A Journey Beyond Imagination, Days 7 & 8: Traditional Tokyo & See You Later

Author’s Note:  This is my 50th post.  I didn’t quite know what to expect when I started this blog, but I’m glad that you’ve been here to share the ride.  It’s been a true pleasure to share my escapades with you.  I look forward to the next 50 stories.

In what seemed the blink of an eye, we were on our last full day in Japan.  Once again we had the day to do whatever we pleased, so Mat wanted to take Dave and I away from the touristy part of Tokyo and experience its real side.

Early in the morning, the three of us caught a subway to the Azabu-Jaban district.  Once we stepped out of the subway station, it seemed like we had journeyed back in time.  No traffic.  No noise.  All was quiet, scenic, and peaceful.  The streets were lined with little homes.  It was a magnificent world.

As we walked along the streets, Mat demonstrated his knowledge of Japan as he launched into an interesting lecture on the anime series, Sailor Moon, and its connection to the Azubu-Jaban region.  He pointed out that a lot of the embassies were in this district and it was incredible to pass all of these gated homes and see which ambassador was living there.

We also passed several schools, explored a little cemetery, and visited a couple of shrines.  After the shrines, Mat took us on a scenic route through a little park.  As we wandered through the park, I suddenly had a great moment of clarity.  Every once in a while, I have these moments and when they hit me everything seems so crystal clear and simple.  It’s as if God has momentarily opened my eyes and is letting me know that everything is going to be all right if I keep the faith and that right now, even if it doesn’t seem like it, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.  As I watched a waterfall in the park, I let myself sink into that moment.

All too soon, we were on our way again.  Upon leaving the park, we found a little library and Mat and I decided to stop inside for a moment while Dave waited by the fountain.  When we entered the library, we were given special passes so we could use the resources.  Mat and I examined a few newspapers and then went back outside to collect Dave and find a place to eat.

I discovered a rather inviting little café and we decided to grab a meal there.  I seem to recall that we had the special of the house which were pork cutlets and rice.  After the respite, we headed to the subway station and were off to visit the Tokyo Sky Tree.

The Tokyo Sky Tree is one of the tallest structures in the world.  I thought the view was amazing from Tokyo Tower, but it had nothing on the Sky Tree.  The Sky Tree has two observation decks:  a high one and a REALLY high one.  Needless to say, we visited both.

The view from the REALLY high deck was jaw dropping.  I don’t think I could see the whole city, but it couldn’t have been far off.  From this height, one could see just how massive this metropolis truly was and it was a sight I will be unable to forget.  I only wish it hadn’t been such a cloudy day because I would have been able to see Mt Fuji in the distance on a clear day.

Once we had had our fill, we headed back to our hotel to get ready for a final group dinner.

We went to a traditional Japanese restaurant called Izakaya.  Upon entering the foyer, we were required to remove our shoes and were seated around a long table.  We sampled many different foods, but what made the dinner truly special was the company.  We had been together for most of the week, but this was the event where we truly got to know one another.  We had begun this journey beyond imagination as touring companions, but we were leaving as friends.

The next day arrived and we packed our bags and met in the lobby to say our final good-byes.  Mat and Dave had an earlier flight which would ultimately take them to Mat’s hometown in Phoenix where they would rest up for a few days before Mat escorted Dave back to Omaha and visited his family and friends.  Mat had been right. . .I did have the time of my life.  And as we said our farewells, our eyes all shared the same idea. . .our little trio would return to Japan to experience it again and anew.

After I saw Mat and Dave off, I walked Mike to a Hello, Kitty store in Ikebukuro so he could get some souvenirs.  As we headed back to the hotel, I noticed a ramen restaurant that our group had passed on multiple occasions.  The food there must be incredible as there is always a line out the door and Mat said the same had been true when he had first visited Tokyo two years previously.  For once, the line was short and I was sorely tempted to wait and try the ramen.  But it wouldn’t have felt right without Mat and Dave to share it with, so I resisted the urge, though we three have made a vow to hit it up when we return.

About 1pm, my bus arrived and, once again, I rode the 90 minutes to Narita International Airport.  I stopped and exchanged my remaining yen for dollars and made a bit of profit on the exchange.  Yukie helped get us our boarding passes and saw us off, taking a final photo.  But I knew it wasn’t good-bye for Japan.  It was merely see you later.

The flight home was a bit smoother as the Gulf Stream now sped up our flight, reducing it to about 9 hours.  This time, there was an empty seat between me and the other person in our row, so I was able to stretch out and get a bit more shuteye.  I remember it was about midnight when finally got back to my home and my internal clock was screwed up something awful.  It was nearly 3am when I fell asleep and I actually slept all the way to 11am.

The jet lag which I had managed to keep at bay in Tokyo struck me with a fury when I returned to Omaha.  I imagine jet lag is what being drunk must feel like except without the misery of a hangover.  Every few hours, I would nap for a little while as my body battled to reset its biorhythms.  It took over a week before I was fully recovered.  As I shook off the last remnants of Japan, I finally realized the adventure was over, but the memories will last forever.

 

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A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 6: Odaiba & Gundam & Tricks & Onsen

So the whole gang was together again for a visit to Odaiba.  After breakfast, we caught the subway to Odaiba and made our way to the Diver City Mall.

We had actually seen Odaiba from the top of Tokyo Tower back during the sightseeing tour on the first day.  Specifically, we could see Odaiba’s Statue of Liberty and Rainbow Bridge (a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge).  Seeing them again up close was just as awe inspiring as seeing them from a distance.  After soaking up the scenery for a bit, we headed to the top of the Diver City Mall which housed the Gundam Museum.

The museum is dedicated to Gundam Wing, a very long running anime series in Japan.  I’m not overly familiar with the series, but it has the vein of humans piloting giant robots to fight off giant monsters.  It was a very intriguing exhibit which showed the history of the series and had innumerable toys, clothing, and various other swag available for purchase.

After wandering through the museum, we headed outdoors to see the famed 60 foot Gundam statue.  It was truly an awesome spectacle and the statue had a light show later at night that we would watch.  From there we went back inside the mall and headed to the Tokyo Trick Art Museum.

This was one of my favorite events of the trip.  This museum has all of its walls painted in such a way that it almost seems 3D and allows people to become part of the art for photos.  We got pictures of myself showing my death defying martial arts skills as I balanced on the tip of a sword wielded by my ninja opponent, Mat suffocating under glass, and Dave holding open the jaws of a hungry beast to keep from being devoured.

When we had finished our tour of the museum, we got to split up and go off on our own for a while.  Mat, Dave, and I searched out a place for lunch and ended up being persuaded to eat at a ramen joint when the owner promised us free rice.  Now that I think about it, none of us got any rice.

From there we found a classic arcade in the mall and all of us enjoyed a little blast from our past.  Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Kung Fu Master (known as Kansu Master in Japan) were just some of the games from yesteryear that we played.  After funning ourselves out and a little more exploration, we met up with the group by the Rainbow Bridge to get ready for the second half of the day’s activities.

The group was given the choice of one of two activities:  going to the SEGA Joypolis amusement park or going to Tokyo Oedo Onsen Monogotari, a Japanese hot springs.  Now I love amusement parks, but I wanted to experience something indicative of the Japanese culture and had opted to go to the hot springs.  Dave was the only other person who opted to go to the onsen.  I suspect Mat would have preferred that activity, but he has a couple of tattoos and people with body art are not permitted in public hot springs.

So Dave and I were off to the onsen where we became part of the traditional Japanese culture.  For starters, we had to take off our shoes before entering the hot springs.  We were also required to wear a yukata, a Japanese robe, inside the onsen.  The inside of the onsen was set up as a medieval Japanese village and market place.   There were places to eat and games to play, but the hot springs is what it was all about.  They were so peaceful and relaxing.  After luxuriating in the hot water for a bit, I went and had a 40 minute massage and then went to the enjoy the outdoor hot spring.  Dave and I both agreed the outdoor spring was the best as a light rain had started to fall and the combination of that plus the hot water really induced relaxation.  I really wish we had a couple of more hours to spend there.

Before we knew it, our time was up and we headed back to Diver City and took in the spectacular Gundam Statue light show before heading for our hotel.  My relaxing time at the onsen plus all of the running around we had been doing for the past week finally caught up with me on the subway as I dozed off on my seat.  Yukie said I fit right in with the Japanese businessmen who often take catnaps on the train.  Dave gently shook my shoulder to awaken me right before our stop and it was back to our room to unwind and sleep before our last day in Japan.

 

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 5: Duel with a Tyrant

On our fifth day in Tokyo, we would be enjoying a free day. Now the one regret I had about the entire trip was that I was unable to climb Mt Fuji with Mat and Dave. We are discussing possibly returning to Japan within the next few years so all three of us can climb it, but I’m getting away from the thread of this tale.

I had planned to spend the day climbing Mt Takao, but when my eyes fluttered open that day, I heard the unmistakable sound of rain pounding at the window. Being an island nation, Japan is a lot like living on the coasts in that it rains often and unexpectedly. In fact, it rains so much that umbrellas are available, cheap, in every local shop. I got a call from Yukie saying that the mountain climb was canceled due to the weather, so he refunded my money for that excursion and I joined Mat and Dave on their explorations for the day.

We made a quick stop at Family Mart to pick up some breakfast and then we were on our way. Mat wanted to take us to a cosplay exhibition called “From Cloth to You”. As we were walking to the exhibit, the rain began to pour buckets on us. I was getting drenched, so I ducked into a local store and picked up an umbrella for 400 yen.

Soon we arrived at our destination. It was an old, seemingly abandoned building. The rooms had a dank, basement feel and left an interesting aura for the event. The paintings were rather good and had a wide variety of flavor. Some were typical anime fare. Others had a horror theme. Still others a surreal feel. We spent nearly two hours admiring the artwork and from there, Mat led us to a place to which he had truly been looking forward.

Shortly before our trip, it was announced that a mall in Tokyo was going to be opening a special theme restaurant for one year. It was called the Biohazard Café and Biohazard is what Resident Evil is known as in Japan. I still remember the message Mat sent me with the link to the article. He said, “If you think this isn’t on the agenda, think again!”

I was very impressed with the detail that went into the eatery. Newspapers articles were hanging on the walls discussing the strange murders and disappearances going on in Raccoon City. There was also a special exhibit of S.T.A.R.S. (the special police force in the game) items. The restaurant was all you could eat in the style of a Brazilian steakhouse. What that means is that servers bring cuts of meat to your table until you tell them to stop. For sides, there was some type of bread that was quite delectable and “Healing Herbs” salad. Mat and Dave each enjoyed a Code: Veronica (mint julep) while I satisfied my thirst with water. It was a very pleasant meal and I was especially impressed with the lamb. What I found most interesting was the fact that it cost more for men to eat at this place than it did for women. This is because men can typically eat more than women.

The centerpiece of the restaurant was a life sized replica of the Tyrant (the main monster from the first Resident Evil game). At 9 feet tall, heavily muscled, and a right hand that had razor sharp claws, this beast was truly a force to be reckoned with in the game. When we were nearly finished with our meal, the servers began putting on a little dance show for the patrons. In the midst of the show, alarms started going off and the servers began protecting the customers. The Tyrant had come to life and was threatening to annihilate everything and everyone in its path. The servers bravely fired on the creature, but to no avail.

Time for the reinforcements.

Bravely, I dove into battle and picked up a fallen gun that had the kickback of a feral mule. Taking careful aim, I aimed for the Tyrant’s external heart and took it out in one, clean shot. Victory!!! I was covered in smooches by the grateful waitresses and lauded by the clientele.

Seriously, one of the servers did pull me into the fray and she handed me a gun so I could deliver the killing shot to the Tyrant. My prize was a badge certifying me as an honorary S.T.A.R.S. member that I still have today.

After lunch, Mat wanted to take us to a place called Namja Town in Sun City so we could try some of their ice milk. Now here’s where things got funny. Mat was using a GPS system to help guide us through Tokyo and it seemed to work very well. The only place his GPS didn’t seem to work was in Ikebukuro. In that region, that device sent us all over the map and always to the wrong destination. So we walked. . .and walked. . .and walked.

As we continued trying to get to Sun City, I managed to finally find a vending machine that had Mountain Dew to Dave’s joyous glee. Vending machines are very prevalent in Japan. They can be found on every street corner and contain everything from soda to sushi. Japan seems to be partial to Coke so Dave had to make do without his beloved beverage of choice. When I pointed out the vending machine, our lovable Dew junkie practically danced in the street and I half expected him to bow in homage to the machine. He immediately bought 3 cans of the stuff and these were tallboy cans, so each was about the equivalent of two normal cans. As the machine wasn’t far from our hotel, Dave raided it a few more times before our trip ended.

After 90+ minutes of walking, we finally found Sun City and enjoyed some of the famed ice milk which wasn’t too bad. From there, we headed back to our hotel, only making a brief stop to pick up some burgers for supper. After all the running around of the past few days, I was ready to take it easy. I took a long, hot bath, watched a movie on my laptop, and went to bed.

The next day our tour group would be heading to Odaiba.

A Tenuous Night of Terror

Ten strangers meet on Soldier Island.  At dinner, a disembodied voice accuses each of murder.  Soon afterwards, the guests begin to die according to a disturbing nursery rhyme.  Real horror sets in when the survivors realize that the killer must be one of them.

This is the plot of Ten Little Indians, currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre and based off the novel by Agatha Christie.

Translating a story from one medium to another usually proves to be a difficult chore.  Through the translation, something often gets lost or reimagined to suit the new medium and this difficulty is prevalent in the script for this show.  The novel is deeply psychological, full of tense, internal monologues and shifts all over Soldier Island and its mansion.  The play is, quite literally, a sitting room drama (said sitting room impeccably designed by Joey Lorincz).  The cast is left with the unenviable task of trying to duplicate the same sense of dread and character development without the critical clues the internal monologues provide.  God bless this cast for rising to the challenge.

Standouts in the show include Connie Lee as Emily Brent.  As Brent, Ms. Lee shines as a cold blooded religious zealot.  She utterly disappears into the character with a steely expression and unyielding posture.  Her remorseless nature and snide little asides provided a true delight for the evening.

Jon Flower absolutely nails the role of Phillip Lombard.  He is truly an insufferable ass.  The only member of the party to immediately admit his guilt, Flower magnificently makes Lombard the character you love to hate.  With a practiced ease, Flower imbues Lombard with an oily charm.  When he’s not busy trying to woo Vera Claythorne, he’s snapping out inappropriate comments or improvising new verses of the already creepy nursery rhyme which foretells the deaths of the accused.

Angela Fick is spot on as Vera Claythorne.  Beginning as an affable girl who thinks she has won a position as secretary to the woman of the house, Ms. Fick’s Claythorne is the one character who truly seems to buckle under the ominous threat looming over the guests.  Ms. Fick does an admirable job finding the ebbs and flows in her dialogue that make for a nice nuanced character.  With a character that could easily be overplayed, Ms. Fick manages to find just the right emotional beats at just the right moments to keep Vera grounded in reality.

Paul Schneider’s Sir Lawrence Wargrave is a masterfully underplayed performance.  His Wargrave is almost the glue holding these people together.  Eerily calm and painfully precise, Schneider’s Wargrave stoically examines the evidence and enunciates the points that may lead to a solution to this baffling mystery.

Jim Farmer proved to be a real surprise as William Henry Blore.  At first glance, Farmer seems to be playing Blore extremely over the top until he reveals that he’s putting on a cover and he’s really a detective called in for a job.  After the cover is blown, Farmer is all business.  His Blore is a tough cookie, though not overly bright and constantly concerned about his next meal.  However, Farmer also gives Blore some surprising depth and pathos when he tells the true story about the man he is accused of killing.

A few flaws were evident in the production.  The acting was a little shaky at points, accents were a mixed bag, and vocal projection issues were present.  The blocking also seemed a tad off as performers either upstaged themselves or were placed in such a way that they couldn’t be seen.  The denouement also seemed a touch overacted and may disappoint purists expecting the same ending as in the novel.

Ten Little Indians runs from Jan 24-Feb 9 at Bellevue Little Theatre located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.  Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Reservations can be made at 402-291-1554 between the hours of 10am-4:30pm Mon-Sat.  Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and TAG members, and $9 for students with a valid student ID.

 

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 4: Lines, Lines, Everywhere’s a Line

At long last we were going to experience the centerpiece of the Tokyo Maximum Tour.  Today we were heading to the Tokyo Game show, the second biggest video game show on the planet and the biggest that is open to the general public.

Back in the day I was a pretty avid gamer.  Even today, I break out my old systems once in a while to enjoy my collection.  So the idea of getting to see new technology and test games that hadn’t hit the market yet held a certain appeal for me.

Our group had special passes that allowed us entry to the show an hour before it started.  This was the best part of the day as there was time to slowly explore all of the vendors and get some sneak previews of new games.  But once the show was open to the rest of the public. . .Whoa Nellie!!!

Now I knew what a sardine must feel like.  Over a quarter of a million people were at the event and I felt squashed.  Lines to sample new video games quickly stretched to multi-hour waits.  Fortunately, I had my trusty Kindle to pass the time in line, but standing in line for 2 hours to play a new game for 15 minutes didn’t seem worth the wait.  I had hoped to play Resident Evil 6, but that ended up being one of the most popular games at the venue.  The wait got so long that the line was actually shut down on a couple of occasions.

Not that there weren’t interesting things to watch while I waited and wandered.  Legends in the video game field appeared for discussion panels and to introduce new games.  The legendary Japanese pro wrestler, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, made an appearance to promote a new wrestling video game and even competed in a match at the show. 

After a while, I managed to find a quiet corner where I could read and people watch until it was time for our group to head back to Ikebukuro.  If I had to do it over again, I probably would have cut this day short and gone to Tokyo Disneyland which we passed on the way to show.  In fact, I just may hit that place up when I return to Japan.

We were on our own for dinner that night, so Mat, Dave, and I did a little exploring on the streets of Ikebukuro.  A parade broke out in front of us a few blocks from the hotel and we found a little festival going on.  After wandering about the festival a bit, we continued up the street where we found a McDonald’s.

I admit I did want to eat at a McDonald’s in Japan just to say that I did it.  I expected to be able to find one, but what I didn’t expect is that I would find one every 6 blocks.  They were everywhere!  Aside from the fare one would expect, the menu also contains items for the Japanese palate.  Mat and Dave ordered Tsukimshi (Moon Viewing) burgers which were hamburgers topped with a sunny side up egg.  Egg burgers are quite popular in Japan.  I opted for a lettuce and pepper sauce burger which I found quite tasty.  I definitely wouldn’t mind this sandwich finding its way to America.

After dinner, the three of us met up with Mike and Yukie and we left to enjoy one of Japan’s favorite pastimes. . .karaoke.  Mat opened us up with a rendition of the opening theme to Golgo 13 (an anime series) which he sung in Japanese.  I followed up with a powerful rendition of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire.  From there we were all took turns singing our hearts out for the next two hours and we closed the evening singing five part disharmony.  What a festive night.

It was back to our rooms to rest up for the next day.  This would be our first free day that we could use to examine Tokyo any way that we desired.

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 3: Of Shopping and Sushi

Day 3 of this expedition was an all day shopping tour.  Shortly after breakfast, our group of gaijin headed to the subway station and set on off to the Ginza district.

Our first stop was the Sony Building.  Sony was celebrating the 30th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Bad album.  A life-sized cutout of Michael was set on a stage outside the building and people were encouraged to take pictures.  I got a photo of myself doing the moonwalk while Mat took a before picture of himself giving “Michael” the bunny ears followed by a photo of himself sprawled out on the ground, unconscious.  I guess “Michael” showed him who’s bad.

After perusing and purchasing various knickknacks in the Sony Building, Yukie took us outside the restaurant of a legendary sushi chef.  I don’t remember his name, but he had recently been the focus of a documentary.  His restaurant is incredibly small, but reservations must be made a month in advance in order to eat there.  There is also no menu.  The food is whatever the chef feels like preparing that day.  If you want to eat there, bring lots of money as the cost is a staggering $300 per person to sample this legend’s wares.

From there, it was off to the Shinjuku district where we visited the Square Enix store.  Square Enix is a video game company best known for creating the Final Fantasy series of games.  It was a very small shop, but it had lots of interesting models to look at.  I ended up picking up some mystery monster toys for my niece and nephew. 

After our visit to Square Enix, we headed over to Harajuku where we enjoyed a late lunch at a ramen restaurant.  I ordered a Kanoban (spicy) pork ramen.  Dave and Mat ordered similar dishes, but theirs had eggs in them.  When we received our meals, they inspired the classic Matism, “I can smell the porky goodness.”  And it was a delicious meal.

Once we had recharged our batteries with the food, we explored the market in Harajuku which has a more underground feel.  I bought a t-shirt for myself that had a kanji which translated to “I’m in Japan” and bought a Hello, Kitty thingamajig for my sister-in-law.  I also caved to peer pressure as I bought a crepe along with Mat and Dave.  I’m usually not much for sweets, but this was an excellent dessert.

Soon our time was up and our group of merry wanderers made its way to Shibuya where we stopped at a bazaar.  I did most of my souvenir shopping at this place as there were all sorts of items to choose from.  I chose several beautiful items made out of ceramics for my friends and family like fish, lotus blossoms, and a few interesting stones.

Afterwards, we headed back to our hotel for a little bit of down time before our group headed out to a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant for dinner.  The name is just what it sounds like.  We sat around a giant centerpiece that had all kinds of sushi being moved by conveyor belt.  If something caught your interest, you grabbed it and enjoyed it.  When you were finished eating, the plates would be counted up and that’s what you would be charged.  I seem to recall that the price was 118 yen (a bit over $1) a plate.  Mat, who has a superhuman metabolism, said he had polished off 18 plates of sushi when he had eaten at this place 2 years previously.  Mind you, the plates are about the size of a tea saucer with a just a piece or two of sushi on each dish.

Once we had dined, it was back to the Hotel Tokyo Metropolitan where we took it easy for the rest of the night.  We were going to need all of our strength tomorrow as we were heading for the centerpiece of the Tokyo Maximum Tour. . .the Tokyo Game Show.

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 2: Culture Immersion

Despite having been awake for most of the last three days, I still managed to awake before either of my roommates.  I felt greatly refreshed and felt only slight effects from the jet lag so my acclimation plan seemed to work in that regard.  I took a look out of our window and marveled at the fact that I was now on the other side of the planet.  Then I decided I would take a long, hot bath which unwound me a bit and helped clear up the slight fog of jet lag.

My cohorts were up and about by the time I had finished cleaning up and soon we were in the lobby meeting up with Yukie and the rest of the tour group.  Joining our little group were Kelly and Savannah Nicholes.  Yukie gave us our tour bags which contained swag, itineraries, and a little card worth 2,000 yen that could be used at Family Mart which is similar to a 7-11 in America.  These convenience stores can be found on nearly every street corner.  At one point during the trip, I found a Family Mart across the street from a Family Mart which was kitty corner from a third Family Mart.

We were given about an hour to kill before beginning our half day bus tour, so Dave, Mat, and I wandered around the neighborhood a bit.  What I found most amazing is that I felt safer in Japan than I have in parts of America.  A big reason for that is that Japan has a low crime rate.  This is probably because America is very egocentric, meaning that the focus is on the self.  But in Japan, the focus is on the family unit.  If you do something wrong, it brings shame to your family as well as yourself, so that probably helps keep the crime rate down.

There was a Family Mart right across the street from our hotel, so I bought a ham sandwich and a cocoa drink that was so tasty, I had it all, but one day that we were in Tokyo.  Mat had melon bread and Dave bought some little pancake sandwiches which two little pancakes about twice the size of a silver dollar that had the butter and syrup in between.  It was a nice day so we ate and chatted outside of our hotel.

Soon we had hopped onto a bus to begin our half day sightseeing tour.  We began by going to Tokyo Tower which looks exactly like the Eiffel Tower except it is a bright orange.  The top of the tower gave us a spectacular view of the city.  After exploring the tower, the bus took us to the Mejier Shrine.  Before entering the shrine, we went to a purification area to make us worthy to enter the shrine.

The purification area consists of a long vat of water and you take a ladle and pour water over your left hand, then your right hand, then you swish the water around in your mouth, spit, and tilt the ladle backwards to remove any remaining water.  In the shrine was a prayer board where people would post prayers they hoped to have fulfilled.  Once the board is full, the prayers are burned and offered to the gods.  Apparently, the board fills up pretty quickly around school entrance exam time as tests must be passed not only to get into college, but high school, as well.

I spent my first yen here when I bought a charm for my mother.  I was a bit puzzled at first when the clerk pointed to a tray instead of taking my money.  Mat pointed out that taking money from a customer was considered rude in Japan.  The customer places the money on a small tray because that means he or she is giving the money to the clerk.  As I placed a crisp, new 2,000 yen bill onto the tray, I saw Mat’s eyes flash in wonder.

“Did you just pay with a 2,000 yen bill?” asked Mat.

“Yes,” I replied, concerned that I was making a faux pas.

“Son of a b—–!” exclaimed Mat.  “I didn’t know they had those.  Do you have any more?”

“Yes, it was the only denomination I brought,” I said.

“I’m buying some as soon as we get back to the hotel,” said Mat.

From Mejier Shrine, we then went to the Imperial Palace gardens where I stared goggle eyed at the lush beauty of the grounds.  After soaking up the scenery, our tour bus then took us to Akhibara where we would begin an afternoon shopping tour.

First, Mat, Dave, and I had a light lunch in the Gundam Café, which is based on the anime series, Gundam Wing.  I had a light snack of a couple of chicken wings and some water and my companions played their 3DS machines while I snapped photos.

Soon we were walking the streets of Akhibara, visiting the numerous toy, electronics, and manga shops that littered the area.  In a place as massive as Tokyo, space comes at a premium.  You can’t even own a car unless you own land that you can park it on.  So most people get around Tokyo using foot power, bicycles, or the subway.  Consequently, one didn’t see a lot of traffic in the area.  The lack of space also means that businesses are housed in tall buildings.  Either multiple businesses will occupy an individual floor on the building or the business will have each department on a specific floor.

After wandering around and shopping, our group met up back where we had been dropped off and we caught a subway back to our hotel.  From there we took a night walk around Ikebukuro and ended the evening at an okonomiyaki restaurant.  Okonomiyaki is like a Japanese pizza.  The fillings are mixed into the dough and it is cooked in front of you.  I partook of a shrimp, octopus, and pork okonomiyaki.  The waitress really liked the Son Goku (a character from a series called Dragonball) shirt I was wearing and after dinner, we took a group photo outside of the restaurant doing the Kamehameha wave (Goku’s signature attack).

After an exhausting day, we returned to our hotel to rest and recharge for more adventures.