by Tom

Tokyo – Day 3

April 1, 2012 in Uncategorized by Tom

Friday morning we woke up and headed for the Shinjuku Gyoen Garden.  The Garden will be very busy soon once all of the cherry blossoms show up.  As it is now, it is just a nice park with lots of paths to walk (and we walked around the park for a while).

A lone tree blossoms

Part of the "Traditional Japanese Garden"

A pathway in the Garden

A pond

Next, we headed to the Imperial Palace.  I knew that you were not able to actually get into the Palace, but was surprised at the inability to get very close to it at all.  Also, we thought there were gardens that you could walk around, but we did not find them either.  We walked around the outside of the grounds of the palace for 4 kilometers (we know this because there were markings telling us how far we had walked), but did not see anything of particular note after the first half kilometer or so.

For lunch we headed to the Tsukiji Fish Market, which is the biggest fish and seafood market in the world.  We ate some very fresh fish (in my case in the form of sushi) at a restaurant in the fish market.  The proprietorof the establishment was particularly fond of Nick and his ability to speak Japanese, and we got some free food because of it (tuna and squid).

Some funny rules for the Market

A fountain soda vending machine that I was impressed with

After lunch, we headed to Ueno Park and the Tokyo National Museum.  The Museum had a lot of interesting artifacts from Japan from the onset of civilization in Japan until the 19th Century.

For dinner, we ate yakiniku, which is basically where you get little bits of meat and grill them to your liking at a grill in your table.  We ate several meets including beef, wagyu beef (similar to Kobe style beef), beef tongue, and pork.  It was all very delicious.  Also, during this meal somehow my beverage order was lost in translation and instead of a water I got a Suntory beer.  This was probably the best translation mistake to ever happen though, as I thoroughly enjoyed the beer, and the one that followed it.

Daily Haiku

A lot of walking
Ate some very fresh sushi
Grilled meat aplenty
by Tom

Nara and a brief Kyoto return

April 1, 2012 in Uncategorized by Tom

This morning we headed for Nara via the Shinkansen and the light rail from Kyoto.  We walked about a kilometer and a half to Nara Park, where there are many temples and many sika deer.  We walked through parts of the park (and the many deer) to get to Tōdai-ji, a buddhist temple that is the largest wooden building in the world, and houses the largest Buddha in Japan.  The deer in the park are basically tame, and will walk up to you bowing for food.  The eat deer biscuits, which are for sale in packs for 150 yen a piece.  The deer were getting plenty of food from the kids in the park, so we did not get any food to feed the deer.  We also walked past a few other temples, but eventually headed back to the train after a quick lunch (I had about 15 pieces of sponge cake).

Found in a vending machine: "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot"

"Who ate my biscuits?"

In the Todai-ji Shrine

The Great Buddha

We took the train back to Kyoto and visited Fushimi Inari Shrine, a Shinto Shrine.  This shrine was memorable because of all the torii (basically the gates that have been in most of the pictures so far, except instead of one there are hundreds) lining many of the walkways.  Sponge cake was not filling enough so Nick and I grabbed some taiyaki, which is basically a fish-shaped cake filled with red bean paste.

The Torii on one of the many paths in the Fushimi Inari Shrine

We headed back to Nagoya using my last trip on the Shinkansen.  We ate hitsumabushi for dinner which consisted of steamed eel over rice.  The traditional Nagoya way to eat hitsumabushi is to first eat just the eel and rice, then eat eel and rice with wasabi and green onions, and finally eat the eel and rice with a hot broth and seaweed.  I ate the food the traditional Nagoya way, but Nick ate his just the first way.  Also, I think my favorite way to eat the eel was with the wasabi and green onions.

Daily Haiku

Lots of deer roaming
Biscuits keep them from leaving
Senky would still miss

by Tom

Return to Nagoya

March 31, 2012 in Uncategorized by Tom

Today was a relatively quiet day.  We got up early to catch the Shinkansen back to Nagoya.  We intended to go to Nara in the afternoon, but decided to put that off until tomorrow, do to lots of rain.  We went to a ramen restaurant for lunch, where I enjoyed some noodles with a hard boiled egg and pork.  We then decided to go to the Nagoya Science Museum, but when we got there realized it was a child’s museum, so we did not go in.

Nagoya Science Museum

We then hopped back on the subway and headed for the Ōsu Kannon temple.  This temple was originally built in a different city, but moved to Nagoya in 1612.  It burnt down in the 1820s and was rebuilt in the 1970s.  Also around the temple were many shops, some of which had some reasonably funny stuff for sale (mostly 80′s and 90′s memorabilia).  After walking around all of the shops, we went back to the hotel where I did some laundry.  I’ve tried to dry my clothes in two different dryers so far (wasting about 300 yen in the process), but have so far failed to actually dry my clothes.  Eventually, we went to dinner, where we had a plate full of beef with rice and a salad.

Ōsu Kannon Temple

Ōsu Kannon Temple

Buddha at Ōsu Kannon Temple

Mother of Mercy, I don't speak Japanese!

Daily Haiku

Train ride back to base
Rain makes day a shorter one
My clothes will not dry!
by Tom

Tokyo – Day 2

March 31, 2012 in Uncategorized by Tom

First of all, I apologize for the lack of pictures.  All of the pictures from this day are found on Facebook however, at: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.757351355235.2146141.58400452&type=3&l=a9e47e1550.

This morning (March 29) we left the hotel and headed for the Meiji Shrine. The Meiji Shrine is a shrine to the Emperor Meiji (the first post shogun emperor) and this year they are celebrating the centennial of his demise. While we were at the shrine we saw a wedding processional pass through the shrine.

We headed back for the subway station, but saw a street with a lot of shops directly across the street from it, called Takeshita Street. It looked like there were a lot of people headed that way, so I felt we should go down that street. We saw all sorts of shops, and some of them had some funny t-shirts that I was unable to take a picture of. One of them was a shirt that had Kanji, and English that said Perverted. Not sure who would want that shirt. There was one shirt that took the cake though.  I was not able to take a picture as the shopkeeper was hovering over me, but I was able to whip up the basic design of the shirt using Paint.

After Takeshita Street we headed to Shibuya Crossing, which is like the Times Square of Tokyo. At the square I got a photo of the Hachiko statue, the famous Akita dog that was eternally loyal to its owner. After Shibuya we headed to Akihabara.

Akihabara seemed to be the location that I’ve been to in Japan that is the most weird. First of all we ate at a maid café. A maid café is basically a restaurant where the waitresses dress up like maids. Nick gave me the option of going to a normal maid café or a weird one. To me this meant, do I want to go to a weird one, or an extremely weird one. Naturally, I choose the extremely weird one. I don’t speak Japanese, so that made it a little hard to understand everything that was going on, but I can take away several things that did occur. First of all they gave us a list of don’t rules, which basically insisted that we not stalk or proposition the waitresses, and that we not take any pictures, except of our food. Doing so would be cause for immediate ejection from “FantasyLand.” Next they brought out our drinks, and gave performed some strange chant to make the drinks taste better. Someone at another table paid 1200 yen (I think) to have the one maid get up and sing everyone a song, which basically had all the maids involved at one point or another. The maids also brought out two tambourines for Nick and I to play for some reason. Then they brought us a book with all of the names of the maids, a picture them each, a list of their favorite things to do, and their birth dates (with their age listed). I am pretty certain that all of this was made up, because literally everyone had their age listed as 17, except for 3 (which had 1, 222, and ?). One of the maids then brought us our food, which consisted of a rice omelet basically. For some reason the maid drew a bunny on my omelet in ketchup (again, I don’t speak Japanese). Eventually, Nick played Jenga with one of the maids and won, which earned him a picture of one of the maids. At the end of the meal, we got to get our picture taken with a maid of our choice (Nick and I choose different maids, go figure), and we got to pick out a picture from a book of maids to take home with us (I choose the picture I did, because it seemed like one of only 3 in the book that would not give me any problems ever).

Akihabara continued to have more weird things as we went to other locations. One of the stores had several body pillows, which Andy had suggested I look in to. Of all the ones that I saw, I was hesitant to take any photos, let alone buy them, because they were all younger anime characters (I told you this was weird). Nick and I also went to an arcade type place, where we tried to win prizes using a strange claw machine, and also played some House of the Dead.

Eventually we went to Tokyo Tower, and took many photos that are found on Facebook. For dinner we took a break from the Japanese food and went all American. We had Big America burgers, with fries, Cokes , and American Cherry shakes, while watching a baseball game.

Daily Haiku

Akihabara
Has lots of weird things to see
Maid cafes; pillows
by Tom

Tokyo Day 1

March 28, 2012 in Uncategorized by Tom

This morning we left Nagoya and took the Shinkansen to Tokyo.  In Tokyo we headed on the light rail to Shinjuku, where we grabbed lunch.  For lunch I had another fried pork cutlet (I can’t remember it’s actual name, with two chicken and onion sticks.  It came with cabbage, a bowl of rice, and a bowl of miso soup (with a surprise of 5 clams in it).

My Lunch in Tokyo

After lunch, we checked in at our hotel in Tokyo (the Tokyo Hilton).  This hotel is much nicer then our hotel in Nagoya, and much bigger as well.

A view of the 6th floor tennis courts at our hotel

Our hotel room from the entrance

Desk and TV

After checking in, we took the subway for about an hour to the Senso-ji Temple.  The Senso-ji Temple was crowded, although apparently not overly crowded, as it had just begun to rain.  Leading up to the temple are many shops with lots of things and food to sell.  Once we got to the actual temple we got our fortunes from the temple.  I got a “Regular Fortune” (good, but not great), but Nick received the “Best Fortune.”  After seeing the temple, we walked around the various shops before heading back to our hotel via the subway.

The Senso-Ji Temple

The Senso-ji Temple

Two Buddhas at Senso-ji Temple

Big Sandle at Senso-ji Temple

At our hotel we watched some TV, including a Japanese game show that involved kids playing dodgeball against the “King of Dodgeball”, and then for some reason ending that show with a dance contest.  We then watched part of the Mariners-A’s opening MLB game that is happening here in Tokyo.

Eventually we went for dinner, but just ate at the hotel restaurant.  I had tonkatsu again (Pork over rice, this time with an egg), which also came with miso soup.

Daily Haiku

Daily Shinkansen
Most luxurious hotel
First hit: Ichiro!

Daily Tebowing

Tebowing in Japanese robe given by hotel


by Tom

Osaka and Kobe

March 27, 2012 in Uncategorized by Tom

Yesterday morning we headed to the train station and took the Shinkansen to Osaka, Japan’s third largest city (about the size of Chicago,  Nagoya is 4th, which is about the size of Houston, and Kyoto is 7th, about the size of Phoenix).  The train ride took about 15 minutes longer then the train to Kyoto (which was the next to last stop before Osaka).  In Osaka we hopped several light rail trains, before arriving at Osaka-jo.  Osaka-jo is a large castle that is one story higher then the one we saw a few days ago in Nagoya.  The castle is high on a hill and is surrounded by an outer and inner moat.  The castle itself is then on top of about two floors worth of rocks.  I felt that it would be very hard to attack this castle, especially compared to the one in Nagoya.  Inside the castle were some artifacts from the castle.  Unfortunately, the only floors that had anything worth taking pictures of did not allow photography.

Osaka-jo

View of Osaka, from the castle

After the castle, we took a couple more light rails, for about an hour, to get to Kobe for lunch.  We ate lunch at Bistro Kobe Brand where we had Kobe style beef.  The beef itself was very good, and melted in your mouth.  The meal came with a couple of salad, a soup that I’m not sure what it was, bread (with a butter blend, that didn’t taste like butter, but was very good), steak fries, carrots, and broccoli.  The lunch set also came with a dessert, which was Kobe Pudding.  The Kobe Pudding was basically an egg custard, with a delicious maple-like syrup on top.

Kobe beef in Kobe

After our big lunch we headed back to Osaka via the light rail.  We headed for the Osaka Aquarium which was a couple of subway stops away.

A Giant Tortoise with his reflection

A Blue Fish, with a dumb looking face

Crab People

A jellyfish (Chrysaora melanaster) found in Japan. From the sign: "If you touch the tentacles, you will hurt."

After the aquarium, we headed back for the Shinsanken station in Osaka.  At the station Nick purchased us some Takoyaki, which is all over Japan, but originally from Osaka.  I ate four of these octopus balls on the train back to Nagoya.  The train was much quicker then the one we took in the morning, because the train makes less stops at night.

Daily Haiku

Tired, no post tonight
Went to Osaka, Kobe
Melt in your mouth beef

by Tom

Kyoto

March 26, 2012 in Uncategorized by Tom

Today we left the hotel around 9 AM, and got some breakfast at the train station.  After breakfast, we headed to Kyoto.  We used the Shinkansen (or bullet train) to get to Kyoto.  The Shinkansen had seats that were bigger then airplane seats, and had a snack cart.  It also took us through some of Japan’s countryside, which was nice to see.  We arrived in Kyoto (where it was snowing), and took the subway to Kitaoji Station where walked about a half of a mile to Imamiya Shrine (which we thought was a completely different shrine until tonight).  This shrine is a Shinto shrine that was originally built in 1001, though most of the current buildings are much newer then that.

Imamiya Shrine's main gate

Imamiya Shrine

Imamiya Shrine

After the Imamiya Shrine we walked back to Kitaoji Station where we had lunch at a restaurant called Hiro Hamburg and Salad.  I had a Japanese version of a hamburger (made from pork and beef), which came with a side of 4 small steak fries, bean sprouts, corn, and rice.  We then hopped on a bus to get to Kinkaku-Ji (Golden Pavilion).  I enjoyed the Imamiya Shrine more, just because it seemed more real, and less touristy then the Golden Pavilion.

The Golden Pavilion

After the Golden Pavilion, we hopped back on a bus back to Kyoto Station.  Kyoto Station is a nice architectural site that was built in the 90s, and looks rather futuristic.  I took many photos, but I didn’t feel that many of them turned out very good, so I only have a few here.

From the skywalk of Kyoto Station

Kyoto Tower

Kyoto

After walking around the station, we headed back to Nagoya on the Shinkansen.

Japanese countryside (taken from Shinkansen)

After a brief stop at the hotel, we headed back out on the subway to Sakae, for dinner at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant.  This type of restaurant literally has a conveyor belt running around the restaurant, with plates of sushi that you take as you please.  I had the following types of sushi: otoro (fatty tuna), shrimp tempura, fatty salmon, tuna, crab salad, and scallop.  The had all sorts of sushi, including many combinations I wouldn’t expect to see in the US, such as roast beef.

Jumbo Weiner sushi

Finally, on the way back to the hotel we stopped in the electronics store near our hotel.  We went up to the 6th floor “crazy” bookstore.  Up there we saw a lot of strange things (although I think most of them were from America or Europe) such as this long lost friend:

In many ways Big Boy never left.

Daily Haiku

Snowfall in Kyoto
Eleven floor train station
Many kinds of sushi
Not really daily Tebowing

Reary?

by Tom

Nagoya Castle and A Bunch of Food

March 25, 2012 in Uncategorized by Tom

Today we decided to head to Nagoya Castle which is several subway stops away from our stop.  On the way to the subway station we stopped and had some breakfast at a Japanese Denny’s.  I had a sunny-side up egg served over cabbage with bacon (which is slightly different from our bacon), rice, miso soup, and nattō (fermented soy beans).  I had learned about nattō previously and wanted to try them.  I think that I might have said that I liked them if they were served warm, but apparently they are not.

Japanese Denny's

Nattō

After breakfast we took the subway to Nagoya Castle.  The castle was interesting to see, and there were a lot of historical artifacts on the 7 floors of it.  After leaving the castle we walked around the castle grounds for a bit, and then walked around the outside of the grounds (which seemed like a mile or two).

Statue guarding Nagoya Castle

Nagoya Castle

Samurai Gear

A wood cut explaining Nagoya Castle that I thought looked like a comic book.

Eventually we headed back to Sakae (which is halfway between Nagoya Castle and our stop) for some lunch.  We walked between different shopping centers, they seemed kind of like vertical malls to me, to find a good restaurant to eat at.  We finally settled on a place that had tempura kishimen (various fried vegetables and shrimp, served with a bowl of noodles).  We stopped at a very large electronics store on the way back to our station.

We met up with Nick’s friend this afternoon and went to dinner with her at a place very near our hotel.  She ordered us a ridiculous amount of food.  First they brought out deep fried tofu, which was pretty good.  Next they brought out a salad with a raw egg on top, a sashimi platter (pieces of various shellfish, salmon, and other fish), a bowl of deep fried chicken cartilage, and a bowl of octopus.  I was not a fan of the octopus, although the chicken cartilage was alright but chewy.  Next they brought out a chicken platter, which had chicken prepared in different ways on sticks.  The chicken platter also had bacon wrapped cream cheese, which was delicious, even if it wasn’t chicken.  Next we got a plate of tuna nigiri which was very good.  Finally they brought out a big fish for us to eat, which tasted very much like trout.  After dinner we hung out with Nick’s friend for a while at the restaurant.

Finally, I did try to film a video of my bathroom tonight, but I was unable to get some of the buttons to operate without sitting on them.  I will try to refilm on another night.

Daily Haiku

Nattō, octopus
Very chilly but less rain
Tomorrow Kyoto


by Tom

Doko ni iru no, Mr. Roboto?

March 24, 2012 in Uncategorized by Tom

This morning Nick and I left the hotel around 7:30 local time.  We headed for the subway station and I noticed that there were a lot more people out on a Saturday morning then there was on a Friday night.  Perhaps there is less sleeping in on weekends here.  We headed for the Sakae district of Nagoya, where we expected to find a robot museum.  On the subway, I asked Nick about the many people that were wearing face masks, like we would be used to seeing a doctor wear.  Apparently, people with colds wear them, so as to keep from getting other people sick.  Once we got to Sakae we walked around and saw some of that area.  I used a Japanese vending machine for the first time, but have yet to find a machine worth taking a picture of.  I did see a ferris wheel attached to a building for some reason though.

A ferris wheel attached to a building in Sakae

We looked at several maps, walked around the district for some time, and still found no robot museum.  We decided to go back to the subway station to the information desk (which was not open earlier).  It turns out that the information desk was not opening until 10.  Fortunately the station is connected to several underground places (malls and other types of stations such as bus and railway).  We walked around the mall portion, where the general theme seemed to be that most things opened at 10, despite everyone having been up hours earlier.  There were a few places open, but almost all served breakfast.  We passed such eateries as Beard Papa and Fruit! Plus +, as well as a McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Baskin Robbins.  We grabbed a bite at Starbucks, where they have the same sizes that we have in America with the addition of the Short size.

Eventually the information desk opened, and we went inside to ask about the robot museum.  Nick spoke to the woman in Japanese, and although I couldn’t understand what she said, I could tell by her reaction that such a place did not exist.  Nick said that she told him it had closed down 4 years ago.  At this point we headed to a art museum that was nearby, the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art.  The museum was actually on the 10th floor of the building called the Aichi Arts Center.  Outside of the art museum I noticed that they had locks to keep your umbrella safe.  There were hundreds of locks for umbrellas and lots of umbrellas that were locked up.  I found it strange that umbrellas would be so necessary to lock up, after having passed a location with hundreds of bicycles not locked up.  Before we went into the museum I was able to take these photos of Sakae from the 10th floor of the Arts Center.

Sakae station

Sakae

The art museum featured artists from many countries, but there was a lot specific to Japan as well.  There was a lot of wood cuts made by Japanese artists that were quite good.  There was also a statue of a naked man that was painted blue.  I very much wanted to take a picture of this,  having recently watched Arrested Development, but my attempts were thwarted by museum officials.  After the museum we took the subway back to the Nagoya station where we decided to grab some lunch.  We ate at a Yabaton, which is easily found in Nagoya by looking for the pig in the apron.  Our seats came with knee rests, which was a basically a piece of wood that, to me, seemed very inconveniently placed.  We ate miso katsu (pork cutlet with miso sauce), which is a Nagoya specialty.  After lunch we headed back for an afternoon nap and some Japanese TV watching.

I have not watched too much Japanese TV yet, but I have found it weird that a lot of the shows show people’s reactions to what is going on in the actual show on the corner of the screen.  Flipping through the channels I have seen the reaction of one person, but occasionally I have seen them show the reactions of two people.  However, I stumbled across a show today showing the reactions of 8 people.

TV show with reactions of 8 people. Also why does the guy in the upper right corner have a crown?

We both slept for quite some time and eventually woke up in time to get dinner.  We headed back to Nagoya station, which also has at least 30 restaurants or so at it.  We looked at all the restaurants (they have pictures, so I could kind of tell what some of them had) before deciding on the restaurant we wanted to eat at.  I apologize, but the restaurant’s name was only in Kanji, and so I have no idea what the name of it is.  Nick ordered, and I think what we had was miso chicken and udon.  I thought it was basically like a miso soup with chicken, a raw egg that ends up being cooked somehow, and fish meatballs (which I thought were apples until Nick told me otherwise, I remain skeptical).  After walking around Nagoya for a bit we retired for the evening.

Daily Haiku

Spring in Nagoya
Lots of pork, still no sushi
Robots are long gone
by Tom

The Long Flight

March 23, 2012 in Uncategorized by Tom

The flight to Japan was very long.  They served a meal almost immediately after I flight took off, at which point I wasn’t particularly hungry.  I passed on the meal, which turned out to be my mistake, as it was a while before there were any additional foods to eat.  Unfortunately they turned down all the lights and closed the blinds prior to the ending of the first movie, which made it very difficult to read.  There were virtually no lights on, and no one seemed to have anything bright running, so I did not use my laptop to watch decent movies.  Meanwhile, on the projector screen (no seat tv’s on this flight) they showed 4 movies: Tower Heist (didn’t watch), The Big Year (a movie with Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Luke Wilson which you’ve probably never heard of),  In Time (better then I would have thought, but still not good), and Something Borrowed (not my type of movie).  After these movies they showed us several TV shows…twice.  Eventually, we finally got to Japan.

We got to Nagoya, made it through customs and immigration and got on a train to get to our hotel.  The train ride into the city took about an hour, and this was after the 13 hour flight.  We arrived to a rain-soaked city, where Nick and I were the only ones without a jacket and umbrella.  We checked into the Chisun Inn Nagoya which reminds me a lot of the Towers at Pitt.  My sleep deprived brain can’t explain the similarities, but it is built the same.

The room as it appears from the door.

The room from the other direction.

My restroom, a later post will discuss the crazy toilet in further detail.

After checking in we headed to CocoIchi for curry.  What I had was essentially a pork cutlet curry with a spiciness level of 3 (scale is 1-10, 3 was doable but pretty hot if you’re thinking of how that scale would work in America).  After that, we headed back where we planned what we are doing tomorrow.  Honestly, I don’t really remember what we discussed (pretty tired), there was talk of some castle and a robot museum.  I watched some tv, but I didn’t see anything ridiculous on yet.

Well that is about all that happened today, I’m going to go sleep for the next 18 hours now.

Today’s Haiku

Cramped room at the inn.
Finally used month’s old yen.
Tommy need sleepy.
Daily Japanese Tebowing
In honor of the Jets latest player, I plan to have a Tebowing picture each day (I could get tired of this real fast, but we’ll see).