Day Five: Hakone

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I woke up yesterday around 4am and took two hours to write my blog post then went for a hot tub dip before starting my day. That naturally resulted in my falling asleep immediately after dinner around 840pm. A very long day! We started with our hotel’s Japanese style breakfast, which I was not a huge fan of. I would’ve preferred cute donuts but oh well. Then we took a little too long getting out of the hotel as we were trying to figure out our route, which ended up being very easy because our hotel could shuttle us to the nearest train stop rather than us trying to walk on a narrow, winding mountain street.

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First: Take the cable car

The point of Hakone, I feel, is to ride several different modes of transportation,  all to end up taking a bus back to your hotel. Thankfully being in Japan, all these modes of transportation run seamlessly and only because of this were we able to see everything (in America,  I think we would’ve up ended stranded with no way to get home along the middle of the trip)

First we got on the Hakone Tozan Cable Car and rode one stop to see the Hakone Open Air Museum, which is a large, mostly outdoor modern art museum. This is the kind of stuff Robyn likes that I normally hate but am ok with if she’s with me. Lots of random art pieces.

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Hakone Open Air Museum

It had snowed here a few days ago but luckily wasn’t too cold after I put on two layers of jackets.

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Why don’t these modern art pieces ever have descriptions with them?

The museum included a free foot bath where you could just soak your feet in hot springs water,  which is ingenious! I couldn’t imagine ever doing this in America as I’m sure it would end up becoming disgusting, but it was very cool here.

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My favorite thing was a tower with stained glass.  I almost didn’t walk up it because it looked very boring from the outside. There was also a decent sized, permanent Picasso exhibit that had several pottery pieces, sketches, and other mediums. Sometimes with his drawings and sketches,  I just picture a crazy child drawing the same thing and people thinking it’s hideous but with Picasso it’s ~amazing~

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Tower to look out from above

By the time we finished, we were getting hungry but there’s not too much near the museum. Hakone seems very tourist run. We took the cable car to Gora Park, and I asked a nice old Japanese woman where there would be restaurants,  and then we started walking up a hill toward the Gora park entrance. Right outside we found a Japanese restaurant we both liked. It had a very cozy,  super clean interior.  Robyn got a katsu don which she’d never had before and I got an oyako don which I pretty much eat every other Friday with my coworkers in Los Gatos. Priced at ¥1300, even though I suspect that is expensive for Japan,  that’s cheaper than America after including tip and tax and it was delicious!!!

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Eating a quick snack at the Gora Park cable car station

Then we went through Gora Park, which was pretty and tranquil even though it’s winter and not as much in bloom. Normally I think they are famous for hydrangeas, but again, not much was out.

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Then we walked over to the funicular stop. Here we realized that literally everything, shops and modes of transportation, would stop running around 500pm and it was already 300pm!!! We were about 1/3 done with our journey at that point. We got on the funicular, which goes up and down the mountainside and only goes one direction at a time. Then we got off and transferred onto the Hakone Ropeway aka gondola.  The gondola has I think three stops but everyone gets out at the first, Owakudani, which is a crater left from a volcanic eruption and there’s steam vents everywhere.  I’m bummed I didn’t get great pictures in the gondola,  even though the windows probably would’ve made them less crisp anyway.

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Robyn really wanted to eat one of the famous black eggs here, and when we got out the gondola, the shop was open. However, in the three minutes she stood outside taking pictures, they closed shop !!! It was only 346pm so that was frustrating.  I distinctly remember all these times because we had to catch the last ship at 420pm!!!!!! And we still had two gondola stops to go!!! Timing was CRITICAL!!!!!! While walking through the line to get back on the gondola, Robyn spotted a statue of a black egg and made the decision to run down, get a picture with it, and risk missing our ship! It was a decent substitute for a black egg I guess (they’re black because of the sulfur in the water)

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Riding the Hakone Ropeway aka Gondola with Lake Ashi in the background

Back onto the gondola, where we then got to the last stop which drops us right at the last mode of fun transportation, pirate ships to take us around lake Ashi! The ships make two stops but the first has the most to see (views of Mt Fiji which were already obscured, shrines and a cedar grove we didn’t go to), and from there you can take a bus back to the hotel, which is what we did.

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Our sunset cruise

The port we got off was Moto Hakone and there were several grand looking buildings clearly for tourists. Tons of coffee shops. We walked to the Hakone shrine and even though it was dark, the path was lit with lantern lights so it was cool.

Walked back, went to a 7/11 while waiting for our bus, got home, went in hot tub,  napped, got up, ate dinner, fell asleep, woke up, went in hot tub and went to sleep for real at 1030pm!

Dinner was hot pot, soba, and four other appetizer plates including the best sashimi I’ve had this far on the trip. YUM. This was one of my favorite meals because we could just take our time with it. And maybe because I bookended our meal with naps and hot tubbing.

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Day Four: Ginza, Hakone

Ok I had completely forgotten about my intent to blog every day until yesterday. Like, not even “oh I’m too tired to blog” but a “OH I forgot about this platform!”

It’s 5am in Japan right now so sure, ok time to blog! I have been waking up every morning around 330am Japan time aka 1030am CA time, but normally I’m able to fall back asleep (after checking all of the social media activity in the darkness of night).  We’re staying at a hot springs hotel in Hakone where our room has our own private hot springs tub fed by the running brook next to us. Maybe it’s supposed to be a quiet bumbling brook but as it’s fall and it just recently snowed here, I think it’s become a very loud river.

We are provided breakfast and dinner at this place. Last night, our first dinner here was an eight course meal including a giant vegetable platter where we dipped raw tomatoes, leaves, root vegetables (aka radishes, potatoes, carrots) into an anchovy and olive oil sauce.  Also had some grilled sablefish, snapper carpaccio, a delicious beef thing and more! We have one Japanese style breakfast at 830, another Japanese style dinner then a western style breakfast when we check out.

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We are also given these robes to wear around the hotel

I’ve already taken a sit in our private hot springs tub which felt fantastic after several days of Tokyo exploration. I’m normally not a hot tub kind of person.  I’m sure people know in Japan you must be naked for hot springs. I kind of want to go into our hotel’s public one to see what it’s like, but then probably leave immediately and run back to the comfort of sitting in my own private hot tub.

Our fourth day started with our Tokyo hotel’s free breakfast which I have loved going to and will miss dearly. We get toast , paninis, fresh vegetable and fruit smoothies,  and some pastries. Oh and a matcha latte from the coffee machine which is delicious!!! For our last morning in Tokyo before heading to Hakone, we had a lighter meal and then went to the Tsujiki Fish Market. I had not researched it at all, other than knowing that 1) people go very early to see it in its full fishy glory aka 5 or 6am, and 2) we were not going to wake up that early. I think if I traveled alone or with my mom I would have made it, but I don’t feel like I missed out on that much. Because according to the site I read, you have to get there early enough to be the first 120 people to get in, and after that you’re only allowed to stand in a designated viewing area. It makes sense since it is a serious place of business, but I imagine I’d have difficulty getting a good shot, being timid and not having a professional camera.

So instead we went to Tsujiki around 845am and walked there from our hotel which was a fifteen minute walk. This fish market is probably the closest major tourist attraction from our hotel. It’s within a business area (or maybe all hotels in central Tokyo are considered to be with in a business area) and there were tons of people walking to work. I stuck out because this was the day I decided to wear my bright yellow Uniqlo jacket and literally everyone was wearing black or navy blue. I’m bummed now that I didn’t get a picture of myself with the crowd, a little yellow thing in a sea of business people.

My thoughts on the fish market: I love walking around food markets so it was a lot of fun.  I wonder how crowded it would have been at 6am. I always presume for every major attraction, that every tourist wants to be the first ones there,  and when I arrive bright and early,  I’m always surprised to find people prefer to wake up at a normal hour and have relaxing vacations. There were definitely some cool food stalls with food I’ve never seen, Robyn got a 1000¥ grilled scallop with sea urchin,  which is about $10. But many of the things, I thought, I am pretty sure I could find that in 99 ranch and if not, Mitsuwa definitely. I am pretty sure I had read somewhere that the sushi here is a tourist trap and not the greatest quality, even though they’re a stone’s throw from the wholesale area. We sat in a stall and shared a sushi rice bowl, and, while the sushi was at least better quality than what we had at the Robot Restaurant which tasted like airport quality,  it definitely wasn’t anything stellar. The market was crowded but not terribly so.

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Tsujiki Fish Market

Then we went back to the hotel, had some time to relax and packed our things.

Side note: This new phone of mine is killing me! It does not auto capitalize my first words of sentences even though that option is ON. And it does not space correctly!!! ARGHHHHHHH It also doesn’t auto predict that well. It ALSO doesn’t capitalize i and that annoys me. i should just wow a sentence wiring ecru singing ira woes from what i meant. (I should just write a sentence without ever changing its words from what I meant)

I don’t think anyone in Japan uses Samsung phones because none of the cases for sale are Samsung, they are alllll for iPhones!

Ok I still have half a day to blog about!!!!!!!

We checked out, left our luggage with them, then went to walk around Ginza. Ginza was described to us as the Rodeo Drive of Tokyo but it really just seems like a giant sprawling shopping area with nice dessert shops nearby. We first went to Hakuhinkan, a giant 8 floor toy store first established in 1899. Robyn found a 1000 piece puzzle of a Sanrio egg character she’s seen and taken a liking to. (Note from the future: it remains half completed six months later on her dining table).

We continued walk to Itoya, a nine floor stationary store. Though there is another building with the name Itoya adjacent to it with seemingly just as many floors that was never mentioned in the tourist book description. I came close to buying nice notepads but I’m glad I didn’t because I do love writing in free notepads with company logos on them. Key word, free.

We went back to the hotel, got our luggage then off we went around 345pm to Hakone via our JR pass.

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View from the Tokyo Park Hotel lobby

My JR Pass side story:
The JR pass is only for visitors of Japan and it allows you to take the JR trains for free, unlimited usage,  for 7, 14 or maybe 21 days.  I forget the options,  I just know I have the 7 day pass. It is pricey, a $250 pass per person,  but would save about $100 with our itinerary. You would only want it if you travel between different cities, as it does not cover local lines in cities. Though there is a JR line, Yamanote, that does a circle around Tokyo, you could purchase a one day pass rather than having a JR pass to use this line.

You must buy this pass outside Japan and they will mail it to your address. This is generally very unlike me, but when I received the passes months ago, I put them aside on my kitchen counter and never even looked at them. I had ordered a free JR train book along with the passes, and I had read through that one day, but otherwise I never even looked at the vouchers. This was a huge mistake, because I never thought about the vouchers and off I went to the airport without them.

I didn’t realize this until we were sitting in the Vancouver airport on our layover and I looked at the JR train book and loudly gasped and went “OH NO.” Robyn immediately guessed what had happened. Luckily I had discovered this in the Vancouver airport and we still had two hours before boarding, and I had time to email customer support ask them what to do, and per their advice, order another one that would be mailed to our Tokyo hotel.

The question was whether it would arrive before we had to depart for Hakone and specifically, arrive in time for us to leave Tokyo and arrive at our Hakone hotel before the 7pm cutoff time in order to eat dinner.  To cut to the end of the story, we MADE IT!!! But it was incredibly stressful the entire day and involved a ton of confusion and I had written a giant paragraph describing all the things that went wrong that I will now delete because who needs to relive that.

A learning point was that I was very wary of taking the bus in Japan because, as an American, I have associated buses with lateness and confusion. Surprisingly, the bus we took was was clean, not crowded, and displayed the next station stop on a giant electronic screen in both English and Japanese. So, a complete 180 from the American bus system in that it made sense and made an effort to help its travelers.

Ok I’ve been standing trying to finish this post before going into the hot tub for a 630am soak. That’s all!!!!

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The view from our Hakone hotel room

Day three: Akihabara and Asakusa

Ok this is nine months late (I could’ve had a baby by now!) but I have always had on my to do list “write day 3 of Japan trip” and I suppose TONIGHT IS THE NIGHT (8/8/17). I have close to no memory of this day anymore, so I only have my pictures to go by. Bear with me (after this, the next thing on my list is to recap a trip I did May 2016!!!)

We started the day with our classic hotel breakfast which I still remember very fondly. It had great toast, fresh smoothies to order and an amazing green tea latte maker that I wish I owned. I loved that hotel breakfast but was prevented from fully stuffing myself due to my shame of being a fat American.

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mmm that green tea latte!!!

Then we headed out for our day in Tokyo, where we decided to hit up the neighborhoods of Akihabara and Asakusa. Akihabara is marketed as the electronics and anime section of Tokyo, which of course was Robyn’s pick. Looking back, I do think all the tour guides hint at this, but it’s definitely not at the cutting edge of technology anymore. In general, Japan just seems like it was at the forefront of technology from the late 80s and then decided there was no need to progress. The electronics stores seemed like they were taken out of a flea market in the US. I think I’ve read somewhere that Japan has the largest number of fax machines still in use. Anyway, we walked around this random little area and mainly headed to a tall, black eight story building called the Madarake dedicated to anime stuff.

I must reiterate that I had zero interest in anime stuff so this was the most interesting picture I took, because I found it so hilariously creepy.

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a blank canvas for your dress up imagination

From here, we then explored a store called Don Quijote pretty thoroughly. I had basically been hoping for a Target-like store but had given up hope in finding one near our hotel, which seemed too business park-y to have stores like that. Well lo and behold, there was a huge Don Quijote right in Akihabara! So I convinced Robyn to go here, and I probably could’ve spent another hour here, exploring the snacks and the little dollar section. As it was, I vaguely remember testing Robyn’s patience with the amount of time I spent in the store. Most importantly, we bought a variety of Kit Kat bags here.

From here, we were super hungry and got a few snacks in the store (I remember a flan and maybe a sushi thing) and then got coffees from Peets and just sat out in a plaza. Then we walked to the subway and headed to the next stop, Asakusa, which was once known as Tokyo’s red light district and is now popular for a temple and the shopping street, Nakamise.

I have to say this was one of my favorite neighborhoods that we visted because it felt much more historical and unique. The other shopping areas are huge in scale, but just has the feel of most cosmopolitan shopping areas. Asakusa had tonsssss of souvenir stalls that still had some feel of authenticity to it. I could’ve bought SOOOO many souvenirs here if I had a larger luggage! I remember buying postcards, mixed nuts (SO GOOD!) and some dessert to munch on while walking around. It was a little rainy while walking around still fun! You are pressed in around a ton of Chinese tourists though.

We got an early lunch at some point at a famous udon place here. All I can say is … I still don’t understand what’s so great about udon.

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The sun set and we decided to head back to our hotel for a quick rest before heading out to our reservations at the Robot Restaurant. This was also Robyn’s pick – it’s on a ton of Japan tourbook to do’s and is SOOO touristy. I had zero expectations for it and will just say it felt like someone had the idea of putting a parade into a tiny room. Robyn had purchased the sushi dinner with our show, thinking this was required, but it turned out we were like one of three people to buy the dinner here. It was pretty expensive and had the quality of airplane sushi, I have to admit. It was still a fun show, though I can’t say that I want to do it again.

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The plus side is that it was located in Shinjuku, a major nightlife area, and it put us near the red light district (haha) and we ended up just wandering the streets afterward and my favorite, walking through Golden Gai, which is a area made up of alleyways of bars. Most basr probably only seat only like six people (and that’s pushing it). It is a really cool area to walk through, especially when it was slightly drizzling as it was that night. It felt like a place that was somehow protected from decades of bulldozing and rebuilding.

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a sample alley

At some point in the night, we also did all you can eat sushi. I wish I had room for more Yakitori Alley, but I think we just walked through it, but didn’t stop to eat. I also attempted to find late night shopping areas, but just ended up pretty lost and realized that there weren’t very many stores open. Headed back to the hotel SUPER late. Oh, I miss that hotel! It was such a comfy stay. BUT WITH THAT, I’ve finally fully completed my Japan trip recap!

To end, one of the most memorable things about our Tokyo hotel was that it was located near this HUGEEEE outdoor clock. It does really elaborate “shows” with the mechanical parts AND a cool soundtrack on the hour and I’m super bummed that we were only able to see part of one show and were in a rush and weren’t able to capture it on camera. It’s called the Studio Ghibli clock in Shiodome though, if you wanted to see it in action on Youtube.

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Day Two: Tokyo, Harajuku

 

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Hoot hoot

So I’m almost six months late to the day, but I’m going to attempt to write blog posts for the second and third days in Japan. I failed to do this on the trip because I kept putting it off, and now here we are in May. I also have on my list of to dos to write blog entries for my Oregon Coast Trip … which actually did take place in May … 2015. WE SHALL SEE!!!

Another thing I’ve tried to do was repost my blogs with more appropriately sized photos. Apparently they get completely out of whack if I upload photos via my camera phone. I once attempted to repost … ended up deleting all the photos … and am now in process of editing those November entries with new photos.

For the second day in Tokyo, our first full day in Japan, we went to Harajuku, Shinjuku, then Yakitori Alley. I happen to have a cousin living here in Tokyo, and I felt like it’d be super rude if I didn’t attempt to meet up with her. I did fly across the globe after all. My mom had first suggested it, but later, she seemed to express genuine surprise that I actually met up with my cousin. I guess my cousin and I are both known to be the quietest two on my mom’s side of the family, so everyone (including my cousin’s mom) thought it was insane that we’d have anything to talk about.

I had not seen this cousin for years. Robyn asked me what my cousin’s name was and I went, um … I’m not sure… I mean I know what her Chinese name is, but I wasn’t sure what her chosen English name was. I told Robyn, I’m pretty sure we’ve exchanged e-mails before and that her name is Miriam. I asked my mom and she went “who is Miriam? I’ve never heard of that name. Her name is Mei.”

By the way: Mei, in Chinese, is short for sister. I said to my mom “are you sure her English name is Mei? That’s not just a nickname?” My mom said, it’s Mei! I told Robyn, “I thought her name is Miriam. Maybe it’s Mei. I don’t know. We can ask when we meet her.”

Robyn also asked, does she speak English? I said, um I don’t think so… you don’t have to talk very much, don’t worry.

It turned out completely fine! Actually quite fun! We ended up hanging out for at least four hours which shocked my mom when I told her. We met at Harajuku station. Before leaving our hotel’s wifi, I sent her a picture of me and Robyn … she didn’t send one back. I also sent her a text  “I won’t have internet so I hope you can find us!” I told myself I probably could identify her, someone I hadn’t seen in years, in a crowd of Asians. Amazingly, we stepped out of the Harajuku station, headed to the Gap as instructed, which was right across the station, and after a minute of thinking “this was probably not enough preparation,” I found her!

Side note, I know there is this perception that wifi is available everywhere in Japan for free, but I don’t think this is true. Otherwise maybe I was just too lazy to figure it out. In certain areas, yes, it’s free like a few metro stations, but we are constantly on the move and it didn’t seem like there was internet in the subways either (just at the subway station). I lived my vacation as though I essentially had no access to internet outside of hotels.

She walked us through Omotesando, the major street in Harajuku. The main stores I remember stepping into were B-Side, a sticker store that was incredibly crowded and seemed like the latest trend in Japan, and a watch store, where Robyn seriously contemplated buying a watch that looked like it was made in the 80s and had a calculator on it. My cousin approved. Another store was the Line store, literally, a store with merchandise from all the Line characters (a messaging app primarily used in Taiwan and is MY preferred messaging app). We asked her whether or not to go to an owl cafe (she said we should find a hedgehog cafe instead, but wasn’t able to remember where she had gone). We compared the cost of living in Tokyo vs. Bay Area (she gets paid far less in money, but I spend a much higher percentage of my income on my mortgage). I also asked what the latest food trend in Japan was, because I suspect anything in Japan will make its way to America a year later. She said pancakes. I clarified, like for breakfast? She said, no, we can eat pancakes any time! Six months later, I can’t say pancakes have made their way over yet.

She also took us to perhaps one of my favorite restaurants we went to in Japan, called Maisen. It’s famous for the tonkatsu. It was a wait, but an efficient line that snaked through the sizable restaurant. There were options with cuts that could be $40+. All three of us chose the $10 cut HAHA I asked if this was embarrassing and she said it wasn’t.

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Tonkatsu. The menu had dozens of types

I eventually asked her whether her English name was Mei. She said “what? no!” I said “is it Miriam?” and once again she said “no! what?!” I then went “WHAT?!?! What’s your English name then?!” and she said “I don’t have an English name!” I insisted that at some point in her life, she had signed off on an e-mail as Miriam and after some thought she said “oh yeah … I guess I did once call myself Miriam … I don’t anymore though.” HA

This was back in the end of November, so she asked us about Trump. I told her that my mom had almost voted for him, only to follow my dad’s idiocy, before my brother and I stopped her. She expressed shock that my mom would have voted for him, and that he was our president.

Robyn really wanted to go into a store called BAPE, where their mascot is a big ape, but the line for the store was out the door! It was a huge line of people in line … and nearly all of them were men. Hilariously they had a separate women’s and baby’s clothing store, and there was not a single person in there. We went in to look around, but they really do cater to men, so Robyn didn’t get anything.

We walked down to a cafe and Robyn got some delicious, never again to be found sesame latte. It was SOOO GOOD, but I’ve never seen this served elsewhere which is a huge bummer. Also, while walking all around Harajuku, we came across the greatest sight of all the trip:

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Just an old Japanese man out to sit in the sun with his stroller of cats

We kept walking and walking from Harajuku all the way to Shibuya, stopping here and there. She said she’d be meeting up with her boyfriend, and we said we’d walk her to the station. Her boyfriend only spoke Japanese, so it was a very quick introduction limited to hellos and smiling, and then he took out of his backpacks some food gifts for us! Which was SO nice and only made me even more embarrassed because I throughout this entire day I had continually apologized for not bringing my cousin a gift from America, which I to this day continue to find very shameful of me. I even said “I was going to bring you wine but my mom said it was unlikely that you’d drink wine” and she went “oh I love wine!” Then I went “I was also going to bring you some coffee grounds from a place in San Francisco, but do you even drink coffee? I assumed you drink tea” and she went “oh, coffee is very popular here now, I love coffee.” MAJOR FAIL.

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My cousin’s gifts: the most delicious powdered sugar cookies and really well packaged seasoned nuts

After this, it is a true blur for me. I don’t know what happened but we ended up walking back to where we started, so we could walk through Omotesando again, this time at night, and go to the owl forest. Which was NOT an owl cafe. We decided we didn’t have time to actually seek out a cafe for the trip, which I’m slightly bummed about, but the forest was just as great in terms of photos with owls, but incredibly disheartening because I felt awful for the owls who were chained to their perches. Most were sleeping, or I imagine, feigning sleep. Although very cute and unique to Japan, I still feel terrible for giving money to this place that is no doubt cruel to these owls. I’m sorry, owls!!!

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This Owl Forest may have been the place we took the most pictures

I have a vague memory that we left the owl forest around 6pm or so. I think we ended up killing time in a cafe so that we could use the internet to research our next move. It was a place called Island Vintage Cafe, which I instantly recognized as a chain that I had frequented before in Hawaii. I didn’t tell Robyn this though, until we were sitting inside, and I think she was a little bummed we weren’t in an independent store. However, I mainly just wanted to be able to sit out from the 2nd level and stare down below.

We decided on heading to Shinjuku for Yakitori Alley aka Piss Alley? Before leaving, we ate my FAVORITE THING EVER here, takoyaki, which is essentially octopus balls. We ate at Gindako, a place that is pretty famous for them, which set a high precedent. Throughout the trip, we’d try other takoyaki to incredibly disappointing results. I wish I could savor that first takoyaki forever.

Yakitori Alley was super cool. In the past, businessmen would come here to eat after working, so it’s a very narrow alley filled with even narrower stalls. In order to get in and get out, it’s likely the entire restaurant has to get out of their seats, hustle out of the restaurant, and allow you to sit on an empty seat. I didn’t realize it until the end of the meal, but many of the stalls even have second stories though I didn’t see any of the stairs. Robyn suspects we got charged the tourist rate, because we were mandated to order drinks and a side of edamame, which we didn’t see on other people’s counters. Oh well. We only ate at one, and I realized that the owner spoke Mandarin. Just a day in a foreign country, and I was like “OMG, KINSHIP, A LANGUAGE I KNOW!”

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Example of a tiny yakitori booth

There are surprisingly bathrooms in the Alley but they are very cramped. Although not technically disgusting, the crampedness of it and the oldness of it made it feel really gross. Actually, maybe it’s just selective memory – it’s possible that the bathrooms were the type you had to squat on. I’m actually now almost positive it was a squatting toilet.

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Shinjuku at night

We ended our day there, back to our glorious hotel. I loved that hotel. The room was actually normal sized. But we paid a lot for it.

Ok I need to add this tiny bit in which is that before we met up with my cousin at the Gap in front of Harajuku Station, Robyn and I got there a bit early and ended up walking around the Meiji Shrine, a nearby temple. It was nice but a bit of it was under construction (for some reason, out of a giant list of temples to go to in Tokyo, the only one we went to was the one Robyn had noted ‘under construction, do not go!’). But there was a wedding taking place, so it was fun to watch the procession. But also we kept getting told to not stand where we were standing because I guess it was sacred temple ground.

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I loved the fullness of these trees at Meiji Shrine

Day One: Tokyo

I’m on the bullet train to Kyoto from Hakone right now. It’s a two hour ride and maybe I’ll fall asleep while writing this back dated post. Our trip is already at its half way point which feels way too soon!!!

Day One was a very very very long travel day. We got up at 3am, I think I had gone to bed at 11pm, and got ready for the airport. Robyn had scheduled an uber to pick us up around 330am, which I had not realized was a feature. As one would expect,  there was zero traffic on the way to the airport and we were at SFO within fifteen minutes. What I failed to realize was that the ticket counters aren’t open 24/7 and the airport was completely dead! It turns out they don’t open until 430am, at least Air Canada doesn’t,  so we spent the next 40min watching a Mainland Chinese man play a video outloud on his phone, do nothing for his daughter when she fell off the chair and onto the floor, and shave himself with a wireless razor while sitting in his chair. So. Weird.

We got our bags checked, and then went through security pretty quickly. After roaming around the few stores that were open, we sat down and fell asleep waiting to board.

Touched down in Vancouver for a FIVE hour layover. Thankfully their Internet is free. To connect to an international flight as a non Canadian resident,  you have to find the most obscure door ever in an airport. An airport employee stopped us and for the longest time, we didn’t believe that she knew what she was talking about. We walked around the airport which was probably interesting for 3 hours (and that’s really stretching it), before we sat down so Robyn could read through her Japan tourist books, which I’d never realized was her habit. I think I’d be insanely stressed if I hadn’t begun my research months before departure.

I had never had Church’s Chicken before but we got a wrap and it was delicious! We also got a burger and poutine fries from A&W but that wasn’t anything special. The only other really interesting thing at the airport is a giant aquarium tank.

Our flight was, I think, ten hours long? I watched Blue Valentine with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling,  Central Intelligence with The Rock and Kevin Hart, and episodes of Jane the Virgin. Nothing mind blowing.

I thought the flight food was decent though I always ordered the wrong thing. Luckily I had Robyn’s food to eat as well. I first ordered the beef dish for dinner and was sad to see Robyn’s chicken dish had rice, which is what I prefer over potatoes. For breakfast I then ordered the beef dish and was really sad to see Robyn’s dish was chicken karaage! I was a little wary of taking Air Canada but I actually liked their plane quite a bit. The flight wasn’t full and we were able to have a row all to ourselves. It was a pretty quiet plane too. From now on I know for international flights I want to sit in the first section before the restrooms and towards the sides of the plane, not the inner middle seats.

Upon arriving in Tokyo at 440pm, we got on the Keisei Skyliner and set off for our hotel. I had initially planned on getting a pass that would include 3 days of using the Tokyo Metro along with the trip to and from Narita airport, but I’m glad we didn’t because we only used that metro company one day,  and the other days we used the JR instead. Tokyo public transit is very reliable and fast, but very confusing because of how many companies there are.

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It was quite expensive but surprisingly roomy for a Japanese hotel room

The hotel was wonderful – Park Hotel Tokyo. Its lobby is on the 25th floor of a news company building. Robyn had gotten an “art studio” room meaning every room on the 31st floor was decorated by a different artist. We looked through a pamphlet of the other rooms and I felt like ours was the cutest! The hotel is closest to Shiodome station, a Toei subway line that we never used, and is about an eight min walk from the Shimbashi JR and Tokyo Metro stations which we used for everything. Our hotel is connected to these stations and many other buildings via an above ground pedestrian walkway which was really nice. I could never remember exactly how to get back to our hotel entrance from the subway but luckily Robyn actually has a sense of direction.

The hotel also provided free breakfast which was delicious. On top of toast and pastries,  we could have paninis and fresh vegetable and fruit smoothies. Their coffee machine also had delicious matcha lattes which I will really miss when we’re back in America. I ate myself full, but I know that I would have eaten FAR more, if it wasn’t SO quiet in there, and there wasn’t an employee manning the smoothie and panini station. I imagine they judge everyone and think to themselves “I bet SHE’S going to be stuff herself, typical American!”

That first night we walked around our hotel area, Ginza, which is a big shopping district. All the stores were closed at that point but there are many good restaurants nearby, the type in SF that would be $$ on yelp and have an hour plus wait but no wait in Tokyo. We ended up going to Ippudo, getting delicious ramen, and then walking back to our hotel. I stopped in a grocery store to get various KitKat flavors, but as I continue to see so many cute sweets being sold, I may save my money for other desserts instead. (Note from the future: it turned out that I never stopped to buy more KitKats toward the end of the trip, so I’m really glad I bought what I did on the first night, and now wish I had bought MUCH MORE).

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Lesson learned: buy your souvenir desserts early and often!

Ok time to nap! One hour left on the bullet train!