Return to the Rising Sun, Days 14-15: At the End of the End

And then there were three.  I just finished walking Mat to the train station as his flight leaves at about 10am.  For the remaining three of us, it’s going to be a long day of waiting at the airport.  Their luggage is too heavy to lug around to explore more of Shinagawa and we get the boot from our apartment at 10am.  But I get a bit ahead of myself.

On our last full day in Japan, we left our oh so wonderful house in Kyoto and boarded another Shinkansen which rocketed us back to Tokyo, specifically Shinagawa.  On the train we discussed what we wanted to do.  Originally, Mat (feeling much better) had hoped to visit an onsen or Japanese hot springs.

In years gone by, this was a luxury that would ordinarily be denied to Mat due to his tattoos which were traditionally taboo for onsens.  Japan has begun to lighten up on that decree especially when it comes to gaijin (outsiders).  Though Mat was feeling better, his feet were badly blistered from all of the walking around we had been doing and feared they would not let him in.  Dave was not really interested.  Amy was and so was I.  However that desire was tempered by the knowledge that getting to the onsen would have resulted in a 3 hour round trip train ride. After spending 2.5 hours on the bullet train, I decided I didn’t really want to be trapped on a train for another three hours, especially when I had a 9 hour flight to endure the next day, so I declined.

Instead, we deposited our bags at the train station and went to visit Shibuya.  Shibuya is a famed shopping mecca and is also famed for the legendary dog, Hachiko, and for having the busiest crosswalk (6 ways) in the country, possibly even the planet.  Amy went to do some shopping at the famed Shibuya 109 while the rest of us killed some time at yet another arcade.

With that done, we caught the train to Shinagawa where we would spend our final night.  The place wasn’t too bad and was the first home that actually had some beds.  However, the bathroom was a mold ridden mess.  We spent a few hours relaxing before we headed out to a final group dinner.

We ate at Tsubame, located at Shinagawa Station.  This was easily the best meal we had during the entire trip.  We had two plates of incredible scallops for appetizers and they were basted in garlic and parmesan cheese.  For myself I enjoyed salmon meuniere and had a rare indulgence with a black beer called Kostritzer.

Mat had to get up at the crack of doom so we turned in not long after our dinner.  Being an early riser, I walked Mat back to the airport before returning to pack everything up.

For us, we’ll head to the train station at 10am and catch the Narita Express to the airport where we’ll be in for a long day of waiting before our flight boards at 4pm.  For me, once I recover from the jet lag, it’ll be back to business as usual.  I’ll have about a week off before it’s back to the business of theatre with 2 reviews waiting for me at Omaha Community Playhouse and a special invitation from the Barn Players Community Theatre.  Then I hope to return to the stage myself.

But with these final words, it’s time to officially bring this adventure to a close.

Return to the Rising Sun, Days 11-13: Kicking Back in Kyoto

Day 11

It was time to bid farewell to Hiroshima and begin the next leg of our journey.  So we hopped on the bullet train to begin the trip to Kyoto.

Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and is famed for its numerous shrines (in excess of 1,000!!!)  We had comfortable reserved seating on the Shinkansen which almost felt like a first class trip this time and made it to Kyoto in short order.  A brief ten minute walk led us to our new temporary home.

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Our home in Kyoto.

This was easily the favorite of our lodgings, though we still have one more to visit before this trip is done.  This house was luxurious and could easily accommodate 4 people.  We had a den which held a massage chair to soothe those sore muscles.  A nice living room/dining room area with TV.  A laundry room with a combo washer/dryer unit.  We even had an electronic bathroom with a talking tub.  This tub will fill a hot bath for you at the push of a button and recycle the water to keep it hot during the duration of your soak.  We also had a comfortable upstairs loft.

It was a relief to set down our things and unwind for a bit.  Then some bad news hit.  Mat was ill.  With our guide and resident translator down for the count, I became the de facto guide for our journey for the next couple of days.

In the evening we walked to Aeon Mall, a high-end shopping center near our house to find some dinner.  They had a food court on the fourth floor with a wide variety of food which I was glad of.  I’ve enjoyed the food over here, but I’ve noticed that the menus tend to be similar from place to place unless you hit up a fast food joint.

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Aeon Mall

I found a curry restaurant and ordered chicken in a spicy curry with rice and water for my dinner and enjoyed a tangy, tasty meal.  Afterwards we found yet another arcade and Dave won some more prizes and was now in dire need to buy a new suitcase since he had purchased or won so much stuff on our trip.  Getting one at Aeon Mall was out as its high-end nature made the cheapest bag a mere $200.

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Spicy chicken curry and rice

We put that problem to the side and returned to the house for a well deserved rest.

Day 12

Another Sunday in Japan meant another day without church.  But, again, our little group of 3 (Mat was still unwell) went to a couple of Kyoto’s famed shrines and temples.

We found a little one at first and it seemed like a christening or blessing was taking place for a newborn.  When the new family left, I walked into the area, but the monk held up his hands (a local sign for no) and I stepped right back out.

It was a quick exploration and then we came to Toji Temple.  Now this was an impressive site and dwarfed Meiji Shrine in terms of size.  The hallmark of this Buddhist temple was a 6 story pagoda.  They also had some worship areas and it was very calming to hear the chants and intonations as the worshippers sent prayers to Buddha.  Due to the holy ground, photos were not permitted inside the worship areas, but they had some beautiful statues and art pieces.  They also used a very potent incense which quickly drove me back outside.  Strong incense and I are old foes as I’ve had some fainting spells when exposed to it especially when combined with my other nemeses, high heat and humidity.  I was feeling a little heady and sat down for a moment to clear my head.

When we were done looking around, we stopped at a little restaurant near to our house called Tenkaippin, which ended up being another ramen restaurant.  I had a light and refreshing Assari soup which was made from chicken stock and vegetables and a soy sauce broth.

We returned to the inn after picking up some soup for Mat and relaxed for the afternoon.  As I feared, my exposure to the incense played havoc with my head and it was pounding.  I took a pair of aspirin from Dave and then collapsed for a 2 hour nap.  The combination of aspirin and rest did the trick as I felt remarkably better after I awoke.

It was dinnertime so I led the group back to Aeon Mall where we ate at Kitano Grill and this was probably the best meal of the trip due to its variety.  This menu was unlike those of other restaurants and I ended up choosing a delicious chicken and rice casserole which hit the spot.

With full stomachs, it was back to the house to close out the night.

Day 13

Mat had a little of his vim and vigor back and it would be needed as we would be taking a half-day sightseeing tour that morning.

We went to our meeting place and hopped on a bus that took us to Nijo Castle to start the tour.

Nijo Castle was once the home of the shogun, head of all sumarai and the de facto leader of Japan.  The emperor ruled politically, but the shogun was viewed as the true ruler due to military might.  Nijo Castle really wasn’t a castle, just two sets of large buildings called palaces.  The inner palace was being renovated so our tour was limited to the gardens and outer palace which were both quite impressive.

Like Toji Temple, pictures were forbidden inside Nijo Castle, but there were some beautiful paintings inside and the most interesting thing were the nightingale floors.  Nightingale floors were a security system of feudal Japan and they sing like nightingales when you walk on them.

We spent an hour at the castle before heading to Kitano Tenmangu, a Shinto shrine.  I was surprised to see that, in structure, there is little difference between a Buddhist shrine and a Shinto shrine.  The only real difference is that prayers in a Buddhist shrine are offered to Buddha and in Shinto they are offered to nature.  Again, we enjoyed the beautiful architecture for an hour before heading to our last stop.

Our last stop was the Golden Pavilion, known for its lush gardens and a golden pagoda.  Once more, we spent an hour admiring the gardens, especially a 600 year old bonsai and the gorgeous structures on the grounds.

After this stop, a hard rain began as the result of another typhoon working its way across the country though it’s supposed to clear in a short time.  Our bus took us back to our starting point and Dave took advantage of the shopping center to find a third piece of luggage to lug his swag back to the States.  He was able to find one for the more reasonable price of $98.

Lunch was next on our minds and we found a kaiten belt (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant, not only to have something a little bit different, but would be fair to Mat.  Since you are only charged by the plate, Mat would pay only what he felt equal to eating since his appetite was still tanked.

I enjoyed salmon, shrimp, and roast beef variations of sushi which perked me up.  A veritable cloudburst erupted during lunch so Mat and I walked home in the rain while Amy and Dave went to visit Aeon Mall and the shopping center at Kyoto Avanti respectively.

Mat rested while I conducted some business for my impending return to the States and wrote up this article.  The rain seems poised to keep us indoors for the rest of the night, so only 1 full day left to go before this epic journey reaches its conclusion.

Return to the Rising Sun, Days 9-10: Take the Last Bullet Train to Hiroshima

Day 9

Our time in Kawaguchiko had come to an end and now it was time to do a bit of cross-country travel.  We would be traveling over 1,000 miles to visit Hiroshima and to do so we would need to take the Shinkansen, better known as the bullet train.

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The Shinkansen (bullet train)

The Shinkansen travels at speeds of 200 mph and its truly amazing to blur past buildings, people, and cars while traveling at a rate of over 3 miles a minute.  Before we boarded the bullet train I purchased a famed meal of Japan:  eki-ben (or the bento box).  Eki-ben is essentially a pre-packaged meal.  I picked up one with rice, chicken, pickles, dumplings, and some type of vegetable.  I was also amused by the Smurf-sized bottle of soy sauce for rice.  There was also a tiny packet of hot mustard and I mean HOT.  A little of that stuff went a long way.  I had a pinprick’s worth of the stuff and it cleared my sinuses.

The ride was comfy and fun as I watched the country fly by.  I had to time my photos very carefully so they wouldn’t become a blurry mess.  Amy had the most interesting travel partner as she was seated next to a Buddhist monk and they had a most engaging conversation.

About 4:30pm we arrived in Hiroshima.  We hopped a light rail and rode to the neighborhood where our next apartment would be located.

Our apartment in Hiroshima was well taken care of, but, man, was it tiny.  Supposedly it could sleep the original 6 who were to be part of our group, but getting the four of us in was a rather tight squeeze.  I found it difficult to believe that one person could live in this apartment for an extended period because there simply isn’t much room.

There wasn’t much on our minds except to explore the city a bit.  I was struck by the impressiveness of the city when most of the city had been wiped off the map nearly 70 years prior due to the dropping of the atomic bomb.  This was something we’d learn more about the next day when we visited the Peace Memorial.

Our group visited the main drag where we found a little toy and hobby shop that boasted a retro arcade on the second floor.  Now this was an arcade that suited me.  Pac-Man, Vs. Super Mario Bros., Rygar, Space Invaders:  these were games suited to my tastes.  I passed a bit of time playing Popeye while the rest of the group wandered about the store.

Food was the next thing on our minds so we found a Lotteria’s.  Lotteria’s is kind of an upscale burger joint.  I had a DX burger and fries which were OK.  I didn’t think the quality of the food matched the price.  From there it was more arcading, then back to the apartment for rest.

Day 10

I had washed my clothes in the apartment’s washing machine and left them to dry overnight.  With all the heat and humidity we’d been facing, I’d forgotten how good a fresh pair of clothes could feel as I dressed that morning.

We lounged around for most of the morning before getting some lunch at a nearby KFC.  I had a simple chicken sandwich with some Coloneling potatoes which wasn’t too bad.  After lunch, Mat led our little group to the Rihga Royal Hotel where he and Dave stayed 4 years prior.  It seemed quite luxurious and boasted an impressive staircase in the lobby.

After that we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial which made for the most moving day on this journey.  I can’t properly express the feelings I had as I walked around the museum, but it was very eye-opening to learn about the dropping of the atomic bomb from the point of view of the victims.  The exhibits were quite powerful, sometimes even grisly, as we were educated about the effects and impact of the bomb.  Several people working at the museum were survivors of that tragic day and hearing their stories added a depth and texture that I will never forget.  It was a moment I was glad to have experienced.

At the end of this haunting experience, we hiked back to the main drag where we stopped at Mister Donut for a chewy treat and then gamed a bit more.  Then we returned to our apartment to drop up the prizes of the others and burned a couple of hours before heading out to dinner.

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Mister Donut

Hiroshima is famed for its okonomiyaki, but we didn’t get to eat any.  It was nearly 9pm when we ventured out and none of us knew that Hiroshima closed up early.  Most of the restaurants closed about 9pm so we were forced to visit a McDonald’s before returning to our apartment for the night.

Return to the Rising Sun, Days 7-8: Beautiful Kawaguchiko & A Climb on Mt Fuji

Day 7

The final day in Shinjuku.  We packed up our belongings before heading to Shinjuku Station where we said good-bye to Andrew.  And then there were four.

Mat, Dave, Amy, and I hopped on a train and began the two hour trek to Kawaguchiko which lies at the base of Mt Fuji.  Traveling by train was a very pleasant way to see the country and it was neat to see the crammed buildings of the city begin to give way to foliage and open countryside.  Heck, I finally saw my first gas stations by taking the train.

Kawaguchiko is a very pleasant small town, not unlike the many I’ve visited for my B & B reviews.  And, would you believe it, we actually stayed in a B & B called Koe House.

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Koe House

Koe House is a dormitory style B & B not unlike a hostel.  Because of this, you may room with strangers.  For our first night, we briefly had a roommate from Malaysia who was going to climb Mt Fuji from the very bottom.  He was not in our room for long and left at 11pm.

The room was a little uncomfortable.  My roommates didn’t like the hard bunk beds.  The room was stuffy due to the humidity and the little fan mounted on the wall didn’t do much for circulation, though we got a nice cross breeze going once we opened the windows and the temperature dropped dramatically at night to a very pleasant level.

We had our lunch right across the street at a little ramen joint.  I had a soy sauce and pork ramen which filled the hole nicely.  We then walked off our meal at Lake Kawaguchiko which made for a lovely afternoon.  Afterwards we returned to our room to relax and get cleaned up.  Be certain to bring your own towels as Koe House charges a rental fee for them and for using the laundry (300 yen a load).  There is also no dryer, though there is a rack outside to hang your clothes.

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Soy sauce ramen

We didn’t do too much for the rest of the night except stop at a 7-11 to pick up some light snacks for dinner.  I had a rice ball with some sort of spicy sauce in the center as well as a surprisingly good ham sandwich with the best mayonnaise I’ve ever tasted.  As Mat explained, Japanese mayo uses more vinegar which explains the wonderful tang I got off of it.

Day 8

It was an overcast day, but the temperature was fine.  Ironically, the terrible weather set to plague the area never manifested so we would have been able to climb Mt Fuji, but a decision had to be made and there are no regrets.

We started with breakfast in the small restaurant on Koe House’s first floor.  Breakfast is included in the stay and we dined on eggs, cabbage salad, and thick slices of toast with butter and orange marmalade.  I had never tried marmalade before, but rather liked its taste.

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Koe House breakfast

We did hop a bus and ride to Mt Fuji’s fifth station.  It was interesting being up in the clouds which were so thick that it made getting a decent view difficult though it cleared up from time to time as a light rainfall dissipated the clouds.

After looking around the station (which is very touristy) we began a brief climb on Mt Fuji to get an idea of the experience.  The weariness on the faces of the people returning from the top clearly showed the difficulty of the trek.  You do need to be well rested and in fairly good cardio shape to attempt the climb.

We walked up about a half hour before a rainfall drove us back, but it was enough to get an indicator of the climb.  One would expect to climb for about 20-30 minutes, rest, then repeat the process all the way to the top of the mountain.

Our little group grabbed lunch at one of the restaurants where I had hot green tea, iced cocoa, and a lava ramen.  This was easily the best bowl of ramen I have ever eaten as it hit the spot after I spiced it up even more.  One thing that surprises me is that Japan is known for its small portions, yet the eateries always serve a good sized bowl of ramen.

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Lava ramen

With a good lunch in our systems, we wandered around the gift shops for an hour before returning to Kawaguchiko.  We would have an early start tomorrow so we relaxed in our room and played cards until bedtime.

Return to the Rising Sun, Days 5-6: Wasting Away Again in Harajukuville or Fuji Gets Flushed or It’s Godzilla!!!

Day 5

It was a bright sunny Sunday morning as I knew it would be since I was carrying my umbrella.  But that’s OK because it also doubles as a fine walking stick.

Being in Japan, I realized it was highly unlikely that I would be finding a church to attend, but Mat supplied an event to touch on my spiritual needs when we visited Meiji Shrine.

The place was pretty much the same as the last time we visited, but there was a bit of excitement as we got to witness not one, but two, weddings that were taking place at the shrine that Monday.  It was a pair of moving ceremonies and I was glad to be part of it.

Then we went to Harajuku which I ranked as the blah moment of the trip.  Harajuku is known for its underground culture and for shopping.  I freely admit that shopping bores me to tears.  When I do it, it is a surgical strike as I know exactly what I want and I get it.  I don’t have much desire for knick-knacks or souvenirs and books are out in Japan since I can’t read the language.  So I spent three hours staying in the shade while other members of the party went on a shopping spree.

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On the other hand, Harajuku is also noted for its crepes and Dave paid his “fee” for my booking all the travel for us.  Unfortunately, he accidentally ordered the wrong crepes as I wanted cinnamon apple and gelato and got bananas and cream.  In his defense, he did order the number listed by my crepes, but it was a popularity list and not the number for the crepes I wanted.  I also only ended up eating half of it as it slipped out of my hand while I was tearing the paper.  Fiddlesticks.

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Banana and cream crepes.

From there we went to Mat’s favorite ramen restaurant, Tonkatsu Ramen, which I had eaten at during my last visit to Japan.  The ramen was as good as ever, even though the restaurant goofed by giving me a mild broth instead of the hot and spicy one I wanted.  Well, them are the perils of dealing with a language barrier when ordering food.

After filling our stomachs, Mat led us to his favorite shrine in Akasa.  It was still as peaceful as the last time and we got to watch the monks build a shrine for a festival.

We enjoyed a brief stay before heading off to Akihibara where more shopping was done before we closed the evening at Lion Ginza, a bar and restaurant where we took time to get to know each other better over drinks and food.

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Lion Ginza

Another exhausting day had ended, but the next day was to be filled with frustrations.

Day 6

When it rains, it pours.  Or did I say that once already?

Believe me, the rain that met us that Monday morning blew every other rainfall that we’d experienced out of the water (no pun intended).  Rain fell in sheets and would let up only for a few minutes before intensifying again.

This was meant to be a day for us to rest and recuperate as we were set to tackle Mt Fuji on Tuesday.  Then Mat hit us with the bad news.  We would be forced to pull the plug on the climb up Mt Fuji.

The horrible rain we were suffering through was supposed to continue for the next two days which would have made a climb miserable and difficult (well, more difficult at any rate).  Even worse, the winds were gusting so much that those who oversee the climbs were not allowing people to climb on Monday and Tuesday was set to be a repeat of Monday’s weather.  Sigh.

The good news is that we will be going to Mt Fuji’s 5th station to look around, eat lunch, and view the mountain, but it’s disappointing to lose out on what was to be the centerpiece of the trip.  On the other hand, I have gotten very fit training for the climb.

The rain finally let up enough around noon for us to leave the apartment and do something as we were going stir crazy.  We attempted to try an escape room in Akasaka which claims to be open nearly every day.  Monday was apparently not one of those days as the place was shut tight.  I suspect they are only open when people actually arrange for the tickets as neither the business nor its Facebook page list operating hours.

We hiked another 15 minutes to the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in Europe and Asia.  We stopped for a quick lunch at McDonald’s where I had a Sudden Victory Chicken sandwich and it was delish.  We ended up going up to the observation desk even though the low clouds made it impossible to see very far.  But I did have a small dish of ice cream for dessert and there were a few new exhibits to look at.

From the Skytree we returned to Shinjuku to catch Shin (New) Godzilla or Godzilla:  Resurgence (as it will be known in America) at Toho Cinemas.  I don’t normally watch movies on vacation, but watching a Godzilla film in Japan should be a requirement.  And you don’t need to understand the language to enjoy a Godzilla flick.  Godzilla shows up and chaos reigns.  It’s a formula that’s worked for 31 films.

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Dave ordered the Mega bucket of popcorn. It could and did feed 5 people.

We hit the arcades for a brief spell after the movie before returning to the apartment to pack up our stuff for the next phase of our journey.

 

Return to the Rising Sun, Day 4: Going Home Again. . .Well, Sort of

When it rains, it pours.

And I mean pours.  I awoke at about 4:15am and rain was just coming down in buckets over Shinagawa.  Still, there was something peaceful about listening to the rain pelt the ground as I went to the kitchen to post pictures and write yesterday’s article.

We ended up being pinned inside the apartment until nearly noon when the rain finally let up and cleared.  We decided to make our way to Ikebukuro which had been our base of operations for the Tokyo Maximum tour four years ago.  The place had changed a bit in the intervening four years.  A few new businesses had sprouted and the McDonald’s where we had eaten a few meals had been remodeled.

The first thing we tried was to relocate the Mountain Dew machine for Dave.  Alas, our efforts were for naught as the machine was no longer there.  Instead we walked to the ramen joint that always has a line out the door to find that there was a line out the door.

We debated waiting, but as it was already 1pm, we opted to have okonomiyaki instead.  I settled for a regular okonomiyaki and water while most of the other chose sets which included rice and cabbage salad.  We had a leisurely lunch and then left to start walking around the district.

The sky had clouded up during lunch and a few sprinkles began to fall.  With the sunshine, I had left my umbrella at the apartment.  Dave asked me if I were going to buy a new one, but I declined as a few sprinkles were not going to bother me.  Mother Nature proceeded to call my bluff as the rain began to intensify.  I ran into a nearby 7-11 to purchase yet another umbrella, but Andrew bought one big enough for us to share and we shuffled around the district to Tokyu Hands.

Tokyu Hands is a department store and I took a brief glance around the store before heading outside to wait and did some people watching.  Saturday was a good day to get an idea of the massive population size of the city as the streets were jam packed with people.

Eventually our group came together and began making our way to Sunshine City, though we had a brief stopover at Super Potato, a vintage video game store.  This time Mat’s GPS did not fail as we reached Sunshine City in record time.

Most of the group opted to go to a Pokemon store, but as I had no interest, I watched a rather interesting Hawaiian dance demonstration going on at the bottom of the mall.

When the rest of the group came out of Pokemon, we decided to grab some dinner at Café Miami Garden known for pasta and pizza.  I split a pepperoni pizza with Andrew who kindly picked up the tab.

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After dinner, we spent the rest of the evening at the arcade.  I found a machine that had Elevator Action and played a few rounds on it before teaming up with Mat to do some major league damage on Luigi’s Mansion.

It had been a long day and we returned to the apartment for another night of rest.

Return to the Rising Sun, Days 2-3: Sweltering Shinjuku and Under the Tokyo DisneySea

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Day 2

I slept the sleep of the dead. . . or at least the sleep of the extremely exhausted.

When I awoke the next morning, I had a light breakfast of pancakewich and orange juice and then went downstairs for a bath.

Baths in Japan are an interesting thing.  You actually shower outside of the tub, then get into the tub to soak and relax, if you so choose.  The floor design is arranged so the water falls down a drain in the floor.  As such, the floor gets sopping wet as I learned the hard way.  I had merely tried to take a bath, unaware of this cultural set-up so I left my clothes on the floor while I bathed.  I fetched a fresh set of clothes while I set my first set out to dry.

Our apartment in Shinjuku was small, but comfortable.  On the lower floor were the bathroom, laundry room, a small living room, and a bedroom.  On the upper floor contained a kitchen and 2 more bedrooms.  There was also a toilet with a sink built into the top.  When you flushed the toilet, it turned on the sink, recycling its own water.

With only 1 washroom for 7 people, it took a bit to get everyone bathed and ready for the day.  Once we were we headed over to Sunkus, a local convenience store to pick up some stuff for the others.  While there, I noticed they had my beloved Van Houten Cocoa, so I bought some.

The plan for the day was to wander around Shinjuku, famed for its shopping and restaurants.  Our journey had a bit of a delay as Dave’s niece, Amy, forgot her passport and rail pass, so back we hiked to the apartment to get it.  Then it was back to the train station to get to Shinjuku.

One could spend hours exploring the area, but our explorations were limited to a tiny area due to a thunderstorm that broke out in the area.  Being an island nation, it rains a lot in Japan and a typhoon off the southern edge of the country was triggering more rain than usual as well as sending the humidity right through the roof.

We first visited the Hotel Gracery building which also holds the Godzilla Head and Toho Cinemas.  A new Godzilla movie just opened in Japan (we’re considering going to watch it on a free night) and Toho Cinemas is going all out to celebrate it.  Outside of the movie theater was a picture montage featuring every Godzilla film ever made as well as character designs and fan art.  On the 15th floor of the building was the Godzilla head, built to scale, and it was a pretty cool sight.

While in the building, the rain exploded with a mighty crash, so we ducked into a 7-11 on the bottom floor and bought some umbrellas.  We made a quick stop in Don Quixote’s (similar to a dollar store) and poked around the store.  When the rain didn’t let up, we made a mad dash across the street to Taito Game Station to wait it out.

Japan loves their arcades.  Sadly, even arcades over here are not what they once were as the only new cabinet games they seem to make are fighting and dance games.  But the arcade also had claw machines and a few games outside of the fighting/dance genres.  I played a couple of rounds on Luigi’s Mansion which was quite fun.

By the time the rain let up, we stopped at a restaurant for an extremely late lunch.  But a meal of green tea, pork cutler, rice, miso soup, and cabbage served to restore the inner man.  With our meals tucked away, we headed to Shinjuku Station to pick up Mat’s friend, Andrew, who would be the final member of our little troupe.

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Mauricio suggested we visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Building as it has an observatory on the 45th floor.  I considered this event the highlight of the day as we looked at views of the city just to get an idea of the massiveness of the most populated city on Earth.

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The jet lag and humidity began to take a toll on us and we returned to the apartment to relax and crash.  We were all sound asleep shortly after 9pm.

Day 3

Now this is one of the days I had been looking forward to as we were going to spend the day at Tokyo DisneySea.

For years I was an amusement park junkie and though my tastes have changed a bit over time, I still maintain a soft spot in my heart for Disney parks.  From a financial standpoint, Tokyo DisneySea & Tokyo Disneyland are good deals as the entry fee to each park is less than $100.

Two things worked against us that day.  One, I believe Mat made a minor error by wanting to visit the park on Friday.  He thought the kids would have been in school, leaving the park a bit more open to the grown-ups.  Being Friday, I can’t say I was surprised to see the park pretty full as I imagine parents took the day off to bring their kiddies to the resort.  Also, it was a beautiful day.

The park was a little slow going at first due to the long lines and we only managed to ride 20,000 Leagues  Under the Sea before noon.  We decided to get some lunch to refresh ourselves and ate at a little cantina to try Mexican food done Japanese style.  I had spicy meat tacos which weren’t too bad, though they were not spicy by my standards.  I learned that Japanese people are actually very timid when it comes to spices, so to their tastebuds, this was the equivalent of a four alarm fire.

After lunch, we were able to get on a number of more rides, thanks to Fastpass.  Fastpass is a service that allows you to skip long lines at the more popular attractions.  You get a special ticket to return later in the day and you bypass the main line and get on the ride in about 10 minutes.  You are able to get a new one every two hours.  With this we were able to ride Tower of Terror, Raging Spirits, visit the Magic Lamp Theatre, and voyage with Sindbad.

We finished the Magic Lamp Theatre at slightly after 6pm.  At that point lines for the popular attractions were 90 minutes at a minimum and some were at a mind-blowing 2.5 hours.  I noticed that some people were tired (the humidity was brutal) and I suggested we should head back to Shinjuku. We ended up  hitting every gift shop on the way out.   I would have preferred spending that time waiting for one more ride, but oh, well.

We stopped for dinner at a place called Becker’s which serves burgers and sandwiches.  I had a double bacon BBQ cheeseburger and some fries as I was desperately in need of salt after sweating buckets.

With full stomachs, we returned to the apartment to rest for another night.