Day twenty-five – Harajuku again

We’d been a bit slack on laundry so Friday started with washing and drying clothes, so that I’d have clean underwear. It seemed a little odd to do laundry the day before we left the country, but it was also nice to do such a small load.

I used the time to write blog posts and some of my new novel (NaNoWriMo started on the first, and my goal is to write 50k words in the month of November). Anna used the time to repack her suitcase and work out what needed to go in the planned new case.

Once we had clean, dry underwear we went out into the world. The plan was to visit the shiba cafe again and see if we could get in. The return time was within an hour so we booked in, and spent that time on Takeshita St buying some gifts, checking out the Disney store and trying not to buy too much.

The shibas were just as adorable the second time around, if not more so as this time we weren’t awkwardly rushing for it, and because of the early afternoon sun, the pups were all very sleepy.

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We did have a moment of shiba drama. One little one had been asleep under the table when we arrived, and I guess another dog woke it up, and there was barking, and every shiba in the place gathered around the table. One of the staff intervened and picked up the little one, and all the dogs just followed like ‘put him down, what’s going on??’

It was quite exciting. We went for Macdonalds for lunch again, because I have a serious french fry habit apparently, and was craving them. After that we headed back to Shinjuku and went shopping at Biqlo, which is a Bic Camera and UniQlo sharing a building. I wanted some more of the super comfy singlet I’d got in Hiroshima, but they didn’t stock the exact style, we both picked up a few things though.

At Bic Camera we got a medium sized suitcase from a very enthusiastic salesperson and then we went back to our hotel to rest and nap. It had got to a very particular level of sleepy and exhausted, like I was saying the wrong words and neither of us were any good at making decisions, but we got there. The suitcase was on sale and is very nice, a Japanese made brand.

After the nappening, we went back to Itamae sushi which we’d liked at the start of the trip. I didn’t want to order something very big, so I went with lots of smaller things. Hokkaido oysters, mackerel sashimi and tuna nigiri. They also gave us miso, green salad and a little bowl of something we couldn’t identify. It was like very tender meat, and it tasted fantastic. Anna thinks it could have been kidney.

Also I ordered a small beer, and they didn’t believe me. The Chef double checked ‘small?’ when I ordered, and then the waiter brought out the glasses to show me the sizes before pouring. They were right, I wanted medium, the small was very small. It was a really, really good meal. Excellent quality of everything.

After this, we celebrated with an hour at a karaoke place, where we belted My Chemical Romance, some Broadway hits from Les Mis and Cats, and Anna’s favourite belt top hits. It was a place which insisted you also bought a drink and their cocktails were really, really nice.

Back at the hotel, we got all our extra stuff into the new suitcase and some extra from our bags and had a rough time getting to sleep. Anxious about heading home, sad about leaving Japan, all the ‘return to the real world’ things.

Day twenty-three – Tokyo – Daiba to Shinjuku

We had planned to get up and get breakfast at the fish market, but we were both so much in need of rest that we didn’t get to the fish market until mid morning.

The last time I hit the fish market it was the old style one, and we kind of just wandered in and were politely asked to leave. Since then, Tokyo’s upped its game and made the fish market both a workable area for the fishers and buyers, and a tourist destination.

Basically it’s a huuuuuuge building now. Like, imagine a building as long as a few blocks, and as deep. The ground floor is all the fish market, the serious fish sellers, the crates of fish, etc etc.

Upstairs from that is the visitors observation gallery, where you can peek through windows at the people walking below with no danger of getting in their way. You can learn stuff, like what fish are in season, or see one of the little zoomy vehicles the people in the market zip around on. Upstairs from that is the adjacent or intermediate market. It had cooking related items, mostly. Lots of people selling knives, or dry ingredients or vegetables. By this time we were both getting very hungry, so we went to find the restaurants zone.

It’s like a food court but everyone’s selling the best sushi in the world.

But how do you pick a place? There were some stores obviously beloved by locals because there were long lines outside them. There were some with no lines at all. Some of them we could discount right off as they were selling curry and rice, or various hot donburis or dishes. We were there for fresh, raw fish.

In the end we rolled the dice on this place, because it said since 1800s and it had no line. Unfortunately we became the line. The place was small and only a certain number of people fit around the bar, so we had to wait. It was twenty minutes or maybe half an hour? it felt longer because we were both so hungry and also smelling food, but finally they let us in.

It was worth the wait. I got the sashimi platter and Anna got the sushi and sashimi set. They were both exquisite. The tuna especially was so good and fresh it melted in the mouth. And the flavours… urgh, there’s nothing like it.

So you don’t have to get up a sparrow fart to get the best fresh sushi, but I would suggest aiming for mid morning – past breakfast rush and before lunch rush. We were just at the start of the lunch rush and it was full on by the time we left. And save the fish market sight seeing for after you’ve eaten.

Once that was done, we took the monorail to Daiba proper and tracked down an art exhibition my friend Jay had found out about and sent us the link to. Teamlab Borderless which is an interactive, immersive, digital and three dimensional exhibition where each art work interacts with each other, and may move between rooms, and is affected by the presence of viewers. If that description doesn’t make sense, or is hard to imagine, then you’re right. Even inside it there was so much we didn’t understand.

There’s minimal guidance inside the exhibition space, there are wall signs encouraging you to interact, explore, investigate and in a couple of rooms staff advise on safety – don’t touch the LEDs, for example. But overall it’s an experience you have to immerse yourself into.

The first room we went to was the butterfly house, where if you stand still long enough, butterflies (colourful projections) manifest in your body and fly away. Also as you stay still flowers bloom from under your feet. The longer you stay in one place, the more flowers.

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In other rooms the flowers would happen under our feet and if we touched the walls long enough.

In the forest room with falling water we discovered that if you stayed against the wall where there was running water, it’d ‘bounce’ off you. It thought I was a little taller than I am, but you can see the effect here in a before and after which also shows me generating flowers. The water on the ground would also divert around your feet, and all of this was projected somehow. It was breathtaking stuff.

I won’t do a blow by blow of all the rooms, especially as it turns out we missed at least one, but here’s some examples of what we experienced.

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t overwhelming. At once point I jumped at the roar sound effect of a tiger made of flowers walking past me, and my heart wouldn’t stop racing. My mind and my eyes were so overloaded with sensation, so many new incredible things that I started to get… not a headache exactly, but a spacey sensation. There were a couple of rest rooms and a quick break in a plain, normally lit room did help. It was an amazing place, but I sort of wanted to leave in a hurry as well. In places the floor was uneven or there were mirrored walls which you didn’t realise were mirrors until you were almost up against them. The LED lights was a maze, and although beautiful it was also disconcerting.

I loved this exhibition, and I’d have been keen to see some of their other stuff, but I came out of there quite exhausted. My brain had been well wrinkled.

To recover we went to local fancy mall VenusFort for drinks and cake directly out of anime. it was a nice afternoon tea.

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I was feeling pretty out of it, but we managed to take the subway to Shinjuku and get to the Sunroute, where we stayed previously right after Disney. It felt like coming home, a bit.

Slept very, very well in the more familiar place.

Day thirteen, Osaka castle

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Slept in a bit and then took a walk to Doutor for breakfast, I also managed to find a post box to send off some postcards in, so that was exciting.

Then we navigated the Osaka subway and got to Osaka Castle park. It’s a beautiful place. They were selling plants and bonzai off one of the paths. There was also an ice cream truck, so the first thing we did was get soft serves. I had chocolate and Anna had condensed milk strawberry. They were both very, very good.

It was a scorcher of a day, very hot in the sun, but sitting on the edge of a fountain, enjoying ice cream and people and dog watching was really nice. Calm. Nice get a little vitamin D without having to navigate a themepark or rush to get somewhere.

The walk up to the Castle’s main tower was quite steep and involved a lot of steps, so it stopped feeling quite so restful. However it’s might impressive up there, and worth the climb.

 

We didn’t go into the castle itself, we just sat in the courtyard and watched people again. Took in the beauty of the place, watched an acrobat couple do tricks to eighties music and soundtracks from Jurassic Park and drank apple juice. It was a very restful visit, up until a creepy gigantic beetle thing landed on my leg and we both decided it was time to move on. We walked down the other side. The moat is really pretty

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After this we headed back to Shinsaibashi where I hit UniQlo and bought pants! That fit me! In Japan! and some great T shirts, and then we went back to the hotel for an afternoon rest.

For dinner we went back to Chibo Okonomiyaki and had a Hiroshima style one with crispy gyoza as well.

A word about Osaka – now, I love Osaka, but in a lot of ways it’s a different country to Tokyo. It feels like Osaka is the drunk uncle to Tokyo’s perfectly presented business person. Tokyo crowds are quiet, well behaved and no one ever bumps into you.

Osaka people act a lot more like New Zealand crowds. They’ll yell at each other, stop in the middle of the walk way and have arguments. The kids are much more likely to be crying and running away from their parents, something we almost never saw in Tokyo. People hoik and spit in the street, ride their bicycles through red lights and directly towards cars and people jaywalk all over the place.

Also we’re staying near Dotonbori which is a weird mix of great food, host clubs, strip clubs and pubs. We wander to and from dinner past signs which aren’t always clear what they’re advertising. Does that name indicate a regular pub, or somewhere you have to spend a lot of money for pretty boys to drink with you? or is it a nice place for food? We just don’t know.

The crowd thing is a little annoying but otherwise it’s great. Osaka is a lot of fun. It’s just so markedly different from Tokyo.

Day twelve – Osaka, rest day

Today’s a rest day so aside from the laundry we got done most of the day was either reading, napping or writing (depending on if you’re Anna or Jamie) with out feet up in bed. In this hotel we’re in separate beds as one of the things I said to our travel agent was ‘if it’s not a proper Queen size bed or larger, we want a twin room’. This is because standard Japanese doubles are built for smaller people, and neither of us sleep well when we’re crammed in together in a hot room.

Anyway, I got lots of writing done. I did editing on my paranormal mystery and wrote a new chapter on my new thing. Anna got lots of reading done and we rested our bodies and took a break. It was pretty great.

Finally we left the room to check out Dotonbori, which is a full on red light district which is also a shopping mall and a brilliant source of delicious food. We hit a couple of shops and then tracked down the same okonomiyaki place we ate and loved last time: Chibo, it’s a eight floor oknomiyaki restaurant.

It was super delicious. We also got crispy gyoza for starters but we were both so excited to eat it we didn’t get a photo. It was really nice. Okonomiyaki is a batter and cabbage pancake pizza with various fillings, covered in delicious bbq-ish sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes. Ours have beef and seafood inside and was really, really freaking delicous. Also it had an egg on top.

After that another wander through Dotonbori, and hit up the Osaka Tokyu Hands before heading back to the hotel room.

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Day eleven – Osaka USJ port to Shinsaibashi

Sleep in, late breakfast at the hotel buffet and a lovely late check out so we went back to bed for a bit.

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Smoked salmon and saury, camembert and salami, takoyaki and dim sum, okonomiyaki, deep fried fish cake with dinosaur print, onigiri

In the room I got some writing done, because being around themeparks is super inspiring for writing a themepark based romance. We checked out and left our bags with the hotel, then headed out the back to the port where we could catch a ferry to Kaiyukan Aquarium.

Kaiyukan is gigantic, and focuses on the ring of fire, highlighting wildlife from all around the Pacific. According to wikipedia the largest, central tank is nine metres deep and holds 5,400 cubic metres of water. This is a tank which holds manta rays and two whale sharks and is my favourite thing.

As we were just a short ferry ride from it, at Universal, we figured we’d knock it off quickly and have Saturday as a rest day. Save ourselves the trip out to it from town. So, here’s some pics and videos of the love of my life, whale sharks (and some other weird fish).

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whale shark friend #kaiyukan #AnnaJamieHoneymoon

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We stopped at the Mermaid cafe because we both got pretty sleepy, and I had the blended whale shark soft serve, which is half vanilla and half ramune (Japanese lemonade soda) flavour. It was really, really good. The hot dog we split wasn’t quite as nice.

On the way out there was an Antarctic exhibition and some penguins, including some babies at the ragged half fluffy mess stage, which is pretty hilarious and endearing. Anna filled up the official Kaiyukan stamp book with all the animal stamps and we exited through the gift shop. So many pretty stickers… I also got a fabric printed in whale shark stripes and spots, which I’m excited to use in patchwork somehow.

We got the ferry back to the hotel and asked one of the helpful staff to call us a taxi to get to our new hotel. Osaka’s train system is a slight nightmare, there’s at least three different rail companies and they all go different places and many have different stations. To get to our hotel in Shinsaibashi would have taken three different trains and connections.

The taxi driver seemed to understand where we wanted to go, but at the last moment he went to a different hotel in the middle of Dotonbori. It was a slight nightmare, as he was confused and we were confused, and Dotonbori is an exceptionally busy place with people all over the streets, driving their bicycles towards you and beeping if you stop in the middle of the road, which our taxi did. He even jumped out and went into a building looking for the hotel he thought we were staying at. Around then I remembered my google translate app and used it to bring up the Japanese characters for “not our hotel. Hotel Nest Shinsaibashi” and then he took us there. It seemed to be a simple misunderstanding between ‘nest’ and ‘Nishi’ but it was stressful. Still easier than three trains with our suitcases though!

We’ve been a bit spoiled by the luxury of the park hotels, which are very generous room sizes with white person sized baths and separate toilets. Although I remember Nest being pretty nice when we stayed here last year it feels small and a little grimy. The bathroom is the standard Japanese hotel ‘all in one’ where the sink and bath and floor and walls are one big plastic piece. It’s fine, and our hotel in Hiroshima will be smaller still, but I do miss the nice big soft bed at Universal Studios.

We had a rest and then went over the road for Mos Burger for dinner. According to my research, Mos Burger is the second largest burger place in Japan after Macdonalds.

Anna had a pork cutlet burger and I had a chicken burger. Both had a really nice amount of greens in them, and you could choose fries or fries and onion rings to go on the side. I also got chicken nuggets because I kept thinking about how nice the ones at Disney were. Mos Burger didn’t disappoint, and since it’s directly over the road we may go there again… maybe. If we can’t be bothered walking to Dotonbori and the excellent food there.

 

Day nine – Tokyo to Osaka, Universal Studios

This morning we packed up and left our hotel in Shinjuku, dropping off a case full of purchases (and clothes we don’t need) with the hotel for when we check back in at the end of the month.

We have two day passes to Osaka Universal Studios, but it’s not as good a park as Disney, so we weren’t too incredibly fussed about getting there first thing. Lucky we weren’t because with the JR pass you can’t take the fastest bullet train for free. We had to commuter train from Shinuku to Shinagawa and then book tickets for the less fast bullet train ( less fast because it makes more stops, I don’t believe it’s actually a slower train.)

Anna and I made the rookie mistake of not eating breakfast before we went out, which meant we were both a little snippy in the station but we worked it out and apologised to each other. Travel is a great test of a relationship and how much you communicate tbh. I think we’re handling it well, but it’d be so easy not to handle it at all.

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Shinkansens are lovely beasts. However today for the first time, I got pretty motion sick on it.

I blame this on sitting right at the front of the carriage. And the guy who was sitting in the window pulled the blind down so he could sleep. I’ve always been sat where I can see out the window. Today I spent a half hour writing postcards and not looking up, and I started to feel seriously gross. I couldn’t look out the window to see the progress, all I had was a blank white wall and the rolling motion of the train. I had to get up and use the bathroom, and walking down the aisle was a major challenge, I felt like I was at sea. Much harder than moving down a plane aisle.

Once I’d been to the bathroom (and didn’t throw up) I felt a little better, but it wasn’t until the guy in the window seat got off and I shifted over to watch out the window I started to feel properly well again. Not fun, but I did manage a nap after that, which felt very much like I know my way around and can just sleep on trains like the locals but actually is just a testament to how sleepy I am. Also I had lots of nightmares about the world ending last night so maybe that was a factor as well.

Once we landed in Shin-Osaka station Anna looked up the directions to our new hotel and it was going to involve three trains and probably some walking between stations. We decided to make it easier on ourselves and take a taxi.

Unfortunately our taxi driver didn’t have much English and had never heard of our hotel, but he got us to Universal Studios all right. And once we were at the park entrance we saw our hotel, which is very close indeed. In fact we have a view over the park itself from our room, which is very cool but also means I can hear people screaming on the roller coaster from bed. Thankfully the park closes soon so it’s not going to affect my sleep tonight.

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View from the hotel room includes some behind the scenes stuff, Hogwarts castle to the right and various roller coasters.

Hotel Universal Port is right on the water beside Universal Studios and we can see Kaiyukan aquarium from our room. Kaiyukan is my favourite place in Osaka, it has whale sharks. Our room is very large and fancy, we have a proper king sized bed, which is very unusual for Japanese hotels.

Once we’d switched some things between bags and found our tickets for the park we headed over. It’s about a five minute walk to the main entrance.

It’s a busy park and it was mid afternoon by the time we got there. Lots of people in all sorts of costumes, because although Disney is very strict that you must dress as a Disney character, Universal has no such rule. There were lots of horror costumes, as Universal is big on Halloween. There are multiple horror mazes and street shows with zombies.

However we were there for none of that, we had one destination: Hogsmeade. There are only two rides and they had long wait times, so we spent our time eating at the three broomsticks, shopping, watching the street shows and doing magic at the magic stations in the park.

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It’s seriously the best British pub food I’ve had, I think. Just delicious, and the butterbeer is so good!

Some of the wands they sell in the park allow you to perform magic tricks. There’s a bunch of spots around Hogsmeade, and the wands that have the sensor bar in them come with a neat little map showing them all to you, in English and Japanese. I used Alohamora to unlock a fancy gate, and made it snow. Anna did incendio to make a fireball come out of a burning brazier and moved a bunch of luggage near the Hogwarts Express. It was surprisingly fun, even when you can see the sensor lights you should be aiming at, there’s a staff member there to guide you in how to do the spell, and the special effects are very cool.

Hogsmeade is Disneysea levels of immersion and attention to detail, but the rest of the park isn’t as good. We spent almost no time there today, actually, although on the way out we did see a zombie street show. A bunch of zombies in prison gear or asylum patient outfits were stalking the streets and scaring people. We saw one take advantage of two girls watching another zombie to sneak up and scare them, and they ran screaming!

Then the zombies did a choreographed street dance, because why not? I guess? It was very popular with the crowd watching. We bailed to rest, and because over the last few days I’ve been planning a new novel and today I worked out the approach for the first chapter. Trains are always good for my creativity, but the themeparks have helped as well.

So we bailed around 7pm and came back to the hotel to rest and chill out, and it’s been very pleasant indeed.

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a little towel Snoopy and a congratulations card from minions?

Day eight – Akihabara, Tokyo

We’ve been in Japan one week !

Today we slept in some again. It was nice. Doutor breakfast again, then took the old Yamanote line to Electric Town Akihabara. Akihabara is the home of maid cafes, nerd stuff and collectibles.

We wandered around some and picked up some cute Studio Ghibli merchandise and various little things. Neither of us really wanted to go too hard on the collectibles though so we purchased some Pablo 3 Mini Cheese Tarts and got back on the train to Tokyo station. From there we walked a couple of blocks to the Tokyo Pokemon Centre.

Last time we visited Japan we went to the Pokemon centres in Hiroshima and Kyoto but missed this one, it’s gigantic. And it has a permanent pokemon cafe attached to it. It’s pretty busy even on a Tuesday early afternoon. But we were able to secure a spot in the session which started in 45 minutes after we signed in.

This gave us plenty of time to peruse the gigantic Pokemon centre store.

We picked up a bunch of plushies (some of which are gifts, maybe even more than half) and various stationary, stickers and I got the greatest hoodie of all time. It is the hoodie of the pokemon Mimikyu, which is a weird ghost pokemon which wears a disguise to look like pikachu. Apparently under disguise its true face is horrifying, but I just love it to bits and it’s wildly powerful in Pokemon sun and moon. It fits well with my creepy/cute aesthetic.

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After that we went to the Pokemon Cafe and sat down for some very cute, and very delicious foods.

The pikachu face is yellow coloured rice with seaweed facial details, slices of carrots for cheeks and star shaped vegetables in the curry. The curry is Japanese curry which is rich and delicious, like a casserole. The mimikyu is my dessert, it’s a crepe creation with banana berry cream in the ears, and a layered cream, fruit and pancake situation under the face. The tail was a delicious chocolate cookie, the red cheeks were a caramalised raspberry deliciousness.

Anna’s pikachu butt was omelette with spaghetti cabonara underneath, with green salad. The tail was a corn chip. The Jigglypuff dessert was a perfect strawberry cheesecake with cookies, fruit and cream.

The food was all cute and delicious and then, as we were starting desserts the waitresses made an announcement and a giant eevee walked in!

It was such a good Japanese moment. Like, yeah this cafe was nicer than we expected, and the food was great, and we got special collectible coasters for ordering in theme drinks. And then a freaking giant eevee walks in to music and does cute poses so people can take photos?? Amazing.

After the pokemon centre we got back on the Yamanote line and back to Shinjuku. Our current Tokyo hotel is the same one we’re staying at for the last few days of our trip, and when we checked in the desk staff mentioned we could store luggage with them. So, we tracked down a Bic Camera, which is a big electronics and variety department store. We picked up a great big, bright pink hardcase suitcase and brought it back to the hotel. We packed up all our merchanise, fabric, stationary purchases and my gorgeous boots, plus our Disneybound outfits and whatever clothes we don’t think we’ll wear again. We filled the case and got it closed!

Packing everything up tonight because tomorrow we head to Osaka and Universal Studios Japan. Hopefully our feet won’t fall off!  To finish, here’s my Mimikyu Halloween special event plushie ❤

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