Thursday, 15 April 2010

Thursday April 15th [Nara - Kyoto]

20100415 [Nara]

Flickr set for Nara -
Flickr set for Kyoto -

checking out and shopping

Late in the night, a German/Vietnamese family arrived, including screaming youngster and a Vietnamese grandfather whose party trick was falling over. Paper partition walls and glass windows into the lower floor of the house are not very conducive to sleeping when their kid was screaming. I tried to sleep in, but it really wasn't happening. Early shower then checked out, leaving baggage behind for a few hours...

3 storey pagoda and temple next to sarasawa pond

It was time to see a bit of Nara since the whole hangover and Nagoya thing was a bit of a waste of time. I set out and found a very nice 3 storey pagoda and a pond. To be fair, I found those by incident with where I wanted to go, which was the tabi-ji "ninja footwear" shop in town, which was ace :) I've always wanted a pair! I'll be amazed if they get worn outside the house but fuck it, I think they're ace.

deer and wandering up to Nara's most famous attraction - the Todai-ji temple

Mangy, pacified, and that's just the tourists. Deer are everywhere once you get near the Todai-ji temple. These ones treat "deer crackers" pretty much like crack. They are addicted. They'll eat just about anything and I daresay it'll kill them, but the crackers you can buy from various street vendors in the temple and park complex. Apparently a favourite trick is to put a cracker into someone else's back pocket, because they will follow you -everywhere-, such is their blind addiction. According to the signpost information, they keep the mother's sedated at a different location due to them being aggressive around their fawns. Also, if you bow at these deer, they bow back :) To be honest, I never saw this in practice. They also poo a lot.

todai-ji and daibatsuden

This is apparently one of the oldest wooden structures in Japan. It houses the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world, and it is, really, very bloody big. And that's just Buddha. He's got some friends, and they're all huge. They, I tell you, they ate all the pies.

mos burgers

Oh God. There's a fast food outlet in Japan called Mos Burger. They make small, but perfectly formed burgers (and, allegedly, coffee too). Amongst the various things they do is a Teriyaki Chicken burger. I'm addicted. I'm horrendously addicted. My name is Adam and I am addicted to Mos Burger Teriyaki Chicken burgers. Beautiful, non-stringy piece of chicken, dripping with this amazing sauce, really fresh, crisp lettuce on top with a huge dollop of mayonnaise. Oh God Yes.

leaving nara

Time to walk back along the little road to the station, so I picked up my bags and did just that. Local train ride to Kyoto was pretty uneventful. I like Nara. It's tiny, but it's got a great deal of character. As the first city that existed in Japan, it's pretty nice. The houses and the people - both in step with each other.

arriving kyoto

Bit more time spent looking around the station, which is huge and impressive. Finally found the right line to get to a place called Nijo ("second castle" I think) which was on the JR line so no extra charge! Yay. So, arrived at Nijo, which was only two stops away, and set out according to the directions for the hostel "in direction of Nijo Castle"...

shocking directions

So, 15 minutes later when I was very confused, having just found Marumachi Street, I ended up asking a woman behind a counter of an ice cream and cake shop where the hell I should be going. This, it turned out, was a bad idea. I walked 15 minutes back to the station, then took a different road at the intersection, found the castle, or one corner of it, and picked up the directions from HostelWorld there... leading me back to about 200 yards from the ice cream and cake shop, but headed in the right direction. Quite tired now.

kyoto's cheapest inn

Massively massively basic. No frills, no pretension to even thinking about frills. This was a very small 3 storey building with one room per floor and dorm bunks with curtains that didn't quite go all the way to closing. Awesome. The showers, it turns out, are basically in the common room and are 2 shower cubicles in length. When you're sharing the first cubicle space with a large basket, this makes changing quite tricky.

wandering down to station

Up and out of there as there wasn't a lot of point in hanging around. Wandered down to the JR Nijo station again to try and get some sightseeing done. This district of Kyoto is quite strange, in that it's pretty much building - temple - building - school - tv station - castle. The city is filling in the gaps between the sights, growing like background radiation.

kyoto central station

The station has got the weirdest roof, from inside, of any place I've been to. Check the photos. It's extravagant and quite, quite bold. It's also totally ugly from the outside, but maybe they weren't thinking of that at the time. The shopping plaza inhabiting the space is named The Cube, so you can imagine the architecture.

temple next to it

Along the road, not 500 yards from this monstrosity is a massive temple complex called Higashi Honganji. Wasn't much going on here apart from a biting, cold wind. Quite weird how the construction work next door to it had interlaced with its roof, though I guess this could have been a repair job on an existing building... After taking some photos, I went along the street towards the station to do my usual trick of confusing the hell out of people in Starbucks. "dekopi?" "Do you want me to write out the label for you, it'll save you the bother?" "decahinat kopi?" "Yes." "10 minute!" "Fine."

walking downtown

In a fit of piquem, I decided to walk the 2km back downtown, towards something I meant to see, the International Manga Museum of Kyoto. However, when I got there, it was 5.30pm and the place had just stopped accepting new visitors. Boo.

merry island cafe

Rough Guide informed me that there was a place doing Thai and Indonesian style menu near the river bridge along from the manga museum. I found it, but once I was told that the Thai Green Curry was off, somehow, magically, they'd manage to run out of it "Will this be on tomorrow?" "No no, it has run out." "Fiiiine."  In the end, I had a beer and a spaghetti carbonara while realising, slowly, that I was feeling absolutely dreadful.

feeling completely awful and walking home in the cold - allergic reaction?

Walking home in the cold is a good way to sink a lot of heat, and I was pumping it out. Not felt that ill in a while. Couldn't tell if it was some kind of delayed reaction from getting a bit sunburnt 2 days previous, or some kind of allergic reaction. I really haven't a clue. In the end, I got back to the hostel and went straight to bed at around 9pm. Rocking.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Wednesday April 14th [Nagoya - Nara]

20100414 [Nagoya and Nara]

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I woke up refreshed and deciding never to get that drunk in Japan ever again, or at least that hungover. The lady who runs the hostel recommended a good place nearby for breakfast and she was absolutely spot on. Komeda's Coffee house is just around the corner from the hostel and does the most amazing toast and jam, with a hard boiled egg on the side. Completely delicious.

robot museum

Has been closed for two years. Thanks, Rough Guide.

Atsuta shrine, Nagoya

20 minutes walk away from the hostel, along the busy Otsu-dori and Atsuta-dori roads, lays the second biggest shrine in Japan. It's a magnificent bleached wood structure with a surrounding park land, including a pond with terrapins (or maybe turtles) basking on rocks, massive carp, huge chickens and one of the most pleasant looking buddhist-stuff shops I've seen so far. There wasn't much to see there apart from that, so I walked back to the hostel to pick my stuff up and headed to Kanayama station, then to Nagoya and onto the shinkansen once more... much less hungover this time. However, I still managed to get on a train headed in the wrong direction and had to change at its first stop to get back to Nagoya. Doh.

bullet train to kyoto

Tried reserving a ticket in the smoking carriage for a change. I don't recommend it to be honest. The air made my eyes itch. The journey took us past some more ridiculous mountains, bridges and agricultural areas.

nice people guiding me to the right train for nara

Completely unexpected. Arrived at Kyoto to change from the shinkansen to a normal train for Nara, found one, sat on it, and started looking at the directions to the guesthouse, and checked the list of stops on a poster above the train door, when a guy who must have been about 80 asked me where I was going. He then pointed out that this was a local stopping service which would take me a massive amount of time to get to Nara, and that I should instead get the Rapid service, even going to the trouble of asking the guard at the back of the train. He was completely right and I was so touched that he would take so much trouble to help me. Nice people here :)

nice people guiding me to the right place in nara

The rapid service wasn't all that rapid to cover the 35km to Nara, but we got there eventually. After that, I changed again for a local stopping service to get to Kyobate, where I immediately found the directions to the guesthouse to be pretty useless. I stopped in front of a shop next to the station and asked a woman on a bike, who went and asked the woman inside the shop, meantime a guy on a motorbike was going into the shop and asked directly if I was going to the guesthouse, then he went inside the shop as well, and came back holding a laminated map showing where we were and how to find the guesthouse. Turns out, it was a straight line from the station along the street. Nice people here too :)

Naramachi Guesthouse, Nara

Very very very traditional, shoes off, slippers on, not quite sure whether I can drink this beer in the common room, kind of place. Met a nice guy called Maurice, from Cologne who is staying here also, we went out to get some food and for me to become orientated, roughly with the layout of the town, versus where the guesthouse is. Now I'm back at the guesthouse and sitting, after a brief period of conversation with a nice but batty Italian lady, in abject silence as I type furiously away, drinking potentially forbidden biru. It's some kind of Asahi blend, he said, looking askance over at the can while still trying to type. That's kind of showing off but, well, never mind. Someone's just picked up the guitar from the corner of the lounge and is playing a ridiculously good version of Stairway To Heaven. Fully jazzed up and everything. Impressive.


There's countless empty cans of beer in the recycle bin. Joy!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Tuesday April 13th [Nagoya]

20100413 Tokyo and Nagoya

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Hangovers in Japan - not recommended

Checking out with a massive hangover, in blazing hot sun, with only a few hours sleep, followed by getting across town to Tokyo station for a bullet train ride was really really horrific. I highly recommend never getting yourself into this kind of fix.

Bumbling around Shinkansen station trying to not be ill

I did a lot of this, also a lot of dashing back to the restrooms to put cold water on my face and neck, hanging around next to rubbish bins, and finally managing, somehow, to keep it together on the train to get excited about the landscape rushing by. The bullet trains are amazing, spacious, smooth (mostly), clean and the staff are extraordinarily polite, things like the guard bowing to the carriage, making a formal, spoken announcement that he must now check tickets, more bowing, then the checking of tickets, then finally, turning and bowing to the carriage again before moving onward to the next. How the hell are we supposed to compete with that? You can get such cranky, annoying twats being guards on British trains. This is a breath of fresh air definitely.

Ridiculous mountains

Well, they've got plenty of them. The landscape changed so much going south west from Tokyo. And the hills are really abrupt, suddenly striking skyward in the middle of a town. Crazy. The Shinkansen shot past these places and through the hills. Literally.

Not seeing Mt Fuji

The massive disappointment was, having gone to the trouble, in my worsened state, of reserving a seat on the correct side of the train and waiting around for the next train to make it happen, that Mt Fuji was almost completely shrouded by clouds and therefore I could only see snatches of just how massive and imposing and insanely beautiful it is. I seriously could only see little patches of it, having to look at the scene for some time before realising that my eyes weren't deceiving me, and it really was that huge. I hope I can see it better when I travel back up to Tokyo.

Nagoya station

After the near 2 hour trip, I arrived in Nagoya central station which, as reported by some people I've met already, is very business-orientated, very corporate. The station is built around the long corridor connecting one side of the station to the other. I hunted in vain for a MacDonalds, as I was feeling a bit better and only wanted to take the opportunity to get some food in me. After searching around, I decided to just get to the next hostel, which meant a metro train ride to Kanayama station while still feeling ropey. Kanayama is busy, windy, has big roads. Not sure if I like it that much but it seems ok.

Hostel Ann

I followed the directions from Kanayama station, which thankfully included a MacDonalds (cheeseburger with chips in it and Fanta Grape FTW, but why do they load the burgers with so much black pepper??), and found myself at a really beautiful little hostel. Traditional style so shoes off, tatami straw mats in the bedrooms, and really comfortable beds. There's a little garden in an atrium at the center of the ground floor and very friendly staff. There's some people here who are doing teaching programmes, and some of their friends came over to catch up and bring food. Nice bunch. Meantime, I popped out to one of the shops and got some food and a couple of beers to get rid of the last vestiges of my hangover. So far, so good...

I'll try and get to the Robot Museum here, tomorrow. It opens at 11 and that's when I'm supposed to be checking out so I'll have to keep my baggage here but I'm sure they'll be able to help.

Sleep beckons...

Monday, 12 April 2010

Monday 12th April [Tokyo]

20100412 monday, tokyo

no pictures for today!

sleeping in

My body clock is getting worse and worse, leading to spending half the day sleeping. I think it's from all the walking around. The sound of the rain outside didn't help. Rainy day in Tokyo. Boo.

wandering to ueno park - museums closed!

Gutted. After making it out to Ueno Park and wandering through it to the museums at the far end, they were both closed :( Ended up walking around the back of Ueno Park station in the rain and wondering what to do next.

writing postcards

In the end, I went to the Starbucks connected to the station and wrote out postcards for my mum and my ex. The postcards I found in Asakusa and are both really nice. Silly cat one for mum :) Belated happy birthday one for Anthea.

back to tawaramachi and post office

Stopped off at the post office in Tawaramachi to get some money out and some stamps, staff really helpful! I'm liking the till machines they have which don't have a drawer, but rather spit out the right change. Another tick in the right box. Posted the postcard for my Mum as I haven't committed my ex's address to memory. Sue me.

back to hostel, laundry, working out places to stay in nagoya, nara, kyoto

Walked through the rain back to Sakura Hostel and did some practical things like sorting my laundry out and getting accomodation booked for Nagoya, Nara and Kyoto. Only one night in both Nagoya and Nara but that seemed like enough. Really liking the hostel as all the staff are super friendly.

Cuzn bar, Kaori

I didn't really know what to do that evening, so I figured I should try at least one bar in Asakusa. After a brief look through the Rough Guide, the closest one seemed to be a bar called Cuzn, just a few streets away. Lovely place, very subdued and just a few people in there. It turned out that it was open until 5am! So, I took a seat at the bar, tried some of my very poor Japanese on the barman and tried a local draught. To be honest, it was pretty bad. After that, I tried a Taketsuru, a Japanese whiskey. Very rich, very nice indeed. At this point, the chattering from behind me took form in the shape of the manageress, Miki. A colourful, jazz-addled woman who is one of the most friendly people I've met so far :) We talked about music for a while and then the chef, a woman called Kaori joined us at the bar. Kaori's great :) Really enjoyed talking with her, and I got so drunk that I taught her how to play Shithead. And she won. Grr. Next time, I won't be so nice when playing against her ;) The bar was never very full that night, but along the way there was a Japanese Olympic female wrestling bronze-medallist and friend, a business guy and a cool girl that he was intent on speaking to, a bass player that Miki waxed lyrical about. Really nice people. Now in contact with Kaori and Miki on facebook, so I'm hoping that I'll go there again when I return to Tokyo :)

amazing hangover

You have no idea. I got out of there at about 4.30am, and had to check out at 11am in an absolute state. More on that in the next part.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Sunday 11th April [Tokyo]

20100411 sunday [tokyo]

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I've always really wanted to go to Harajuku. It's the Mecca of Japanese teen fashion and all sorts of nonsense abides there. The main street, the Takeshite-dora, is plagued by stalls and shops and a million billion people bustling along it's narrow length. The shops lead the fashion which leads the kids which leads the shops ... Anyone who knows a bit about feedback loops will start to get misty eyed at this point. It's a mental place. So after a quick tour of that I went towards Yoyogi Park nearby. So many people there, some cos-players, a load of rockabillys, one sporting the tallest quiff I have ever even heard of.

meeting up with stuart and anna again

I still hadn't bought a gift or anything so I started to head back to the shops, and bumped into Stuart and Anna again, who were both really hungover but pleased to see me. We chilled out in the park for a while, seeing a man with a monkey, a woman walking her turtle (honest), blimps, a bunch of boys who were practicing their dancing like they were the next big JPop thing, really silly outfits, a guy doing contact juggling which was 50% good 50% dropsy, multiple dogs which were amazing and fun to be around (there was some kind of club meeting for owners of huskies and these particularly fluffy Akita-like (apart from the tail) creatures with the biggest paws I have ever seen. The park is lovely, really enjoyed being there. Again there were sakura parties going on but also just people and families out enjoying themselves. Lovely place. I said my goodbyes to Stuart and Anna as they were going to go in search of the shrine in the other half of the park and I wanted to hit the shops again. I duly found a gift for my friend Jodi and headed off in search of the Design Festa Gallery that I had heard about from Zoe and also that I had seen advertised back at the hostel.

trying to find design festa gallery and going round the omotesando hills - stupidly long vocal battle audition queue, really expensive shops, wedding

I completely failed to find the gallery and decicded to just keep on walking. As it is I ended up walking around and through Omotesando Hills district, which looked really expensive for buying stuff, with various names like Dior, Chanel, with their own massive shops. There was a wedding going on at one of the temples next to a very swish place called Anniversaire. Next to that, there was a queue of boys, after which there was a queue of boys, then a queue of boys, and so forth for a good 4-5 minutes walk. At the end, I saw a guy who was on the staff of the event with a card saying that it was the Audition for some kind of Vocal Battle. I couldn't believe how long the queue was. It was nearly half a mile and remarkably well behaved. I can't imagine how long it would take for someone to eventually get called up for audition. Hours, maybe. Maybe they're still there!

down through harajuku street again and the nice bit of shops at the bottom

I eventually got back to the start of Takeshite-dori and I went on another explore down the street, checking out the side streets and the various other stalls. I got to the bottom of it and then went along Harajuku Street (not sure if that's what it is really called) which had a different vibe to the crash of colours and all the kids on Takashite-dori. There were more serious clothes shops and interesting looking places, and more space. Lots more space. Quite liked that end. I guess that's the bit which the guide book referred to as the hip-hop scene area. So, went around there for a bit, took some photos, then back up Takeshite-dori a final time just for the hell of it. Stopped for a cigarette on a side street (since that's the done thing) and found myself opposite a tea room called Christie :) I stopped in there and had pretty much the best roast chicken sandwich I have ever had. Well done, Christie. You're a credit to the name :) The proprietor was quite amused when I said I was Christie and showed him my passport. Anyway, that was a good time to finish checking out Harajuku and so I got back on the crowded train towards Shinjuku as it was the closer side of the Yamanote line circle back to Ueno Park.

shinjuku, getting assaulted by religious types

I decided to stop in Shinjuku and check it out, since I'd not, somehow, done that yet. Fuck me, that's a mental, busy, ridiculous place. The station is unbelievably huge and confusing, and then you find yourself outside in Takashimaya Times Square which is a lot like standing outside Shibuya station, but, somehow, a hell of a lot busier even on a Sunday night! Frankly, it was too hectic and intense, so I sat down for a drink at a starbucks for a while and chilled out to some tunes, watching 6pm tick over and the crush of people move past. Meantime, a really strong wind had started up. There's definitely a massive pressure drop happening so I suspect tomorrow there is going to be some pretty heavy rain :(  This kind of fucks up my plan of going to Nikko quite badly, unless I bring Scuba gear.

remembering to get accomodation in nagoya, kyoto

This is just a note to myself to remember to book accomodation for Nagoya and Kyoto over the next few days. If I don't write about sorting this out, sort me out. Please? Thanks.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Saturday 10th April [Tokyo]


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securing a late night cancellation

Last thing, after I'd done with the blog writing and stuff (including drinking lots of beer from the ever-present vending machine in the corner), I managed to secure a place for Saturday night, thankfully. I really didn't want to have to move my luggage around only to bring it all back the next day. So, good thing.

akihabara, fit the second, mandarake, mental computer and phone shops, finally discovering what was in the blue rice packages (tuna!)

When I went to Akiba (their pet name for Akihabara) I was convinced that I'd missed something in my quest to find the massively disappointing Tokyo Anime Centre. Turns out that I was right. When I went back I dived into the massive electronics shops and witnessed the craziness of the technology pimps that cover the area. Some of the bigger stores reminded me of a mix between PC World and some kind of mental games expo. After that, I wandered around and found a really cool anime multi-storey shop called Mandarake (sic), filled with fucking amazing toys, games, and everything, everything manga. If I had the space for the 12 inch battloid model I saw, I'd have grabbed it. The backstreets are hives of activity, PC shops, bars, comic shops, some sort of open source convention (unfortunately all in Japanese so I couldn't tell what was going on except that they were saying something about servers.) Much, much better Akiba experience :)

ueno park, cherry blossom ridiculousness, nice pastries and flatbread things from Andersons, amazing hygene for a Greggs!

Not really knowing what to do, I travelled back to Ueno Park which, since it was such brilliant weather, was rammed with people enjoying the sakura. Thousands of people sitting beneath the trees, playing games, drinking, eating, and having fun. I'd got some really nice food from a places called Andersons in Ueno station (which had a nice system of your own tray and own grabbing-tool given on the way in to help yourself to the amazing pastries and flatbreads available), so I chilled out for an hour or so in the park, and completely failed to work out what I'd do next.

asakusa sight seeing bit with tunes on, bowing down to the shuffle, not knowing what to do tonight!

So I ended up in Asakusa afterwards and spent a while looking at the temple, the surrounding market and the shrines spread around the place. Loved it. I really liked seeing the things that people were doing for luck like the wafting of the smoke from a massive iron pot with incense burning in it, and drinking the water from a mini-fountain that spouted water from lots of beautiful dragon sculptures. It was about that time that I started listening to tunes while doing all this, and the Shuffle did its usual trick of providing exactly the right accompaniment (Imogen Heap - Airplane "all alone, all by myself, so free and far away").


I was so tired when I got back that I had to crash out for an hour or so, but I was intent on going out that evening, breaking out the suit jacket and decent shoes. I ended up going on a packed train to Shibuya again, since I figured I might as well just go back to the Pink Cow bar as, although full of Westerners, it seemed reasonably friendly and accessible. Speaking of accessible...

trying to find the Pink fucking Cow again

The map in the Rough Guide To Japan for Shibuya station and surrounds, is COMPLETELY FUCKING USELESS. I spent a full hour trying to find the Pink Cow bar from the map in the guide and I hated every minute of it. Eventually asked directions as I was sick of tramping up and down the same streets as I *knew* that I was near it but just couldn't find the exact street. The entrance to the bar is shrouded in darkness and they have a small bollard on the road to advertise. In the dark. Then you go down some darkened stairs and through a daft looking wall-papered door and suddenly you're in a subdued lighting bar. Very fucked up place. As it was, there was a private party in there, but the no admission rule only applied until 8.30, and it had gone 9.30 by the time I got there. The wedding party were a decent bunch. Some American guy had married a Japanese woman. I got speaking to the bride's brother (his name escapes me) and also a girl called Yuki who was in there distributing flyers about a dance event happening in May. Both really nice people, both politely said that the fact that I could say "I understand Japanese a little, but I'm not very good at it yet" was enough, and a good effort. She had a random story about how at a haiku meeting (I'm not making this up) some drinks company were promoting a mix of cider and chocolate or coffee (I can't remember which) and were calling it "Chider" or something. All very weird but enjoyed meeting them.

The beer I had in there set me up for the ride home which was pretty packed. Shibuya on a Saturday night was utterly insane though, I think, slightly less busy than it was on Friday night.

Got back to Asakusa, stumbled around in the darkness of my new room and top bunk, and slept.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Friday 9th April [Tokyo]

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late night blogging

Was fueled last night, writing about all that had happened by many Suntory beers, and these weird giant cheesey-puff things which come in all these different flavours. Quite like the teriyaki flavour. Do not have the chocolate one. It's just wrong. Oh, and Fanta Grape kicks ass.

asakusa - kawaii shopping

Really nice weather today, not too hot, wind not too chilly. The Senso-ji temple in Asakusa looked fantastic and it was great to wander through again and take photos. I managed to go into the temple itself today and the decoration is so rich and beautiful. There are some amazing paintings on the roof including the dragon that is recreated in the massive construction shroud around the temple. After taking photos there, I found some of the nice craft shops just off the main areas and found some kawaii presents for a couple of friends, and some postcards! Getting postage stamps is going to be an adventure just by itself, I can tell.

nearly getting to imperial gardens, central tokyo

And it turns out that the gardens are closed on Fridays, so all for the good. That part of the city is so corporate, it's like Canada square in London, I guess, except less Cockneys. Half way there was a really nice, contemporary plaza with fountains and water channels and sculpture and shit. I can't believe I just said that.

mitaka and ghibli museum (going low)

It was time then to go to Mitaka and the Ghibli museum, and Mitaka is gorgeous. A really weird mix of natural, peaceful river and woodland, and built-up suburbia. Maybe it is suburbia? The Studio Ghibli museum is amazing and abstract. Sadly, they don't allow photography inside (oh so ironic since half the exhibition is made up of animation and projection technology). I went in to have my voucher swapped for a clip of 3 frames from an animation. I'm not sure which one, I'll try and identify it another time. Then went in to the gorgeous atrium that shows off the various interconnected bits of the building. I went into the first room which contained a set of really clever exhibits showing zoetropes, including a massive glass cabinet containing a rotunda of 3d models that they animated by strobing an exterior light. Really bloody clever. Immediately after that going into an animated short film about a girl going camping. Really cool cartoon, but the old projector that is used strobes quite badly, which pretty much makes you feel ill. Speaking of which, I got to the café and was really starting to feel unwell. I went inside not realising that there was a queue sat in the area outside, and had a confused conversation with one of the waitresses, eventually having to back out saying it didn't matter. There was a hot dog stand around the corner and I realised that what was happening was that my blood sugar had dipped really badly, leaving me confused and unwell in a particular kind of way that is quite horrible. As soon as I ate the food and had some orange juice I felt completely fixed. I must watch out for that. Eating noodles at breakfast misses out important bits of nutrients that I need.

Then, I went back into the museum and really enjoyed going around the rest of the place. The fantastically detailed workshop rooms, the painstaking exhibition showing the making of an animated film. The shop was completely rammed full of people buying all kinds of things, and I found a couple of things to get as presents, myself. Once out of there (and I was glad to be out of there), I went up on the roof to see the iron robot that watches over the property. After that, I made my way back to Mitaka station and on the Rapid Chuo line back to Tokyo and then back to the hostel.

asakusa - finally finding an ATM that works

You have no idea how worried I've been about being faced by a cash machine that has no English on it and seems to spit out every card that you try and feed it. The secret, it turns out, is post offices. They have a big, friendly button saying "ENGLISH GUIDE", and are kitted out to use VISA, etc. Thank fuck. Bit happier now that there's a bit of noteage in my wallet ;)

meeting up at hachiko, shibuya with zoe, phil and shin

I pretty much had to leave then to reach Shibuya station, where I was due to meet a friend of mine from Chorlton and her fella, Phil. Travelling from Ueno Park to Shibuya was one of the nastiest journeys I've done so far as it was a complete crush and I was still feeling a bit crap from the afternoon. Once at Shibuya station, which is huge and ridiculous (2 million people a day go through it!), I managed to get there half an hour early and that turned out to be just enough time to make it to the agreed meeting spot! There's a bronze statue of a dog called Hachiko at one of the entrances (though the Rough Guide to Japan places it at a slightly different area, fucking cheers!) Hachiko was a dog owned by a guy who used to leave him at the station each day. Hachiko would wait for its master until he came out of the station again. When the man died, Hachiko would wait at the same spot each day for years afterwards. It's so sad. Now, the statue is a traditional meeting point for hundreds of Japanese, ready to go out on the town in Shibuya. The place itself is insane. It's that part of Tokyo you may have seen where there are 10 storey high video adverts, huge neon signs, activity everywhere, and that crossing where the whole road comes to a standstill to let people cross all the roads at once. It's totally chaotic. I managed to meet up with my friend Zoe ok and then we met up with her boyfriend, Phil and his Japanese friend Shin. Both really sound people :)

Shin was our guide for the night, and led us onto a bar called Pink Cow near Shibuya station. It had a really dark entrance way, but once you opened the door at the bottom of the pitch black steps, you were in an underground bar area, with DJs and live musicians playing electronica, and, weirdly, a huge population of foreigners, mostly British or American. There were Japanese there, but having an Australian barman was just a little rubbish. We finished our beers, waited while Shin got some baked sweet potato from a passing van (it was delicious) and headed off to a "more Japanese" place nearer the station... And it was, it really was. A full Izukaya with partitioned rooms for people to eat, and very very Japanese menu (no English at all, so Shin was our translator and ordered our food too!) We had a selection of little dishes at first, prawn, crab ("with guts", said Shin), squid ("with guys mixed up") and another crab thing ("does that have guts with it?"  "no, only a little" "right...").  The prawn thing turned out to be delicious, but the main attraction was the gorgeous sake, fried pork and sushi we were served. Absolutely outstanding. Shin's great and I fully intend to return the honour he did us of paying for our meal when he visits Manchester.

transit back to asakusa, fitting in (helped by sake)

The train back to Ueno and Asakusa was interesting. I started to feel like I was fitting in as opposed to being a complete tourist. I guess that A) it was the sake, and B) you pick up the right behaviour from being around on the trains for a while. If you're on the train, you play with your mobile, and you don't wait for the English translation of your destination to come up before you take your position at the right set of doors to open. Really enjoyed it. I made it back to the hostel after going to a 7-11 store, as I was sure that I'd need some crisps or something on top of all that rich food. That really paid off. Currently, I'm sitting in the lounge on my second beer and feeling a lot less queesey.

I've a bit of a worry in that I don't have a place to stay on Saturday night. There was no room at the hostel but I am booked in for Sunday and Monday night, having decided to do Nikko as a day trip from Tokyo instead of finding a hostel over there. It's about a 1.5 hour trip each way so that works a bit better since there isn't that much to see according to the people I've spoken to. I've got a few options for Saturday, as a backstop measure, I could go to one of the love hotel round the corner (not a chance), a capsule hotel (tempting), renting a room in an internet cafe (also tempting), or the Austrians from the hostel said that they were planning to go out to a club that night. Which reminds me - it will be Saturday night and I kind of said that I fancied going out to Roppongi and hitting the bars maybe. Also, it's Zoe's boyfriend's birthday, so they might be out and about that evening. If they are and can meet up, they'll let me know. Oh well, as long as I don't end up in the love hotel, all is well :)

loud, obnoxious amerikajin and his mates, all of which I want to kill. They're playing FIFA behind me and shouting, even though warned that it's past
2am.  Tempting to smack them on the back of the head if it happens again.

The above placeholder kind of says it all. What a twat.

Right, that's me done for today, will try and get this stuff up to Flickr, too. Didn't take enough photos when in Shibuya as my camera battery was starting to run down!  Shame on me.


Thursday, 8 April 2010

Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th April 2010 [Tokyo]

So... a few of these items are going to be brief as I was working from a list of things that I've done.
Ooh, Flickr link:
Transit from Manchester to London

All packed up and made my way down to London, in a footwell. Thanks Branson! Much as I'd love to spunk more money on a 1st class upgrade, how about you get some decent trains that don't smell of poo?

Thanks to Nick and Liz for putting me up on Monday night, really appreciated the launch pad! Got to Heathrow with no problems. Cheers!

Transit from Heathrow to Helsinki

Into the madness of international departures... so busy, so many people, so little point buying anything duty free... I think this was the more nerve wracking flight as I hadn't medicated myself with any alcohol to make things easier. I had to tell myself that it was ok, as I was only going to Finland. That's not like the other side of the world or anything...

Departure lounge, Helsinki Airport

Helsinki looks, from the window of the airport at least, like a grey, cold, miserable place. Apparently the suicide rate dropped when they made people change to more environmentally friendly car fuels, so it was damn near impossible to gas yourself in the garage any more. Medicated myself with beer, that seemed to help.

Transit from Helsinki to Tokyo

Ok, firstly, FinnAir are a wicked airline. I've never had better service or food than when flying abroad. Full marks. I just wish I could've slept on the trip in economy from Helsinki to Tokyo... 8 hours of staring at the inside of my own eyelids was, frankly, horrible. But, highlights included the fact that the entertainment system was booting Linux, watching dawn over the mountains of Kamchatka (see pic), and realising that I was so, so far away...

Transit from Narita to Asakusa

Oh my God. Remind me never to do this again without a night's sleep.  I was such a mess. Getting out of Narita was easy enough, but once I had to change at Tokyo station, it was just fail Fail FAIL. Thanks to some lovely people who helped point me in the right direction. I eventually got to Asakusa via the metro, and ran my heavy suitcase along its streets...


Sakura Hostel is good. A little bit expensive, but good. Nice people, good beds, great location, ramen available at the desk! I should have crashed out as soon as I got here. However...

Wandering around like a space cadet in Asakusa

This happened instead. There's nothing quite like arriving in a place, and it's slightly raining, and you're completely screwed due to the time difference, and it's totally abstract anyway as it's A) a bit like Oxford Street when you notice a bunch of Japanese tourists, and B) a bit like Starbucks or Burger King when they've synched up the whole staff to be one particular race. This place is strange, let me make no bones about it. If there's anything they could have done differently from the outset, they've done it.

Crashing out

Mercifully crashed out in the evening, after making a solemn request to fellow dorm-dwellers about visiting...

Tsukiji fish market

Wow. Absolutely chaotic. Not content with getting up at 3.30am, or travelling on the first metros that we could, but then we had to enter into the weirdest place I have ever, ever been to. The area and building that Tsukiji exists within is just huge. HUGE. 3 football fields I heard, and I'm inclined to believe it. (cue: lots of photos) You are worked around. You are worked around and you are made to feel that way, utterly. But that's ok, because it's worth it to observe what this slice of the population are doing, which is amazing. The sheer amount of things going on here, the bustle, the business, the rampant chance of being run over at Every Single Junction, are just fantastic. Words can't really express it. Have a look at the flickr feed. After the market we (the Austrians and I) had a completely amazing sushi breakfast in a nearby place. I remember distinctly hating raw tuna when I had it in England, but what I had this morning was a totally different world. Love it.

Crashing out

This was followed by crashing out till about 1.30pm back at the hostel. And a good thing too, if I'd stayed up - I'd be in a real pickle.

Asakusa Senso-ji temple and market on a sunny afternoon

And awaking to a sunny, beautiful, if a bit chilly afternoon. The area around the temple is amazing. Filled with people and things to look at. It was good to wander through it and see what needed to be seen. The temple itself is under wraps and I'll check it out properly tomorrow maybe. Good forecast :)

Akihabara, total disappointment with Tokyo Anime madness of electronic shops

The target this afternoon was supposed to be Akihabara, and I eventually got there about 3pm. To be honest, it's a bit like being at a PC parts fest, with a little bit of Forbidden Planet thrown in there for a mix. I really hope that I've got this wrong, because I've heard so much about it and it really didn't live up to all that I've heard. The "Tokyo Anime Centre", a frequent posting on tourist maps, is nothing more than a medium sized room who happen to sell some phone charms and t-shirts. Absolutely nothing special. Don't go there. It'll just annoy you. So, after seeing that and a few other places of no particular import, I decided to walk along to Ueno Park along the train tracks.

Walking through Ueno markets

So many market stalls, so many people. I loved it so much. It reminded me a bit of Camden Stable Market, except there was so much more of it. I followed it along as far as Ueno Park station.
[Edit: It's actually called Okachimachi, not Ueno Markets, they've been there since the old black market days]

Ueno Park, sakura, festival people, food, Buddhist temple

And the park was amazing. So many people, so much blossom in the trees and in the wind, I loved it so much. Everyone was in a festival mood. Lots of picnics going on to either side of the paths. Young people, sariri-men, all folk. I wandered through it and took pictures and thought. I'd love to be a part of this. I'd love to make this my home away from home. The park was alive with people just enjoying the place. I walked down to the part by the lake and zoo, got confused by the food, the temples, the views. It's too much to put into words. After a couple of hours, I said goodbye to it and got back on the metro and to Asakusa again.

100 yen shop

Amazing place. Better fun than a one pound shop by far. Bought a towel, I'm sure my room mates will be thankful.

Asakusa wanderings

Finally tonight I wandered around Asakusa, taking in all the little bars and food places, slot machine halls, shrines, people on their way back home from work.


When back at the hostel, I got a little annoyed with the Flickr Uploadr (sic) as it seemed to want to store images in the reverse order of when they were created. Thankfully, it turns out that it was only trying to express how things would be as if it was my Photo stream, hence, reverse order. The pictures were added and now I'm thinking that I'll have to upgrade my account. Grr.

Loud, obnoxious Amerika-jin, co-conspiratorial hippies

So, there's this American. And he's spouting shit in only the  way that loud, obnoxious Americans can. Something about "being in the business" and about nuclear energy and how that "I'm on the same page, man. I don't need to see that shit" when it came to how, in Hiroshima, they are, oddly enough, a bit touchy, a bit keen to express how they got fucked during World War II. Fuck you, sir. Fuck you. They do this for a reason. They do this to show that, in the war, they did get fucked. They got fucked because their country was a warring empire and want to show the world that peace is a completely valid alternative to causing so much pain. It was getting so bad that I wanted to stand up and say "OK, kill me now. I can't believe that you have surived that long and been able to spout that much crap without getting the shit kicked out of you by someone."  What a massive, massive cock. I don't know what'll happen on this particular guy's trip through Nippon, but I really hope that it doesn't enhance his world view. Cockwasher.

As it is, two hostel guests were totally not in to what he was saying, although keeping their own counsel at the table that I was checking my email at while simultaneously trying to filter out what this complete dickhead was saying. They understood, we laughed, we mocked, we struck up a really cool conversation afterwards over a few sakis and a couple of beers. Stuart and Anna, from Dublin, who have been in Thailand and New Zealand for the best part of a year. Really lovely people. Hope to bump into them again. Hope also to bump into aforementioned American except when I have a pair of nunchuku to hand.

Right, time to sign off. I'm blatantly the last person up in the hostel.

Take care all, more soon.


Monday, 5 April 2010

Final staging... [Originall posted 05 Apr 2010]

Well, I'm down in London, the night before my flight. On the one hand it is exciting, but on the other hand, I'm not really sure what to make of it. I guess it's nerves, really. Change, and a great deal of it. All at once.

For the past couple of weeks I've been as social as I can, visiting people, catching up, witnessing successes, failures, good parties. Oddly, it hasn't really involved a great deal of seeing my most local friends apart from a couple of occasions. Perhaps that's change too. Certainly, in one case, I'm leaving on slightly tainted terms. And if they're listening, I could do with a response. I don't like what happened and it's bothering me.

I saw Lost In Translation this morning, while packing. A good friend recommended it, not because it was a good film, but rather that it was about being lost in Japan. I loved it and can see exactly what she meant, though I really liked the entire film too.

I think I'm all set for this trip. All packed and ready in a staging position before travelling to Heathrow early tomorrow morning. My friend Nick has lent me his camera for which I'm massively grateful (yet more adaptors and cables and things to cart around though!). My netbook is all Skyped, Vent'd, blog tooled and far east language supported up.

So, Heathrow, Helsinki ... Narita Tokyo. Landing on Wednesday morning (Tuesday night GMT). If I manage to sleep on the flight then I think I can probably avoid any lag. Although it's going to be hard enough to sleep tonight.

Next update from another country!