Japan 2017 Day 15

Well, this time my bad sleep was due to all the caffeine. It wasn’t that bad though. Finally figured out I was using my earplugs wrong. Hah.

OK, I had to have another Eggslut at Hoshino Coffee. Yesterday they told my sister they don’t sell mugs and I asked and they said they had to order them and it would take a week You can also buy the mugs online but I bet they only sell in Japan. I’ll find out when I get home.

We went to Ogikubo to meet my sister’s friend Jen. Her family just moved way out west from Shibuya and that was a convenient station to meet. We got there early and hung out in a Misudo because the station was a little on the old side and odd. The 24H shopping mall was closed this morning for some reason and it was cold and windy outside.

Ogikubo turned out to be a bust. We walked from Ogikubo to Nishi-Ogikubo which is fine by us because that’s the sort of thing we did the whole trip anyway. I did find a bookstore in Nishi-Ogikubo that had the puzzle book my mom wanted. We also found a tempura restaurant. The tempura came out as it was cooked and this is only half of it. We also had fish, shiso, and mushrooms.

After that it was off to Yokohama to meet Chico. Instead of taking a rush-hour train, we left early and wandered around the harbor. We had about four hours to kill and the harbor area wasn’t crowded at all. I guess the weekends are a different story. Here, in the distance, you can see the red brick warehouse where we went to Bill’s, a famous Australian breakfast spot.

This is the Nippon Maru, a training ship, and I remember it coming to Portland. I kind of think my dad’s buddy’s cousin was on it.

Bill’s had several craft beers on the menu. They even had Kamiktazu beers from guys I met in Portland, but I stuck with the local Yokohama beer.

I had the wagyu burger and it was fantastic.

No trip to Bill’s is complete without the pancakes and these were great as well.

We took the train back to Tokyo and got back about 10:30. Mariko usually was asleep by that time most nights so it was a little late for us, but worth it.

Japan 2017 Day 14

Do you need to hear another story about how I couldn’t sleep? How this room in the Nishishinjuku Hotel seems to have a leaky window that lets cold air and all the street noise in? Probably not. I don’t even remember any of my weird dreams this night. I did almost crack my head open on the post that’s inexplicably next to my bed and the chanting from the Buddhist temple starts around 5:30 or 6AM (I didn’t actually get up to check the time).

It’s  not a big deal though. We started out the day at Hoshino Coffee, of course.

No pictures of the food because it’s the same as when I was here on my own.

After that we did some more shopping in Shinjuku and headed for the Toto display room. They have flooring, windows, as well as complete bathrooms set up for people to order from. I thought it was just going to be a series of toilets lined up but it’s really for people who are ready to purchase materials for their building or remodeling. But they didn’t mind us wandering around as tourists.

You know what was downstairs? A Shake Shack! I finally get to try the burger that Sean, Nathan, and Erin told me was their favorite. It didn’t live up to the hype, but what could? I found it to be a bit too salty at first but I really liked the crunch on the surface of the burger. If Five Guys could get that crunch, they’d be better by a mile. I think I’d pick Burnside Brewing over this burger. I know this is just supposed to be a fast-food burger, but from what I hear there’s no getting through the line quickly at Shake Shack.

After that we were meeting Mariko’s friend Yumeko in Ebisu. We had time to kill, so I suggested going to Shibuya and walking south. That was good for Mariko because we found something she was looking for –  a can of Coffee Plus Coca-Cola. She didn’t want to drink it, she wanted to give it to me as her guinea pig.

Well, Coffee Plus Coca-Cola tastes like someone mixed a can of Japanese can coffee with Coca-Cola. But then you’d have to bump up the carbonation to get what I drank. Anyway, it was almost awful. Not really awful, just almost.

We met Yumeko for coffee and talked for hours.

We even went to a cake shop afterwards for tea and cake which almost did us all in. The slices of cake were huge and we all finished most of it when we really should have stopped at half. I was planning to make a trip to the Watering Hole after dinner tonight, but all I could stomach for dinner was a bottle of soda water and some chips.

I guess there is such a thing as eating too much on vacation.

Japan 2017 Day 13

Why am I having so much trouble sleeping? I guess I’ve been a light sleeper for a while. Ugh. I heard people out in the hallway at midnight and then at 3AM and it woke me up. I did have an interesting dream about a buddy becoming a Mormon priest with a collar and everything. It doesn’t make any sense, but what dreams do?

It was nice to be at a familiar place, though. Toyoko Inn was only ¥10,022 for two rooms for the night and we got free breakfast as well.

I had no idea how close I was cutting it, but we walked to the train station, bought our ekiben, and then only had a couple minutes on the platform before we got on the train. Here’s my bento.

The Shinkansen trip wasn’t bad, though the people behind us seemed a bit nuts. His iPhone kept going off and for the first hour or so (the trip took about four hours) he kept pushing his suitcase into my seat.

The view of Mt Fuji was obscured by clouds today.

We made it to Shinjuku and did some more shopping (as we do) and stopped in a random coffee shop in the afternoon. They had a wagashi and coffee special which we enjoyed.

After that we checked into the Nishi Shinjuku Hotel and then went out to dinner. Dinner was the Soup-ya which we have been going to for years now. I got their “new” special.

When we left the restaurant, it was raining! That’ll teach me to watch the weather reports. I didn’t go to the Watering Hole for a beer because it’s a 20 minute walk, mostly in the open, and who needs to walk in the rain in Japan? As my aunt says, the rain is different here than in the US. Let’s hope there’s a dryer day for me to get my beer. I got a can of craft beer from Lawson instead.

Japan 2017 Day 12

My opinion is changing about the hotel we stayed at last night only because I actually slept pretty well. I’m not sure it had much to do wit the hotel, but any reason to think better of the place is good, right?

The breakfast that came with the room was pretty impressive. Not the best taste-wise, but there sure was a lot to eat. Surprisingly there were two women in marathon clothing who were eating there as well. I’m not sure it was the best idea to eat this traditional Japanese breakfast, but as my sister says, “You do you.”

After that it was on the train to meet AJ who was going to drive us to watch Yumi run the marathon. We got there about the time the 3-3:30 pace runners were going by. We went to meet Yumi’s parents on the marathon course near 26km, and I found them just in time to see her brother run by. Yumi’s parents had Salonpas spray (sort of like Bengay spray, if it exists) and were providing it to runners.

Sorry, I don’t have the pictures, but my sister does. She even has a great video of AJ cheering the runners. You don’t often see a tall black guy yelling “Gambatte!” in rural Japan and it made everyone smile.

Here’s a picture near where we were standing of a guy harvesting rice.

We had dinner with Yumi and her running club, but we spent most of the afternoon hanging out with AJ. Lunch at Mos Burger (no pictures this time) and some driving around. I saw this guy with a big fishing boat on the back of a mini-pickup truck like they have here in Japan. We were wondering how it was attached and if it was safe to ride behind him.

Somehow we ended up in the Okayama Aeon Mall (the third largest in Japan?) I think it was probably because I suggested finding some craft beer so I could do some day drinking. It was afternoon, so probably more like happy hour.

After that we checked into a familiar Toyoko Inn east of Okayama Station, and then dinner with Yumi and her running club!

Japan 2017 Day 11

Today was another travel day from Fukuyama to Kurashiki, which is much closer to Okayama which is where we really want to be. Because of the marathon, we’re doing all sorts of nutty things. We went to Okayama, to meet Mariko’s friend Yumi who is running in the marathon. We went with her to pick up her marathon packet.

And here’s her number!

From the left, Yumi’s co-worker AJ from Baltimore, me, Yumi, Mariko in the middle of the poster, and Yumi’s brother, who I’d never met, on the right.

The marathon also came with a fair, and the fair included lots of things you wouldn’t expect in the US. Including Okayama craft beer!

Yakiniku sandwiches form Niimi that were surprisingly great.

 Maybe not enough meat, but the bun was fluffy, and the mayonnaise-based spread was delicious. Way better than AJ and I were expecting and we even talked Mariko and Yumi into getting them as well.

There was also a stand with steak from Tsuyama, where they only produce two cows a month. There was a group of four by the grill, one grilling while three watched him and the steak was fantastic. I guess if it’s only two cows a month you want guys making sure it’s cooked correctly.

Just the process of getting the steak into the dish was something to watch.

After that Yumi had to run some errands and we went with her. While she was getting her foot taped, AJ and I went to a famous pork bun spot that was delicious. I’m used to the quality of pork bun that they have in the convenience stores where you really need the seasoning and mustard to make them palatable. This did not need either condiment, though they were provided.

After that we went for dinner then Yumi called it a very early evening. Mariko and I are now in an unnamed hotel in Kurashiki. Mariko swears Kurashiki is a great place, but it’s a total shithole after dark. Lots of drunks of all ages. Some rough looking guys and flashily dressed single (working?) women on their way from sketchy cars to wherever they’re going.

And the hotel is a true dump that cost $300 for the night. It doesn’t just need a renovation, it needs to be torn down and rebuilt. I think the room rate is a 5x markup for the marathon and I didn’t pay much more for the club floor of a high-class hotel in Kyoto. It’s the only thing that was open and what we have to do so Mariko can visit Yumi so I should just shut my piehole.

Japan 2017 Day 10

Hoo boy. I thought this quiet spot would allow me to get some sleep but no luck. For some reason my cold room got extra hot after I turned on the heat pump and set the temperature to be 20°C. That should be about 68°F. Anyway, we got up and went to get our breakfast. We picked the Japanese breakfast and this is what we got. The egg isn’t cooked yet and there is a little block of Sterno or whatever heating the plate.

We had some time before we had to catch the train at 10:10AM, so we went for a walk to the beach. This is a couple of blocks from the Hikari train station and where my mom used to swim as a kid. No one swims here after the end of August even if the weather is nice because the water fills full of jellyfish.

 

It was a quick walk to the train station and just a few stops before we caught the shinkansen. I think there have been improvements to this train station, but, as you can see, there’s not much to improve. There’s no electronic ticket machine, but instead of the old-fashioned ticket punch, there’s a pincer-style rubber stamp.

Two 20-minute Shinkansen rides later, we were in Fukuyama. We’re really only here because we couldn’t get rooms in Okayama. For once it’s not because of Chinese tourists. It’s because of the Okayama Marathon.

There’s not a whole lot to do here, but we got some tourist maps and stopped at Mister Donut to check them out.

First stop, which was a bust, was to try to find Fukuyama Craft Heart Brewery. Well, we found it but it seems to be someone’s project in a garage space of the Benefit Hotel. The taps in the hotel restaurant didn’t appear to be running and after a bit of a wait we were told we could buy bottles but that was about it. So we went walking through the overly quiet streets of Fukuyama on the way to Myooin Temple and Kusado Inari-Jinja. On the way we found ourselves in a ¥100 store and a Seven-Eleven.

Here’s a view from the Hoonjibashi Bridge. We were hoping to cross those red arched bridges in the middle of the picture, but they just appeared to lead from a road with no sidewalk to a highway with no sidewalk. I’m not really sure what the point of them is.

Here’s Myo-o-in Temple, which according to the intarwebs, was built in the 1300’s.

There’s a pagoda next to the temple and here’s a bad picture of it.

Very near the temple is Kusado Inari Jinja. I can find a lot more on the googles for the jinja, but it all appears to be pictures. I guess being temple red/orange makes it more photogenic.

There are stairs to the upper temple that you can climb and get a nice view.

There was one group of business people at the temple and one family at the shrine. This is the opposite of what I saw in Tokyo and Osaka, and what seems to be happening all over Japan. The outlying areas are shrinking.

We walked back to the hotel and Mariko did some laundry. I just read nonsense on the intarwebs, as I do.

We went back to the station for dinner and I had unagi. I’m not taking a picture of Mariko’s fine maguro and avocado because it only cost a third of what I got. Hiroshima has weird ideas of how to eat unagi, and while I did use the tororo, I didn’t do all the ochazuke stuff they expect you to do.

And that’s about it for today. I’m hoping for a quiet, uneventful night in this Toyoko Inn. Finger’s crossed.

Japan 2017 Day 9

I actually slept well last night! I guess it’s probably because I got to sleep early and for some reason I woke up at different times through the night. My sleep was disturbed differently than I’m used to.

In any case, today we went to visit my aunt and cousins in Hikari-shi, Yamaguchi Prefecture which is really in the middle of nowhere but conveniently near an almost-abandoned shinkansen station. There is some industry nearby, some oil refineries and a shinkansen manufacturing plant, but there sure doesn’t seem to be a whole lot going on otherwise. Tokuyama Station used to be a bustling area but now they roll up the streets at 6PM.

Anyway, still have to visit the relatives, and luckily my cousin’s kid and grandkid were there. I last saw them two years ago when the grandkid was just born!

We started the day at Pronto because we found out that a lot of the other coffee shops didn’t open until 8:30. Weird. Then it was off to the bullet train. I guess the Nozomi stops at random small stops a couple times a day so it was good we didn’t get a rail pass. Otherwise it would have been the slowest bullet train, the Kodama, to get here.

I will spare you the family stuff, but my sister and slipped away to do some shopping at the local “mall”, the Jusco. Jusco seems to have lost the McDonalds, but they did have their usual clothing and odd specials. The grocery store also had an odd selection of beers including a special display that had bottles of Rogue and Terminal Gravity.

Fine, here’s a picture of me and my aunt.

And here’s dinner! I’m removing the picture of my cousin’s grandkid because I never asked permission to take her picture.

We’re staying at one of the hotels in town tonight and it’s quite inexpensive. I’m hoping it’ll be quiet because the doors are pretty thin and I’ve heard an ambulance go by every half-hour or so. Better than a train every five minutes, I guess. The room is also huge compared to the big towns. I think my sister wins though. She got a larger room with a larger bed. At least my toilet was “Sanitarized.”

Japan 2017 Day 8

Oh boy. I slept eight hours, waking up a couple of times, and I was dragging when the alarm went off. Ah well. It was a rainy morning anyway and we got a late start and I wanted to try the hotel’s breakfast buffet. It’s a standard Japanese buffet and I should’ve taken a picture of the perfectly round sunny-side-up eggs. Actually, I think they were basted or whatever you call it when you cover them and steam them for a bit. Here’s a picture of round two for me.

Being that it was rainy, we just tried to make the most of just going underground from place to place. Did some shopping and wandered around a couple of underground shopping streets. As I was expecting, lots of places were way too hot and humid.

Made it to Nana in the Grand Front Osaka building for lunch.

Also went to a couple of places in the Hankyu Department store. All places we’ve been before but really both my sister and I just like wandering around Japan even if it’s familiar.

Plus, the food is great. We went back to Grand Front Osaka for okonomiyaki. We went to the okonimiyaki store in the north tower, but it’s on the hipster food floor with loud techno and they require you to buy one item and one drink. It was weird. In the south tower there are two okonomiyaki stores side-by-side and we tried the one that I hadn’t been to before. This one was weird too because you put the sauce and toppings on yourself.  They came out nekkid.

Here’s how they should look.

They were tasty, but they fell apart as you ate them. I think next time if I have the choice, I’m going back to the store on the left. (All counters, no tables.)

Japan 2017 Day 7

Kind of a limited day today and for some reason I was still sleepy. Did I sleep well? No. I’m thinking that this aging thing isn’t agreeing with this jet lag thing. However, the morning was the time to rally and get some breakfast. Of course my sister wanted to go to Pronto, especially because it’s really cheap.

Then it was back to the hotel before my sister had her appointment to get her hair cut by a hairdresser who used to work in NYC and has cut Donald Trump, Jr’s hair. I think she now has cooties. I noticed that I only had another day’s worth of clothes left, so I did laundry while she was at the salon. The New Hankyu Hotel Annex (which really isn’t very new if you look at the fixtures) doesn’t have an on-site coin laundry like many Japanese hotels do and they sent me to a place in the neighborhood that was in the same direction as my sister’s hair salon appointment. So while she was pampered, I got to stand around here.

The view out front was equally awesome.

I saw a Sagawa Express office, and it had a sign that said it was open 8-5, but the door was locked. We went back to the hotel so I could ship the books that my cousin had given me for my mom. You can ship things directly to the airport very near the check-in counters which is very convenient, but Sagawa Express really didn’t know what I was talking about. The hotel sent us on a merry chase to an office that was a block further than they let on and this office was also 8-5 and locked. The building manager tried to get us some help but we just had to wait for a truck to finally pull up. And the guy in the truck had no idea what I was talking about.

So, just like last year, I took a taxi to the south side of the station and went to Kuroneko Yamato Express, and they sent my package to the airport for me in a Sagawa Express box.

After that my sister had much better luck returning an item to Mont Bell that was destined to be too small for my brother-in-law, and we went to Yodobashi Camera’s restaurant floor for lunch. We went to an omurice shop that we’ve been to before, and I ate way too much Japanese curry.

We went through all the floors of Yodobashi Camera and they don’t seem to be nearly as good as they used to be. One floor is completely under construction and the clothing floors are missing large sections of stores, including the t-shirt shop we were looking for. They also seem to be missing some of the electronics stores I was expecting to see. I guess it’s all just progress.

For some reason my sister and I were quite tired and decided to go to Toki (our usual matcha dessert stop) for a treat. I finally filled up my points card and next time I get ¥500 off!

Then it was back to the hotel for the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening my sister wanted to check out some shops in Grand Front while I went to visit my old co-worker Moriwaki-san and his wife. We ate at a yakitori restaurant where you ordered on a tablet computer. The floors were surprisingly slippery as if they’d coated them with cooking oil, but the yakitori wasn’t bad.

Afterwards Moriwaki asked if I wanted to see anything in particular and I said we should try Minoh Beer. Last time we went they were closed (they close at 9PM) and this time we arrived around 8PM.

I had a seasonal beer that is supposed to be infused with maple leaves which tasted sweet and grape-like and I also had their prize-winning W-IPA. It’s good, but not my favorite. I think that’s what I was told I’d say by some other Portland beer aficionados.

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And that’s it for the day!

Japan 2017 Day 6

This jet lag thing isn’t getting better very quickly. I guess that just means I’m getting old. My sister didn’t have the greatest time with it either, but that didn’t stop us from getting out for breakfast. We decided to go to the Tully’s in the Mainichi Broadcasting building, and in true Seattle form they kind of half-assed the food. It was tasty, but the toast wasn’t warm. Mariko had an egg sandwich and she wasn’t impressed either.

It was a beautiful day and Mariko wanted to go to the old Expo ’70 site. We went when we were 4 and 5. It’s a park now, and it was a great day for walking outside. They still have the Tower of the Sun, which is 230’ tall and a little creepy.

I have to take at least one selfie.

First thing we saw were signs for the “Cosmos Festa” so we followed those signs only to find that we’re a few weeks too late.

My sister wanted me to take a picture in one of the whoozits seats.

I didn’t take many more pictures of the park, but it’s pretty enough. Good if you want to get away from the busy city, but nothing special. Here’s one of the monorail we took to get there, and of the biggest Ferris Wheel in Japan that we rode.

I think it’s 123m tall and attached to a shopping mall/sports complex.

Here’s another view of the expo park. The green area to the left of the Tower of the Sun is the part we mostly explored. Behind and to the right of the tower is a museum and open spaces and right to the right is a kid’s play area. No sports allowed and it has an entry fee.

The floor of the gondolas are clear, but they cover most of it with a rug. There’s a hole in the rug where you can look down.

We just went to a random restaurant in a random mall on the way back to Umeda for lunch. It was pretty good.

After that we headed back, and in the evening we visited my cousin. She had a bunch of books that I have to take home to my mother.

And that was the day.

Japan 2017 Day 5

Another semi-fitful night of sleep, but that’s my fault for drinking a bit last night. I wish I could remember all the weird dreams I had but mostly I just didn’t sleep enough. Not many pictures today, too, because my sister and I just wandered around Umeda doing some shopping and they really frown upon taking pictures in the stores. But food pictures I have.
We started out with breakfast at a little coffee shop very near the hotel, but underneath the train tracks. Pronto can get pretty loud at times because of the trains, but it’s cheap and the coffee isn’t terrible.

My sister and I were both tired from the day before and lack of sleep, so we wandered a bit before heading to Starbucks for more caffeine and to wait for the stores to open around 10:30AM. Then we shopped at Loft Department Store. Or she did as I didn’t buy anything. Then it was off to wander around Umeda.
Next stop was massages (reflexology?) at Queensway. You don’t take off your clothes and, in fact, they put a blanket on top of my clothes to massage through. I passed out several times during the 30 minute massage. I don’t remember what all we did before we got to lunch at a bakery we’ve been to before, foodscape! It’s not a long walk from Umeda and it was a beautiful day.

We went back to Umeda afterwards, visiting Uniqlo and Tokyu Hands as well as getting train tickets for the rest of the trip. The guy at the ticket counter was humorless and didn’t seem to like us much, but whatever. He got us our tickets.
After that we went to Yodobashi Camera, and then back to the hotel.
After that it was mostly just dinner and Uniqlo, where I actually bought some stuff that I thought I’d leave until we got to Tokyo, but the sale was this weekend for some of the things. But don’t let me skip over dinner. Five years ago I went to a tonkatsu restaurant that I thought was better than the rest of the good tonkatsu restaurants I’ve been to and I wasn’t disappointed. I forgot to get the name of the restaurant again, but it’s in the basement of the Umeda Arts Theatre and I hope to be going again!

Japan 2017 Day 4

Well, I sure didn’t sleep well last night. It must be travel jitters or something. I had all sorts of weird dreams and I swear there was some reason I was supposed to sync up two of my programs or something. Yeesh. Well, I still got up at the same time and went to Hoshino Coffee again. I think the strong coffee is too strong sometimes! Maybe I’m just a wimp.

After saying goodbye to the big celebrity at the hotel, it was time to pack everything into one bag since I mailed most of the gifts that were filling up my suitcase. If I buy any more crap I’ll have to go back to using a suitcase and a duffel bag, but right now I don’t even have my suitcase expanded.

It was mostly an uneventful trip to Osaka. I fell asleep soon after leaving Tokyo and didn’t wake up until the little old lady next to me starting going around trying to take pictures of Mt Fuji. That’s always hard on a train that’s going 300 km/h (186 mph). Something is always getting in the way.

Before leaving Tokyo Station I bought lunch, an ekiben. I had to brave the crowds in the store and reject a bunch of different options, mostly sliced beef, before I found one that seemed more traditional.

And it was!

I made it to my hotel to ditch my bags (check-in wasn’t for another couple of hours) and it was raining! That didn’t last long, but it was colder and windier than I expected. I wandered all over Osaka Station looking for a map of the craft beer shops which I never did find but with time to kill I stood in a line to watch a VR presentation of Panasonic’s home goods. Not that great for the 25 minute wait in the cold but I did get a free mini-tape measure that looks like a microwave.

I can’t remember what other nonsense I got myself into. I do remember fighting with the WiFi on my laptop before giving up and borrowing a network cable from the front desk and searching for a place to eat. I ended up going to Molto! on the 31st floor of one of the Hankyu buildings. They wouldn’t seat me at the window, but all I had to do is look over my shoulder to see the view. I was there for the beer and for some dinner anyway.

I ordered something that I thought would be a beef pot pie but it was beef in pastry dough!

And I was going to follow up with a salad, but I ended up with the smoked plate, where everything must’ve been flash smoked because it tasted smoky but the fish was very moist and almost like sushi.

It wasn’t nearly as expensive as I thought it might be, but it was still ¥6200 or so (~$54).
I was walking home and I knew there was another Molto!, a standing bar, on the way and they had beer from some of the Japanese brewers I met. Even one from Tsutsui-san who I just visited. So I headed in for a quick drink (hah). The other Molto! made me fill out a form to become a “member” and that meant I got a free snack!

That beer looks like a pint, but it was only a glass, so I felt bad about only having one. That lead to a couple more small glasses (from brewers I know!) and that lead to me talking to the paralegal who was standing next to me, and that lead to her taking me to another bar, and that lead to me getting back to the hotel just before my sister at around 11PM instead of 7:30PM if I had avoided the second Molto! altogether. In case you’re wondering, I left the poor woman to her own devices after the second bar and she was pretty tipsy.
And there’s my Osaka adventure so far.

Some people don't believe my luck.

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