Day 7 was a mix of traditional and modern Japan with a trip to both Yasukuni Shrine and Akihabara.
Yasukuni Shrine is the first (but hopefully not the last) shrine we have visited during our trip. Its one I learnt about during our Culture Lectures and has wanted to visit since then.
But first we started with lunch from a small cafe near the shrine. My Japanese hadn’t quite been good enough, so instead of ordering pasta for my Dad and a toastie for myself we ended up with two pastas and a toastie. My pasta however was not like Dads and had a strange item in the mix. I’m not sure what it was but I know it was something that had I known what it was I wouldn’t of eaten it. I refuse to let Dad tell me what it was even now two days later.
It was squid.
Fully replenished we entered the grounds of the Shrine. For somewhere surrounded by modern tall buildings and roads its strangely quiet. The grounds were larger than I expected and the Tori gates especially were huge!
I opted to walk along under the trees which offered some respite from the Sun. I scavenged some twigs and stones for basing miniatures as I went of course.
We cleansed our hands in the traditional way and then slowly walked around the Shrine.
Although neither of us prayed we did get our fortune (no translation unfortunately so hopefully it wasn’t bad…) and I did write a wish on one of the wooden plaques. They had the traditional shaped ones I had seen in photos and in anime but they also had ones shaped as Sakura blossoms. I bought one to write on and one to take home as they were so beautiful.
We spent most of our time sitting and people watching while enjoying the quiet and the nice breeze (the heat isn’t actually bothering us anymore!) before buying a few souvenirs and heading off to Akihabara.
This was very pleasant.
But, there was shopping to do in Akihabara so, off we went. I was left trailing behind in the heat whilst Michaela forged ahead no doubt drawn by the lure of more swag.There she goes, wait for me!
My goal for the trip to Akihabara was to buy the Grand Shuffle DVD, my plans however were foiled by the fact they were sold out of the DVD and only had blu-ray.
Ah, back on familiar ground, this is like a home away from home now.
I didn’t let this ruin the trip though as we still got to have a look round the Donki building (though of course not the theatre) and bought lots of goodies! Including the Kenkyuusei concert I’ve wanted for ages.
The Donki building was impressive (it's actually called Don Quixote, Donki for short) 12 floors of weird stuff I wanted to own. I resisted and bought nothing in the end because I couldn't decide what was best. I think we bough some bizarre KitKats though. Japan has a thing about odd KitKat flavours.
Here's my more familiar viewpoint of Akihabara- waiting on the pavement while my daughter shops for photographs of pop idols.
We also got to go to another shop where Dad found some goodies he wanted too.
A set of Totoro miniatures in a scale close enough to add to my games, a plush cat bus and some Totoro playing cards. Here are the miniatures after I got them home and based them:
I also managed to win a Madoka figure in an arcade! The game was actually pretty easy and I got her on my 3rd go. I wish I had continued playing to win the matching Homu one.
Once we arrived back at Shinjuku station we were greeted by music. All along the road there were people singing or playing an instrument. There was one girl that caught my eye though (Helped by the fact she was by the entrance and the taxis) who was so sweet and cute but had a really beautiful and quite powerful voice.
She didn’t have a CD unfortunately but I’ve followed her on twitter and hope to support her in the future. She also followed me back and replied to my tweet (in english!) which was really cute ;3;. She’s performing at Zepp Tokyo on the 9th of Sep but I of course won’t be here ;_;.
After speaking to her and getting the leaflet we got a taxi back to the hotel to rest. The day was generally very chilled as we were preparing for the early start and full day that was Day 8.
Off to Fujisan! Day 8 is the long awaited trip to Fuji & Hakone. We booked a tour to see mt Fuji as we didn’t really know how else to get there on our own. (especially as neither of us can drive).
Our day started extra early as we needed to be downstairs for the bus at 7:45, even with our relaxed day the day before we both were quite tired. However, almost the entire trip was spent on a coach….so that wasn’t much of a problem.
I’d like to write about how amazing it was, seeing the mountain up close, and driving over it, and going on a boat on one of the lakes and then up a cable car to amazing views. But honestly all of that was overshadowed by just how long we spent on the coach.
Our stop off at the half way point was only for 20 minutes (which was spent in fog) and our stop to take photos of the peak when the fog cleared on our way down was only for 2 minutes. The ‘cruise’ was barely 15 minutes and the cable car was 7 each way, with a 10 minute break up the top.
Mt Fuji is behind this building.
This is me at mt Fuji...
This is Michaela at mt Fuji.
THIS is mt Fuji. That cloud on the left is the one we were standing in in the previous photos.
There was a huge gift shop and we bought some more odd Kit-Kat flavours as well as some water in mt Fuji shaped bottles. There's no escaping it, we're real culture vultures at times.
Lunch was the longest break but that was spent with a fish looking me right in the eye daring me to eat it (I didn’t). So although the mountain was beautiful, and the views were incredible I would have preferred to go without the tour. It was all very rushed and I don’t think I would recommend the tour.
Lunch! Just brilliant. Varied and interesting and all cooking away on flame heaters in front of you. I really enjoyed this. I didn't eat my fish's head either I must confess.
Bubble, bubble, I have no idea what most of the food was (apart from the noodles obviously) but it was very nice.
The boat trip on Lake Ashi was enjoyable enough but very quick.
Our boat was fast and modern. Others on the lake had a more retro look.
Michaela found her sea legs almost immediately.
We had a few minutes to find a toilet and grab an ice cream at the foot of mt Komaga-Take before it was our turn to board the cable car to the top.
You can just see the other end of the cable on top of the mountain here.
Now I saw Where Eagles Dare quite a few time when I was young and it left a lasting impression on me about cable cars and all their dangers (including ice picks in the arm!) In principle they seem fine and dandy, much like big wheels, but in practice they leave me feeling a little unsure.
Never-the-less here I am cool and collected, ready for the ascent.
As was Michaela...
As it happened nothing disastrous befell us that day. There were a couple of queasy moments as we rattled, bumped and swayed over the supporting pylons but nothing that made me actually squeal in fright.
The views from the top were magnificent but time was very short (a feature of the whole day sadly) and we soon had to return.
Everyone piled into the car for the return trip. It was the last car of the day and I noticed the 'maximum 40 people' sign in passing as I was hustled past it as more and more people were squeezed on. There must have been over a hundred of us, breathing was a problem due to the crush.
Once we'd returned safely to terra firma it was back on the bus for the return trip.
See the cute cow? Everywhere you look in Japan there are little animal or creature drawings. Everything possible seems to be anthropomorphicaly upgraded to sentience from business logos to buses.
The Shinkansen (bullet train) however is another story entirely.
This was something both of us were very excited about (yes!) and had paid extra just so we could return by it. We stood at the station and watched the train from the other side stop and let people one, we got a brief look at one as it woooooshed through the station (I got about 3 seconds of footage before it had gone), and then it was time to board.
The Shinkansen looks awesome, and the inside is great! The seats are a nice size and have a ridiculous amount of leg room. The views were amazing, if a bit quick passing and the overall feel of the train was welcomed after our day on the coach. We even stayed and watched the little pink ladies clean the carriage and turn the seats around for the return journey!
This is my happy face. What an amazing machine this train is.
Look at the leg room. This is so they have space turn the rows of seats around for when the train goes back the other way. A very welcome by-product of an already cool design.
Even though it can be pricey I would love to ride a shinkansen again and hope we can in future trips. I’d also love to visit Hakone, a hot spring town, as it was just beautiful there. Though I think I’d prefer a private hot spring to a shared one.
To round off our day we stopped for a meal. I had a pizza. In Japan they put the cheese on last so it keeps all the other toppings in place. My Japanese pizza was delicious.
Michaela had something that moved!
Despite having spent most of the previous day on a coach we were both very tired today.
Japanese sandwich. No crusts and sealed all the way around. And tiny. Next to it on the left is some melon pan which is delicious sweet bread and unavailable in the UK except as vastly inflated prices. It's also very time consuming to make so we haven't experimented with baking it at home. Like currywurst, which I discovered on my first trip to Germany a few years ago, it's probably best in its own habitat.
We had a late start and a fairly peaceful day. (Despite being lost in a station for about an hour, no I’m not even joking, you could fit my home town in some of these stations).
I had wanted to go to Tower Records to purchase the new SKE48 single on release day and collect the Jurina bonus photo (She’s my favourite member).
Tower Records was pretty cool, (there was an elevator) they had a huge kpop section too which I browsed though didn’t buy anything (They had sold out of Hyuna CDs OnO) and the way I had to go to another desk to get my bonus photo was fun too. When we exited though there was a small crowd seemingly waiting for something.
We hung around to see what it was and found there was a member of an idol group (though I have no idea which, sorry ;;) making an appearance. We left not wanting to take up a place for a fan to watch her from as she posed with a cardboard cut out of herself.
Next we walked down to Tsutaya to get another version of the CD (another elevator) and another bonus photo (This time Rena, wmatsui of course).
After a quick break at the Starbucks within Tsutaya we decided to find a bus to get to Ikebukuro (not wanting to get lost in the maze of stations again).
My first visit to a Starbucks and my first decent(ish) coffee in Japan. The coffee in the Excelsior Cafes is alright but I needed to order lattes to dull the pain. Starbucks' coffee is quite far down my list of preferred coffees but passed muster given the circumstances. They drew nice cat faces on the mugs too so bonus points for that.
Luckily we managed to find one no problem, despite the lack of signs indicating which buses stop at which bus stops.
Look! Actual graffiti at Shibuya bus station! Jet Set Radio made real!
Like almost everything else in Japan the bus had a face. I'm all for faces on things.
The bus was really enjoyable. There was a lot of space, air con (Arriva take note!!) and the seats, instead of having some trippy pattern like our buses had a cute mascot on them! The ride was about 30 minutes and gave us a nice tour of the city on the way.
And still only cost about £2.20 thanks to the Japanese bus fare system.
Once we arrived at Ikebukuro we went back to the cat park where we were greeted not just by cats but by some kittens too! We said hello to a few and then sat and watched the rest play with the children and the old men that clearly fed them often as they were so familiar with them.
We had a quick look around the centre again, mainly for Dad to buy his own PEN (Proper Evil Neko.
Here's my 'squished PEN' as we named him safely relocated to my living room.
I also bought some Sumikko Gurashi pencil cases that see daily use at school and a really wonderful bento box bag featuring a cat from a Nintendo game and a manga (whose name I don't know because there's no English version yet) which is now my dice bag.
2017 edit: The bag shows characters from Yo-Kai Watch which is a fantastic 3DS Game.
Had I known the prices Sumikko Gurashi merchandise commands on eBay I'd have filled my suitcase and recouped the cost of our trip with the proceeds. Ahh hindsight, you torment me so.
We had Coco Curry for dinner. Warning Lv2 (out of 10) is actually pretty spicy! It was really tasty though so we bought some packet sauces to take home.
Coco Curry was great. I like Chinese curry and Japanese curry is similar in taste. The types of curry available are many and strange and the presentation is unique. I chose shrimp which is my default oriental curry choice but I could have gone for sausage and had a Japanese currywurst. I wish I'd thought of it at the time.
We then returned to the cat park with some food for them, though only one cat seemed to like it. He had a likeness to Sylvester in that sense as well as colour.
We got a taxi back which once again gave us a great view of side streets and all the neon.
These are photos of a street corner in Ikebukuro just outside Sunshine City. They show the multi-leveled world of Tokyo with roadways sweeping over the ground level streets. Beneath our feet is a sprawling underground station comprised of yet more levels.
Later, on our monorail trip, we saw even more levels as elevated train tracks rise above the road network.
This is the cyberpunk inspiring city I came to see and I wasn't disappointed.
Day 10 was another late start with both of us feeling incredibly tired from the trip. We started the day in Shinjuku once again in the familiar backstreets near our hotel.
Alfred Hitchcock sitting over a doorway with a sign hanging off his foot. Of course, why not.
We revisited a hobby shop (Yellow Submarine) we had previously been to on our first day. It had just been a card shop and wasn’t really what Dad was looking for. However a quick google the night before had told us that actually the other two floors was exactly what Dad wanted. He found a Japanese card game (A translating project for me when I get back) and a few dice too.
The card game is about cats (I think) catching fish. 2017 edit: Actually hungry otters. That's as far as we got with the translation. There were lots of Japanese RPGs that looked interesting but they were in Japanese :(
We also went back to a large game shop, the same one we had to return items to previously, where I once again spent money on anime merch (swimming anime woooo) and then we had a late lunch at a lovely cafe.
We ate spaghetti and drank iced peach tea while watching the street below hoping for someone to use the car park so we could see the spinny thing in action. (Someone did go into the car park but you only use the spinny thing when you leave OnO).
We were quite tired by this time and I think it shows. The cafe was very pleasant and the food was very good. I could have happily spent most of a day here just watching the street below.
After a quick break back at base we decided to venture out again, this time somewhere new! We went to Harujuku via taxi to avoid the rush hour on the train.
Honestly it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, there wasn’t nearly enough wacky fashion but it was still interesting to look in all the windows. When we broke away from the main streets and walked around the side street from all the photos it was a lot more what I expected. We stopped at the 100yen store for more cheap goodies and then had dinner.
Dad had an interesting pudding that we're not 100% sure on the contents and I finally had some of that huge toast with ice cream on it. 10/10 would recommend, it was super tasty!
We watched a Japanese girl trying to eat pizza with chopsticks in this cafe. My language skills weren't up to helping her out so we just watched and suffered through her ordeal with her in silence.
We had a better look down the street before heading off back to the hotel.
More wonderful poles and wires. If only I could get this sort of thing on a gaming table without it getting in the way of play. Something I'm working on.
I came home with a Cat shaped bag, a large t-shirt dress thing (though its just a tshirt on me sobs) with a cat pattern on it and the best bargain of the trip a lucky bag!
There was a store that had just opened and as a special promotion they were selling lucky bags for 1,000yen (about £6) that had 7-8,000yen’s worth of goodies in it.
Michaela escaping with her swag.
This whole area had an air of being a little risque and dangerous, 'a little bit street' as the youth say (they don't really say that at all but you know what I mean) but, when you looked closely, it was all a front. The shops all have metal shutters and all the shutters have graffiti on them. Clearly young tearaways rule this area and signify their ownership with their tags. Except, all the graffiti is identical and identically placed and artistically laid out. none of it obscures older paint, it's all clean and visible. It's been done professionally and each shutter is identical. Brilliant concept, executed with aplomb, typically Japanese.
What? No, of course I don't have any photos. Go and look for yourself. Sorry, an oversight on my part. I was sure I took some but I can't find them.
Here's a mural from the end of a side street.
There was only two items in the bag I didn’t really like but the rest was great especially these weird ‘soft & moist’ shorts that Dad was sure they wouldn’t fit me (they didn’t even look like they’d fit our cat let alone me) but they were actually super stretchy and do.
Here's Pen posing with the lucky bag. He's probably scheming.
What's this? A refreshing drink?
"OK, I'll try it and see, thanks Pen"...
It was bubble bath, I was too busy laughing for more photos :D
We ended the day with a combini snack and began the giant task that was packing…
Our last day in Japan, so we tried to fit as much as we could in.
Here's an outside view of our hotel again, this time from the rear. Wait! What's that at the window? It's Pen and Squished Pen watching us leave.
We started off by heading to Roppongi Hills for the Pokemon exhibition and Pikachu cafe!
The Pokemon exhibition had some great displays of preliminary artwork and designs. I managed to take a few photos before I was told to stop :(
The exhibition was really cool and the views from the 52nd floor were amazing too. (Also meant we could cross Tokyo Tower off our list as we got a much better view of it!)
Lots of pictures of Tokyo from above coming up. Here's the Tokyo Tower.
Me being amazed.
Michaela being amazed.
I got to watch a preview of the new movie, which I want to see and took purikura photos in a special Pokemon booth.
This isn't the booth, it wasn't very photogenic from outside, this is one of the photo op displays that littered the place.
The Pikachu cafe however had an 80minute wait…..so we skipped that and went straight to the shop. We bought a few things including a mega Venasaur plush and then headed off for lunch.
The Pokemon snacks were beautiful. Each was hand made by staff who you could watch at work. If we'd stayed to eat I'd have ordered the whole menu.
On the way back down we did actually manage to lose each other, we’re not entirely sure how to be honest but we found each other again and began the hunt for lunch.
The whole of Roppogi Hills was being taken over by TVAsahi as well as Doraemon.
We lost each other because I took the world's slowest and most crowded lift to the ground floor. Of course, the ground floor the lift stopped at wasn't the ground floor the stairs went to. Michaela took the stairs.
I (finally) emerged by the boy band and some Japanese TV reporter who saw me and promptly made a bee line towards me, microphone in hand. I had to dodge this guy for quite some time while I tried to find my way back to where I wanted to be, he was very persistent but I wasn't going to look like an illiterate gaijin on Japanese TV no matter what.
There was a huge stage with lots of screaming girls standing in front and as for Doraemon, there was about 50 statues of him in different outfits near the entrance. I’m not entirerly sure who it was on the stage (all I know is that they were men) but the fans seemed to be enjoying it!
The Doraemon statues were cool. Quantity has a quality all of its own.
The giant spider thing however was an abomination.
We managed to find a nice little cafe where we had pancakes (I had savoury ones and Dad had sweet) while listening to the screams from outside.
On our way out we passed a pet shop and salon. You could see some dogs being groomed as well as little tiny (but very expensive) kittens in the window. We bought some treats for our cats but didn’t really have enough to bring one home….
Next we headed off to the Pokemon Center. This was a little disappointing. There wasn’t much more then what had been in the Pokemon Exhibition shop and there was no Pokemon Center music!!!! Just lots of children begging their parents to buy them everything. A little sad we left with only the free sticker we were given at the door.
However all was not lost as the station we had travelled to to get to the Pokemon Center was also a Monorail station! We had originally planned to take the monorail from the airport to the hotel (well as far as it went and then get the metro) upon arriving but had been too exhausted to deal with lugging our suitcases around, so opted for the friendly airport limousine that drove us straight to our hotel.
Although it was a much better way of doing it we had both been a little upset that we hadn’t been able to ride the monorail. So now it was time to fix that! We got on the monorail sat on it for a couple of stops and then traveled back (exiting the station to correctly pay of course).
The monorail was brilliant. Monorailing above Tokyo is Sci Fi made real. Everyone should try it. It leans into corners which you can see at the end of the video.
Here's the nice little garden I rested in at our turn around stop whilst I sent Michaela for food and drink.
Here she comes.
Even though it was a short trip (The Monorail is quite fast) it was very enjoyable, the monorail track was most of the time higher than all the other roads so we got a great view of the multilevel city. There was also lots of posters of HKT48 around as they are advertising for the Monorail!
After our little trip we headed back underground to travel to Asakusa to visit the shrine and ‘old town’.
There were rickshaws here but they were expensive so we didn't bother trying them. I suppose that means we failed to complete our transport type collection.
This again was actually a little disappointing. The walk from the huge gate to the shrine is lined by crappy souvenir shops and the shrine didn’t have the same tranquility or respect that the Yasukuni shrine had.
However, I knew that because of this their fortunes were translated, as our last ones weren’t I decided to get one.It turned out to be “The Best Fortune” so it wasn’t all bad.
We didn’t hang around and went straight back to the station to travel to Akihabara one more time. I had heard from a friend that I could still purchase the AKB48 monthly theatre photos so I wanted to get two packs before we left.
Putting Dad in a cafe I went up to the 5th floor of the Donki building where I bought a Team K & Team 4 pack. You get 5 random photos of the members from Team you select. I didn’t get my favourite member from K but I did get one of my favourite from 4!
There were a few fans milling about so I decided to approach them. I had bought two copies of SKE48’s new single during the week and had two handshake tickets that were of no use to me. I ended up trading them for photos of my favourite member.
The whole experience is something I can’t really put into words, it was both fascinating and terrifying to be honest. Though maybe that was mainly because of the language barrier (I think I held my own despite my poor skills though!).
I hurried back to Dad (after a quick stop at a 2nd hand photo shop to finish spending Ali’s money) and retold my tales.
We finished off the trip with dinner at Mosburger before getting a taxi back to the hotel.
Mosburger played Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird. I tried not to think of it as an omen since we were flying the next day. What was Lynyrd Skynyrd's last hit?...
The evening was filled with packing, weighing and repacking our suitcases before we passed out at midnight ready to wake up at 5 the next morning.
We had to dump all our toiletries and a number of other things to get our swag into the cases under the weight limit. Finally managed it.
Every time we travelled down the 13 floors to weigh our cases the hotel staff had put the scales away in a locked room and had to go though a two person rigmarole to fetch them just so we could be disappointed that we'd failed to get under the limit (again) and return to our room before repeating the whole process again (and again).
We sat in a coach for 2 hours, then an airport for 2 hours, then a plane for 13 hours and then we were driven home.
That's about it. Flying back with Virgin was nowhere near as good as flying out with ANA.
Pen was suitably gangsta'd up for the trip and his first visit to the UK.
Beer and nuts on the plane.
And that was it. Apart from the hours of queuing at Heathrow to get through passport control and the tedious drive back home.
Never fear Tokyo, we will be back!
As a final postscript to our trip here's a Google street view picture of Shinjuku near our hotel and there we are, immortalised on the internet (until they update their photos)
2017 edit: Which of course they have now, our fame and immortality were fleeting indeed.