Today I had to wake up early to go to the embassy to get my new passport. By this point I was kind of a pro at the whole process, so it wasn’t too bad. This time I realized I could access the US Citizen line and probably avoided what looked like a two hour wait. I was in an out in probably ten minutes, now with two passports (though one has four giant holes through it and the word ‘cancelled’ on my photo). Interpol apparently decided to leave me alone for the time being. I am writing this on the plane right now, so we’ll see if can actually make it into the country.
I went to Aoyama afterwards to take pictures of the Prada building and do some shopping. I found the coolest shop in all of Tokyo, called Undercover. Basically it’s a clothing store, but with just about everything Dieter Rams ever designed adoring the shelves. Really crazy amazing. And not just any shelves — of course everything was Vitsoe. I pleaded with the shop owners to let me take pictures of the interior and they finally agreed. I think it helped that I bought a hoodie. I’ll post on the store on ISO50 later in the week probably. I tried pretty hard to track down their lookbook that afternoon but had no luck. They sell it on Amazon.jp if you’re interested (though shipping costs double the book).
I went in search of cool shops and found Commes deu Garcons, Issey Miyake, Raf Simons, Helmut Lang, Loveless, and Y-3. My favorite interior was Commes deu Garcons because it felt like some bizarre minimalist maze built by kindergarden student. I bought nothing but took lots of pictures.
I literally had to walk out of Sempre because I wanted to buy everything. It is basically a housewares store, but everything was incredible. I am one to get very excited about things like flatware and clocks, so this was potentially going to be a finance trouble if I stuck around. On my way to see if I could sneak in to the Ferrari showroom, I passed Blue Note Tokyo and saw that Mike Stern was playing tonight with Richard Bona. I had seen that show at Blues Alley in DC and it was incredible. How on earth there were still tickets I don’t know, but I grabbed two, having no idea whether or not we were even going to be free. Mike Stern is good enough to trump any existing plan.
We ended up going to the show which was completely mind blowing. First of all, seeing a jazz act in Tokyo was a trip. The crowd was waay into it — much more so than any jazz crowd I’ve been in in the States. The set was crazy good too; the solo portions with just Mike on the guitar or Richard on bass/vocals were my favorite. Richard Bona probably has one of the purest voices in the world. I really can’t describe how amazing the show was. I think I almost cried at one point. Kind of just overwhelmed at how awesome it all was — the music of course, but also the whole experience. Tokyo. Jazz club. Youth. I got a little heavy for a sec but it was awesome.
Day Seven was a solo day and I went exploring in Ebisu/Daikanyama. I was on a mission to find the bracelet I had bought two years ago and lost in LA. It meant a lot to me when I got it — one of the only physical object reminders of my trip in 2008. I found the shop I bought it at instantly, like a bird on a long 2 year migration. They didn’t remember me but I knew exactly where the bracelet would be if they still sold it. To my delight, they did and they had even added another color. I was encouraged to buy shoes. I bought the bracelet, debated getting a backup, and then headed down to Naka Meguro again. Slightly addicted to the area.
I went back to Be My Self, shopped a bit at RipVanWinkle, and then sat down. I was experimenting with how long I could just sit and think about nothing. I see old men doing it a lot down there, so I figured I would try it. It was easier than I thought and eventually I decided to move on. I guess I was expecting to get bored or something. Turns out ‘sitting’ is quite nice. I’ve gotten used to moving as fast as possible at all times. No clothes fit but they looked awesome when they weren’t on me. I was afraid I might break some of them if I tried them on, One shirt I couldn’t fit my head through the head hole. Whenever I try on pants they always say, “OH you don’t have to cut!” Referring to the fact that I won’t have to alter the length of the pant, which apparently is quite unusual.
Made it back to the hotel where we listened to Calvin Harris on Youtube and drank Asahis from a vending machine. The plan was to go to Roppongi and go out, which we hadn’t done yet. I like it in Roppongi, even if it does catch a lot of heat for being trashy and/or filled with foreigners. I typically have a good time there, so we made our way, looking for a small “nouveau” style restaurant I had read about in TimeOut. It seemed normal to me. I got a little steak and a shrimp spring roll. We outlasted everyone in the restaurant and started talking to the waitress as we left. We invited her out with us and went to Havana Cafe to wait until she got off at 11:30.
We met the waitress at Havana Cafe and walked to Gonpachi. There was no one there either but we hung out for a few hours talking about whatever we could given the language barrier. My total conversation length in Japanese has been reduced to about 30 seconds, so we stuck mostly to English. We investigated different Japanese drinks and determined that Heartland was not as good as everyone had been telling us it was. I suspect this is because it is put out by Kirin.I wanted to go to Alife but Roppongi was beyond dead, so we called it a night and headed home.
Japan Day Six
Day Six had us back in Tokyo, ready to walk some more and open up the second phase of our adventures. We started at the Imperial Gardens sometime around 11am. I really can’t overstate the importance of blackout curtains. I’m not used to getting more than 5-6 hours of sleep. We explored the gardens and were continually amazed at how frequently the other people exploring with us were middle age women. That or business guys playing hooky from work. We joked about where the best place to hide might be in the gardens. We took pictures, looked at flowers, and left for a Hawaiian burger place on the 6th (maybe 45th?( floor of a random business building. The burger was huge but I got chicken nuggets too because I wasn’t in the mood for fish or rice. Why is fruit so expensive in Japan.
Next up was Naka Meguro, my favorite place in Tokyo. Basically it’s a small maybe 8 block neighborhood along a canal, down in the southwest part of the city. It is unbelievably relaxing, beautiful, and perfect. We went to some shops but nothing fit me. Nothing ever fits me. I tried to make my pictures look like France. We ate at a cafe called Be My Self and I finally found fruit t a reasonable price. $5 for an amazing fruit cup. Also some banana cake that was cold and a smoothie with acai berries. It was a healthy afternoon. We found a salon that was also having a yard sale. There were only a few items for sale, most notably: a M16, a faded book of what appeared to be porn, and a sign that said “Twiiter” on it. I wanted to buy the M16 but it was determined that. given my recent passport troubles, I probably wouldn’t get it in to the US. (Note, I passed by the next day and someone had bought the M16 but not the bullets. They had their own I was told).
We went to Roppongi in search of Nana’s Green Tea but found a construction site. Like many of my favorite stores or places in Tokyo from two years ago, Nana’s had vanished and no one knew where it had gone. The Koban looked at me funny and then they all left. I wondered if I had something to do with their mass departure. We went to visit the Mori Tower and timed it so we could be up on the HeliPad when the sun started to set. It was windy and there were maybe 15 of us up there. Girls took pictures of their hands silhouetting against the sunset. I took pictures of them taking pictures. Everyone was using each other as subjects while trying not to get caught doing it. Pictures with people are more interesting. The Mori Art museum was surprisingly awesome. Very ‘out there’ but so are we so it was fun.
We had dinner at an Italian place and I got a glass of wine. The owner was walking around saying bon appetite every 10 minutes. We made eye contact and he thought this meant I wasn’t enjoying my food. He looked concerned, asked me lots of questions, then continued with his routine. He was from Italy, I was from San Francisco.
On the way home I read my notes fro two years ago and wondered if the same person wrote them that was writing the new ones.
Ahh I’m trying to catch up! We are on Day 8 now technically, but my writing is a few days behind. Osaka. OK this in one ugly city. If Tokyo and Osaka grew up together as siblings, Osaka is the one that joined a gang and ran away from home. I have almost nothing positive to say about the appearance of this place. That said, I had a great time here. Today was a solo day, so I resumed my breakneck travel pace I perfected last time. I swear I walk at about 7mph when I am traveling alone. I started at the Aquarium which was fairly disappointing. I mistook this aquarium for another big one in Japan from a Vimeo video. This one was basically just a place for school kids to run amuck while fish happen to be there too. I ran through, took pictures of whale sharks, then headed to the world’s largest ferris wheel.
From a distance, the ferris wheel looks like any other: big, round, and tacky. Once you are on it though, things change. I did not know I was afraid of heights until I rode this monster. I also did not know there were two cabin options when I bought my ticket: normal, for sane people, and clear glass, for crazy people. Of course I bought the clear cabin ticket and found myself in a completely clear/glass cabin. The expression “don’t look down” was impossible to follow. The view was excellent despite the cloudy weather (and when my eyes were open). I was the only one riding the giant wheel — apparently everyone else was at the aquarium.
Next I decided to get really high (not like that, don’t worry Mama). Whenever I get to a new city I try to get as high up as possible and see what there is to see. My plan usually involves finding the tallest building, getting to the top, and looking for cool places to go from up there. In Osaka, the Floating Garden qualified. On my map, there was a building that looked exactly like this place fairly near to where I was. I made my way there, got to the the top floor and found a room with one door, no windows, and a bell. Naturally I rang the bell. A woman came out, looked me up and down, and said “I think you are in the very wrong place.” She pointed at my map and it became clear that I had walked the complete opposite direction of the Floating Garden and ended up at the top of the “Phoenix Tower”. Cool name, very wrong place.
So I set off in the right direction. I realized along the way that I was completely “off the grid”. While in the underground passage to the other side of town, I was thinking about how utterly unreachable I was. If someone wanted to find me or contact me at that moment, it would have been completely impossible. No one knew where I was and my location was about as random as possible. Eventually I reached the Floating Garden which was way worth the epic trek. The building was crazy looking and another vertigo inducing experience. The escalator to the top of the building are suspended about 40 stories with nothing below. Why I continue to do this to myself I do not know.
After the Floating Garden I headed to Amerikura.. or something. Basically Harakjuku if it was addicted to prescription drugs. It started to rain so I ducked into an underground shopping mall. The size of said mall was completely overwhelming and I continue to be amazed at the existence of these places. A mall of this size in the US would be something to behold. Here, they exist about every seven feet. I don’t think there is anywhere in Osaka or Tokyo where you could dig 10 feet and not hit a retail location.
The train back to Tokyo was very relaxing. I rebooted my search for the perfect train music and fell asleep listening to the XX.
1.) If you need a bank in Tokyo, find a 7/11. For some reason 7/11’s have the only international ATMs. 2.) If you need a trashcan, find a Starbucks. Apparently, Japanese people don’t generate trash on the go. It’s entirely possible to go your entire stay in Tokyo without seeing a public trashcan. 3.) If you need an internet cafe, find an Apple store. Free internet as long as you are good at looking like a potential buyer.
Osaka Day Five
Today we took the train to Kyoto. I did this last time, but made the mistake of not buying a JR Rail Pass before leaving the US. The pass is an incredible deal; it allows you to travel on any JR line for 7 days for $300. Considering this is almost the price of one round trip ticket to Kyoto, it pays for itself almost instantly. You just have to remember to grab it before you head out.
The train ride was mega pleasant. I spent most of it trying to find the perfect ‘train song’. Alexi Murdoch did pretty well, so did Tom Baxter, Nick Drake and Kings of Convenience. “All Comes True” was probably the winner. So we started out at 9am and got into Kyoto around 1145 or so. Once we got there I was reminded how ugly Kyoto is. Of course the Kyoto you see in pictures looks great, but if you aren’t on temple grounds, the city is hideous.
It took us 2 hours to find our ryokan. We were looking for a little guest house called Uronza, and were following a picture of a GoogleMap on a phone (bad idea). What we didn’t know was that our GoogleMap had put the address about 8 blocks away from where the place actually was. This made asking for directions rather impossible (though that didn’t stop us from trying). We totaled it up later and figured out that we asked 16 different groups of people how to find this place. Once we did, of course it was closed until the evening, so we had to set off to sightsee with our bags in tow.
By this point we didn’t have a whole lot of time, so we decided just to hit the main attractions. First up was the Golden Pavilion, followed by the Heian Shrine. I was still overcoming ‘temple fatigue’ from two years ago, so this was all the temple visiting we had in us this time around. We also ran out of time; everything closes at 5 so before we knew it, we were in search of Hinode (my favorite ramen place on the east side). Of course Hinode was closed too, so we had to recalibrate and head up the road to Omen (which has become my new favorite place). I had a fried green pea rice ball (so good I dreamt about it) and a “large” bowel of Omen noodles.
After dinner we were basically out of money from the various cabs and snacks we had purchased along the way. We decided to walk to the ryokan (about 2 hours away). Before doing this, we used a Japanese pay phone to call the place and inform them of our late arrival. To my surprise, this was very easy and worked exactly as we hoped. My previous experiences on the phone in Japan have not gone so smoothly (every time I try to make a dinner reservation…). Along our walk found a ton of great little back alleys filled with shops and restaurants, all more busy and bustling than they were during the day.
Uronza, our ryokan, was amazing. It was just us, a pair German architects, and the Japanese “dude” who ran the place. Our shoes were left at the door and we were shown to our room; a small, cozy, wooden square with nothing but a pair of sheets and what looked like a tea kit. There was also a mirror attached to a wooden box. The place was basically a treehouse in the middle of Kyoto. Just what we needed to rest up for our next day in Osaka.
Kyoto Day 4
Japan Day Three
Our third day in Tokyo began in Shinjuku with a brief walking tour of the red light district. Red light districts on Sunday mornings are more like yellow light districts, so there really wasn’t much to see. While looking for a arcade palace we did meander into a very bizarre Manga shop by accident. With a name like “Gamer Paradise” you would have thought an arcade might have been involved. Not the case.
Next we waited for Doug, my friend in the Navy, to meet us for a trip to Harajuku. Sundays are packed in Harajuku and I was really glad the rain held off again today. We had lunch at a place that tricked us into coming with a very enticing menu on display outside. Once we sat down we were informed there were only four choices today, one of which was an mega sauced pork burger with lettuce and rice. I ate this and a tofu flavored ice cream.
We tried searching for the infamous Harajuku girls but found only a few. When I was here a few years ago, I remember a lot more people in costume than there were today, Maybe it was the cloudy weather that scared them off. We did come upon five guys in 50’s Grease outfits dancing to rockabilly music in a square. They were terrific dancers actually, despite being completely wasted. Somehow I felt the need to take close to 50 photos of these guys. I wasn’t alone though — one thing there is plenty of in Harajuku is super nice cameras. I felt like all of us photographers were just sizing each other up as we poached around looking for the weirdest costumes. I saw a few really tricked out set ups.
Meiji Shrine was next. By this point our feet were killing us so we didn’t spend too much time browsing around the grounds. I took a few photos, but was having trouble getting anything good because of the lighting. My shots from 2008 were much better in the full sun. There were also a ton more people there this time, something I’ve noticed about just about everywhere I’ve visited again.
We are back in the room now, preparing for our trip to Kyoto and then Osaka. It’s a weird feeling to pack a bag for a trip to a hotel, from your current hotel. Like a Russian Doll of vacationing. We are staying in Kyoto on Monday night and will be visiting Osaka all of Tuesday via the JR Trains. We got a fancy rail pass in the States before we left and can use the trains as much as we want for the next seven days. If we have time, we talked about picking a destination as far away as possible and just going there randomly. Pretty much pointing at the map and going. We’ll probably end up scaring off the locals in some obscure part of rural Japan.
Day 2 started late because Day 1 ended really late. We went out in Shibuya last night and thankfully made it back to our hotel without a hitch. We went to Vounds (something like that), Gas Panic, and Womb. I’ve been to the Gas Panic in Roppongi and knew pretty much what to expect. The Shibuya version is a lot smaller with about the same amount of people packed inside. Womb was alright — we went because it was recommended for “serious clubbers” by our guidebook. The music was OK on the main dancefloor, but nothing really to shake a stick at. Overall I loved the interior but not the sounds. We broke my rule and took a cab to get home (subway stops at midnight).
Day 2 began at noon when we headed to Ginza in search of a Freshness Burger location. We determined Freshness might be the answer to all of our morning woes. It was, and afterwards we scooted around Ginza looking at expensive watches and cheap tshirts. My favorite stop was the Hermes flagship store because of the smell. Somehow the entire store smelled exactly like the first 15 years of my life. It was really bizarre, the whole time I was overcome with nostalgia without being able to put my finger on exactly what I was nostalgic for.
After a brief Ginza tour, we ducked inside the Sony building to avoid the spitting rain. Oddly enough, nothing really much had changed since the last time I visited. When I came in 2008, I was blown away by the HD cameras and the etc. This time, the lineup was pretty much the same — not to mention I was carrying a still camera capable of even better HD than most of what I saw. I took some HD video of us being underwhelmed by the HD lineup. At the top of the Sony building I felt like I was going to faint, so we left and went in search of a smoothie.
We saw a place called “Sweet Paradise 90 Minutes” across the street and bee-lined for it. I thought ‘sweet’ was being used as an adjective…but it was a noun and we left because we needed no sweet cakes. Eventually we found a cafe to assist my faintness, but the menu was in Japanese and I ordered a really bizarre yogurt parfait with green liquid throughout.
After eating we found the Tokyo International Forum and took approximately 100 photos each inside. I am not afraid of heights but I almost got vertigo walking on the passages inside the TIF. Really really scary. Inside it felt like we had been consumed by a really skinny whale whose ribs we could see and touch. Around us there was giant medical convention but we didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother us. I did learn about Knee Replacements though, that was neat.
Next we found the Mandarin Oriental hotel, no thanks to my memory. I had been in 2008 and was convinced I could find it again. Incorrect. We toured the business district for about an hour before we finally found our way into the Mandarin Bar for a fruit plate and a $10 bottle of water. We were tricked into getting the water though. Our waitress was very cunning.
Tonight we had dinner on the 29th floor of the NS building. I don’t know what the NS building is, but there are about seven restaurants on the 29th floor so I am a fan. Now we are home and are trying to summon the energy to go out in Roppongi. Right now I don’t think we’ll make it. We changed, got supplies, and have a plan, but bedtime is coming early this year.
Japan Day 2
First I should mention that upon arrival, the first thing that was spoken to me was: “Sir, have you ever heard of Interpol?” I was then promptly escorted to an interrogation room in Narita Airport. When I asked if I could go tell my friend what was happening, they responded, “Please cooperate”. I guess the issue was that my passport was ‘stolen’, despite the fact that I was holding it in my hand. I was asked to try and remember the time it was stolen. I told them there was no such time. I was asked many times over to TRY and remember when it was stolen. It wasn’t. One hour later I was dispatched to Tokyo to find the American Embassy which was “in Tokyo, near Tokyo”.
Anyway, the issue has been worked out now — I have to go back to the embassy at some point to get a new passport, one that is not stolen. That was this morning, at 8am. Before that, we were at the Tsujiki Fish Market where things have changed since I last came! You can no longer visit the wholesale area early AM. You have to wait until 9am when things have pretty much cooled down. This makes a lot of sense to me, as the workers seem to hate having to dodge confused tourists. Wasn’t quite as exciting though. Our consolation prize at 5am was sushi breakfast. I hadn’t done this last time (chickened out) and it was cool to try. I am a fan of cereal for breakfast, not wasabi. This I know, but it was still really tasty. Our chef presented every dish with a sound that can only be translated as: JING JAAANG!!
I am trying to avoid retaking every picture I took last time I was here. This is very difficult because I basically photographed everything in Japan last time. Between Mike and I, we are “packing heat” when it comes to camera gear. Between my MKII and his D300, we have the photog thing pretty well covered.
Johnny Depp’s influence over the Japanese male’s stylistic inklings cannot be understated.
We also checked out the Hama Riku garden, did the Sumida river boat tour, and blasted around Asakusa. After which we went in search of the Tokyo Sky Tree which took us to a part of Tokyo I had never seen. Since it’s massive, we pretty much just set a course straight at it, through a number of suburban neighborhoods. The construction is a sight to behold. There are cranes on top that lift beams almost the entire length of the structure.
Speaking of cranes, there is only one type of crane in Japan and Mike and I wondered about the possibility of a crane monopoly. They are red. They look like robots.
Before our Sky Tree adventure, we had lunch at a traditional Japanese bento box establishment. We rocked out to…some kind of music during lunch and ate many things we had never seen before. My favorite was the egg square that tasted like salt water.
Pictures will continue to be posted in the slideshow format you see. This is not ideal, but it’s what I got here with Tumblr, so we’ll deal with it.