Japan Adventure Recap

My apologies for being a day late again. I have a couple freelance projects that bottlenecked a bit, I am actually blogging while waiting for a render to finish up. An article I read last week from a friend actually inspired me to write one last entry about my trip to Japan, which seems long time ago already. Blogging about the trip and looking at pictures to post has really been a fun way to look back on my trip, I would strongly recommend it to anyone. Clearly, I would strongly recommend a trip to Japan as well as going through the agency I did.

I basically wanted to run down some of my favorite things, favorite foods, best experiences as well as share some pics of the haul of goodies I brought home and more.

Since there may be some foodies out there, lets go over that first. My friend and I had the intention of finding fugu, or pufferfish. Pufferfish is poisonous and will kill the consumer if the chef fails to prepare the food correctly. There are next to zero deaths a year of consumers dying from prepared food, most deaths come from fisherman that eat the fish in the wild. During all of our adventures we seemingly pushed this endeavor back each day until we basically ran out of time. This is on the list of things to do on our next trip.

My favorite food came from a ramen shop and the takoyaki from the street vendors. I would have to wayward an honorable mention to the squid I ate from a vendor as well, I am a little disappointed I didn’t get a chance to eat octopus. Again, next time.

Japan has a lot of lemon flavored drinks, which I miss greatly. A specific drink was CC Lemon, I have been looking for somewhere to get it from in the states, but to no success yet. It will only be a matter of time.

My favorite place that we visited would have to be the Ghibli museum. As an animator, it was the closest thing to heaven I could have imagined. I wish I could have taken pictures inside to post, but I settled for a book with pictures of the inside. If you haven’t seen any of the Studio Ghibli films, I strongly suggest you give a couple of them a chance. If you ever visit Japan, this is a must see site. They even show short films that you can only see at the museum.

This was also the first trip I was able to see the ocean. Some of the funnest moments I had was around the ocean. On one occasion I went seashell hunting and found some shells to take back to give to my sister. My second ocean experience was when we were in the country and we had a group of locals want their pictures taken with us. The people in the country were extremely nice, especially at the festival events.

My favorite experience was climbing Mt Fuji at night and witnessing the cities at the foot of the mountain’s fireworks. As I stated in a previous entry, climbing Fuji was one of the most mentally demanding things I have ever done, but it is also one of my proudest moments. I would like to climb the mountain again.

Probably the most unexpected awesome experience was the ryokan. I had no idea what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. The breakfasts were amazing, we walked around in yukatas the majority of the time we were there, the hot spring was amazing and the customer service set a new standard. When I go back to Japan, staying at a ryokan is on the top of my list.

The arcades in Akihabara were super fun, you would be surprised at how far you can get in a game just based of user interface design and game animation without understanding the language. The card reader games blew my mind. Shibuya had some musicians playing, I would like to return and go listen to some music some night. Theres something very cool about walking down the street and seeing various musical acts and being able to stop and listen at will.

I had a pretty good toy and book haul on the trip. I ended up with a book about the art of Princess Mononoke and also a picture book about the Ghibli museum. I also ended up with 3 production art books from the series Neon Genesis Evangelion as well as some Asuka chopsticks that I eat my cup noodles with. I picked up a giant list of gachapons, from various stores in various areas. The coolest was a store that you could actually trade your gachapons in to and buy other people’s trade ins and complete your collection. My favorite toys were small figures from Neon Genesis Evangelion I picked up in sealed mystery boxes.

While in Japan, I wanted to pick up some anime cels. In early 2000 animation went into the digital realm, which meant that cels were no longer being used to make animation. For example, you can not find cels of newer series, you can only get them of older series. Studios sold cels to fans as a way to make money and provide fans with content that they didn’t have much of a use for. At the cel shop, I could’t read any of the names of the binders of series he had. I did stumble across some binders of Inu Yasha and bought 3 cels. 2 of one of my favorite characters, Miroku and also a cool cel of Koga from the same series. I found some binders of Dragonball Z, but most of the cels were missing backgrounds and I want my cels to have background art. On my next trip, I plan on taking more money to get more cels. It was cool when we found a small gallery displaying cels and art of Rouroni Kenshin.

As for me, I would like to return to Japan again. I am targeting the spring of 2014 for the spring festivals as my next trip. Hopefully the stars align and I am able to get the trip lined up. If you get the chance or are looking for a trip, I highly suggest Japan!

 *(Images of my anime cels and also of my toy haul from Japan. Makes you want to go doesn’t it?)

Japan Adventure Day 7

Day 7 was another travel day. We were leaving the countryside from our 3 day retreat of relaxing at the ryokan and enjoying the onsen and heading back to Tokyo. I had such a great time at the coastline that I decided that I was going to wake up and catch the first train back to the coastline and was going to meet up with the group at a train station outside of Tokyo. I wanted to explore and hike more for a few hours since there was such a large area and we were only there for a couple hours. I fell in love with that countryside over the course of 3 days.

The first train of the day started at around 5AM in the morning so I got up early and snuck out of the ryokan ninja style and made my way to the train station. The trains had a brief stop at another station where I was suppose to get off but failed to. So I had to take the train again and only lost a little bit of time before I made it down to the coast.

I was able to hike around the area for a few hours, it was very calm with almost no other travelers or hikers around. I did see a lot of fast and small bugs on a trail but I didn’t get a chance to take a picture to find out what they were.  That morning was a little wet and rainy, one of the few days it rained while we were there.

After I got my hiking in, I made my way back to the train station and met up with the group several stops down the line. Some of them were pretty surprised I woke up so early to go out hiking. As the train made its way closer to Tokyo, the rain started to subside and the sun started to peek through the clouds and shine.

Our first destination was to head to Odaiba. Odaiba was having a giant fireworks display that night, but Comiket was also going on. Comiket is a super huge comic convention. So needless to say there were thousands and thousands of people in the area and everywhere was extremely packed with people. We worked our way through the crowds at a mall and went shopping at the Shonen Jump store. I was hoping to score some Dragonball Z stuff, but it was mostly relegated to just some manga. The store was packed with One Piece and Naruto stuff.

Post-Shonen Jump store, a couple of us made our way to the Gundam Plaza to see the RX-78 gundam. Who doesn’t like giant robots? The Gundam activated and did its thing, after that it was on to an arcade. I played a few crane games and won myself some Pokemon from the machine. I am a sucker for toys that look cool, such as an Axew. Unfortunately, I ran out of 100 Yen coins and someone won 2 toys that I got close to winning from the machine. It’s all good though, they went to 2 little kids that were pretty stoked to get a toy that day. i think my favorite aspect of the arcades is that the crane games are completely winnable, lots of us won toys from machines. When you win at a machine people working at the arcades will announce it over the speakers in the arcade so others know that people are winning and on what machine.

After the arcade we grabbed some eats and headed to our tarp for fireworks. The fireworks display was solid and lasted well over an hour. The trains were packed leaving Odaiba.

As we approached our hotel again, some of us decided to sing some karaoke. We went to a karaoke bar and got a room that fit all 14 of us in and we proceeded to drink, sing and have a great time. Next weeks Japan adventure day is one of the sole reasons I went to Japan, stay tuned 😀

*(first image is of the sunrise outside of the ryokan, second is an image of the rainy day from my seat on the train, the third is a cool building I saw on the way to the coastline, the fourth is the Shonen Jump store and how packed it was that day, fifth is the Gundam Front, finally is the crowd that was there for fireworks that night).

Japan Adventure Day 6

Breakfast was provided by our ryokan again in the morning. As usual it was a large 2 platter breakfast, but most importantly we had fresh fish caught by local fishermen  that morning. We had our usual grills that morning so we grilled our own fish. I am not sure what the fish was but it was delicious. It was important to have a good breakfast this morning because after breakfast we were headed to the coast to do some hiking.

We stopped at a convenience store before we got on the train and to my surprise I found some special Pepsi cans that had featured Gundams on them for the Gundam Front in Tokyo. I found a few more cans throughout the trip, but I was pleasantly surprised because I had read an article online before we left on the trip and knew they were going to be out when I was on the trip. I was able to bring a few home.

The Jogasaki coastline was amazing. The ocean water was such a bright blue color it was unbelievable. You could see to the horizon in almost 180 degrees, it really was one of the highlights of the trip. There was even a bridge to cross over part of the ocean too. The wind blew the bridge a little, which added to the feeling of being free and in nature. We hung out in the area for a couple hours and I shot quite a bit of video and seeing how close I could get to the water without getting wet.

One of the interesting things, at least in my opinion, was that I found several bugs and they were all very bright yellow. Caterpillars, spiders and even some other bug I never seen before were all black and a very bright yellow.

We walked back to the train station, and we had a conversation about all of the bigger and more western style houses in the area. We found out they had these bigger homes because there was more room outside of the city to build bigger homes. There were lots of homes that had landscaped their yards and had neatly trimmed trees and bushes.

After we arrived back at the ryokan, we were able to relax in the onsen again and we had a few hours in the afternoon to hang out, relax and to do what we wanted before we headed to our fireworks destination. We arrived at the train station and it was already starting to fill up with people. Little did we know how packed this event was going to be.

We arrived at our destination and the city was filled with people everywhere. Everyone split off into groups and went to find some food before the fireworks display that night. There were even more food vendors out than there was the last couple days we were in the area. I had to have Takoyaki one last time (deep fried breaded octopus) and it had to be topped with japanese mayo and green onions 🙂

After finding some food, we headed to the beach to find a place to set up our tarps for fireworks. We found a spot and hung out before the display. We had a few drinks and shared some stories. As night time started to set in, test fireworks were fired into the sky. Soon we discovered that there was going to be fireworks launched from several sites in the bay.

The ensuing fireworks display was the best display I had ever seen. It lasted almost 2 hours and the spectacular at the end lasted almost ten minutes with the sky being so covered in fireworks that it was as bright as day in the bay.  After the fireworks there was a giant sea of people headed to the train station to get home. We were fortunate enough to get to the station and get back to the ryokan. On the walk back to the ryokan from the station, we learned that last year they missed the first train and were at the station for over two hours.

That night I went to bed a little early because I wanted to go for a hike the next morning back at the coastline.

*(first image is the delicious fish we had for breakfast on its grill, second is the coastline where we went hiking, third is a shot of a random beach on the train ride, fourth is the packed train station when we arrived for fireworks, fifth is our spot on the beach for the fireworks, finally the sea of people after the display heading to the train station).

Japan Adventure Day 5

Day 5 in Japan started off with a giant 2 platter breakfast for everyone brought on by ryokan staff. Easily the biggest breakfast I had ever seen. After breakfast we had some time to relax in the onsen. An onsen is a natural hot spring that is heated by the Earth/volcanoes. It was super relaxing after walking around Tokyo for the previous few days. There were 3 onsens, one for males, one for females, and a private one for couples.

After getting ready for the day, our first stop was Atami castle. The best story of the trip was when we got into taxis to go to the ropeway and the head lady at the ryokan walked into the road to stop traffic so our taxis could stay together on the way to the ropeway. Now thats customer service!

The ropeway provided us with an amazing view of the seaside city and we were able to see all over in every direction. Atami castle had all sorts of content in it for us to check out. My favorite floors were the top floor, which had a balcony for us to take pictures looking out to the ocean and the floor that had models of other castles in Japan. I can only image the amount of work and patience needed for that process.

After the castle we headed to another restaurant that featured a drink bar (all you can drink coffee, lattes, juice, soda etc. over 40 kinds). It was pretty hot out so the iced lattes and air conditioning were well worth the walk. After lunch some of us headed to the beach for some more time in the ocean, I was one of them.

We splashed around in the ocean for a few hours. We took some pictures with some of the other beach goers. We posed for a few pictures and had a brief conversation with some English and hand signs. Before we left the beach more people wanted a picture. We had a lot of fun at the beach, everyone in the city was very nice.

We headed back to the ryokan to get ready for the night’s events. Some onsen time was in order and then came the time to wear the yukata again. Tonight we headed to a stage by the shore to watch a taiko drum show. There were several performing groups that took the stage and played a wide variety of songs. It was the first time I had heard a taiko drum performance at length, it was very relaxing. We sat in the grass and watched as the sun set. People were free to come and go as they wished, allowing them to go to food stands and get things to eat during the performances.

One of the highlights on the trip in terms of food, was the grilled squid I had. The cook grilled it at his station and the meat was very good. I wanted to try the grilled octopus as well but I was full from the squid, it gives me a reason to go back right?

We grabbed a few more things and headed back to the ryokan and played some board games until the early hours of the morning. It was nice playing games and getting to know some of the other travelers a little bit more. We headed back to our room and got some sleep for tomorrow, our final full day in the seaside city.

*(The first photo is a picture of the ocean outside of our ryokan, second is a photo looking back at the city from the ropeway car, the third photo is the beach we went too and finally the taiko drum performances. That picture was taken of one of the first performances which is why it is still early in the night).

Japan Adventure Day 4

Day 4 of my adventure in Japan started with a walk to the train station before we began our over 2 hour train ride to our seaside destination. The train ride was a nice changes of pace from walking everywhere in the humidity. Once we were out of the city we started to see more mountains, vegetation and also bits and pieces of the coast. It was the first time during the trip that we were able to see that much of the countryside. It was just as beautiful as I had imagined it from watching films like My Neighbor Totoro. My favorite part of the train ride was going into tunnels that and seeing the ocean as soon as we exited the tunnel.

After the train ride we arrived at a small seaside city and checked into our ryokan. The first item of business was to order some lunch. The meal was awesome and extremely large, taking up an entire platter. We spent the rest of the afternoon getting some much needed rest and relaxation. I spent the majority of the afternoon swimming in the ocean since this trip was the first time I had experienced the ocean.

After the afternoon swim, I went back to the ryokan and cleaned up for the festivities of the night. I sported my yukata that I picked up at Asakusa the previous day and we headed to the train station to venture to another nearby seaside town.

Tonight there were a few vendors selling various foods, most of the vendors would be open the next day. My high school friend and travel buddy was persuaded into eating food from one of the vendors after he sold him on eating something that looked like a corn dog covered in mayo and onions. A few of us grabbed some food as we made our way to the river for the launching of the lanterns.

There was very relaxing music being played as people would walk down the dock and launch lanterns. We were told that the lanterns had wishes on them and they were various colors. People lined up on bridges, the river front and everywhere else to take pictures and catch a view of the lanterns floating down the river.

We watched the lanterns for quite a while before we headed to a nearby ramen shop to get some eats for the night. At the shop was a local who was a big guy. We had a traveler in our group who was about his size and he was asking him how much he weighed and how tall he was because he was curious if he was going to train for sumo. It was quite the experience and made for a night filled with stories and laughter. We headed back to the ryokan for the night to get some sleep and start another adventure the next day.

*(In order from left to right) A seaside photo taken from the train outside of Tokyo, my large lunch platter of food, the view from our ryokan room, people launching their lanterns, a close up of lanterns that had grouped up near the side of the river.