makeup on each other in a visual kei style
- People playing badminton
- Lines to the bathroom that take 30 minutes to get through
- People crying and then washing their hair
- People in very high heels which is not conducive to walking in grassy areas
- People lifting each other up Superman style
- People practicing tai chi
- People passed out from too much drinking at hanami
- Food vendors
- Vintage & Antique market
- Multi-generational Ska band on stage with performer dressed as police officer (they were actually very good and called "Pipes of Piece")
- Performers
- People playing soccer
- People doing photoshoots (she was probably famous because this is Japan)
- A cat sitting on her person's shoulder trying to get down
- Tons of cute dogs
- Wedding couple taking photos at the park
- Lots of passed out babies
- Live sculptor creating art
- Bikes almost running people over constantly
- Many gaijin (there is a difference between foreign and being annoying foreign)
- Bubbles
- Meet up groups
- People playing Frisbee
- Singing of classic song "Sakura"
Cherry Blossoms

Here are the things you will not see:
- Anyone on a picnic mat with shoes on
- People on devices like iPads, Nintendo DS, smartphones

A Haystack of Businessmen

Ok, I've been absolutely terrible about updating this after the first week in Japan. I've just been so busy everyday, running to this thing or that thing to see the sights, eat the food, meet the people, watch the events. And throughout my day I think, "Oh, man, I can't wait to show this to everyone" but then by the time I get back to my homebase the only thing I want to do is shower and pass out, assuming I don't have any client work to do. That said, I think I'll be able to update this more often, so in the meantime, I'll spend the next couple days putting up multiple posts to get caught up.

 DAY 7: Let's Go To Tokyo

Apparently I only wanted rice and meat this day since I started with Pork Katsu, and then seared beef slices with panko breading. #NoRegrets

Apparently I only wanted rice and meat this day since I started with Pork Katsu, and then seared beef slices with panko breading. #NoRegrets

Saturday morning, bags packed, we headed to Kyoto Station to catch our Shinkansen to Tokyo. At last! While Kyoto was a beautiful place, I was happy to go to a city I knew the layout of better. With an ekibento purchased moments before, I was ready to spend the next two hours getting caught up on client projects while Ian napped. When we got to our AirBnB in Shinjuku, it was a little disappointing. We knew it was a sharehouse type place, but we assumed when we purchased a "Private room" that we would have our own room, not a room shared with 4 other people. Even that wouldn't have bothered me, but they didn't even have lockers for me to store my computer which meant we had to carry my laptop in the backpack everyday to ensure its security. That said, our hosts were still kind and we got to meet a lovely couple from Australia later in the week.

Last year at Hanami.

Last year at Hanami.

Anyways, once we dropped off our non-valuables, we were off to Ueno Park where we had hoped to run into a group of gentlemen we had met the year before during hanami (basically an excuse to drink and eat food under the sakura blossoms all night and day). They said they came to Ueno every year and I told them last year that I would come back. I'm sure they didn't think I meant that, but I figured I'd still try to find them and surprise them. But with no way to contact them it really was a shot in the dark to try to find them in a haystack of drunk middle-aged businessmen.

After walking around for about an hour searching, we sorta gave up/were distracted by the art display of kaiju (big monsters like Godzilla that the Tokyo University of Arts in Ueno had put together. There were two performers playing shamisen and singing traditional Japanese music accompanied by an utsushi-e visual. Utsushi-e was an art form created as a result of Western technology being introduced to Japan. The Japanese were skeptical and believed that photographs stole a part of their soul (horcruxes, basically) but they thought the technology could be useful in communicating visually, sort of like a precursor for the anime we know and love today.

Next up was a rakugo storyteller and although I speak very limited Japanese, between the visuals and Ian translating I was able to gather the overall story. Eventually we made our way back to Shinjuku and decided to stop into a ramen shop called Kuma near our sharehouse and I was delightfully surprised to discover that the strong pork jelly flavor was almost as wonderful as Bankara, my very favorite ramen-ya located in Ikebukuro. We even got to talk to our cook who had spent a year in Seattle for school. And we also got to see a man fall asleep in his ramen bowl after what i suspect was a little too much hanami.

Ehhh, good enough

A menacing kitsune at the entrance to Fushimi Inari shrine. 

A menacing kitsune at the entrance to Fushimi Inari shrine. 

Day 4 began in a cozy, warm room and it was never warmer thereafter. Knowing how warm the northwest is becoming, I truly didn't prepare for the coldness that is Kyoto. Once again, we had to deal with the terrible transportation system that doesn't really assist foreigners. So when you find out the bus isn't going where you intended you jump off and try to find an alternate route. Eventually we made it to Fushimi-Inari, a torii-filled shrine I have wanted to visit since I watched Memoirs of a Geisha. Like the days before, my foot was still in pain, but that didn't stop me from wanting to reenact one of my favorite scenes from the film. I didn't know that Fushimi-Inari was actually a shrine filled with kitsune (fox) statues as opposed to the shishi (lion dogs) at each torii (gate). Also, I didn't realize that there were multiple shrines to see along a mountain. Because it was a pretty light traverse I had ambitions on making it to the top to get a photo of the view of Kyoto, but that hope was quickly dashed as my right foot began to give out and we became pressed for time if we wanted to make it to Kiyomizudera at a decent hour. So once we reached the halfway point, there happened to be a view that I openly told Ian was "good enough for me." An English speaker heard me say this and had a laugh. Throughout the day this more or less became my quote.

The view from halfway up is good enough for me and kitty. Also, I didn't make it to Tōji temple, but I could see it. Tōji temple houses the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan. Good enough.

The view from halfway up is good enough for me and kitty. Also, I didn't make it to Tōji temple, but I could see it. Tōji temple houses the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan. Good enough.

After we left Fushimi Inari, we made our way to Kiyomizudera, that is after we stopped for some udon. Kiyomizudera is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has a brilliantly orange entrance, and was made without a single nail. In fact it's probably for this reason it was under restoration in the main area which was a bummer, but it was still beautiful from what I could tell. Other notable mentions in Kiyomizudera were the shrine for business luck being a big fat black Buddha type figure, a housed horse statue with business cards thrown into the housing, a shrine for the love god Ōkuninishi symbolized by rabbits and a man with a hammer, and a tree filled with nails representing the "2am visit" death curse that women wished upon the men who betrayed them. Maybe they wouldn't have to constantly restore the building if they used some of those nails for things other than curses.

The main shrine on top, a pagoda and me with the love bun. 

The main shrine on top, a pagoda and me with the love bun. 

Once we left Kiyomizudera we continued to walk up a path filled with shrines and shops in hopes of reaching Yasaka Shrine. It's really, really easy to get distracted however when there is a shrine every 20 steps though. We found an unmanned building with weird art sculptures and the request that if you take photos that you pay the frog.

Creepy cool art.

Creepy cool art.

We passed a pagoda that I'm sure was important, but entry was barred as it seems most shrines close between 4-5pm. It seems a lot of things shut down early in Kyoto in contrast to Osaka and Tokyo, though Ian and I are sure that is due to how cold it is in Kyoto. We saw a big Buddha statue from afar that initially I wanted to see up close, but after realizing I'd need to walk a bunch to pay to see a statue that I could clearly see from afar I decided once again that my view was "good enough." We continued on and stumbled into a double-temple exhibit. One was Entoku-in and the other was Kodaiji. Entoku-in was created by Nene, the wife of Hideyoshi, to mourn his death. Samurai would pay respects by bringing Nene big rocks for her North end garden. I also got to see (but not photograph) a screen painted by the famous painter Hasegawa Tohaku.

Nene's samurai rock garden

Nene's samurai rock garden

By the time we left Entoku-in and walked over to Kodai-ji it was almost dark, but that's okay because both were lit up at night. While it would be lovely to see the garden during the day, we were surprised with the rock garden being lit up with a 2 minute show projected on the rocks and building. We then walked around the lit bamboo forest which was beautiful and reminded me of Miyazaki's The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Cherry blossoms falling over water before the dragon arrives. 

Cherry blossoms falling over water before the dragon arrives. 

Beautiful bamboo forest, no filters or editing needed.

Beautiful bamboo forest, no filters or editing needed.

We never did make it to Yasaka shrine before closing, but with all we did, it was good enough. Also, I would have liked to see Gion in the day, but again, decided it was good enough and that perhaps the night scenery was closer to the romanticized vision I have of it as there were less tourists and gift shops. Finally we ended our night with dinner at a restaurant in Gion, eating different sticks of yakitori, karaage, and drinking Mikan chuhai. It was probably my favorite meal in Kyoto so far, though none of the food in Kyoto has been bad. Definitely better than good enough.

The third stick was my favorite, wrapped in shiso with plum sauce. 

The third stick was my favorite, wrapped in shiso with plum sauce. 

"I hate Kyoto..." or at least its transportation system.

So maybe you noticed I named yesterday's post Day 2 + 3... Well, I totally forgot about day 3 because day 2 was just so jam-packed with awesome that day 3 paled in comparison. Part of that is because it was a travel day from Osaka to Kyoto. In the morning, Joe-San took us to Dotonburi with our luggage so I could go to the Ukiyo-e museum that was closed the day before. He gave us a very heartfelt goodbye and I can say out of my time here in Japan so far, meeting him has been my favorite part. Joe used to be a boxer in Korea, has two adorable daughters that I got to FaceTime with after they went to Sento with their mother, and he shared a lot of his interesting life story with us. Joe-San has great taste in noodles, too. AND he used to play part-time with my favorite Japanese rock band, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant and hosts a show on Osaka's television network every Friday night featuring musicians from Japan. One day maybe Tin Foil Cat can be on the show. 🙏🏼 His smallest daughter is already a fan!

Small plate style dining was delish

Small plate style dining was delish

We browsed through the museum and I enjoyed seeing the original woodblock prints that inspired so much if my favorite art. We then headed to Osaka station to make our way to Kyoto. The train ride was pretty short, but it took forever to get on a bus to take us to a bus stop that would let us ride a bus to our next AirBnB. The part that made it so miserable was that while Japan is filled with tourists, they seem to be a lot more pushy and rude in Kyoto. Likewise, the city just doesn't seem as friendly as Osaka, because well, Osaka really is the friendliest in my experiences in Japan so far. The destination was really only 15 minutes from the main Kyoto Station, but the public transportation system in Kyoto is far less efficient than anywhere else I've been in Japan, so it took us about an hour and a half. After we dropped our things off and took a short nap, we decided to tackle the central Tokyo area where Pontocho & Nishiki Market are since all the temples, shrines, and gardens would be closed by 5. Even this was quite a feat because all the maps in Kyoto seem to be turned every which way depending what direction you're facing, what the scale comparison is on destinations, and the fact that each bus, subway, and train company refuses to share a map system so you're stuck comparing multiple maps to see if you can reach your destination with any possibility of ease. (Yes, I know that was a horrible run on sentence.) The frustration this all caused had me constantly saying "I hate Kyoto" which is surprising when anyone I've ever met will say Kyoto is their favorite city in Japan. Another note, when in doubt about whether you're on the right bus or not, you're probably better off walking.

The main highlight of this day was our dinner. And that's pretty much it. We could have played with Bengal kittens, but we were too hungry for that.

Day 2 + 3

After staying up late with Joe-San on Monday night, we woke up around 11am and headed out to Senkouji Temple in Hirano. On the walk to the train station from Joe's house it was nice to see the shopping arcade open and full of life. In Japan, arcades are long strips of shops & restaurants, mostly owned by small business owners selling anything from convenience store items, flowers & plants, blankets, towels, souvenirs, clothes, etc. I'd venture to say there are probably never less than 100 shops.

Shopping arcades generally look like this. Also, you must constantly be on the lookout for bicyclists who speed through these walkways. 😖 

Shopping arcades generally look like this. Also, you must constantly be on the lookout for bicyclists who speed through these walkways. 😖 

Anyways, once we made our way to Hirano, it was mostly a residential area, which was nice because we could witness the day-to-day life for Osakans. Such as a little boy who clearly forgot to put out the garbage and had to chase the garbage truck down the road and then beg to be let into his house after failing to complete his task. There was also an older woman paddling her bedding as it dried over her back porch bannister. Another thing about Japan is they usually dry their clothes outside on their porches rather than have dryer machines.

When we arrived at Senkouji it was definitely one of the most unique and beautiful shrines I've seen, even in my last trip. There was absolutely no English on any reading materials, so I imagine it's mainly for Japanese folks. The temple was created sort of as a museum to teach people about the consequences of their actions and to give you a fortune if your decisions in life will lead you to heaven or hell.

So scary!! 

So scary!! 

Ultimately, the real lesson was that you are in charge of your own fate. Because I can't read Kanji, I couldn't do the quiz that would tell me my fate, so I'll just assume I need to live my life in a way that is good to others. :p My favorite part of this temple was the weird underground room that had small statues around a beautiful backlit glass floor. It reminded me of the fairy fountains in Zelda and I just imagined the Great Fairy rising up in laughter.

Please give me Farore's Wind or Din's Fire. Also, could you heal my sore ankle?

Please give me Farore's Wind or Din's Fire. Also, could you heal my sore ankle?

After we left Hirano, we headed to Dotunburi, a large shopping area on the river. When you've seen so many shopping areas in Japan, they stop being exciting. Though I still enjoy the search for unique Gashapon and food. We ended up eating some kushikatsu, deep-fried veggies & meats before embarking on a twenty minute tour of Dotunburi on the river.

LINDSEY!! Check out the climbing wall in the middle of the building in the city! I wish I could climb it with you!  As for the Glico running man, no one really knows the history, but Glico is the company who makes Pocky.

LINDSEY!! Check out the climbing wall in the middle of the building in the city! I wish I could climb it with you! 

As for the Glico running man, no one really knows the history, but Glico is the company who makes Pocky.

This was a nice break for me because the night before I started to feel pain on my right foot/ankle. Honto ni (truthfully), my foot has hurt since day one, but I can't really let it heal because there is too much I want to see in Osaka and Kyoto. I will relax it when I get to Tokyo. After our river ride, we shared a bowl of ramen with Kobe beef. You pour the hot soup over the Kobe beef slices to cook it. The ramen broth was pretty good, could be a touch saltier, but the Kobe slices were just okay to me, honestly. I still prefer chashu pork, though.

Kobe beef cooking in ramen broth.  

Kobe beef cooking in ramen broth.  

After sharing a bowl of ramen we headed to Osaka Bay Area to go to the Osaka Aquarium, which is the second biggest aquarium in the world. I know the saying goes that everything is bigger in Texas, but I beg to differ--it seems everything is biggest  in Japan. Besides boasting a huge aquarium, it also had a huge boat, the Queen Elizabeth the second that I could almost swear was the Titanic. There was also the Tempozan Ferris wheel which was even bigger than the one we rode the night before.

I meant to get a photo of this huge Goliath of a boat, but it seems I was distracted by the smaller boat with lights. 

I meant to get a photo of this huge Goliath of a boat, but it seems I was distracted by the smaller boat with lights. 

While I've been to tons of aquariums, being the daughter of a marine biologist, what made this one unique was that rather than having hundreds and hundreds of different species, each exhibit was focused on a different region of the world and created with the depths that said species were used to swimming in. For example, the area for otters would span about 2 floors, where as the area for seals was 3 floors, and for whale sharks and larger rays and hammerheads was about 4-5 floors. The main tank which housed those rays, sharks and larger fish apparently held 5,000 tons of water. Due to my foot hurting so much, I sat and watched them swim around for about 15 minutes, wishing so greatly to be able to breathe underwater so I could just sit there in the water and watch them endlessly. In fact, it seems I enjoyed this tank so much so, that I didn't even take a photo of it. Oops!

Once we wrapped up our aquarium visit, we headed to Umeda where we were the night before because we wanted to visit the sky garden on the 40th floor. It was lovely, though the name was misleading as there wasn't really a garden, just a 360 view of the city, but that was pretty nice too. Joe-San, our AirBnB host sent us a message to try a delicious Udon restaurant that is famous to tourists and locals alike. So we headed over to the house and met Nick, a Korean gentleman (that happens to take great photos) who was just checked into the home that day. Together we all headed over to the restaurant (I'll get the name of it later). As always, Joe-San was a benevolent host, driving us to our destination, and ordering his favorite item. He has known the owner for about 18 years and the owner and his wife treated us all kindly. We enjoyed chatting with them while they cooked our curry udon meals. They asked us about the election in America and who we would vote for, explaining we were fans of Bernie, the reasons why, and we all had laughs on behalf of the ridiculousness that is Trump. Finally our food arrived and it was even better than I expected. I will admit I was never a fan of udon, but this was curry udon perfection. Not too spicy, noodles the right firmness, and little pieces of fried seaweed and negi.

  By the way, this amazing meal was being enjoyed by us at about 2am. Don't you wish you could eat this in America after a few too many drinks?

  By the way, this amazing meal was being enjoyed by us at about 2am. Don't you wish you could eat this in America after a few too many drinks?

Anyways, while I was absolutely exhausted and sore, I can't think of a better way to end the evening than with good food and new friends.