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My Japan Trip 2018 December 2, 2018

Posted by coolmikeol in Japan.
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Hello all! This post is all about my first trip I took to Japan which took place on October 9th through October 23rd this year of 2018. There was a lot I wanted to share about it so it ended up being quite long, following a day to day journal-like format that mostly came from memories jogged by photos and timestamps. It took about a month of on and off writing to put this all together, hence why this post is being published quite a while after the trip.

For all of my photos from the trip, I’ve posted all 3000+ photos in my Flickr album Japan Trip 2018 . I hope you all enjoy, and feel free to ask or comment about anything regarding my trip.

Before the Trip

When we first reserved the plane tickets and all back in May, it was a surreal feeling for me. We were actually doing this, we were going to Japan. I’ve been wanting to go to Japan for quite some time, for the last several years actually. Seeing and hearing things about the country on the other side of the Pacific for so long made it almost like a dreamlike place in my mind. I could watch videos, see pictures, read stories, but I could never actually imagine myself there. I felt that Japan was a place that was always a place out of reach, and that the only way I’d thought I’d be comfortable going was when I was absolutely prepared to, whatever that meant.

During these months before the trip, lots of thinking and planning went into the logistics. While my friends were taking care of some things like the plane tickets and Ghibli Museum tickets, I took care of most of the rest: Making reservations for all accommodations, writing up General Itinerary and Notes for the trip, compiling up Places of Interests we would like to visit with input from my group and creating a shareable map, researching public transit systems and planning out routes, etc. I didn’t mind doing all this for the trip, as I usually do it for my other ones. At times though I did wish that the others of the group would be a bit more active in planning out the trip, but in the end I pulled through with as much preparation as I could muster. At that point, I thought “Whatever happens, happens.” Even though I always want to have a plan in place just in case, there was just so many variables that I just had to wing it if it came to that. I may sound like I’m being controlling, but I emphasized to my group that most of the plans I set up are flexible, and are in place just for reference purpose. I never intend to force anyone into what they don’t want, rather my “plans” are just options that will help us always have some sort of objective to do/go to. Time is not something we had a luxury of, hence why at least I wanted us to know what to aim for at all times, instead of wasting time figuring out what and where to go next.

As the days closed in on the trip, I felt myself getting excited for it, but at the same time equally nervous as well. It was the “unknowns” that made me think about every “What if?” situation that would come to mind. I knew that I could do all the preparing I wanted to, but there will be something that I will encounter that I won’t be ready for. And you know what? Maybe that’s the feeling of the thrill of adventure… or something I’ll regret that I should have looked into.

A few days before the trip, and my nervousness was at its peak. I knew that most of it was an irrational fear of not knowing what to expect of the trip. All I could do was focus on preparing for the trip one day at a time. I had made a checklist of what I should do everyday up until the day we leave, to keep myself organized, busy, and productive.

A couple days before the day, and I felt my nervousness start to leave me, having more of a feeling of calm and peace. Part of the reason I was nervous was because of the large amount things I knew I needed to do beforehand for the trip. At this point though I had pretty much finished most of the major stuff, so my mind was able to rest…. somewhat.

Day 1 – Tuesday, Oct. 9th – Trip Start!

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The night before I tried to go to sleep starting at 10pm, but never really did fall asleep. It wasn’t because I felt nervous or anything, but I think it’s because my body just anticipating the time I wanted to wake up. At around 2am I started to think about the difficulty of transferring between our flights at LAX, as we only have about an hour and a half at best to get from the domestic to international gates.

At 3am, I decided to get up to start preparing myself for the first day. We had two flights today; the first was at around 7am from SFO to LAX, then from LAX to NRT at 10am. I picked up a couple of my friends and brought them over to my place, before calling up an Uber to take us to the airport. We met up with our fourth friend there, and after sorting out our boarding passes, went through security with no problems. At 6:30am we boarded and departed on time for Los Angeles.

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Once we landed in LA and got off at the gate, it was around 8:30am. I was worried that we were strapped for time to transfer to our flight to Japan, as I thought we had to go through security again. Turns out all we had was a long walk from Terminal 6 to Terminal B (International Terminal), no need for another delay from security. We got to our gate just before 9am, about half an hour before boarding. It gave us a little time to rest and get some food before the flight. I decided to not get food because I knew we’d get meals on the flight, and also because someone needed to watch our stuff while the others were away.

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This was my first time flying international, so it was going to be interesting being on a nearly 12 hour flight. The longest flight I’ve been on prior to this was from Los Angeles to Hawaii, which is about 5 hours or so. I figured I’d try and sleep on the way, and maybe watch some movies I brought on my laptop. I had the window seat, so while I had the best view it also meant I had the worst seat to move around in, especially if I wanted to get up and walk around. For most of the ride I remember trying to sleep, mostly on and off. I did watch one movie which I didn’t watch yet, on the airplane’s screens instead, Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was an alright movie, but it helped to fill in those plot holes that come with watching Captain America: Civil War if you skipped Ultron.

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One of our two main meals on our way to Japan. All of this was quite good.

We passed the International Date Line during the flight, so this will continue into Day 2.

Day 2 – Wednesday, Oct. 10th – Arrival to Tokyo, Japan

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As we approached land, I kept my eye open for the first time I’d see Japan from my window. For the entire flight the sun was out in an almost noon position as we were flying west, so for the most of the flight the shades on all the windows were closed. It was only towards the last hour or so did I start to take peaks outside to take a look. At one point I thought I could see land in the horizon, but looking at the photos again I think they were just dark clouds. When I finally got to see land, we were already flying above it. There was a lot of clouds and haze in general, so it was hard to see a lot all at once. It was only through the windows of the clouds that we could see the vast rice fields, towns, lakes, and cities.

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Upon touchdown, it was a sigh of relief that the flying was over. However this signaled the true beginning of our Japan Trip. There was a few things we needed to take care of at the airport before we left: Picking up portable Wi-Fi, exchange for our JR Pass, getting a Suica Card, and getting our round trip NEX (Narita Express) train tickets. Doing all of this wasn’t problematic at all, especially when we were able to do three of them all at once at the same place.

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We got on the NEX just as the sun was setting, at around 4:19pm. We got a fantastic view of the countryside as we sped along towards Tokyo Station. Once we arrived at Tokyo Station we transferred to a couple stations which eventually go us to Ryōgoku Station, the nearest station to our AirBnb.

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A 15 minute walk while lugging our luggage later, we arrived at our place for the first few days in Tokyo. We were greeted by staff of the building who spoke English, so it was easy for us to understand. We also brought gifts for our AirBnb hosts, the first we gave to the staff here which they accepted.

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After a short rest and settling in a bit, we went out for dinner at a local ramen place. I was a bit intimidated at first as the language barrier was one of my worries for the trip, as I only took a couple semesters worth of Japanese in college a few years ago. However, this place used a ticket system, so it was straightforward about how to order. There was also some English instructions as well. The food was good and cheap, and you can tell that this was real ramen, unlike what we have back at home. After the meal, I muttered my first attempt at speaking Japanese in Japan to the chef “Gochisousamadeshita” or “Thank you for the meal”, to which he seemed happy to hear. I was still so not used to speaking Japanese out loud, that I bumped into the table behind me and rattled the glass cups that were on there. A bit nerve racking, but I figured I’d get used to it over time during the trip.

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On the way back we stopped by a 7-11 convenience store, which are as convenient as their name implies. Various cheap foods and supplies that you would not find in your standard American 7-11 store. I got myself a couple rice balls and a bottle water, before heading back to base for a good night’s rest.

Day 3 – Thursday, Oct. 11th – Fish Markets / Ginza / Imperial Palace Gardens / 300 Yen Bar

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We all woke fairly early because our bodies were still adjusting to the changing time zone. After getting ourselves ready for the day, we headed out. The plan for today was to check out the new Toyosu Fish Market and the Odaiba area. Today was the announced grand opening of Toyosu Fish Market, so I thought it was a good time to go. However it turned out that while today was the official grand opening, it was more like a soft opening of the market, more suited for media to get in and promote it for the public opening that was to happen a couple days later. We walked around a bit and checked out what we could before leaving the area.

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I knew that parts of the old fish market at Tsukiji was still around, so I suggested we check that out as a substitute. We took a local bus from Toyosu to Tsukiji, which we were able to use our Suica cards on. Upon arrival to Tsukiji, there was still plenty of activity. Of course we didn’t go to the where the old warehouses were, but rather the surrounding shops, restaurants, and the like.

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After a walk through of the area, we decided to walk towards Ginza, where we had a few things we wanted to check out from our map of interests. First off was the Godzilla Statue, which my friends are big fans of. After that we looked for a place for lunch. Most restaurants seemed to open after 11am, and it was about 10:30am at the time. After a bit of wandering around, we settled at a restaurant in the Tokyu Plaza Ginza building.

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After lunch we went to Tokyo Station to do tourist stuff and photograph the historic front of it, and from there we walked over to the Imperial Palace East Gardens Ninomaru. We explored the expansive area for about a couple of hours before heading back to the city for another meal, this time at Three Hundred Bar where every item is 300 yen, or a little under $3.

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We headed back to our AirBnb relatively early at around 5pm as it was getting dark already, the sun in Japan sets earlier than it does back in California. For dinner we got some ingredients from a nearby supermarket and had curry chicken and rice, courtesy of my friend cooking for us.

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Day 4 – Friday, Oct. 12th – Mitaka/Ghibli Museum

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The main plan for today was to go to the Ghibli Museum at 2pm, which we had reserved tickets for. In the meanwhile we figured out that we should kill time by going to some places on the way.
In the morning we went out to a local pancakes place. It was good and inexpensive. Afterwards I suggested that we go to the Bunkyo Civic Center observation lounge, which I saw from Only in Japan Go’s stream of it. Getting there took no problem and we got some good shots from up top on the 25th floor. There wasn’t many people around, and the sky was clear of fog/haze but not clouds.

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By 11am, we decided that we should head to the area of the Ghibli Museum, so not to be late, as well as to check out what was around there. When we arrived in Mitaka, we checked out a McDonald’s, where I got the Purple Potato shake I also saw from an OIJ stream. It was definitely different than what most people thought (Ube/Taro), but good none the less. Nearby was a Media store which sold video games, animes, movies, etc. Some of it was tempting, a lot of it cheaper than back home, but I didn’t get anything.

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Once we were done we walked over to the Ghibli Museum, arriving a little less than an hour before our scheduled time. We wandered the park that surrounded the museum, finding a nice little shrine near a lake. After that walk we hightailed it back to the museum and got in line at exactly 2pm. It didn’t take long for us to get in, and upon entering it looked as impressive as it did from the outside. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos inside, so I can’t share the experience, but it was very interesting and inspiring.

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We stayed at the Ghibli Museum for about an hour and a half, and afterwards decided to check out the lake that we weren’t able to take our time to see. As we walked we saw more of those big spiders, which we found out were poisonous as much as a black widow spider. That wasn’t very assuring, especially to me who hates spiders as they always creep around in the worst places. After exploring as much as we felt like, we left Mitaka and headed for Ikebukuro for a cheap conveyor belt sushi place called Kura Sushi. There it took some effort to communicate with the staff in order for us to understand how the place worked, but we eventually figured it out. The food was good and cheap as every plate was 100 yen. Afterwards we headed back to our AirBnb, but not before getting confused on the trains again. Luckily someone saw that I needed help and explained (in Japanese) that the trains would take us where we needed to go. Thank goodness that she helped us as Google Maps, as helpful as it has been, didn’t give me enough information to ensure that we were going the right way on the trains. As we were passing our local 7-11, we stopped by to pick up a couple things. I took a couple pictures in and out of the store and thought nothing of it… until a staff member came out right after I left the store and told me that picture taking was not allowed. I deleted the photos in front of him and went on our way back to our AirBnb place. Of course with technology these days, it was easy to just restore the photos from the trash folder on my phone so nothing was lost. As soon as we got back, I started to write this day’s journal post.

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Today seemed to be the start of the issues with the language barrier. Unlike the last couple days, I struggled with figuring out where to catch certain trains. Some of the stations required us to enter specific entrances for different lines which threw me off initially. I understand now that it’s because some train lines are deeper than others and that they need their enterances not at the actual center of the station for them to not intersect. Google Maps has been mostly useful when it came to giving directions, but sometimes it would not tell me what platform number to go to, or if the train was a special one like a rapid line. We missed a few trains while at the platforms because we were not sure whether it was the right one or not, and decided to wait it out to give us more time to figure it out. When we went to Kura Sushi, everything was in Japanese, and the staff wasn’t able to speak English. My limited Japanese wasn’t going to help much in this situation, besides listening for our number to be called, which I was at least able to identify. Once at the table though we were fine as the kiosk had an English option for ordering. These may have been inconvenient, but it’s expected due to our unfamiliarity with it all. I felt we handled it as best as we could have, as well as learned from our experience.

Day 5 – Saturday, Oct. 13th – Akihabara

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Akihabara was the all day plan, so we took the train and a few stops later we were there at around 9am. We wanted to check out the Gundam Cafe, but it opened at 10am, so we wandered around to kill time. At 11am we got to the Gundam Cafe and got seated right away. Everything inside was Gundam themed; the cafe walls, the food, even the bathroom which had a button to activate some lights and sounds to simulate being in a Gundam. We all got lattes with a different design on top, as well as themed foods based on various Gundam series. The food was good, but you pay more for the experience.

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After brunch we wandered around some more, getting attracted to any and all Gashapon/Claw Games we passed by. There was plenty of maids and the like handing out flyers on the sidewalks and streets, but we just kept walking. When we got to Don Quijote, another place on our to visit list, we took our time browsing each floor through the narrow aisles, filled with goods of every kind. Video game stores, clothing stores, Shawarma, computer parts stores, and a community garage sale, there was always something interesting around every corner. I took many photos, but there was a point later in the day that I felt that I was taking photos of more or less the same things. I let myself relax from recording my experience and just living it.

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When we got back to our AirBnb area, it was already dark. After trying to find a new place to eat for dinner, we ended up just going back to the first place we ate when we arrived here, the Ramen place. I got a different ramen this time, good as usual with additional nori, chashu, tamago, and tobiko. When we got back to our AirBnb, I turned on the TV to see if I could find some anime broadcasting live, and sure enough I did: Tonari no Kyuuketsuki-san. I didn’t continue to watch, as I was tired and we had another day to look forward to.

Day 6 – Sunday, Oct. 14th – Tokyo Sky Tree / Shinjuku / Metal Gear Solid Real Infiltration Game

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For today, Shinjuku was our destination. But before that, we decided that it was time to visit Tokyo Sky Tree, the tower that we could see from our balcony. We took the scenic route to it, walking about 30 min through streets and a nice walkway next to a small river. Once we arrived, we got ourselves breakfast from McDonalds which was quite good. Whether or not it was because I was hungry, I think it was better than the breakfast sandwiches we get back in the States.

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After being a bit lost in the mall that surrounds the Sky Tree, we found our way to the ticket counter for the tower. It cost about $20 to get to the Tembo Deck which is 350m high. If you pay an additional $10 from the Tembo Deck, you can go even higher to the Tembo Galleria which is 450m high. We only went up to the Tembo Deck as we already had a nice view from that height, and also we didn’t want to spend extra money.

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We had a fantastic 360° view of Tokyo. The weather was overcast, but not too hazy which gave us great shots of the city surrounding the tower. Apparently also there was some sort of promotion going on with the character “Wally”, aka Waldo and company, so there was displays and staff dressed as him. There was a glass floor for looking straight down, where a lot of people were jumping on, as anyone would do. Right as we were preparing to head back to the elevator to take us back to the ground, we saw some window washers waving to people inside. Must be a fun job cleaning the windows on the highest tower in Japan, if not the world. (I only found out that Tokyo Sky Tree is the tallest tower in the world while writing up this post nearly two weeks after my trip. It makes our visit to it all the more meaningful.)

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After Tokyo Sky Tree, we went over to Shinjuku where we had several things we wanted to check out. First we went to the Godzilla Store where there was a lot of cool merchandise based on the franchise. Next it was time for lunch, so it was off to another themed place, the Monster Hunter Bar. We were greeted with a Palico at the door, but that’s as far as we got. Turns out that you need to have a reservation in advance, probably due to the popularity of it. We looked for another nearby place to eat, and settled at one that took some effort to communicate with, as the staff’s English was not good. Food was good though, and after refueling we headed out. We went to the Tokyo Mystery Circus building for the Metal Gear Solid Real Infiltration Game. We couldn’t play right away, but we were able to reserve our tickets for a 6pm time slot. This meant that we had a few hours to kill still as it was about 3pm. Nearby was a Pachinko parlor, and a couple of my friends wanted to try it out. We have passed a few Pachinko parlors before, but it was hard figuring it out at those places. This place at least seemed friendly to beginners, even having English manuals for how to play. It was still somewhat difficult for my friends to fully figure out what to do, but they got to experience it somewhat. After a couple bucks spent and some earned candy later, I suggested that we check out the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s Observation Decks. Upon arrival, it looked like the whole building was closed, it being a Sunday I wasn’t surprised when I thought about it. As we prepared to just check out the neighboring park as compensation, we noticed a different entrance to the building was open. We went in and found out that the Observation Decks were open and that there was a big line for it. We didn’t bother waiting for it and went to the park where we found a nice and quiet shrine in it right in the middle of the busy city.

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As the sun set and the time for our Metal Gear tickets approached, we headed back to the Tokyo Circus Building. I admit I was a little nervous for the Metal Gear event, as I didn’t know what to expect. If you don’t know what the Metal Gear Solid Infiltration Game is, here’s a quick explanation: Based on the game of the same name, your goal is to destroy Metal Gear at the end by finding clues to get from room to room, all the while avoiding guards. You are on the clock, and if you are seen by guards or other means, you lose additional time. You can collect rations which gives you some time back, but there’s only so much of them. If you run out of time, the game is over, but you can pay to continue.

For this event, you can only have a party of up to 3 people. As a group of four, we divided up to a two duo pairs so that we could all participate. After we dropped off our belongings in a locker, we got our team number cards, sneaking suits for hit detection, and codec tablet, and after a brief briefing we were allowed to start. However, we had a bit of a rough start as we didn’t know how to get out of the gearing up room. We thought we had to use our codec tablets on the example codec scanning icon on the wall in that room to start, but it turns out that it was purely a non-working example and that we were just suppose to just go out and enter the door into the game area. My other two friends went in first, while my friend and I went in second. Immediately, we were extremely cautious of the guard in the room. Just like in the game he moves in a set pattern, so we used that information to move around the room. There was three codes to scan in this room full of crates to hide behind, as well as a number of rations. It wasn’t too hard to figure out how the guard moved, but that didn’t mean that we didn’t get seen by him. We got hit several times when navigating the room, mainly because we were either not paying attention or being too bold in trying to find the objectives in the room. Talking about scanning objectives, it took us a lot of time to find all three in the first room, especially the last one. It was because the last one had a different icon than the other ones, and thought it was suppose to be a decoy or something. We figured it out by watching other teams go to it and scan. That’s another thing I didn’t know about, that other teams are also playing the game at the same time. This is what confused me in the beginning too with my group splitting in two. I thought at only one team would be playing at a time, but I guess now that know that they control the amount of teams playing at the same time with their scheduled ticket system, it makes sense; allowing as many teams to play without crowding or ruining the experience. We did bump into other teams a few times, but it made the experience all the more fun. Everyone constantly on the lookout for guards, trying to scan the same code while the guard is coming around, it was a real intense experience. About halfway throughout the event, I was getting real hot and sweaty and my legs were starting to get sore from crouching up and down trying to hide from the guard. After struggling to scan the final code of the first room, we got through a door and into the next room. This one had no guards in it, but a sentry turret that would activate every several seconds. The one code to move on was located in this kill zone, so scanning quickly was the key to moving on. However, this is where we had our downfall. Our tablet was having issues scanning; when trying to scan the last code of the first room, it would not start scanning immediately, only doing so maybe after a few seconds after placing it on the code. Sometimes it would not scan at all, forcing us to hide and try again when it was safe to do so. In the second room, the code was in an area that would get us hit if we stayed there. Even if we decided to take the hit to complete the scanning of the code, I think it would cancel the scanning sequence because of the hit. We were essentially stuck at this point and decided to end it there. Once the game over screen came up, we left the play area. We went to return our gear, but not without thinking about whether or not to tell them about the problematic tablet not scanning. I didn’t want to have to try and communicate the issue to them, partly because of the language barrier, but mostly because I was so out of it after the event.

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I was so hot and tired, I could barely stand due to my legs being so sore. I took a few pictures around the lobby of the Metal Gear game area, but I didn’t really bother doing a good job of it because I was exhausted. We exited out to the outdoor stairwell where the slight breeze was welcoming. I figured that our other two friends was still in it to win it, so my friend and I went back down to the first floor. We bought a couple souvenirs from the Metal Gear experience, and afterwards bought ourselves drinks from nearby convenience store and waited outside. A little later, my other two friends came out, victorious in destroying Metal Gear. We celebrated by going to a place called Torikizoku where most of the food was about $3 a plate. It was a great way to end the night before heading back to our AirBnb for our last night stay there.

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Day 7 – Monday, Oct. 15th – Shinkansen to Kyoto

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Today was a transition day for us, as we were heading to Kyoto for the next few days. Our 7-Day JR Pass started yesterday, so we were set to ride the Shinkansen with it. We went back to Tokyo Station and scheduled our tickets, which gave us time to get some food for the ride.

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I got myself a ekiben and a katsu sandwich, besides the donuts I got earlier. The trip took about two hours and a half, and boy was it smooth ride. Travelling at about 180 mph, there was barely a bump or wiggle, the most coming from passing another Shinkansen going in the opposite direction. I was quite easy to fall asleep on, which I did on and off. I guess what kept me awake at times was to experience the ride as well as the view.

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We arrived at Kyoto Station on time, and made our way to our next AirBnb accommodation. After have a tour of our AirBnb accommodation by the host, we dropped off our stuff and headed to explore the area. Our AirBnb was near Nishiki Market, which is a marketplace full of food and goods. It was a good 15 minute walk to it, but it has plenty of things to see and do.

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We found an okonomiyaki restaurant for dinner, so we dined there. After our meal we headed to our AirBnb, and even though it was relatively early in the night we went to sleep to rest up for our first full day in Kyoto.

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Day 8 – Tuesday, Oct. 16th – Arashiyama

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We didn’t have a definite plan for today, but we knew that breakfast would be first, so we headed back to the Nishiki Market area. We wanted to try the super soft and jiggly pancakes from Gram, which was right in front of the market, but they wouldn’t be open until 11am. We had about an hour until then so we explored the market which was more lively than at night, as most of the shops were closing or closed when we were walking it the night before.

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We got to Gram cafe and pancakes right at opening time. There was already some people inside, which spoke about the popularity of their food. We each ordered what we wanted, as well as an order of their signature fluffy pancakes for all of us to share.

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After breakfast and taking a short break back at our AirBnb, we decided to head to the Arashiyama area for the Bamboo forest. Upon arrival we were greeted with a bunch of tourists crowding the entrance walkway to the bamboo forest. There was also Rickshaw riders on the path as well, that also had their own roads that ran parallel to the main path. The bamboo forest was a sight to see, but with the sheer amount of people walking through it, it dampened the experience slightly. I would have liked to stop and take nice pictures of the area, but I couldn’t really as there was always people in front to get in the way of the shots, or people behind that I would block who were walking forward.

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At the end of the bamboo forest there was a split path. I figured that we’d head in the direction of the Togetsu-kyō Bridge, as I knew that we’d get some nice views there. On the way we passed some signs about monkeys, and the nearby Monkey Park was in that direction so I figure that we could go to there too. We walked along the river which had a nice shade of Turquoise, as well as a few boats of Japanese school kids probably on a field trip. The view from the bridge was quite amazing, with the sun just above the hills and the river glistening from its light.

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At around 3:45pm, we found the entrance to Arashiyama Monkey Park. A sign on the front said that it would be closed at 4pm, but that meant for entering the park, the actual park closed at 4:30pm. After paying the $5 or so fee to enter, we climbed our way up the hill to the top. You can when you’ve made it when you start to see monkeys wandering around. There’s a small building where the caretakers of the monkeys and the park are, and this is where you can buy food to feed the monkeys from. You can’t feed them directly, but from behind the metal screens for safety reasons. What was nice was the relationship between the monkeys and the caretakers; There was this one monkey who lightly tugged at one of the caretaker’s pants, who responded by giving it some food. You can tell that they were used to one another and that there was some form of understandable communication through actions. We got some nice shots from this vista point before heading back down.

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We got ourselves some ice cream which was really good after trekking up and down that hill. The sun was already setting near the horizon, so we had an excellent view to leave with. We wanted to try an onsen (hot spring) so we found one within relative walking distance. When we arrived, there was a notice that the onsen was closed for repair to its hot spring pump. After failing to find an alternative in the area, we decided to try for a different place another day and go out for dinner. We went to a fancy looking restaurant near Nishiki Market that served steak. The food was good especially their garlic bread. On the way back to our AirBnb after dinner, we stopped to check out some clothes that were being given away for free. I got myself a vest but not the matching suit as I thought it didn’t suit me. Since we were also next to a convenience store and I was getting a bit cold and starting to get sick, I bought myself a hot chocolate to warm myself up. When we got back to our AirBnb, I also had a Michelin star ramen that we found at 7-11, as I still had appetite for more food. It was quite good and helped me to go to sleep with a more filled stomach.

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Day 9 – Wednesday, Oct. 17th – Day Trip to Hiroshima

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I woke up to find that I was indeed sick, one of the things I was trying to absolutely avoid. However this was probably unavoidable as the others had got sick before me, probably a few days earlier. I went out early just to buy face masks to shield myself from my sick friends, but I figure that it wouldn’t help me much as I was already sick. It would just help me keep anyone else getting sick from me out in public, as face masks worn in public here are quite common.

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Today’s plan was a day trip to Hiroshima city, and the nearby Itsukushima Shrine. We got our Shinkansen tickets as soon as we could at Kyoto Station, but the earliest train for all of us wouldn’t be leaving for another two hours. We decided to check out the area around the station, getting some food at a Mos Burger. We also checked out a Toys R Us store that we were surprised to see fully open and operational. Guess Toys R Us oversees are independent of their American counterparts. There wasn’t many people in the store, so we took our time looking at Gunpla and other toys. As the time neared for our departure for Hiroshima, we headed back to Kyoto Station for our bullet train.

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Getting to Hiroshima required a transfer at Shin-Kobe from the Hikari train to the Sakura train, something that I knew from my research from before the trip started. Transfer was quick as the Sakura train was on the same platform. Once we were on we were bound for Hiroshima, which would take a little more than an hour from where we were.

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Once we arrived at Hiroshima Station, we took a local streetcar to the Atomic Bomb Dome, near the hypocenter of the overhead explosion. It was quite quiet near the dome, as you can tell there was a somber feeling in the air. There was also plenty of school kids around on field trip, learning about their nation’s history.

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At this point it was about 4pm, and because Itsukushima Shrine closed at 5:30pm, I figured that we didn’t have enough time as it would take about an hour and a half just to get there. We instead decided to explore the area and have dinner in Hiroshima until it was time for us to head back to Kyoto later that night. We caught the Shinkansen just before 9pm and got back to our AirBnb at around 11:30pm.

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There’s something I need to mention about today, and that’s the time we left the AirBnb house that day for Hiroshima. We left before 10am and arrived at the Kyoto Station Shinkansen ticket office at 10:30am. Unfortunately the earliest tickets that we could reserve for Hiroshima was a 12:46pm train, and we would arrive at our destination at just past 2:30pm. I wished that we had left the house sooner to have possibly gotten earlier tickets, or maybe we should have reserved the tickets the day before to avoid the relatively late departure. Ideally, if we could have gotten to Hiroshima at around 10am, we could have done what we did today, and by 1pm or so, have headed over to Itsukushima and arrived there by 2:30pm. We would have had a good few hours there before heading back to Hiroshima, having dinner there in town before departing on a similar reserved train. This is why planning ahead in my opinion is good; to efficiently use our time while also keeping in mind the group’s needs. I honestly always like having a plan or goal, but do realize that unexpected things can happen. In those cases I plan around the issue to try and get the best outcome for all, even if it sacrifices one person’s wants for the group’s benefit.

Day 10 – Thursday, Oct. 18th – Nara / Osaka

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Today we were traveling to a couple of places that still required a decent amount of train riding, Nara and Osaka. After breakfast we got on a Nara line train headed to the town with a park full of deer. We got to Nara at around 1pm, and after a 45 minute slow walk up, we arrived at N̶a̶r̶a̶ ̶P̶a̶r̶k̶ Nara National Museum where we were greeted with dozens of wandering deer. (I always thought that we went to the main part of Nara Park, but it turns out that we only went up to the grass fields of the Nara National Museum. I found this out while writing up this post at looking at maps.) This is one of the things that was on the top of our things to do in Japan, and that was to see the deer famous for being friendly to people, and bowing for deer crackers.

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My friends interacted with the deer the most, while I was busy taking videos/photos. There was a moment where my friend was feeding the deer while they were surrounding him at nipping at him for attention. It was a funny scene that I’ll share here. Most of the deer were friendly and when some passed by, sometimes we would pet them. There was a couple older looking deer that would be making sounds, but most were quiet. When trying to get selfies with them, there was a few who were quite cooperative.

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After we were deer-ed out, we headed over to Osaka. There was of course a lot of things to see, especially with the sun setting near the Ebisu Bridge. After shopping, dinner, and gaming, we headed back to our Kyoto AirBnb for the night. When we arrived, there was a note from the host of the place, letting us know that there was a gift for our stay in the fridge; four slices of cakes from Fujiya. It was a nice touch of hospitality that made us feel welcome.

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Day 11 – Friday, Oct. 19th – Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine

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Today was temple and shrine themed with our destinations being Kiyomizu-dera and Fushimi Inari. We got some real spam and eggs for brunch at Eggs ‘n Things before heading out first to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. We arrived just after noon, and walked up the busy street toward the temple. As we did so, there was this one strange event where a frantic screaming Japanese lady ran into a shop asking for help. We did not stick around to find out, but it was quite alarming probably for everyone around.

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The direct sight of the pagoda and related buildings was breathtaking. They have a striking red color that contrasted with the blue sky. After paying a few hundred yen, we entered the Temple’s main hall which was covered up for construction. (When I was there, I thought it was repair related work due to recent mother nature events, but I found out later that it is for renovation work that is done every 50 years or so.) The views from the temple were still as nice as I could have imagined, though if we had came when the leaves were changing color (spring/fall) it would have been absolutely amazing. That’s something still on my “To see/do in Japan” list.

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From the main hall’s stage, you can see the the Otowa Waterfall, where three channels of water fall into a pond. Visitors can catch and drink the water, which is believed to each have wish-granting powers. As we liked to try the waters from shrines that we have gone to so far, we decided to check it out on our way down. Before that though we walked around the area and whatever was interesting to us. Another thing that I was not aware of while I was there that I know now is that this is the location of the “love stone”. Jishu Shrine, dedicated to Ōkuninushi, a god of love and “good matches” possesses a pair of “love stones” placed 18 meters (60 feet) apart, in which lonely visitors can try to walk between with their eyes closed. Success in reaching the other stone with their eyes closed implies that the pilgrim will find love, or true love. I’ve heard about this before, but didn’t think about it while at the Kiyomizu-dera. Once I realized that we had been in the area while writing this post, I wondered if we did pass the actual stones. Turns out that we did, and I have one photo with one of the stones in it.

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After we explored the area around the main hall, we took a walk to Koyasu Pagoda that was visible directly opposite from the stage. A visit is said to bring about an easy and safe childbirth. From there we headed down to the Otowa Waterfall, where a line of people were waiting to get their wish fulfillment. At the time I did not know the reasons for the waterfall, but visited it because everyone else was doing so. Even if I did not know the significance then, at least I learned now for my future trips to the Kyoto area. As it got close to our turn to use the waterfall, I noticed that the cup poles used to get the water from the streams was placed in a UV sterilizer. I thought that’s a cool way to keep things clean naturally at all times. We got our turn at the waterfall (don’t know which of the three wishes I got) and afterwards went on our way to the next location.

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After a short train ride, we arrived at Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, a place known for having hundreds of torii. Inari is the god of rice, but merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshiped Inari as the patron of business. Each of the torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha has been donated by a Japanese business. As we entered, there was a good amount of food stall reminiscent of what you would see at a Japanese festival (from what I’ve seen on photos/videos online). After passing a few of the shrine’s buildings, we entered the path of the torii. Walking it a bit wasn’t too bad, though a little later I realized that this was a mountain climb of stairs that would take an hour to climb. Because I was sick with a constant stuffy nose, it was hard for me to keep on going without tissue to blow my nose. I considered waiting at a rest point while letting the rest of my group go ahead to the summit. They convinced me otherwise and we continued on after getting a drink break. On the way up, I was able to visit the only restroom in the area and stock up on toilet paper as tissue, which helped me to clear my sinus enough for it not to be annoying. After a tiring climb, but determined to finish what we started, we arrived on the summit close to sunset time. Because this is Japan, there was a vending machine up here, so I bought myself a congratulatory drink. It was definitely welcome to have before we headed back down, which was so much easier (obviously).

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Back near the entrance of the shine, with the sun on the horizon, we came across the food stalls again. This time I tried a few of them, a couple of which were really good like the meat wrapped rice ball and fried skewered whole sliced salted potato. There was also a thick skewered bacon that I didn’t try that was gone when we came back from the mountain that my friends tried before we went up. Next time.

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It was another one of those times where we felt a hot spring would be good. My friend mentioned that there was one somewhat nearby, so we decided to go to it. It was also near Nintendo’s headquarters, so I figured we could pass by it afterwards. After wandering in the dark, we found our… public bath? It wasn’t what we imagined when looking at it from the outside, so we decided to try a different place another time. We went over to Nintendo and stopped by a 7-11 in front of it to get some snacks. Parked next to 7-11 was a small car branded for the convenience store used presumably for deliveries. After we all came out of 7-11, we called it for the night and returned back to our AirBnb for our final night in Kyoto.

Day 12 – Saturday, Oct. 20th – Return to Tokyo, Capsule Hotel in Shibuya

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After packing up and having a salad breakfast, we made our way back to Kyoto Station to take a Shinkansen back to Tokyo, specifically Shinagawa Station, for our next accommodation. For the ride this time I only bought a couple rice balls and a bottle water, as last time I had a bit too much food. Our train left Kyoto at 11:32am and we arrived at Shinagawa a few minutes past 2pm. For one night we wanted to try a capsule hotel, so I reserved one in Shibuya from recommendations from my group called The Millennials. We took the Yamanote line from Shinagawa Station to Shibuya where we were first greeted with the famous Shibuya Crossing. Naturally packed with people, we snaked our way through the crowds to our hotel which was not far from the station. After checking in and dropping off our stuff at 3pm, we went out to explore the area.

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We returned back to our hotel at around 5:30pm for free beer time. It was good timing too as it had started to pour outside with strong rain. We had a nice view of the streets outside; the rain helping to disperse the people off the streets. After enjoying an hour of casual drinking and relaxing, we headed out for dinner at Uobei, a Conveyor Belt Sushi Restaurant, which we heard was good from a random fellow American. In order to get seats faster, instead of getting a table for four we instead split in half via the buddy system. The sushi was good, and I was surprised that they also had California rolls too which I thought was unique only to the Golden State.

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After dinner we played around at some arcade places before calling it for the night. The capsule hotel was a breath of fresh air for us, as it was modern and in the center of everything. I remember taking a nice long shower that night, something I couldn’t really do at our previous AirBnb accommodations, mainly because we had only one bath and there was four of us, as well as limited hot water and neighbors to be aware of (not making too much noise, because we tended to come home late and take showers at those times).

Day 13 – Sunday, Oct. 21st – Shibuya/Odaiba, Onsen Experience

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My worry for today was our transition from our capsule hotel to our next and final AirBnb accommodation. The check-out time for the capsule hotel was 10am, and our check-in time at our AirBnb was at 4pm. I thought that we were going to end up lugging all our luggage during that in-between time, but luckily there was options for us to avoid this. We were able to keep our luggage at the hotel for a few hours after check-out time, which gave us some more time to look around Shibuya. During this time, I was able to find taiko drum controllers for my Nintendo Switch for the upcoming Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun!, which was going to be released in the west the following month.

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Besides the hotel holding our stuff, I also asked the host of our AirBnb place if it was possible to check-in earlier. He said that we could at the very least leave our stuff at his place, and to just let the cleaning crew know that we were just dropping off our luggage. Knowing this, at 1pm we headed over to the AirBnb location which was in Shinagawa near Gotanda Station. By 2pm we dropped off our stuff near the doorway of the residence and decided to check out Odaiba.

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There was a few places of interests that we wanted to check out; Tokyo Big Sight, Full Scale Gundam, views of Rainbow Bridge/Odaiba Statue of Liberty, and the Odaiba Ōedo-onsen. From Tokyo Teleport Station, our first destination was Tokyo Big Sight, a convention center that is known for hosting big events such as Comiket. The walk was fairly long, and few of us were getting hungry due to us not having lunch. While my friends took their lunch break, I went over to quickly check out Tokyo Big Sight for myself. It was big sight to see and while there was no apparent event happening at the time, there was still a bunch of people walking around. I wanted to see this building as I’ve seen it in many animes that I’ve watched over the years, a given for anime otaku such as myself.

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After our lunch break we headed back over to Odaiba to see the Rainbow Bridge/Odaiba Statue of Liberty. The sun was setting nicely so we got some picturesque views of both. This was also one of the locations of another anime that I watched several years ago, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. On our way to see the the full scale Gundam Unicorn, we passed by the Fuji Television building which has a very unique look. We took some photos of it which also was in Tokyo Magnitude 8.0.

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My friends, besides being Godzilla fans, are also Gundam fans as well so I figured that seeing a full scale Gundam would be to their liking. Upon first sight, it looked “small” as mentioned by one of my friends, thinking it would be more of a skyscraper sized mech, to which the others responded by saying that they aren’t that big. In general, it was definitely impressive and a great homage to a series that is uniquely Japanese. We also were treated with its lighting up 5pm show, which had Gundam Unicorn powering up with its white and red lights activating and unicorn horn splitting into the iconic V-fin formation.

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Nearby was an onsen that we had on our Places of Interest in Japan map, so we decided to head over for some relaxing. Odaiba Ōedo-onsen had an impressive outdoor entrance and indoor lobby, with most signs being in both Japanese and English for our convenience. Now there was one thing on my mind all while we were waiting to enter the onsen, not sure if it was something that the others of my group was thinking about too, and that’s the part about how Japanese onsens work: Complete nudity is mandatory. Did it worry me? Naturally yes, as it was my first time to an onsen, or any place that normalizes nudity. Did it worry me enough to think about backing out? Never actually. I was going with the flow, and I knew that the experience would be more a positive thing than anything I should be conscious about.

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After receiving our waterproof pass wristbands we went into the men’s changing area to slip into our yukatas, which required us to only wear our underwear underneath. This was the beginning of having to get over the fear of others looking at you. Upon leaving the changing area, we were greeted with a very colorful and amazing “EdoTown”, which had places to eat, games to play, and free tea to drink. The first thing we did was head over to the foot bath area, A ““Japanese Garden” themed Foot Bath, paved pebbles stimulate your foot as you walk.” More like, it was uncomfortable walking through it. Imagine walking on hard egg sized pebbles that are embedded on the floor of the foot bath waterway. It wasn’t fun, but maybe we were doing it wrong. The next thing though was an absolute treat, Fish Therapy. For an additional fee, you sit at a pool that contains these little tadpole looking fish that will peck, pick and clean the dead skin cells from your feet. It was a little intimidating at first, with the fish coming and going, bumping into you and picking at your skin. They don’t hurt you at all, rather it can be ticklish at times. The big fish caught me off guard at times as they have more of an “impact” than the little ones, but they were still nice none the less. We were in there for about 15 minutes, alongside a few other people. There was a family of three, an adult with two kids who were putting their hands in the water, something that is prohibited or at least frowned upon. There was also a couple who entered while we were in, and they had animated responses to the fish initially. After the Fish Therapy you can tell that the fish did their work; my feet were so smooth and soft like nothing I’ve seen or felt before. We had noticed that people were allowed to have their phones with them in the common area, so we went back to get ours to take some photos to remember this place by and to share to others. Once we were photoed out, we went to the male common bath area.

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As you enter you get yourself a couple of towels, one big and one small. You then claim a locker to put your clothes and big towel in before heading into the hot spring area. At this point you are totally naked, and the usage of towels is frowned upon. The only thing you have to cover yourself up with is your small towel. We rinsed ourselves off before entering the hot spring, which was quite hot. Initially it’s a bit uncomfortable, but you quickly get used to its pleasurable comfort. As much as a joy as it was being in the hot spring, I started to overheat so I cooled myself off a bit while switching up to different parts of the hot springs. Besides the standard hot spring bath, they also had slik baths, sauna, cold water bath, high pressure bubble hot spring, and salt hot spring. Note that all of these are indoors, with the exception of the outdoor hot spring area.

There was a fair amount of people in the hot springs, all naked of course. I was somewhat on autopilot with my vision, mostly just looking straight ahead. This also was true about my consciousness about myself, as I didn’t really think about it much once I was in the hot spring for a few minutes. Probably because everyone was the same, no one stood out.

After we were done with the hot springs, we washed ourselves off with soap and shampoo before returning to our locker to put on our yukatas. While getting dressed, I wondered if we had did the washing of ourselves in the wrong order. When you first enter the hot spring, there are buckets to gather water to dump on yourselves, as well as showers to rinse yourself. What I didn’t notice at that time was the area where you sit down and wash yourself with the soaps. I think we were suppose to wash ourselves with the soaps prior to entering the hot spring, and the showers and buckets are for rinsing off when leaving the hot spring. I didn’t see any signage regarding washing/rinsing, but maybe it was because I was keeping my gaze at head level all the time.

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I was feeling a little lightheaded from all the heat, so I got myself some matcha ice cream which was really good after a hot bath. Once we did what we wanted to do after the bath, we headed out. There was a free shuttle which took us back to the train station, and from there we went back to our AirBnb to figure out dinner plans. We were originally going to meet with one of my friend’s friend who just arrived in Japan after the onsen, but that plan fell through. We ended up going to a family restaurant called Jonathan’s for the last meal of the night. On the way back from dinner, I got some dessert from a convenience store. With a full belly and a warm bath, I was ready for a good night sleep. However, an annoying mosquito was buzzing around my head once the lights were turned off, so I had that to contend with. Tried going under the covers to avoid getting bitten (I already had many big bites on my arms and such), but it’s uncomfortable to be there because it gets too hot. I ended up just covering myself up with some clothes on my head, to avoid getting bitten but still having enough ventilation for me to breath.

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 Day 14 – Monday, Oct. 22nd – A Day for Ourselves

Today was going to be an interesting day, because we were going to split up to do our own things. For the entire trip thus far we have either all stuck together or used the buddy system, basically always having a friend in arms reach. This worked well for us, as this was our first time in Japan. However this does have its drawbacks as with any groups traveling abroad; You can’t really go where you personally want to. There’s a couple factors to this and I’ll break it down. First off, there might be a place that you want to go that probably no one else wants to go to. This is my main reason for wanting to have a day for ourselves. I don’t like dragging people around who aren’t interested in the things I’m interested in. Of course that’s a given for most people, but it’s also because I don’t want to feel I’m forcing what I want on others if I can avoid it. There were a few times during the trip where a place I decided we should go to wasn’t to everyone’s liking, or at least you could sense that was the case. It makes me feel bad, but at the same time it’s because at those times our group is indecisive about what to do. As mentioned, always having some sort of objective is what I’m thinking. Wandering and exploring is fine and all, but there should always be a general direction we should be wandering to in my opinion. Secondly for group travel drawbacks, is the fact that you have to essentially babysit the people you’re with, especially if they are not as prepared as you are for the journey. In my previous group travels, when you are the main planner for the trip, it falls on you to make sure things go as smoothly as possible. This means a number of things logistically: Knowing the destination, how to get there, time management, monetary cost information, food and resting options, etc. This is just for thinking about the group, let alone for yourself. Yes I know, the well-being of the group outweighs a single person’s will, but sometimes I wish I can have little moments to myself during a group trip to satisfy my goals as well. Whether it being taking time to take a great photo, or to take a look at something unique that the others would either not care about or judge you with, that’s usually all I ask in those situations. I don’t actually verbally ask but mentally wish, and in the moments that I do have the moments in time to do as I please, it makes me happy.

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I woke early to take a shower and get ready for a day of sole exploration of Tokyo. My plan for today was to go to a few places; Suga Shrine, Tokyo Tower, and Akihabara. Suga Shrine is where the famous stairs from the anime movie Your Name is, Tokyo Tower is the well-known Eiffel Tower inspired communications and observation tower, and we planned to meet up in Akihabara later in the afternoon. I left the AirBnb at 10:30am and took the train from Gotanda Station to Shinjuku Station via the Yamanote Line, where I transferred off to the Marunouchi Line head for Yotsuya-Sanchome Station. From here it was about a 10 minute walk through a quiet neighborhood to the shrine.

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It was a beautiful day, clear skies with a warm gentle breeze. Suga Shrine was serene with hardly any people around. I knew exactly where the stairs from Your Name were, but because of people like me I expected others to be there as well. Sure enough there was a couple of girls that were taking their time taking photos at the stairs. You could tell that they were here because of the movie too based on the fact that they were constantly taking photos the way the stairs and characters are portrayed in the film. I didn’t want to get in their way, nor did I want them to be in my photos, so I took photos of the surrounding area while waiting. They were around for at least 30 minutes before they left, during that time a few others came and went with their photo taking as well.

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Once everyone else left, I took my time getting the best shots of the stairs. It was definitely a sight to see for anime fans such as myself. It looked exactly as it looks in the movie, but even better because you are actually there.

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After I was satisfied, it was time to head over to my next destination, Tokyo Tower. I walked to Yotsuya Station and took the Namboku Line to Azabujuban Station. At this time it was about 1pm, so I bought some lunch at a nearby McDonalds and headed to a park to eat. What I like about Tokyo is that, despite the sheer amount of buildings and urban environment, you can always find some sort of natural area or parks within a relative close distance. I came across a park area not too far from Tokyo Tower that had a fantastic view of it, and decided to stop and have lunch there. Once I finished eating, it was time to get over to Tokyo’s iconic tower. What I didn’t realize while I was in the park was that it was literally next to Tokyo Tower, it was just up an adjacent road. This towering monument’s color reminded me of my home’s most iconic attraction, the Golden Gate Bridge. I got as close I could to the tower, up to the base of the legs and looked straight up to the very top. I wasn’t planning to go up to the observation deck this time around, but maybe next time. I walked around most of the structure, and I could see that it was celebrating it’s 60th anniversary, its completion was back in 1958. I didn’t go inside the building of the tower then, but I realize now that I should have explored it at least a little.

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After Tokyo Tower, I headed over to Akihabara which was the meeting up point for my group. I still had some extra time, so I wandered and explored Electric Town until then. At 5pm, we grouped back up and did more walking around Akihabara, taking advantage of our remaining time left as after this we would not be able to really shop here anymore, as it was our last night in Japan.

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The final dinner was back at Ginza, where we had an all-you-can-eat meat experience. It was a great way to close our final full day in Japan with some good food, good friends, and numerous memories, gifts, and photos to share back home.

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Day 15 – Tuesday, Oct. 23rd – Going back in time to Home

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My awaking morning view of our final day in Japan 2018.

Morning of our last day in Japan I woke early. Everyone was still sleeping but I wanted to cherish as much of my trip as I could. I wanted to remember how I felt in the moment, thinking back on the last two weeks of our trip in Japan. I wrote the following on my phone on this morning:

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“Japan is a strange place, different from any place I’ve been to before. It has its own distinctive language, mindset, and culture, thousands of miles away from my home city. Despite all of this, I also feel a sort of familiarity and pleasantness, like a home does.

As I look from the balcony window on the last morning of our Japan trip, I looked back at my feelings throughout it. Language barriers aside, I felt that there wasn’t too much different here. Yes there are way more people around, and yes there are also some negative points to mention, having stayed here for two weeks.

I have already set my sights on a new Japan trip, of course just as an idea for now. Thanks to this first Japan trip being more or less a learning experience, it will help me optimize my experience here in the future, from what to pack, to getting around, and communicating. It has also inspired me to get back into studying Japanese again. Whether that being from taking classes or just studying at leisure, It will help me take steps forward toward enjoying Japan a little more.

I was afraid that this trip would pass me by like a dream, sometimes just pinching myself or just reaching out to touch my environment to confirm to myself that I’m really here. For how many years did a Japan trip seemed to me to be a difficult embarkment? I can tell you too long, looking back at the times I joked around about such a thing. My memories, my friends, and my photos will tell stories that may not be unique to most people who come here to visit, but to me they are priceless. This is my Japan Trip 2018, my first time to Japan.”

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We were flying back home on a 7:15pm flight, so we still had some time before having to head to the airport. Our check-out time from our AirBnb was 11am, a bit more lenient than the previous places which had the standard 10am check-out time. There was a place that I personally wanted to go to on my own before we had to leave our AirBnb which was to open at 10am. It was walking distance so I told my friends that I’d leave the AirBnb by 9:30am and return around 11am. I already brought my stuff to the doorway just in case I wasn’t exactly on time to get my stuff out of the AirBnb, and told them just to make sure everything was more or less cleaned up before we left it.

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The place I wanted to go to is called Mirai Store Tokyo, a store run by Danny Choo that sells Smart Dolls. “MIRAI STORE TOKYO – our flagship store where you can come and meet our Smart Doll girls and boys”

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Smart Doll is a new standard in fashion doll that not only enables artists, designers and photographers to enhance their creativity, but to also enrich the lifestyles of folks who not only appreciate Japanese culture – but cute things too.

Designed by Danny Choo, the 1/3 scale (60 cm or 2 feet tall) Smart Doll encompasses Japanese cultural elements such as design philosophy, the Anime (Japanese animation) look and feel through to the traditional casting methods used in the manufacturing process right here in Japan.

I’ve been a supporter of Danny Choo for several years, back when he was known as the Tokyo Stormtrooper and also blogged on a regular basis. He is an inspirational person, working hard towards his passion and goals no matter what hardships hit or haters say. You can say that my passion for blogging and photography comes partially from Danny’s. I first met him in person at Anime Expo 2011 and at future Anime Expos whenever I had the chance. The advise that sticks to me from Danny the most is “Identify and live your passion, the rest will follow.” It’s the phrase that helps you aim for a future you want through your own interests and goals. To do this, sometimes it’s necessary to leave your comfort zone in order to achieve your passion, another advise from the man himself. That in itself is hard for most people, as many would take the easy road, but sometimes that road won’t lead to the best outcome. Doing something is better than nothing, so in this case getting some work done is better than coasting down the road and doing no work. In end you’ll find yourself uphill slightly closer to an out of reach dream than if you just stay close to the coast. Basically what I’m trying to say out of all of this is that Danny inspires me to try and work towards a future driven by my own passion and goals.

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I got to the Mirai Store before 10am, so in that time I went and had a quick 7-11 breakfast in a nearby building plaza area before eventually going in. I’ll be frank, I was a little nervous being in the store at first. I tend to get awkward like this when I’m around a “famous” person. I even asked if I could take pictures of the store even though I knew I could from what the store’s website says: “You are free to take photos and videos inside Mirai Store Tokyo and are under no obligation to buy anything.” Besides me there was one other customer, and a few employees working in the back from what I saw. I wasn’t expecting to see Danny as I had heard that he was recovering from more spine pain, something that has been plaguing him for about 10 years now I believe. Even though I don’t have much of an interest in buying a Smart Doll at the moment, I do admire the R&D that goes into making these functional works of art. I love the way they look, and that they are customizable to your hearts content. I found a few of the ones that were on display quite cute, and can see the appeal to general audiences, even though there are some who hate dolls based on their “creepy” look or how they are stereotyped for kids only. If I had one, I’d probably use it for practicing photography as a poseable practice model.

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After I was finished taking photos I wanted to at least thank the store for their hard work. I was extremely awkward trying to convey this message to them, in the case Danny’s wife who I recognized. (I prefer to write/type things for communication as it allows me to slow down my thoughts instead of making ad lib speeches which I’m bad at.) During the conversation, she asked me if I wanted to speak to Danny himself which surprised me. I had thought that he was at home resting, but it turns out that he was working the entire time. There was a Facebook post by Danny just the previous day mentioning his Spinal Hernia. I thought that he posted it because he was currently in pain, but now (at the time of writing his post more than a month later) I think that he was just updating us on his condition, not reporting a recent event.

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The reason why I didn’t notice Danny in the back earlier was probably because he had a different haircut. He remembered me somewhat from my cosplaying days as Eiji Seiun, and we talked a bit about Smart Dolls, myself, and the like. It was a nice short conversation, but I didn’t want to keep Danny too long away from his work, and also it was nearing 11am. As I was leaving, the other customer started conversing with Danny, and I overheard that he also was a fan of his from overseas as well. After a final photo of the storefront it was a fast walk back to our AirBnb, to which I got there just after 11am.

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Our first business to take care of was to reserve seats on our return NEX train trip. We took the train to Tokyo Station, where we did so using the automated machines with a staff’s help. Since we had about three hours until train departure, we dropped off our stuff at a train locker and went out to look for a place for lunch. After about an hour of figuring out where to go and how to go to it, we arrived at CURRY HOUSE CoCo ICHIBANYA, a place specializing in custom curry. Here you can choose the kind of curry sauce, how much rice you want, spice and mild level, and various add-ons and toppings. I choose a fairly plain curry while the others got whatever they wanted. For about $10, you can get a decent amount of food to fill you up, perfect for us as this was our last restaurant meal in Japan.

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After lunch, right across the street was a interesting place called Robot Mart. Thinking it was a mart run by a robot, we decided to quickly check it out. Upon entering, it indeed was a fully automated mart with a robot in the corner keeping eyes on things. Besides the robot, there was cameras everywhere to watch for theft. There wasn’t much variety on sale besides instant ramen, canned drinks, and small bags of snacks. I think this place was more of a test of concept rather than a real profitable store. With Amazon rolling out their own stores back in the US that allow you to walk in, take what you want, and walk out while automatically charging you, I wouldn’t be surprised if Japan came out with similar concept stores.

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It was nearing the time for our NEX train, so we returned back to Tokyo Station to get our things and find our platform. At 3:03pm we left Tokyo and arrived at Terminal 1 of Narita International Airport at 3:57pm. Before heading through security, we needed to return our portable Wi-Fi at the post office via pre-paid envelope, so I returned mine where I got it (which was at a post office). While waiting for the others to do the same, I remembered to take a photo of the Terminal from the outside, a scene I’ve seen before from one of my early favorite manga, Negima! After checking-in our bags and heading through security, we bought last minute gifts like Tokyo Banana, exchanged our money from Japanese Yen back into US dollars, and waited and rested until boarding time. We got on the plane at 6:45pm and departed on time at 7:15pm for Los Angeles.

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The flight back to the states was shorter than the flight to Japan, about 9 hours long. This is in comparison to the nearly 11 1/2 hour flight from LA to Japan. I think it is mostly due to the jet stream helping to boost the plane. We still got two main meals, though they were not as good as the ones we had coming to Japan. I was able to watch a couple of movies on this flight I haven’t seen before, Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. We arrived in LA just past noon on the same date.

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Upon arrival back to the United States, we had to go through customs. As this was my first international trip, this was also my first time reentering the country and having to go through this procedure. It felt intimidating from the start; first they boarded us on buses that took us to a different part of the airport. From there we had to go through a few checkpoints that asked us mainly what we had that we had to declare on our customs paper. The only category that I had to mark on the paper was that I had food. The only food I had on me though was just snacks and gift foods, nothing agriculture related. For the most part the process went smooth, but I thought they were going to take the customs paper from us but they never did.

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By 2pm our security situation was over and so we went to our final gate for home. We had a couple hours until out flight was to leave, so more waiting and resting around. At 4:30pm we departed from LAX and arrived at SFO just after 6pm. My friend’s mom picked us up and she dropped me off at my place. The time at this moment was just after 7pm. This is why this day is titled “Going back in time to Home”, as by the time we did get home it would be around the time that we originally left Japan. Pretty cool huh? It’s like the flight never happened.

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This ends my daily journal of my first trip to Japan, but there’s still more I want to go over.

General Summary and After Thoughts

I felt that the Japan trip was a rousing success, all thanks to tireless planning and the cooperation of everyone in the group. We got to see and experience many new things on this journey, both planned and unexpected. Of course it wasn’t without flaws, namely us getting sick and having some time management issues, but overall it went as smoothly as we could have had things happen. We all had our moments of excitement and awe, and I look forward to feeling that again the next time we come back to Japan.

Besides coming as a group, whenever possible I’d like to do a solo trip to Japan as well. If I do it will probably be a cross country kind of thing, traveling by Shinkansen from place to place. As for the scale of it, it will largely depend on a couple of things: time and money. I’d like to do this while documenting my travels, sort of like how I’m writing about this trip, but in a more comprehensive way.

I took all my pictures and video with my Pixel 2, smartphone made by Google. I’m quite surprised that I was able to rely on solely my phone for my photography needs. My previous phone’s cameras were poor at best, and I’d never use it for quality photo taking, hence my hesitation to use my current one as my main tool. I did bring my Canon DLSR with me on the trip, but I rarely brought it out. The reasons why I ended up not really using my DLSR was because it wasn’t convenient to bring in and out of my camera bag, bringing it around in general while traveling is bulky, and also my phone could take photos on par or better than it, especially when it came to low lighting. I’ve only had this phone since the start of this year, but it’s my favorite smartphone I’ve ever had, mostly because of the great quality of its camera. The only downsides I had was that my phone’s battery drained much faster due to me bringing it out every few minutes, but I always had my power bank on me ready to go to charge it back up. Another smaller reason why I was hesitant to use my DLSR during the trip was that there was some dust on the sensor that I need to clean. I’ve had my Canon DSLR for a good several years and I’ve never done maintenance on it. Besides the dust issue, there might also be a focusing issue with it as well, I’m not sure. I plan to get it sent in for maintenance sometime early next year.

You know how they say that traveling abroad can open your mind, well it certainly did for me. Before going to Japan as mentioned in the very beginning of this post, it was hard for me to imagine myself anywhere outside of my home country. After my trip though, it’s changed the way I see pictures and videos of any place in Japan, because I now can mentally place myself there because I know generally what to expect. I’m not saying that this replaces the real thing, of course not. This will help me plan things out better for when I experience new places in Japan in the future. I don’t know if I’m explaining myself well enough for what I mean, as I feel that I’m just repeating the same thing over and over again about “imagining myself” in a place I’ve never been to. For me though, this is a big deal. This trip literally has made me realize that the impossible is possible, and that dreams are only dreams if you make it that way. You can make dreams into reality. I don’t really like using the term “dream” now because it implies that it is something that is not reachable in the real world. Dreams are fleeting and come from an imagination where physical laws don’t have an effect, where as imaging real places as such doesn’t make sense. Is it a dream if you can go there? No. Is it a dream if what’s standing between you and your goal seems impossible but is actually doable? No. A dream should always be a dream, while a goal should be something that can be imagined through step by step planning and hard work. Don’t make your goal into a dream, make it something real. Realize it to confirm it’s existence, and to inspire others to think the same; that a place in your future can be made real. I guess you can say that this trip has enlightened my thoughts for my own outlook on my future, and I hope to put it to good use. A learning experience is only as good as how you apply it towards something new and exciting.

Because this write-up is so long, I’m probably missing some things that I will probably think of later. I’m leaving this note here as a warning that this post may be updated if I do realize that I missed important details to share. If so, I will make mention the change here to highlight where it is in this vast post. I hope you all understand and enjoy.


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