Japan 2019 – Day 4

(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 once again woke up early, at 5am. Ugh. I tried to go to back to sleep and intermittently did until 8am, but I think that just made me groggy for some of the day. When I got up, Jesse and Mikel were trying to figure out Tokyo Disney stuff.

I forget what prompted things, but we preferred to purchase tickets online before arriving, just to be sure the hour-long trip (only about three and a half dollars) to get there was not a waste. Imagine how much it would suck if we got there and the park was already at capacity. For a Tuesday I thought that unlikely, but some people in the US are on spring break right now so maybe it’s a thing here too.

Jesse made another call to his concierge service because the Tokyo Disney website said you had to made an appointment for English. The concierge said they would call back, and after some talking between the three us, we decided we did not want to wait, so we headed out at 9am knowing we were balancing the risk of each possibility of wasting time. We also found out that you had to print tickets for online anyway, which would have been a journey itself.

When we were basically at the train station, Jesse realized he had forgotten his train card. We immediately decided to head back, but Jesse volunteered to run back while we just waited. In retrospect, he probably could have gotten a replacement card at the station by providing his name and birthday and stuff but that thought didn’t occur to us until later. He made it back to us huffing and puffing.

While we were walking for our transfer (we had to walk to a different station), I ran into this view I enjoyed:

Jesse looking up in awe

We had a hard time with the transfer. Google Maps was confidently but incorrectly giving us our location and it was throwing us off. Fortunately Mikel noticed what looked like the entrance to an underground train, even though it had very little traffic compared to all the other ones we’d seen. It turned out he was right, and we were on our way.

When we got to the park we realized (though we suspected from the website) that they don’t have a “park hopper” pass to visit the main place and the sea one, which was a bummer. It would have cost about double (~$150 total) to purchase both tickets so we decided to just stick to the main park. Here’s Jesse making a funny face as we arrive:

Jesse making a funny face

Here was our view right after we got through the ticket gate:

One of my first impressions at the park was there was less English than I expected. It was totally fine and just about all (if not all-all) of the big signs of names of things were in English though.

Jesse used to work at Disneyland in California and apparently the park layouts are similar so we had our own expert leading us around. In the first line we stood in, Jesse told us a sweet story of when he worked at Disneyland where he made a little girl so happy.

I learned how Fastpass works today too. I thought you paid to skip the line, which I think is morally dubious, but I would have done it since we have limited time while on vacation (as nice this trip has been, it’ll be a while before I come back). But apparently you just go to the ride you want, get a Fastpass for free, and come back at an allotted time (about an hour window). You cannot get another Fastpass right away, and the Fastpass ticket you have says exactly when you can get the next one. I love it and feel zero guilt, which is also great. You can also see how long the wait is with Fastpass if you physically go to the ride:

There was a one or two person line to get the Fastpass (totally fine)

The first ride we went on was the Star Wars one. It was an indoor roller coaster with a digital screen at the front, which you watched with 3D glasses. I expected to enjoy it but it exceeded my expectations, the visuals were really cool and synchronized very well with the movement. Here’s a robot:

AND IT MOVES

After that we went to lunch. That was pretty uneventful, other than me almost saying “gracias” to the hostess, and this plaque that makes me resent what Disney apparently thinks real men are:

Apparently I’m not a real man because I don’t wear a top hat

Next up we got to go to Space Mountain, from our Fastpass. It was loads of fun, and my favorite part was all of Jesse’s screaming. I think Mikel enjoyed that too. Worth the wait (especially since it wasn’t in a line).

One of my favorite moments at the park was when Jesse saw some people struggling to take a picture and very awkwardly offered to take it for them. They seemed to speak no English so Mikel and I stood off to the side and cringed while they were trying to figure out what was going on. Ultimately Jesse did help them, they were thankful, and it was awesome. Kudos to Jesse for being a stand-up guy, setting a good example for the socially-anxious of us.

Here was a big castle:

We got to go through the bottom part. This view was more interesting.

The next ride we went on was the Buzz Lightyear one. It was a game as much of a ride, where you shot things with lasers, and I beat Mikel by nearly 10x. I don’t have an interesting picture of this one so you get this instead:

An uninteresting picture

My favorite ride (other than the roller coasters) was the Haunted Mansion. I tried to take pictures, but it was too dark, so you just get text unfortunately. To be honest I thought it was mostly meh but there were two effects that made it worth the line. The first was there was a room with a bunch of tables and the most realistic looking ghosts I have ever seen. I was seriously awe-struck. Jesse explained later that they have a transparent glass display and that’s how they do it. It seemed to work at multiple angles and I don’t know how they did it, but it was seriously impressive. The next part was less impressive but still really fun. At the very end they have your car move sideways while you face mirrors. Those mirrors had an effect that made it look like a ghost was sitting with you in your car, between the two people sitting there. I love that kinda creepy stuff. A+.

Here was a pretty thing in a gift shop:

It didn’t even have a price tag

We really wanted churros because even though they tend to be ridiculously overpriced at home, they are churros after all. We eventually found somewhere that sold them and we got four (two for Mikel). They were only about $3 each which we were thrilled about. Alas, they were lower quality than we expected. You get what you pay for I guess.

The last ride we went on was Big Thunder Mountain. It was fun but definitely felt short relative to the wait. At least the view for the wait was pretty:

I seriously dig water features

We left around 4:15pm, having decided we had seen as much as we wanted to see and did not care to stand in a long line (or wait forever – three hours – for a Fastpass). We considered waiting until later for the fireworks but it wasn’t worth it.

The first platform on the train ride back was intimidating, I was afraid we were going to get caught in rush-hour train traffic but it turned out to be fine and uneventful. We made it back to the place at 5:15pm.

In the elevator there was an Asian man. He asked us in English where we were from and after a moment I realized it was not an Asian accent. It turned out he was from New York, at an Airbnb across the hall from us (our only neighbor on the floor). That was nice.

For dinner, Jesse found a good looking sushi place. He sent me the link so I could try to figure out if they allowed smoking but I couldn’t find anything. So we started our fifteen minute walk, got there, and after two breathes of stale smoke I had to walk out.

So Jesse, being a good sport, found a second sushi place and we set out on another fifteen minute walk. It was on the seventh floor and we had a little bit of a hard time finding the elevator, but we ultimately did. Immediately upon getting into the elevator, it reeked of smoke, which wasn’t encouraging. We got to the seventh floor and were confused, we couldn’t find the place. There was a sign near one of the doors and Mikel used Google Translate on it – turns out the place closed, even though there had been a review from three weeks prior. Ugh.

So, we decided to go back to the ramen place we liked. We were tired and hungry and we decided we would rather have the same thing and not have to worry about stuff than do an indeterminate number of let’s-try-another-places. So another fifteen minutes later, we were there. There was a smoker out front when we got there, which was ok, but definitely spiked my stress briefly before I realize everything was fine. We ended up waiting in the cold for long enough to be decently uncomfortable, especially for how tired we were, but before long we made it in and everything was great. I was disappointed to have not had sushi every day, but what can you expect when do you do close to zero planning?

I went to sleep as soon as we got home, which is a big part of why this post is two days late 🙂

Fitbit step count for the day: 28,800

Next: Day 5

Japan 2019 – Day 3

(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.)

We had more early wakings today. I woke up at 5:30am, when the sun came up, and came into the living room at 6:45am to find Mikel awake. I forget if I mentioned this previously, but this Airbnb does not block light effectively; I forgot my eye mask 🙁
(Forgot = did not forget but was too optimistic to bring.)

We did not have solid plans for the day when we went to bed last night, but we had tentative plans to visit a garden or two and try a standing-only sushi place. Unfortunately, as soon as I looked out the window the weather was not looking good:

Damn

It only looked overcast, but a brief peak outside and I could totally hear the rain. (The sound insulation here is much better than I expected, you can’t even hear people taking a shower or anything.) We looked at the weather the night before and I thought we were going to be good, but evidently not.

I had been kinda planning on Akihabara (a recommendation from my cousin Finn) on Wednesday, since it’s supposed to rain then as well, but we talked about it and decided today was the day (we’ll figure out Wednesday later, might use Jesse’s credit card concierge service because apparently you can call them and say you’re bored and they’ll help you out).

We hung around the place until 9am to let the rush hour traffic die down. Then as we were about to leave, Jesse checked the directions and we realized we were a little confused. I thought there was one “Akihabara Mall” but I was very mistaken. After way more research than I expected being necessary, we found a mall/building heavy on electronics that seemed cool and decided to head that way.

It was a short jaunt out (it was close enough we could have walked, but opted not to in the rain). When we got there, the view was what I expected Japan to look like based on some media I’ve seen where the visuals are very noisy. Here area few photos showing what I mean:

Very huge
Note the digital signs, including the marquee

The first view going in was also visually astonishing:

We browsed a bit and then headed up the second floor (of nine total). We saw a game demo and tried it out:

Jesse trying to play while Mikel tried to record it

There was a really long intro scene, so we left it, and a moment after that we saw someone playing it. Bummer, oh well.

Next, we were looking at a huge section devoted to keyboards when Mikel recognized one of his old colleagues. By total chance, we ran into him while he was also visiting Japan! We made tentative plans to meet him for lunch, but went our separate ways while we continued exploring.

Then… I was surprised to see Polaroids (which were expensive!):

All these suckers are >$100!

Next up we saw some fancy headphones:

Mikel pretending to be a DJ
Jesse skeptical of my intent while taking his picture

We also saw a crazy thin TV:

It was big…
…and thinner than my phone!

I was absolutely amazed at first, but then Jesse pointed out that the “guts” of the TV are a separate part, connected with a ribbon, and so I was no longer utterly blown away even though it’s definitely still cool.

Jesse liked this transparent dishwasher:

I also took a 4s video as well

I thought this was mean:

Why’s it there, in the store, if not for sale? Just showing off?

A little bit after that we saw a weird thing. I won’t explain it here, but you should watch this video.

One of the things I did at this place was look for a new backpack, since there were tons. My old backpack had a broken zipper, but it had three features I did not want to go without – chest strap, water bottle holder on the side, and a secure pocket, ideally facing toward my back. I ended up finding one and bought it; I thought it was expensive but Jesse insists that it was a good deal. I had been wanting to bring something home, and was happy that I was able to satisfy my inner utilitarian.

We had gotten there around 10am and by this time it was 12:30pm so we decided to grab lunch. There was a beef place that looked good and Mikel’s old colleague caught up with us. Here’s my meal, beef tongue:

“There’s something ironic about tongue tasting good” – Mikel

It was really good, and my first time having beef tongue. I scarfed the meal down, which was great because my appetite recently has not been what it once was. Toward the end of the meal Jesse and I went to use the bathroom, which I think was my first public bathroom use in Japan. I regret not taking a picture or two (while no one else was there) but unfortunately it was right next to a smokers’ room and it absolutely reeked. I wish it smelled like poo instead.

After lunch, Mikel’s old colleague had to run to catch a flight home and the three of us wanted to check out a retro gaming store he had mentioned to us. On the way there we stopped in on an arcade, just to check it out, and I noticed a Digimon claw machine:

I’m not really into Digimon or anything but one of my housemates is, and I thought it might be nice if I could nab him something. I decided to give it one try, which went well at first, but then it fell out. In retrospect I wish I had recorded video of the whole thing so that you wouldn’t have to miss the drama.

I had not mentioned this before but the region we were in is known for “maid cafes” which I will not really talk about here but you can totally Google. I will include one picture though:

These make me slightly uncomfortable

We finished our detour and made our way to the retro gaming place, Super Potato:

It was on three floors!

We checked out three and four, and then Jesse and Mikel checked out the fifth without me because it was smoking (I tried to follow them but the smell hit me hard before I even reached the stairs). Here’s Mikel posing with a shirt:

I took three pictures, two of which turned out well – but fortunately I also got one with him blinking

After this, we ran out of plans and decided to just walk around. At one point I came up with a souvenir idea – if I could find a Japanese copy of an old Yugioh card I liked, Magical Hats, then that would be awesome. Literally within a minute we found a shop selling Yugioh cards, and within another minute I found the exact card I was looking for!

Shiny and cheap! I paid with coins I got from a change machine at the arcade.

It came out to 303 yen after tax, which was mildly annoying because I had to get 97 yen in change back. It worked out ok though because later I used some of that change to put the exact right amount into a vending machine, and I got 50 yen coins which can be used a coin presser (in case I see one of interest later on).

I thought this was funny:

LOL

The place was littered with Sega stores:

After that we decided to head home. We were tired and our feet hurt, so I wanted a little bit of down time before dinner (which I am using to write this blog post [we also watched John Oliver and Trevor Noah]). On the way back we stopped at a shop to get contact lens solution for Jesse and I noticed this:

I really shouldn’t be surprised by this because so many people wear them, but I was anyway.

I’m not going to make fun of the masks or anything silly like that but I will call out two people I saw smoking while having masks pulled down. Wat. One of them was on a motorcycle and the other was outside a shop. I could say more about this but I’m not going to.

After our downtime we took a bus to dinner. We would have liked to walk, forty minutes, but it was raining and cold. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the bus stop had an indicator for when the bus would arrive:

Lies by still cool

It was the first bus we’ve taken during this trip so far, and it was really easy because it takes the same (IC) card as the train. Mikel kept track of the stops, for which I am thankful (it let me play Pokemon Go on the bus, where I caught my tenth Volbeat!).

We went to a standing-only sushi place, Hinatomaru. Apparently that’s a thing in Japan. For most of the time, it was just us, the two chefs, and a couple, so it was very calm. The chefs were great, spoke English, and made recommendations. It was cheap enough that we had a decent amount of the top-line stuff, our favorite being seaperch, which none of us had had before but we’ll want again now!

Overall we spent nearly $100, which is our most expensive meal so far. It was a deal though, one piece that cost nearly $3 was more like $14 back home! Also I forgot to take pictures. Sorry?

I was hoping the rain would die down and that we could have a nice walk back with full stomachs but once again that was not gonna happen. Jesse let me borrow is hat for the way back, which is nice because I was pretty cold.

I was basically ready for bed when we got back but I really wanted to try out the bath here. That was more of an adventure than anything so far on the trip. It was not a simple faucet like I am used to, instead there were buttons (none in English) and presumably they could be used to get the bath going. I pushed buttons at random for a bit, and then Mikel came to my door and said that something outside the bathroom was talking and beeping. Wat. I get some things are just different, and not necessarily better or worse, but why tf does my bath make digital noise in the living room? Anyway I had a nice bath, read my book (loving it) and then came to finish this blog before bed. (Fortunately I had most of this post already written, so it was a matter of filling in dinner details.)

Tomorrow we plan on visiting Disney Tokyo 🙂

Fitbit step count for the day: 15,492

Next: Day 4

Japan 2019 – Day 2

(This post is part of a series, you can start here or the view the previous post.)

A few things before I talk about day 2, which I would have liked to note on day 1 but forgot: our bidet-having toilet also has a heated seat which is nice, our Airbnb key is weird:

It’s like a punch card

and apparently we’re staying in Fabric Town:

Yes, there are fabric shops all over the place

Ok so day 2… Like day 1, we woke up pretty early. I got up around 7am but I heard Mikel and Jesse bickering about the impact of TV display lag on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate around 6:30am so they were up at least that early.

We decided to skip breakfast. Mikel and I weren’t hungry, and Jesse said he wanted to be hungry for lunch. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, our plan was Skytree, the tallest tower in Japan (and the world, actually, it turns out). We also figured out that one of the Pokecenters nearby was right next to it, along with another aquarium, so our whole plan for the day was just those three things. I had figured we would take the train, but either Mikel or Jesse figured out that it was an hour walk from our Airbnb, and we all like walking, so we decided to go for it. We left around 8:30am, I think.

We wanted to make sure we had cash so we stopped by a 7-11. We went to the same one we had the day before, though afterward we realized we could have hit one on the way to where we were going, since they’re all over the place. Also notable is that I was able to get out 30,000 yen, higher than I expected to, so that was nice and maybe that’s all the cash I’ll need for the trip.

I also got a pork bun, which was pretty good. I wasn’t hungry, but I had regretted not trying it the day before. The reason I hadn’t was because the cashier did not seem to speak English, and I was anxious about that interaction. So this morning when I tried again, my exact fear happened – the cashier had no idea what I was talking about. Maybe I would have figured it out, but I panicked, and Jesse had the brilliant idea of pointing at what I wanted. That worked. Phew.

The first notable thing on our walk was a no littering sign:

Sorry I can’t think of a clever caption for this one

Why is that notable, you might ask? Because there are no public trashcans. I’m so used to them being around that I find the contrast very odd. On the flip side, with how (relatively) clean things are, this must mean that Japanese people are dedicated enough to carry around trash with them frequently so kudos for that at least.

The no walking smoking is also kinda interesting. I recall (but am not verifying here so don’t quote me) that this was because people were getting burned. As I mentioned, Japan is buddy-buddy with Big Tobacco so I doubt it’s a matter of health. They also have these on the sidewalks:

Isn’t that cute

The other notable thing we noticed from our walk is a time indicator on the walking cross/no cross signals. We’re used to in California having a second-based countdown while crossing, but they actually have a more generic countdown even leading up to being able to walk. Nothing super special but we thought that was neat.

Sorry for the crummy quality

I took pictures of the tower as we approached, and planned to post each of them here to show the approach, but they actually don’t look that interesting so here is my favorite of those pictures:

When we got to the tower, we went to get tickets, and found that the ticket counter did not open until 10am, and it was 9:35am when we got there. The aquarium was open though so we decided to change our planned order and do that before the tower.

I was afraid that a second aquarium would be boring, especially when we are planning on another one in Osaka in a few days, but I actually really liked this second one. Sometimes it wasn’t as photogenic mostly because it was darker, but many of the tanks were bigger, the variety of animal was more impressive, and (to use my friends’ phrasing) the “presentation” was better. Here is the first pretty picture I got:

Pretty fish

This is probably a good place to note that while I lost a lot of pictures to the stupid thing my phone is doing where it randomly turning what would otherwise be (probably) high quality pictures into low quality videos, I did partway through the aquarium figure out what was doing it and turned that crap off. Boo on Android for that being the default behavior, hard to find to turn off, and for just being stupid in the first place (The Pixel camera is known for being very good, turning pictures into low-quality videos is absurd to me!)

Here’s a picture that I think does a decent job of conveying the presentation:

The tanks are beautiful and the environment is simple, drawing your eyes to the actual display

Yet more pretty:

These really make me happy

There’s a pretty cool video (12s) of an eel on the Google Photos album I suggest checking out (sorry I don’t know how to link to the direct video). Here’s an apology shark:

Sayin’ hi

Here are some penguins:

Hypothesis: they’re waiting for food

After the aquarium I saw a vending machine that took our train cards instead of cash and decided to try something. I picked something that looked like Sprite or 7-up and did not bother trying to use Google Translate on it:

Too long of a blog post, not enough clever captions

The flavor was interesting, something like Starburst, and it was very sweet. I liked it but after about three sips I had had enough. Mikel and Jesse split the rest. Next, we went up the tower.

I took a ton of high-up pictures but I’m really not thrilled by them, you can check out the album if you’re curious. It was foggy, which did not ruin the experience, but to me definitely diminished it significantly. Here is a glass floor though:

That was the lower of the two decks. Oddly, the top deck was full of Barbie stuff:

Mikel snuck that pamphlet into Jesse’s hood

Honestly, although I’m glad we visited the tallest tower in the world while we were in walking distance, the fog and the crowd made it not a great experience for me. In retrospect taking full advantage of the aquarium also meant that the crowd in the tower would be worse, which is a bit of a bummer.

The next thing on our list was the Pokemon Center, which was for me and I appreciate Mikel and Jesse being patient (the proximity probably helped). We had a little bit of a hard time, didn’t realize for a bit that it was on the fourth floor, but we eventually got there:

Detective Pikachu freaks me out

I was a little bit disappointed in the Pokemon Center, to be honest. I wanted to want something, but I was trying to be real with myself and I really think I was more likely to regret having bought crap than I would regret not getting anything (this holds up, several hours later). Jesse actually got some Lego-like things, which are composed of ~100 pieces. That said, I thought these Ditto Eeveelutions were cute:

I love their stupid faces

After the Pokemon Center we were ready for lunch. Before I go on, I really liked this picture:

I was trying to get a picture of what I thought was a park, but overall I thought this came out well

Next up was finding a place to eat for lunch. We went to the third floor where the food court was supposed to be but we couldn’t find it. We had seen a sign that the sixth and seventh floor so we decided to head that way. Fortunately, Mikel noticed this sign:

Notice anything notable about this sign? I didn’t either, but Mikel noticed the third and seventh floors allow smoking (ugh), so those were out. Sixth floor it was.

We decided on a sushi place, but after Mikel saw it was boats he didn’t want a repeat of the previous day. I asked him if he would be cool with it if I checked the reviews, but I ended up not being able to find anything. So we picked a second place, stood in line for a bit, and left after they told us they were out of beef and pork and only had “one chicken” (we didn’t ask for clarification on that). So we found a place to sit and Jesse started searching for other sushi on his phone. He picked a place which was 1.2 miles away, but we were all fairly tired of walking right then so he found a closer place instead – Yoheezushi.

That place was great. It was a bit of a hole in the wall, very little English (enough to get water though which was great). They had three tiers of quality, Jesse and I took the top one at nearly $25 and Mikel took the second tier (he’s a cheap bastard). Here’s a picture of what I got:

The tuna was “fucking great” to quote Jesse. I concur.

One of the most fun moments of the trip so far came up at the end of our meal. The meal total was 6,800 yen, and Mikel was paying in cash. He put down three 1,000 yen bills and then a 10,000 yen bill, at which point the hostess made a kind of awkward “oh” sound, we all realized the accident, and we all burst out laughing. It was really great to share that moment with someone who we did not share a common language.

From there, we decided to walk back to the Airbnb because we were all tired. We definitely felt better having eaten and gotten off of our feet for a while but we were still feeling it. While we were walking, we saw a small temple and got a bit closer to check it out, saw a nice park, and started walking through there instead (so much for being tired, eh?). Here are a few pics I thought were really great:

After that, we started heading back again and noticed another temple which we had seen in the morning and decided to make a second pit stop. Here are a few pictures from that:

We ended up walking through that big crowd of people. Not my cup of tea but Mikel and Jesse have been accommodating for me so of course I returned the favor. Here’s a random funny:

We’re super curious how intentional this is

We kept walking, and eventually found a vending machine that had more of the soda we had earlier. Jesse decided to get a cherry flavored can instead of what we had before. Mikel and I both thought it tasted like medicine, and at the time of this writing Jesse has not yet finished it.

We made it back to the Airbnb at 3:20pm. At the time I’m writing this part of the blog post, it’s 6:20pm. We have been hanging out, talking a bit, but I have been pretty focused on this blog post. I know it’s a doozy because I took so long to write it!

During this time, Jesse worked on trying to book some fancy food. He was interested in Jiro, a famous three Michelin-star chef here in Tokyo. Unfortunately that guy is booked up at least a month in advance and we haven’t really been planners… Instead, he tried to book something with one of Jiro’s sons. He found out that apparently you can only make an appointment through concierge services (supposedly this is because they hate no-shows but I have absolutely no idea how those two things are related). We thought we were screwed, since we aren’t at a hotel, but Jesse realized he has that service through one of his credit cards and made that call, we’ll find out the result within a couple days (because it’s Sunday, when a lot of sushi places are closed apparently, and Mondays have a similar problem). Also notable is that in the followup email to the phone call, Jesse was addressed as “Ms. Jesse Lira” in spite of being a dude (this is a common problem for him).

We hung around the Airbnb for a bit longer and headed out to dinner around 7pm, planning to go to Ramen Yoroiya. Unfortunately, after leaving the Airbnb we realized that it was a 50 minute walk or a half hour on public transit, and either way we would arrive within an hour of closing, so we decided to punt going to that place (though we do intend to later). Instead, we walked 20 minutes to Banninriki. I forgot to take pictures, but it was amazingly delicious and I was delighted that they had a no-smoking sign prominently posted!

I was afraid this trip was going to be stressful, especially because planning had been stressful, and I was stressed out for not having planned things enough. Things have gone great though, I feel rejuvenated rather than drained, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this trip!

Fitbit step count for the day: 27,789

Next: Day 3

Japan 2019 – Day 1

If you haven’t read the first post, you might wanna do that before this one.

We were all up by 6am because we had gone to bed so early, and a couple of us had woken up considerably earlier. Fortunately the sun was up pretty early (sunrise being around 5:20am) so I was actually fine with that as being an aid to getting over the jetlag.

Around 8:30am we went to 7-11 for breakfast. I had been told that they are higher quality than in the states, but honestly I was not particularly impressed. They had a little bit of sushi but nothing that looked interesting to me. It didn’t help that basically nothing was in English. I grabbed a chocolate bar for later and decided to skip breakfast, which is normal for me.

I forget which day it happened, but we decided to visit the Maxell Aqua Park (an aquarium). It was a 30 minute train ride and the place opened at 10am. Figuring out the train was a little tricky for us though…

We left a little early, knowing that we would need to buy train cards (we could get plain tickets, but why). When we got to the machine that sells them, we struggled with it until we realized that it seemed to be cash-only. We had not yet acquired any cash, figuring it would not be too important day 1 in a big city like Tokyo, but boy were we wrong.

We Googled for what to do in this situation and began to head to a hotel very nearby. There was a machine that was labeled as converting foreign currency to Japan yen. Again, after a bit of struggling we realized that that machine is also cash-only, you cannot do a regular withdrawal with a debit card. Next we look for an ATM, and tried two which rejected our cards. Uh oh.

We were panicking a bit at this point, so Jesse called a friend of his (I should also note that we realized around this time that his phone was dying, which was a little inconvenient). That friend was super helpful and we were told that 7-11s (which are all over the place here) have ATMs which accept foreign cards. So we went to a 7-11 and tried to get some cash…

Jesse tried his Venmo debit card first, with no luck. Eventually I tried my debit card, which I had pre-authorized with my bank for Japan a week prior, and got an error that I was surpassing the withdrawal limit. We eventually got 20,000 yen, a little under $200, and after some more experimentation we figured the limit was $200. Not sure how much we would need, Mikel also took our 20,000 yen and we were on our way. (Jesse left his “real” debit card back home, so he had to freeload on us.)

An hour behind “schedule” we got back to the train station and were able to buy our train cards. We realized a little bit later that the train is so cheap compared to our expectations, I think Mikel said that each direction of our ride was less than $2 (not double checking this right now but I do not think you can go a single stop on Caltrain without paying upwards of $4, and longer rides are >$10).

The train itself was fine. When it arrived, it was distressingly full, but a ton of people got off. After a couple stops we got seats. All good.

The first interestingly thing at the aquarium was the jellyfish:

Horrifying, isn’t it?

There are more pictures (and videos!) on the Google Photos album here. I will try to be fairly selective about what I post on this, but I am not curating the album photos at all so you get both extremes (nice, right?).

We also saw the tail end of a dolphin show. I thought I got some Google action-shot pictures but just like yesterday I accidentally took some videos. I have no idea how, I will have to look more carefully later. I wasn’t the only one to make the mistake though, I asked my friends for a picture of me and the same thing happened with them. Super weird.

Anyway, here is the next picture after the jellies that I thought was decent:

I don’t know what these are, but aren’t they cute?

Then here’s a pretty cool picture of the tunnel part:

That’s a big ass ray

Here’s a weird lizard:

It moved like a weirdo; I love it

There is a pretty good video of this lizard in action on the album, I recommend you go take a look (only 6s). I thought all the green here was pretty:

Isn’t this pretty?

We also saw some big rodents:

I thought these were so weird

Here I am:

There are freaking sharks behind me

After the aquarium we used Tripadvisor to figure out where we would do lunch. We decided on sushi because duh. The first result was the #1 restaurant in the region, which was cool, but it was also closed, so BOO on Tripadvisor for not defaulting to “open now” (or at least making it an opt-in option!). The second result, Kura Sushi Shinagawa Ekimae, had a rating of 4.6/5 so we went for it.

We made a brief detour so that I could catch a Volbeat – a region-locked Pokemon in Pokemon Go, which I did not realize was here when we were making plans. Big thanks to Mikel and Jesse for being patient with me. On the plus side, there were beautiful cherry blossoms:

If you like cherry blossoms, there’s a 12s video where the wind was blowing the blossoms around us and it was freaking magical. There’s also a video of Jesse demoing what we could only imagine was a water fountain, but was not particularly usable as Jesse had realized prior to us recording the thing 🙁

So, off to sushi! The place was a boat/conveyor belt style. Like this:

We ate a total of 25 plates, 13 of which were mine. That said, it was not as good as I expected, and several of those plates were repeats of the couple things I liked (and then dessert, which was fine). My friends and I chatted about it and my best guess is that the rice was way too sweet, it overpowered the fish.

We decided to head back to the Airbnb after lunch. We were all starting to feel the jet lag and as I mentioned we did not have an itinerary or anything. Back at the place, we chatted about dinner and relaxed. I wrote the post previous to this one, and most of this post during that time.

After a few hours we went to dinner at Halal Sakura, a Muslim ramen place. Unfortunately, before the food arrived someone in the restaurant started smoking and I had to leave. My friends took my food to go. We ate back at the Airbnb and my food was good. I am definitely concerned at this point though that this is going to be a recurring problem for me, and would massively discourage me from future international travel. (I did a little bit of reading about smoking in Japan. It’s pretty horrible – the Japan government owns a substantial share of the tobacco industry here so the incentives are awful. A law was passed to limit smoking leading up to the 2020 Olympics, but the law is seen as toothless.)

The plan for tomorrow is to visit Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest building in the city, and then while we are nearby visit the Sky Tree Pokemon Center as well. We will almost certainly get more sushi, hopefully higher quality!

Fitbit step count for the day: 15,446

Next: Day 2

Japan 2019 – the beginning

At the time of this writing I’m in Japan for a nearly-two week vacation. I belatedly decided that I should write a blog post for each day, and then that I should do a pre-day 1 post giving a little bit of background first. (We’ll see how well I keep up with it though.)

This is my third international trip and I would say the “most adult” one, in the sense that previously, there were other people organizing my trip heavily. It’s also the least English-saturated place I have ever been. I’m here with two of my best friends, who are also housemates – Mikel and Jesse (the trip being Jesse’s idea). We’ve compiled things we’re interested in but we don’t have a strict itinerary.

We flew from SFO to Haneda (one of the two major international airports in Tokyo), which is a 10 hour flight. That went pretty well. Here’s a picture of the first in-flight meal:

Beef over rice, salad with Italian dressing, etc.

We also got ice cream

SPOON INSIDE!

Here’s the flight tracker as we passed over the international date line

For some reason I thought this was notable

We landed around 6pm local time (2am home-time). When we booked the flight, we were due to arrive at 7pm, but day light savings time gave us an extra hour. Customs had a bit of a line but everything went fine.

From the airport, we had to head to our Airbnb. (It was Jesse’s idea. I was more inclined toward a hotel, at least for the first night, but he said that the Airbnb was a traditional kinda place and that sold me.) Jesse wanted to use Uber (no Lyft in Japan) but only Uber Black was available, and it was expensive, so we opted for a taxi. That was still around $90 (USD) for a 30 minute ride, which was a bit of a shock in spite of having been forewarned – we decided it was worth it to not have to worry about public transit as we arrived, and I do not regret it.

My initial impression of Tokyo from the taxi was not exactly what I expected. I had been told first and foremost that it is a very clean city, but I saw trash bags sitting in alleys (maybe waiting to be picked up?) and I still get the fart-smell that seems to take up chunks of space in large cities. There will be more time for a more thorough opinion later though.

When the taxi dropped us off, we were very confused. Our Airbnb is an apartment on the 9th floor of a large building. We were actually one building over, and should have caught onto this because I’m pretty sure that building only had eight floors. Anyway, after a little bit of stress we made it in fine. I thought I took some pictures, and planned to post them here, but they’re actually videos and I’m too lazy to screenshot them so here we are.

I did get some pictures from our place though, here’s the most interesting one:

I thought this showed our view pretty well

The toilet here has a bidet, which I refuse to use – my butt hole is fine as-is, thank you. That said, my friends wanted to use it and the Japanese instructions were… interesting. Below I include an unaltered photo followed by a screenshot of a Google Translate photograph overlay:

Unaltered
This is arguably more mysterious than the previous picture

Bidet aside, we were pretty exhausted. Around 9pm I went to take a shower (which was hard to figure out how to do honestly) and when I got out twenty-five minutes later my buddies had knocked out! I started reading my book (Heroes Die – a recommendation from my brother) and gave up trying to stay up around 9:40pm. We all slept ok but more about that in the next post!

Next: Day 1