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)

Day 6 – Part 2 – Tsukiji fish market 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.)

So following the Hama Rikyu Gardens, we took a short walk over to the famous Tsukiji fish market, ready for sushi lunch. The first place we saw looked great but Jesse pointed out we shouldn’t go to the first place we see (even though we were hungry). After a few minutes we found a place, Sushizanmai, that looked good and we hopped in line. Jesse wisely took a sniff of the place before we went in to ensure there was no cigarette smoke, especially after we saw a sign saying there was smoking on the third floor.

When we got to the front of the line, the host asked if upstairs (second floor, right?) was ok and we said yeah. I had taken a sniff at the bottom of the stairs and had no problem, but I proactively got Google Translate ready with a request for downstairs, just in case. When we were finally being lead up the stairs, we ended up skipping the second floor as it was blocked off and we went straight to the third. I had quite an oh-shit moment, but I sniffed a bunch and there was no issue at all. Phew!

The market was super crowded so I didn’t really get pictures of it but I did for lunch:

The front one was the most expensive thing on the menu and it was so good; I forget the name
We hadn’t had sushi for two days and I was SO craving it
Loved the portion size!
The vanilla bean ice cream was SO GOOD

This was seriously some of the best sushi of my life. It was just so fresh and melted in your mouth. I would definitely come back here, though my understanding is that this market just generally has a ton of good sushi.

On our way out I wanted to grab some crystallized ginger I saw on the way in, but they had free samples and when I tried it, it had a funny taste. Definitely disappointing, I like crystallized ginger.

Next up we decided to go to Ueno park. On the way there we saw a big Buddhist temple and decided to take a look:

It was huge

The inside was pretty extravagant but beyond this, there wasn’t much to see:

Couldn’t get any closer, unfortunately

After a few short minutes there we decided to keep going. I thought this picture from a walking bridge was cool:

When we got to the park, it was immediately gorgeous:

So many cherry blossoms!

It was overcast but still very pretty:

While walking through the park we came upon some pull-up bars Jesse and Mikel wanted to stop for:

I took video of them going for it, mostly to make Mikel uncomfortable

I also did three pull-ups, which was one or two more than I thought I would be able to do. I could have done more, but it would have been a struggle and I didn’t want to be sore. I’m a wuss, I know.

There was a little lake where people were using paddle boats:

We considered it, but it was too cold; definitely in the summertime though

From here, we decided to walk back to the place. Here is a picture we thought was cool, no other reason for it:

Once again, on the way, we saw and stopped at a temple. This one was much, much smaller and I wasn’t even sure it was ok to walk around. When we did though we saw one person who said hello and didn’t seem uncomfortable with us there. We got some great photos:

We got back to the place around 4:15pm I think. We just relaxed, and I mostly worked on blog posts since I was behind. Around 6:30pm I walked by myself to a dessert place nearby where I thought I had seen chocolate mousse cake; Jesse was sore and Mikel wasn’t interested. That was my first / only time walking around the city by myself and it felt good to feel confident walking around in such a foreign place, so far from home.

When I got there, it I couldn’t find the cake. I looked at the other stuff, and none of it looked appealing to me. Bummer. I walked back, empty handed, but at least I nabbed a couple of Volbeats on the way.

We went to dinner pretty late, after 8pm. We decided to go back to the standing sushi place, and that was great. Although the fish market may have had some of the best sushi I have ever had, the standing sushi place had amazing seaperch (I should have gotten a picture of it).

On the way back we stopped at a Turkish ice cream place. Apparently this is a thing, which I didn’t know, but they make a show of it and trick you into thinking you’re getting the ice cream even though they’re not done yet. They used a long metal pole to collect it, and stuck the cone to the ice cream which was stuck to the pole, held it out, and when you try to grab it they rotate it and pull away. If I was by myself I might have been annoyed but honestly it was hilarious. We each went through it and I regret not getting a video of it happening to Mikel. Whoops.

This was our last night in Tokyo (other than our last night of the trip, since we’re flying out of Tokyo), which meant laundry day. Mikel and Jesse did a load together and couldn’t figure out how to dry the clothes after they were washed. Jesse did some research and apparently driers are not much of a thing in Japan. They ended up using the heater to dry things and I decided to save my laundry for the place in Osaka.

This was our last real day in Tokyo, glad it was great!

Next: day 7

Fitbit step count for the day: 29,595

Day 6 – Part 1 – Hama Rikyu Gardens

(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 just finished the previous two days’ blog posts and the morning is kinda fuzzy. Anyway the plan was to visit Hama Rikyu Gardens and then the Tsukiji fish market.

While writing this post, I realized that I had little to say about the garden but lots of nice pictures. So this is part 1 of day 6 which will basically be pictures of the garden, I’ll followup with a separate post about the rest of the day.

We took the train there as per usual and I got a couple of city pictures on the way there that I liked:

As we were approaching the garden, I noticed that there was a Pokemon there that I didn’t have. Yay! I went straight for him and caught the sucker:

I ended up hatching one and catching a second one, all in one day!

So anyway back to real life… the view walking in was amazing:

The first non-naturey thing we saw when we got there was “The Former Inabu Shrine”:

Not sure how this panorama is going to turn out on the blog but hey:

Another panorama

Ok now I have a little bit to say. So basically this garden used to be somewhere where they hunted ducks using falcons, and the garden is kinda like a memorial to honor those ducks.

Here’s one of the things that humans would hide in
This was way harder to upload than I care to describe
We ended up resting here

Next: Day 6 (part 2)

Japan 2019 – Day 5

(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.)

We started our day with a one hour train ride to teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum, something Jesse found online. He said he read it was one of / the “most Instagramable” places in the world. No way it’ll be super crowded, right? Right.

It was rainy and cold, but at least not windy. I certainly could have brought better clothes (warmer jacket, footwear that tolerates water at all). I was happy to have my umbrella, though our Airbnb provided enough for each of us; mine collapsed more nicely than theirs, fitting in my backpack. It’s also worth noting Jesse complained occasionally about his sore calves, likely a consequence of his run yesterday due to a forgotten train card.

When we exited the train I saw this awesome sign:

I looove weird translations (because language is fun, not because I think they’re “dumb” or anything; language is hard)

Anyway, when we got there, a little bit after opening, there was a huge line. In the rain. Here is some of it:

It went behind us about half as long as this, wrapped around the street to the left of the part far off in the distance about another half as long, and once you got inside there was still more line

We stood in it for a bit and then realized we were in the line for ticket holders, not for us non-ticket holders. Whoops. So we left the line and got tickets, which fortunately had no line (it’s worth noting for anyone going later, we could have stayed in the line and bought tickets on our phone). When we got back in line it was longer. Lovely. In retrospect, we ought to have arrived before opening.

We have gotten lucky for nearly all of this trip, given we have planned no more than the morning ahead for the most part (if even that!). This is the flip side of that though. It sucked pretty bad. Honestly it would only have taken a few more minutes research for us to have at least known what we were getting into, so we deserved what we got. It wasn’t all bad though, checkout this sign:

Comedic relief

I should also note at this point not only did we not plan or think ahead, we got in line at 10am without having eaten anything. To enter a museum with no food inside. When we “planned” to spend ~4 hours inside…

Next, things were awesome. The morning was rough but the digital art museum was great. I should say though none of the pictures do justice to the experience. Here was the first thing we saw:

There are some awesome videos here, here and here.

That was the first “exhibit” but the hallways in between them were still filled with art:

Moose composed of flowers; video here

They were projections, as you can see here:

I was blind for this picture

The next exhibit was a room full of hung LEDs strings:

Mikel was pleased.

As I said, the pictures / videos really don’t do it justice, so I’m omitting most of them here, but I thought this video somewhat conveys how amazing it was; just imagine being totally immersed in it. There were a lot of different patterns as well:

Rainbows are pretty

Here’s a rain pattern. And here’s another cool one. We spent a good while at that exhibit and Mikel got a little emotional (they guy just loves LEDs) but we still have plenty of museum left at this point!

For the next room, unfortunately many of my pictures came out blurry but this video came out well. The next hallway was great though:

Here’s a video of the area

Here’s me embedded in the hallway exhibit:

Also blind

Here are a few random, smaller exhibits:

I should have taken a video of it
This reminded us of Arrival
Just pretty

Here was an exhibit we didn’t choose to participate in (Jesse couldn’t, with his calves) but looked awesome. Here’s Mikel and Jesse playing with a balloon. This picture of Jesse came out well:

Unfortunately when I tried to get a similar one, I was told we were to remain standing in this area

At least I got this:

We used Nightsight heavily, and a side-effect of it is that it takes in part of the picture at a time; the balls were always the same color, not like in the picture.

You saw me and Jesse, now here’s Mikel:

What a happy guy

And here’s the three of us:

Mikel has a good selfie arm

We took a few selfies, since you never know how they’re going to turn out, and the one above was my favorite because of the colors. That said, Jesse liked this one more. While I’m at it, here was our third.

Here were the silly ones:

Little does Mikel know…
Oh, nevermind

Here is an awesome whale:

Here is a video of this awesome whale

The next exhibit we saw was one where crayon drawings from visitors were scanned into the system and then projected on the wall:

Video here

The hallway projections changed over time, and that moose became other things:

I forget what was in front of the lion
Kangaroo! It was running away, I barely got this pic.
They were mostly hopping forward, I was happy to nail this view
Lazy guy
Love the colors on this one

For the last exhibit, we had a had time finding it but we eventually made it to the Forest of Resonating Lamps:

This is the view from outside, through a one-way mirror; video here
All that was before we even got into the room!

And here are Jesse and Mikel the moment we walked in:

Freaking awesome

I thought this picture of me turned out pretty well:

Fake candid

While we were there, a couple other tourists asked us to get a picture of them and then they returned the favor:

This selfie of Mikel is too funny to not share:

Can’t believe he made this face on purpose

Overall we got a lot of good pictures of this exhibit, you can check them all out in the Google Photos album.

The worst part of this museum, and it wasn’t really that bad, was the Floating Nest. We stood in a really long line since we wanted to see everything but that exhibit just turned out to be a net that you lay down in and watch the same stuff as outside. Not worth the wait, if you ask me (this basically delayed us eating).

Couple other notable things on our way out. I loved this phoenix, and the flower animals were more interesting, such as a lion chasing another animal. Unfortunately I was not able to get a video of that.

We were all a little hangry at this point, it being around 2:30pm (although we were being mindful of it), so we went to the first place we saw – Wendy’s. We liked this very useful display:

No more “was that our number?”

The plan was to get sushi after Wendy’s, with that being a snack rather than a lunch, so we just got floats/yogurt and shared a large fry. We sat across from a couple who looked like they were traveling, and Jesse got a conversation started with them. Their names were Serena and Kanal (not sure of the spelling).

They ended up being really cool and they shared “burnt butter” flavored fries with us. Jesse loved those fries. I was on the other side of the spectrum. They also recommended we checkout a sister museum to the one we just left, Planets, and a Michelin-recommended ramen place, Ginza – KAGARI. Serena had the great idea of getting a selfie before they left:

Serena is a good selfie taker

After they left, we bought tickets to Planets on my phone and then took the train over. We felt full enough we ended up skipping the sushi lunch. When they told us about Planets, they mentioned you’re barefoot the whole time and that it’s a more tactile experience rather than being purely visual (there was audio as well, but nothing particularly impressive). I was excited.

So we got there and put our shoes in a locker. The first part of the museum is an incline with very shallow water running down it. Unfortunately it turned out blurry but here’s what was at the top of the incline:

I was more careful about blurry pictures later

They had us towel off and then we were onto the next part. It was basically a room where the floor was a bean bag. It was awesome. We relaxed here for a while:

They look so comfy
I don’t like how I turned out but hey

Following the bean bag room was the LED exhibit all over again:

Happy guy

I don’t think this was the case at the first place, but here the floor was a mirror:

Plus more video here and here.

More pretty:

The ceiling is a mirror

The next room was another water one, but this time nearly up to your knee. It was dark, so the photos didn’t turn out great, but this video shows what was going on pretty well. The room after was glowy and bouncy balls again, though it was big enough that we played some tag. The room after that had projections on the ceiling similar to the previous place. Pictures were tough but I thought this video and this video were good.

So we wrapped up there and headed to the ramen place Serena and Kanal had recommended (second day without sushi ugh but ok). After a short wait, we were inside, and taking pictures of our food:

My dinner
Jesse’s – prettier – dinner

Shortly after we started eating, guess who showed up?! Serena and Kanal!

I wish we had made sure Serena was in the second picture

They sat next to us and we had more laughs. I should mention here that we did not originally get that first selfie from Serena, which I regretted so much, but we got these two pictures after our second run-in. Good times!

Our way back to the place had some good sights as well:

I thought this screen on the train was interesting:

“Passenger rescue”

By the time we got back to the place, I was beat. Even though it would mean I was two blog posts behind, I just showered, flossed, brushed and went to bed. Tomorrow the plan is Tsukiji fish market!

Fitbit step count for the day: 13,225

Next: Day 6