A Travellerspoint blog

Pardon my dust!

Obviously, it would be hard to claim that I actually did write 9 blog posts' worth of information in one hour, pictures and all.

Since I got back from Japan, my wife and I have spent a lot of time working on our personal blog, which covers all topics, including travel. I decided I should catch up this blog with my content thus far so I could get the ball rolling on keeping this blog up to date. I'm only up to #9 as far as photos and content, with probably another 9 remaining! So there should be lots of fresh content trickling in from here on out.

-Matt

Posted by fryhtaning 18:20 Comments (0)

Land of the Rising Sun - Part 9 - Yokohama

A stop at the ramen museum and a quick night stroll through Yokohama's main area

sunny 50 °F
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Bad news - this post will be sorta short.  Good news - less opportunity for me to ramble.  Also, every one of these was taken at night and with my point-and-shoot camera, so the quality will be a bit lacking again.

Without furtho ado - Jer was a bit jet-lagged and we stayed at the apartment for a little while catching up with Masa, so we decided to take a short trip to Yokohama that night.  Yokohama is an hour away by train, yet was still basically a part of Tokyo, to further put into perspective the size of the metropolitan area.

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The main station of Yokohama - one of the most modern-looking ones I had seen on the trip.

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First stop in Yokohama - an honest-to-goodness museum centered around ramen noodles.  Considering how much of the stuff Jer ate while in college, I knew he'd get a kick out of that kind of place.  For some reason, they themed the whole place like a section of WWII-era Tokyo, back when the noodles became popular.  Inside were 7 or 8 mini restaurants where you could either buy a whole bowl of noodles, or buy a sample-size so you could try more than one style.  Kind of touristy, but it was something different.

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Another view in the museum, showing the painted-on night sky.

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Top right - some neon signs inside the museum.
Top left - one thing I was really looking forward to during my vacation was getting a chance to practice reading katakana characters, which the Japanese use to phonetically spell out words borrowed from other languages - English, primarily.  So, I enjoyed being on the lookout for things I'd recognize, such as "Harii Pottaa".  Yes, I know the picture was kind of a dead giveaway, but that didn't stop me from sharing this particular shot with you, did it?

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After the museum, we walked a couple of miles to the waterfront park, passing by 1) the Yokohama pro baseball stadium, 2) cool pedestrian overpasses, 3) a VERY Western-influenced church, and 4) ... repeating rectangles of light.

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The classic Yokohama skyline, plus a couple of shots of us, plus some psychedelic lights reflecting in the water.

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The famous Yokohama ferris wheel, or "kanransha" in Japanese.  I only remember that word because Asuka must have repeated herself 6 or 7 times before I could pick out all of the syllables that make up "kanransha".  By the way, "kanransha" is technically 5 syllables to the Japanese, instead of 3.  I won't even try to explain that one.

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Kanan... karan... kanla... the ferris wheel again, with its accompanying high-speed roller coaster snaking around.

After that, we walked a couple more miles past some tall luxury condominium skyscrapers and the Yokohama convention center before arriving back at the station that would take us back home.  We needed a good night's sleep, because the real adventures were about to begin!  Next up - our trek across Japan towards Kobe, with the first stop at the castle town of Matsumoto.

Posted by fryhtaning 18:19 Archived in Japan Tagged museum wheel ferris yokohama ramen Comments (0)

Land of the Rising Sun - Part 8 - The Gang in Tokyo!

A stroll through Ameyoko, the Sensoji temple, a quick izakaya stop, and then an okonomiyaki dinner

sunny 60 °F
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On a couple of notes - huzzah!  We are back and refreshed from a much-needed week of Disney magic, just in time to resume the Japan posts - starting with the first appearances of my bro and of my gracious hosts, Masa and Asuka.

Masa and Asuka, like many Tokyo-ites, work long and crazy hours, so the fact that they were gracious enough to give me/us a place to sleep for almost a week was above and beyond what I could have expected.  Unfortunately that meant that they were unable to accompany us on any of our excursions, but we had one full day where the four of us went out on the town and had fun together.  It was reminiscent of the adventures Masa and I had when we were practically kids in Australia, so it was a special day for all.

We started out, at Masa's recommendation, at a narrow pedestrian shopping street known as Ameyoko (short for Ame - America, and yoko- Market)

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Yeah... not much American about this place after all.  I believe it was named as such due to an American influence in the area during post WWII rebuilding.  It had lots of fresh seafood, plenty of cheap souvenirs, and lots of merchants yelling at you to come check out their booth.

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Cute 'lil crabs and shrimp. Big ass shrimp.

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We ducked into a mini arcade near the end of the street and did a quick group photo in one of the photo booths.  I almost cannot put into words how awesome Japanese photo booths are.  Just.. look!  Of course, the software also automatically applies every filter in the Photoshop library and exaggerates everyones' eyes to look like anime eyes.

As part of my thanks for hosting us for the first part of the trip, I told Masa I'd do a short photo shoot with the two of them so that they would have some "pre wedding" photos, similar to the engagement photos that we do in the US.  They were both very excited about the offer and e-mailed me over the weeks before my trip asking about clothes and locations and the such.

But when the shoot finally came around, I got probably my biggest culture shock of the entire trip.  Masa said he was so nervous that he was nauseous!  I must have reassured him a dozen times that he would do fine and that they were going to make such a cute couple.  Once we got started, the nerves subsided, but I also noticed that both of them were so conscious of people walking down the street noticing them, something that we almost never see happen here in the US.  I knew that the Japanese culture is very big on not sticking out ("The nail that sticks up gets hammered down"), but it was still so surprising to see from a couple that in private were every bit as goofy and affectionate as Erin and I.

I just did what any self-respecting American would do, and made enough of a doofus of myself ("ugh... look at the baka gaijin over there!") to take the attention off of them and to get some laughs out of them.    Between that and my brother, the human beacon of light while holding my flash, the mission was a success and I got a few dozen great photos of the two of them over a half-hour or so, and they were ecstatic when they got their photos back after the trip.

Here's a few of my favorite.  What were they so nervous about?  Look at what a cute couple they make!

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Asuka's English wasn't nearly as good as Masa's, but she knew the most important word out of my instructions here - "tickle"

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Returning victoriously to the Asahi building.  

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I have no idea what she said to get this reaction out of him, but it was 10x better than any of my attempts.

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Color explosions always please my color-blind eyes.

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After we finished up, we trekked on over to the Sensoji temple, the largest and most well-known temple in the Tokyo metropolis area.  It's pretty much what you would expect - a sea of people, large gates, gaudy paper lanterns, incense out the wazoo, and red, lots of red.

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Just through the gates is a very long and narrow sea of people shopping at little knickknack shops.  Here's the whole gang, with my brother and I obviously not yet having the courage to publicly flash the "peace" sign that just about everyone in Japan flashes for any photo op.

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I am a giant among men!  All 5'7" of me!

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In the temple there is this ginormous sandal that is on display.  Supposedly if you can jump and touch it, good things will happen to you.  Poor Asuka, who couldn't have been over 5' even, gave it her all with Masa encouraging her on.  For the Herculanean Brownes, however, the feat was easily attained.

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I wanted to take that entire thing home with me and have it burning in my house 24/7.   Inceeeeense...

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Very cool screen paintings on the ceiling of the temple proper.

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No admission fee - just a monumental amount of offerings passing those wooden slats every minute.

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Jer and I at Sensoji.  Jer and I at a small izakaya in the alley behind Sensoji where we stopped for a drink and a snack.

Afterwards, Masa and Asuka returned home for a quick break while I gave Jer a quick tour of nearby Akihabara.  A few hours later we all reconvened near their apartment for dinner at a local okonomiyaki restaurant.  It's sort of their version of a fondue restaurant where you have many small courses and prepare your own food, but done on a hot surface instead of in pots of liquid.  I had a raw seafood salad that was out of this world, and then the okonomiyaki itself was loaded with flavor that hit the spot after a long day.

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We did it!  We busted out the peace sign!  From that point forward, we would no longer be the nail that stuck out...

Up next - a brief nighttime visit to Yokohama with Jer, then begins our westward journey towards the second half of our trip, with some appearances of my best bud, Jason!

Posted by fryhtaning 18:13 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo izakaya sensōji ameyoko okonomiyaki Comments (0)

Land of the Rising Sun - Part 7 - Shibuya and Shinjuku

Random nighttime shots from the two biggest and brightest at-night areas of Tokyo

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It's about time for another one of these... I have been slacking for too long!  OK, so I can't call it slacking too much, given the amount of other things we've been posting throughout the last month.  Needless to say, I don't think I'll be finishing all of these before our upcoming Disney trip, so brace yourself for some upcoming mixtures of photo posts from my two happiest places on Earth.  Or something.

Here I'm just going to tie up a few loose ends before moving on to the segment of the trip where all the other people involved in my trip start making appearances.  At the end of each of the days up to this point, if you'd believe it, I went out for another couple or few hours of walking each night to get some photos at night and to do general people-watching.  After getting back from Hakone, I stopped at the Shibuya station on the way back to Masa's, so I set out on foot to hit a few obvious spots before calling it a night.

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This is what the trains look like in Tokyo at 10pm.  Your personal space, bubble, dislike of being touched, etc?  Out the window.  At the surface, they make it look like an organized group effort, but really, it's survival of the fittest without the killing part.  Once I was standing up next to a seat that opened up, and seeing a young lady also standing near me, I did what any chivalrous American man would do (and against Masa's urging to go ahead and sit down) and beckoned for her to go ahead and take it.  In a blink of an eye, a middle-aged man had stepped in and yoinked the seat with nobody around seeming to think it was an unusual move.  Masa just shrugged at me and said, "They'll be fine - our women are tough.  Don't hesitate and just grab a seat whenever you can."  My inner knight in shining armor died a little that day.

Masa also turned no heads when he announced to me, on a moving train, that "it's really unpleasant when someone farts."  I miss him.

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The Hachiko entrance to the Shibuya station.  Most stations stick with the cardinal directions for their entrances - north, south, east, west, etc... so why Hachiko for this one?  If you turn your attention to the dogs all over the wall, those are depictions of a famous dog from Japanese history, wait for it - Hachiko.  There's a very touching story that Hachiko would meet his master at the station when he came home every day from work, and after the master died unexpectedly, still came back to the same spot every day for years.  There's actually a Richard Gere movie based on the story, but I haven't seen it to know how accurate it is.

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This is the big bucket list item of Shibuya - the famous pedestrian crossing.  As Captain Barbossa would say, those crosswalks are more of guidelines than actual rules...  All of the signals turn green at the same time, and then all hell breaks loose.  The cars don't have a prayer in getting through.  After briefly experiencing for the first time in my life the feeling of being one of the tallest people in a giant crowd (except for that time I visited the Wonka factory), I took this shot and following video from the Starbucks across the street.  Brief, touristy, overdone, cliche, and lots of fun on a quick stopover.

Aside from that, I just ducked into some stores, got some noodles, and visited an arcade to people-watch (more on the latter at the end of this post).  It was already pretty late and I had an early morning (as usual), but this was a fun little stop to see something different.

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The next day was Kamakura, which was also way out past the Shibuya\Shinjuku area.  So on the way home I went a couple of exits past Shibuya to Shinjuku, also known as the skyscraper district of Tokyo and the home of the busiest train station in the world.  I wish I had a video to show the carnage that is the Shinjuku station, but I'll put it this way - if you didn't have your card out and ready to touch to the turnstile reader on the way in and out, you pretty much caused a traffic jam.  It was human throughput at its finest.  Anyway, I got this first shot on the outdoor escalator leading out of the station.
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I may be color blind, but that is a lot of colors.

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On the catwalks, out towards the station and the other million catwalks that dispersed all over Shinjuku.

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One spot I wanted to hit was the Tokyo Government building twin towers, which has an observation deck that is a) free, and b) supposedly even better than the ridiculously expensive Tokyo Tower.  After walking for a while and not seeing these alleged towers, I glanced at my GPS and saw that I had gone approximately 100 meters PAST the towers.  I scratched my head, then looked up and saw that I was indeed under the towers.  Frickin urban jungles.  At least I caught this cool frame out of it.

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After an elevator ride resembling a Tokyo train ride, I hit pay dirt.  The glare of the windows was a little annoying, but it was a fantastic view.

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And another.  Aside from the skyscraper district, Tokyo is surprisingly actually more sprawling like LA than it is like NYC.  Really puts in perspective how big the world's largest metropolitan area is.

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From the... I really have no idea which level of the Metro building this was, since there were about 3 outdoor levels leading in.  We'll call it a courtyard.

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Facing the other way - all 799 feet of the twin towers themselves.

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Entrance #76 to the Metro building.

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Ladies and gents, I present the winners of the most horrible translations I saw on the entire trip.  Well, the most horrible translations and my dinner that night.

All your base are belong to us.

Finishing up with a few videos from the arcades of Shibuya and Shinjuku.  One of my favorite movies of all time is Lost in Translation, so throughout the trip I'd duck into a few arcades and try to find some of the scenes where Charlotte was wandering around that first night.  I don't think I could have actually recognized exact spots, but I did find a lot of things that are so far above and beyond what we have here.  So, Mom and other people who find video games silly and a waste of time, you can stop reading now.  Everyone else, please enjoy a few clips of Japanese businessmen doing their best to look like video game nerds.

Energy drinks - fueling those all nighters playing virtual soccer

Salaryman by day, Pauly D by night

This was nuts - arcade games that have live scanners that interact with playing cards!?

Not a video game - but an example of the Japanese making the best use of all that open space on the rooftops of their buildings

Posted by fryhtaning 18:07 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo shibuya tower crossing shinjuku metropolitan arcades hachiko Comments (0)

Land of the Rising Sun - Part 6 - Asakusa #2

Asakusa and a trip down the Sumida River

sunny 60 °F
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After my narcissistic self-portrait-in-the-building, I turned around and headed back towards the dock where I'd soon load up for a very personal, off-the-beaten-path, untouristy boat ride down the heart of Tokyo (yes, I'm laying it on pretty thick).  The Sumida river is similar to the Hudson river or to the Chicago river in that it cuts right through the heart of the city, so I figured I'd get all of my touristy urban sightseeing out of the way in one short hour while giving my feet a much-needed rest.

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The main bridge of Asakusa that connects the lots-of-tall-shiny-buildings side with the well-preserved-and-historic side.  I was going to return here again in a couple of days to take some pictures of Masa and Asuka, who were at the time in the Japanese equivalent of "engaged", so I just poked around for a minute before heading back to buy my ticket and kill a little time before my ride.

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Picture of an urban landscape looking a little boring?  Add a little underside of a bridge and instantly be seen as creative!

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(left) While waiting for the boat, I was treated to the performance of a live street band, complete with an accordian, upright bass, saxophone, and... an old lady playing the drums on a cardboard box?  Guess even Japan is feeling the effects of the economic crisis.  (top right)  Wait, so... you get "pineapple with coconut syrup" correct, yet screw up "plain"?  Only in Japan.  Or considering the crazy things they'll eat over there, maybe that flavor was kicked up with a little jet fuel.  (bottom right)  ... what?  I really hope that isn't a soul food joint, or I can't imagine they'd be getting much foreign business.

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While waiting for my boxy wooden pontoon of a tour boat to embark, this miniature battleship of a boat came by.  Mommmyyyyyy!  I want to go on THAT boat!

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I couldn't understand a word of what she said, but she sure sounded way too happy to be riding a tour boat all day long.  Also, I'm glad 95% of the people chose the comfortable seats with the terrible views.  That left me to rule the stern of the boat without fear of knocking an old lady unconscious with my big 'ol lens.

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I thought I was taking a picture of some historic sign on some historic bridge that had some huge historic significance that I'd be telling you all about right now, but no, I took a picture of a sign that basically says "dangerous waters, sail slowly".  Worth a shot.

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One of the interesting things about the rides were the bridges - I think you cross under 12 bridges, all of which are different colors and styles.  Here you can see the primary colors getting some love.

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Remember what I said about using the underside of a bridge to instantly make yourself an arteest?  Yeah.

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Even an old English style bridge!  Erin told me, after zooming in to those two people in the middle of the bridge, that they were staring directly at our boat with "The Grudge" faces.  She watches too many movies.

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Little slice of the rear of some residences near central Tokyo.  I didn't realize it  when taking the photo, but there's actually quite a few lessons on Japanese culture to be learned here.  1)  they are not afraid of bright and bold colors on their buildings, 2) "Mickey" (the name spelled by those large letters beginning with the 3 horizontal lines) is apparently very important in the hood, 3)  Japanese don't have clothes dryers, they have balconies and ample fresh air with which to dry said clothes, 4) even the homeless are clean and tidy - they tend to live near one another in tents, they never beg, and are never a nuisance to the public.

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I liked the contrast of the urban scene with the greenery and with and the old man thinking he'll catch a fish with less than 3 eyes in the river going down the belly of the largest metropolitan area of the world.

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A rare slice of older architecture in the urban scene visible from the boat.

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I'm not used to seeing this scene without a marching band playing Rocky Top, a Power T, and Philip Fulmer involved.

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I got bored with the usual buildings, so I played with a couple of silhouettes... I think that's the Tokyo Tower here, where the most popular and expensive observation deck is.  Take the same advice I took, though, and go for the Tokyo Metro building instead, which is free.

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Prettyyyy....

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This picture always makes me want to bust out my NES and play some Ninja Gaiden.

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The Kill Bill fanatic in me wanted to call this something very inappropriate.  So, I'll just let you look at the cute Hello Kitty bus.

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Poor guy was an Indian chief, a cop, a biker, and a soldier short of breaking out into the YMCA.

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(left) the boat went about 2 mph and on super calm waters, but this guy looked like he just made it off of the Titanic.  (right)  Even the signs saying "WARNING!  DO NOT ENTER!" have to be cute.  Japan in a nutshell for ya.

Posted by fryhtaning 18:04 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo river skyline asakusa ferry sumida Comments (0)

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