Japan 2017 – Day 9 and 10

Day 9: Universal Studios Japan

Imagine if you had a theme park like Universal Studios just a bike ride from your house. That is the situation in Osaka. Universal Studios Japan is 2 train stops away from the Osaka loop line via the Sakurajima line. You know you’ve transferred to the right train (at Nishikujo station) when you encounter a train covered in cartoon characters. Even on a cold February Wednesday morning, the park was packed. It took 30-45 minutes just to get in the park even though we arrived at the entrance during the opening hour. Its smaller than the theme park in Orlando but it’s large enough to take a full day to cover it. And it’s the 15th year anniversary of this theme park! My advice other than getting there early on a weekday is to get a fast pass, otherwise your day will be 50% waiting on a line.

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What separates this theme park from the one in the USA are 2 major things:

 

  • The rides are in Japanese. Elmo and Cookie Monster are speaking Japanese only as Erumo and Kuki Monsuta. Even Harry Potter and the gang have become Japanese. But it doesn’t really matter, a ride is a ride.
  • Universal Cool Japan. It’s a suite of Japan-only rides/attractions that outclass most rides in my opinion. Also, they are anime themed, so extra points right there. The rides for 2017 were Godzilla, Attack on Titan, Evangelion XR, Detective Conan (didn’t do this one), and Monster Hunter. The first 3 are perhaps the best rides I’ve been on period.

 

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Additionally there are the common areas like Harry Potter world, Jurassic world, and such.

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Remember when I said to get a fast pass. Look at these record-breaking wait times!

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After being there for hours and seeing the multitude of young locals in groups and dressed up in park-bought attire, I believe that the theme park is a big after school hang out spot. The 3pm parade was quite impressive, they know how to throw a party.

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You may get hungry by the end of the day. Conveniently placed right outside the park is an avenue full of shops and restaurants. This was our last day in Osaka. As we headed back to our Kyoto hotel, we realized that it was also our last night in Kyoto. Time to pack and get ready to catch that early morning bullet train back to Tokyo.

Day 10: Back to Shinjuku, last day in Tokyo

Finally, a much-needed rest day. After arriving back into the madness that is Tokyo station via the bullet train, we hopped on the local train back to Shinjuku station (once we were able to actually find that train platform). Checked into the hotel and had a good 8 hours to spend eating at places, last-minute souvenir shopping, and spending the remaining coins at the arcade. We did not stay up too late since we had an early morning flight back to NYC. I have to admit, it is hard to say goodbye to a this place, this country. The food is great, the people are nice, so much to see and do, and I only managed to cover a fraction of it. Arigato and sayonara Japan! Maybe I’ll see you again during Olympics 2020.

Japan 2017 – Day 1 and 2

One week in Japan just wasn’t enough. A few days in Tokyo and a Mt Fuji summit was a teaser and barely an introduction: Mt Fuji 1 and Mt Fuji 2. Six months later, I decided to return for a longer period of time to allow more time to explore.

I thought you could escape the crowds by visiting in February, but I guess it doesn’t matter when you go, there will always be floods of people everywhere. The winter weather in Tokyo and Kyoto is similar to New York with perhaps less snow, so you still have to layer up. Other packing advice I can give would be to have a lot of yen handy since credit cards aren’t always accepted. Also, samurai umbrellas must be checked in (not hand luggage), weird rule. Make sure to brush up on your kanji reading and conversational Japanese; you’ll need it from time to time. Finally, print some maps or download offline maps to reduce how often you lose your way.

My itinerary consisted of Tokyo (東京), Kyoto (京都), Osaka (大阪), and as much in between that I could think of. The best way to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto is by using the Shinkansen (新幹線) or bullet train. If you’re planning to do that as well as other day trips using JR trains, then it makes sense to purchase the JR week pass. I saved about 50% on transportation by using the JR week pass.

Day 1:
This was mostly a travel day. A 13 hour direct flight from JFK to Narita airport (成田空港). Japan Airlines is pretty good. The view is mostly upper Canada, Alaska, and the sea. No northern lights during my flight unfortunately. So after surviving a looong flight, you have to travel a bit more after landing since Tokyo is more than an hour away from Narita airport. Either the Narita Express train or Airport Limousine are good choices. Shinjuku (新宿) or Shibuya (渋谷) are great locations to use as home base. I chose a spot really close to Shinjuku station; a major train station hub that is like 2 Grand Central stations. After being awake for almost 20 hours, there is just about enough energy left for a small stroll in Shinjuku and maybe a quick meal at Takashimaya mall, Yasukuni Dori, or Omoide Yokocho [Yakitori street/Memory Lane/Piss alley]. And finally, a good night’s rest.

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Day 2: Tokyo Skytree, Harajuku, and Shibuya
What better way to start exploring a big city than looking down upon it from the highest point. The highest point would be the Tokyo Skytree. I thought it would be best to arrive at 9am when it opens to avoid long lines. Well, we did manage to walk right in without waiting on a line at all, but at the expense of getting on the train during morning rush hour. I’m a regular NYC subway rush hour commuter, but its child’s play compared to the sardine squeeze I felt in Shinjuku. Well, the skies were clear and the trip was worth it. And although I’ve been to the top of Mt Fuji, this would be the first time I get to see the mountain without it hiding in the clouds. The last photo shows the Skytree’s shadow over the city.

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Next stop, Harajuku (原宿). Takeshita Dori has loads of good souvenir shops, eat spots, and stores. Also, this street is usually packed with people, even if it’s a weekday in February.

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One of my favorite spots is the Laser Trap room right by the entrance of this street; a fun small obstacle course in a dark room with lasers at various difficulty levels.

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After walking through Takeshita Dori, you make a right, and reach Ometesando Dori after a few blocks. Luke’s Lobster sells the best lobster rolls and there’s always a line because everybody knows it’s good.

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Themed cafes everywhere. So we tried a bunch of these throughout the trip starting with a rabbit cafe called RAAGF (rabbit and get fat). You get a beverage and 30 minutes to interact with a bunch of rabbits. You choose 2 rabbits for feeding (we chose Roco and Chame).

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The Kotori bird cafe was about 15-20 minutes away on foot. You can sit and order bird themed sweets and drinks and also get 5 minutes to interact with a some birds. The big bird is a cockatoo and has a thing for taking off hats.

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Another 15-20 walk to get to the famous Shibuya station crossing. It’s always fun to cross this 5 way intersection for some reason. The Starbucks on the second floor gives you a good view of the scramble.

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One of my favorite sushi spots is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant called Genki sushi. It’s about 3 blocks away from the scramble. It’s easy to make friends too.

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Still a bit jet lagged, we headed back to the hotel and crashed for the night at around 7pm.

Japan 2016 – Day 5

Tokyo SkyTree, Ginza, Tsukiji Fish Market, and Odaiba

My last day in Tokyo. How will I spend my day after Mt Fuji, relax? Nope. I decided to get on the subway and “stretch the legs” and walk by the Sumida river.

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Once I got to the blue bridge, I decided to cross over and head straight to the Tokyo Skytree. Believe it or not, it’s the tallest tower in the world (634m/2,080ft) and the second tallest structure in the world (the first is the Burj Khalifa in UAE). Cool. You can go up to the observatory deck, but there is a long line of tourists. I just decided to walk around the base and proceed with the day.

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Ginza (銀座) was next on the list; a popular upscale shopping area, like 5th avenue in NYC. There was one building I was planning to check out from the start, the Sony building, the home of the Playstation. After speaking with a customer rep there, I heard that the whole building will be demolished along with several others to prepare for the 2020 Olympics. Nan desu ka!? They must be planing something big.

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If you continue to walk on the main street, Harumi Dori, you’ll eventually reach the infamous Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場) after making a right at Jonathan’s. Ha, its like the Japanese were expecting me to visit by building diners in my name!

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So the Tsukiji market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind. I heard great things about the sushi here and absolutely had to try it out. One thing I found out is that the fish market closes at 5pm and almost all restaurants/shops close at that time. We got there at 4:30pm, whew. The restaurant area consisted of a few blocks and so many places to choose. I stopped once I saw a giant crab. This was the place for me. Instead of sushi rolls, I ate sushi ‘bowls’!

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Whoa, that was good. Ok, it would be a 15 minute walk to the Shiodome station passed the football field sized Tsukiji area to get on the Yurikamome (waterfront train) line to Odaiba (お台場), the artificial island of Tokyo. You get great views of Rainbow bridge (Tokyo’s version of Golden Gate bridge) right before you eventually cross it.

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Odaiba is bigger than I expected, and definitely requires a whole day to check out everything. There are restaurants, malls, and other interesting places like an aquarium, giant Ferris wheel, Fuji Television HQ, the “future building”, man-made beach, etc. There is even an area by the pier that felt too close like being back home in NYC, strange…

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There is a place called Sega Joypolis which I totally regret not checking out due to time and Fuji fatigue. It is a massive building dedicated to games, games, and more games. It’s not an ordinary arcade as many of the games are simulators and rides somewhat. Even the toilets have an aiming game. Next time, grrr. So anyway, we headed to the mall for some last-minute souvenir shopping in a building called Diver City with a 1:1 scale Gundam in front, whoa.

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The night arrives before you know it. And before you know it, it’s time to pack and think about catching your flight the next day. Sayonara Japan, you are ichi-ban (#1)!

Lessons learned:

  • You need at least a week to feel satisfied with exploring Tokyo. I literally had 3.5 days.
  • Tokyo is hot/humid in the summer and even the shoulder summer months like June and September so if you don’t like being a hot sweaty mess while walking around for hours, try the Fall, I hear its pretty during that time.
  • Don’t jaywalk. For some reason, nobody jaywalks even when there clearly are no cars coming. Perhaps the rules are more strict here. But the traffic lights take sooo long to change.
  • Learn more Japanese. The more the better your experience can be.
  • Make sure you are allowed to take photos/videos before taking photos/videos.
  • Get out of Tokyo. There is a whole country to see: Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama, Nikko, the north, the southern islands, and the far east.
  • Do the research before going to avoid feeling regret about missing out on stuff. Personally, I don’t have much regret since I must go back soon. Maybe during Olympics 2020???

Thanks and Arigato to all who got this far. I’m not good at this blog stuff, but I try. I think it’s best to summarize and document our travels so that we can all remember the times when we escaped the usual and the day-to-day. Also, to share with others so that we can spread ideas and gain new ones. It’s a small world, but sharing experiences illuminates the unknown and makes the world bigger.

 

Japan 2016 – Day 4

Mt. Fuji, standing on top of Japan!

Ugh, didn’t sleep well, and the mountain gets really cold at night. It’s 4am and I probably got 4 hours sleep tops. Well, at least it’s not raining. I took one last glance hoping to see a sunrise, but alas, the sun was shy and hid behind the clouds.

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1000m to ascend today; almost 3 Empire State buildings. Since Fujisan is conic and gets steeper as you get further to the summit, it gets tough real fast. Especially since the air becomes thinner, like you can’t catch your breath even when you are idle. Hypothermia is the #1 killer on this volcano, and we were reminded of the realities of off-season climbing when passing by memorials.

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After a few 100m, we arrived at station 7. It felt good to take a nice break. There will be quite a few of these until the summit. Also, it was our first sight of ice.

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From station 7 to station 8. Ok, I’m starting to feel it now, maybe it’s not such a small mountain. I may have underestimated the size. Once we reached station 8, I can recall just needing to drop my bag and laid down on the ground for a few minutes.

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From station 8 to station 8. Huh, what!? Nan desu ka!? It turns out that there is no 9th station on the Subashiri route, but there is 3 8th stations. Ah, of course, makes sense. So anyway, we pass another memorial, and a small shack that is station 8b, and then to station 8c. Mt. Fuji is starting to look like a volcano now, like Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings. Hardly any plant life, just a lunar landscape with some ice here and there.

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My legs are toast now. We’ve been climbing since 4am and its 10am now. I cherish all the breaks and the non-rainy weather thus far. Every step I take requires effort, 2 seconds per step. Why am I so exhausted? Oh, I’m climbing a mountain, hehe. We are now at a point where we have to walk over ice without slipping, yay, fun time! Starting to lose my mind with the lack of sleep, air, and sushi.

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For hours, I was looking up at the peak every 5 minutes with a little less to climb each time. I started to doubt myself. Maybe I couldn’t make it. I can’t catch my breath, ugh. This is when you have to dig deep and just borrow reserve energy from tomorrow. Step after step, I could see the final Tori gate. I know it’s just minutes and not hours (the signs actually tell you that there is X minutes left). Always a happy moment to get to the top because you get to stop climbing! Or is it the peak?

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Yosuke told us that the real summit is across the crater. Another 50m ascent to go. The crater is like a mile across and to deep of a bowl to go directly across, we must go around the rim. Just when you think it’s over, it’s not over. And then there’s the descent. The crater is an amazing sight, photos can’t capture the size and the Mars-like look to it.

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The final push to the summit is a nasty 45 degree uphill 10 minute climb to Kengamine, the actual 3776m peak. The wind was blowing hard and it began to snow. So yea, mini ice-balls hitting your face. Every step was 3 seconds apart. I had to growl like Goku to push me through this section. Sorry, I wasn’t able to take photos because both of my arms were occupied pulling myself up and grabbing on the bars and railings. Can’t believe Mt. Fuji kicked my butt this bad. And I’m almost out of water with one granola bar left, oh no. But who cares, I’m at the summit! I’m on top of Japan!!!

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Feeling awesome and accomplished, we all celebrated for 5-10 minutes only to see the biggest cloud move into the crater.

The ice-balls became pouring rain. Time to descend! I may be out of steam going up, but going down is my specialty. Yosuke led us off-course to a tractor trail which was usable only because it is off-season, otherwise we would have to descend the way we ascended. This was good news, the tractor trail was sandy/rocky and muddy due to melting ice and rain. In summary, almost 8 hours to get to the true peak, with a lot of photo breaks, and 4 hours to descend. With the heavy fog, it was cool to see teammates disappear and reappear through depending on how far away they are.

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Going downhill for hours can get a bit tiresome, so you just gotta have fun whenever possible.

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By 4pm, we were all at the parking lot of station 5, where it all began. That was crazy, arigato Mt. Fuji! I leave a part of me on every mountain I climb.

Please note, that although the sun never showed itself, and it was the cloudiest day I’ve ever had, I still got sun burnt pretty bad. Wear sunblock on these mountains! Ok, time to eat some sushi and get some rest, there is still one more day to explore Tokyo, with noodles for legs.

 

 

Japan 2016 – Day 3

Mt. Fuji – Subashiri route (off-season)

From the Tokyo madness to the silence of the mountain. Mt. Fuji (富士山), the highest mountain peak in Japan at 3,776 meters (12,389 ft). This conic active volcano is a well-known symbol of Japan. How could I travel to Tokyo and not sign up for Fujisan when it’s less than 2 hours away from the city? After my 2014 Mt. Rainier summit experience, I was looking forward to another mountain adventure.

So as they say, there are many paths up a mountain, in this case, there are 4. Some are longer/steeper than others. We ended up taking the 2nd longest route; the Subashiri route which starts at 2000m (6562 ft).

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The popular route typically taken is the Yoshida route which starts at 2,305m (almost an Empire State building worth of vertical less); however, it was off-season, and only the Subashiri trail was available to us. I learned about the news of the route last-minute and totally didn’t train as much as I should have. Who is us? I decided to book this trip with MyTokyoGuide. 7 other people booked it as well so we all climbed as a group: 3 from Japan, 2 from Guam, 2 from NYC (me), and one from Tasmania. And what is off-season? In-season is July 1 – September 10, when all the ice has melted and weather conditions are the best for ascending to the top. However, during the summer, the huts are packed (I’ve heard horror stories) to capacity and there are 1000s of climbers on the mountain which can cause traffic jams. In June, although it’s the rainy season and freezing at the top, you get to have the mountain to yourself (I saw less than 10 people on the mountain the entire time). Also, although its possible to summit Fuji and get back down in one day, it doesn’t always work out due to altitude sickness or fatigue. Regardless of when you decide to climb, this mountain has taken many lives so it must be respected and taken seriously. Our group decided to break the climb into 2 days: a casual 700m ascent for day 1 and 1076m ascent + 1776m descent for day 2.

We all met in Shinjuku, dropped our bags in the van, and headed straight to Mt. Fuji. The mountain is divided into 10 stations; however, the trails start at the 5th station. People don’t really start the Mt. Fuji climb from the base of the mountain (Station 1), but our team had the chance to visit it. It has the biggest Tori gate I’ve come across thus far and a shrine.

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We also made a quick stop at Oshino village where you can get a good view of the mountain. Unfortunately, it was a very cloudy day and you could not see anything, not even the base. There are plenty of souvenir shops as well. Bathrooms were the prime target though. One thing I forgot to mention is the toilets in Tokyo; they are ahead of their time and have several buttons, not just a flush button. If you are a lady, beware the bidet button. Also, many toilets have a sensor which heats up the seat when it detects someone sitting on it. And it took a few days but I finally came across an “Engrish” sign.

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So, the time has come… the trailhead at the 5th station. We met our tour guide Yosuke. He climbed Mt. Denali twice and seen the Aurora so many times, quite impressed. Plus, his English is pretty good. Here is the before pictures before all of the rain, mud, ice, wind, fog, snow, and everything else on Fujisan kicked our butts.

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The goal for today was to ascend 700m to the Seto-kan hut around the 6th station. Not many huts were available since it was off-season; however, this one was available, and pretty good. It was mostly a journey through foggy forest and rock. The sun never came out as we were inside a cloud the entire time getting rained on. Which brings me to the ‘preparation list’ for a June climb:

  • a large enough backpack (waterproof ideally) to carry the following
  • at least 3 liters of water
  • good boots with several socks to change into
  • rain jacket and rain pants, maybe gaiters (I didn’t need them)
  • gloves, cap, warm hat, head lamp (with batteries)
  • more food/snacks than you think you’ll need to keep you energized
  • hiking poles, your knees will be very thankful
  • extra top layers for the frigid nights
  • and of course a camera to take the memories with you and to post on blogs

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Once we got to the Seto-kan hut, we took a much-needed break. 700m is something like almost 2 Empire State buildings. Did we get anything for it? Yes we did. Almost perfect timing. The rain stopped and the clouds cleared. We saw Mt. Fuji for the first time all day. Photo time!

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Dinner in the hut was included, the curry rice was quite tasty. We got to know each other a bit more as the sun began to set, wherever it was. There is something amazing about being above the clouds. A few more pics of this moment before going to bed early. Our summit day start at 4am.

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The clouds totally dissappeared at night. You could see the city lights from 2700m high. But still, no stars due to the clouds above. Let’s hope the weather is good to us tomorrow…

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Japan 2016 – Day 2

Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, Harajuku, and Shibuya

It was great to have a clear day for once after all the rain from the previous day. A great day to get a view from one of the towers in Tokyo. There are several buildings/structures which can give you a great view of the city; however, there is only one that I found which gives you the view, minus the glass panels blocking your view. I headed to Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills.

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Roppongi is another one of Tokyo’s popular spots especially for night life. However, it was early in the morning, and I came to Roppongi for the Mori Tower observation deck which is actually a helicopter landing pad on the roof; an unbeatable unobstructed 360 degree view of Tokyo.

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Although you can always get a similar city view from Tokyo Tower (looks like Eiffel Tower) or the Tokyo Sky Tree, I personally preferred Mori Tower because you have a view of those structures as well. You can even see the artificial island of Odaiba. Unfortunately, Mt Fuji was under the clouds as usual, but you should be able to see it on a clear today. I didn’t mind though, since I’ll be on top of it soon enough. Speaking of Tokyo Tower, if you are a One Piece fan, they have a theme park dedicated to One Piece there, ugh, should’ve went, next time then.

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It can get quite hot in Tokyo. June felt like a NYC summer day as it is hot and humid, the temps were in the upper 80s most of the time. But that doesn’t stop people from coming outside. Speaking of people, my next stop was Harajuku (原宿), a district within Shibuya and a short walk from the Meiji shrine. Harajuku is considered to be the center of youth culture and fashion. The main artery would definitely be Takeshita Dori where all the shops are and the occasional oddly dressed individuals. It’s quite crowded for a Tuesday afternoon, I can’t imagine the weekend.

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Before heading down this street to check out the shops, there was something I had to do. In the above photo, to the right of the main street sign, you’ll see Laser Trap Room. Yep, had to check it out. $5 gives you 90 seconds to get through a laser trap room. The goal is to touch lit-up buttons on the walls in random spots to complete the challenge. There are 4 difficulty levels and it looks just like you would imagine (not me in the photos). I took a shot at Medium and did pretty good for my first time. My advice would be not to wear baggy shorts like I did.

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Once you get through Takeshita Dori, you make a right and go straight for a few blocks until you end up on Omotesando Dori which has even more shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants. It kinda resembles Champs Elysees in Paris. I stood at the overpass to get a few photos.

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You’ll notice that cars drive on the left lane, driving wheel is on the right of the car. The only reason I didn’t end up driving Mario Karts down the streets was because you needed an international driving license to drive them and it was too last-minute, meh (check it out on “http://maricar.com/”).

Once you reach Aoyama Dori, it’s a long 20 minute walk to the heart of Shibuya (渋谷区) and the infamous Shibuya intersection. You’ll know when you get there. I must’ve crossed this street 100 times. Check out some video on Youtube to see the dynamics; it’s quite impressive how people don’t collide. The best place to observe the crossing is the Starbucks on the second floor in the building right on the intersection.

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Once I crossed the street 100 times, I walked through the surrounding areas and came across the coolest sushi restaurant ever. Genki Sushi, an automated sushi restaurant. You walk in and get a number, and then go to your assigned seat. You use a Tablet to order your sushi and then in a few minutes, your sushi arrives via a conveyor belt track. I ordered enough food to create a plate tower and it only cost me $20 to eat so much sushi! Jon recommends this place.

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Shibuya is bigger than I thought, and would definitely use it as home base next time. I headed back to Shinjuku to take a quick break.

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Recall that our home base was the Gracery hotel, where there is a giant Godzilla. After finding out that the eyes light up at night, it was time for a photo shoot:

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From the hotel, we took a walk through Shinjuku via Meiji Dori toward the Square Enix building. Square has been making some of the best video games I’ve ever played especially when I was a teenager. It just made sense to stop by. There is a cafe called Artnia with a video game theme and gift shop. If anyone played Final Fantasy 7, check out that Materia ball drink.

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So again, we dined like kings, and got some rest. The next 2 days were going to be quite different and I’ll need all the sleep I can get. Mt. Fuji awaits…

 

Japan 2016 – Day 0

Konnichiwa (こんにちは) and Ohaiyo gozaimasu (お早う ございます)! Japan (日本), the land of the rising sun.

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To me, almost everything that is awesome comes from here. Just think about all the things.

  • Anime/manga: Dragonball, Bleach, Death Note, Attack on Titan, One Piece, Sword Art Online, Code Geass, Tokyo Ghoul, Gundam, Berzerk, Full Metal Alchemist, Naruto, Baki, Pokemon, etc…, I like anime.
  • Video games from the 80s to the present: Nintendo, Sega, Sony Playstation, etc.
  • Electronics: Panasonic, Toshiba, Hitachi, Sharp, Casio, Canon, JVC, etc.
  • Cars: Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Mazda, Nissan, Yamaha, Kawasaki, etc.
  • Martial arts: karate, judo, jujitsu, aikido, kendo, sumo, etc.
  • Food: sushi, sashimi, hibachi, ramen/soba/udon, tempura, tofu, sake, etc.
  • Weaponry: katana, nunchuku, bo, sai, naginata, tonfa, kama, etc.
  • Musical Instruments: taiko drums, shamisen, koto, shakuhachi bamboo flute, etc.
  • Other cool things: ninja, samurai, origami, karaoke, sudoku, Japanese game shows, godzilla, haiku, etc.
  • Words that we use in English like: tsunami, emoji, sensei, hancho, etc.
  • And Mt. Fuji (富士山)! Sign me up!

It was a last-minute decision to book a flight to Tokyo in early June 2016. I only had a week to cover as much as possible. This may be the first country which I was thinking about my second trip before even going once. When my friend Justin and I were teenagers watching Dragonball Z and 100s hours spent on RPG games, we already spoke about going to Japan one day. 20 years later, it finally happened.

Back in 2001, I took 2 semesters of elementary Japanese which covers basic grammar/conversation as well as the hiragana and katakana characters. Tochika sensei was the best Japanese professor anyone could have, ありがとう ございました. With the basic foundation, it was enough to get by in a non-English speaking country. Yep, Japanese people typically don’t speak English conversationally so it is very handy to meet them halfway when communicating. It’s easier now more than ever to learn basic Japanese as there dozens of phone apps to help strengthen your vocabulary, grammar, verb suffixes, and Kanji character memorization. Some people might disagree and think that konnichiwa, arigato, and hai is all you need to get by, but if you take the time to learn the language as well as the culture, it actually enriches the experience, trust me. Phrase books aren’t very effective when asking questions because you won’t understand the answer in Japanese. Also, many signs are not translated in English. Ok, enough intro, minnasan ikimashO!

Day 0 – Arriving in Tokyo (東京):

Who would’ve thought that Japan is only 13 hours away via a straight flight from NYC. From Narita airport, I think the most convenient way to the city center is to book a round trip bus (Airport Limousine) for around $40. Its takes a little over an hour to get to Tokyo. Tokyo is divided into 23 wards, and I would say central Tokyo covers 10 of them.

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We chose to stay in a central location and one of the busiest areas in Tokyo called Shinjuku (新宿). In particular, the Gracery Hotel in Kabukicho (歌舞伎町) was our home base for the next 5 days (east of Shinjuku station) which has a huge Godzilla head peeking out of the 8th floor. This is the view from the hotel:

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Already being awake for 18+ hours, I figured I’d make it a record and go for 24 hour so that I could change clothes, take some photos, eat a sushi meal, and get a bird’s eye view of the city. Kabukicho is a red light district within Shinjuku and full of bars, night clubs, pachinko, and even a robot themed restaurant for tourists ($80 for a crazy show and dinner, Youtube it if you are curious). After my first official Japanese sushi meal, I headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building which was a 15 minute walk. Why? Because its free to go to 45th FL observation deck and get a view of the city. You can already see that Japan is getting ready for the 2020 Olympics.

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At night, the building signs light up and its all quite overwhelming at first since there are so many people (coming from a New Yorker) and so many things to look at. One thing to notice is how every floor has something that may interest you, not just the ground floor, which is why you should also pay attention to the vertical signs as well.

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I think a few hours of sleep is long overdue. Day 1 officially begins tomorrow…