Japan Day 3 : A day at the Museum

Ueno Park is home to a lovely museum and being so close I decided to soak up a little history of the slightly more curated variety. IMG_0645 IMG_0647

Alas, one of the Shogun’s old house was in no real condition to be visited.IMG_0648What is this? What a curious looking little marker. I wonder what it is?
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It’s the what?? This tiny burning flame is known locally as the Atomic flame. A man survived one of the atomic bombings and found his family dead and his house on fire. For years, he kept the fire burning as a symbol of revenge, but somewhere along the line he realized that his hatred couldn’t prevent the same horrors from happening again. And so the flame was brought here to Ueno park where it stands as a symbol of peace, and a reminder of what we all have to lose in a nuclear disaster.
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After that deep moment, I was seeking a little relief in a fanboy way, so I sped into the museum, and like the 16-year-old boy I  am inside began to coo over the various swords. IMG_0653 IMG_0655 IMG_0656

This one, in particular, held my attention for some reason, and when I looked down I realized why it had. IMG_0658

It was one of Masamune’s Katana, a master swordsmith of Legendary prowess. IMG_0650IMG_0662 IMG_0663 IMG_0666 IMG_0667Many of these artifacts are from the Early Japanese tribal period. There were several groups of native Japanese on the island before it was colonized by the Chinese.

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This was the seal of the Shogun! It’s quite impressive. IMG_0674 IMG_0675 IMG_0676 IMG_0677 IMG_0680 IMG_0679 IMG_0678 IMG_0681 IMG_0682 IMG_0684 IMG_0686 IMG_0689It was a rush hour when I got out of the museum, and it’s started raining.
IMG_0691I was tired and slightly hungover as  I walked the streets of Shibuya, and seeing a McDonalds, I broke a little.

IMG_0693I just had to have a little taste of home. Something I noticed, Japanese Mcdonalds Fries were much less Salty than their American counterparts.

See you tomorrow dear readers!

Japan Morning 3: Ueno Park Part 1

Today I felt exhausted so I am going to let my photos speak for themselves. IMG_0537

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Japanese crows have a very distinctive caw; it sounds like a cartoon parody of a crow. In Tokyo, the birds grow huge. IMG_0542 IMG_0545 IMG_0557

Another picture of me with the Shiba.IMG_0547 IMG_0553

The one time I saw a police officer in Tokyo.IMG_0558

Not all of Japan is clean. Interestingly enough this was an area devoid of homeless people; I mention this because the homeless in Japan always seemed to be cleaning, sweeping, or doing something constructive. IMG_0559 IMG_0561 IMG_0563 IMG_0564

This was probably a prewar station. I wasn’t able to walk under this underpass without ducking. That being said most Japanese people I met were about my height or taller, with the older generation being shorter. (I am 5’10).IMG_0568 IMG_0570 IMG_0571 IMG_0573 IMG_0575This is a really cool memorial. This is where the final battle between the Meiji government and the Shogunate occurred.  (A quick history lesson, the Emperor ruled Japan for only a short time before he was ousted by the Shogun, a military leader who kept the imperial family hostage, and ruled using the Emporer as a proxy. During the Meiji Restoration, the Emporer seized power away from the shogunate and ruled until the end of WW2. ) ((PS: Edo = Tokyo))

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This was a homeless camp in the park. From what I can tell Japanese culture tolerates homeless but pretty much ignores them. Here in the States homeless aren’t tolerated and are ignored.IMG_0594 IMG_0598

This is the closest I could get to the Padagoa without paying for a Zoo pass. IMG_0599 IMG_0600 IMG_0602 IMG_0605 IMG_0603More photos tomorrow.

Day 2.95: A first look at Akihabara

I know I know, these decimals are getting a little abusive. I am sorry I just have so many photos. (I actually made an effort to not take so many photos, and I still ended up with over 1000)

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Yes that is Tommy Lee Jones. IMG_0461 IMG_0460 IMG_0458Maid cafe’s are basically places where men go to be fawned over. Many people in the west are boggled by such things, but I can only think of them as classier hooters. This one is vampire themed.

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Breakfast in Japan is quite interesting. This is a breakfast hot dog. Nuff said.
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Japanese Dr. Pepper is much different than DP in the states. I really liked it. It was spicier and less sweet.  Also, it is also contained in really sweet steel cans.IMG_0452It was really surreal going through an entire portion of the city where anime was plastered everywhere. For the most part anime is not present in other parts of the city, and so this area of Japan is what  14-year old me thought all of japan looked like.

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Yeah, That is a Coco’s. No, I didn’t go in. Apparently I missed out though. My friend Cody, who has been to Japan many times, told me they serve some amazing Japanese fare.IMG_0450 IMG_0456

The Colonel was after me. Luckily I avoided his Wrath.
IMG_0451 IMG_0454I am not ashamed to say I drank like 12 of these while I was in Japan.

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I much preferred light railways to Subways as they were above ground, and often times much nicer to look at. The longer and longer I stayed in Japan the more I realized how scary accurate anime background and detail work is. IMG_0442

Just a bit of a photo dump today. Enjoy. See you tomorrow dear readers!

Day 2.75: The Imperial Palace

A little later I reached the Imperial palace which is near Tokyo’s financial district, and is the home of the current Emperor, who like the British Monarchs are figureheads of the country, and not true rulers. Nonetheless, thousands flock to visit the palace during the two days it’s open a year. 
IMG_0413The Imperial Palace has quite the moat around it.  While I don’t know enough Japanese to know the precise definition of the sign, I am getting the whole don’t swim in me vibe.

IMG_0420I don’t know if this tradition carries over, but in European statue making if you are pictured on a horse and it has both legs up you died in battle, if it has one leg up you died from wounds you took in battle, and if your horse has both legs on the ground you were a warrior but didn’t die relating to battle.

IMG_0422The park around the actual palace is quite picturesque.

IMG_0425Behold the mighty gatehouse! This is the main entrance to the Imperial estate. While this small gatehouse is the only visible guard station I wonder how many hidden security features are around. The ground is covered in rough stone gravel, and lend’s an alien vibe to the whole place.

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This is as close as you can get as a visitor to the palace during the normal part of the year.
IMG_0424The gravel was for lack of a better word extremely cultivated. There were no patches around that weren’t smoothed out. I wonder if that is someone’s job.

IMG_0426Here is a panoramic view o the area. It is quite empty around the entrance.

Having visited the palace as best, I could I decided to explore the nearby region before I sought my next light rail.

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I discovered a rather charming park. Tokyo despite its reputation as a paradise of concrete is actually quite full of vegetation, which along with strict pollution guidelines, might be one of the reasons the air felt so fresh most places.
IMG_0432IMG_0428I decided to leave the park via a different route than I came in and it was with some jubilation that I did. I found the most wonderful little western style house in the middle of the park.

IMG_0436The placard said that it had been a western diplomat’s residence up until WWII. It had somehow survived the war, (I doubt parks were prime targets) and now sits as the park office. A small cafe was nearby, but I didn’t stop. I was eager to scout out the district I’d only dreamed of. I left with my heart set on exploring the legendary Akihabara District, AKA 14year old me’s paradise.

Thanks for reading!

Japan Day 2.5: The Tsukiji fish market

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While I was on my way to the fish market, I stumbled across these brilliant skateboard deterrents. While most of these kinds of things are horrifically ugly these were downright charming.
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Quite by accident I stumbled upon another shrine, and without knowing it visited the same shrine that two of my good friends had gone to the year before I visited.
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IMG_0386 (1)This view of one of Tokyo’s many harbors is really quite nice.

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My quest to document the various vending machines continued. I love the fact that there are so many choices of coffee.
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As I arrived at the market something seemed off. I’d heard the market was busy all morning so to arrive at an empty lot was to say the least surprising.
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Empty, it was all empty.
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At first i was a little disappointed I’d hoped to see the great fish market in action. As it turns out I’d visited on a national holiday, and there were no fish to be sold that day. That being said I got a rare look at the market empty!IMG_0400

Undeterred I went to a sushi place right on the wharf, and had some amazing Sushi. I have to say almost all of it tasted different than American sushi, but the quality was better than I’d ever had before.  IMG_0401

This sushi restaurant normally has a 1-4 hour wait! But lucky for me I was one of only two patrons! IMG_0404As I walked back to the train the streets had begun to stir awake.

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Obligatory Selfie! IMG_0411Consulting my guide I walked towards the center of Tokyo. The imperial palace was supposively very close by. I thanked myself for buying a comfortable pair of shoes, and walked through a tunnel with traditional style shops and bars, and finally arrived at the Imperial Palace, which I will delve into tomorrow!

Japan Day 2: My First Subway Experience

One of the things I really wanted to do in Tokyo was see the Legendary Tsukiji fish market and eat Sushi for breakfast. I’d been told to really get a sense of the place you had to go early in the morning but as luck would have it, I was quite indisposed the day after my trip to the Meiji. So I awoke around 8 AM and headed to the train station.

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Oh yes~ I forgot to mention. I make notebooks, and I’d made one for the Japan trip, ( Thinking about it I want to make another) and I found the a traditionally dyed, paperback book cover that fit perfectly. It is from this notebook that I am pulling back quite a few of my notes. IMG_0364 worried that I wouldn’t be able to find my way, around especially since google maps would have used data. Luckily, I was able to mosquito off enough free  WiFi to find my way around.

IMG_0366Excuse the poor quality, this was my first tentative shot of a subway station.

IMG_0368My jetlagged brain seemed to be intent on missing rush hour. (not that I minded). So about 90% of the subway cars I rode in were mostly empty, quiet, and clean.

IMG_0371The streets near the fish market were empty, and silent save the pass of the occasional car whizzing by or the caw of a crow.

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Canned coffee is the greatest Japanese trend that needs to catch on in the states. It is the boss.
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Early morning streets are beautiful in their own way. IMG_0377

Vending machines in Japan are the coolest. I made it a habit to photograph them as I found them. By the way, Japanese sodas are way less sweet, and consequently less caloric. (but only a little).IMG_0374

A play house with casks of Sake outside. Not sure why, but heck it (like most of the country) was a visual feast.IMG_0381More quiet streets. By the time I came back, these walkways would be filled with vendors.

I don’t want to overload anyone so I think I will continue on my quest for Sushi Breakfast tomorrow!

Japan Day 1.5: Basement Birru Seizoki and Resting Places

As was my custom with this trip, I had to make small expenditures, and so after I returned to my hotel I set out again with the intention of touring the local area before I set my sights on the greater Tokyo area. It still baffles me how sprawling the greater Tokyo area is, and it seems to be an interesting combination of Los Angeles’s sheer magnitude of buildings, and New York’s compact skyline.

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If you find yourself in Shibuya it is a lovely place to stay, and I would highly recommend it.

Curiosity caught me as I rode in the elevator, and on a whim I pressed the basement button. What I found was a collection of vending machines which seemed normal enough, save this one.

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If you look carefully you will see that this particular machine dispenses booze. I smiled and wondered what kind of fuss I could create if I tried to import this idea to the States.

(Side note: It’s very rare to find food vending machines in Japan. I found only one that sold actual food, and what it sold was 99% snacks. Anyone have any idea why this is?)

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While walking I found another larger temple, and so I began to explore. This one was different, and I would later learn that though they appear similar most shrines in Japan are either Shinto or Buddist though very few tourists can make the distinction. Without really meaning to, I wandered into the temples backyard…I found myself in a small Graveyard, for the first but not the last time in Japan.

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As a child Graveyards bothered me; my concept of death was tied to video game characters and spooky stories. As a young adult, I found the yard to be utterly serene.  I am told that Japanese graveyards are communal in nature, several generations all interred together.

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(the Japanese most often practice the Buddist funeral rites of cremation. I ponder how Japan’s lack of space contributed to this style of graveyard.) There is something so peaceful in the idea of resting with your ancestors, something that makes death seem a little more tolerable. 

IMG_0287 IMG_0288Having missed the morning rush, I visited the famous Shibuya Crossing briefly. I’d cursed sleeping through rush hour, but still I enjoyed the experience of people watching.

With some disdain, I felt my body screaming for rest so I returned to my hotel, determined to rest, and then to visit, what many to consider one of the most important shrines in all of Nihon, The Meiji Shrine.

Japan Day 1: Shrines Hidden amoung the high-rises

As dawn broke I found an ATM and withdrew 10 dollars. I didn’t feel well enough to deal with the prospect of changing money.  With a 10 dollar bill, (1000 yen), in hand I went bravely to the local 7-11 and bought myself a basket of rice balls. The clerk if he was surprised at all didn’t reveal it, and he was very patient with me. It was probably 5am and he looked half awake, but the legendary manners of Japan provided even that sleep induced state.

For the rest of my trip, I would live off of rice balls. It’s not that I didn’t want to eat other things, it’s just that I suffer from a multitude of allergies, and I didn’t have the skills to explain this to a waiter. Moreover, I quite liked the riceball.

Quite in the middle of eating one I suddenly realized that these were the ‘donuts’ from all the dubbed anime I used to watch. The switch makes sense, if you put the word Onigiri in Pokemon most kids would get confused, but at the same time, I wonder how many of them were fooled into thinking that Pokemon characters ate nothing more substantial than donuts.

IMG_0275I still don’t know precisely what these were. I found them and snapped a shot of a row of them. They look like shanties and I wonder if this is where some of the homeless spend their nights. They also might be just storage. I never did find out.

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A short walk later I found myself at a small shine. The whole thing isn’t that uncommon, but it was the first shrine that I visited in Japan. I don’t know the name or what it stands for, but I loved the design of it. Moreover, I loved its location.

IMG_0278This is the same shrine! Tucked neatly between two high-rise buildings was this little religious sites. I don’t know why now looking back this is so surprising to me, but the contrast between the ancient and the new in a far away place is much more interesting than the contrast between old and new in a familiar one.

Japan, is in a way very quiet about its history. Not out of embarrassment but a simple silence of respect. It’s not that it’s not commercialized, every shrine sells things, but their presence among the highrises are not advertised by any real means. The culture acknowledges, them and yet moves on without a second thought. When you want a shrine in japan it is there, when you don’t it’s invisible.

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I walked along and found a tiny little shopping way. These malls were some of my favorite area’s to people watch. Shibuya is full of young people, many of them attractive and all of them impeccably dressed.
IMG_0281I was struck again, naively so, by the rather enticing graffiti that often covered the walls. The urge to vandalize things is an utterly human affair it seems and is unswayed by time, culture or country.

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Walking down a busy street I noticed a snaking alleyway with an old style gate. Curiosity dictated I walk on and so I did. IMG_0307

I came to the gate and saw with some giddiness that it was made of slatted hardwood and was dimly lit. Vegetation filled the hill behind the gate, and with some curiosity I approached and found…IMG_0306A lovely pool. I am not sure what this is, but it seemed to be an important historical site though I am not sure if any of them survived. While not as much of a spectacle as the horrors committed at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Tokyo was firebombed to the ground during the war, and many of the historical sites and artifacts that had existed undisturbed for hundreds of years were utterly obliterated.

I lingered by that pool for some time, and even now I marvel at the hidden  little places one can find among the bustle of Tokyo.

Woo, I am at 600 words so I think I will wrap this one up for now. more tomorrow!

Japan: Day 0.5

Last we left our hero he’d arrived in Japan safely (which makes sense as air travel is actually much safer than most other types of travel) and had to face down the scourge of customs.

Actually, it was quite easy. I filled out a few forms, answered a few questions from a beautiful Japanese customs agent (and she was beautiful) and found myself in the lobby of Japan’s central airport.

Now the benefit of a travel agent kicked in. You see Tokyo international airport is not in Tokyo. It’s actually 20 minutes of freeway travel outside Tokyo. The normals means of traveling into and out of the airport is either by car, which I didn’t have or by bus.

I was dreading trying to navigate the Tokyo bus system while jet lagged, slightly intoxicated, (the plane had free booze) and sick, when I recalled that my lovely travel agent had booked me a car.

What I was expecting was a vanpool from the airport to the city, and I looked for my ride. I found a young Japanese driver impeccably dressed holding a sign with my name on it. He spoke more English that I did Japanese, and after a quick confirmation. What I found was this.

IMG_0248A private car. I had never felt so…classy. We drove in silence more out of the language barrier than anything else. Outside a gentle rain was falling. This was the first stirrings of a tropical storm that would shadow me through Tokyo and Kyoto, and I would lose once I made it to Osaka.

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The outskirts of Tokyo were more heavily forested than I thought they would be and minutes passed on. Lighted bridges passed to my left and the Tokyo highway system snaked through the city. There was no traffic and few drivers. I smiled as I realized nearly every car on the road was Japanese, and how logical that was.

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As we passed into the Shinjuku district, the location of my first hotel, things began to swim before me. The exhaustion and ickiness I felt melded with sheer awe. Here around me the city of Tokyo swarmed, people walked with umbrellas, bright lights shone about me, advertisements blared from trucks, the universe moved and I was a small rather insignificant part of it.

IMG_0251After some time, and going up a one way street the wrong way, I left my driver with a smile, checked into my first hotel, and passed out expecting when I awoke to be sleeping in my own bed.

Japan Day 0

I left for Japan slightly after my 25th birthday. It was a cool morning, and I awoke at 6am packed and ready. I had the sniffles, which I attributed to allergies, and I got a coffee with my parents and sister as we prepared to take on  the traffic to the flyaway. (this was before I discovered the wonder that is Flonase. )

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I’d fought my parents on the idea of taking the fly away, it seemed less grand for some reason, but in the end it was much easier than fighting the traffic to LAX.

I awaited the plain in my typical goofball fashion and took far too many selfies.

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I didn’t take any photos of the flight as I spent most of it in horrific sinus pain. Protip, changes in atmospheric pressure do not go well with clogged noses.

That being said I was able to watch a few movies, and catch a few ZZZ’s. I chatted with a retired army man who was going back to work on a base, and we exchanged numbers, but unfortunately I was too timid to get back to him, and I had my own agenda.

As I walked through the halls of the airport, it hadn’t quite hit me that I’d left the states. Airplanes are little time machines, you go in and come out a different place, but you can’t really grasp the idea that you have gone anywhere. Travel itself is an odd phenomenon, even local travel. If you break it down to its base levels, it’s all based on trust, you trust that this place isn’t in the states, you trust that the airplane ride wasn’t some big set up.

My brain was hesitant. A dream I had worked to achieve since I was 14 was starting to coalesce into reality. The daze of allergy meds and the cut of jet lag added a certain dreaminess to the process.

Then, I saw this.

IMG_0247It was then it came together, it was then I shoved my hands up in the air and felt the elation of 11 years in the making. I was there, I was in Japan. So far from my own, I was home.