29 September 2008

Raydomes No More

After months of simultaneously making fun of and ignoring the problem, we finally have to admit that Tawny is losing her hearing. :-(

26 September 2008

zomg tokyo! day 17 (last day)

Day 17 (22 September)
All 27 suitcases packed? Check. All drawers empty? Bathroom devoid of non-disposable items? Nothing hiding under the bed? Check check check. Gifts for everyone on the list? Oh crap. But hey, that's why they created duty free shopping!

The bellhops had all our luggage waiting for us at the bus stop, which was conveniently located about three feet from the main entrance to the hotel. Even more convenient were the bellhops that loaded the 38 bags under the bus for us. We were forced to load ourselves, sadly. The Friendly Airport Limousine bus took about two hours to get to Narita. I slept, Matt read.

At the airport, we piled 52 of the bags onto a luggage cart, which Matt was elected to push. This left me pulling the remaining two. Now before I go on, some description of our luggage is needed. There are the red 20", 22", and 27" Swiss Army suitcases. The 27" was fully expanded, adding an extra 2" of depth. There is also a matching large rolling garment bag. The camera and its myriad of lenses live in a Crumpler backpack with a high padding to usable space ratio. Matt has his messenger bag, per usual, and I have my larger purse (which really isn't all that big on an absolute scale). Added to the mess is Matt's new souvenir shoulder bag and the suitcase o' doom we got yesterday. I was pulling the four wheeled new suitcase and the garment bag. And back to the suitcase drama!

Luckily, or actually probably on purpose, the first class and business class check-in desks are about 25m from the terminal entrance. Lug lug lug drag flomp. One of the agents nearly died lifting the 27" suitcase on the scale. I can't imagine why as the suitcase was only 34.2kg. Personally, I was impressed with my amazing packing skills. The agent who had to enforce the maximum weight of 32kg wasn't. The suitcase and garment bag were opened on the floor, and the suitcase went "POP!" The agents were nice and called out weights as I took stuff out of the big one. That was easy compared to squishing the removed items into the already filled garment bag. I actually had to sit on it to zipper it. And then the bags disappeared, hopefully to under the plane I'm currently sitting in.

Next came customs. I was expecting quite a bit of fun due to the consumption tax refund slips in our passports. We'd heard stories of being required to show every item listed to prove you were actually taking the items out of the country. Instead, there was nothing. Just a quick signature on the departure form, and away we went.

There was no line at security, and the guards were actually nice human beings! How refreshing. Then came a big pile of stupid. Do you have any liquids in your carry on? I had some makeup that I forgot to put in a baggie. And I said so. Since we were already through the radiation machines, I figured the reason the guard was insisting on the eye liner being put in a baggie was so it could go through xray again. Nope. Once I managed to procure a baggie by emptying it of loose change, the guard put in the eye liner and handed it back to me. Um, what? That was it. It just had to be in a baggie, and then it could go back in my luggage. Obviously. If I had known that baggies were some kind of secret ultra explosion containing devices, I would have invested in them.

With that silliness behind me, both literally and figuratively, it was time for duty free shopping! Silly me, I thought they'd have the normal cheesy over priced souvenirs. Instead, we were limited to Cartier, Mont Blanc, Tiffany's, and every makeup company under the sun. Thankfully, we eventually found a real duty free shop hidden away in the back. And with that taken care of, we had no choice but to head for the Admirals Club.

In the US, you have ask a bartender for drinks and then, gasp, pay for them. Narita's lounge didn't have a bartender. Instead, it was open season on some serious top shelf liquor. Matt helped himself to the beererator, while I forced my dehydrated self to suffice with water. The food department was lacking in, well, food, so I ate about 20lbs of cheese. No big deal.

Fast forward 75 minutes, and it was hikioki time! We leisurely walked over to the gate, seeing as how we didn't feel like running. A short wait later, and we were on the plane. AA business class destroys JAL's. Or at least the one JAL plane's that hasn't been upgraded to clamshell seats. The new AA business class seats were great. Aside from the required tv, the seats lie almost flat. The clamshell seats mean that reclining fully has absolutely no affect on the person behind you. I'm going to miss the happy seats when squished in steerage over Thanksgiving. Woe is me.

Our flight actually arrived early! Yay early!

One of the benefits of being in the front of the plane is that you get off first. This is especially important on a 777 full of people that need to go through immigration and customs. Unfortunately, this benefit disappears if Matt accidentally leaves his cell phone on the plane. Apparently the world will end if passengers are allowed back on the plane, so I had to wait for every other passenger, the pilots, and crew to deplane. Then I had to wait for a flight attendant to look for the phone. I can understand waiting for the other passengers, but whatever, the phone was found, and the $150 deposit was saved.

Everyone else from the plane was already in line at immigration, but luckily most of the passengers were in the non US passport line. It wouldn't have mattered much either way, since the next hour (or 20 minutes, depending on how awake I was) was spent with customs.

Step 1: retrieve luggage from carousel.
Step 2: pile luggage onto two carts.
Step 3: fun with customs.

We bought way too much stuff, and the customs officer had to look up the codes for all sorts of things. It didn't help that all our receipts were in Japanese. When the dust settled, $65 in duty. Not nearly as bad as predicted. It was time to push our overloaded luggage carts through the egress and back into America!

The last item on the agenda was to get us and all the luggage to the car via the Air Park Shuttle. Generally the shuttle comes every 10-20 minutes, so when I saw the shuttle pulling up just as we exited the building, it was time to run. Running while pushing 600lbs of luggage is no small task, especially if it involves crossing three lanes of airport traffic (taxis). I can only assume that I looked like an idiot, but the driver saw me and we didn't have to wait for the next one.

Back at the parking lot, Matt warmed up the car engine while I stood watch over the luggage. Five minutes later, he pulled up, the luggage was smushed in the trunk, and we headed home.

The end.

zomg tokyo! day 16

Day 16 (21 September)
Our last full day of Tokyo goodness. Seeing as how the weather reports are amazingly unreliable, we opted to completely ignore it and just look out the window instead. Some clouds, nothing too threatening. Excellent. I'm wearing sandals and not taking an umbrella.

Not taking an umbrella you ask? Shouldn't you be inside packing like a responsible adult? Nope! That would be a very boring and wasteful use of our final day. Going to Akihabara Electric Town was a much better idea.

Despite being fairly close to the hotel, it took three subway lines to get there. Conveniently, there were lots of signs to guide us through the subway station, such as, "Electric Town is This Way You Idiot!" After getting twirled around by the masses of people out to do their Sunday shopping, we made it out into... the rain! The abnormally wet rain, I might add.

Electric Town is filled with all sorts of electronics stores, from tiny operations that sell cables by the meter to giant chains. Girls in cosplay outfits, as well as one very disturbing man with a furry tail, are everywhere, distributing ads. There are also anime stores, video arcades, and pachinko halls. After our previous failure in Kyoto, the pachinko machines were avoided, but everything else was fair game.

Near the subway exit we found an anime store that I had to be dragged out of. A huge selection of Totoro stuff, as well the normal assortment of stuffed creatures, figurines, and cell phone dangly things. The rear third of the store was lined with 300-1000 yen boxes of mystery figures. They had every collection imaginable, from Pokemon to female workers. There were a few cool mech ones, but they were left behind. Actually, so was everything else. It was already pouring and we were going to pass by again on our way home, so we figured it would be best to let everything stay dry.

The next stop in our wanderings was a small video game store. We probably would have skipped it if it weren't for the pile of Seaman 2 boxes near the front. Only 980 for the Playstation 2 sequel to everyone's favorite Dreamcast game! Only available in Japan! I had to get it.

With Seaman 2 wrapped in plastic to protect the water creature from the rain, we continued on. The highly rated Laox, mentioned in the guide book, was almost a bust. They had the souvenir I'd been searching for - a mini-USB AA-powered cell phone charger. Finally!

The other must-see destination in the guide book was an anime store. It probably would have amazing if they weren't having a special event that day. The entire store was completely filled with fans. Oh well.

At this point we were fairly soaked and a bit cranky, so we started heading back to the first anime store. On the way, I spotted a sign for bicycles in front of what could only be called a general merchandise store. Past the grocery floor, the cosplay floor, and the every cute stuffed animal besides Gloomy Bear floor I found the bike floor. Actually, it was the random electronics and other stuff floor with a bike corner. Lo and behold, in the corner of the corner, were bike locks. They had a decent selection of the kind that I was looking for. It gets permanently attached to the back of the frame, and then a bar slides out which prevents the wheel from spinning. It doesn't prevent the entire bike from being stolen by truck, which is obviously not a problem in Tokyo, but it does prevent people from riding off with the bike. Obviously, this would not suffice in the US, but it would make it a lot easier to lock my bike since I wouldn't have to worry about looping the lock through the removable rear tire. Victory!

Out of curiosity, we took a look at a couple more floors. We found a Tiffany's display, as well as a cabinet full of Gucci, Coach, and Prada bags. They were by no means the best knockoffs we had seen. Neither were the strangely low-priced watched.

Back at the anime store, I picked out a stuffed Totoro. Sadly, size restrictions prevented me from getting a giant one, so I made due with a small one. I also got an awesome Totoro picture frame, and various other small souvenirs.

The wet bags of fun joined us for an uneventful subway ride back to the hotel. After dropping off the bags in our room, we walked over to the nearby deli cafe place for a late lunch. On the way, I realized that I was actually enjoying the rain. I love rain, and we don't get it much in Los Angeles. Of course, I don't exactly want buckets of it to fall on me while I'm on vacation, but I am water proof.

With lunch taken care of, we were quickly running out of ways to procrastinate, so packing actually commenced. Around 1900 we had to admit that there was no way all our stuff was going to fit in the suitcases available. We bought mostly small things, but a lot of them were fragile and required large padded boxes. Large padded boxes (I'm looking at you cows) take up a lot of room. Now what do we do?

After some failed attempts at rearranging things in hope that they would magically shrink, we went upstairs to the concierge to inquire about shipping stuff home. We were informed that it would be cheaper to buy a suitcase. At that point Mitsukoshi was closed, so we had a half hour to get to Takashimaya.

Well, we found an acceptable suitcase. The only problem was the 53500 yen price tag, but we weren't in much of a position to shop around. At least it was made in Japan by a Japanese company, which made us feel slightly better about it. But it was still evil.

The evil suitcase was dropped off in our room, and we went upstairs for one final meal. No way our last dinner in Tokyo was going to be room service. Matt got the steak, and I got the risotto. Figured I should try something new on my last night.

Oddly enough, we weren't particularly eager to return to packing, so we went to the Mandarin Bar instead. After our first round, we really needed to get packing, so I asked the bartender if we could get another round to go. I thought she'd laugh and say no. Instead, she asked us what are room number was and told us our drinks would be up in about 5 minutes. Seriously? Score!

Oddly enough, packing is not particularly interesting, so I'll spare you the gory details.

25 September 2008

zomg tokyo! day 15

Day 15 (20 September)
Two full days left means it's time to go shopping! Souvenirs that have become necessary, gifts for other people, and impulse purchases must all be acquired! And, under no circumstances, are more undergarments to be purchased.

The highlight of shopping was, at least for Matt, buying a new messenger bag. His previous one After examining almost every bag in Tokyo, Matt had decided on a Zero Halliburton one. The lowlight was searching for cufflinks.

Matt brought his favorite collared shirt with its French cuffs, which he planned to wear to Tapas Molecular Bar, located in the Oriental Lounge in the hotel. The Tapas Bar is limited to seven seats at each of two nightly seatings, so we made reservations well in advance. However, we did not notice that the cufflinks for said shirt never made it into the luggage until the day of, so we ended up searching for acceptable ones in almost every store in Tokyo. At least it felt that way. Every pair we saw was either too expensive (23000 yen), too ugly, or some hideous combination of the two. As it approached 1730, an acceptable pair was located in Mitsukoshi. Mini-esque cufflinks for 6000 yen. The old Mini, not the new one.

Purchase complete, time to hurry back to the hotel so we could shower off the rain in time for our 2030 reservation. Or was it 2000? Maybe 2015? After a bit of arguing, we stopped at the front desk for the Tapas Bar. Well, that turned out to be an amazing decision since our reservation was for the 1800 seating. That left us with exactly negative minutes to get to our seats. Instead of getting nicely dressed, we just hopped in the elevator, dropped our bags in the room, and hurried back upstairs for food.

The theme of the evening was air, which should tell you just how bizarre the foods were. Seeing as how there were more than 25 courses, you'll have to make due with descriptions of the weirdest molecules. And in no particular order... Early on came the Strawberry and Pesto Spaghetti. The spaghetti wasn't actually spaghetti, but stuff squeezed out of a tube in the shape of spaghetti. As for the sauce, it tasted almost like a tomato pesto sauce. I could have eaten an entire serving of the stuff, but had to do with a tiny molecule.

-196 Kyoho Grape consisted of...... grapes! Two grapes, to be specific. The first was flash frozen with liquid nitrogen. The second started out as a balloon filled with grape juice, wine, and probably something else. It was rolled around in liquid nitrogen to create a frozen outer layer, then the ballon was removed. There's a reason it is called -196, and my mouth didn't exactly appreciate the temperature.

The Juicy Lamb was very appropriately named.  Despite ample warning and instructions from the chef, mine went squirt. Lamb juice was everywhere. Yummy delicious lamb juice. Oops.

Miso soup usually comes in liquid form. In this case it was liquidish, reminiscent of an egg yolk. And just like the lamb, it went squirt. At least this one was in my mouth, where it tasted like regular miso soup. Weird.

My favorite molecule was, by far, Blue Hawaii. It's the perfect name when you think about it. It was blue and made of Hawaii. Oh wait, maybe not. I didn't quite follow what exactly it was, but if you put a big spoonful in your mouth and chewed with your mouth closed, blue smoke would come out of your nose. Maybe the smoke was from Hawaii? Regardless, how often do you see blue smoke coming out of people's noses, much less good tasting smoke? Maybe once in a blue moon.

My second favorite was the final course, which started with miracle berries. You chew on the berry for 1 minute, then spit out the seed. It does some funky stuff to your taste buds, and suddenly sour foods, such as lime, taste very sweet. The sensation lasts for  up to two hours, so afterwards we headed over to the bar. Matt absolutely had to have a gin and tonic to find out how it would taste. His analysis was weird, but good. I maintained my gin boycott and took his word for it.

The day went seriously downhill from there, when we headed downstairs to our room to begin packing. I'll spare you the details.

20 September 2008

zomg tokyo! day 14

Day 14 (19 September)
I made up my mind to wear my new skirt, regardless of the weather. And I did, including my gorgeous new shoes that Naomi found in DSW.

Two cows left. Both have been confirmed to reside in office buildings. Both are hiding just to make us miserable. They have to be found today, since the offices will be closed over the weekend. Sigh. First stop, Tokia Building, where we confirmed that we still had no idea where the cow was hiding. After wasting quite a bit of time, I gave up and asked a security guard. He was amazingly helpful, providing me with explicit directions to the stupid cow hiding under an escalator on B1.

One cow left. Where are you Cow-san? Since the previous one was in the basement and we had previously explored all the above ground floors, B1 seemed a logical place to start looking. Of course, B1 was the normal maze of tiny restaurants and hundreds of people flowing through. Near the subway entrance, Elmo cow was cowering (ha ha ha... I'm sorry) next to a stairwell. Cows complete!

Next task, the Japan Mint, Tokyo Branch, for some 2008 proofs. By the time we were sitting in the subway car, my feet were quite displeased. I figured it was just because the new shoes were combining with my unfamiliarity with heels in some sort of unholy matrimony. The unholy part turned out to be wrong.

It was a bit of a trek from the subway station to the mint, and by the end my feet were considering mutiny. While Matt explored the museum, I looked at my feet. My gorgeous new shoes were wearing holes in my toes and ankles, in the form of blisters. I was practically waddling by the time we made it to the gift shop to purchase our proofs.

Here's a question: what kind of mint doesn't sell proofs? The Tokyo Branch kind of mint! They had them on display in the gift shop, but none for sale. I destroyed my feet for nothing, so there was no way I was leaving empty handed. They had some regular 2008 coin sets with the different versions of the coins, so I made due with those. While still nice, they were not exactly a great consolation prize for the 2008 Cherry Blossom Proofs.

There was no way I was walking any further than I had to in the evil shoes, so back to the hotel we went. Both my pinky toes were more accurately described as giant blisters, and my big toes weren't faring much better. The shoes went flying across the room as I dreamed of all sorts of ways to kill Kenneth Cole with his demonic creation.

As luck would have it, we bought a pack of bandaids from a golf store in Ginza when Matt needed one for his toe. They turned out to be uber padded bandaids that were designed for covering blisters. Ha! Take that you stupid shoes.

Nothing, not even two useless feet, was going to keep me from the evening's activity. A new Cirque du Soleil show, Z3d, is opening at Tokyo Disneyland on 1 October. However, with the help of the nice people at the concierge desk, we got two tickets to a dress rehearsal. While not guaranteed to be the final show, much less a perfected show, the rehearsal is much better than never seeing it.

Before the show started, we went to the snack bar to prevent death by starvation before intermission. Popcorn was available in two forms; a large paper cup for 350 yen, or a souvenir bucket for 1100 yen. We both wanted popcorn and the bucket was much larger, so bucket it was. Sadly, the bucket was barely bigger. The marketing geniuses had designed an oblong container, so it looks much larger on a shelf than it actually is.

It was by no means perfect. It was also amazing. The show is based on tarot cards, and starts with two clowns falling into a book. One of the first acts was acrobats with lassos. There were a few moments where lassoers were out of sync, and one even dropped his rope.

My favorite act came next in the form of a female acrobat who performed using two ribbons hanging from the ceiling. She climbed, twirled, swung, unraveled, and performed other tricks that I wouldn't even know where to begin describing. And she made the entire thing look easy.

Later, there was a tightrope act that was both incredible and incredibly scary. A female acrobat did a split on the wire, while the males took turns jumping over each other. Then one of them fell. There was no net. There was no safety wire. But there definitely was a moment of absolute terror when I thought I was watching a man fall to his death. Instead, he caught the wire with both hands and swung himself back up.

The trapeze artists, unlike certain other acrobats, had a giant net that unfolded from the ceiling. When one acrobat completely missed the trapeze bar, he just bounced in the net and climbed back up a ladder. No big deal.

The rest of the acts defy explanation, even after thinking about it for a full day. You will just have to come see the show yourself.

In an act of open defiance of the chronically wrong weather report, we had left the umbrellas in the hotel room. To teach us a lesson, it was pouring when the show got out. We actually considered purchasing a souvenir umbrella for 1000 yen just to get us back to the hotel, but we couldn't bring ourselves to do it after the popcorn incident.

It took a bit of getting rained upon, but eventually we made it to the train station. The helpful folks at Disney couldn't find it in their hearts to put up signs for the train station more than once every few thousand meters. Maybe they thought they were building a casino?

There is nothing quite like coming home soaking wet and finding a nice, warm toilet seat waiting for you. I'm definitely going to miss the warm toilet seat at 3 am. And the automatic flushing. I can definitely live without the bidet/washlet functionality, though.

19 September 2008

zomg tokyo! day 13

Day 12: The Forgotten Happenings
It was finally not raining, at least according to the window, so I put on my new skirt and shirt. That's when I noticed that dark blue panties are highly visible through a white skirt. Okay, not a big deal. Unless you forgot to bring a solid light pair, which I did.

Later in the afternoon, I stopped into Takashimaya with intentions of buying a unoffending pair. Since I still can't read Japanese and I didn't have my trusty phrasebook with me, I walked over to the information desk and asked, "Pantsu wa doko des ka?" Who would have guessed that I'd ever need to use Chii's favorite word in real life?

In the lingerie section, I made quite the discovery. Apparently Japanese women are willing to buy 7800 yen panties. Then it got worse. I found a 13400 yen price tag, followed by a 21300 price tag. I was about to give up hope of ever wearing my skirt on vacation when I spotted the holy grail. One pair for 4200 yen!

I picked up a pair, trying to figure out what size they might be. It was then that a very helpful sales woman to assist me. She looked at the panties, looked at me, and before I knew it, she had me encircled by a tape measure. A second later, she handed me a pair, gesturing that they would fit me perfectly. She was obviously the expert, so who was I to argue?

I now have 4200 yen panties. It can be friends with my mom's $125 slip from Bergdorf.

Day 13 (18 September)
After having exerted the effort to get the damn panties, I was sure as hell wearing my skirt. Or so I thought. It was raining again, just to make me miserable. Fine, two can play that game. So I wore sandals.

We walked a couple blocks to the Currency Museum where we saw... currency! New and old, from both Japan and around the world. There were some really nifty coins that are colorful, but we haven't been able to get our greedy little mitts on any.

Next we aimed to complete our cow hunting. We can pretty close, getting up to 71 of 73. The details of the hunt have become rather redundant, except for the two missing cows. Cows 12 and 29 still insisted upon playing hide and seek, and we ran out of daylight before we could explain the fallacy of this game to them. Alas.

We had dinner reservations for 2000 at Kondo, in Giza, and with nothing pressing to do before then, we decided to spend a couple hours wandering the stores there. The first H&M in Japan just opened on 15 September, so we figured we'd check it out. Apparently we weren't the only ones with that idea. There was a line to get in that went three blocks before turning. We never actually found the end, not that we would have even considered waiting. The Zara in Ginza was amazingly packed, most likely with the people unable to get into H&M. Two stores down, 617 left to try.

Dinner time! After some guesswork, we found the building and headed up to the ninth floor for some real tempura. When we walked into Kondo, the smell of cooking oil immediately hit us. Unfortunately, so did our lack of any idea what to do since no one was seating people. Eventually, we were told our seats were ready, and in we went.

There were thirteen seats around a cooking area where the tempura is prepared. As it is made, the chef delivers it straight to your plate, much like hibachi restaurants in America. His first delivery? Some sea creature with more legs than I cared to count. I sneaked them to Matt, so as not to insult the chef. Then came two giant pieces of shrimp. In a moment of starvation, I actually ate one. It didn't really taste like I expected; it was neither bad nor good. The second magically appeared on Matt's plate.

After that, I ended up at least trying everything else put on my plate, even if it did get donated to the Matt's Plate Fund. The best, by far, were the sweet onions. Matt gave me one of his halves as a receipt for my donations.

We were very impressed with the efficiency the chef and his assistant prepared and cooked the food. They never stopped moving, and every piece came out perfectly. The chef very obviously takes great pride in his cooking. On our way out, I told him, "oyshikatta," and he practically glowed.

Many arrigatos later, we dragged ourselves back to the hotel to digest. In my case, that consisted of falling asleep on top of my book.

18 September 2008

zomg tokyo! day 12

Day 12 (17 September)

Who knows what's special about this day? Anyone? Well fine, I'll just tell you then. Matt and I have officially been dating for four years. Yay!

After a lazy morning that consisted of recovering from Kyoto, there was more cow hunting. My amazing cow collection is now missing only two cows. One we quasi-found, but it was hiding in a locked alley. The other we just couldn't find. Both will be turned into filet mignon, as promised. MEEEAAAT anybody?

Running around the humid city left us in a state of disarray, so the two missing cows received a temporary reprieve to allow us enough time to get ready for dinner.

I wore my amazing new skirt. Matt spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to correctly tie his new tie, and was ultimately forced to settle for a merely acceptable end distribution. That makes sense, if you've seen the tie and him in a duel with it.

Dinner itself was at Signature, Mandarin Oriental's French restaurant that was listed as one star in the Tokyo Michelin Guide. On my side of the table, the first course was a soup type pesto thing. On Matt's side, it was Thumper. I mean rabbit. Next came soup, which I found to be a bit oily for my taste. However, I forgot all about the soup when the Japanese Hakata beef arrived. It was easily the best beef I have ever eaten. Unfortunately, it was also the smallest portion I have ever received in a restaurant.

Throughout the meal, small palate cleansers were served. One of them happened to have eel in it. After some prodding from Matt, mostly centered around this eel tasting better than the previous night's, I tried it. That's right, I tried eel two nights in a row! And then I gave the rest to Matt.

Dessert was much better than the eel, but nothing nearly as amazing at the beef. Dessert was supposed to include a trip to the Mandarin Bar for drinks, but that was cancelled due to my having imbibed half a bottle of Burgundy. And so ended the day, with two happy and full people collapsing in their hotel room.

17 September 2008

zomg kyoto! day 11

Day 11 (16 September)

I will no longer check weather reports here. There was an 80% chance of rain with clouds all day. It was sunny all day. Vengeance will be mine! And now for the day's events.

After some trial and lots of error, we successfully plopped down in our reserved seats on a bullet train to Kyoto. Our incredibly uncomfortable seats, I might add. And despite this, we both managed to sleep for most of the trip.

In Tokyo, it is almost trivial to find a bathroom in most buildings. Lots of signs, many of which have arrows. In Kyoto Train Station, well, no one knows where the bathroom is. I asked a police officer where the bathroom is, and after conversing with his partner, he led us to one. Or at least tried to. He ended up asking a third officer where the bathroom might be, but in the end, his best suggestion was to try a department store. Blech.

Since we were quite hungry, as well as in need of the nonexistent bathroom, we headed towards a pile of restaurants. Matt spotted a bathroom, tucked away in a little corner, with the tiniest of signs to mark its existence. Run! With that settled, we chose a Japanese take on Italian food restaurant due to English descriptions on its menu. Just like previous run-ins with Italian restaurants in Japan, it was edible, but nothing special.

Being my hyper self, I practically dragged Matt out of the train station, since it was now after 1300 and we hadn't seen anything interesting yet. Our first destination was Higashi Hongan-Ji, a Buddhist temple. Picture a giant wooden temple. Now make it bigger. Now make it twice the size of that. That would be one of the smaller buildings. Taishi-do, the main building, is one of the world's largest wood buildings. It's currently undergoing restoration, so the entire thing has been encased in a massive steel building that puts many warehouses to shame.

You have to take off your shoes to go inside any of the buildings, but it is worth it. The sheer size and opulence, which are not subject to photography, can't be adequately explained. There are also relics from the rebuilding in the late 1800s, after all the buildings burned down. There are massive sleds that were used to transport logs and a giant coil of rope. Normally, a giant coil of rope wouldn't warrant a mention, but this one was made of human hair. It was volunteered by women, since regular rope of the time was of low quality.

We walked to subway, for trip #1. Hidden behind the Museum of Kyoto is the Kaleidoscope Museum of Kyoto. It is a one room museum that is said to amaze both children and adults. I couldn't tell you for sure since National Old People Day struck again! Since the previous day was a national holiday and the museum is normally closed on Mondays, the museum was closed on Tuesday. Not cool. We had actually planned the trip to be on a Tuesday specifically so the museum would be open. The guide book for Kyoto mentions this Tuesday closing for some places, but not for this museum. Two rather displeased Americans walked back to the subway, for trip #2.

Ninomaru Palace is a 17th century castle full of gorgeous art and defense mechanisms. Just like at the temple, our shoes went in cubbyholes before our bodies went in the castle. The walls have hand-painted trees, birds, and tigers. The ceilings have flowers. The floors have squeaks. So any intruders could be heard, the halls have wooden nightingale floors. After some experimentation, we determined that only way to walk without them squeaking is to slide your feet very slowly. While a ninja would obviously be more than capable of doing this, he would first have to know about it.

To complement the floors, there are hidden compartments throughout. Warriors and bodyguards can hide, but immediately come to the rescue at any sign of trouble. For some reason, they don't let visitors hide in these compartments and scare unsuspecting tour groups.

There is another palace on the grounds, collectively named Nijo Castle, but due to a 1600 closing time, we only had time to go through the one.

Subway trip #3 put us at the Kyoto Imperial Palace. We were too late to actually go inside, but we did wander the garden. The garden was turned into a giant public park, measuring about 600m by 1300m. We started at the northwest corner, walked east about 2/3 across the park, halfway down, then back to the west side. After consulting a map, we discovered that we were about 50m closer to the metro station in the southwest corner than to the one we disembarked from, so we headed to that station.

If you ignore the Japanese gates and buildings, the park itself is highly reminiscent of Central Park. There are tons of people walking their dogs, people going home from work on bicycles, students lying in grass with books. Sadly, we didn't have time to join in the relaxing, as dinner was yelling our names.

You guessed it, subway trip #4, this time to Pontocho. The street is barely 2.5m wide and pedestrians only. Small restaurants line the street, with their signs providing the street lights. We had previously selected Fujino-Ya for our evening repast, since it not only allows non-Japanese, but even has an English menu.

Once again, our shoes waited for us in on a shelf while we sat on straw mats. We were currently the only customers, which was a bit worrisome. We had the table in the far corner of the balcony, with an amazing view of the river and the other restaurants' balconies. Some old-fashioned lamps provided more ambience than light.

There were five courses, throughout which I gave Matt food that I wouldn't eat, and he gave me food that I would. The tempura was amazing, and I tried a piece of eel! It was even quasi-voluntarily. You would be correct to assume that I did not eat more than the little piece I tried.

Then there were morsels that left us guessing, namely white vegetable cubes that were "disturbingly unidentifiable," as Matt put it. The highlight of the meal was the group of Japanese that came about halfway through our meal. Three women, one in a komono, and one man. The man was really excited to see us there, and asked us questions in broken English. They asked us to take a picture of them, which Matt obliged. Then the man surprised us by asking if he could take a picture of us. We shrugged, turned, and smiled. As we were leaving, he returned the favor by taking a picture of us against the rail of the balcony. Then the family was more than happy to pose for a picture for me.

Our of necessity, I ventured to use the bathroom. It was another squat toilet, in a room so small that it made airplane bathrooms look roomy. Somehow I survived, but was left wondering why there wasn't a sink. So I asked. Silly me, I was supposed to use the ladle in the garden fountain. Duh.

Matt was not as brave as I, and declared that he would wait for the train station where a real bathroom was to be had. Subway trip #5, and we were back at the train station. This time we were on a completely different side, which actually had signs leading to the bathrooms! Huzzah! Granite sinks, western toilets, a real bathroom! Then I noticed that there was no toilet paper in any stall I looked in. There weren't even dispensers! Okay, this is weird. By the sinks, I found my answer - "No toilet paper installed." Um, excuse me? BYOP? Thankfully, I found some tissues in my purse. On my way out, I saw a vending machine SELLING TOILET PAPER. The bathroom was downgraded from real bathroom to moral abomination.

After that disaster, we discovered that the next two trains were sold out. Luckily the bullet trains run every 5-10 minutes from early morning to late evening. So we waited about 20 minutes, fell asleep in our uncomfortable seats, and zoomed back to Tokyo.

15 September 2008

zomg tokyo! day 10

Day 10 (15 September)
When the weather report claims 80% chance of rain during the day and 100% chance of rain during the evening, it is not an unreasonable assumption that you should bring an umbrella and night wear a white tshirt. Indoor activities are also advised, such as The Kite Museum, Tokyo Stock Exchange, and a giant park in Shinjuku with an awesome Japanese garden. Just bring an umbrella.

We headed out, two umbrellas in tow, in search of The Kite Museum. Somehow we missed the microscopic sign on the unnumbered building (which, unfortunately, is all too common here) on our first two trips around the block. The elevator was out, so we climbed a creepy flight of stairs up to the fifth floor, passing abandoned restaurant equipment that could barely be identified in the murky light. At the top was a door labeled The Kite Museum, which would have been a good sign if there was life behind it. Maybe they rely on what little natural light sneaks in through the shades? I tried the door, which was both unlocked and creaky. That was enough for me. Good bye creepy museum!

And hello Tokyo Stock Exchange! The walk over was fairly uneventful, until I asked Matt if he thought it was weird that Citibank was closed today. As it turns out, it wasn't weird at all. Banks normally close on National Old People Day! After quite a bit of complaining about such a useless holiday that dared to interrupt our vacation, we headed back to the subway for some gardening.

As we entered the garden, the weather was all but screaming rain. Like previous activities, the garden is visual. You'll have to wait for the pictures. What I will tell you is that somehow it still hadn't poured down on us yet, so we started walking around Shinjuku. After a stroll through 2 camera stores, we headed back to the hotel.

The evening was spent relaxing, so tomorrow we actually get up early for a train to Kyoto! Adventures await! Ahoy!

zomg tokyo! day 9

Day 9 (14 September)
Walking 37 miles a day eventually gets to your feet, so Sunday morning was lie about the hotel room like a lump day. Not as riveting as Ginza, but just as important.

The rest of the exciting day was spent on a cow hunt, this time with the official map. Unfortunately, the official map is limited to two dimensions, and neither of them indicates height. While not a concern for the cows located on sidewalks, this becomes a rather large problem when searching for the ones in buildings. Specifically seven story buildings with two basement levels that happen to be giant malls with labyrinth subway stations under them. And in case that wasn't bad enough, cow 37 was not just painted like all the others. The "artist" cut the damn thing in half, and put each half in a barely translucent box. Now imagine that the boxes blend in fairly well with the mall's decor, such that you can walk past them multiple times without noticing them, possibly because you are looking for a brightly painted cow. Worst cow ever.

We still have about 25 cows left to locate and photograph, possibly some time later in the week. If any other cows decide to hide in a box on the top floor of a large building, they will be turned into filet mignon.

14 September 2008

zomg tokyo! day 8

Day 8 (13 September)
Hmm, what should we do today? I know! Let's go to the beer museum! Specifcally the Beer Museum Yebisu in Ebisu. The train station, and then the town, were named after the beer. Off we went!

Multiple guide books claimed that there was a moving walkway to transport visitors to the Yebisu Garden Place, where the museum resides. Having found nothing but regular exits, we consulted a map and headed off to walk there. After walking for quite some time, we decided further directions might just be necessary. Having been the one to suggest the day's activities, I named myself navigator and actually figured out where we were on the map! Additionally, I had seen a sign a few blocks back for the post office, which happened to be one of the few landmarks on our only map that covered Ebisu. To the beer!

The museum itself was somewhat small, with very little English. Aside from stopping every three seconds to take pictures, we traversed the entire exhibit fairly quickly. Now, this may sound like a bit of a disappointment after all the effort to get there, but its hard to be disappointed when entering a beer tasting room with more varieties of Sapporo and Yebisu than you've ever dreamed of. For some reason, they also had Guiness on tap. Boring. We sampled three varieties of Yebisu, of which I preferred the lager. Matt liked all three, but also preferred the lager.

After drinking our fill, the gift shop called to us. We answered by getting some souvenir glasses.

The much touted gardens were nothing special, so we followed the signs back to the subway. Lo and behold, it was the fabled walkway! How did we miss such a giant structure? Well, it is quite easy when it connects to one subway station, but not the other. As previously mentioned, many transfer stations involve swiping out of one and then into another. Ebisu took it step further by having two stations that only connect through the outside world. Obviously.

Back at the hotel, Matt and I decided to further explore Takashimaya, specifically for the purpose of Matt showing me a Hermes tie he discovered while I was at my ikebana class. He was practically drooling over the tie, which was knitted silk and quadruple sided. Each end was a different color on the front and back, for a total of four colors. He chose a color combination not sold in the US, and made his dream of owning one of Hermes' legendary ties come true.

An ecstatic Matt and I soon left Takashimaya for Maruzen, in search of reading material and snack. I found Tokyo and Kyoto guide books, which we left with despite their outrageous prices. As you may have guessed, the ones we brought with us were no longer welcome companions.

The day ended with dinner at Sense, a Chinese restaurant in the hotel, where we had duck served three ways. There was also a some amazing Korean beef and a chicken salad, but nothing else came close to the duck. The chef came out and cut up the half duck at our table, then our waiter very carefully made 6 wraps with Chinese crepes. He even rewrapped one that looked perfect to my untrained eye, but quite obviously horrible to him.

Matt promptly fell asleep, while I remained awake and read through the entire Kyoto guide. Today, we'll plan Kyoto. And off we go!

zomg tokyo! day 7

Day 7 (12 September)
The day started early with a 930 ikebana class for me. It was a private lesson, arranged through the hotel, with a local master and a translator. Instead of trying to describe such a visual art, I will let pictures describe the class and arrangements for me when I get home. Matt walked over with me, due to my propensity to get lost and hurt, then waited for me in Takashimaya.

With only a 60% chance of rain, we risked life and limb to try our luck a second time with Shinjuku, or Sinjuku as some of the subway signs proclaimed. First things first, I needed to find a bathroom. In Tokyo, finding a bathroom is generally fairly trivial. The subway stations and stores provide plenty of surprisingly clean options. Unfortunately, in some places, there is a lack of western toilets. It was time to hike up my skirt and try out the squat toilet! Like many public toilets, it very politely played a decently loud rushing water sound when use is detected, which was followed by automatic flushing. It was not the worst thing in the world, though I might have characterized it as such if there were only bidet options for cleaning.

After all the bathroom excitement, it was straight to the Pentax Forum! In reality, I saw a sign for Pentax Forum on a building we passed en route. A bit unsure of what to do, we headed to the address given in the guide book. Shockingly, there was no longer anything having to do with Pentax there. Instead, we discovered the Canon repair shop, which had pretty much everything Canon makes on display. This included practically every lens, which customers are more than welcome to try out. Matt asked how long it would take to repair the broken LEDs on the 40D (there is a display inside the viewfinder, so you can see the aperture, ISO, etc as you change settings, without moving your head). Needless to say, our shiny new camera is going to have to be sent in for repairs when we get home.

While Matt talked to the repair people, I wandered around, looking at the various gadgets. Before we left, I wanted to get a portable hard drive with memory card slots for backing up pictures. Silly me, I thought it would exist and be easily findable in any real camera store (I'm looking at you, Bel-Air Camera). The only ones I found were unknown brands for alarmingly low prices on sketchy websites. But now, waiting patiently on an acrylic stand, was the Canon M80. It was everything I wanted, and more. Compact flash and SD card slots. Huge display. Mini-USB port for directly connecting to cameras and printers. And a slightly smaller than desired 80GB harddrive. The only problem? 50,800 yen. Yeah.... no. When they release a one with a larger drive and smaller price tag in America, it's mine.

Matt would like to actually write, instead of just telling me how to spell most of the polysyllabic words. And here he is:

So after walking in a circle to find what turned out to be the Canon shop instead of the Pentax Forum, we began our second circle to get back to the Pentax Forum. Upon arriving, Sharon walked around the gallery portion of the forum, summarily dismissed it, and ventured off to find bubble tea, whilst I put away the camera. Admittedly, the gallery was hardly impressive, with a scant two interesting photographs out of two dozen. Between that and not caring much about lens for cameras we don't own, it was quickly time to move on in our journey. Sharon ditched the amazingly bad bubble tea she had purchased, and we finished our second circle around the same block to move onward.

Next was two different observation areas, the first on the 51st floor of the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building. That amounted to a small open space and a few windows looking over an uninteresting and smoggy view of part of Tokyo. After that disappointment, we invaded building #1 of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices to catch a view of the city from their 48th floor. Despite the entire floor being dedicated to observation, the windows with interesting views were taken up by the restaurant up there. Not wanting to eat at some random restaurant up there just for the view (despite our growing hunger and fatigue at the time), we reconnoitered the gift shops, took some pictures of more subpar Tokyo skylines, and went back downstairs.

TICK! TOCK! So went the clock at our next destination; specifically, the 29m pendulum clock in the Shinjuku NS Building. Being the largest pendulum clock in the world, we had to go check it out. It's quite an impressive Seiko in an otherwise typical office building. After taking in some undulations of the pendulum, we ambled over to the Shinjuku Park Tower, which among other things, contains the Park Hyatt Tokyo. We dined at the Park Hyatt Delicatessen, which by any respectable set of criteria, is not a deli. This "deli" consists of display cases of food that they will warm up for you upon ordering and bring to your table. Along all the walls of the place was shelves of Park Hyatt gustatory paraphernalia and memorabilia. Additionally, in some standalone shelves they housed some of their wine selection. Considering the caliber of some of the wines I saw (i.e. decades-old French Bordeaux), I'm surprised they didn't take any precaution against accidental damage or intentional pilfering.

That concluded our trek of the western side of Shinjuku, but there were a couple places on the eastern side that we were interested in. After venturing through the gargantuan Shinjuku subway station, we popped out on to East Shinjuku. Compared to the west side, which was lots of office buildings, the east side was all hustle and bustle with shopkeepers trying to peddle their goods and big lit-up signs everywhere. Unfortunately, amongst all of this, we were unable to correlate the map that the book provided to where we were, despite finding a referenced landmark. After some time trying to figure out where to go and three attempts at getting a stuffed Gloomy Bear from an arcade, we headed back to the subway to get ourselves back to the hotel.

Upon arrival back at the hotel, I went to the 37th floor for a Japanese kiatsu massage, while Matt headed back to the room. I don't recommend that inflexible people, namely Matt, try it, as a lot of stretching is weird positions is involved. While a bit painful, it was very relaxing and my upper back hasn't hurt since.

11 September 2008

zomg tokyo! day 6

Day 6 (11 September)
After much debate, today was elected to be Shinjuku day. This entailed two new subway lines, and a 65m walk between the two. Then came the fun of finding our way around Shinjuko Station. It made Times Square look small and orderly, and probably has about 20 times the number of exits as its New York counterpart.

During our navigation, I noticed a sign for the Suburu Building. I decided that I absolutely must have my picture taken in front of the building, so we trekked outside to do so. Since we were already above ground, Matt pointed out that we could attempt to navigate above ground, an idea I found much more appealing than going back into the crowded mess. Barely 100 meters into our journey, the weather that I called appealing decided to evacuate in favor of torrents of rain. Back into the subterranean jungle!

Subway stations in Tokyo are lined with shops. Not the dinky newsstands found on the track level in other cities, but serious, high-quality shops. In one of those shops, I finally found the pair of boots for which I'd been searching. I have spent countless hours trying to find a pair of boots that fit my calves properly, since boots found in America are always too big and look funny on me. Japanese women are slender, so boots sold here should actual fit me. It took about 10 pairs, but these were it! Just please do not ask how much they were.

With my amazing new subway boots in tow, we resumed our navigation. First stop, the Toto toilet museum! Or so we thought. Once again, the now rejected guide book lied. The museum turned out to be a home remodeling center featuring Toto products.

The rain had let up, so we high-tailed it to a camera store for cleaning supplies. The rain came back, with a vengeance, so back into the underworld we went, this time back towards the hotel.

When the rain finally went away more permanently, we walked over to Takashimaya, another department store, so we wouldn't just be hanging out in the hotel. After thoroughly combing through the sports section, or what would more accurately be called the designer golf clothes and accessories section, dinner became necessary. We happened upon a local hangout, a German pub with a name that I won't even try to spell. Amazing beer, amazing steak, amazing fries.

We finished off by walking back to the hotel via a bookstore, Mazuken, and headed for the hotel bar. There was not one available seat, nor was anyone wearing jeans like we were. Back downstairs to our room we went.

Now I must go to sleep, for we have a busy non-rain impeded day awaits us tomorrow.

zomg tokyo! day 5

Since the world didn't end, here's day 5!

Day 5 (10 September)
If you looked at the time stamps for my posts about days 3 and 4, you probably figured out what we did yesterday morning. For those that ignore such things, I stayed in bed, alternating between typing and playing Secret Agent Clank on my trusty PSP 1001.

Around 1330, we finally got our lazy butts out of the room, where we headed across the street to the market under Mitsukoshi. Very. Bad. Idea. Matt has an iron stomach, and even he described the results as, "my stomach is tied in a slipknot." But we went to Sengaku-ji anyway.

The legendary 47 ronin are buried in Sengaku-ji, having committed both murder and seppuku to defend both their master's and their own honor and loyalaty. While the events surrounding the place are quite exciting, the graveyard itself is rather serene and the air is filled with the scent of burning incense. Visually, the modern stone railings and walkways provide quite the contrast to the centuries old tombstones.

Still in pain, we wobbled back onto the subway for Ginza, round two. Thankfully, everything was open for business upon our midafternoon arrival. Our first destination was the Sony Building, where we taught it the lesson that it is not okay to be closed. Or we just walked in the front door where we were greeted politely by no less than three employees. After much drooling over the Cybershot DSC-T77, we made our way through the various displays urging us to buy every Sony device imaginable. We nearly bought a silver PS3 DualShock 3 controller, but for various undefined reasons it was left behind. A sleek USB Memory Stick reader did hitch a ride, however, since a certain necessary cable was omitted during packing.

By the time we left, with a brochure extolling the features of the T77, our stomachs had returned to their original configurations and were demanding food. Food was slightly delayed so we could purchase photoalbums at Itoya since we had no idea when the shop would close. Having some semblance of understanding of what 1-5-13 Ginza means, we headed off to find Sakata, an udon and soba restaurant regarded as one of the best in Tokyo. While we did managed to find the address all by ourselves (okay, Matt did most of the finding), we couldn't find the restaurant for the life of us. After much swearing at the guide book where I found the address, an employee who worked in the same building told us that the restaurant had moved. More swearing ensued. Various alternate plans were considered. Finally, we settled on venturing to the Apple store a couple blocks away to ask the internet where we should eat. The internet basically told us to get lost, so we enlisted an employee for assistance. He pointed us in the direction of udon that actually existed. We never reached the restaurant, mostly because Kirin City+ jumped out from behind a building and called our names. I had the Brau Miester, while Matt chose Kirin Black. Some ridiculously small servings of spaghetti and steak rounded out the meal.

Needless to say, we were still hungry as we exited the subway at Mitsukoshimae, where, lo and behold, stood an am/pm! Just like in America, the Japanese ones do not accept credit cards, but they do accept Pasmo, the Tokyo Metro version of New York's MetroCard. After paying in coins, we went upstairs for the evening with our goodies to retire for the evening.

10 September 2008

zomg tokyo! day 4

Day 4 (9 September)
Having thoroughly exhausted ourselves via travel and walking over the past three (or four, depending on how you count) days, we decided to take it easy. Now some might associate taking it easy with staying lounging around the hotel, perhaps visiting the spa, or even relaxing in a Japanese garden. We went shopping in Ginza, a mere 3 subway stops away.

We arrived about 1035, which is the perfect time to discover that most of the shops open at 1100. How convenient. So we wandered the street with the intention of killing time, until we happened upon a tiny go shop. The game boards were rather impressive and heavy pieces of wood, with impressively heavy price tags to match. After a about a minute, we continued on to Itoya, a paper and pen shop, which Matt will now tell you all about.

Itoya, like most stores in Ginza and elsewhere in Tokyo, is a rather vertical affair. The store is comprised of nine floors, from B1 (floors below the first floor are prefixed with the letter B) to 8, which contain every product imaginable that are made of paper or otherwise relate to paper -- from 200 yen notepads to million yen pens and everything in between. Sharon and I spent a good deal of time looking at various photo albums, focusing on ones that are more indicative of the area as oppose to American and European imports that are designed similarly. Ultimately, we decided to reflect further on how many photo albums we needed before buying any. We did end up leaving with some small items -- a couple of notepads made to be used as mouse pads and a circular slide rule.

After quickly doubling back to the neighboring Tiffany's that turned out to be small and uninteresting, we continued on to Matsuya Ginza, an extremely large department store taking up about half of a square city block. While all the olfactory products on the first floor were mercifully easy on my nose, the intensity of the florescent light made me want to leave my sunglasses on. After finding an English version of the store guide, Sharon immediately honed in to the shoe department on the third floor. Unfortunately, the one pair of boots she really liked were unfortunately too wide at the heel, which makes more sense when you consider that they were European imports.

After traversing a couple more floors, we decided it was time for lunch and to sample the department store's selection of cuisine. Unlike department stores in the States, the ones here take the same approach to food, groceries, and pharmaceuticals as they do to high fashion. After browsing the available choices and listening to the melody of our stomachs kindly requesting alimentary material, we reluctantly chose a Japanese take on cheap Italian food, which was likely about as good as an Italian take on Japanese food would be.

Since the restaurants were on the topmost floor, we decided to work our way down the remaining floors via the rooftop driving range that turned out not to be generally available for use. On the sixth floor, the last one we had to visit, turned out to be most worthwhile. We discovered a display of beautiful glass crafted by Kitajima Masako. After debating a few choices, Sharon and I finally decided on (in relatively quick fashion for us) on a clear vase with blood red decoration that has a wonderfully distinctive look. Additionally, at the neighboring golf department, we purchased some humorous golf accessories. Once we collected our consumption tax refund on the goods we had acquired in the store, we left the labyrinthine building, duly crossing off all other department stores off of our list of places to visit for the day.

And now back to our intrepid reporter!

So there we were, both appalled at the amount of time we spent in Matsuya Ginza and the thought of going into another one. We wandered the area, window shopping past uniteresting stores and ducking into the more promising ones. There are quite a few small camera shops that fall into the latter category, all of which offer antique film cameras and incredibly outdated digital ones on the same shelves as modern equipment. Without exception, the windows showcase an awe-inspiring array of lenses.

A rather long trek to Hakuhinkan Toy Park was in the cards. Specifically the playing cards. We chose three decks, including one made by Nintendo. For those unaware, the video game company that we all know and love was founded in the mid 1800s as a playing card company. On the top floor we discovered a larger than life slot car track for those serious about the hobby. If you don't bring your own car, you don't race. The track was monopolized by a large group of businessmen, making us the youngest people in the arena.

Ginza Washington, which occupies B1 and B2 of UNIQLO, is touted as one of Tokyo's largest shoe stores. My first thought was, "Where on earth did they hide the rest of it?" They did have an interesting selection, but nothing that piqued my interest. Upstairs we went, where floors 1F through 5F (most stores suffix the above ground numbers with F) held more promise. I found a few notable t-shirts, but nothing worth exerting the effort the purchase. Similarly, Matt liked a sweatshirtish jacket that just didn't look quite right on him, so we left empty handed.

Our last scheduled stop was the Sony Building, which promised us floors of wonder. All we got was a closed sign. After a few choice words, we headed back to base.

And that's the way the cookie crumbles.

zomg tokyo! day 3

Before we begin, I'd like to make a few more observations about Tokyo. One of the most obvious and inescapable characteristics of the city is the humidity. The average humidity is 62% or greater, all year round. While humans tend to become sticky and uncomfortable in such conditions, insects couldn't be happier. Happy insects like to party, which apparently includes eating my legs. The current count is five very itchy bites. Now, some might suggest that I just buy some bug spray. While this would be a perfectly good solution in an English speaking country, I don't want to risk spraying my annoyingly sensitive skin with a chemical that is, at best, most likely bug repellent.

Restaurants in America generally provide patrons with 4 sugar packet types. Real sugar, fake sugar in yellow packets, fake sugar in blue packets, and everyone's favorite, fake sugar in pink packets. Here, there is fake sugar in pink packets, but there are only a couple so that there is enough room for the different types of real sugar. There usual kinds are standard granulated, lumps of white, and lumps of brown sugar.

And on with the show...

Day 3 (8 September)
Yesterday was spent exploring Harajuko and Aoyama. We took the subway, with its clean, cushioned seats, to Harajuku, then proceeded to walk in the exact opposite direction of the entrance to Meiji Jingu Shrine. By then, we were both quite thirsty, so I hunted for water in a convenience store while Matt played navigator. Hmmmm... which weird brand of water should I get? Obviously not the one I chose. It turned out that electrolyte water is really awful GatoradeVitaminWaterLemonade stuff. Apparently something being a clear liquid labeled water does not mean one should assume that it is water.

After a change of directions and two bottles of Evian from a vending machine, we made it to the entrance. Once again I was very impressed with the change from urban environment to tranquil forest. As long as you consider the insect symphony to be serene, that is.

Despite some interesting architecture, I must admit I was not overly impressed with the actual shrine, possibly because we were not allowed anywhere near it. I was, however truly awed with how the shrine came into being. After Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken died in 1912 and 1914, respectively, the people of Japan built the shrine in their honor. Volunteers donated and planted over 100,000 trees from Japan and across the world to create the forest that surrounds the shrine. Since being established on 1 November 2008, the forest has blossomed to 170,000 trees.

Various amulets and charms are sold in a stand inside the courtyard. They cover everything from doing well in academia to finding a suitable mate. We selected one for safe travel, as well as a ceramic bell in the shape of a very round Japanese woman.

Next came Takeshita Dori, which was easy to find since we had passed it earlier on our excursion in the wrong direction. The best US analogue is a street in China Town, in Manhattan, but with more legitimate stores. Everything is catered towards teenagers and college students, with a definite emphasis on punk clothing. Since I really don't need another pair of bondage pants, I settled on some awesome socks. Since you can never have too many pairs of awesome socks. Especially ones with pandas.

No trip to Harajuka is complete without a visit to Condomania. Or so our guide book claimed. In reality, it is an incredibly small shop with nothing that I hadn't seen in an American drug store before. Waste of time.

Another equally disappointing store was Kiddy Land. Unlike the previous purveyor, the owner did not choose to stock the shelves with the store's namesake. Instead, Legos and various random toys that one might find at Spencers lined the aisles.

Thankfully, things took a turn for the better at Oriental Bazaar, a general Japanese souvenir store. Four floors of stuff, though only the main floor was worth perusing. Chop sticks, tea sets, fans, and pretty much everything else you'd expect. Much of the merchandise would accurately be described as overpriced schlock aimed at naive tourists, but there are some nifty finds to be had.

After all this walking, hunger started to take its toll. That didn't stop me from ducking into Bvlgari, where I noticed a small sign indicating a cafe and chocolaterie a mere flight of stairs above us. Needless to say, we had lunch at Bvlgari, and it was good.

Continuing down Omotesando Dori, we reached Aoyama, which is accurately described as a "yuppified version of Harajuku." The main attraction are the collections of Japanese designers. Neither Matt nor I were particularly interested in spending 19,700 yen on a t-shirt, so we were soon back on the subway towards Nihombashi.

One subway exit goes directly into Mitsukoshi, the giant department store, so we ended up reconnoitering the previously unexplored floors. I found a ski vest with a fur trimmed hood and shiny black Burberry skirt that is reminiscent of The Matrix. Miraculously, I hadn't seen either in any Burberry store, both American and Japanese, before or since. Despite knowing better, I tried on both. And as per usual, they fit me perfectly. Then, to my surprise, Matt said I should get the skirt. Not wanting to spend such an outrageous sum on a skirt, I said I shouldn't. Fine, I'll get it for you then. But... You've been wanting a Burberry skirt for a long time, this one looks great on you, and it's not available in America. I stopped protesting, and started deciding which shirt I'd wear with it for our dinner on 17 September (our 4 year anniversary).

With weary feet and grumbly stomachs, we trekked 100 meters back to the hotel for collapsing and dinner. Dinner was soon followed by sleep, and so ended day 3.

07 September 2008

zomg tokyo! days 1-2

Note: Despite the thousands of pictures, all of which will undoubtedly be gorgeous, that will transferred to both this computer and a portable drive as a backup, I have no interest in going through them and posting during the trip. You'll have to wait until I get back. You'll live.

Day 1 (5-6 September)
Long haul flights are boring. Long haul flights in business class are better than those in coach. Long haul flights in business class that DO NOT HAVE FREAKING POWER OUTLETS are a crime against humanity. And yet, somehow, we made it here alive.

We got off the plane, made it through immigration with only a few complete and utter misunderstandings, and heading towards baggage claim. Bags started coming out about 16 seconds before we arrived, then stopped coming out after about 7 bags and a bunch of boxes. But 3 of the 7 were our checked bags. Take that subspace!

Next came customs, and we were on our way. Or at least on our way to figuring out how to be on our way. One problem with ancient cities is that there are no places to put airports anywhere near the city. Narita is about 60km from Tokyo. We brought 4 suitcases, a camera backpack, and a messenger bag. Needless to say, walking was out of the question. Friendly Airport Limousine, however, was more than willing to take us and our giant pile o' stuff to the Mandarin Oriental. Now if we hadn't missed the 1515 bus that we bought a ticket for, things would have been easy. But wait! Everyone here is so amazingly polite and helpful! They held the express bus that goes to our hotel at the next stop. They put us and our 72 pieces of luggage on the bus that was about to leave. And when we got to the next stop, 4 bellman grabbed our bags from under the bus and RAN them to the express bus like their lives depended on it. Such service!

I proceeded to sleep in various and mostly upright positions until we got to the hotel. A bellman offered me his hand to help me off the bus while simultaneously looking horrified that I should be lugging such a heavy bag and taking it from me. No complaints there. Another rode with us to the 38th floor for check in. For whatever reason, the reservation was under my name. Hello Mr. and Mrs. Price. The look of abject horror in Matt's eyes was priceless. And now he understands how I feel when called Mrs. Waymost. A minute or two later, we rode down in a different elevator to the 35th floor with the bellhop leading the way. Our 347 pieces of luggage were already there, placed about the room ideally. And we didn't even tell the people downstairs who we were or our room number. I like this place.

After some room service, we passed out for the evening.

Day 2 (7 September)
After looking out the window and seeing the Imperial Gardens, we decided that would be an appropriate first day trip. We also decided that we were walking, in hopes of returning circulation to our extremities. On the way, we discovered that we've arrived just as the Marunouchi Cow Parade began! The official site. So we've been hunting cows, along with half of Tokyo. When we get back, I'm going to make a special album just of them. And everyone will be made to look at it.

The Imperial Gardens and the Fountains were amazing, though I was a bit disappointed by the number of fountains. Like the cows, they are best described through a visual medium, of which there is a more than adequate amount.

It turns out the Mandarin Oriental is across the street from one of the cities finest malls. Burberry, Tiffany's, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and all their friends are there. I got a Tokyo charm for my charm bracelet, which will remain in its box until it can be soldered on in Los Angeles. Under no circumstances will I risk losing another charm.

Last night we were treated to a spectacular lightning show and buckets of rain. I was pleased. And sleepy. We passed out around 2100. I think.

A few comments about the city itself: Tokyo is a very clean city. Despite an average humidity in the 60s, there is no odor like one might find in New York. Since it is so humid, men and women carry around little towels, smaller than washcloths, for wiping away sweat. They are also employed in bathrooms, since many do not have any means of hand drying. Women carry around parasols, and everyone carries fans. I intend to get all three basic supplies.

There is a complete absence of litter and graffiti, of which I highly approve. I spotted one empty can, nestled in a tree branch, which stuck out like a sore thumb. Not one instance of paint to cover up graffiti, much less graffiti itself. As for garbage, well, garbage cans are not exactly plentiful. But when you find them, you had better select the right can. PET plastics, bottles and cans, combustibles, or noncombustibles. Wow.

Most plastic bottles here are square instead of round. This is such a good idea for so many reasons. Less wasted space when shipped and stored, they don't roll around, and I find them easier to hold when covered in condensation. Matt managed to find a 1900 yen glass bottle of oxygenated water from the Netherlands that was a sphere, but aside from that, we've been drinking from square bottles and I like it.

Many people ride bicycles, which they leave unlocked in front of buildings. I saw all of two bikes that were actually locked to something, of the hundreds that we passed.

Day 3 will begin... now.