All posts by Hisashi T Fujinaka

Japan 2023: Day 18

Oh boy, I ate too much. But that’s at the end of the day.

Today I met my friend Yumi and since she knew about my back she suggested going to an onsen. I had no idea she’d drive so far. But first, I had breakfast at the Greenberry’s just down the street from the hotel. The yogurt even had granola in it! Quite tasty.

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Then Yumi came to get me for the hour-and-a-half drive up to Yubaru Onsen. On the way we stopped at a soba shop that’s only open on the weekends and is quite popular.

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We arrive just before opening so we got in right away but the lines formed soon after. The lady kept saying their tempura was said to be tasty and she totally undersold it. It was better than the tempura-only shops I’ve been to. And it was “shin-soba” made from recently harvested buckwheat just two days ago!

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Picture from Yumi of some old guy with his soba.

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Then it was on to Yubaru Onsen. There’s even a free open-air onsen there which was full of naked dudes including one who was just standing around smoking. If you zoom in (and I don’t suggest it) you can see him when he was being more modest, holding a towel in front of him. But when he grabbed his cigarette he threw the towel over his shoulder. There was a woman there too but she was wearing something close to a bathing suit from the olden times.

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Yumi’s picture that shows the bathing suit which looks like a green blob in the lower middle. Haha.

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Yumi’s picture of some old guy after getting out of the onsen and having some strawberry-flavored water.

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So on the way back we stopped at a city with a famous sake brewery and it was an old town with castle ruins. They were having a sake festival and I had some kuromoji ice cream. I think kuromoji is a kind of wood. Too lazy too google it right now.

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It was a quaint old town and since we were both sleepy after the onsen, we stopped at a random coffee shop. At first we thought it wasn’t really open, even though there was a sign outside, because it was full of records and knick knacks. I had a great peach soda and Yumi said the coffee was surprisingly good. He even brought us tea and rice crackers and the whole thing only cost ¥1000!

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And then it was back to Okayama, where we went for yakiniku. I overate, but even worse I proved to myself that I shouldn’t EVER eat garlic. Woo, the gas. The meat was awesome and the restaurant has a Showa theme. Or it sort of did. It’s been around that long!

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We even went for dessert (where my guts started to complain) and luckily Yumi gave me a taste of her creme brulee.

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And that’s it for the night. Fortunately my stomach feels much better now!

Japan 2023: Day 17

Not many pictures today. Slept OK, I’d probably give it a B-. In any case, I got up, ate some breakfast at Tully’s again, and realized I was very early for my train ticket that I bought yesterday.

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I went to try adjusting it to an hour earlier and they pointed at this sign:

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I did not read it but they said the Marine Liner is stopped. That’s the one that goes across the Seto Ohashi to Okayama, and it’s stopped due to heavy winds. I think it also says the Uzushio from Tokushima to Matsuyama is stopped as well. I asked if they had any other trains and they said not at the moment. I asked if my fare went poof and they said no, they’d refund the whole thing. That was about 9AM. OK, so time to figure out what else to do.

I went to the bus terminal and asked about buses to Okayama and they sent me to the local bus terminal. I guess there’s two buses each day, one around 8AM and one around 5PM. No other options. So back to the highway bus terminal with me to find another way off of Shikoku. I found two companies side-by-side. The first one told me the 10AM bus was full and the next one was 11AM. I saw there was a 10:30AM on the other side and they were nice and told me to try that first. Open seats were available but only sitting in the middle (a weird seat that blocks the aisle). Nope, back to the first counter and now I have a couple of hours to kill.

There are some good parts to taking a bus. I wondered what going across the bridges to Awaji Island were like and almost drove across the southern bridge yesterday. It’s better to ride the bus since it let me look out to see if there were any whirlpools (there were not). And the northern bridge was just a bridge. Nothing really special.

Since I didn’t trust my online sources (one said the Shinkansen was delayed as well), I stood in line at the Shin-Kobe ticket to ask at the ticket counter. And I figured I could buy my Okayama to Tokyo ticket at the same time. Met a guy in line who owns a packaging company up in Seattle and he was a hoot to talk to. He’s married to a Japanese woman from Kobe. Then I got my short ticket to Okayama (30 minutes) and my long ticket from Okayama to Tokyo (more like 4 hours). I also bought an ekiben because I was hungry. I hoped I’d have space to eat it and the train wouldn’t be packed.

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It was pretty good. Probably not “kobe beef” good but meh. I’ve been suckered by tourist stuff this whole trip. I didn’t need to worry, I got an aisle seat and the window seat was not taken.

I got to Okayama just after 2pm, about two hours late. It was freezing. I checked in since this hotel starts checkin at 2pm and sat in the room for a bit. I did walk around the neighborhood and took my expensive Momotaro jeans in for repair again, just like last year. And the Mister Donut is back! Not sure why they closed but it seems to be in the same spot. I bought a silly donut and it wasn’t great (wasn’t expecting it to be) but it also wasn’t awful.

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And the I wandered around the station underground and the coin flip app told me to get the same ramen I had last year.

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The broth I tried this year has a flying fish base, I think, and it was a little on the light side. I like it a bit more salty. The fatty pork char siu was great and I even got a rice bowl with seasoned char siu on the side. Next time I’m probably back to the one soy sauce flavored broth that is flavored with fish, pork, and chicken.

And that’s about it. I’m meeting our friend Yumi tomorrow and we’re going to hit some onsen. I’m having dinner with her brother and his family too. Should be fun!

Japan 2023: Day 16

More mistakes were made.

I decided it was time to sleep in. Being an old man, I usually am in bed by 10 and get up at 6, but with my spotty sleep I’ve been pretty tired when the alarm goes off. I set the alarm for 7 but of course I first woke up around 5:45. It was pretty nice except that my room is 26.5°C according to the A/C and that’s 80°F. I woke up in a sweat and got the worst cramp in my inner thigh. I’m so lucky I have that massage gun. It took some doing to get that worked out, but I was able to get back to sleep. I also found some Ca/Mg/Zn “with BioPerine” today so I’m going to take some of that as well.

But first, breakfast at Tully’s. It’s no Drip-X-Cafe but it’s also not that bad. It’s a sad tiny eggamuffin but I think they used Camembert cheese which is very flavorful. And the coffee is large and at least not completely weak.

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Another reason to sleep in was the tourist information office didn’t open until 10am. I thought I gave it enough time but they weren’t open when I first got there so I went to buy a train ticket for tomorrow. Then back to ask how to get to Isanagi-jingu Shrine, which kind of looks a little overdeveloped for the middle of Awaji Island. I also thought I could hit the amusement park but the weather forecast was iffy and the tourist bureau guy told me I should probably just head to Iya Gorge and the scary vine bridge that Chris Broad had on YouTube. It’s about time for the fall colors.

So then I started walking for an HOUR looking for a car to rent. JR Station Rent-a-car looked so tiny and iffy that I just kept walking. The paper map I was given wasn’t that great and it took forever to find Nippon Rent-a-car who said they were all booked out. Yeah, I’m still flying by the seat of my pants and didn’t even call ahead. They told me Toyota Rent-a-car had the most stock and modified the map for me crossing out places that no longer existed. Off I went. Toyota was the least friendly and just sent me on to Orix. Orix said they were pretty booked out but they might have a car if I waited. I got a kei car, which has a 550cc engine, I think, and once I found out that it could drive on the expressway I took it. Not that I had any other options.

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When I looked in my wallet my AMEX card was missing! I thought about taking a taxi back to the station because the only place I used it was the JR ticket counter. But they completed the transaction with my Apple credit card and convinced me to drive to the station, a rather busy part of the city. Adventure!

Luckily traffic wasn’t all that bad and the parking lot was mostly empty. And my AMEX card was at the ticket counter! Phew. Even better, I was there such a short time that I wasn’t charged for parking.

Off I went through town to the expressway.

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It’s about an hour and a half on the expressway and a lot of it looked like this. One lane in each direction and a truck in front of me. Which is good because the speed limit was 70kph (45mph!) or 50kph in the construction zone (31mph!). Yeah, I got it up to 100kph a couple of times which is still only 62mph.

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There were passing lanes and it did widen to two lanes for a while. Of course there were speedsters but I was in a kei car. I tried to keep it at about 85kph (53mph). I’m not Moriwaki, who said he got his Jag up to 300kph once. No way around it, that sounds sketchy.

So an hour and a half on the expressway and another 50 minutes or so on country roads. The navigation system kept telling me to watch my speed and I wanted to tell it YEAH, I’M SPEEDING BUT I’M TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH TRAFFIC.

Holy hell I was in the middle of nowhere. But I kind of knew it was a tourist area because the one rest stop I found had a Lawson and a Montbell shop!

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Nothing else for miles! Or I should say for kilometers! Not even a vending machine.

I wasn’t that hungry so lunch was from Lawson. I would recommend a hard pass on the snow cheese chicken.

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The GPS took me to a railway station that wasn’t close to where the rope bridge was, but I used my phone with Google Maps and also the signs on the road that told me which way to go. And when I got there I saw ¥400 parking and I kind of knew it was a tourist trap. Well, I’m a tourist so whatever. There was a giant hall which looked like a US grocery store but was a Japanese gift store. Then it was off to the bridge.

The Abroad in Japan YouTube channel showed a scary vine bridge that looked like it could fall at any moment and Chris Broad acted frightened to cross it.

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In reality it costs ¥550 to cross and there was a bus full of elderly Chinese tourists ahead of me crossing the bridge.

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And it’s pretty obvious that there’s vinyl-covered steel cables holding up the bridge with decorative vines wrapped around them.

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I talked to a Japanese couple who crossed at the same time and we had a chuckle. Here’s a view from the middle of the bridge.

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The worst part is that I came up to see the fall colors and there’s a chance that they aren’t happening this year. I saw lots of trees with brown leaves and the parking lot attendant told me that most of the leaves just turned brown and fell off this year because the temperature just suddenly dropped. I did find one single tree with red leaves.

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Then I drove back through the rain and it was starting to get dark at 3:30pm. But when I got back to Tokushima the weather was pretty nice. The only hard part was the minimal rush-hour traffic and the GPS driving me around in circles. Oh, and then trying to find a gas station.

I got back and I still wasn’t hungry. I decided just to give Lotteria a go and DON’T TRY THE BACON CHEESEBURGER unless you want a ham cheeseburger. And a tiny ham cheeseburger at that. It was, um, bad? Well, not bad, but not good. Mos Burger is still at the top of my list.

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The fries were surprisingly good, though they were over-salted. And I got a melon soda because that’s not a typical thing in the US.

I went up to the bath early and I kept thinking I smelled like shit. Then I thought it must be the onsen water. Then I looked at the drain and found a present someone had left for me. Ugh. Well, I reported it on the way out but yeesh. And yes, sometimes onsen water does kind of smell like that.

So, there’s Tokushima for you. Pluses and minuses and dumbass me not planning ahead making things harder. And the food, in general, was underwhelming. And my weird Japanese skills are getting weirder and weirder. The guy at the tourist trap parking lot asked me if I was from Yamaguchi. Hahaha. And here I thought I had my Kansai-ben down.

Japan 2023: Day 15

Mistakes were made.

I started out the day with breakfast! I didn’t sleep as well as last night because early on I was getting up a lot to go to the bathroom. (TMI section: why is it that when I wake up at night I actually have to go to the bathroom, but during the day it seems like I want to go but there’s no volume?) I thought back and realized I tried not to drink anything after dinner, but I did get sobayu after I finished eating and drink all of the soba tsuyu. (You can google that if you want, it’s not TMI.) Oh, and as I packed up i noticed this by my garbage:

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No wonder I was getting up all the time.

Anyway, the Daiwa Roynet buffet was fantastic, in a huge room, and had an omelet bar! You can see from the selection that I am Japanese-American. I kind of loaded up because I kind of knew I wouldn’t get lunch.

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It was another beautiful day and the first thing I did was got a taxi to the ferry. Then an hour wait for a two-and-a-half hour ferry ride that was hot and quite boring. Once I looked out and thought, hey, I know some of those landmarks, we’re almost there but my watch showed we had another hour to go. The only excitement was during my hour-long wait to get onto the ferry. One of the workers was wearing Hanshin gear. I wondered if he is a megafan or if he lost a bet.

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Once I got off the ferry it was a long bus ride to the train station and the Hotel Sunroute Tokushima. I dropped off my bag and limped myself over to the tourist information bureau to ask about seeing the whirlpools at Naruto where the ocean meets the inland sea. They told me to get on the bus right away so I could get on one of the last boats out to the whirlpools. I had to get a all-day ticket, and the bus took AN HOUR. Remember when I said it was a long bus ride to the train station? That was only about 15 minutes.

I asked the driver about where to get off for the boat ride into the whirlpools and the guy told me about the two boats from one dock but didn’t really say which stop it was. Then after I sat back down the bus made several English announcements telling me to get off at the Otsuka Museum of Art. When I got off I saw a big sign for cars that said THIS WAY TO THE BOAT RIDE. Well, it said something in Japanese but it translated to something similar to that. So I started walking. And walking. It was another 20 minutes, often down a narrow (and sometimes busy) Japanese road. And then I hit construction! One of the flaggers had to walk me through the construction area where they were repaving the road. Once I saw the boats I jogged over to the ticketing area because it looked like they were getting ready to leave.

At the ticketing booth they told me the small boat was about to leave and the big boat would leave later, but I was about an hour late for the peak whirlpools and sooner was better than later.

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I was one of the last ones on board, but there were only about five other people on board. We had to sit to leave port, then we walked around while we motored quite quickly over to the area under the bridge, which is where the whirlpools form. Then they made us go below decks and we watched the whirlpools from below! I don’t have a good picture but here’s looking out while we were under way.

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And then we went back through a couple of times while we were on the upper deck. It was kind of fun to watch the water swirl around.

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You could see the step where the inland sea met the ocean.

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I think it was worth it. After we headed back to port I had nearly an hour to wait for the bus. There’s nothing to do there other than the boat so I had some ice cream out of a machine. I’ve seen this machine at a lot of the ferry terminals and I finally tried it because I was getting hungry.

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It was a tiny freezer ice cream and it wasn’t bad. 

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I looked around the souvenir shop and the boat schedules and realized if I had a choice I would’ve taken the faster, smaller boat (which I did). I really lucked into that one.

Then it was another hour back to the hotel.

When I got to the hotel it was full of women who looked like they were on a pilgrimmage of at least part of the 88 temples of Kyushu. When I checked in and asked the woman at the counter said something like, “I’m not sure they’re that serious.” But I put my stuff in my room and immediately went looking for dinner because I was starving.

OK, so for dinner I made even more mistakes. I went to a restaurant that served the local specialty of chicken. One famous dish is the chicken leg served on a hot plate and cut up with scissors. Well, YOU cut it up with scissors. Anyway, I always spend too much money at these places and never know what to order. I overdid it and one of the things kind of made me queasy.

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In case you’re wondering, it was the chicken namban that made me queasy. Too much sauce. It wasn’t even hot when it came out. Honestly, though, it was all just oversalted chicken that needed pepper or some other seasoning. They should also give up on the local chicken namban and get the recipe from Miyazaki. I’m sure I could get used to it but I think I’d rather make a special trip to Nagoya for roast chicken and Miyazaki for chicken namban.

Oh, and you can’t tell but that chicken leg is giant. I ate way too much. So much chicken grease and salt.

After that it was drizzling out and while I did make a stop at the Can Do for more cables (which they didn’t have) I got back to the hotel and went to the onsen on the floor above me. (I’m on the 20th floor.) The TV kept telling me the men’s bath was full so I did wait in the room for a bit but eventually I just gave up and went. It wasn’t packed but goddamn the old Chinese guys were loud. I was mad until I realized they were OLD KOREAN GUYS. They were of the age that usually hates Japan, but whatever. I gave them a pass, which shows that I am a racist Asian (and don’t any of you other Asians tell me you’re any different.) I just wished they would keep it down a bit in the bath.

Oh, and speaking of which, while I was bored waiting for the bus I asked one of the drivers where the bus was from. He said, this bus? It’s all Taiwanese people. Just got off the plane, then off to see the whirlpools and then onto a five day tour of Shikoku. Sounds like fun. And Taiwan is the one Asian country that seems to really like Japan. They get a pass too. Yes, I am an awful person.

Japan 2023: Day 14

Woo, not a bad night of sleep. What I did was let the A/C heat the room all night even though it makes awful noises and then didn’t use the comforter as much. Through much experimentation I found that even if the room is cold the comforter in the hotel is just too much. Phew. Too bad I figured it out on my last night.

The pain in my ass keeps being a pain in my ass. It changed though. I could not get it to go away, but it wasn’t as intense. So as you’d expect, I overdid it later in the day. I’m on vacation. I can’t just sit inside all day.

I started out at the SAME COFFEE SHOP. Mainly because it’s close and I like it. There’s no coffee cup in the room so I have to rely on outside coffee and Drip-X-Cafe is about as good as it gets.

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Oddly it’s been getting less and less crowded as the week goes on.

Then it was time to make my way to Wakayama. I was going to try to get on an express train but the maze to get across the street to the main station was too much and I had one minute to make it through the gate and onto the train. I decided to go with a later option and found one that was even faster. I had to ask if it was reserved seating and it sure was. Reserved seating only! I made some mistakes buying my ticket and only bought the seat. You also need to buy a transit ticket from point-to-point and I forgot that. The other odd thing is that it’s in the new JR station. It took me forever to get to the gate, and then the cars on the trains kept flip-flopping where car one was on the front for my train but was on the back for the previous train. I got the only seat left on the right-hand side and I was afraid I’d be crammed in next to someone else. Turns out I was in a weird end row where there was only one seat on the right-hand side! And plenty of seats were open so I really can’t understand how the JR reservation system works.

I made it to Wakayama, took the bus to the hotel, dropped off my bag, and then went looking for the ramen restaurant that my friend Moriwaki told me to try. I found out later that Wakayama has their own take on ramen and they call it “chuuka soba”. The line wasn’t that bad. And it can go pretty fast. The whole seating area was tiny and most of the inside was the kitchen.

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I was recommended the normal ramen, but I got the “special” that had more charsiu pork. The eggs and the weird sushi are there for the taking. You just tell them how many you ate as you check out.

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Here’s what the noodles look like.

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Later I added an egg. Turned out to be perfect for hipsters with that bright orange color.

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I wasn’t quite full but I never did find any sweets. Instead I went back to the station for suggestions on what to see. I can’t remember what the old seaside town area is called (probably old seaside town area) but my ass felt OK today. It’s probably because, for some reason, it’s warm again. I even got sunburnt a little.

I took a train to the middle of nowhere and had to walk quite a way to make it to Kimiidera. The woman at the tourist bureau told me I’d be OK because there was a ropeway and elevator at this temple. It had the largest standing wooden statue in Japan(? the world?), but the statue is fairly new and also gilded so I couldn’t tell it was wooden. But back to the ropeway. It was like diagonal elevator, though it cost ¥600 (I think ¥400 was for entrance to the temple). You got on and pushed the “second floor” button or whatever the label was and off you went.

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The temple was quite nice and was #2 on a pilgrimage route. Just like me to start in the middle.

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Here’s the building with the wooden Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) statue.

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And as the tourist center promised, the view was pretty nice (there was a nicer view but I forgot to take a picture from it).

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Then there were miles of walking through semi-industrial Japan to get to a few shrines. My leg hurt a bit, but it wasn’t so bad that I stopped. One of the worst parts is the paths were made of the same odd paving stones that made the surface uneven and that did not help.

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I made it to the last temple on my list, Kishu Toshugu shrine. There are a couple of barriers to entry. First, the stairs. Stairs are what make the pain in my ass worse. If I had any sense, I would’ve skipped this shrine.

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But obviously, I do not have any sense.

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The second barrier to entry is that it costs money to enter. I don’t know of many shrines that make you pay to enter and it made it feel like a tourist trap. It’s modeled after the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu in Nikko and was commissioned by his son. You can’t take pictures of the artwork and it was also slightly faded and dirty. I guess I was spoiled when I saw a newly restored temple in Gunma that had similar artwork but on a much grander scale.

When I got to the bus stop I found there was only one bus per hour but the bus was leaving in 15 minutes! And boy did my ass hurt!

I’m staying at fancier hotels for my last week. I knew I was rolling the dice for the last few, so I picked a big name brand, Daiwa Roynet, for my stay in Wakayama. I think I also paid for an “upgrade”. I’m on the 19th floor and here’s the view from my window.

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The room is also way bigger than the one in Osaka.

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I could just sit here and look out the window all day.

For dinner I didn’t want to go far because my ass hurt (as I keep mentioning). Google only mentioned the Cantonese restaurant here but there’s also a udon/soba shop. It was pretty good. The shrimp tempura was bigger, I forgot to take a picture until I took a bite out of it. That’s why there looks to be things floating in the soy sauce and tsuyu too. Anyway, this cost a whole ¥1680 (about $11.20 US right now?)

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I got a caramel cream puff at the Family Mart on the way back to the room and I was a little disappointed. I should remember that the puff pastry isn’t going to last long enough to be shipped around, plus the caramel tasted burnt. I still ate the whole thing.

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Tomorrow I take the ferry to Tokushima where I spend a couple of days. I might try renting a car one of those days. We’ll see.

Japan 2023: Day 13

Not much different in my sleep or back pain issues, besides not washing my legs right now made it so I could continue my morning routine without having to lie down after my shower. Walking any distance still hurts, though.

First, breakfast. I keep going to the same place (it’s close and tasty) and I even got the same thing I did yesterday. This time I remembered to take a picture before I ate most of it.

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The most important thing today was visiting my cousins but I had a lot of time to kill beforehand. I decided to get an all-day pass on the Hankyu Railway and just check out a couple of things. First, I took the train from Umeda (Osaka) to Takarazuka. Then back to the Minoo spur. I got out at Minoo and thought about looking around but walking was still painful so I just got back on the train. Then I decided to go to Itami Station, my local station from 1986 to 1991. I got out there and looked for some lunch but Itami station was still the same boring place and I couldn’t find anything. I also tried to go to the ¥100 shop but it was closed today! Then I tried to buy some Mister Donut, but it there was no place to sit and eat. I ended up just getting back on the train and heading to Nishinomiya Kitaguchi which is about 20 minutes from my cousin’s house.

Nishinomiya Gardens is a sorta fancy mall there and my sister wanted me to look for a sweatshirt at the Graniph store. I was dreading it because it’s a bit of a walk to the store and blah blah butt pain. Of course they could get my sister the shirt if I gave them three days and I’m leaving Osaka in the morning. They also said it was “old stuff” and it was just released on Halloween (it’s 11/14 today). I still had a lot of time to kill so I thought I’d get a snack. The closest place was Tokyo Soup Stock, where the menu had absolutely no English on it. Somewhere else I did see some English but I don’t really remember. I got the two soup set with upgraded bread and upgraded black sugar ginger ale. One was a seafood lobster bisque and the other one was something like Vermeer milkmaid soup They were both quite good and the bread was kind of sweet. The restaurant was filled with women and that meant some screaming babies as well. I’d do it again, though.

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I had even more time to kill before I got a taxi for my eldest cousin’s place. Three of my four cousins and one of my cousin’s wives showed up and we all spent the afternoon talking. It was fun. I’m not posting their picture because I just took it to send to my sister.

Then my eldest cousin and I had dinner. She’d been practicing for a piano recital, more than usual, so she said she was too tired to cook and got pressed sushi which is an Osaka delicacy. I found out she didn’t really like raw fish, so this is what we had.

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It was pretty good. I thought about getting a taxi to use the train day pass, but that would mean spending ¥1000 on the cab to save ¥230. I realized that as I limped to the closest train station. It didn’t really hurt until I got there, so I was fine.

In any case, that’s about it for the day.

Japan 2023: Day 12 (updated)

OK, I’m going to do the same thing I did yesterday because I’m meeting my buddy for dinner and I’m not sure how late I’ll be out. Hopefully not too late, since I’m not sleeping very well during this trip.

I got up this morning and I have two things I needed to do. See the rolfer and visit my friend Moriwaki. The rolfer told me I should probably use heat to help my problem and it’s dropped about 20 degrees since the trip started, so that’s kind of rough. I wish I was at an onsen where I could take a nice soak but I’m in Osaka. I’m OK with pushing through the pain to see something really interesting but it’s cold (in the 40’s in the morning!) and rainy so that usually means it’s a day for shopping. And while I’m OK with shopping if I’m with my sister, I really don’t have anything in particular I’m still looking for. Maybe some more USB-C cables, but those are available on Amazon at home. I did make a quick trip through Tokyu Hands and the Minecraft popup and the Nintendo stores, but meh. I’m back in the hotel room. I took a nap and watched some YouTube. The important thing is to get on the train to go see Moriwaki.

For breakfast I went back to the Drip-X Cafe in the Hotel Vischio. I saw the bicyclist from the other day and I joined them and got so busy talking that I forgot to take a picture of my hot dog until they left.

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It was one of the good Japanese sausages with cheese and I really enjoyed it. The coffee is growing on me too. It was CHILLY. I went back to the hotel to grab a pair of gym shorts in case the rolfer wanted me to wear them. In the US they usually just have me stand in my underpants to assess my body misalignment but I wasn’t sure how it worked in Japan.

I started off towards the rolfer and by the time I got to the taxi stand my leg hurt quite a bit. I didn’t think I’d make it in time if I walked with this pain in my leg so I took a taxi. Drivers here are either chatty or silent and I got a silent one today. It took no time at all to get to the apartment tower where the office was and he told me to go to the next tower over. After trying to figure out how to get into the tower, wandering around, it turns out he dropped me off right in front of the building I needed to be in. Sheesh.

The rolfer was great. She’s been doing massage therapy for at least a dozen years (I can’t remember exactly what she said) so I left it in her hands and I felt great afterwards. HOWEVER, I knew that as screwed up as I got it was going to take a bit to fix everything. Sure enough, walking back to the hotel it started to hurt again. Not like in the mornings, but why push it? That’s why I’m back in the hotel.

Oh, on the way home I went underground because it’s CHILLY as I mentioned earlier. I was right near the Daisan building which is full of businessmen and there’s all sorts of restaurants in the basement. I went to an Okinawan restaurant and tried to order goya champuru but they just ran out! I had taco rice instead, which was pretty good. Oh, if you ever do go down there keep in mind a lot of the restaurants allow smoking.

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Sitting in the restaurant my leg started to hurt. I could’ve forced myself to keep shopping or wandering around Umeda, but I wasn’t excited enough to push myself. Anyway, the important thing is to meet Moriwaki tonight. I quite enjoy sitting and watching YouTube or Netflix and there’s no other way to eat all the things I’ve been eating besides coming to Japan so I’m OK with all this. It’s not ideal, but it’s still fun.

Update:

I met up with my old co-worker Moriwaki for dinner. As always it was fun to talk and he’s quite unique. He’s about three years older than me and about to fully retire and move to Beppu. But even now, in his semi-retirement at 62, he bought a second house in Wakayama and goes fishing all the time. Basically, it’s what I aspire to. He went to high school and college in North Carolina and has a unique perspective.

We went to an okonomiyaki place because that’s what I always tell him I want to eat. I don’t know of any decent places in Portland.

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Moriwaki also said eat it only with the spatula – that’s the Osaka way. His was much smaller than my deluxe, so we also got yakisoba. This is after we’ve eaten some of it.

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He drove us to a Starbucks for dessert.

Oh, I forgot to mention, he used to have a two seat Mercedes Benz convertible. I figured as a fisherman he’d have a new car, something more beat up. Well, he has a new car, a two-seat Jaguar with an incredibly aggressive cam that pops when he hits the accelerator. It’s always good to see the guy.

Japan 2023: Day 11 (updated)

UPDATED not that anyone would notice.

I might update this later, but it’s mid-afternoon and I’m chilling in the hotel room. It’s cold and rainy and I’ve done the main thing I wanted to do today: laundry. I also went to Toki, a restaurant I go to at least once a year. But first, I went around the corner to the fancy Hotel Vischio because my sister said they had a coffee shop, and they did! The coffee was strong and the breakfast set was tasty.

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Lots of SE Asians there, or at least they sounded like SE Asians to me. After that, I went back to the hotel and grabbed my laundry bag and headed to the Laundry Robot Lab.

Remember how I said I bought a massage gun and it worked wonders last night? Well, I’m still a huge mess and it took quite some time to walk the 12 minutes to the laundry. It’s worse today, I think, but I just know its kind of bad. But I made it.

The laundromat was clean and there were tables with chairs where you could wait. I think this is a nicer neighborhood. Lots of people were coming in to use the dryer since it was a cold day and I guess rain was in the forecast. Carrot Weather failed me and it’s rainier than they said. You know what makes it a Laundry Robot Lab? Just that there’s a machine where you can pay with credit cards, Suica cards, etc. (It’s the one at the end of the row of washers.) I watched one guy try card after card without much luck. It took him about five minutes to get it right. I didn’t help because he was much younger than me and should know about these things much more than I do. 

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The taller washers were washer/dryer combos and I used the one with the “Attack” detergent. I finally asked a woman what that meant and she just said it was a brand of laundry detergent, probably fancier than the industrial one in the rest of the washers. No one else came in to use the washers but all the dryers were in use. You can see the big dryer to the right of the picture. There were six more stacked dryers. You could use coins but no one did. You just use that blue machine and tell it which washer, washer/dryer, or dryer you want to use and it does the rest.

I made it back to the hotel about noon and they said they’d already cleaned my room. I sat around for about an hour. Then I went looking for food. The lines were long again, but nothing like yesterday. The weather was much nicer earlier in the day yesterday. Somehow I decided it was time to get Famichicki and it was just a breaded cutlet. Tasted like real chicken and was better than one you’d get from the freezer section in the US but it was still just a breaded piece of chicken.

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I also got some karaage and all of it had to be microwaved because the heat lamps didn’t do much. One salt flavored and two soy sauce flavored.

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I also had a milk tea that was ridiculously sweet.

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I handled this all with one hand while I took pictures with the other. I was also holding an umbrella. And everything was kind of slippery. How? Well, the Famichicki comes in a bag that you tear in the middle so you can hold just the bottom part without getting your hands greasy.

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And then it was time to get into the long line at Toki to get the same dessert I get every year. The past few times I’ve gone Toki hasn’t been that busy but this year there’s lines. Good for them. And I got matcha shiratama as I do most years.

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And since I got two big checklist items taken care of and it’s cold and rainy plus since my back hurts, I decided it was time to head back to my tiny hotel room to chill at least until dinner. And dinner might be Wendy’s because for it’s just around the block and for some reason it sounds good. But I might also take another run at Baqet as well. We’ll see.

Oh, and the best news, I finally got ahold of a rolfer and I’m seeing them tomorrow morning! Wish me luck!

UPDATE (just dinner, really).

I think two people read this blog and they should’ve been asleep by the time I posted the first time, so I’m not sure why I mention the update.

Ah indecision. I thought I should go to the steamed veggie place because I ate like crap at lunchtime. Fried chicken and then wagashi is not a complete diet. And whatever horrors I’m putting in my body at home seems to have way more fiber than what I’m eating in Japan, if you catch my drift. But I noticed there was no line at Grill Ron. The last two days at lunch there’s a huge line, and today I asked one of the people working there and they said it’s was on a YouTube video. I kept walking to the steamed veggie place and I ended up back at Grill Ron. At this point all the chairs were taken so I was supposed to stand in line across the way.

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They give you a menu while you’re waiting and take your order before you go in. There’s only three four-tops (Japanese four tops which are pretty small), three two-tops, and three counter seats although I can’t imagine three people could sit at the counter. The menu was pretty simple, several different sets of “mixed fry” and some other things I didn’t really look at (like omurice). I got the “C” set with 100% beef hamburger. Came with some miso soup as well. The order came pretty soon after I sat down inside.

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It was pretty good. Everything was just a little better than expected. The shrimp was prefectly crispy, the burger was good, the cream crab croquette was tasty. Not spectacular, just exactly what you’d want. I guess that and the small seating area are what causes the line. I’d say try it if you can, and honestly if everyone just eats and goes the line moves pretty quickly.

After that I just headed back to the hotel. I got some 7Eleven fizzy water and some more chocolate. Here’s a picture of that.

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I like those chocolates because you can eat a few at a time. They’re really tasty too. This year I’ve been getting the almond with the puffed rice in the chocolate, which I’ve never seen before. I often get them with just macadamia nuts. They’re very tasty. The fizzy water is a cheaper version of WIlkinson which they don’t seem to sell near this hotel. I think Wilkinson is better, but they’re both better than LaCroix.

And that’s it for the day. Here’s hoping that the massage person can help me with my hip pain!

Japan 2023: Day 10

Well, there really wasn’t much else to do in Onomichi but it was a beautiful morning and I tried walking around the hotel a bit but it takes a bit for my back to loosen up. And there really wasn’t much to eat in the area besides a coffee shop next door. But I had the idea that I wanted to try finding a rolfer in Osaka so I just got going. Not the best plan. Fortunately, sitting on the train isn’t too bad for me.

Onomichi station is actually not that small and there’s even ticket area. They told me there were only three seats available on the shinkansen and all three were middle seats. I was dreading it but when I got to the train there was no one else in my row. A woman came and sat in the aisle seat but no one ended up in the window seat. That was fine. I passed out most of the way. I haven’t been sleeping through the night. I should probably quit drinking so much Pocari Sweat in the evening.

I made it to Osaka and man was it crowded. Both Shin-Osaka station and Osaka station are a special kind of hell on the weekends. I dropped off my bag at the hotel and sat down for a minute and saw lots of other people doing the same thing. It’s a fairly industrial looking lobby with some interesting touches. And it felt good to sit.

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Then I decided to go look for lunch at 11am before the crowds hit. I must’ve missed my chance by a lot because there were lines at the most popular places that looked like they’d take hours to clear out. And most places that were open had the kind of seating that wouldn’t let me stretch my bad leg so they were out. I walked around for almost an hour before I started feeling like I was going to throw up. A breakfast of Advil and chocolate will do that to you.

Fortunately I saw some older ladies go into a brewpub and I thought I could try the pizza. What’s the harm in getting a ham pizza? Well, even though they looked to have a wood fired pizza oven, it was underdone. And there was a fishy cream sauce and a soft-boiled egg on the pizza. It wasn’t bad, just a bit weird. At least it helped my stomach a bit.

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The brewpub seemed to be a big date place. Someone even had a birthday and they turned down the lights and played special music. The poor birthday girl was embarrassed and what the heck are you supposed to do with a sparkler in your dessert?

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Check-in time wasn’t until 3, but I got back at 2 and sat in the lobby for a bit. I got to my room and it might even be smaller than the one I had yesterday, but I like it better. Industrial concrete walls don’t bother me much and I wasn’t expecting as much from this place.

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My coin flip app told me to actually go to a restaurant when I considered just grabbing something from the combini. So I made it up to the food floor of the Yodobashi camera. I came in from the new, fancy side and saw that the Kobe beef restaurant was booked solid for the night. I was more thinking about two places I always seem to go to, and omurice restaurant and Baquet which has a variety of unlimited bread rolls that’s constantly being baked. Baquet was out of style for a while but today it seemed to be the go-to for families with small kids. Omurice it was. I got the seasonal set with a bolognese sauce which I’d never heard of. It was a little weird.

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And it was butter rice inside which could’ve used a bit more flavor.

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It came with a salad, a paper cup of miso soup, a drink (I had lemon squash!), and mini-marron dessert.

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On the way out I looked at some fancy kitchen knives and then foam rollers. I figured it would be a pain to carry around but my back hurt. I also looked at a tiny massage gun and actually tried it out. It got the pain out immediately! I knew it was probably too good to be true (and it was) but I bought one. Dr. Air, the company that had a back massager I wanted a few years ago but no one would send it to the states!

Anyway, I killed some time talking to some people from the East Bay who bicycled around Yakushima. They bought some fancy knives and I showed them how to take their receipts and try to win some prizes. All we won were the booby-prize but it was umaibo and I love those things (I won two).

And that’s it for the day. I think tomorrow might be an exciting laundry day and I hope this massage gun lets me limp around better!

Japan 2023: Day 9

IMG 0238My plans for today kind of went sideways. There’s my hip pain. Then it’s raining. And I’m meeting my cousin for lunch in the middle of nowhere. It all worked out and my final plan was just to make it to the seemingly luxurious hotel and just hole up for the evening. The hotel is fine but is not nearly as nice as the photos and it’s really in the middle of nowhere. I decided to stay here when I thought I’d be more mobile and also assuming the weather would be nicer.

Anyway, calling it a travel day. I started off with a later breakfast than usual after trying to loosen up the hip. I was warned there’d be a lot of students and the restaurant would be crowded. I was lucky in the big bath last night so I wondered about the hotel restaurant. I got there around 8 and there were two other people there. I think they left and were replaced by two more people. It was quite tasty but it took a while to eat because I wanted to wait until after I ate to take any Advil.

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I was pretty full after all of that. To get to the meeting place with my cousin I didn’t have to get to the station until 11AM. Checkout is at 10AM. I figured it would just be easier to sit around at the shinkansen station than try to find a nice spot at a coffee shop and I was there an hour early. I watched sat on the platform by myself, watching the occasional shinkansen whiz by. (I’d add the video but I can’t figure out how to do that right now.)

Then it was a short 30 minute ride from Shimonoseki to Tokuyama, and a short local train to Kudamatsu. They took me to the same hotel that we went to last year and they recently stopped having a buffet. I got the “middle” offering of fried flounder and there was way more food than I expected. And my cousin also got me some flounder sashimi.

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All three of us got the same thing. On the left is some pork and rice, then “hirame sembei”, deep fried flounder bone and skin, homemade tartar sauce, and then the fried flounder with some salad. It was better than I expected and seasoned very well.

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We also got the special dessert. They said they only had one left, but if the table wanted it they could probably do one for each of us. There’s a pudding base, ice cream, and a small slice of pie. I think those chips are deep fried pear but they were very sweet.

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So there were my two meals for the day, if I’m to go by the rest of the trip.

I had no reserved seat for the next part of the trip so I took the slower train that stopped at every station. It got me from Tokuyama to Fukuyama 30 minutes later than the faster train, but the stops do get annoying. I was able to take up two seats and there were plenty left. Then at Fukuyama station I took a local train that backtracked to Onomichi. Onomichi station was much larger than I expected but there was no taxi stand! I guess there’s no need, but eventually a taxi showed up. I got a ride to the hotel because it was raining and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to walk all the way to the hotel.

The hotel isn’t as nice as the booking.com pictures. It’s tiny. There are four rooms on my floor. And the room itself is tiny. No bath, just a shower and the sink is part of the room. Here’s my desk.

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And here’s the beds.

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That think on the shelf above the beds is the “fridge”. It looks like one of those USB fridges that get advertised to you and never works very well, but it seems OK. You can see the sink on the right. But here’s a view from the beds.

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And the bathroom.

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The only other time I saw a bathroom this small was at a Dormy Inn where there was a large bath available.

It’s also quite drafty. But it’s fairly clean and good enough for a night.

Japan 2023: Day 8

As you’d expect, I didn’t get much done today, but then again, I got a lot done. My leg still hurt. A lot. And the massage therapist I see in Portland suggested I find someone who does deep tissue massage or a chiropractor. Do you know how few rolfers I found in Japan? I called 10 within 200 miles and I got no answers at all.

But first I ate some breakfast. I realized I’ve been at a Comfort Hotel before in Kochi. They’re really not my favorite, but there was a lot for breakfast. I ate more than yesterday because I think things are starting to loosen up a bit. I still didn’t eat a lot. Oh, and if you’re a fan of cereal, Comfort Hotel has it. I did not find white rice, however.

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I rode a bunch of short hops to Shimonoseki. One stop to the Shinkanen, two stops on the Shinkansen to Kokura, and then a couple stops on the local to Shimonoseki. I crammed myself onto the crowded Shinkansen because I was pretty sure the guy next to me was getting off way after I was.

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The area around the train station looks big but the restaurants aren’t open very late. There’s a Daimaru department store and some other stores there. The weird part is how many stairs you need to use to get across the streets. I dropped off my suitcase at the Via Hotel (which looked up even though there are stairs to get in) and headed out.

I went to make train reservations for my weird trip tomorrow which includes a stop to see my cousin and then backtracking and heading to another small town. But the ticket office is closed from 11am to 3pm and so I went to the tourist information bureau. They were staffed by someone who sounded possibly Korean. She basically pointed out some areas and a tower to see over the town. Instead of heading to the tower, I asked google about chiropractors and saw two not very far away.

The first one was closed. The second one looked an awful lot like someone’s house and the name made me think it was a chiropractic association and not a practitioner. I knocked and was let into a room that looked like a warehouse for kids toys (I guess like a house with small children) with an older looking exam room. The chiropractor told me he wasn’t really open but he’d see me. He told me he took himself off of Google and sure enough, I can’t find it any longer.

He was GREAT. Took two hours realigning me and while things still hurt, they were bearable. And I got some advice about tensing my lower abs before exerting myself. I guess he had a clinic in Tokyo and his late father had a clinic here and now he’s back home to look after his mother and eventually open up the clinic. He still has patients in Tokyo and he goes back and forth. Also, this is mostly guesses from what he told me, the doctors are so powerful in Japan that chiropractic is about to go away here and a lot of the people who put it on signs haven’t even studied it. Because of the medical lobby, it’s medicine or nothing here. He agreed with my assessment that acupuncture is for immediate but not long-term relief. Also, he’d taken night classes in osteopathic manipulation from a real DO. He said chiropractic manipulation is good while you’re younger, but osteopathic manipulation is better when you’re older.

Anyway, two hours of body manipulation and the guy was getting sweaty. I do feel better and while things still hurt, they feel like they’re getting better.

I found a taxi to take me to the tower and called today a success.

I saw a lot of south Asians on the way to the chiropractic clinic, and when I went to dinner it seemed like there were a lot of SE Asians working there. I had a hard time understanding some of them. I ordered one of the local specialties (I thought I ordered two things and a salad) and after that I ordered the 8 piece yakiniku set. I felt bad because I wasn’t drinking, so I got out of there after that.

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I still was a little hungry so I bought a rice ball and too much dessert at 7Eleven. I’m no TabiEats.

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After that it was time to take a bath in the big basement bath. I guess there’s a middle school trip staying here and luckily they weren’t down there. Just a weird dude who didn’t quite seem Japanese and a grandfather with his screaming preschool-aged grandson.

And that’s it for today. Lots of traveling tomorrow and lots more ibuprofen, I’m sure.

Japan 2023: Day 7

I just spent 6 hours watching videos on how to identify back pain by a PT and so far I think I have problems with my piriformis but I also have ruled out the piriformis. At least I ruled out just about everything else as well. At this point I think it’s muscular, and I sure wish I was at home so I could get a decent massage. The ones here I know about are nice but they’re more “relaxation massage” and I need deep tissue. It’s a very unlocalized (i.e. not sharp) pain in the side of my hip and it hurts so bad that I’ve considered cutting my trip short. Walking makes it worse, going up stairs makes it worse, and I think the only thing that really helps is lying down.

I haven’t been getting great sleep either. I thought I’d sleep better since it was colder but I remember looking at the clock at 4AM and then next thinking it was time to get up and it was only 4:10AM. I passed out on the train this morning and once in the afternoon and I’ve been in the hotel since checkin time at 3pm. I also had dreams during my 10 minute nap at 5pm, which isn’t right. And I even had a dream about my college girlfriend last night. Weird.

But enough complaining. Here’s MORE COMPLAINING.

I got up to get my “free” Toyoko Inn breakfast and since it takes a while for the hip/leg thing to loosen up, I didn’t have an appetite. They even had curry rice! The miso soup had clams in it and there were other things on the menu that I didn’t grab. This is all I had from the buffet.

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After that I took three ibuprofen and bought some back plasters for my side. That is what made me so sleepy that I was unable to stay awake on the train. I got to Saga without much trouble and I suppose there really isn’t that much here. But the little that is here was pretty interesting. At breakfast I met an elderly Australian couple who were on a two month trip visiting their kids and they mentioned the castle in Saga was only one story. Not all Japanese castles were big towers on hills. I decided to go and had to take a lot of breaks even with the aid of the Advil and back plasters. Here’s a picture of the main gate. The rest was a huge sprawling one-level house.

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As with most castle reproductions I’ve been to in Japan, it was a museum of the local history. Saga is a big city with an important history building some of the earliest forges to produce cannons and ships and trains. Sadly Saga doesn’t have a lot of interesting attractions so, like I said, it’s always at the bottom of the list for the most beautiful prefectures and usually in last place unless it gets beat out by Ishikawa prefecture. I don’t think it deserves to be down towards the bottom.

I then walked to a neighborhood with several old houses, walking through two very large shrines that were right next to one another. Luckily there were plenty of places to sit on the way. When I got to the “old bank” I noticed there was a cafe inside and decided to have some lunch. I probably overdid it.

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Here’s another picture of the salad on its own. It wasn’t tiny.

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I even had dessert. (That’s ginger ale in case you were thinking it was booze.)

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Then I decided to go to the free observation deck of the prefectural offices and it was really nice.

After that I took the bus back to the hotel and checked in at 3pm to watch videos on how to fix your back pain. Six hours later I knew nothing other than it’s probably not something awful. It still feels like it though.

I did leave at 7-ish to get some dinner. I was still pretty full from lunch and was thinking rice balls and sandwiches from the convenience store but I went to a bakery. I didn’t bother taking a good picture.

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The bread would’ve been better fresh but it wasn’t bad. Curry pan, cheese pan, something with beef, and that one at the bottom is an oddly shaped melon pan.

Oh and I’m staying at the Comfort Hotel. It’s quite a bit more expensive than the Toyoko Inn but most of the improvements are cosmetic. I’ve decided I’m really not a fan. It’s clean, though, and I hope I get some better sleep tonight. (I just realized the pillow is only a couple of inches thick.)