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It’s a grey, overcast day in Tokyo Japan and I’m spending the afternoon on the banks of the nearby Sumidagawa river, video taping the sights and sounds and weather along the river bank.

1:00pm JST

Inspired by the dreary weather, I’m headed to the Etaibashi Bridge and the banks of the Sumidagawa to video tape the weather, boats and the passage of the river. Chatted (sort of) with an older gentleman who seems to have had the same idea as he too was video taping the river and river busses making their way from the Asakusa docks to Odaiba.

Suddenly, I saw in the distance… yes its a Matsumoto river bus and I pointed it out to my new found acquaintance as it approached! He knows these boats by name and stayed around to video tape Himiko and Hotaluna as they passed. After a single pass by both Matsumoto busses, he packed up his video camera and we said our goodbyes leaving me to enjoy the river and the passage of other Suido river busses…

Storm clouds are rolling in but I have my conbini umbrella to keep me (and the camera gear) dry. The sunset is doing pretty things to the clouds as twilight illuminates the river, followed by darkness, prompting the bridges and surrounding street lights to turn up. The Eitaibashi lights come on, turning the bridge a bright blue and reflecting lovely patterns in the water. The Tokyo water busses pass by up and down the river, their warm lanterns and lighting glowing like fireflies on the rippling waves of the river.

6:00pm JST

It’s time for dinner and I try yet another restaurant on the Eitai Dori, this time Kagetsu Arashi, specializing in ramen noodles.

6:00pm JST

This exotic foreign country feels more and more like home all the time. I’ve found that you can become attached and even grow to love any place and community, it just depends on what you put into it. I want to get to know these people better but language is still a barrier for me… and them.

After dinner, I wander the streets and can feel the cold of Autumn and Winter approaching. I definitely don’t like Japan in the Fall, give me the Japan of long summer days with heat and typhoons and starry nights and friends in every port! Christmas and New Years in Japan have their allure but these are times for family and community and not a wayfarer like me, one who isn’t fully integrated in the community, and how many years would that take?

The full moon rises above the houses of Eitai Dori reminding us that this is Halloween night! I celebrate Halloween in the traditional manner… with seasonal donuts from Mister Donut. The Japanese decorate and seem to celebrate Halloween and Christmas in a similar manner to Americajin, but without the religious overtones. I notice that the Japanese also have a thing for pumpkins, perhaps they’re comfortable with the idea of a vegetable attaining an animus.

Return to Yokohama

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Today Andrew and John return to Yokohama to tour China Town, take photographs in Yamashita Park and view Mt. Fuji from the observation deck of the Landmark Tower…

11:00am JST

Our journey begins, as many of them do, by tanking up at Mister Donut and planning our trip route. Since we’re taking the Tokaido Main line train to Yokohama from Tokyo Station, the Keiyo line train from Etchujima Station will be the most direct route to Tokyo Station and the rest of the JR system. So, our journey really begins with a brisk hike to Etchujima station under a blue sky and pleasant temperatures.

Once at Tokyo Station, we find the Tokaido Main Line platform, easily enough… but the train on platform 8 is headed in the wrong direction. We scurry over to platform 7 and jump on the Tokaido Main line train bound for Yokohama just a minute before leaving the platform.

12:00pm JST

We have arrived at Yokohama Station, but the game isn’t over yet, now we need the Yokohama subway to Minato Mirai and the Landmark Tower. I’m well acquainted with Minato Mirai but have never ridden the subway and wow I’m impressed, this is a very modern, well designed subway system!

We emerge at the Queen’s Mall exit and… look over there… there’s the book store where I bought some books five years ago! There’s the Snoopy store! There’s the escalator leading up to the two story tall inscription by romantic German poet Schiller! Wandering through this mall is like traveling back in time five years to Worldcon 2007.

Outside the Queen’s Mall we find the roller coaster sculpture, the Nippon Maru and the entrance to the even more expansive Landmark Mall beneath the Landmark Tower.

1:00pm JST

Its a lovely day, so we should have a gorgeous view of Mt Fuji from the 69th floor of the Landmark Tower. Let’s go! Tickets to the Landmark observation deck cost Y1000 and like so many things in Japan are purchased from a ticket machine. The ride to the 69th floor takes 45 seconds and is so smooth, you really have no idea you’re ascending at such a high rate of speed.

The view from the 69th floor is FANTASTIC… but try as we might we can’t see Mt Fuji. There’s a layer of haze on the skyline preventing us from seeing beyond the horizon. Like the view from Tokyo Tower, the view of Yokohama and Tokyo are awesome, with a cityscape stretching uninterrupted to the horizon. And speaking of Tokyo Tower, not only can we see Tokyo Tower from here, we can see Tokyo Sky Tree as well.

Also visible are the Docomo Tower, the temples and shrines we once visited, the wind turbine, the Pacifico, the ferris wheel and of course the restaurant where I bought my first meal using a “kippu machine.”

4:00pm JST

We’re both getting hungry so its just a short ride on the subway to Yokohama China Town to explore and find food. Yes, this is China Town alright… chinese gates, bright lights, lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. Yup, we’re in China Town.

5:05pm JST

Our wanderage in Chinatown at an end we decide to skip Yamashita Park for today and have dinner at a nearby Chinese buffet, decent food but small portions and overpriced.

6:30pm JST

We head back to Yokohama subway, ride the JR Rail Tokaido Main Line back to Tokyo Station. At this point I suggest we take the Tokyo Metro back to Monzen Nakacho, all we have to do is walk to the Tozai subway gate. And so we walk… and walk… and walk… and walk. Man, I am sorry I suggested that maneuver, we might as well have walked all the way back to Monzen Nakacho from Tokyo Station on foot for all the good that did us.

[ I later discovered that we walked all the way to Otemachi Station, a hub for subway lines in the same way that Tokyo Station is a hub for rail lines. Never again! ]

Taking it Easy on a Rainy Day

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It’s raining rather heavily in Tokyo, so I’m spending the day mostly indoors with hot tea and pastries while editing down video footage from yesterday’s Akihabara adventure.

5:00pm JST

We begin our rainy adventure by walking to the Lawson’s (was Sunkus) to buy a Y525 umbrella. That’s actually a little more expensive than it should be, I can get them even cheaper at the local Kusuriya at Y398. My understanding is that Tokyo sells thousands of these a day and with their on again off again weather I can understand why. Pretty nice umbrella for only Y525 and now I look like a typical Tokyoite walking about the streets with a cheap umbrella!

Even monkey wants an umbrella bought from the conbini…

Andrew wants to grab something to eat so we walk to the “Freshness Burger” next to Akafudado. Now I can finally partake in the legendary “Spam Burger”… and yes, a Spam Burger is exactly what it sounds like, a burger made with a slice of Spam instead of a beef patty. The Spam Burger is actually pretty good too, just a slice of Spam and a fried egg on a bed of shredded lettuce under a hamburger bun.

After a quick trip to Akafudado to replenish my war chest of snack foods, we’re both calling it a night.

Akihabara Adventure

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Today I plan to spend a relaxed day in Akihabara, Japan’s Grand Central for fans of anime, comic books, doujinshi, maid cafe’s, electronics DIYers and buyers of geeky hipster consumer goods.

11:00am JST

First stop is a late breakfast / early lunch at one of the many noodle shops along the Eitai Dori. Today Andrew suggests a new place where I have the pork ramen, yum. Not the best noodles I’ve ever had but for Y390, its an excellent and hearty breakfast.

For today’s journey into mid town Tokyo we have also decided to visit an old friend, Etchujima Station on the JR system. Five years ago when we had JR Passes, we hoofed it to Etchujima to squeeze every yen out of what amounted to “free” rail travel. This time, we passed a restaurant called “Pepper Lunch” which serves grilled spicy steak and “hamburg” dinner and lunch plates. This looks like a great place for dinner tonight!

11:45am JST

Etchujima Station, hasn’t changed in five years. Instead of a JR Pass, I’m waiving a new Suicca card through the turnstile. I must say that Suicca and PASMO make train travel so much easier than having to wait at a ticket machine, figure out the fare, buy individual tickets, rinse and repeat… you can even use Suicca and PASMA to purchase goods from vending machines.

Tokyo Station is only two stops down on the JR Keiyo line, and both Andrew and I know instinctively how to get to the main platforms and the Yamanote Loop. Yes, we’ve ridden JR that much. Little has changed except some new shops that have been added along the way. They now call the hallway that leads to the Keiyo line platform: “Keiyo”, originally enough.

We make our way through the dense crowds of Tokyo Station, to platform 4 and wait just a few minutes for the Yamanote line train, North and counterclockwise to Akihabara. The Yamanote Loop is elevated in Akihabara so we have to make our way from the platform down to the street and exit the station… but something doesn’t look right. The Radio Kaikan building is gone. Kotobokiya has moved out of the adjacent building which now has been converted into an AKB48 “pachinko and slots” parlor.

I’m devastated… but that’s Japan, always changing and always the same.

1:00pm JST

After exploration of the local area we break for lunch at Vie De France. I have a chocolate croissant which tastes like it was dipped in butter and chocolate (not a bad thing) and a soft bun filled with clotted cream and azuka bean paste.


1:45pm JST

The shopping begins… at Yodabashi Camera! Five years ago, I first set foot in a Yodabashi Camera in this store in Akiba, when I was forced to seek shelter in a rain storm, and here I discovered a store full of wonders: electronics, toys, cameras, lenses, printers, air conditioners, souvenirs and attentive, efficient staff.

3:45pm JST

After a couple hours of successful shopping at Yodobashi Camera, we head down the street to “Hobby Off” a hobby store run by the “Garage Off,” “Book Off,” etc, chain of stores. THey have lots of anime and game character figures so just on the last minute I ask the guy behind the counter if they have any King Kazma figures from the movie Summer Wars, and he replies “Yes”… reaches behind the counter and pulls out a boxed version 1 King Kazma! This is unbelievable and, after much wrangling with our respective languages, I understand that this is the only King Kazma that they have. Frankly its probably the only King Kazma I’ll ever find, much less so conveniently.

And so the figure that I’ve been searching for just ends up being handed to me on a silver platter (and for a reasonable price).

4:30pm JST

Further down main street in Akiba we duck into Liberty Hobby, another hobby store that I frequented five years ago. They too have a King Kazma version 1, but for Y1500 more. Right next to King Kazma they also have a Love Machine figure from the same movie, Summer Wars. Love Machine isn’t quite as desirable but no less collectible.

So easily within an hour, I have scored two figures on the top of my shopping list!

6:00pm JST

The sun has set and we;re ready to call it a day so it’s back to Tokyo Station and the Keiyo line to Etchukima Station. This is actually a tricky line to deal with, if you take the Rapid Express from here, you can blow straight passed Etchujima and waste a lot of time getting turned about. Etchukima Station is less than 30 minutes from this platform, the problem is that this platform is the final station on the Keiyo line so you wait a good half an hour before the train even leaves the platform.

6:30pm JST

It’s a quick half an hour ride from Tokyo Station to Etchujima Station and short walk to that steak place we saw on the way out. Spicy, sizzling grilled steak and the obligatory bowl of rice! Man that is good steak and reasonably priced too! I pick up a chocolate chip bun from one of the local pastry places and a Match vitamin water and I’m ready to relax for the evening. These chocolate chip pastries are great after nuking the chocolate chips in a microwave!

8:44pm JST

Settling in to an evening of baseball and anime, including a playoff game between the Yomiuri Guants vs Hokaido Nippon Ham-Fighters…

Tomioka Shrine & Fudouson Temple

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John and Andrew pay a visit to the Tomioka-Hachimangu shrine and Fukagawa Fudouson temple in Monzen Nakacho. Monzen Nakacho, where we are staying, is the site of the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s “big three” festivals. This festival is HUGE and fills the streets of Monzen Nakacho, but it’s only held every three years and 2012 is not one of those years.

11:30am JST

Its a gorgeous, warm, sunny day in Tokyo. I’m hanging outside of the apartment building, soaking up rays while waiting for Andrew. I also have a nice chat with Claudia, another Sakura House resident, who is working on her thesis in the old court music of Japan. Claudia is new to Monzen Nakacho although she has stayed in Japan in the past with a host family in Tsukishima.

12:30pm JST

First up is the Fukagawa Fudouson temple. We walk to the East side of the Eitai Dori and pass through a large red tori gate, the entrance to the temple grounds. Just a block or two beyond this tori gate is the Fukugawa Fudouson main hall. Although Fukugawa Fudosoun is a Buddhist temple, it apparently shares the grounds with an Inari Shinto shrine. I still haven’t figured this one out yet.

Next up is the Tomioka Hachimangu shrine, home of the 4-ton Ichinomiya mikoshi, the largest mikoshi in the Kanto region. It is decorated with gold and precious stones and is housed behind glass in a climate controlled shelter. Because of its weight and value, this mikoshi is not carried into the Fukagawa Hachiman matsuri, but rather loaded on a trailer which itself is moved through town.

To one side of the walkway leading to the main shrine, we see monuments to ozeki and yokozuna sumo wrestlers from the past. One monument has the hand and foot imprints of these champions cast in stone. I compared my hands to theirs and my hands weigh in at perhaps 3/4 the size of these sumo from the past. On the other side of the main walkway leading to the shrine we find a statue of Ino Tadataka, who in the 19th century was the first person to map all of Japan. In his hand he carries what looks like a staff but is actually a compass on a gimble mount, one of his surveying tools used to create these maps.

Both the temple and shrine are celebrating the “753 Children’s Festival” wherein children of ages seven, five and three years old, come of age. They’re so cute, dressed up in their colorful formal kimonos.

Just before the sun sets, the mikoshi are illuminated, looking very impressive, like the crown jewels behind their glass cases, and then as the sun sets, metal protective doors are lowered to protect them for the night.

2:30pm JST

Time to get something to eat so we retire to 伊勢屋 (Iseya), a nearby restaurant where Andrew and I had dinner five years ago. This time I order soba with pork and vegetables, and a soft boiled egg on top. These soba bowls were yummy and enough to fill us up for the day. Last time we ate here we had root beer floats, desserts and ice cream being their specialty. Although there is nothing overly photogenic about the interior, I recommend Iseya.

After filling our bellies, we make a quick stop at Akafudado to see what’s good in the bakery section and then return to the apartments. The sun is setting early in Japan and I feel like getting some sleep before tomorrow’s adventures. I hear a rumor that Akihabara and Jimbocho might be on the plate for tomorrow!

7:00pm JST

Settled in for the evening with chocolate pastries and drinks and watching Gatchaman on Tokyo MX… yes, the original Gatchaman in Japanese! I’m a happy puppy!