Needs – my therapy “aha moment”

So, I started seeing my current therapist in early June, a few months after lockdown started. It took some time to develop rapport, and around the end of July I started getting more honest about my issues. That’s when I started making more progress, which I wanted to think through here.

The initial thinking in early August was for me to identify my needs better. I think of myself as a pretty introspective person, and I’ve been meditating mostly-regularly since 2014, so I was surprised to not be able to identify any of my personal needs pretty easily. Of course we all need food, water, shelter, etc., but what do I need that might not be true of others? I talked to multiple friends but made meager progress for weeks. My therapist and I also talked about perfectionism, which is probably worth its own post though it’ll be relevant here as well.

So, I wrote on a whiteboard near my desk: “Feeling sad / anxious / frustrated / mad / etc.? What do I need?” My plan had been, start figuring out my needs, and get them satisfied, potentially with help (and getting help is something I have to work on). That’s not exactly how things went though. What I found (and this is individual to me, YMMV) was that I was often frustrated by a feeling of needing something that I don’t really need.

Before giving an example, I want to elaborate a bit on what a “need” is. For me, it helps to think of them in terms of goals. I’m a software engineer so if my goal is “do a good job at work” then I need a keyboard. Perhaps our goal is to be happy, or even just to survive. For reasons I won’t get into in this post, my starting point was an erroneous “I don’t have a lot of needs” so being able to think of them in terms of goals helps me, since I’m more comfortable establishing a goal than a need.

So, let’s take the goal of being good at my job… I mentioned early being a perfectionist. This is at odds with deadlines at work, which I find I struggle to hit >50% of the time. Each time I found a deadline coming up and I wasn’t going to make it, I experienced so much constant anxiety. I dreaded telling the PM/techlead/my manager I couldn’t finish on time, and everytime it was awful.

My therapist thought something was up here. He asked me what actually happened when I told people I wasn’t going to make the deadline. My memory isn’t great, and it’s worse when I’m stressed. I said I wasn’t totally sure, but that I always felt terrible after. I think of myself as an (amateur) scientist, so we talked about running an experiment – missing deadlines has always been ok in the past (at least as far as, I’ve never been disciplined), so what if I tried not stressing so much, updating them like usual, and paying closer to attention to what happened?

So, that’s what I did. I obviously couldn’t turn off the stress entirely, but I tried to be mindful of the fact that things had obviously been ok in the past. The day came I missed a deadline, I told people, and I paid attention. Did anyone yell at me? Tell me I’m a bad engineer? Obviously not. They basically said thanks for the update, what’s the status and how much more time do you need? This is what always happened.

That moment was pretty life-changing for me, as silly as it may seem. I felt like I needed to hit my deadlines 100% of the time (goal: be a perfectionist). I felt like this pressure was external, but it was entirely projection on my part – none of the people I was afraid of did anything to deserve the fear. I think of myself as a very rational, logical person, and it was… weird, to realize that I had such an easily falsified belief for so long. A belief that had I just paid more attention earlier would have been corrected years ago.

It was around November that I had what I’ve been referring to as a “breakthrough” in therapy because it was a large, relatively discrete event, and it reminded me of early meditation where I saw another way of being, which felt like a “save point” I could come back to if needed (that is, I will likely backslide in progress at some point, but now that I know there’s another option, I’ll never go “all the way” back to how I was). My stress levels went down >90% (don’t ask me to justify this number). Since November, I have had some stress peaks but my ability to cope with them is like it has been at no previous point in my life. I’m obviously happier, but an unexpected consequence for me as well is that I’m not spending any mental bandwidth on catastrophizing, so functionally it’s like I’m smarter now because (1) I have more mental bandwidth to devote to things other than feeling bad and (2) I’m not context-switching into catastrophizing, which can be costly if it happens frequently for short times, not just for large amounts of time. I’m also finding that my memory is (slowly) improving.

Additionally, since senior year of college I’ve had this issue that physical/emotional stress can trigger dry heaving. I’ve seen multiple doctors, had at least one exploratory surgery, and we made basically no progress. It’s something I just live with, and people who spend enough time around me get to know that it happens sometimes. I also stopped doing Crossfit in college because of it, and it occasionally makes rock climbing less enjoyable. It’s decreased >50% since my therapy breakthrough, possibly much more – I used to track it but at its peak, it was onerous to track.

This has mostly been about needs, but I want to mention something adjacent before wrapping up. Now that I’m reflecting on my needs, I’m finding myself more intentional. I sometimes get caught in cycles where I’m reacting to something without really considering what I want and if I’m acting toward that goal. So, when I find myself feeling frustrated I try to ask: what am I trying to accomplish right now? Usually I don’t have an immediate answer to that question 🙄. I also ask myself, is what I’m doing working toward my goal? When I find myself asking that question, the answer is usually no. This check-in has certainly made me happier, since there are times that I would just kind of implicitly assume some need and be frustrated, but instead I find myself empowered instead of frustrated.

The last thing I want to say about intentionality, is that it can be exhausting to practice all the time. I think we all need to check in about our intentions regularly but my goal right now is to establish better habits, which are easier to do regularly rather than constantly thinking about what you need/want.

So that’s my short summary of my “therapy breakthrough” and a short story of something I’d be surprised if someone else out there couldn’t benefit from, even though I haven’t heard this exact thing before (specifically, non-needs).

EDIT: On April 4th I changed the title from “therapy breakthrough” to “therapy ‘aha moment'”

Favorite podcasts

This post will simply document the podcasts I listen to regularly, and perhaps a little bit about them. It will change over time, so it kind of a weirder blog post.

Some podcasts I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in the past though I don’t listen to today:

Three weeks with a Fitbit Sense

So, I’ve had a Fitbit for nearly two years now. Specifically a first-gen Versa. (I used a Pebble and a Pebble Time previously.) I’ve enjoyed it, and when they announced the Sense, I pre-ordered it. I used it for about three weeks before deciding to return it. Here I will try to document my experience in case it’s valuable for others. I’ll try not to over-cover things I’ve seen in other reviews.

Mobile Pay

One of the things I was most excited about with the Sense is the mobile pay. After I bought my Versa in 2018, I realized for ~$30 more I could have had the mobile pay built in but didn’t want to deal with the return process. Unfortunately, the Sense has been a let-down. More than half the time I tried to use mobile pay, it didn’t work, just made me look awkward at the store. 100% of the time it didn’t work, Android Pay with my phone worked easily. Paying with my watch isn’t that much more convenient, if it doesn’t work 100% of the time then I’m just going to use my phone. On top of this, I usually had to put in the security code, which was additional friction.

The Button

The next thing I noticed is the solid-state button. It seems neat, but compared to my Versa it’s quite a pain. I found it difficult to push initially, though after a week or so I was ok at it. Sometimes it gets pushed by accident when I bend my wrist up, another issue that doesn’t exist with my Versa. I also found that once I felt like I was using it correctly, I would often get haptic feedback confirming I’d pushed it, but the watch wouldn’t do anything else (sometimes the screen stayed off, sometimes I just stayed on a non-home screen). I wish they’d used the same button as the Versa.

O2 Measurements

Another thing I was excited about is the O2 measurement overnight. It did work sometimes, but like the mobile pay feature, it failed to work >50% of the time. My interest in this was for an early warning of otherwise-asymptomatic COVID, so not working for 3+ days in a row is a deal-breaker for how much it costs and my relative certainly that it would actually be useful.

EDA Sensor

The thing I was most excited about was the EDA sensor. I have IBS, and log all my BMs, and I was excited to correlate this data with EDA results and see if I could come up with any interesting insights that ideally would lead to behavioral changes. Honestly this was the biggest selling point of the watch for me. My experience with the actual sensor was mostly positive, although there were times it didn’t work because the HR monitoring had stopped working, and the EDA “app” crashes if the HR sensor is having issues. All in all I was happy with it though, and the next thing I wanted to do was download the data…

Getting your data

In my mind, if a device is collecting biometric data on me, I expect to be able to get access to that data. Easily. On day one. Without having to ask for it. That wasn’t the case here, and I feel unwise for having assumed that I could have access to my own data. So, I contacted support and basically said I wanted to return the watch because this is essential to me. Support basically said to check back in 2 weeks. I did, excited because I hate returning things, but what they ended up delivering was not a new API where I could download my data at-will, but instead they added it to their bulk-download feature. Ok…

Bulk data download

So, I went to download my data. It took about a day to generate, which is a problem because I wanted to write software for nearly real-time (~5 minutes) processing. Then I found out that you have to wait 7 days to create a new full-download, which means worst-case 8 days of latency from when the measurement is taken. That’s a no-go.

So, I looked at the data anyway, because why not? For context, the data you get on the watchface is the number of EDA events in groups of 30 seconds over two minutes. It’s pretty useful – I often saw that I had more events in the first quarter, meaning I was calming down while taking the measurement, but sometimes it went up because I was ruminating. The data you download actually has raw measurements, nothing like what you see on the watch, and the measurements are taken every 5 milliseconds. That’s kinda cool, I like having that granular data, but it’s pretty frustrating that they expect me to reinvent the wheel to gain even trivial insights from the data; they should provide different levels of abstraction, or simple instructions (ideally code) for how to do the transformation (after all, it’s nothing proprietary). I don’t feel like we’re working together to enrich my life, I feel like I’m pulling teeth here.

The ZIP file I downloaded also had some documentation, e.g. for a field called “activated” it had the helpful description “activated”. Now I know! My impression is that Fitbit just isn’t invested in this part of their platform, and from my browsing of their developer forums, that’s unlikely to change unless you mention spending a lot of money.

I would actually share here a bit more about the data, but I accidentally overwrote it, and when I generated a new export file it failed to download, I got an error. I may update this blog with those details if Fitbit fixes it, since I do want to download my data before I leave their platform, but I wanted to write this blog post to give them more details before I tell them I’ve sent the watch back.


I had some more minor issues. Many of the animations feel long (e.g. hitting your daily steps), and tapping the screen does not skip them (I believe they’re unskippable on the Versa as well, but the animations never bothered me). On my Versa I can easily look back at which prior hours in the day I had managed to get 250 steps, but never found that information on the Sense. Turning my wrist to turn on the screen seemed to work less reliably than my Versa. I never figured out how to check the Sense battery from the watch, another easy thing with my Versa. I had to reboot the watch once because the UI got so broken, and it rebooted itself a couple times (that I noticed!) for no apparent reason; I’m worried about data loss here, though I didn’t dig into it. To use the wallet requires the watch have a security code that has to be re-entered once per day or if you take the watch off; I found myself having to do it multiple times per day, which is better than it accidentally letting someone purchase something on my behalf, but again it’s something not working as advertised (and honestly I keep the watch on as long as I’m not in the shower, so security is not a huge concern for me). I also signed up for health notifications, but it was annoying when they tended to come doubled:

The Return

Finally, after all this, I disappointingly decided to return it – a big deal for me, I don’t return things often. I’ve worked in consumer electronics in the past, and liked Fitbit, so I decided to purchase from them directly rather than via Amazon when I bought it. What a mistake! Amazon returns are dead simple – you walk into a UPS, they scan a QR code on your phone, you give them the product, and you’re done. Not so easy with Fitbit. When I requested a return, they sent me three emails, two of them asking me to print something (I don’t have a printer), and both those printouts having conflicting information. One had the address I was supposed to ship to, and the other was a shipping label.

I was really confused by this. I asked my apartmentmate, who’s also an engineer so presumably is at least kinda smart, and he was confused too. So I replied to support, saying “So, I tried to return this and got confused because it looks like I had to print a shipping label, but send it to a different address?” Their reply was, “Please proceed with the shipping label provided, the address is intentional” which didn’t help me at all – why send the other address? I procrastinated sending it out for weeks. I eventually went to the USPS yesterday, and the person working there was also confused by Fitbit in the same way my apartmentmate and I were, so I used the shipping label instead of the address because it was free for me.

What’s Next?

Well, I don’t see myself ever getting a Fitbit again. I’ve also become disillusioned with Google, who will presumably purchase Fitbit, so I don’t think a rebranding is going to help. So, what to do instead? I did some digging, and it seems like other smartwatches tend to have the same issue with data not being downloadable. I was somewhat interested in Oura Ring, though I would prefer a smartwatch, but when I contacted support asking for the CSV headers for the downloadable data (which I feel strongly should be publicly available on their website anyway) they wouldn’t give them to me unless I asked for a specific one.

A coworker recommended Aidlab, which seems to be researcher-focused and they have a well-documented API, and which I’ve ordered but has not shipped yet. The biggest issue with this wearable is that it’s a chest strap, so won’t do sleep tracking. I’m using my Versa for that for now, since it’s better than nothing, but honestly wearing a device from a company that has caused me this much frustration is not something I want to do. I have an old Pebble Time that I might try to revive, but haven’t gone down the rabbit hole on that yet. Withings looked the most promising, having API documentation, but it doesn’t have sleep depth like Fitbit does, so the only value it would provide over my phone is the at-night HR tracking which doesn’t seem worth it.


Honestly, I might just give up on smartwatches. When I originally got a Pebble (used!) I only intended to wear it long enough to get an intuition for it before I started writing code for it. I did end up creating my own watchface, but after that I just liked having a smartwatch and kept wearing it. So it’s a pretty old habit at this point, but I was fine before and I’m sure I’ll be fine in the future.

Japan 2019 – Retrospective

This post is not about any specific day from the trip. Instead, my plan is to think outloud about Japan and reflect on things generally. It’ll probably be very dry since there aren’t really pictures.


First, I some comments on the blogging. I thought it was a good idea before, and I mostly feel good about it. The first few days were great, and I liked reflecting on the day before going to bed, when I wasn’t too tired. When Google Photos stopped being in order though, blogging felt like a chore. I won’t commit to it in the future, but I will most likely give it a try and keep at it as long as Google Photos behaves.

Japan and Cleanliness

In my first / pre- post I mentioned that my first impression of Japan was not of cleanliness. I have a slightly different view after finishing the trip. The excitement with which the cleanliness was conveyed to me implied it was pristine, which is definitely not the case.

That said, you can tell it’s clean by how rarely you see pests – flies, gnats, rats and even pigeons. But the cities still had a fart / “dirty water” smell anytime you walked around enough, there were still water stains / rust, and anytime I looked for them, cigarette butts.

What I did see though was that there was a lot of sweeping, a lot indoor dusting, and at one of the gardens I saw someone trimming a perfectly good tree. So it does seem like, for certain things, they seriously get ahead of any messiness so that it doesn’t even come up.

I’ll talk about trash here too, including a little bit more generally. I mentioned this previously, but public trashcans are rare. They have them at train stations, but I don’t recall seeing any of them just on the street. I think my experience there would have been a lot better if I spent less time worrying about my trash. On a related note, they seem pretty serious about recycling, which is good, but it was super confusing at first. I’m not going to provide details here, but I would recommend you read up on trash in the cit(ies) you’re going to before visiting Japan.

Lastly, I’m going to just say briefly that I think smoking is absolutely disgusting and I’m genuinely surprised that it’s so common in a culture which values cleanliness. I believe I read somewhere that ~90% of Japanese smokers consider themselves addicted, and I want to be compassionate toward that, but it was frustrating enough during the trip that I’m mostly just annoyed – being an addict doesn’t mean you need to smoke inside a restaurant. I literally don’t want to go back until they modernize on this point.


I planned certain things for week days specifically expecting fewer crowds. At no point during the day did it really seem like fewer people were out and about though, and it was enough adults and families that it didn’t feel like a spring break thing. The trains were always at least a little bit crowded, and I was in for a rude-awakening when we were on a truly crowded train where people were packed in like sardines.

The street crowds weren’t too bad, but the ones at the zoo and the last aquarium made things much less enjoyable. I felt like both were chaotic, you just had to push your way forward rather than there being an orderly line, which again for me doesn’t jive with Japanese culture overall.

They crowds were bad enough that I would make an effort in the future to plan around them, as much as possible, and to know when I wouldn’t be able to so that I can be mentally prepared.

Other Random Observations

Here are a few things which didn’t really deserve a whole section:

There were vending machines everywhere. They all accepted coins, and many accepted the train card. They rarely had food, which was a surprise based on what I recalled about my reading.

I don’t recall seeing any cigarette ads. I’m used to that in the states, but I was surprised about it in Japan given that the government owns a large stake in Big Tobacco there.

I strongly dislike what I saw of bicycle culture. Basically, people use the busy sidewalks. I definitely take bike lanes for granted sometimes, but at least for what we saw of Japan I wouldn’t be very comfortable cycling there.

Japan is conveyed as “high-tech” oftentimes and my evaluation of this is similar to the cleanliness. Yes, it’s true to an extent, but it’s not as exaggerated as one may expect. One thing which might factor into this view is how complex some things are, e.g. I had a hard time figuring out how to take a hot bath, and accidentally made noises in the living room while trying. My view on that though is that technology should be elegant, you shouldn’t need Google Translate to take a bath and they don’t get any tech-points from me for over-complicating things.

The clothes washers don’t have driers. That was an unpleasant realization, though not a big deal. It was weird though, having let the clothes dry by themselves meant they felt crusty, which to me is at odd with Japanese culture and cleanliness, but I guess they don’t see it that way.

I felt like light switches weren’t very intuitive. I figured out eventually that they tend to be outside of a room instead of inside, but I still felt like I had a hard time predicting which, in a cluster of switches, might do what I want.

Money isn’t handed directly to someone, it’s put in a tray as a middle-man. Same with the change and with credit cards. Haven’t looked into this, though it was interesting though.

Splitting lines is common. In the US, if a line gets too long, it just becomes awkward. In Japan it was common when a line got too long to have someone who worked at the place create a gap, and manage it so that the line wasn’t as disruptive. That was cool.

I agree for the most part that Japanese culture is very polite. I feel like smoking in public (especially in restaurants) causes them to lose a point, and crowds didn’t feel polite, but the only direct / personal issue we had was at the hotel check-in, and that seemed unusual.

Face masks were very common, though I don’t think the majority of people used them. I’m too lazy to provide a link here but I read that there’s not really much science behind them being particularly useful. Overall, they seem unnecessary to me but I don’t blame people for being conservative about it (except for the smokers).

I like their escalator culture. There’s enough space for two people side-by-side on just about every one of them, and people were good about staying left and allowing walkers on the right. Two out of the three times I saw this violated, it was by someone blond, so they were probably not Japanese (and a little clueless unfortunately).

I didn’t meditate regularly during the trip. I do so for 10-15 minutes every week day at home (and often on weekends). I felt like I was mostly very mindful during the trip though, especially of when I was hangry or in a bad mood which the guys were never responsible for. I realized fairly late in the trip that during all the walking around, there was a blind spot to my mindfulness which was bothering me. No details on that here, but the trip would have been better if I had handled that part better.


Make sure you have Google Translate installed before the trip, along with the Japanese language pack. While there are real-time translation features, I would recommend translating anything ahead of time when you think there might be an issue, since back-and-forth is rarely necessary.

I regret not making an effort to learn some Japanese before going. I thought I would get along fine, so it wouldn’t be an issue, but that was only half true. I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t made the effort, because clearly so many Japanese people we interacted with did make an effort. In the future, I plan to at least go through a Coursera course or something on the local language before going somewhere new.

Visit teamLab Planets, it’s great!

Be mindful of IC-card (e.g. Pasmo) use at vending machines. We nearly ended up having to leave several more dollars than necessary on our cards because we had to reload because we used it on vending machines, which itself may entail hitting an ATM which has a minimum withdrawal as well as any fee(s). Instead, I would have stuck to change. The other thing is that it means that all three of us would have had the same balance, instead of having to figure how much needed to be added for each card individually.

Things That I Missed

I have a heavy blanket on my bed at home. Cats. Just feeling comfortable at home. Driers. Easy bathes. Wall sockets which reliably have ground. By the end of the trip, I was very ready to be home.


It was a great trip, and I would do it again. I still don’t plan on revisiting Japan until they modernize on smoking, which I expect they will. The guys were great to travel with and the worst part was when I snapped at Mikel which he didn’t deserve, but they really were great. I might plan for a slightly shorter trip in the future and a day off of work before going back in. I’m happy about the blogging, which I expect to read when I’m older even if no one else does.

Japan 2019 – Day 10 (The Last Day)

(This post is part of a series, you can start here or the view the previous post. You can also checkout the Google Photos album, which has all the pictures I took, as well as those of Mikel and Jesse.)

I started the day by waking up before the guys and taking a shower without them even knowing. The Airbnb was cramped, creaky and generally not my favorite but apparently the sound insulation between the shower and the guys’ room is great. I felt a little sick in the morning, consistent with the last couple days, but fortunately it was fine. Phew!

Today was a between-lodging day, we had to checkout of the Airbnb at 11am and we could check-in to our hotel in Tokyo as early as 3pm. The plan wasn’t to go straight between them anyway, we were going from Osaka in the morning to Kyoto for the day and crashing in Tokyo for the night, so we’re close to the airport. We didn’t plan anything for tomorrow, but our flight isn’t until nearly 8pm so in retrospect we really could have stayed wherever. That, or pick a different departure airport. Oh well.

So anyway, today’s plan was to start in Osaka, stash our big bags at the Kyoto station, go to Nara Park from there, and then go to the bamboo forest. We decided last-minute to do Nara Park first. I forget why. It wasn’t a good reason or anything.

I thought we’d have to walk ~15 minutes from the station, but basically as soon as we walked out of the station there were deer:

So docile

There’s not much to say about Nara Park. The city had a good vibe – family-friendly, small. We bought crackers for the deer from street vendors for 150 yen (<$1.50). It was fun, and the pictures below are the real part of the post. I will say though almost all the deer were super nice but one of them grabbed the dangling part of my hat and bit my jacket and that was cute.

The album has a couple without him blinking, but I like including pictures of people mid-blink for the lolz
Actual Nara Park (as opposed to the walk to it)
Street vendor trying to protect his product

We got some good videos. Here’s one of Mikel feeding all his crackers to a single deer (23s), here’s one of Jesse petting a deer (7s), and here’s one of Jesse bowing to a deer and it bowing back (arguably more of a nod, 12s).

After enjoying the deer a bit, we got lunch in Nara. We went to a sushi-boat place, which was a lot better than the previous one! The payment system was interesting, they had a scanner which seemed to use chips in the plates to figure out how much to charge you. The sashimi was pretty:

Good stuff

From Nara Park, we went to the bamboo forest. It turns out it was in the exact opposite direction to Kyoto so that kinda sucked, it was about two hours. And it wasn’t an easy two hours, like the bullet train I’m currently on as I write this was, instead we took four different trains and twice Google Maps got the train line wrong and we had to figure that out.

Anyway the bamboo forest was off of a little town, Arashiyama. I liked the vibe there too. The Kyoto area was definitely nicer than Osaka in terms of our preferences. So we took a short walk from the town and were immediately hiking up hill.

I didn’t expect that, but was thrilled because I had wanted to go hiking on this trip but the only things I found required a four hour round trip and there was no way I was going to subject the guys to that. Anyway we got a bunch of pictures of our hike:

Not a lot of bamboo but still pretty
We had a pretty amazing view
Mikel and I thought this was neat, that we should have this kinda thing in the US
Part of our hike was blocked off, so you had to climb

Lots of pictures later, we got to the end of the hike, where Google Maps said the bamboo forest was. Nada. We turned back a little disappointed but I was satisfied with the hike. On the way back though we decided to take a detour toward some temple ruins. We nearly didn’t, but it’s not like we were going to do much else with the day and we made the trip out there so why not, right? We also thought we’d have to backtrack but it turned out that route would actually drop us back into the town, so that was nice.

So Jesse had gone ahead and actually yelled out at us that we were going to be thrilled. I heard running water, so “just” expected a waterfall or something. But it turned out we found the forest!

Fake candid
Got one of me blinking
Someone looks triumphant
So tall!

That’s most of the bamboo forest. The actually thick bamboo part was small and short. Since Google Maps won’t get you there, I’ll try to give better instructions here – head toward Katsura river, and walk along it. If you keep going, you should find it pretty quickly, you don’t have to do any hiking from the city to get to it (though it’s on a hill, so I wouldn’t say it’s handicap-accessible though).

Speaking of the river, it was pretty so I got a few pictures:

We could have kept going, but we were tired; good thing we didn’t! (More on why later…)

And as I said, the town was nice:

Shots from the bus

Getting back to Kyoto station from Arashiyama took about 50 minutes. When we got there we grabbed our stuff (after a brief panic of wondering if we had dropped it all at a different station), grabbed some snacks, and hopped on the bullet train back to Tokyo.

We arrived in Tokyo around 9:30pm, not having eaten yet. On the bullet train, we looked at food near our hotel and after a bit of looking (limited options so late, un-deciding on a ramen place where someone complained about food poisoning, etc.) we decided on an all-day-breakfast place. I was psyched. We had one local train following the bullet, and unfortunately I accidentally got hit in the head by a hand hold while putting up my duffel bag:

First injury of the trip; it really hurt

So we got to the hotel, which we booked instead of an Airbnb specifically because we wanted to not worry about anything the night before our flight, and we had some check-in troubles… For some reason, the hotel thought the 2-bed room that Jesse booked was for one person. They wanted to charge nearly $100 for a second person. And the third person? They couldn’t just charge $100, they said a 2-bed room has a limit of 2 people, and we’d have to get another room, and not at the same rate, more like $300 for the night. SHIT. We ate the cost because we just wanted to go to freaking dinner at this point, and we’re privileged enough that the extra cost isn’t going to break the bank.

Mikel did some research, and apparently at least some of this is normal in Japan. We were pretty pissed though. We were hungry at the end of our long day and the people at the hotel were not polite about things at all. In fact, it was almost like they weren’t Japanese! We wondered if it was a language barrier, but Jesse said the tone was rude along with her being totally unapologetic. Jesse worked over ten years in hospitality and his jaw dropped. In cause you’re wondering what hotel to not stay at, it was the Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba.

So we got to our rooms, with Jesse fuming, and we just wanted to drop our stuff and get to dinner. The all-day-breakfast place was a 10 minute walk, and it was cold and windy. It was close to 10:30pm at this point but the place (according to Google Maps) was open until 11pm so we just hoped the kitchen was open until that time. Alas, the building that housed the restaurant closed at 9pm. Wtf? So our day just got a little worse. Out in the cold wind we had to pick another place. Before I get to that, here was a pretty picture of the view from the breakfast place:

Jesse had seen a meat restaurant on our way, which was also supposed to be open until 11pm. So we had a plan which didn’t require standing around in the cold wind on our phones. Awesome. So we walk over (fortunately it was on our way back) and walk in, relieved to finally get some food. But of course things aren’t that simple, it reeked of smoke, and we immediately walked out. The quality of this vacation has seriously declined as time has gone on!

Also on our way back was a McDonalds, open 24 hours. I haven’t had it for years, and it’s worse than I remember. I didn’t take pictures. I almost feel like I should have for the irony.

So that was the end of our last full day in Japan. Tomorrow we plan to hang at the hotel until checkout, go back to the standing sushi place, and then just head to the airport. Not very glamorous. I probably won’t write a post for tomorrow, but I do plan on writing a retrospective post about the trip / Japan in general. Not going to promise trying to write that one right away though, as I have been for this daily posts (if you’ve noticed them coming out slower, it’s because they’re finished but I’m waiting for at least one of the guys to proofread and give a thumbs-up; kudos to them for all the reading!).

Fitbit step count for the day: 29,526

Next: retrospective

Japan 2019 – Day 9 – Part 2 Osaka Aquarium and more

(This post is part of a series, you can start here or the view the previous post. You can also checkout the Google Photos album, which has all the pictures I took, as well as those of Mikel and Jesse.)

After the Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park, we wanted to grab lunch. Being tired of finding out places allow smoking, we used a website Jesse found that is specifically for places that disallow smoking. We picked a sushi place which was a train away and a bit of a walk away. When we got “there,” we realized somehow we were mistaken about the address and had to re-find it. So we did, and after fifteen minutes we realized the place was closed even though Google Maps said it was open. UGH!

So we backtracked to a ramen place that had smelled good and had a no-smoking sign. It used a ticket machine, like the place we liked in Tokyo, and we each got our own thing. Google Photos isn’t saving my pictures in order anymore (another UGH! makes blog posting so much harder!) so you’ll just have to believe me that I ate lunch.

After lunch, we went to Legoland!

Just kidding. But we did walk by that giraffe. And apparently there’s a Legoland in Osaka. We actually went to the aquarium.

It ended up being packed inside and Mikel and I were not feeling it. Jesse is much more patient with crowds, so he got all the pictures I’ll be posting. Mikel and I looked a little bit, but basically just went through really fast, rested at the Starbucks at the end, and waited for Jesse. Bummer, I know, but I had mentally prepared for our third aquarium to be a flop anyway and at least Jesse was having a good time.

Anyway, here are pictures and such (more on Google Photos) and I’ll talk about dinner afterward:

I’m just going to take an intermission here to say when I first started blogging, Google Photos kept everything in chronological order and it made going through the album fantastic for rebuilding the day and writing the post, but now they seem jumbled and it makes writing this blog massively less enjoyable so if you feel like the quality is tanking, blame Google.

That’s enough of my complaining, back to pictures:

Ok more complaining for a second – I’m so tired of aquarium pictures omg

Oh actually apparently that’s everything. I thought I had a lot more coming. Cool. Anyway to wrap up the aquarium, here’s a video of penguins getting fed.

Also Jesse and I were just looking at Google Photos and it’s completely jumbled. It’s so frustrating that I literally had the thought of just giving up on blogging the rest of the trip (tomorrow) but we plan visiting the bamboo forest and Nara Park, both of which ought to be very photogenic. Uuuuugh. I guess I only have to tolerate it one more day, but I might keep it short tomorrow. Anyway, dinner…

So Jesse found a non-smoking sushi place a ten minute walk away. What could go wrong, right? So we make the trek (in the rain) and find the place is booked solid for the night. That’s quite a bummer.

So Jesse hits the non-smoking site again and finds a place, but we have to take the train. Ok. So we do that, and we get to the train station where the restaurant is (this isn’t as sketch as it would sound in the US) and we spend maybe 10 minutes looking for the place. We find a map, and are so close to finding it when, get this, an announcement comes over the PA saying there’s a fire on the 8th floor and the building is to be evacuated. I shit you not. Dinner in Osaka just can’t be easy!

So after a couple moments’ hesitation we “evacuate” (move ~20 feet away, out the door). So we stand literally right outside the door saying “oh my god” for a little while, watching people evacuate, when we notice there’s a restaurant from which no one is leaving. That’s odd. So we go back in to see if the PA is still going off, and it’s not. Cool…

So we decide to continue searching for the sushi place, and we find it. We get in line, and guess what happens next? Yeah, you guessed it – the fire alarm went off again. But only for a second. Everything is fine.

It’s a standing sushi place, we get a spot pretty quickly, and we have great sushi. It wasn’t as good as the other standing place, but it was great. Jesse and I were delighted two pieces of toro are under $4 – we recently paid $9 for a single piece in the US (as a splurge). The total from the three of us comes out to $67 USD. A ton of sushi for three people for such a deal! We only had to pay for the plane tickets and train card and spend a lot of time. What a bargain.

Per Mikel’s idea, we go searching for ice cream. That should be easy, right? Ok but actually it was. Here’s the evidence:

The cashier there didn’t seem to speak any English, so it was a lot of pointing, but we all got exactly what we wanted. We came home to relax, in preparation for a long day tomorrow. We’re going to visit Kyoto and plan to visit the bamboo forest and Nara park, before taking the bullet train back to Tokyo to spend the night before our flight home.

Fitbit step count for the day: 23,222

Next: day 10 (the last full day)

Japan 2019 – Day 9 – Part 1 Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park

(This post is part of a series, you can start here or the view the previous post. You can also checkout the Google Photos album, which has all the pictures I took, as well as those of Mikel and Jesse.)

Ok, so first thing’s first – I woke up in the middle of the night last night looking for my water bottle couldn’t find it. This morning I couldn’t find it either, so I think I lost it 🙁

This is going to be another multi-parter. There are just too many pictures to try to cram into one ginormous post.

So we decided to go to another garden / park, Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park, ahead of our Osaka Aquarium trip. It was pretty good, though I preferred the previous two we went to. Here are some pictures, I’ll let you decide (I tried to not make this a multi-part post again but here we are):

As you can see, they had areas themed by different countries:

I failed to get many pictures keeping track of the country for them. Oops. By the way, there are way more pictures on the album. But I’m including this because I love water features:

And we enjoyed this area in particular:

More water features…

Next: day 9 (part 2)

Japan Day 8 – Part 2 – Zoo, Castle and another Tower

(This post is part of a series, you can start here or the view the previous post. You can also checkout the Google Photos album, which has all the pictures I took, as well as those of Mikel and Jesse.)

After the park, we went to the zoo, which was super cheap – less than $20 for all three of us. For the most part, I’m not impressed with the zoo pictures and my view on the zoo overall, after everything, is it seems really unethical for all the larger animals (monkey size and up) to be kept in such small spaces. So rather than show a bunch of zoo pictures, I’m going to talk about other stuff – if you really want the pictures, they’re in the album.

When we got there I was really hungry so we headed to the “restaurant”. It turned out to be a truck which sold french friends and ice cream:

I felt silly for getting an American thing, but it was the only food available
They didn’t get them from long potatoes, our best guess is that they take something like mashed potatoes and then press them into this shape; the structural integrity wasn’t great

The three of us shared two orders of fries, but I got sick of them quickly. We threw away nearly half of what we bought. Jesse and I also got ice cream, and was good at least (though a bit pricey).

Ok so the bird enclosure was actually a little cool and I didn’t feel as bad about it (perhaps out of ignorance):

Mikel got some ice cream:

And here’s a lion with his junk pointed up, can’t not post this:

After the zoo, we wanted to grab a proper lunch. Jesse looked up a highly rated sushi place and we started walking. On our way, he realized he didn’t double check it for non-smoking so he sent me the link and I checked it – they allow smoking, bummer. So we checked a second place, same problem. Checked a third place, no mention of smoking, went there, found out it was smoking. UGH.

While we were walking around, we smelled a Vietnamese place which seemed appealing. So we headed back that way, saw it was non-smoking, and were psyched. It turned out to be to-go so we bought three sandwiches and headed toward the castle, planning to eat after the train. I should also mention Mikel forgot his hat, and they ran out to return it to him. The sandwiches were AWESOME! I loved that place. Would totally eat there again.

Ok now, castle time:

I was kinda disappointed inside. I was expecting a castle vibe, but it was definitely a museum vibe. The view from up top was pretty good though:

The biggest benefit was I was looking for a shotglass for my mom, have not been able to find one the whole trip, but the castle had them! Jesse is the one that actually found them, I wasn’t being mindful and probably would have missed them. Anyway, they’re bundled up so no pictures (and I forgot to snap one of the display glasses) but it was a success.

After the castle, we headed over to a big tower. Here it is from a distance:

When we were almost there, we saw this weird thing:

They had a nice garden downstairs:

And a nice view toward the top:

The tower itself was kinda crummy. It was super crowded, and they had chairs at the windows people were hanging out at so it was hard to get pictures. The ones I’m posting here are from the open top, which was nice but it was windy and cold so we didn’t want to stay there long.

They did have a pretty cool Nanoblock display:

And they had a cool escalator:

And a colorful water feature:

And then it was dinnertime. The basement of the tower was supposed to have nice food (not as sketch as “basement” makes it sound). We wanted sushi, since we hadn’t had any yet, but it turned out that place was closed (even though there was a sign with the hours implying it was open). Super annoying.

On the plus side, Jesse wanted to checkout these savory pancakes anyway:

Jesse thought they were great but Mikel and I thought they were pretty meh. Was glad to try something new though! (Though sushi would have been great / better.)

That was pretty much it for the day. It was a lot of walking and we were exhausted, we were out around 12 hours and most of that was standing or walking.

Fitbit step count for the day: 28,208

Next: day 9 (part 1)

Japan Day 8 – Part 1 – Park and Garden

(This post is part of a series, you can start here or the view the previous post. You can also checkout the Google Photos album, which has all the pictures I took, as well as those of Mikel and Jesse.)

This is another one of those mostly-just-pictures posts. We visited another garden near our Airbnb (I can’t seem to find the name, at least not in English) and got a lot of nice pictures so if you want text then the part 2 post will be for you. I’ll interject here and there but here we go:

Oh wow I just discovered the “gallery” feature and I’m not sure it’s going to look as good but oh boy is it easier to upload in batch (not in any particular order apparently):

Fitbit step count for the day: 28,208

Next: day 8 (part 2)

Japan 2019 – Day 7

(This post is part of a series, you can start here or the view the previous post. You can also checkout the Google Photos album, which has all the pictures I took, as well as those of Mikel and Jesse.)

I woke up a little sick today, unfortunately. It’s not so bad right now and I hope it doesn’t get worse, it would be a bummer to miss out in things. At least today was more of a travel day than anything so I got to relax on the train instead of walking a ton.

We took the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. When we purchased our tickets at the Tokyo station, I was surprised that in order to even get to the ticket booth you had to have proof you had paid for your entry. Super weird, I would have expected ticket purchases to be outside of such an area. Oh well.

We grabbed sushi at Tokyo station, which we ate on the train. It was pretty good.

“This is better than it has any right to be” – Mikel

The train was much like an Amtrak, though a bit nicer and much, much faster. It was pretty uneventful but I’ll mention a couple things, and then another thing. The first is that the woman in front of me asked if she could put her seat back (in fun, awkward English) and when she did it was barely perceptible. In retrospect, I actually wish I had told her she could go as far as she wants (I’m comfortable with virtually no leg room). The second thing was they sold ice cream on board:

Not a mistranslation

I wanted to pay with exact change but ended up giving her a 500 yen coin for a 370 yen purchase, and as she saw the change in my hand she took a couple 10 yen coins so she could give me 150 back (two coins, 100 and 50) instead of a slightly more awkward 130. I appreciated that.

Ok so the other thing. I spent a good chunk of time working on an Android app while on the train, and that went well, but I ended up having a killer headache which left me totally useless. I was afraid it was going to knock me out for the rest of the day but I was feeling ok by the time the train arrived. I feel alright at the moment but have been anxious that the headache would come back.

We took one local train after the bullet train and our new Airbnb was a short walk from the local train stop. Here were the photos I got when we arrived:

I tried to take pictures of our place, but it’s small and I couldn’t find a good shot. It’s not as nice as the previous place we were at, but it’s substantially cheaper. I suspect I would prefer an upgrade, but we’ll be fine.

We decided to take the downtime before dinner rather than do any exploring. Jesse and I did some planning – a park, castle and observatory tomorrow, the aquarium on Sunday (which we might zip through if we find our third aquarium boring) and then Kyoto, including The Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama. That’ll be it for Osaka, Tuesday we head back to Tokyo for one night before we fly back to California. I also did a little bit more Android coding, I’m pleased to have done some project work during my vacation!

For dinner, Jesse booked a reservation at the #11 restaurant, #1 for Kobe, in the city. I was able to verify on Tripadvisor it’s non-smoking. I was pretty excited since he’s been hyping Kobe for literally months. It was hotpot style, and I thought the start was photogenic enough for here:

Jesse ended up loving it, which I’m glad about, but Mikel and I were unimpressed. We’re not a fan of hotpot style in the first place and my experience with the beef itself was rather unextraordinary. There was a soup at the end which I did enjoy, but if I were to do Kobe again I would make the effort to get a proper steak.

The only other notable thing about the day was a mistranslation I saw on the way back from dinner:

Other than that I’m going to work on Android stuff for the rest of the night, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow!

Fitbit step count for the day: 10,823

Next: Day 8 (part 1)