Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Day 4: Akihabara

Day 4: Akihabara

Woke up on day 4 a bit late. It was sunday and it is traditional to sleep late. I wanted to go to Kappayashi street in Asakusa because it was famous for their kitchenware. However, because it was sunday, most of the shops were closed. The only ones that were open was selling fake food. Now, don't let the idea that fake food is cheap. A piece of fake sushi was upwards of 2000 yen. A bowl of fake noodles was 5000 yen. It think these were professional quality ones designed for restaurants though. There was also high performance cookware, but I didn't want to carry heavy iron stuff back.

And after walking around there, at 11 o'clock, we finally arrived at every geek's dream: Akihabara. Akihabara Electric City. Actually, if you think about it, there really isn't anything really special. It is just a few blocks of endless shops of manga, anime, dvds, electronics, wiring, ... and the best arcades around.

We wandered around. We did see some cosplayers. I bought some artbooks that cost me a total of 10000 yen. If I lived in Japan, I might spend a lot of money on random stuff.

The manga stores were awesome. Seven stories of manga and anime related goods. There was a place for costumes and squaresoft licensed accessories. After a while though, we did go through the major stores and decided to come back later. Everything was looking similar, which is never a good thing.

We went to MOS burger for lunch. It's their local version of Harvey's. A more upscale joint than the McDonald's. I love the fact that some of their burgers used rice patties instead of buns. It was smaller, but still filling because it was rice, not bread (since bread is mostly air).

We went to Shibuya afterwards. Took pictures of the famous Scramble Crossing. For anyone that's ever played "The World Ends with You" by Squaresoft, Shibuya is REALLY similar to the one in the game. However, there are shops everywhere. Mostly clothing. I wanted to do a pose in front of every area in Shibuya that was part of the game, but that took too much effort. So we wandered around and people watched.

Finally, as we decided to get a drink from a convenience store and find a place to sit, we find the only ghetto park in Japan. It was kind of grimey, lots of homeless people. There was a miniture soccer field for Futsal. Looked fun, but I didn't have the shoes and it looked more like a league.

We sat on a rock, and realized from the way we dressed, we kind of looked weird in the Japanese environment. Most Japanese people dressed in suits if you were salarimen, even if you weren't at work. On the other hand, people dressed really casually or trendily if they weren't wearing suits. We were dressed in sports jackets, but no tie or shirt. At one point, I thought we looked like little disrespect punks of the Yakuza or something. People kept giving us weird looks too.

We walked towards Harajuku while comtemplating this. While there, I found a jacket I liked, and I also bought some 'wishing dolls'. They were cute. There was also this guy that kept trying to take a picture of this crepe store. I took one because I thought the shop looked cute. He was trying for a photo of the waitress. He also had a lens on a DSLR that was 3/4 the length of my forearm. What a perv.

We took the train back to Shibuya for the night view of Scramble crossing. At night, it really looks like the Japanese version of Times Square. Or Times Square look like a less pedestrian friendly version of Scramble Crossing. Either way, lots of people.

Next on our list was going to Shinigawa to go to a Lawson station to get Museum Ghibli tickets. We had to go to Shinigawa because we didn't know where else was one.

Museum Ghibli, being a small museum, is a museum for Studio Ghibli, a studio making the most famous Japanese Children's anime movies. Names like Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Totoro are all part of some Asian childhood. They're like Disney movies, with much less musicals and much more plot. Now because they're small, they have a reservation system so that they don't become overcrowded. The reservation system is based on a machine that sells tickets to many venues in Tokyo and is only available at Lawson's. Think of a ticketmaster outlet that's only available at Macs.

At the machine, we were stuck. This was because for some reason, we could not reserve a ticket for the next day. We later found out it was because it was a holiday. We checked the 10th and tried to reserve it but it asked for a name and phone number. While we don't have a number, we did have a name. Still didn't work. It accepted only katakana and hiragana and it wouldn't accept 'Paul' as a name. We tried to ask the clerk, but our Japanese wasn't good enough. The clerks looked at it and didn't understand us very well so we tried to tell them we can't enter our name. After a while, we heard the two clerks speaking in mandarin. We tried talking to them in Mandrin... success! They helped us by faking a number and name and we got our tickets. I am now thankful that I know Mandarin at this point. Mandarin being useful in Japan, who knew?

We went to eat dinner at this point. Couldn't really decide on a place and Paul didn't have an opinion. He went to all the restaurants in Shinagawa while he was there on business. Lucky guy. So we decided by price and went to a cheapish place that did traditional food. It was only around 700 yen or so. I had a charcoal grilled fish and a special autumn soup of oysters and tofu in a dashi broth. Paul had a pricier fish but roasted in the same way. We communicated by pointing at the menu.

It was funny, the waitress actually made another waitress curious enough to indescretly peek at the 'foreigners'. I still don't know why they kept whispering while looking at us. It was weird. The food was excellent though.

Then it was back to Ueno and walk around again. There was nothing but Pachinko parlors. So we went back and slept.

Day 3: Odaiba

That day, we had plans with Lings and her friend from Tokyo, Motoko. We went to the Hilton in Shinjuku where they were staying to do some company business. However, given that we had drank the night before, we totally miscalculated the amount of time we needed to get there by 11am.

We started the day by getting some walnut cake like things to eat for breakfast. It was already 10, so it wasn't totally packed, but it was still quite full. We could barely eat while standing on the train. We got to Ling's approximately an hour after we were scheduled to arrive. Because of that, we really didn't leave for Odaiba till 12 oclock.

The view from the train to Odaiba was awesome. Nothing like a huge suspension bridge on top of water to look majestic.

After getting there, we didn't do much but walk around. Saw the Toyota Showcase where there were lots of cars. They really have many more models than here. Their cars are stubbier too. There was a autodriving car, but we didn't want to wait in line. Ling got more Flag chains for her Nominations bracelet. They were 4000 yen per piece, but Toronto doesn't have a Nominations store, so this was one of the few places she can get it.

I was allowed to make the choice for lunch, so I decided on a Japanese place. I had omurice, Ling had Donburi with chicken sashimi. Paul had yaki-age (fried chicken) and Motoko had Chicken stew with grated daikon.

We wandered around the second mall after lunch. It's like HK. There's always something to do in Japan and that something is shopping. I even bought a small chain necklace for myself.

Since sunset falls early in Japan (around 5!!!), it was already getting dark. We went outside at dusk and realized just how beautiful the view is from Odaiba. The skyline of Tokyo is clearly visible. Probably the best looking place in Tokyo. All the couples using it as a makeout spot can't be wrong!

Walking along the beach, I took a LOT of pictures of the skyline. Too bad my camera isn't a DSLR, and only a point and can see the pictures in my profile on facebook.

After resting and picture taking, we went back to Shinboshi station and walked around Tokyo once more. Looking at a food magazine that's free and highlights restauants around the area (there's different versions for each district), we decided on an Okinawan place for dinner. We still weren't really hungry because our lunch was around 2, so we walked around more (Paul and I did a lot of walking).

Since Ginza is close to Shinbashi, we went there to window shop. And one of the stores had a huge lineup. Guess which brand it was. H&M. I kid you not, the lines for H&M was 3 blocks long. While we may not look at H&M as a hugely popular brand, over there it is considered 'foreign', and therefore, good. Plus, the stuff they have over there seems more along the lines of Zara, rather than Old Navy. It wasn't as highly priced as Zara though.

We went to Uniqlo, a Tapanses brand, and Paul and I saw stuff we want to buy, but we held off. Ling and motoko both bought stuff. I wanted some really nice Merino wool pullovers while Paul wanted jeans. We decided we didn't want to lug around stuff this early in our trip.

We were finally feeling hungry, so we went to the Okinawan place. We had eccentric stuff that I love. Before we even ordered, we had otoshi (some amuse bouche). It was some stirfried root, some hijiki seaweed with kidney beans, and a shot of an aperitif (sake). More restaurants should have amuse bouches.

Okinawan cuisine love pork, so we got a Paijuki salad (some type of seaweed), some spam stirfried with egg and goya (some type of bitter melon thing), some Okinawan thin pancake, sweet potato fries, Okinawan oden (pork instead of seafood) and Okinawan soba (really light, but flavourful broth). The paijuki salad was weird. The seaweed had little balls on it that exploded when you bit into it. It was sort of like tobiko roe (fish eggs), except it was plant based. Pictures of food is on my facebook photos.

Probably couldn't have eaten this well without Motoko-san. Having a friend that knows the language rocks.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Day 2: Fish Market and Harajuku

The night before, we decided to go to one of the most famous fish markets in the world: The Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Because of when it opens, we decided to wake up early to go to the market. While we decided to leave at six, we actually didn't leave the hostel till 7. We took the subway to Shinboshi station and walked from there. By the time we got there, it was 7:30 and the tuna auctions were over.

To me, the fish market seemed to me to be a huge giant wet market. It reminded me a lot of the markets I saw in China and the regulated fish markets in HK. It was also quite cold. There were quite a few tourists that were looking around. How did I know? For one thing, they all carried cameras. The locals pretty much just bought their stuff and left, unlike the tourists (like us), who walked around looking at the huge carcasses of fish.

So finding a sushi place to eat was not easy. Every cheap sushi place was jammed and packed with people. This was hampered because someone suggested we eat at a conveyer belt sushi place. However, as we were looking for it in the market area, we could not find it. Finally, we gave up and found the shops area, where sushi shops were already in full swing at 8:30. Everything was packed. There was one place that was empty, but the chef was smoking, so I doubt the quality of the food.

In the end, we ate at a ramen place that was in the shop area. It was still packed, but we didn't know what to order. It was the sort of noodle stand that you had to know Japanese for. There were no menus, but Japanese plaques on the wall. While we could read the word ramen, we couldn't read anything else. Paul could read the katakana. I could understand what the vocabulary was. But Paul didn't have the vocabulary, and I didn't recognize hiragana or katakana, so we were in a pickle. In the end, Paul just pointed to two random plaques on the wall, and we got miso ramen and shio ramen.

Afterwards, we wandered off towards Shinjuku. There were just a lot of brand name stores. It was international to be sure, but wasn't really impressive to me. To me, it seemed like a whole bunch of mall like shopping centers. Also a lot of business buildings. I did take a picture in front of the LOVE statue that was so prodominant in the Densha Otoko live action drama. Still, it is in a lot of things, so I took a picture.

We then wandered over to Harajuku. It took us a while because we decided to walk over there instead of taking the train. Along the way, while I decided to help an old lady with her luggage, she kept saying excuse me (sumimasen) because I guess she didn't expect help. Afterwards though, I realized that we looked like wannabe thugs because while we were dressed in suits, we were wearing them very casually, almost mocking the people that wear suits to work. Oh well.

I had one of the nastiest drinks I've had in a while. It was a black bean black tea that was supposed to be good for you. Paul took the safe route and had a calpis soda. Ick. I can still remember the black bean tea now. Good thing I had an onigiri that tasted good. It washed the bad taste out.

So anyways, by this time, we had gotten lost by walking. I missed a left turn and we were going the wrong way. We decided to take the train to Harajuku, so we decided to sit around and finish our drinks. Meanwhile, while we were drinking, I decided to mock the police on bikes. Paul somehow made me laugh, causing me to choke on one of the nastiest drinks I've ever had. Talk about embarassing. Good thing the cops on bikes didn't catch me, or I'd had to outrun a bike.

We got to Harajuku. It was great. It was geared towards trendy people, and while I'm not trendy, I love watching people that are. ^.^ However, it was also here that I had a traumatizing experience. Not 10 meters in from the front of the pedestrian walkway, was a 40 something scruffy looking man walking towards us...with no pants on. Talk about tramatizing. It wasn't a regular thing. How did I know? There were 2-3 high schoolers that were following him with a cellphone camera. How did he miss the kids following him? More importantly, HOW DID HE MISS HIS PANTS??? And how did Paul miss the whole thing? He didn't see it at all.

So while walking through Harajuku, we checked out some stores. Claire's, the accessories store for girls, is everywhere. It certainly seems popular enough here.

I decided that we got to Tokyo U. After reading and watching Love Hina, it was a place not to be missed. Passing through Ueno, we saw a pond and shrine. By thi time, our feet HURT, but we soldiered on. For those that know how fast and how much I walk, you would have an idea of how far we walked that day. At Ueno, I bought a cute teddy bear face towel at a 100yen shop. Their 100 yen shop really puts our dollar stores to shame.

The University, while not gorgeous, was dignified. Their engineering hall seems much more interesting than ours, but I suspect it's only because I've been there only once, instead of how many hours I've spent at RCH and the rest of the campus. We went ot the cafeteria because I'm obsessed about food. Their food is cheap! Everything looked awesome and it was all under 500 yen. UGH. Why do we have such relatively expensive food in Canada?

So after taking some pictures at the university, we went back to the hostel to rest. Went to Shinagawa to meet up with Ling, our co-worker from Broadcom who was there for business. We ate dinner with them and some people from Sony. Went to a pub like place and had weird food like horse sashimi (raw horse slices). It was like beef, but more gamy. It wasn't bad, but I wouldn't want it on a regular basis. Yakitori was good.

Since the tradition is to go out drinking, we also tagged along. The pub was only the first round. We went to a bar that was nearby for second round. Since it was Halloween, lots of people were dressed up. One of the waitresses dressed up in a panda suit, noting that we were foreigners, just came up to us and shouted "I am panda" and throwing up her arms. It was such a cute little moment. The rest of the bar was very lively. After talking at the bar for a while (since it was that packed) and chatting with the natives, me and Paul decided to get back, while the rest of them went out for third round in Roppongi. We were too tired to do anything else. Plus, our feet were really complaining at the time. I really wish I had more cushioning for my Geoxes.