Sunday, November 20, 2016

If You Love Me, Let Me Go Back to that Bar in Tokyo

Last month, Dave and I took a 2 week trip to Japan. This is definitely one of the most unique places I've ever been to, and each place we visited was very different. I'm going to start with Tokyo, and probably never finish if my Peru post from over a year ago is anything to go by.

After a 13ish hour flight that I did not sleep on, we landed at Narita airport, exchanged our vouchers for 2 week JR Rail passes (bullet trains galore), and headed to Tokyo. We arrived at Shinjuku station which was huge and totally confusing. Wikipedia puts it best:

Serving as the main connecting hub for rail traffic between Tokyo's special wards and Western Tokyo on inter-city railcommuter rail, and metro lines, the station was used by an average of 3.64 million people per day in 2007, making it, by far, the world's busiest transport hub (and registered as such with Guinness World Records). The station itself has 36 platforms, including an underground arcade, above ground arcade and numerous hallways. There are well over 200 exits. Another 17 platforms (51 total) can be accessed through hallways to 5 directly connected stations without surfacing outside.

After quite a few moments getting frustrated with Google Maps, we figured out the hotel's direction and set off amongst all of the in-your-face lights, billboards, and sounds. Along the way, we spotted a few interesting things, including a hotel with a Godzilla at the top (you can see him creeping above the billboard):

We fell promptly asleep at 8 pm, and woke up around 3 am the next morning. Realizing that we had to take a taxi to get to the Tsukiji Fish Market at that time of night, and also reading up to find out that it was actually too late already to try to enter the famous tuna auction, we tried to go back to sleep and then headed out to the market around 6 am.

Although the main attraction is the tuna auction, and the actual fish-bargaining area is off limits to tourists during peak time, there are tons of stalls open early where you can buy fresh food and eat a sushi breakfast. For those who recommended it, we did not go to Sushi Dai as the queue was probably 100 people long. 

Packed sushi joints at 7 am:

We did find a conveyor belt sushi place to have an early meal: 

I was so thirsty and didn't know who to ask for water (since it was only the sushi chefs and the 1 waiter who wasn't around much), so I actually grabbed a little juice box off of the conveyor belt to drink - hey, it was better than drinking nothing and it was breakfast time after all.

In all western sushi conveyor belt restaurants that I've been to, each plate is a designated color based on sushi price, and at the end, they add up the # of colors to get the total. In Japan, the waiter holds an electronic machine over your entire pile of plates of mixed up colors, and it calculates everything automatically, so cool!

Before and after breakfast, we walked around the streets and explored the various stalls.  

Giant crabs: 

Giant tuna head:

Oysters for sale:

Fresh food:

Free samples!

At 9 am, tourists are allowed to walk through the main market area, even though all of the sales and bargaining activity has ceased. It was still cool seeing all of the leftover fish and watching them wash the concrete down, though the workers race through the streets and the market alleyways on forklifts at terrifying speeds so you have to be very careful when walking around!

Washing down the guts:

Eel (which I ate a lot of): 

Not sure what these are: 

Giant oysters: 


Scary, speedy trolleys: 

After breakfast, we headed to Ginza which is basically like the 5th Avenue of Tokyo with chi-chi shops.  Here's a crazy crosswalk: 

Also, here's the first of many Sanrio stores I dragged Dave into:

We went into a famous toy store and there were Monchichis galore!  Remember him??

Also, this face mask was sold everywhere: 

The department stores in Tokyo have the entire bottom floor dedicated to food. One that we checked out had mostly expensive things and no seats so we went to Ippudo Ramen for lunch instead. I know they have them in the States now, but mmmmmm it was so delicious. Also, it's small, so they take your order while you wait outside, very efficient! This was the best ramen that I had on the trip.

Those are ramen bricks on the wall: 

We headed back to our homebase in Shinjuku - here are some photos, but this can not in any way do the stimulus around you justice:

We were staying near the "famous" Robot Cabaret.  If you want more information on what that means, either watch Anthony Bordain's special on Tokyo, or you can look it up on the internets. 

Our hotel was located in the red light district. Not in the Amsterdam sense, but lots of adult entertainment of various types happening here. There are "love hotels" which are hourly rentals and they look completely over the top from the outside (FYI our hotel was normal.) 

There were also billboards all over the area of very pretty boys which I assumed were boy bands selling some kind of product. Our friend Julian (who you'll see in this post later) informed us that these are actually advertisements for real guys who you can pay to spend time with you and have drinks with. Some of the ads had numbers on each of the guys - and the number is their rank of how popular they've been for visitors in the past few months. They are based in the surrounding buildings, so if you see one you like, you can go right ahead and pay to hang out with him!  A little bit sad but a lot more lolololol.  

We went to dinner a bit of a ways away from the red light area, and the place we chose was situated amongst several "normal" looking restaurants, though we couldn't see inside since it was upstairs. The menu was posted in English outside, hence our decision to eat there. For those of you who saw my Facebook post on this, you may recall that we were eating a standard dinner, with your average people (men and women) dining. The waitresses had on cutesy schoolgirl type outfits, no big deal, and everything else seemed like nothing out of the ordinary. That was until I heard a loud slap, and looked over to see that one of the waitresses had slapped a customer (a businessman who had been drinking heavily with his 2 friends.) I know she had been showing him the dessert specials (literally on a flip board), but I don't know what was actually written to be honest. And then you could see in their interaction that he was asking her to do it! So she did it 2 more times! According to Julian, this is not a normal thing in Tokyo.

Anyway, more Shinjuku:

There are also arcades EVERYWHERE in Tokyo and they are filled with those "UFO" machines, which to us are the claw machines that you control to grab a stuffed animal. After watching quite a few people (including grown men trying to win a Cookie Monster doll), nobody was winning these things. In fact, they even have people staffed to move the animals around to make it harder for you!

I played one game which is the one where you push whatever's inside (in this case, mini packets of Ritz crackers?!) to get a bunch of crap to fall. I won a little box of Poifulls, yay!

There's another tiny area in Shinkjuku called the Golden Gai, which has over 100 tiny bars located on a few small streets, and they are packed on top of one another. And when I say tiny, I mean they each sit about 4-6 people - you are essentially squished between the bar and the wall. We were staying about 2 blocks away from there, so we took a walk through the area that evening:

Here is Spiderman on a nearby rooftop for your viewing pleasure:

On the second day, we took a side trip to Hakone which I'll write about in another post. Day 3 - we walked over to the Tokyo Municipal Building which gives you a view of the city for free. As Dave put it best, this area of government buildings looked like the Capitol from The Hunger Games which was tre creepy.

May the odds be ever in your favor:


View of tourists in the opposite tower:

Afterwards, we headed to Akihabara, another area of Tokyo that is major stimulation in your face. This area is known for anime adverts/shops. Again, the photos don't do this area justice: 

If you see the sign at the bottom, that's an advertisement for one of the many Maid Cafes in this area, and there are girls dressed as maids on the street that try to lure you in. For more on that, you can just look it up.

People dress up as Cosplay characters here on the weekends, but unfortunately we were there on a Wednesday.  Definitely one of our favorite areas of Tokyo though.

We stopped by the Gundam Cafe, which is a cafe based on a popular robot show.  I thought it would be interesting to go there, but it was nothing special. 

There is also a famous area of Akihabara called Radio Kaikan where vendors sell electronics (old school parts and pieces): 

More anime advertisements and arcades: 

We went into a few anime shops, including a famous one called Mandarake with 8 floors that also sold toys and had an entire floor dedicated to anime porn, it was insane! 

I dragged Dave to the AKB48 Cafe, which is a cafe based on a famous female pop band that has 48 members! Unfortunately, you were not allowed to take photos of the videos they were showing or of the customers (all guys), but it was pretty hilarious. We each received a coaster of one of the girls (random draw) to take home with us, so exciting!   

 Here are the cafe's rules:

Following that, we headed to Shibuya which is known for it's insane crosswalk that is featured in several movies and commercials:

Before the chaos:

It's starting:

 It's a lot of people! 

We walked a ton that day - the next area we walked to was Harajuku which is known for being jammed with teenagers wearing the latest fashions (and where Gwen Stefani has taken her inspiration from.) We started at the area known as the Champs Elysee of Tokyo:

This area also has tons of crepe shops.  So many different types, it was quite overwhelming! 

I had been looking forward to going to Daiso, the 100 yen store, but it was overhyped and completely full of crap (the only thing I bought was a sushi key chain.)

 Here's the cute train station:

The main street in Harajuku is called Takeshita Street. Let's all absorb that for a minute.

Hey mom! I'm on the screen at Takeshita Street! 

There were tons of girls and guys wearing the same (not-so-stylish) T-shirt in Harajuku, and we finally realized that they were going to a concert (Nissy was the singer.) Though before we figured it out, we were quite confused at the "fashion trend."

Another site to see in Tokyo are all of the animal-themed cafes. There are cat cafes in NY, but they also have owl cafes, hedgehog cafes, snake cafes, etc. - it's amazing!

We meant to visit a shrine in the area but arrived there at closing, so we continued on by walking back to Shinjuku (sooo much walking that day!) That night we met up with Julian and Kanae and went to Golden Gai, to a teeny, tiny, steep upstairs bar where they were playing Metallica and gave out free snacks. This photo doesn't do the tiny size justice:

Literally no space to move here:

They offered to take us to a themed restaurant for dinner - how could we resist! Another crazy thing about Tokyo (I keep saying that) is that there are multiple floors in each building that house different businesses, and unless you know about them, half the time you don't even realize what's in them (not sure how they stay in business.) At the building he took us to, he offered us the choice of a religious-themed restaurant, or wrestling-themed, so we went with the latter. You take an elevator up and would not expect much due to the lack of advertising outside, but inside was a huuuuuge restaurant with wrestling ropes surrounding the bar in the center, and tons of wrestling-themed things around. 

The waitresses led a rock, paper, scissors competition with everyone in the bar. I lost :(

My new favorite photo of Dave:

Here's a talk show I saw on TV that I thought was hilarious:

On our final day in Tokyo (from part 1 of the trip), we went to another area called Asakusa. We walked down the long street filled with souvenir shops towards the temple where we were told we couldn't enter because we weren't members, oops.

GIF action:

We bought and shook out a fortune, which happened to be a positive one (many are bad luck apparently), but I don't want to brag too much since you're not supposed to do that if it's good:

 Also, here is a kid fishing in a goldfish game:

After lunch, we took a boat cruise where we attempted to alight at a garden that we thought was included in our ticket, but instead we got yelled at that we had to get back on the boat :( 

Crazy skies:

We continued onto Odaiba which is a man-made island that is basically like a mini-Las Vegas without the gambling. There are a handful of malls, nice restaurants, and a huge arcade (no surprise there.)

Everyone was playing Pokemon Go in this park!

They have their own Statue of Liberty as well:

Some fashionable animals in one of the malls:

Sony interactive exhibit:

Nighttime views:

There was an interactive Halloween exhibit as well - when you moved around, the animations would respond:


One of the malls had a shop that had everything dedicated to Michael Jackson. Another had some crazy food-themed socks:

Have some shark:

Ferris wheel that changed color in "Palette Town":

Sprite and Fanta watches at the arcade!

Skiing game:

Mini Vegas mall with nobody in it - super creepy:

Wow, that was long, and that was just the first few days. And I need to write a whole post solely dedicated to the toilets.