Japan Trip 2018
Oct 28, 2018
Krista and I were in Japan from Sept 22nd to Oct 3rd. This was our first trip to Japan and we totally loved it! Krista’s Instagram story shows a good pictoral summary of our trip. Below is the day-by-day log I kept during the trip.
Day 0 - Sept 21
- Woke up at 3am to get to the airport. Krista stayed up all night, I slept probably 2 hours.
- Our flight path was SEA -> LAX, LAX -> NRT. While taxiing in SEA, a warning light came on and they had to pull over to get it checked out. It ended up being a problem so the flight got delayed. Then the most magical airline customer service thing happened: they crammed us onto another flight headed for LAX that would allow us to not miss our Tokyo flight. They didn’t think our bags would make it, but at least we would!
- Made it to LAX and the Tokyo flight just in time. We got exit row seats, which meant I could cross my legs and stretch out.
- Continued my tradition of not being able to sleep on airplanes.
Day 1 - Sept 22
- Flew in fine, went through customs and magically our bags made it! I’m impressed!
- Rode the train to our hotel. Super easy to figure out. Short walk from Kanda station which was down an alley and neat. Vending machines!
- Hotel is bonkers. Big Japanese style tub in the room!
- Asked hotel staff for dinner options. Wanted something light, so we went for tempura. Because our hotel is baller, they sent us to a baller tempura place that was not cheap at all and we didn’t realize that until we sat down and saw the menu/prices. So we splurged and got to sit there and watch the guy make tempura. It was in the Hilltop Hotel, a short walk from our hotel.
- Came back, crashed. We went to bed at a decent time.
Day 2 - Sept 23
- Woke up about 5am.
- Watched some TV. Made coffee in the room. News shows here will show a story and then have a PiP of the news caster so we can see their reactions to things. What’s up with that?
- Bidets are awesome.
- Walked to Akihabara at like 7:20am. Nothing was open yet, so it was kinda neat seeing everything shuttered and off.
- Bought cans of coffee from a vending machine. Struggled to find a place to sit down and drink them.
- Walked to Akihabara station, grappled with buying Suica cards but eventually figured it out. Easy!
- Had breakfast at this buffet place. It was ok, not great, but it was nice. Egg omelette slices and sausage, nothing super Japanese. Krista got these beans that were in this super stringy sauce.
- Saw a bunch of people lined up outside a giant electronics store. So we got in line cuz why not. It opened at 9:30. Touched the new iPhones (Xs and Xs MAX) for the first time. Also the new Apple Watch. 6 floors of electronics! They had tons of models too, like Macross and Gundam but also Tamiya shit like cars, planes, tanks and boats. That was really cool. It was like a better Fry’s than Fry’s. I bought an iPhone charging cord since I forgot mine. We left there at like 11.
- Had lunch at 7-11. 7-11 is nice in Japan. Food was good! Soft boiled egg, rice ball, and Coke Zero.
- Went to HEY, the arcade. Super cool place, rows of STG cabs, was super cool to be in a place I’d read about and seen pictures of for years. Played the Ketsui PS4 port, got to stage 4 boss then blew it. This was pretty special, as that port doesn’t come out until Nov 29th but M2 were just happening to do a location test while we were in town. My favorite thing about HEY was just watching all the good players play games. Saw someone with an A score in Garegga, someone on the 2nd Ketsui loop, someone at Hibachi in DOJ. Such pros! A guy double played the Ketsui PS4 cab. Oh and if folks made it to the second loop on the Ketsui PS4 cab, they’d just suicide and end their game. Courtesy? If they made Ura loop would they have done that? So many questions. Went to another Sega arcade but it was all newer stuff. There was a basement floor that seemed to have nude cartoon ladies. Didn’t go, but we walked past some dudes headed that way!
- Walked around some more. The maids / maid cafe thing is weird, and the erotic shit is surprisingly in the open. Giant poster of a naked chick with super thin ‘caution’ tape covering her privates, right next to a KFC. Weird stuff man. There was a guy with a camera carefully taking a photo of that poster.
- Headed south to Odaiba to go to the art light thing Krista got tickets to. That place is like the mall district. Lots of malls! Giant Ferris wheel. Walked by the Fuji TV building which had a giant long staircase that was really impressive.
- Got lost and ended up walking a lot. Found the art thing. Went through it, it was really cool but pretty crowded. Lots of people taking photos, us included.
- Walked through one of the malls. Where the hell do people sit? There are like no benches anywhere. Saw a boy band performing a song. The name of the group was RAINZ. It was super funny but girls were losing their shit. I couldn’t understand any words but there was a bad boy in the group who started rapping at one point.
- The mall had a train station attached, so we got on the train and headed home. It was pretty packed! More standing. Trains here are awesome and we super quickly got comfortable getting around.
- Walking back to the hotel we saw the Mario Kart go-kart tour thing in progress. A guy was laughing like Wario at a stop light.
- All in all we walked about 10 miles. Got back to the hotel, were worn out so we ate in the hotel restaurant which was decent. They had green tea beer which was green and ok. Talked a lot of the weird maid and erotic stuff. I want to go to a cafe where someone sits with you and explains what the deal is with maid cafes and giant cartoon tits.
- Soaked in the tub in our room while drinking beers from the fridge.
- Fell asleep.
Day 3 - Sept 24th
- Ghibli Museum tour day! Tour started at 10 am and we had to head over to the Keio Plaza hotel to get on a bus. Took train over and walked around. Breakfast was riceballs and eggs from 7-11 before we got on the train. 7-11 is awesome in Tokyo!
- Being on a bus was nice after all the walking we did yesterday. Our tour guide, Miki, was great. Really helpful and knowledgeable.
- First stop: Hotel Gajoen. Inspired some buildings in Spirited Away. Crazy beautiful place. We had lunch there which was pretty fancy. A lot of weddings happen there, we walked past a big room with a bunch of tables where people were planning their weddings. Reminded me of a car dealer, couples sitting with salespeople going over the numbers.
- Just going through traffic and riding a bus on the freeways was really cool. Got to see the city from a different perspective, go through some tunnels, over some bridges, etc.
- Second stop was the Ghibli Museum which was amazing. No photography inside because you’re supposed to be present and enjoy yourself.
- Tons of cool stuff to see, got to see a short movie that is only shown at the museum, it was a Totoro sidestory called “Mei and the Kittenbus.” No subtitles but it was pretty clear what was going on. Cute story!
- The 3D zoetrope was probably my favorite thing there. The building architecture was also really neat.
- Spent a lot of time in the gift shop. We got stuff for our nieces and I got a little Jiji stuffed animal. Kiki’s Delivery Service is my favorite Ghibli movie, but I haven’t seen them all and now need to.
- Last stop was the outdoor Edo Architecture museum. We were kinda running out of steam at this point but it was cool to see the different styles. It was attached to a park which I enjoyed just watching people hang out with their families and stuff. Today was a national holiday (I forget why, some solstice thing?) so a lot of people were enjoying the park.
- Back on bus back to Shinjuku. Long bus ride in traffic. Once in Shinjuku we went to the Odakyu department store which was a giant 14 floor building. Clothes, furniture, restaurants, a farmers market like thing, it was crazy. I expected to ride up an escalator to a floor that had livestock.
- Took the train back to our hotel and ordered room service. Long day. On the walk back to the room we stopped at a FamilyMart convenience store and I bought a tall boy of Strong Zero, which is 9% alcohol, costs less than $2, and is available at any corner store.
- Watched Japanese TV, ate, drank, went to sleep.
Day 4 - Sept 25th
- Last day at our first hotel.
- Slow morning, did laundry, spent time in the hotel’s library looking at their books about Japan and writing out post cards to friends/family.
- Checked out at noon, rode the train to the next hotel. Started raining pretty hard but we got umbrellas. Stopped at the JR station to activate our JR Rail passes and reserve a seat on the Shinkansen to Kyoto.
- Next hotel is right next to Tokyo Station and you can get to it through tunnels at the station. We didn’t know that at first so we walked in the rain.
- Took train to Harajuku which was pretty wild. Fashion! There was a Carhartt store, I coulda picked up some new pocket tees (since this is what I wear everyday of my life).
- Lots of stores that no longer exist in the US are still in Japan. Tully’s coffee is popular here. Tower Records is still a thing. We walked by an X-girl shop, which I thought went away in the 90s.
- Walked down ‘Cat Street’ which my wife was sad to discover had no cats. Or cat cafes.
- Went into a store called “P’s First” which means “Pets Always Come First” or something like that. They sold high end puppies and kittens. Like $7k puppies. My wife’s head almost exploded from the cuteness.
- When my wife worked in architecture, she had a Japanese coworker who moved back to Japan in ~2010. We made plans to meet up with her in Shibuya for dinner, so we walked from Harajuku to Shibuya through Yoyogi Park. Meiji Jingu Shrine is there and the whole place was very serene and beautiful. Quite a contrast to the density and bustle of Harajuku.
- Dinner was all you could eat sushi. It was also all you could drink. We kept it classy.
- Took the train back to the hotel, in the train station we saw an old guy in a suit that was totally hammered. Strong Zero?
- The trains are so easy to navigate, everything has a two-letter code, a color, and a number. So I want to go from JY07 to JY11, therefore I want the platform that makes the numbers get bigger and ride four stops. Everything is numbered, it’s like in that Godzilla movie where they go to Planet X and the guy is all “Everything is numbered here… the monster is zero.” Strong Zero?
- Watched some TV (Dragon Ball Z was on) and fell asleep.
Day 5 - Sept 26th
- My mom sent a text message “You aware of typhoon Trami?” We saw something about a typhoon on the news and couldn’t understand the details, but tonally it didn’t seem like a big deal. I bet Japan knows how to handle a typhoon.
- We stopped at FamilyMart and bought breakfast and snacks for the Shinkansen. I also bought a Strong Zero for the train, cuz why not.
- The Shinkansen was great, plenty of room, quite comfortable, and FAST. Really cool views!
- Felt weird drinking booze on the train, but I saw a grey haired old lady doing it which put me at ease.
- Trains in Japan are super quiet as in people don’t talk on them. You are asked to put your phone on silent mode, and there are posters showing a cartoon guy talking on the phone and without even knowing the language you can tell that he’s being super judged as an inconsiderate asshole.
- Hotel was 2 blocks from the Kyoto train station.
- Our room is small, but it has a little balcony which is nice. Pretty much the moment we got to the room it started raining. We left the patio door open and took a much needed nap.
- Dinner at the hotel since it was late and rainy. We got to grate our own wasabi for the first time ever. Sashimi and steak and drinks and desert. Not too expensive either, like $45 for the whole meal.
- Another thing I’ve noticed here is that ‘sweets’ aren’t nearly as sweet as in the US. Less sugar I guess.
- Thought about walking around but it’s raining pretty hard and it’s dark so we wouldn’t really see anything. After all the high density public spaces it’s kind of nice to have a night in. Japanese QVC is hilarious.
Day 6 - Sept 27th
- Woke up and had breakfast at a coffee shop in Kyoto station. Sat next to a nice old lady who gave us tips of what shrines to visit and stuff. She gave us her and her daughter’s phone numbers in case we had any questions!
- Walked through the Chishakuin Temple. Very nice and peaceful. You’re in the city then the next block your in this manicured garden with these super interesting looking buildings and it’s quiet.
- Walked through this shopping district that was all narrow streets. Pretty interesting. Found another Studio Ghibli shop, bought some gifts.
- Went to a Starbucks, which sounds hella lame for a Seattle person to do, but this one was styled as an old style building, with small rooms and super interesting decor. I had a Sweet Potato Frappuccino, which is a drink I would never normally order but it was too weird for me to pass. It wasn’t bad.
- I realized in Starbucks that I didn’t have my credit card, which was concerning. Retracing my steps made it quite likely I accidentally left it in our hotel room. Tried to not stress too much about it.
- Went through another shrine. Kodaiji temple. Very cool, nice bamboo forest in the back but also super crowded.
- Walked around the neighborhood near the temple called Gion which is where geishas live. Super cool. Kimono rental is a thing, so lots of people dressed up in Kimonos. Not sure why, probably just cuz? Streets were packed though. The density!
- Soft serve ice cream is everywhere, but it’s green tea instead of chocolate, so a swirl is vanilla and green tea. It’s good, we stopped and had some.
- Walked back toward our hotel. Stopped at Kyoto Station for dinner which was conveyor belt sushi. It was super cheap but the quality was decent. Still haven’t had a high quality sushi dinner, will do that at some point. That station is huge and has tons of shops, I looked at a model magazine at a book store. That’s model as in model airplanes, not Zoolander.
- Walked back to the hotel. My credit card was in the room, so crisis adverted.
- Went to the hotel bar for our daily free drink.
- Back in the room watching Japanese baseball. Just as boring as American baseball.
- Total walking mileage: 9.4 miles. Our legs hurt. City is fairly flat, but temples required some stair and hill climbing.
- Typhoon update on the news says that Sunday will be windy and rainy. Should clear up by Monday, which is when we head to our next destination. Not too worried about it. However, trying to find decent information has been hard, so much is sensationalized bullshit that uses adjectives like “SLAM” and “DESTRUCTIVE” and “UNSTOPPABLE” but offers no actual information. Thankfully I found the Japan Meteorological Agency’s website which had good information.
Day 7 - Sept 28th
- Got up and had breakfast buffet at the hotel. It was decent.
- Weather was beautiful, very few clouds in the sky.
- Walked over to a bike tour place and they were able to fit us into the 10:30 south Kyoto tour. Did that which was really neat. Got to see the famous Fushimi Inari-taisha gates. Our tour guide was great and the group was pretty small. Biking around was nice, the city is pretty flat so no problems there, and it felt really safe from a traffic perspective. I dig all the casual biking here, you see women on bikes hauling around two kids. I should have turned on Strava so I could have seen the route we took, but sadly I forgot.
- Went north on the train to a shopping district. I was trying to find a toy store because I want to find a Macross VF-1 toy. I found a store I thought would have one, but they were a model shop not a toy shop. Still, had fun looking at all the models. You can get models of the Galaga ship and Vewlix arcade cabinets. Also models for weird obscure video game stuff, like Assault Suit Leynos and Silpheed.
- Walked down this famous alley shop thing. Nishiki Market.
- Krista loves Bikkle soda.
- Had conveyor belt sushi again. Sat next to a 96 year old Japanese man. That was fun. He told us his favorite temple but I forgot the name.
- Came back to the hotel. Had some drinks. Went to bed. Lots mosquito bites. I also got sunburned.
Day 8 - Sept 29th
- Had McDonald’s for breakfast. Lame I know, but interesting. It was basically exactly the same as the US.
- Hopped on a train to Saga-Arashiyama to go to the bamboo forest. This was really neat, but super crowded. We met a nice guy from Korea on the train that we chatted with some. He and Krista are Instagram friends now.
- Walked around that area a lot, went through a park that actually wasn’t crowded which was nice. It was raining pretty hard at times, but nothing we couldn’t manage.
- Went through an Owl cafe. It’s not a cafe at all! I guess for health reasons that’s for the best. They were cute, but it was kinda sad. They’re chained to a branch during the day, then they supposedly let them loose at night. Krista was really bothered by it.
- We tried to find ramen, but didn’t have any luck. Everything we walked by was dessert, so we had some fancy cotton candy.
- Rode the train back to Kyoto Station. Found a ramen place, it was real real good. There’s kind of a mall attached to Kyoto Station that like 10 floors, there was a whole floor dedicated to ramen restaurants.
- I’ve been feeling a little under the weather, so I wanted to go back to the hotel and lie down. Stuffy nose and cough. I hope it doesn’t get worse, so I’m taking it easy.
- Typhoon update: it’s supposed to get here tomorrow night and pass through. We saw footage on the news from Okinawa where it hit today, didn’t seem too bad. Hotel has signs up saying we’ll probably lose power and to charge your devices. Sounds like we can handle it. We’re supposed to leave here on Oct 1st and go to Hakone which is east of here. We spend one night in an onsen there for our anniversary. Hopefully everything cooperates.
Day 9 - Sept 30th
- Typhoon coming. Went to the train station to see what was going on. Lots of stuff shutdown and trains weren’t running. Wanted to go to Mister Donut but they were shutdown! Ended up going to a small sit down place and had some breakfast curry.
- Trains not running meant it would be hard to get around. My cold got worse so I was feeling pretty beat.
- We spent from noon on in our hotel room. I took a lot of naps. Basically a real lazy day and took the typhoon coming as an excuse to rest up to get over my cold.
- Watched “Memoirs of a Geisha” which was ok. It was cool to see the Gion district we were walking though a few days ago.
- Typhoon came I guess? It got real windy at one point but it didn’t really disrupt sleep. I slept pretty poorly due to my cold though. Just couldn’t get comfortable.
Day 10 - Oct 1st
- Last day in Kyoto. We’re talking a bullet train to Hakone where we’re staying one night at a super nice place. Today is our 7 year wedding anniversary.
- Weather is nice and clear. Blue skies. Typhoon gone.
- Walked over to Kyoto station to get breakfast. Ate at same restaurant where we chatted with that old lady the first morning we were in Kyoto. They have a dish called “eggslut” which is probably unintentional but pretty hilarious. Krista ordered it and liked it.
- Went to a drugstore and bought what I think/hope is ibuprofen.
- Saw some news mentioning train service delays, so we stopped at an information booth to ask about our Shinkansen route. Guy told us it would be delayed at most 30 minutes.
- Went back to the hotel, packed up and checked out.
- Got to the train station early, so went to Mister Donut for a snack. Pretty decent, I had an old fashioned which was good. Not too much icing. They also sell spaghetti. What is it with spaghetti? So many places unexpectedly sell spaghetti. Wendy’s for example.
- Train was on time. No delay at all.
- Had some food on the train. I’m feeling better, so I also had a beer. Not feeling well enough for a Strong Zero, so just regular beer. It continues to blow my mind how I can buy beer out of vending machines out in the open. Such an advanced society!
- Also, brands here are way broader than they are in the US. For example, Suntory, the whiskey maker, also sells bottled water and sodas. Could you imagine Coors bottled water?
- Got off the Shinkansen at Odawara and transferred to another train to Hakone, then caught a hotel shuttle to Yama No Chaya. Onsen is the right term right?
- Our room has its own private bath that overlooks a bamboo grove and a stream and a hillside. Wow.
- We had dinner which was a 7 course, 2 hour affair served to us in our room. It was quite good and made us quite full.
- Spent more time in the bath. Ahhhh. The arcade I was at in Akihabara that has the Ketsui location test was streaming people play (I’m pretty sure I was on stream when I played) on NicoNico so I watched that while in the bath.
- Sleeps. We head back to Tokyo tomorrow, I want to try and track down some Macross toys and maybe go to Ebisen, an arcade KevinDDR told me about. It’s kind of a trek though so we’ll see about that.
Day 11 - Oct 2nd
- Woke up and soaked in the bath.
- Had breakfast in the room fancy style.
- Check out at 10, they sadly informed us that they couldn’t book a taxi at 10, would 10:10 be ok. Uh, yes.
- Taxi from Yama No Chaya to Hakone-Yumoto train station. About a mile, about $10.
- Train ride from Hakone-Yumoto to Odawara where we’ll catch the Shinkansen to Tokyo.
- Got to final hotel about noon. 31st floor, nice view. Our room has this art motif that’s kinda neat.
- Krista and I plan to split up. I want to go to more arcades and she wants to look at other stuff. I give her WiFi hotspot and head to Akihabara.
- Go back to HEY. Man, I missed a whole row of STG cabs the first time I was here, and also didn’t notice that many cabs have 2 games in them you can switch between. So they DO have Futari Black Label and Muchi Muchi Pork! Their Muchi Muchi Pork is set to give extends every 5 mil which is weird. I got to the last boss on the first try but died there. Saw a guy almost reach the Ura loop on Ketsui but he died in the backwards tunnel part of stage 5. I left to go look for Macross toys.
- Went to Mandarake tower, which is 8 floors of nerd stuff. Some weird shit (hentai and cosplaying supplies) but lots of cool video game stuff and toys. Macross toys are expensive and large, so I won’t be getting any. But saw some neat stuff. They had the Gamest VHS superplays for Dodonpachi and RSG which were neat to see. Saw a gold Rockman 4 cartridge which is super rare, perhaps given to those whose enemy designs were picked or something? I feel like I saw this discussed on an episode of Game Center CX.
- Went into some other arcades but they were all filled with stuff I wasn’t interested in. I was planning on going to Ebisen today but since HEY has all the games I want I’ll just stay there.
- Stopped at 7-11 for a riceball and egg. Guy in front of me bought a 9% can of booze. Tempting… but no.
- Played a bunch of MMP. 1 all’d it!
- Train back to the hotel at 8pm.
- Krista and I walked through the Ginza district to go to a place for dinner Krista found while I was at HEY. Ginza is pretty fancy. Also walked by the clock that Hayao Miyazaki designed.
- Came back to hotel, watched Gundam, fell asleep. Our flight doesn’t leave tomorrow until like 7pm, so we’ll squeeze in some more stuff tomorrow morning.
Day 12 - Oct 3rd
- Last day. Sad!
- Woke up early and rode the train to Shibuya to see Shibuya Crossing. It was ok, I mean it’s just a big crosswalk with a bunch of people. There was a group of dudes that were hip-hop dudes and they would go out into the crossing when the walk signal was on and film themselves doing super generic hip-hop gestures, maybe for a video or something? I kind of wish I had asked them.
- Went to a cat cafe. Cute cats, but there weren’t really super social. Not like our cat Champion who will jump all over you and smell you. They were kind of bratty snobs. We got to see them get fed though which was pretty hilarious.
- Checked out of our hotel and had them hang onto our bags for the 1.5 hours until we caught the bus to the airport.
- Went to Taco Bell. It was roughly Taco Bell quality, although my grilled burrito had pork that looked like real pork. The portion sizes were laughably small to this American. Also, nachos were called ‘cheesy chips’.
- Went to Tower Records. People still buy CDs apparently, and holy shit they’re expensive, like $25.
- Got on the bus to the airport. Nice bus! “Limousine Bus” they call it.
- Sat on a plane for 9 hours and landed in LAX. LAX is such a horrible horrible airport.
- With the time change of 16 hours, we got home to our house in Seattle at the same time that we left Tokyo. We got home at about 7:30pm.
- We snuggled with our cats who were happy to see us and got in bed at about 10pm.