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.

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.

Nihon niha Bōken!

Ok, I'm finally posting the beginning of my adventures in Japan (Nihon niwa Bōken). After scrambling all day to make sure I had everything I needed for my trip, I had a meal with a few of my favorite people, petted Rusti bun goodbye and was whisked away to Canadaland by my best friend, Lindsey. After arriving at the airport, I worked on my newest piece for the What's Up! April cover while waiting for the plane. I also worked on it in the Taipei airport and while in transit between Narita airport in Tokyo to Osaka. I am still working on completing it from in Japan which is great because it was highly inspired by my last trip to Japan. I'll discuss that once I can release the finished art. :)

Anyways, after about 20~hours of travel, we finally got to Osaka Station where we were picked up by Joe-san, our host at the AirBnB we chose based on fantastic artwork alone.

Joe's super cute & silly AirBnB listings!! 

Joe's super cute & silly AirBnB listings!! 

We knew immediately what fun it would be to hang out with him and from the moment he picked us up at the station, we were off to enjoy the ramen I had been craving for so long! He ordered us a spicy ramen which I was a little worried might be to spicy, but it had a miso flavor similar to that which I prepare at home with just a little extra spiciness than I would usually add. It was exactly what I wanted after such a long trip. We didn't stay up too long to socialize on Sunday night, just long enough to get unpacked and find the convenience store and shower.

Joe ordered us a couple bowls of spicy ramen and it was everything I could hope for. 🍲

Joe ordered us a couple bowls of spicy ramen and it was everything I could hope for. 🍲

The next morning, Joe planned out an itinerary with a bunch of the things Ian and I wanted to do. He and Tatsuya, his friend, picked us up and brought us to Osaka Castle. There we walked to a local train station to get the Shoryū/Amazing Pass. This pass granted us free entry to tons of places as well as free subway rides for two days. Initially, he had us on a crazy fast schedule, but we decided to take it slow and really explore the area of Osakajo. After walking up the Osaka Castle, reading the history and appreciating all the ARTifacts (sorry, I couldn't help myself, but they really did  have some incredible art), we walked around to see a view of the city. From the top I discovered there was a garden area below and I do love me some Japanese gardens! We snacked on some karaage & Kobe beef, talked to a local, and then were off to explore the garden and turret houses. I should note that between talking to the local and grabbing a snack, I found my first Gashapon machines! If you don't know what Gashapon is, it is basically my greatest obsession and money waster in Japan. Remember those toy machines in grocery stores with crappy toys/candy. Japan does it way better. It also costs a lot more (¥200-¥400 per capsule gift), but I just can't seem to control myself when it comes to these silly things.

After exploring the turret houses, we wandered over to the history museum which was closing up, and I discovered the HQ for NHK Osaka which is where Domo was created as a mascot for. We finally hopped over to Umeda to explore HEP-5 in hopes of going to the giant carousel.

The beginning of the gashapon collecting.

The beginning of the gashapon collecting.

We wandered around looking for yummy foods. The problem with walking around for food in Japan, however is that you can wander for hours. Not because there isn't any to be found, but there are almost too many options. 😖  After dinner, we shopped around and although I had insisted I wouldn't buy anything at KIDDYLAND, I was paralyzed in excitement, actually hyperventilating when I saw the huge Sailor Moon display (see cover photo.) It could very well be one of the happiest moments in my life. 😂 Needless to say, I knew I would be going overbudget on buying things, sooo I used my credit card instead. After about 45 min of browsing Sailor Moon merchandise, asking Ian if I want "this? Or this?" we finally left and made our way to the top of the HEP 5 building to ride the Ferris wheel. I won't lie, it was a little  scary riding a Ferris wheel that was hundreds of feet above hundreds of people shopping and above a train station, but it was a beautiful sight. We finally grabbed some dessert with a large chocolate cake parfait and then made our way back to Joe's house.

 

We asked if he wanted to hang out and were up til about 3am chatting. We even did a FaceTime with his children and wife who were next door while he was drinking with us. Our language barrier is sometimes difficult but I think we definitely have an amazing friend in Joe. He is very kind, has an interesting history, and is open-minded and friendly. I am looking forward to years of friendship. So that's essentially day 1-ish.

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