Japan 2012 – Day 10 – Odaiba

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Our final full day began with breakfast at a local 24h fast food place, and by fast food I mean I had a Katsu Curry with rice, ordered via vending machine and served up within 3 minutes or so. It was pretty good, although their ‘curry’ is pretty different from ours, being more on the sweet side than having any sort of spice.

The train journey to Odaiba is a long one, requiring Shiinamachi -> Ikebukuro -> Something -> Odaiba (around 1hr total), the area itself is a man-made island, essentially created for the sole purpose of being awesome – kind of made as a theme park island, or it certainly has that kind of vibe about it.
We arrived to loud live music playing, and followed our ears to a stage, where some guy was singing – probably a nobody (since he was advertising his first single / Mini album) but I took some pictures anyway just to make sure.

The Fuji TV building has some crazy architecture, looking like something one would make in Minecraft (and something that I may just have to attempt to try and make in minecraft), the inside is full of themed goods, props, trivia, advertisments and more of a ton of the shows which air on the channel; Being from England, most of the stuff showcased was completely lost on me, although I did spot some cool merch/stuff from a few things I did recognize from the internet (a Perfume signature, and lots of anime merch – turns out AnoHana, C, Tatami Galaxy and a few other shows I have seen were aired on Fuji. There was also a poster for the live action series of Mirai nikki, the girl doesnt look anywhere near psychotic enough though).
Got some taiyaki from a shop downstairs and then continued searching the area, ran into a small Statue of Liberty (because Japan is basically America anyway… or something).

Across the nearby bridge we were lead to another area, again resembling some sort of theme park, lots of smaller stands here selling all sorts of merch for overpriced amounts, and a bag check area past a ticket sales booth…. Now i’m not actually sure what the ticket booth was selling for 1500yen but we walked past the gate area and didnt get stopped, and everyone else was wearing neck passes… I dunno. whatever, past the ticket area was a massive events stage (nobody on it though sadly) and more Japanese related stands selling things which reference things ive never heard of. There was also a massive One Piece area, which my brother was very fond of, giant statues of all of the major characters, themed food shops, a bouncy castle boat thing, some mermaid with massive tits.. etc etc. We spent a while just looking around the area, one of the highlights for sure which I didn’t get a picture of was a robotic dude which did a wave like dance when you pushed a button, watching people press the button then gather around in front and behind it to participate in the circle wavy dance was awesome.
Oh yeah, giant turd-gundam too.

Next up, we passed by a park like area holding a ‘food world cup’, featuring food from 12 different countries, yet mostly cooked by Japanese people, with menus in Japanese, and with Japanese rice.
The England one was the best, with such popular British dishes such as ‘Roast beef with rice’ and English Curry (which looked strangely similar to the beef curry I had for breakfast).

Around the corner from here, in front of yet another mall, was the famous Gundam (sadly, does not actually fly and shoot things), the level of detail on this thing was pretty impressive, especially the jet engines on its back (un-photographed), behind it obviously is another Gundam Cafe.

We had a little walk around the mall, there wasnt a whole lot of interest inside but on the top floor there was a Maidreamin cafe, now this isnt the first one ive come across, but the rest are usually on their own entire floors in 8 floor buildings, so they arent really the sort of thing you get to see inside of, this one on the other hand is just a ‘small’ cafe inside a shopping mall, with only a few fences and props hiding the girls. Took a sneaky photo or two, there are a LOT of girls here, holy shit. Like there was only about 10 tables and about 10 girls all dressed up, I dont know the procedure but I didnt think each table got their own girl. The maid outfit they wear is incredibly cute, even down to small details like socks and their bag, one of the girls had an eyepatch though, im not entirely sure if thats a fetish thing or she has actually had some sort of eye surgery *shrug*.

Also in the mall was an arcade… and it was surprisingly up to date, moreso than the ones in akihabara infact, with an Operation ghost cab (the sequel to my personal old favorite lightgun game, Ghost Squad) and, more importantly…. Gunslinger Stratos.
Holy fuck this game.
This fucking game.
I believe I have talked about it before with some of you, but it is an online/local 4v4 team shooting game, played like Gunz Online or I guess a deathmatch version of Monday Night Combat (it is a 3rd person shooter deathmatch game), the main difference however is that the game is played with 2 lightguns, both with analogue sticks, a jump button, and magnetic strips on the guns for ‘switching’ weapons.
So for example, the game starts, you strafe left with Left analogue stick on your left lightgun, you empty your dual pistol clips, and then you put your right lightgun on top of your left one, the gun locks ontop of the other and your ingame weapon is now a rifle, you take your right gun and put it beside your left, and the guns lock and ingame becomes a shotgun… All this done whilst jumping around, airdodging, and shooting enemies.
You select characters at the start, and each chara has different weapons too, I played twice and got a girl with an uzi/flamethrower,shotgun,RPG and then again and picked a dude with dual pistols,assault rifle,shotgun. Other charas get giant lazers, sniper rifles, dual shotguns, swords, shields, grappling moves… all sorts. All in all, this was probably the most badass arcade machine ive ever played (though not the most fun one…..)

We exited the mall and kept walking along the pathway towards a giant ferris wheel we could see in the background. This lead us to another mall (because Japan.), this one was called Pallette town and featured a car showroom thing, a hello kitty world, another arcade, and a bunch of petshops – this is the only mall ive seen where you’re allowed to bring pets in, and it shows, as designer pets were everywhere, with their owners shopping amongst the many petshops here – dog pushchairs and dog clothing was a normal sight by the end of the hour.
The arcade had a fully encaged machine with a table tennis style table thing, we gave it a try, the ‘manic mode’ proved to be exactly that, it starts up giving you a little warm up, shooting table tennis balls out which you have to return – aiming for targets for points, after 30 seconds the timer refills and the machine goes all out on, throwing out as many balls as it can for 2 minutes. It was so much fun, ive never played table tennis before because I suck at controlling my strength, but hitting a moving target? So awesome, and gets awarded with the most fun game i’ve played in an arcade.

We passed by ‘Zepp tokyo’ on the way to the station, a venue of some sorts, turns out ‘vamps’ is playing today, and as such there were a fuckload of goths around (turns out Vamps is a heavy metal japanese duo).

Here are some more random pictures which didnt fit in anywhere else…

Bookshop

Headed back to Ikebukuro to find dinner, where after a few laps of the place, we settled on a Yakitori place, a costly meal, but a good one for our farewell dinner. They brought over a burning grill and lots of meat (including various cuts of beef, pork, chicken, squid, some veg), and we grilled it and it was fucking tasty.

The parents headed home and me and Gavin (brother) went for one last trip to the arcade, to play our hearts out before we head home – Reflec beat, jubeat, Drummania GX3 (my god so many fucking buttons – 3 hi-hats, 4 pads, 2 pedals), I really sucked at Drummania, then again im only used to the old version, not this new extreme version with double the buttons.
Back home at around 11:30pm, and now typing this before I start to pack, and we have a lot of pack…

Flying back tomorrow in the morning, and the long flight means I’ll be back Monday evening UK time. Hopefully then I can start to upload some of my photos and will go back and clean up the blog posts to make sure everything is readable (because I’m sure there are a ton of spelling/word errors)
Thanks for reading, at least this blog will always be here for my holiday posts eh? :D

Japan 2012 – Day 9 – Return to the capital, Shibuya and Shinjuku

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The first portion of our day was spent heading to Kyoto shinkansen to head back to Tokyo, A quick pop down into the B1 floor of the Isetan mall underneath the station to pick up some lunch (sushi) and then a 2.5hr journey by bullet train.

Nothing particularly eventful whilst in transit, and then from Kyoto, journey back to Ikebukuro -> Shiinamachi and checked back into our hotel (which, for reference is ‘Family Inn Saiko’ – good sized rooms, good air-con, clean, friendly english speaking staff, very good in general but a little far from everything (10m walk to station, 10m walk to station platform from Ikebukuro). We had a little rest before heading back out, then headed via train to Shibuya.

Shibuya is home to the infamous batshit insane crossing that is always shown when people talk about overpopulation, a manic crossroad which is also surrounded by a station, and a few grottos – making for a serious amount of people, waiting for the lights to turn green felt very similar to participating in a mosh pit, the green light replacing a guitar solo (or that guy from disturbed or something i guess, if you’re into that sort of thing). Shibuya is serious city stuff, highrise buildings everywhere and shops everywhere. We walked past the Shibuya club sega but decided to give it a miss as we had already been to the 6 floor one in Akihabara the other week.

Moshpit about to happen
Ohjesus

We ran across a ‘gari gari festival’ in the middle of the city, Gari Gari is the brand of ice lollys most famous in Japan, a massive happyfacesquarejaw guy being the mascot, you usually only see Soda/Pear flavours in convinience shops, but this hut had around 6 flavours to try – Melon obviously had to be eaten.
Only problem is that it was still crappy weather from the other day, and the freezer keeping the ice lollys was obviously designed for what can only be described as ‘more extreme’ conditions. Resulting in…

Worst idea. My tongue felt weird for 2 days.

We went into a few various shops around the area, the disney shop was particularly impressive – the level of decoration on par with disney land itself. We also went into tower records (a large music shop), I still maintain that the prices for music there is way too expensive, their methods of advertising the music however is awesome – big fans of little screens, handwritten cards next to albums, drawings of anime characters next to ‘we recommend’ tags, and lots and lots of listening stations.
They seem to be pretty big fans of western music, with a big display for the new Offspring album which just came out apparently (and is pretty good from what i heard of it). They have a fair section for K-pop and crazier stuff like J-reggae as well though

Music is very well advertised inside shops

We went into an arcade or 2 during the day, registered my card on PopN 20 and finally got to try Reflec Beat Limelight (this game), played on a beautiful gigantic vertical touchscreen – the game is a music game with a visual style similar to Pong (on crack), you play by touching the bottom line or top left/right circles to hit back the balls. The game can be played against a friend on another machine, or can be played against AI or Online (if you’re using E-Amuse, like I now am). One of the cooler features is that it also cross-levels with IIDX Lincle (what IIDX are we on now? 19? I dont even fucking know anymore), playing/leveling up in Reflec Beat will also get you new songs in IIDX and vice versa.
The game itself is SO much fun, easy enough to start playing, (im currently at around a level 6, out of I think 12 or so) . On my first play when i was trying to place my skill level – I did my usual procedure – start on a hard easy song, then medium medium song, then hard song and see what happens. Hard mode fucking raped me, the bottom line wasnt tooooo bad, but the higher circles (turns out there are 3 of them on hard mode) was just too much to keep track of, I tried using my brother and father to help out with the higher notes, and still failed.

Dinner was in a ramen shop, and ordered by vending machine, because we’re lazy like that. I had a Pork ramen, with fried chicken balls and onigiri.. Was yummy.

Headed to Shinjuku next, which seems to be the nightlife capital of Tokyo, filled with maid cafes, karaoke, hostess bars (and other dodgy stuff), and a fuckton of pachinko arcades (and a few normal arcades too). The amount of restaurants and bars here was insane. not a whole lot else to say about Shinjuku, have some pictures instead.

Nightlife in Shinjuku

Alley of food
Petshop, approved by Paris Hilton according to picture and signature on the wall

Japan 2012 – Day 8 – Inari Shrine, Thunderstorms and Shopping

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Woke up just in time to see the rain begin to pour, the next few days here are predicted for thunderstorms (infact, they have been predicted for the past week, but I guess they were moved back a week), we waited for the rain to die down a little and then headed out in search of some brunch. A travel around 1 of the 3 malls near Kyoto station lead us to an okonomiyaki restaurant, Okonomiyaki is a plate fried mix of egg, cabbage and other mysteries, the place we were at had a hotplate embedded into the table and after ordering, the waitress comes and cooks your meal from scratch in front of you on the table. Starting with mixing up the cabbage, egg and meats, and then frying it on the table, flipping it, and then adding fish flakes and finally some mayonaise and special sauce (process taking about 20m), once done, you eat it fresh off the hotplate using a spatula and chopsticks. It was pretty damn good, we had a pork and prawn one, a squid and pork one and a potato and cheese one, all very nice. Im glad we got to experience this famous Japanese dish before leaving Kyoto.

Mid cooking, before flip

Okonomiyaki! Ready to eat!

After our brunch, we headed off to Inari, to see the famous Inari shrine, you may also know this as ‘that shrine with a thousand red gates’, it starts off as a pretty normal shrine, then goes uphill via stairs and leads to smaller temples, then smaller temples, then the uphill path with the many many red gates. The gated pathway goes up the mountain and curves around, I think the map said a few kilometres of it. We were progressing upward when the rain hit, and it really hit. Possibly the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard made us all jump and decide to call it quits, we were holding umbrellas and didn’t really fancy being electrocuted on the side of a mountain (saying that, dying on a shrine path is probably one of the ways to ensure your progression to a favourable afterlife).

We were kind of lost after this, we had originally planned to head to another shrine or the Nara region but the heavy rain had kinda shattered that plan. We decided to head back to the station and just shop around, we head to Avanti, another shopping mall intended mostly for women, mum had a browse around for clothes, we found a few cooler shops on the top floor, a shop selling trading cards (so many fucking cards. forgot to take a photo) – the back room of the card shop had a battle area, which was filled with trap card activating kids/teens. Also on the top floor was an anime shop, where I ended up buying a Panty and Stocking Belt (pic already uploaded on twitter) – mostly because where the hell else in the world am i going to find an anime belt, let alone one of a series that is relatively unheard of, Helps that it was at a decent price as well (cheaper than most plain belts). Also, Ika musume pasta set (amongst over anime food items)

Down to B1 for the usual food browsing, bought some crepes, chocolate ice cream with banana and a strawberry/banana one, yum.

Travelled back to Yodobashi next (the city block sized department store), we only really got to explore it for a little while last time because it was closing, but we spent a full hour or 2 in there this time (and still didnt cover everything).
Highlights include bladeless,quiet fans (the crazy circle ones as seen in KoreZombie), the gundam toy section (and figurine collection in general, which was huge), the fridges (massive, and so advanced – a few had a camera on the front, felt very HAL), video game section (was demoing the new 3DS LL,. verrryy very nice, if they have found a way to bypass region locking I may pick one up – assuming the console gets some good games), also the Puzzles section – after browsing anime puzzles for ages, ended up buying a Ghibli Spirited away 1000 piece puzzle (around £20) – I have a pretty big space on my wall at home and figure i’ll get a frame and stick it there, expect another blog post when/if I finish it and get it up.
Mind blowing fanless fans

Dinner was another conveyer belt sushi restaurant, this one was better than the last though, with way more variety and chefs, the belt being constantly refilled with fresh sushi of types I had never even seen before. For example they had one with grilled sweetcorn on the top – so delicious. My brother and I had around 25 plates between us, thankfully all plates were around 130yen each (or £1 per plate, a pretty far cry from London where yo-sushi will charge you between £2.50-£5 per plate)

Would have cost a fortune in England, yet this was only around £12 per head

Finally, a trip to an arcade we discovered earlier – Me being keen to get the most out of my new E-amuse card, played some more Sound booth and IIDX, my brother went to challenge people in persona 4 (and subsequently get raped), he apparently beat someone at SSF4 though. Bought some of our favorite drink on the way home – the awesomely named Suika Cider 500 (reminds me of super cider squeezy 6000), its a fizzy watermelon drink (and isn’t actually alcoholic, despite its name)
Steel chronicle, a mix between PSO / Monster Hunter and Gundam
Suica Cider 500! Drink of choice in Kyoto

That concludes our visit of Kyoto, tomorrow we are checking out of here and returning to Shiinamachi in Tokyo

Japan 2012 – Day 7 – Temples, arcades and Yodobashi

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Straight off to the mall for breakfast/lunch, got there just before they were all opening and got to experience the Japanese staff pep talk, lots of shouting and manly osu! noises were made, and then we got to try using a vending machine to order our food.

Basically, you put your money in, select your food (ticket comes out) and then when you’re done ordering they welcome you in and they have already prepared a table for you whilst you was ordering. Sit down, food arrives, and is amazing.. We were in a ramen shop, with shredded beef and a marinated boiled egg or something, you also crack a raw egg over the top of it, and it semi-cooks whilst you’re eating, its nicer than it sounds.

Next up, a bus to the golden temple, which took what felt like an eternity. It was stupidly hot again today, around 38 degrees id imagine, with hardly an breeze. Had some shaved ice as soon as we entered the temple area, strawberry milk ice with some mochi, very nice and refreshing after trudging around in the heat.
The temple itself was pretty nice, with lots of greenery to match the old buildings, not a whole lot I can say other than throw some pictures up.

We planned to visit another temple or 2 afterwards, but it was just way too hot for that, so we decided to head to around Nishiki market to have a little shop around and cool off in the air-con areas. Ended up going off in a seperate direction with brother, and found a nice little arcade to spend an hour in. Brother spent most of his time trying to learn how to play the new Persona4 Arena fighting game (which is visually very impressive, and awesome to watch, plays similar to blazblue from what I could make out).
I headed to the top floor where they had a Bemani section, bought an E-amuse card for a few hundred yen (thought it’d be interesting to experience e-amuse, as well as a nice souvineer). I tried the new ‘Sound Booth Voltex‘ which was pretty crazy, not entirely sure how to describe it, I guess…a 6 button music lane game with 2 knobs for tweaking whilst you’re playing, its a pretty nutty game to play well with needing to turn the knobs very precisely, the judgement is pretty strict too – on the plus side, it runs very smoothly, looks impressive, and the cabinet is gorgeous, with see-through patterns on the booth lighting up and flashing as you play. Also played some PopN and Jubeat, flopped the former pretty hard.
Wanted to play some IIDX but the machines were all hogged, especially one of the machines which had a girl going crazy on for all the time I was there, found out later that its a pay 1k Yen, play for 1 hour – Kind of a cool deal if you’re trying hard songs and know you’re going to fail out I guess.

1000yen for an hour, the girls here play videogames better than I can o_o

Left the shopping area and had a quick trip on the bus to another temple, a smaller one, but it was still very scenic and pretty, bordered one the far side by a forest and mountains, and bordered on the other side by the bustling streets of Kyoto. Have some pictures, im sure you dont need me to tell you what walking around a temple involves.

Moving very swiftly on, we travelled back to the station by bus and spent ages looking through all of the 20-30 restaurants available before settling on the busiest, a Katsu restaurant – Katsu is pretty popular in Japan, a sort of meat/fish breading, its fried with fresh breadcrumbs though (unlike most of the shit you’d get in the UK). I ordered pork fillet with prawns, the meal itself also comes with shredded cabbage, rice, and miso soup (all of which are free refills). The meal was delicious, one of the best we’ve had here, the katsu obviously being the star of the meal, with a very crisp outer coating, and tender meat inside – the cabbage constantly providing a bittersweet freshness to enhance the flavour of the meat.

Lastly, we had a look in the massive electronics store near the station called yodobashi, a 8 floor beast (inc B1) which is quite literally the size of a city block (the bottom floor is slightly smaller – allowing for other shops around the block, but the higher floors… fucking hell you get sore feet just walking around the place).
For an example of how big the place is, we were on the 2nd floor and mum sent me in search of the brother, pointing in the direction he went off in, it took me 10 minutes of searching (on 1 floor) before giving up.
The music/dvd section itself is easily larger than most HMV’s in the UK and obviously doesnt include the phones/cameras/music/tvs/hifis/instruments/games/computers/washingmachines/etcetc that this ultrastore has.
I still find it weird that they have a section for anime music, I also learned that J-pop in Japan is still called J-pop, odd that.
Also, the music area had its own AKB48 section, which was about as big as other entire genres (although the aisle included music/concerts/tvshows etc, not just music)

This entire wall was anime music

Terrifying. Truly terrifying.

Gacha’s anyone?

One other thing I found interesting about Japan is the crazy prices on DVD/Music, an audio single for example is averaged at 2000yen, or £18, and albums at 3000-3500 yen, or £27-32. Anime DVD’s (for 1 volume, or 3-5 episodes) range between 4000yen to 8000yen, or £35-70, and dont even look at the K-on blu-ray box set, holy shit. I think that thing was like £200 or something.
Speaking of the K-on dvd’s, their covers are so good. I was pretty tempted to buy the film until I realised I didn’t feel like spending £70.

unblogged: lots of stuff ive already experienced and blogged about, we visited quite a few stores, browsed around an anime figure shop, food basement, etc etc.

Also, Downtown DX is on TV and verymuch distracting me from blogging, some mentalist is doing mind manipulation and fork bending with Matsumoto and Hamada

Japan 2012 – Day 6 – Osaka, Namba

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No breakfast today! D: I know right, what the hell am I going to show you pictures of then?

We headed to the shinkansen in the morning to get a train to Osaka, which didnt really seem a whole lot different to the rest of Japan if im honest, kind of disappointing but oh well.

We went into a department store nearby to Osaka station, a look at the floor guide showed 1) That it had 27 floors, 2) that it had a Pokemon center on the 13th floor. Obviously, that was our first destination.
It was pretty small, yet filled with all sorts of toys, decorations, kitchen ware, toiletries, card stuff, keyrings, jewelery… everything imaginable. There were even some pokemon arcade machines (which i think involve the card game somehow). Brother bought some keyring things and a plushie snivy, I decided against buying anything.
Nearby also was a cooking class kitchen sort of thing, sort of interesting to see as im not aware of anything similar in the UK (not one that takes place in the middle of a department store anyway)

Back wall was completely filled with plushies

Casual cookery class next to clothes shop and pokemon center

We stopped in a clothing shop and bought some summer clothes, I personally didnt pack anywhere near enough shorts and vests as when we checked the weather forecast in the UK it had predicted thunderstorms (and we’ve had 35~ C weather every damn day). They had some sort of promotion thing going on for the metal gear solid anniversary, so I bought 2 MGS inspired shirts, one with the various outer heaven company logos (foxhound, raven sword, mantis, etc) and one with the quote ‘neither friend nor foe’ and a exoskeleton style pattern on the back. Bought a dark knight shirt as well, because it looked cool. Picture here

Lunch was at a buffet restaurant, the price was pretty reasonable for Japan, with inclusive drinks for 1900 yen, around £16. They provided some interesting plates ive never seen before, similar to a cupcake tray – which is clever because at a buffet, all you really want to do is have a little of everything anyway.
They had a ton of foods, too many to really name, highlight was probably fresh sliced tuna and the crab legs.

mmmm… crab legs..

Dessert – including green tea cake, mochi, almond jelly…

Afterwards, a trip to the Umeda sky building, via way-too-damn-hot street and too-long-too-many-stairs underpass. On the basement level was what we came for, a pseudo recreation of 20th century Osaka in festival season, with themed restaraunts and workers, it was all pretty cool to see, but a little smaller than we would have hoped for the amount we had to walk to get there.Outside there was some people filming a new haunted house which had just opened, it looked creepy. In retrospect we should have visited it, but at the same time, even looking at the picture advert on their website is creepy as fuck.

Next up, Namba, a district just outside of Osaka, famed for its strip of food shops.

We stopped at a mcDonalds to get our bearings and have a cool down (any excuse to have a sit down in air-con at this temperature), tried their new ‘Tropical Soda’ McFlurry, it was pretty bad, bright blue and with extremely sour powder candies (a lot of them, way too many of them)
The rest of the area was cool, although not a whole lot I can describe, just lots and lots and lots of food shops and neon lights, the streets (similar to most of japan) just seemed to go on forever and split like a mesh.

Turns out this building was a casino. Including about 4 floors of Pachinko

So bad. Oh god why.

Namba is also apparently filled with its fair share of Pachinko parlours, like a 2 floor one, and then one opposite it, and then 3 more less than 20 meters away. I dont understand how so many Japanese people can spend their money and time on flinging metal balls around for a chance at winning… more metal balls, apparently you cant even trade the balls in for money (legally anyway). I guess its something you need to be japanese to understand. Speaking of being japanese to understand…. saw this shop selling only pictures of bands/singers/idols, fine I guess, but my god they were expensive, AKB48 is great and all, but a small picture of 1 of 64 of the girls for >£50? No thanks.

Unrelated, ice cream lolly vending machine is fucking awesome in a hot country. I bought a lychee one. It was good.

Also unrelated (lots of these today), tried a can of Kirin lemon, expected my life to become all kira-kira (sparkly) like it says in the perfume adverts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9KxMzFkpS0, sad reality is that its a lemonade with 6% alcohol and ends up having a pretty bitter aftertaste :/

Dinner today was at a restaurant called ‘Tamago to watashi’ (which i translate into English as ‘Egg and Me’, it is – arguably, more catchy in Japanese. The food is all centered on the Japanese classic ‘omu-rice’, which is rice enveloped in an omlette, served with… stuff. I got the Hamburger omu-rice which came with a sort of gravy and tomato rice, it was pretty good although a little on the small side.

And thats it for today, seems kind of uneventful compared to the other days, but still pretty tiring.

Japan 2012 – Day 5 – Imperial Palace, Nishiki Market, Gion and Festival Part 2

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Couldn’t sleep too well last night, but nonetheless, started our day by looking for breakfast as usual, ended up at a small 24h noodle/rice place – kind of odd there, you order via a vending machine and then they buzz you when the food is ready, you seat yourself, eat, and then place your tray on a rack – so sort of like a cafeteria fastfood place. I kind of ordered the wrong thing today, as I kind of just ordered what I felt like at the time, being just some udon noodles with sauce. Oh well.

We travelled north, heading to see the actual festivities taking place at the Gion festival (which we saw the night-portion of last night). We ran into a small temple on the way, took some pictures and then continued on, where we eventually saw the festival in procession in full swing, which basically involved massive wooden containers being pushed down a road in 35deg sun. Fun stuff?
It was a pretty impressive amount of people out to see the proceedings.

A quick trip through some backstreets, stopping at a lawson’s to get some ice lollys…

And we ended up at Nishiki market, im not entirely sure if its famous for anything, but it sure is one hell of a big market, spreading as far as the eye can see, and then it fans out and both ways and goes crazy. All sort of divided into their own types of store (ie. one section filled with clothes shops, one dedicated to arts, a small otaku section, and of course, food sections)

After walking around and having a bit of a shop around, we headed to the imperial palace, our tour was scheduled for 2pm and started promptly at that time. The tour itself was sort of overshadowed by the fact that the imperial palace grounds were huge and plain, resulting in a massive lack of shade – and today is the day the news is reporting highs of 39 degrees C, the tour group quickly split into those that gave a shit, and those that had already sweat out all of their giveable fucks. The parts of the tour talk that I caught were pretty interesting, although most of the tour I was just taking pictures of stuff, the Palace gardens were a really beautiful sight though, with japanese trees framing a pond and bridge with a waterfall in the background, it looked like something out of a postcard.


We returned to Nishiki market to finish up our shopping and have a break from the sun, getting some snacks and an icy drink (I got the mango float with tapioca pearls, but the jelly slush my parents had were very nice as well). Got to practice my Japanese a bit whilst trying on clothes and stuff, didn’t end up buying anything though (aside from an umbrella as a late present for my mum’s birthday). We ran into some really cute shops, one which looked like a small pink temple selling hipster stuff for Jap teen girls, and a Ninja themed restaraunt complete with a ninja training labyrinth, which I believe was a maze? Not sure.

In the evening we went to Gion, famed for its geisha, although when we went it seemed more akin to a red light district, with dodgy clubs and frosted doors with pictures of girls scattered around the side streets. As seems to be fashionable in this holiday, as soon as we start to get hungry we find it hard to find a nice place to eat, we searched around for a good half an hour or so before eventually succumbing to the first half decent food shop we found, which was selling some sort of okonomiyaki (thats it, had seating and everything but the menu was 1 item and a choice of drinks), had it with a ramune. It was an interesting experience, the flavours combining to make sweet yet slightly sour taste as the egg mixed with the spring onion and meats, the top had been drizzled with some sort of worcester sauce, which was slightly bizarre and spoilt the taste a little, but in small quantities (like the top/middle) it was very nice.

Our dinner was kind of cut short by screaming outside, and a wave of police, turns out ANOTHER parade/festival thing was happening before our eyes, we went out and got to witness firsthand a group of children with fans chanting at a larger group of men, “Ocho Ocho!” (or something to that effect) which was echoed back with a manly as fuck “OCHO OCHOO~” as a 80 strong group of men clad in white was throwing around a golden shrine with their shoulders. It was quite a sight to behold, but over way too fast.

From here we tried to head back home, tried to take the cheap option and walk to the nearest tube station (as opposed to the nearby station which was some other line which would have cost us a few hundred yen), it was the wrong choice, and we ended up walking for about an hour or so (not what you want after walking all day in the heat). Got back to Kyoto eventually, grabbed some snacks from the local lawson again (just some sushi) and watched some crazy Japanese tv.

Not sure if related – The Yuru yuru Season 2 anime opening and ending and 5th and 6th in the Oricon Japan Charts at the moment, I actually saw the single on sale in Akihabara Gamers yesterday, kind of crazy imagining enough people buying it that it charts (and top 10 as well)
Tomorrow – A day trip to Osaka.

Japan 2012 – Day 4 – Kyoto Gion Festival

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Sunday 16th – Tokyo -> Kyoto

The question is, which way do you eat it?

A pseudo check-out of our Tokyo ryoukan and it was off to the bakery for breakfast, tried going for lots of little things today as opposed to a big one, and ended up buying a mini-melon bread, frankfurter bread, Custard cone (lucky star style) and another croquet bun (because that thing is just delicious). All were very nice, with a special shoutout to the melon bread.

Not sure if I mentioned this yet, but AKB48 is the equivalent of god here, they are in 10% of posters, occupy entire floors of crane games in Akihabara, top the charts, have their own cafe, have their own chocolate shop, work their way into music video games, have an anime series, a stage show, a tv series… Its really something on another level.
I say this because the station where we catching the train had lots of adverts for their chocolate brand

Off to tokyo station to catch the shinkansen (bullet train) was a pretty simple journey via the trusty JR Line, we bought a few bento boxes to take on the train for lunch and then sat around waiting for our train (spent in the waiting room listening to Japanese music and having a browse through my English>Jap Dictionary.

Oh hi there, Mt Fuji (left-middle in the far distance)

The trip to kyoto was mostly uneventful, although we got to see Mt Fuji as we were passing through, along with a ton of rice fields and nice scenery, lunch was nice, although I feel most of the stuff in there was an acquired taste.

Our 30 item Balance Bento

Kyoto itself seems amazing, kyoto station in particular is gigantic and linked to multiple subway lines, multiple overground lines, the shinkansen lines, and 3 (fucking 3!) shopping malls – one which goes from 2F up to 11F, one which goes down from 1F to B2F and the other is called ‘the Cube’,  which is a badass name for anything, nevermind a shopping mall.
If only i could say the same for the journey from Kyoto Station to our hotel, which was akin to trekking the sahara, the sun today was psychotic, and the temperature probably hit around 33deg (humidity didnt help one bit either) ,so much for the weather forecast of thunderstorms that were predicted when we were checking from England.

Not pictured: The 11 floor escalator behind us

Our new ryoukan looks alright, we’re in one big room this time instead of 2 small rooms, and our aircon kind of sucks, and the bathroom is small and if you’re taking a shit and you lean forwards too much you hit your head against the door, but its alright.

The bottom floor actually has some of the infamous capsule hotels, albeit they are the luxury ones which you can enter from the side and dont have to crawl into like a coffin, I sneakily took a pic of some white girls room as they went out briefly…

We were informed of a festival taking place in the evening and tomorrow, but for the meantime we decided to check out the shopping malls near to the station – and by check out – I mean we went to the basement floors as usual and walked around all the food stalls and deli’s , it was a really busy one, packed out with both customers and delicious looking food, we sampled some redbean jelly stuff, and yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick), some meaty…breaded…thing… All very nice, browsed around a little more and then headed off to the festival place.

   

It was at this point in time that I realised what an incredible country Japan is, when the area requires it, staff come out in masses to minimize the chaos. As soon as we hit festival area, security and station staff were directing, traffic redirecting, making sure people walk on the left, telling people where the stairs are and where the escalators are, as well as shouting trains are arriving/leaving, etc. And then you hit street level and there are police fucking everywhere, I suppose when you have a massive population, you learn to adapt.

The festival itself was incredible, and surprisingly similar to what you see in anime, only way busier. Guys and girls out in traditional garb (kimono’s everywhere) and festival games like cork guns, fish catching, ball something.. etc. And then there was the food, yakitori, roast sweetcorn, cucumber, takoyaki, yaki-ika (grilled squid), okonomiyaki, rice wrapped in pork, Kakidoori (snowcone), deep fried chicken and prawn, yakisoba, crepes, savoury crepe on a stick with extras, toffee apple, jelly orange, and probably loads of other stuff, but there was SO MUCH FOOD and everything i tried was FUCKING DELICIOUS.
God i love this country. I don’t know how the hell id live here, but i’ll be damned if im not going to try.
Im also going to go ahead and say that the average girl here is way slimmer and prettier than in the UK, its also pretty hard to not look cute when you wear a kimono and flower in your hair.

 
       

One more thing ive noticed here, people sell their goods like they are at a market, its not unusual at all for cafes/shops/services to stick a cute girl outside with a sign and scream about their offers (even the starbucks beside the festival area had 2 girls out trying to get people in to try their frappes).

 

After returning from the festival we had a little look around the station area, took the escalator up to the 11F area and had a peak out at the kyoto skyline (which photographed badly at night sadly), we also spent about 15 minutes watching a synchronized music water show – held by the train station itself no less. Grabbed a little snack from the local convini (onigiri with prawn mayo) and a few bottles of a rather nice watermelon soda from a vending machine (of where there are many, and they are everywhere outside, and they all work, and they are all stocked, and there is no litter nearby – or
anywhere in Japan for that matter, this country keeps blowing my mind). As you might have figured also, there is wifi in the hotel, so yay.

Tomorrow will be the imperial temple and… idk what else. Look forward to it!

Japan 2012 – Day 3 – Ghibli, Nakano, Harajuku

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Day 3 began in Ikebukuro, with us having a bit of a browse around and looking for a place to eat, we were given a sign from above in the form of a small restarant opening as we walked past, a line had already formed outside and started moving in so we figured if the locals are willing to wait for the place to open, it must be pretty special, the locals were right – I ordered ramen with a cut of pork, however it was a little different to typical ramen soup because the soup was thick like a sauce (i think it was an egg sauce), the pork was also amazing, and I think they knew that because they only give 1 slice with each meal by default.

Tasty tasty ramen

After eating we had a little more of a wonder around Ikebukuro where we found our first music game arcade, filled with all of the latest and greatest – including some ive never even seen before (on display, for those who know what im on about: IIDX Lincle, PopN 20, Reflec Beat, Jubeat Copius, Sound Booth Voltek, GF X7 x DM X7), I was in paradise, and as it was a smaller arcade than the ones in Akihabara, they had 4 song enabled (as opposed to the measly 2 songs you’d get in Akihabara), £5 and half an hour later we emerged from the arcade basement and set out for Mitaka via train.

We got a little lost on the way, taking a train heading in the opposite direction, and then having a train reverse direction on us, but we eventually got to Mitaka, where we boarded the catbus (yes, catbus) and headed off to the Ghibli Museum.

The Ghibli museum was small but efficient, with only a handful of exhibits and an terrifyingly priced giftshop, it manages to impress, amaze and make you appreciate the true beauty of the works of Studio Ghibli, hand painted art blankets the walls of the one of the exhibits whilst another has a spinning array of sculptures which, when coupled with a blinking light going at 24/min, gives the effect of full 3d motion animation.

No photo’s allowed, hence the less than amazing shot. You can see the sculptures though

Oh, and there was a gigantic fluffy catbus inside for kids to play on, sadly im not a kid, but fuck man, catbus.

So jelly.

Going back to the gift shop, there was some really REALLY cool shit for sale here, a scale 3d model of the town and caves of Laputa for £8000, or the blue crystal necklace sheeta wears, or models of the ochre from Naussica (about half a foot long), also as expected, lots and lots of fluffy toys, I bought a deck of Laputa cards (which i just opened as of writing this post), they basically contain the entirety of the film – which is cool as fuck but completely ruins any hope I ever had of using the cards to play with.

Chance of being used for Ring of Fire? 0%

Next up, we headed 2 stops down the way to Nakano, famed for Nakano broadway – a small shopping plaza filled with nerdy stuff, it actually kind of felt like a cheaper, sleazier Akihabara. This is where I ran into Mandrake, whose shops were spaced throughout the plaza and were filled with anime/manga goods, I MAY have accidently bought way too much money’s worth of figurines (a Hatsune Miku one, and a Jojo one – the latter being an impulse buy but sort of felt right considering my website has been a play on the Jojo’s series from the start). Im not going to say how much they are because it makes me feel bad inside, but they are not cheap at all, infact even the 5cm tall Nendroid figurines start at around £30 and can go upwards of £100 depending on rarity, the figures I bought are about 15cm tall I guess (but arent 3x priced dont worry).


As we were leaving Nakano we heard the sound of Taiko in the distance. Following our ears lead to a nearby festival style performance – 20 or so drummers, some strings, about 10 underaged girls dancing about, etc etc – It was nice to see an authentic one of these being performed, and after they finished the invited everyone in to take part in a festival dance – which a pretty good number of locals joined in with, and actually seemed very excited to do so, kind of weird coming from a society where nobody would want to participate.

Last stop for the day was Harajuku, famed for its fashion culture (or lack of as we witnessed a few times), the entire district was full of clothing shops, roads and roads of it and in every style imaginable (fluffy, poofy, flashy, gothic, hipster, skater, gangsta…).

Dinner tonight was hard to find, Harajuku literally flooded with fashion/clothes shops meant it was hard to fnid somewhere to get food that wasnt ‘foreign’ – and by foreign i mean western – I can only assume that because everyone that goes to harajuku is so hip, they are too cool to eat standard japanese food (the equivalent of hipsters eating at a fish and chips shop in UK i guess). We somehow ended up at possibly the most expensive place in town, a Yakiniku restaraunt on the 5th floor with our table on a balcony overlooking the city crossing. We had some real language issues here, with our waiter only speaking very very basic english – we thought it would be fine at first because we went for a buffet option, however buffet required re-ordering as much as you like, and we didnt know what the hell we were ordering, everything was brought at first but then we were on our own, with only the restaurants posh touchscreen guide to try and help us, the problem here being that even though it had english translations, the translations were along the lines of  has ‘Reba’…. also known in english as Liver, this was the easiest to understand part of it as well, ordering meat would sometimes yield delicious strips of beef, and sometimes would yield some sort of bizarre stick of inedible fat. It was still a very nice meal regardless, but painful – both for us and for our waiter, who understood fuck all of what we were trying to ask him.

Yakiniku is the best type of niku.

Tomorrow we are out of Tokyo for 5 days and going to Kyoto, not sure if there will be wifi there like we have here, I hope so, but I may very well be on hiatus for a few days (which will really fuck me up as these blog posts take up to an hour to type out, and are harder to type up the longer you leave it)

Japan 2012 – Day 2 – Fish market, Ginza, Asakusa Temple, Ueno Park

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Saturday 14th – Fish Market, Ginza, Asakusa Temple, Ueno Park

We had an early night since most of us were jetlagged and deprived of sleep, I was also woken up at 4am by some incredible thunderstorm.
We left the hotel early and headed for a local bakery outside of the station to get some breakfast before leaving the area, I had some sort of croquet bun and a chicken curry bun – both were tasty as fuck.

Crispy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside!

After eating, we headed to the opposite end of tokyo to Shuichi fish market – supposedly the largest fish market in the world, and it definitely looked it, we only walked around and saw a brief portion of it but it was pretty incredible (and this was after half of it was already closed as it was approaching 10am), apparently it is busiest at around 6am, with fish auctions occuring at 4am in the morning.

We also saw a guy cutting up a frozen tuna about as large as himself, with a bandsaw, it was hardcore.

The outskirts of the fish market was lined with sushi shops using the fresh fish, queues outside all of them, and nearby to the fish market were shops dedicated to the craft – fishing gear, sushi knives, condiments, seaweed and seafood ramen shops.

Probably 3/4 a square mile of this sort of scene.

Dude cutting tuna with a fucking saw

Next up we headed to ginza, more of a traditional city setting filled with department stores and the likes, we headed into a few of them, but as usual, only for food…
Apparnetly the bottom floor of department stores here is dedicated to food, packed out with deli’s selling everything from mochi to salads and grilled meats. We spent AGES just walking around looking at food, trying some of it.
We also saw some masuke melons, which apparently sell for 21k yen each (aka. £200 each)

Square watermelon. Seems legit.
£200 Melon.

Next, Asakusa, or more importantly, Asakusa temple, the road of which is pretty much a half mile strip of shops, we tried all of the famous japanese festival foods, shaved ice with syrup, taiyaki (custard variant) and takoyaki, all great – but the takoyaki was somewhat underwhelming if im honest.
Bought my first souvineer in one of the shops here, a classy looking black tie with Fuji-san hand painted on.

Japanese favorite Taiyaki, typically filled with Red Bean paste. It was softer than expected.

Takoyaki (Octopus balls), the flakes on top are dried bonito (a type of fish) and it comes with a slathering of a sweet/salty sauce.

The temple itself was huge, and packed out, we did half the ritual stuff, cleansing the soul with fountain water, and drawing luck from the temple via the wooden sticks – figures that id draw bad luck (with sub-info including stuff like ‘you wont find your psp, you wont get a new job, you wont find a girlfriend’ and more, fun shit. I guess I wont even bother til next year then?

Asakusa Temple

We started winding down our day by going to Ueno, featuring loads of shops and a massive park – plus a lake filled with lotus flowers.

Ueno Park lake, boat hire was canceled that day, oddly.

The chopsticks were actually moving up and down, pulling the noodles with it, all whilst giving a floating impression. We weren’t the only ones who stopped to take photos.

Visited another arcade here which had the usual, plus some crazy gambling games (24 person horseracing bettiing machine, with a 100″(?) widescreen and lots of touchscreens for players) and a super crazy machine which was like a pod you sit in, and has a curved projector screen in front of you which has a game on, twin joysticks, multiple buttons on the side, surround sound, a headset jack (and headphones for you to speak with teammates in other booths), I didnt try it since I honestly have no idea how the fuck it works, but I sat through the demo and my god it looked fucking insane, it was a robot fighting game (of course) but the whole screen shakes when you move – and with the screen being all of your viewing angle, the effect is impressive.

The inside of the battle pod
Typical Japanese Arcade scene

Dinner was in a place specializing in tempura, I had a set including Rice, Tempura (prawn, pumpkin, aubergine) and cold soba with sauce. It was so fucking good. The prawn tempura in particular was just incredible, and the cold soba dipped in the sweet/salty sauce is a real experience, you’d think cold noodles would be weird, but it is such a welcome change in a country where it is 30 degrees at all times (even when its cloudy)

One of my Top 3 Japanese Meals, the tempura was SO good.

Me and the brother decided to head to Akihabara again after dinner, just to have another quick look around as it was only 2 stops away, checked out a few shops we missed last time and had a bit of a play around in an arcade (played some IIDX Lincle). Still couldnt find anything to buy, did go into a music shop though, the shops most popular albums/singles are a little different to that of the UK. Was almost tempted into buying a Perfume album but the music disks here are surprisingly expensive (around £20 for an album or around £10 for a single?)

And so ends Day 2, tomorrow, ghibli museum, Shibuya and Harajuku..

Japan 2012 – Day 1 – Arrival and Akihabara

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Note: Pictures will be uploaded when i come back home, along with formatting and stuff.

Thursday 12th – Pre-holiday

Had an amazing midnight-4am playing left4dead 2 with L-fel , then went off to heathrow to fly, everything went fine, 1 hour plane trip to Germany, everything still fine, Plane trip from Germany to Japan, weighing in at around a 13 hour flight, I was very very glad I had made the conscious decision not to sleep at all that night because I was able to sleep through a fair bit of the flight, making it significantly more bearable.
Inflight food was a chicken Katsu curry with Soba and fruit salad, and breakfast which was an omlette thing with potato bits, the soba in particular was lovely, and got us thinking that if aeroplane soba is this good then the official stuff you can find in the restaurants must be godlike.
On a bit of a downer note, upon leaving the airport, I realised I had left my PSP on the plane. Fuck.

Friday 13th – Holiday Start!

Welcome to Japan!

So we had to travel from the airport to our hotel situated just outside of Ikebukuro, the tube in Japan is crazy, with about 10 lines, private lines and the JR line (which is different somehow). We eventually managed to make it to our hotel, check in and meet our overly friendly host.

The hotel is a modernized traditional Japanese ryokan, meaning shoes off at the porch, sliding doors, tatami mats, and futon beds, Its comfortable enough, whilst not being quite comfortable enough that you’d want to switch to that lifestyle anytime soon, but for the 3 + 2 days we’ll be staying, it’ll do the job.

Our room in Shiinamachi/Tokyo ,cosy, and the air-con goes to 16 degrees which is always nice.
After check-in and a freshen up (since, because of timezones we essentially went for 2 days without a shower/toothbrush), we were let loose in the city, we started at our local major area, Ikebukuro, which (typing this on the 2nd day) actually just seems like a jack of all trades master of none sort of dealio, plenty of small shops and a few large ones and a decent mix of all of the shop types. We had our first proper Japanese meal here, Sushi! What else was it going to be?

Stupidly, i forgot to take a photo, but it was a small bar style restaurant with a conveyor belt, a few highly skilled sushi chefs behind the counter who would prepare random sushi, or anything you requested, the portions were pretty cheap, at around 130yen each (about £1), trying to work out how to pay was awkward as I had no idea how to ask for the bill.
Towards the evening we went for Akihabara, the famed mecha for otaku, which, if im honest, was very tame compared to what I envisioned. Sure, the main streets are decked out in 4 floor high advertisements for video games and anime but… I dont know, I guess I just pictured it being way more ridiculous.

Welcome to Akihabara!

We toured the main street and a few of the side streets, but realistically the place spans about 6 square blocks so we probably missed a large amount of it, We did however get to see most of the main stores (i think), including 4 gigantic sega arcades, 2 pachinko parlours, a few anime/figurine shops, some technology department stores, and ‘gamers’ which is probably Akihabara’s most famed store (7 floors of anime/games/manga).

 


The arcades are sick. Like… goddamn. 2 Floors of crane games, 3 floors of linked fighting games (PVP enabled to fight the person opposite you, ranging from P4, Tekken, VF5, Melty blood, Blazblue, SF4 – Tekken seems the most popular though), then there are the music games including the newly released Maimai (looks like a washing machine, google it) and Hatsune Miku Arcade (which is incredibly popular), Almost all of the arcades also have at least 12 machines dedicated to ‘Gundam Extreme VS Full Blast’, some having 1.5 floors dedicated to it at around 24 machines per floor and roped out queue zones – From what I can gather its a 4v4 3d fighting game with fully customizable gundams and stuff, id probably play the shit out of it if I lived here because it looked pretty fun.

Somehow, despite having a fair look around, Couldn’t really find anything that I really wanted to put money down for (I would have considered IIDX/PopN controllers, Arcade sticks, Hatsune Miku nendroid, Good looking figurines under £50 of shows that I like), My brother bought a copy of shounen jump which he cant read, but I guess thats pretty cool just because it is unique (they are also cheap as fuck here, a compilation manga as thick as 3 fingers will be under £4), which shounen jump being only 240yen (£1.70?) – its no surprise all the kids here read it)
Look how thick these things are, and for dirt cheap too
Charts in Akihabara are as expected, flooded with idol groups, and ponponpon star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
We didn’t visit a maid cafe, but god were there a lot of maids on the street trying to get people to come in, also a few pervy stores featuring ona holes of your favorite anime charas and stuff. Also, the panty vending machine is an urban myth. (as far as I saw anyway)