I Think I'm Turning Japanese
Yesterday I returned from a fun-filled 5-day mini vacation with Dan. In Tokyo! That's right, suckas, Dan was my first visitor in Japan and he set the "Oh my God I'm having so much fun and laughing so hard and eating great food and exploring new places" bar incredibly high. Here is a rundown of the weekend.

Day 1
The Long Wait is Over!

I took the night bus to get to Tokyo, which in itself was an adventure. I had a huge suitcase with me to hold all the goodies that Dan was bringing me from home, so running to the Flower Clock to make it to the night bus was not exactly easy. I also looked slightly crazy, since it was obvious my suitcase was mostly empty, which I'm sure led to passersby wondering why this crazy sweaty gaijin was running down the street in flip flops with a giant archaic looking suitcase dragging behind her. (Have I mentioned that everyone here has shiny hard-case luggage that logically roll in any direction so you don't have to run the risk of looking like a crazy person?)

The night bus was truly a night bus. I was pretty stoked to be riding in what looked like a very cushy (and extremely pink) bus with clean new seats, fleece blankets, foot rests, and stroller-like retractable hoods so bus weirdos don't stare at you when you sleep. However, being stared at by a bus weirdo is not a problem when the night bus starts moving. First of all, they make sure you are off your cell phone. I was in mid-conversation with Dan when I was told to shut off my phone (he was in the middle of playing me "Peaches" by the Presidents of the United States of America, and I think once I started singing along, that was the last straw for the driver). Then they have everyone button the blackout curtains shut, and the driver's helper guy pulls down this huge blackout curtain that cuts off any bit of light seeping from the front of the bus. Forget about having a personal light so you can do some light reading. "You're on the night bus, bitches, and you're gonna sleep." At least that is what I imagine the motto of the night bus is.

Anyway, after my forced sleep, I found myself in Tokyo at 6 am. Being there before the city starts moving is like a scene out of I am Legend. I kept waiting for a zombie to pop out and try to eat me on my way to the subway station, but all I saw was the odd homeless man (sleeping on brand new cardboard boxes... Tokyo vagrants have it made) or gaijin jogger. I finally made it to the hotel to check my luggage behind the counter and charge my phone in the lobby, and then I was off to explore the city until Dan's flight came in. 

I wasn't really sure where to go, so I decided to just head in the direction of Narita and get off at a big stop. I ended up going to the Shoji Temple in Asakusa. The marketplace leading up to the temple is absolutely huge, full of all the stuff you know you don't need but you buy anyway. I exhibited remarkable self-control here.
After that, I decided I'd get to the airport early, which was a good decision because it ended up taking about thirty minutes longer than anticipated. Subway maps are deceiving! When I got to Narita, Dan's flight still had half an hour until landing, but I still stood by the arrival gate bouncing up and down for over an hour. Finally, I caught a glimpse of his face in the crowd, and I couldn't help but give a little yelp of excitement. I didn't care if I got stared at (at home, I would have fully screamed and tackled him, but I had to show restraint after seeing that the most excited people were getting was an excited and silent wave). DAN WAS FINALLY HERE! I was pretty close to crying out of happiness, but again... self control.

It took us quite a while to get back to the hotel, and Dan was so tired that I wished we had a teleporter to get there instantly. Instead, it took almost two hours, and by then Dan had been traveling for something like 17 hours, and immediately crashed as soon as we got into the hotel. So this left me with a connundrum, because I wanted to go out and do stuff, but I didn't want to go alone. I opted to go get a beef bowl somewhere. That is when Google Maps played an evil trick on me.

It guided me through a narrow alley to the nearest Yoshinoya. About two blocks into the alley, I notice that the hotels were extremely close together, and big groups of the "pretty" Tokyo men in their all-black attire and crazy hair were gathered at every corner handing out cards. When I looked at the sign for one of the hotels that boasted a "rest" (1 hour) or a "stay" (overnight), it dawned on me: I was in the red light district. I felt safe, though, as it was clean and well lit and I saw a lot of other people out. It was still early though, so I booked it to Yoshinoya and back to the hotel as fast as I could.

I had to eat my beef bowl in silence so I wouldn't wake Dan up. Then I decided it would be a good time to sleep... so I did. Anticlimactic, I know, but that's pretty much how the day ended.

Day 2
Disney Sea Adventure! Or: It's Raining and I'm Tired and These Lines Are Way Too Long and if I Get Hit in the Face With an Umbrella One More Time I'm Gonna Scream

We decided to go out to Disneyland and try out Disney Sea, since we could always go to regular Disneyland at home. In my mind, I figured since it was forecasted to rain, it would drive away the crowds and we would be able to walk right onto several rides. The complete opposite was true. It was a holiday weekend, so the crowds were probably doubled, and because people were most likely traveling from far away, it was Disney Sea or bust, dammit! So those who weren't decked out in a Disney poncho had umbrellas. Imagine walking in a sea of people all about your height carrying an umbrella. Face! Face! Face! That is the sound of my face getting bashed with an umbrella. Again. There is no real flow to how people are moving, either. Just a big mash of people walking fast, or standing in random clusters, or walking the opposite way of the crowd like a salmon swimming upstream (weilding an umbrella). You get my point?

So, aside from being soaked from the first hour we arrived and dealing with the ridiculous crowds, Disney Sea has an incredible ambiance. They did an amazing job transforming each section to really feel like you were somewhere else. You walk into what feels like Venice (but much cleaner and not smelling like sewage). The rides were touted as being more "grown up" than Disneyland, but I feel like they are much the same. The roller coaster with the loop was a little disappointing, but it was okay since Dan and I discovered there was a singles line and we could skip the hour and a half wait and practically walk on the ride! The same goes for Indiana Jones. We bypassed everyone in line and practically walked on. However, from there it was a bit harder to get on rides. At one point, we checked the line at Tower of Terror and it was FOUR HOURS. FOUR! So we said "iie" to that and "hai" to more beers! We found out that the least crowded eatery was the Mexican food place, and for good reason. This was not Mexican food! You do not put teriyaki chicken in a "tortilla sandwich" and call it Mexican! So yeah, the food was sorely disappointing, but biiru made up for it. We moved on to ride smaller rides with less lines, like Aquatopia (so silly, good thing we had biiru) and StormChaser (what the heck is happening...). We kept waiting for Journey to the Center of the Earth to open, which Dan had wanted to go on since the second we got to Disney Sea. But first, the line was really long, then it was shut down indefinitely. Sad face. We never got to go. We did get to go to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which was kind of cool but also pretty child-like, and we wrapped up the day with Tower of Terror, whose line was reduced to only two hours. It was a pretty good ride though! The story is completely different than Disney World's Twiglight Zone story, and I don't remember it being that much fun! All in all, it was a great time. Yes, my feet were pruny and cold all day and my back started getting sore from all the walking, but my fun company made up for everything and it was an awesome day!

We did fall asleep on the train home, though, and woke up in an empty car in Tokyo. Oh well. :-)

Day 3
Gonpachi, Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, and Issian

We had a bit of a late start to this day, so we skipped breakast. That was probably a mistake, because I started getting a little cranky as we tried to find our way to Gonpachi. I found Gonpachi after Googling "best izakaya," and it is said that it was Quenitin Tarentino's inspiration for the Crazy 88's fight scene in Kill Bill. I figured we had to give it a try! The food was delicious! It was like tapas, trying little bits of stuff here and there. Who knew tempura cherry tomatoes, avacado, and Camembert were so delicious? It was definitely a good decision to come here. Next, we decided to appreciate something culture and head to the Imperial Palace.

By the time we got to the Imperial Palace, we only had half an hour to explore. It was nice and sunny by then, so we took advantage of exploring the gardens before they kicked us out. It made me want to have a koi pond some day! Then it was time for Tokyo Tower.

Tokyo Tower at night presented us with yet another really crowded tourist place. The line just to buy tickets was about 10 minutes, and the line just to get to the elevator was another 20. I thought it would be fun to biiru the line (everything is more fun with biiru), but the combini inside Tokyo Tower didn't sell alcohol! Bah! We crammed into the elevator and got to the main observation deck, only to be greeted by even mor crowds, plus a great 360 view of Tokyo. The city is a monster! It is absolutely sprawling. From every direction we could see endless buildings and lights. I couldn't tell where the city ended because it stretched out so far. I think Tokyo is the biggest city I've ever been in, and it's crazy considering it's on a small island the size of California. It's also interesting that Tokyo (at least to me) doesn't have a definitive skyline. It's just... big. I love that in San Francisco I can identify most of the major buildings downtown, and even cities I am not that familiar with, like Chicago or NYC, I can tell which buildings are which too. But again, Tokyo is just... big! We decided to chill a little bit at the cafe with (what else) more biiru, and then take the stairs down to avoid more lines. Then it was off to the ishiyaki restaurant in Ikebukuro!

When we got off the train station at Ikebukuro, it was clear that some parade/celebration had just ended. I was slightly bummed that we had missed it, as I'm sure it would have been a cool experience, but my hunger drowned out any concerns for that, and I started to get grumpy again. (See a pattern? Hungry = Grumpy. I'm like a baby.) But we were able to find this small ishiyaki place called Issian, which was an amazing find. If you are ever in Tokyo, you must check it out! Ishiyaki is where you cook your food on a hot stone. We ordered a variety of different things, but the things that really stood out to me were the beef (mmmmmm, fatty and melty) and the maguro tuna. We also ordered really delcious sake, probably the best I've ever tasted, which was serve to us in a really cool bamboo sake container. Definitely going to have to invest in one of those!

 With happy bellies, we decided to go back to home and end the day on a really high note.

Day 4
Sushi Breakfast, Tokyo Dome City Attractions, Akihabara, Ninja Restaurant, and Roppongi

This day was probably my favorite day. No wet shoes, lots of fun rides, and ridiculous good food throughout the day.

We started out with sushi for breakfast. They had the most amazing fatty tuna that melted on your tongue. I could have eaten a whole pound of it! They also had the most amazing salmon that melted almost as well on your tongue. The mackerel and snow crab were also pretty tasty. But then we made the mistake of ordering the sea bass and the amberjack. We couldn't tell which was which; they were practially identical! So we each took one and popped it in our mouths, hoping for the same melt-in-your-mouth experience as before. No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Nononono. The flavor was fine, but the texture was so chewy (not like the rubbery chewy of octopus or squid, but like the chewiness of raw chicken) that about three chews into it, I knew it was bad news bears. I looked over at Dan, who was also giving me the side eye and then I saw him gag, which made me gag, and I couldn't continue chewing for fear of barfing or choking to death. I had to cover my face with the menu and force myself to swallow everything nearly whole! My eyes watering, I looked at Dan, and he looked exactly as I felt. "That was terrible," I said, and he agreed, but now we had 2 pieces left and I had lost my appetite. But I didn't want to leave it! That was rude, right? I decided to try to be brave and eat a second piece. Dan told me I was crazy, which I knew was true, but I had to at least try the other kind that I didn't have. Maybe, just maybe, it would be better? No. Again. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Dan had to take a picture because I sat there very slowly chewing, debating on whether I should spit it out or just swallow it. But my tongue didn't want to swallow it, so Dan had to count down for me. "1...2...3!" Gulp. Gone. Done. Never again!

With breakfast sushi out of the way (we decided to cleanse our palettes with some morning Haagen-Dazs), we headed to Tokyo Dome City Attractions. This is the small amusement park right outside the Tokyo Dome, where the Tokyo Giants play. It has the sixth largest roller coaster drop in the world, the suggestively named Thunder Dolphin. We rode that twice, alone with a spinning coaster that unpredictably spins with each crazy turn. We did the world's first suspended roller coaster (like Top Gun at Great America, but shorter), the parachute ride, a water ride, and I dragged a reluctant Dan on a ride called The Dive, where you shoot at aliens from a rotating space pod. The lines were far more tolerable than anything you'd see at Disneyland, which I think is worth the tradeoff of not having the really cool surroundings. There was also some kind of weird costume thing going on while we were there. I'm not really sure if it was an official occasion, or if people just liked dressing up for no reason, but many of the Japanese people were decked out in elaborate costumes and having personal photo shoots complete with weird poses and reflector screens. Maybe it was just a Japanese thing? At any rate, it was interesting to see and now I know that Americans' ideas of costumes suck in comparison!

After the super fun times at TDCA, we took the train out to Akihabara to check out the famous electronics stores and the strange costumes. The area wasn't as impressively crazy as I'd heard, but maybe it's because we had already seen our dose of strangely costumed people walking around. It was definitely full of anime porn, though. Maybe that was Akihabara's appearl? Not sure. We didn't have time to explore too much, though, because we had to make it to our reservations at the Ninja restaurant, which I had been looking forward to for a while!

The Ninja was located south of Shinjuku in Akasaka. It was situated in a quieter part of town and the door was hidden against an unassuming wall, just as a true ninja establishment should be. The man outside was waiting for us like a real  ninja. As we approached, he said, "Erica-san?" Yes! How did he know? Ninja magic!

We had to go through "Ninja Training" to get to our seats. Our ninja guide led us through a hidden door and down a dark tunnel. Our ninja task was to call out to a ninja to lower a bridge that took us over all these treasures. Apparently we passed ninja training because we were allowed to go to our seats, which was inside what looked like a chamber. Maybe it was a ninja interrogation room? We ordered so many amazing things: eel nigiri topped with Camembert, French onion miso soup, grilled lobster in black bean sauce, garlic steak with fingerling potatoes, roast lamb, monja akasaka and duck, plus sake (in another cool bamboo container) and beer! No, it was not cheap! But it came with a ninja magic show, where I was really blown away. A ninja came into our chamber and did a bunch of slight of hand tricks, and even though he was right in front of my face, I have no idea how he could have possibly done any of those tricks! One of the most amazing ones involved me signing a playing card, and somehow that card ended up folded up inside a tiny box I was holding. What the WHAT! So that alone was worth at least a few thousand yen. :-) After dinner we got to go out the secret ninja shortcut! It was definitely a fun and delicious experience.

For the first time, we were awake enough to do something after dinner. Dan really wanted to check out the nightlife in Roppongi, but since the trains stop running around midnight, we had to make sure we didn't have *too* much fun out there. We stopped by a combini and picked up a beer, then found a set of stairs across from a cool multicolor-lit building and split the beer. We wandered a bit before deciding on one more street beer. Things started getting a bit fuzzy from there, and then we decided to head into a restaurant for even more beer and sake.
When we finally left, it was pretty late, and I think we had gotten on the last train home because when we made it to the transfer station, there were no more trains. Good thing we had my iPhone, because we were able to navigate in the general direction of the hotel. I remember walking through an empty corridor and singing The Little Mermaid songs at the top of my longs and absolutely loving the acoustics. We managed to catch a cab home, and then it was definitely passing out time! I was so tired, but I guess all the alcohol had the opposite effect on Dan, and he stayed up a bit later and had a party with Ronald McDonald.

Day 5
Packing Up

I woke up to Dan shifting around and it was still dark, and he pointed out that the sun was starting to rise. I was too groggy to be admiring, so I took a quick picture to appreciate for later, and fell back asleep. When I was finally up for real, I decided it was time to write a bit in our journal, so we wrote a couple short things to each other before it was time to pack up and go. Even though our flights was in the afternoon (his at 1:30, mine at 1:05), we were at different airports and knew we had to be there early, so we had to leave by around 9:30. That was just enough time for us to pack and try to get more money and then say goodbye at the train station.
We were all packed, and I felt that impending doom feeling that I felt when I had to say goodbye at San Francisco. Doom isn't really the right word, but it's the best way to describe that hallow feeling in your tummy when you anticipate having to do something really crappy. But I know in the back of my head things are always going to end up fine, and actually this impending doom feeling wasn't as heavy as the one I felt 2 months ago for several reasons. First, I didn't just leave an incredibly big mess for Dan to have to clean up at home. Second, I am more prepared this time, both mentally and physically. I'm packed (not frantically), and we got to have a couple hours of actual rest and chilling together (not frantically searching the house for items I may have forgotten and running off 30 minutes of sleep and not even getting to hug each other for real amid all the chaos). Plus, the 2 months of not seeing each other haven't been as painful as I psyched myself up for, and now that I have a new netbook with a camera, video Skyping is possible! Ahem. Hint.

So all in all, it was a wonderful trip, and I can't wait to be back home December 17!
10/13/2010 01:03:14 am

Yay! Let's video skype! Weird that the seabass was el grosso. It's one of our favorites at the Gink! It tastes like butter. Mmm, butter. Miss you like a beef bowl! Which by the way, I am glad has made it back to the blogs! =)

10/13/2010 03:10:07 pm

10/13/2010 03:13:11 pm

Excellent writing, very vivid.
You guys crammed every bit of fun into 5 days...must be hard to get back to work!


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