Japan 2023: Day 6

I got up this morning and my back (really my right hip) still hurt. I tried some of the psoas stretches I saw online that seemed to help yesterday morning but they did nothing today. After breakfast I took 2 ibuprofen and either it didn’t do much or it took a while to kick in. My sister later reminded me that my father had back problems when we visited Japan a long time ago as well. Stupid genes.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I had the same breakfast as I did yesterday and it was still good. Took me a while to eat it because my hip hurt.

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After breakfast I packed up and made my way back to the acupuncturist and when I arrived my hip hurt so bad I couldn’t sit and wait. I had to walk around outside. Luckily it was a much nicer day. And while he didn’t fix everything, it was better afterwards.

I got my train ticket to Sasebo. Usually there’s two ways there, one using the shinkansen and one taking the coastal route that takes longer. Unfortunately due to track repairs, the coastal route wasn’t running today. That’s OK, I wanted to take the new Nagasaki shinkansen anyway. I had some time to kill so I looked for a place to sit down. Short chairs make things worse for me, and the waiting area had short chairs. I ended up at the outdoor seating at Mickey D’s. The new station is scheduled to open on 11/10 (yeah, Friday) so here’s the view.

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At least it kept the crowds down and I could get an outdoor seat. The box is some weird triangular lava cake-sorta thing. It wasn’t bad but lava cakes are pretty much chocolate overload for me.IMG 0186

Oh, here’s the building that would’ve been nice if it was open.

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I took the toy shinkansen to the end of the route, a whole 30 minutes away. There’s some feuding with Saga prefecture who vies for the bottom spot as the ugliest prefecture. I suppose the real list is “the most beautiful prefecture” but I don’t know what else you’d call the bottom of that list.

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The seats were oddly made of wood as well.

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There you have to get on a relay train to Hakata where you can link up with all the other shinkansen lines in the country.

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I took the train to Sasebo instead. It felt quite odd, driving slowly and steadily through the countryside. It felt like it was going slower than the one car trains I’d been on earlier in the week and it was quieter and, uh, steadier, and the seats were quite nice.

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When we got close to Sasebo we had one of those weird stops where the train pulled into the station and then backed out again, going backwards for the last little bit to Sasebo.

I asked the tourist bureau what I should see. They told me to go visit the 99 islands. I guess there really are 208 islands but 99 was symbolic for “too many islands to count”. They said take the bus to the end, take the boat trip around the islands, take a taxi up to the viewpoint, and then take the bus back. The bus is ¥140 and the taxi would be closer to ¥4000.

I got off the bus and found out I was on the last boat of the day!

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Quite a few people who sounded like SE Asian Chinese, and a whole busload of middle school students from Kirishima. Yeah, from my first stop of the trip! Back when I still felt OK!

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The island were quite pretty but it got slightly cold and very windy today. I took the cab up to the viewpoint and it wasn’t any warmer. Also, there was nothing other than a field of flowers and a viewpoint. No buildings other than a toilet.

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I wasn’t about to sit and wait an hour and 15 minutes for the bus so I took the cab back to my hotel. I’m wondering about my love for Toyoko Inn. The rooms are clean, cheap, and fairly spacious. You get a “free” small breakfast. But the walls are very thin which can be offset by using earplugs. And it’s also the only hotel where I’ve ever seen the police. And today, the lobby was crawling with police. I think the patrons were being Japanese Karens and called the police because they thought they were being slighted because later I saw them standing outside. I also overheard one of them telling the police to do their job. I dunno. Made me kind of wary but I’ve not had any trouble. LIke I said, clean, spacious, cheap, and a bit loud.

So I ticked off a few things off my Sasebo list. The other thing was to eat Sasebo food. I wanted to get a Sasebo burger for lunch and I was told I should try the lemon steak for dinner. Fortunately there was a quaint Showa era-ish restaurant right at the station. And the food was quite tasty.

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The lemon steak was great. It comes with a yakiniku-style sauce and was completely cooked on that hot plate. They bring it out to you and you need to flip it to cook both sides. The meat was called Nagasaki wagyu and I believe it. After you finish the meat you can put the rest of the rice on the hot plate to soak up the sauce. I wasn’t completely full so I ordered a Sasebo burger as well. For ¥800 how big could it be?

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It’s hard to tell from the picture because all you can see is the lettuce but it had tomato, a good-sized patty, and the sauces were mustard mayo and something also close to yakiniku sauce. The beef had the weird bitter/medicinal taste that some Japanese hamburgers have but it was quite good. I’d say it tasted a little like a homemade Mos Burger but about 1.5x the size. I was quite full.

And now I’m in my room taking it easy. The acupuncturist told me the best thing is if could get more sleep. Well I’m in bed for at least 8 hours a night. I wanted to say, “More sleep? Maybe if the GD hotels didn’t stick me in a furnace and you guys legalized what I use for a sleep aid (it grows in fields in Oregon if you need a hint) I would be sleeping just fine!” Can’t have it all, I guess.

Japan 2023: Day 5

Earlier today I was thinking I haven’t done anything today and I’m pretty OK with that. Then I remembered a couple of things. I stayed two nights in an expensive hotel in Nagasaki (which turned out to have another hideously hot room) for one real reason, to see the Atomic Bomb Museum. I tell people they don’t NEED to see the bomb museums but I figured after coming here a second time, I really should. I did that today and it was, as you would expect, very sobering. I went to the Hiroshima museum years ago and it’s something I only need to do once in my life. Oddly enough there was a book at my gradeschool that showed all the pictures from the Hiroshima museum. Anyway, I’m guessing no one reads this and looks at my iffy food pictures, so here’s breakfast.

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The hotel appears to have a deal with a local restaurant and it’s a bit of a walk, but the breakfast was great.

I had an OK night of sleep in my hot room but I really screwed up my back yesterday and it’s kind of unbearable. Some of the shorter seats in Japan make it worse. Anyway, after breakfast I limped my way to the museum and walked around the Peace Park. Here’s the hypocenter monument (the only picture I have of the area). I just wasn’t in the happiest mood, as you’d expect.

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Nagasaki is in a small valley and there are lots of hills. Going up stairs is very painful right now and the only thing that really makes things better is rest, especially lying down. You really can’t do that in public. There are LOTS of stairs from the park to the museum, but luckily there are also elevators for older people (and me right now). You can see the clouds gathering and by the time I got my sad self out of the museum it was pouring.

One good thing about all the weird apps on my phone is my Japanese phone app. And my sister has a friend in Nagasaki who I called to ask about chiropractors. She says she never goes and her husband just goes to real medical clinics for his problems but she asked some coworkers who told me to try an acupuncturist. It’s a fairly quick streetcar ride there but I took a taxi. ¥2200-ish rather than ¥140, but it was raining and when I did the math it was only about $14US at the current exchange rate.

The acupuncturist was quite good but unfortunately, it didn’t completely clear up my back. I’ve had back problems in the past and there’s usually no quick fix. Plus, rain. Here’s a picture out of the front window.

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It took about 3 hours because I just walked in. First they had me lie on a “water bed”. It felt like a foam bed with a gadget that squeezed my feet, but I guess there’s a rubber mat underneath and water jets that gently massage your back in interesting patterns. Then I went in and he did some manipulation similar to what my Osteopath does. Then the needles were inserted and pulled out. I’m used to going to a Chinese practitioner who left the needles in and attached electric doo-hickeys that shocked me for 20 minutes or so.

I made it back to the hotel and thought about getting lunch. It was about 2pm and there were huge lines at the restaurants. I just grabbed a Nagasaki pork bun and took it back to the hotel where I rested for the afternoon. I continue to skip lunch for the most part.

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Then I went out to look for dinner. The restaurants in the building attached to the hotel seemed to be national chains and not especially Nagasaki-like, so I walked back to the station to get some champon. Unfortunately that’s when my back started to hurt quite a bit. The picture is bad because I was distracted and started eating before I remembered to take a picture.

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I was scrunched into a booth that made things more painful and after a couple more bites I stood up to see if that would make things better and it did not. It hurt enough that I had to give up. I asked if I could take it to go and they said no, as I expected. It’s not something they do in Japan. But they did let me switch to a table and that worked. I also forgot to get my 5% hotel discount on the way out, but I did schedule another appointment with the acupuncturist for tomorrow morning. I’ll be seeing less of Sasebo, but if my back keeps hurting like this there’s no way I’d enjoy myself there.

Oh, and I did finally remember that I had ibuprofen with me the whole time. I just took some but I’m in for the evening so I won’t be able to tell unless I try walking up some stairs and there’s no way I’m going to try that. Time for some Netflix, I guess. I rejoined just for this eventuality, so I might as well.

Japan 2023: Day 4

Well, today didn’t go completely well but what can you do? It was an adventure day. I took a bus to a ferry to a train to another train. On the way I tweaked my back some more and by the time I made it to Nagasaki I was beat. I was just going to grab some dinner and then hide in my room and I heard fireworks. I had to lean over the desk so I could see out the window, but I watched a bunch of fireworks that looked about half a mile away.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Like I said, Route Inn is better than I always expect. I guess the problem is it’s kind of drab and the lobby looks like some downtown office building but the rooms are fine (if not a little dark). I got up and got some breakfast at the hotel.

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It was pretty good besides the coffee. And there was one weird thing: the rice was dispensed out of a machine that looked like a big coffee machine. Push the button and rice came out. A dude next to me showed me how it worked and gave me a bowl. Without him I would’ve been lost.

I went back to my room and packed only to realize that the bus to the port didn’t come that often. And I was expecting more people at Kumamoto station but I guess Sunday morning is pretty quiet.

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The whole thing was pretty easy. Not too many people on the bus ride to the port and there are two ferries that go to the same place. The faster one takes 30 minutes and costs a little more. The slower one takes about an hour I think. I forget, since I didn’t take that one.

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It was a nice day and I saw what the cabbie meant about the seagulls. They were swooping in the wake of the other ferry trying to get fish.

It was hot in Shimabara and it’s a lot bigger than I expected. There’s springs that were formed after an earthquake and there’s a couple of places where they have koi in the pools by some houses. I went to see those and paid ¥400 just to sit and have some more tea.

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Somehow I got roped into seeing the castle. It’s a reproduction and not even original construction but it’s the third tallest castle in Japan. And that’s when I found out that going up the stairs made my back hurt even worse. But I was already on the way up the stairs to see outside. I was in so much pain that I breezed through and didn’t take any picture. Also there were lots of traditional samurai artifacts that had Christian themes. Not my cup of tea.

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The reason I went was to get some stamps on a card. They give you a postcard and if you make it to all of the stamps, they overlap to form a picture of the castle. Unfortunately, no one told me one of the stamps is at the top of the castle and I didn’t carry my card up there. I was almost in tears on the way up so there was no chance I was going up a second time. My back hurt so much that I got a cab to the train station which wasn’t very far away.

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The train only came once an hour and it was a One Man Car, run like the bus. You grabbed a ticket on the way in and that determined your fare.

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I pre-paid for a ticket that took me all the way to Nagasaki and transferred onto a much newer two-car train. For some reason the seats on this train were just the right height to make my back start hurting again.

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By the time I made it to the hotel I was beat. I figured I’d make it out to get dinner but then I’d just watch some YouTube videos in my room. I found some toruko rice (Turkish rice) which really is thought to be a shortening of “tri-color rice” and not Turkish rice. It’s a Nagasaki specialty and I pretty much missed lunch so it tasted delicious. The store in the station had hundreds of items on the menu which were basically just different versions of toruko rice. I couldn’t go through them all so just asked what the most popular ones were. I got the hayashi rice & croquette version. You can see the croquettes under the white sauce, some spaghetti, a hamburger with some white sauce on half, and the orange at the top is some salad.

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Ahd then it was time to watch videos. I’m way behind on the channels I subscribe to and in the middle of watching one of the videos I heard the fireworks. A window at the end of the hallway would’ve been a perfect place to watch, but I was already in my hotel sleepwear so I just leaned over my desk and looked out at the fireworks. It was too uncomfortable to watch the whole thing, but I did see a lot of it.

And that’s about it for the evening. Unfortunately, the room is now incredibly warm (it’s Japanese winter heating even though it was 77F today). I don’t sleep well unless it’s a little cold so we’ll see how I do. I guess I could leave the window open but we’re right near Nagasaki station and the noise would probably be worse for my sleep than the heat. Oh well.

Tomorrow it’s supposed to be awful with 1” of rain and thundershowers. I’m going to see the Atomic Bomb museum so it’s sure to be a great day.

Japan 2023: Day 3

There always seems to be something going on that I’m “missing”. When I was at the hotel in Ibusuki, there was a muffled announcement and I couldn’t make out the time or what it was for. I skipped the mystery event (honestly I was about to pass out). Today at the Kumamoto JR station they were selling round-trip train tickets to a fireworks show but it seemed like it would be another ordeal with crowds so I skipped that too. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I thought it would take too long to get from Kagoshima to Nagasaki so I planned a stopover in Kumamoto. I kind of like it here but I also am unclear on what there is to do. I started out with another interesting breakfast that’s the specialty of Amami-oshima, a kind of ochazuke that you assemble yourself:

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Basically it all goes on top of the rice and you pour tea on it.

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It was, as I expect from Kagoshima, great. I ended up with just about all of it in the ochazuke except for the benishoga pickled ginger. I think it overpowers the flavors so I only used half.

Then I started what I thought would be another long day of travel. I’m not much of a train otaku, but here’s a picture of the Kagoshima streetcar.

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I got to the train station early because I was trying out the smartEX shinkansen tickets that allows the ticket to be put onto a Suica card rather than having to carry around a bunch of slips of paper. It could’ve been a disaster. It didn’t work and I had lots of help from the stationmaster who made me prove I actually had a ticket. Logging on was a chore and first I got this next screen. It started out at 7 minutes and took longer.

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It all seemed to work out after a while but the stationmaster took my phone and did SOMETHING with it so he might’ve fixed things. But then I went back and asked why it didn’t tell me what my seat assignment was. Turns out the turnstile spit out a piece of paper that I missed and they had to pull it out of the gate mechanism for me. So much for avoiding fiddly bits of paper. At least getting the initial ticket was a lot quicker than standing in line at the Midori-no-madoguchi.

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Turns out after all that the train was an express that skipped all the intermediate stations and only took 45 minutes. I dropped my bag off at the hotel and went back to the train station to consult the tourist information booth about what there is to do now. There are lots of big new buildings by the station that went up in the four years since I visited last. I guess the castle rebuilding continues apace but they still aren’t letting you see much. I found out there’s a garden that the local lord initially created as a tea garden. It doesn’t take long to see but it was worth it.

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There used to be a Buddhist temple here. Now there’s a Shinto shrine and I guess it’s the season for kids to visit the temple for shichi-go-san. Basically it means lots of people in traditional dress getting their pictures taken.

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There were also Shinto wedding pictures being taken but I didn’t want to intrude on that. Once again here’s proof that I’m no good at food pictures. I was already into eating my sweets and matcha before I remembered to take a picture. My sister gets lots of my pictures of half-eaten meals when I meant to send her pictures before I started. It’s always fun to have some traditional sweets at the garden.

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Since I’m so good at doing things in the wrong order, I looked at the pamphlet describing the garden on the way out. It said the treasures of the shrine were displayed in November so I went around asking about it. I guess it’s not really that big a deal and they show them when they show them (not today). But there was a small exhibit of some yabusame mounted archery items and some artwork in a small building just off the parking lot. They had a display of rather ephemeral art – sand paintings that need to be protected from the wind.

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And what they use to create the sand paintings:

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By now you’ve probably noticed I missed lunch again. My back started to hurt so I went looking for the massage chain I frequent and there was one right at the station! My back still hurts but now my calves hurt as well. It’s getting better.

For dinner I was recommended a restaurant that serves horsemeat and I had some basashi (raw horsemeat). This cost as much as a regular dinner and was just about an appetizer.

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Rather than eat more at this restaurant, I went to Mos Burger. Last year it was quite disappointing which seemed odd since it’s always been a reliable hamburger chain. I can report that it’s just as good as it used to be. It’s not everyone’s favorite, but the TabiEats guys agree that it’s their favorite. It’s my favorite as well.

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And that’s about it for the day. I went shopping for some more cables and FamilyMart socks (whee).

The Route Inn chain where I’m staying is both underwhelming and better than a lot of hotels. The rooms are clean and larger than most and they usually have a large bath. It seems a little boring but it’s very good. I had a discussion with the front desk that made me sound like an idiot when I asked if it was summer or winter (no it’s fall they said). What I meant is whether the HVAC was set to summer or winter mode. It’s in winter mode even thought Kumamoto, to me, is the hottest place I’ve been so far and ideal summer weather for this Oregonian (in the mid 70’s Fahrenheit and humid). I have a hard time sleeping when it’s too warm so that isn’t going to help things.

Off to Nagasaki tomorrow which includes a ferry ride. More adventure!



Japan 2023: Day 2

Actually, I’m feeling better about the hotel now. It’s kind of run down and in the middle of nowhere but really I need to do more research before I show up places. It makes for more adventure, sometimes more than I need. This hotel is an old school onsen resort, one that’s kind of on its way down, but it’s fine and it wasn’t expensive. If you get the right train it’s less than an hour and a half from Kagoshima-chuo station and most of the staff were a crack-up. I got lost several times and they all said something like, “This place isn’t really that convenient.” That’s not something I’d expect to hear from Japanese people. I guess that’s why I like Kagoshima so much.

And the food was great. I’m not sure if this breakfast was better or if the APA Hotel breakfast was better, but like the guy on the trolley today told me, “The food in Kagoshima is great.”

Jet lag has really hit. After an awful night of waking up over and over, I finally was dead asleep when the alarm went off. I dragged myself up and I was going to hit the onsen in the morning but I checked my email, like a dummy, and I missed my chance. But I ate too much again which was a good thing later on because finding lunch turned out to be an ordeal.

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I got on the train back to Kagoshima-chuo and I was surprised at how quickly we got to the city and how crowded the train got.

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Kagoshima-chuo station was packed (it is a national holiday today) and the tourist information bureau had a sign that said, “Expect the tour buses to be sold out because a cruise ship arrived today.” I talked to several couples from the ship because, as my sister says, I’m one of those old guys who talks to everyone. There are also lots of foreigners in Kagoshima who look like they live here and I want to join them. It is a lot warmer than I like but I can deal with that. I bet it would be much easier than slipping on ice.

In any case, I was confused by the lack of streetcars and I was told that today is the biggest festival in Kagoshima. Several main roads were closed. I took a taxi rather than trying to figure out which re-routed bus would get me closest to the hotel. I left my bag and this is what it looked like outside the front door of the hotel:

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It’s a wide street and the grass-covered median is actually the trolley tracks between the two lanes. The dancers went down one side and up the other. The crowds got much worse after I crossed the street. They’d stop the dancing every few songs to let people cross.

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At some point I talked to a local Brit and he said there was a Tokyo Disneyland parade coming which was the big attraction. I got as close as I could and waited in the heat.

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There were a bunch of gradeschool marching bands playing quite well along with a couple of other marching bands and we waited. And then I saw it, Mickey and Minnie on the first bus, Donald and Daisy on the second. You can’t see them but Goofy and Pluto were on the back of the first bus and Chip & Dale were on the back of the second.

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At this point I realized how little I cared about Mickey and let a mom stand in the great spot I found. I still got to see everything. Everyone else seemed to be taking a video and were much more excited about this than I was.

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And then I wandered through the crowds to try to find some lunch. The lines were horrible and all the streets away from the festival were packed.

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I saw multiple ambulances called and I wonder if it wasn’t because of a section of the festival called “Shochu Street.” An older gentleman excitedly told me it was the first time they’ve held it in 4 years. Later when I was talking to a cruise couple from LA when we saw an older gentleman do a faceplant directly into a building. He finally got up and was being belligerent with his wife. They refused help from passers-by.

About 1:30 pm I headed back towards the hotel and got a greasy bag containing yakitori and grilled pork sticks. It was great and I can say I had the festival experience without standing in line. It was at the edge of the festivities and the crowds there had died down.

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One of the most popular things today looked like a whole potato spiral cut, stuck onto a 2-foot stick, and I think fried. I didn’t get a picture, but the lines were long for those wherever they were located.

After that I checked into my hotel and sat inside for about an hour before I headed out for coffee. This shop was on the “People of Kagoshima” YouTube channel and the owner won a prize for being one of the best baristas in the world. He wasn’t there, but the coffee was very good.

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Then I wandered around. Come to think of it, this is when I saw the drunk guy faceplant into the building. I also saw a “Furuits Parlour”.

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The rest of the day didn’t get many pictures. I went to several different Daiso stores (¥100 shops) and bought some dumb things I was excited to get like a jar opener (¥100!) and a short two-prong power cord (OMG, ¥300). They didn’t take Suica but they did take my AMEX on my iPhone.

The third Daiso was back at Kagoshima-chuo station, about a mile away. On the way I went by the only gasoline station I’ve been to in Kagoshima where I refueled a rental car in 2019. The cab drove me by it earlier so I figured I was destined to take a picture of it.

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On the way back to the hotel I got on the streetcar and asked a guy what the next station was (the announcement was severely muffled) and he got two other people involved. Everyone is so helpful down here. He’s from Kagoshima, but lives in Osaka right now, He’s the guy who said the food down here is great and I agree! And the size of the portions is big even by US standards. I had a hard time finishing my dinner of tonkatsu.

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And I thought I’d get another early night but yeesh, I had a heck of a time trying to use the smartEX app to buy a bullet train ticket. I hope it worked. We’ll see tomorrow morning.


Japan 2023: Day 1

I stayed at an APA Hotel in Kirishima Kokubu near the airport and there isn’t much around there. Like most APA Hoels, it looked like it needed some repairs/updating, but it was fine. I got breakfast in the hotel because a lot of times I travel to places I’m unfamiliar with and I’m not sure I can get a small breakfast set (like coffee and pizza toast) like I usually get in Osaka or Tokyo or other large towns. I can usually find a combini and make do with the food there but if I’m unlucky that’s all there is to eat in the area.

Back to breakfast, it was a Japanese breakfast buffet and aside from the coffee, it was excellent. Even the natto was great and instead of Japanese mustard, it had a seaweed mix in.

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I was still a little hungry after that but I figured I’d have lunch and extra snacks. Oh boy was I wrong.

Kirishima doesn’t look that small but there isn’t a whole lot going on. The best part was probably breakfast but it’s a tie with how friendly the older people were. There was an old lady on the train with me who told me that there’s fewer than one train per hour and it takes forever to get to Kagoshima (the main town). The train stops for 15 minutes at various stations to let other trains make connections. It took a couple of hours to get to Kagoshima, and then another couple of hours to get to Ibusuki where I was headed for the day.

Oh boy was that second train a pain. There’s even less going on down that direction and there’s only one track. I started the trip with my IC card payment (my Suica card) and there was an announcement about how I’d have to talk to the train operator if I went further than three stops. I was going to the end of the line. When I got to the end of the line, the guy said I was supposed to end my trip at Kagoshima and then buy a paper ticket for the rest of the trip. Also, my Suica card is what I usually use to pay for almost everything and it’s locked in the middle of a trip.

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When I got off the train, I was in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, there was a bathroom at the station and when I got out there was only a sign with the number of several taxi services. The other guy waiting told me he called for a cab but I should take it and he’d call his dad for a ride. I took the cab to the hotel and it was only about 1PM and the check-in time was 4PM. I left my bag in their care and went to find the main attraction of the area, hot sands where they bury you in a layer of sand as you lay there.

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My mom and aunt went a while ago and my sister said it sounded fun. It definitely is fun, but less than an hour. There was 20 minutes of waiting while they slowly checked people in. I got my yukata and towel for about ¥1500 and they told me to put my stuff in a locker and just wear nothing but the yukata and bring the small towel. Then you take a long walk down the promenade to the beach, and there’s an area they have tented where people get buried in the sand, but it says to get out after 10 minutes or you might get cooked. Then you go back, strip off your yukata, wash off the sand that you can, and then head to an onsen bath where I had to wash myself repeatedly to get all the sand off. That took another ten minutes. The whole thing took less than an hour, but it was fun.

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IMG 0109There were a LOT of foreigners there from France, China, Korea, Australia, and even Poland. A lot of that I got from listening to them speaking, but the Polish guy was nice. What I realized is that there are LOTS of instructions and 90% of them are in Japanese. I had to tell the Polish guy some of the stuff, and there was a Chinese guy who didn’t know which door to go to next.

After that, there’s absolutely NOTHING to do. At about 2PM I started walking towards the only other attraction in the area, a reproduction of an ancient town I think, but after seeing ZERO Cocacola vending machines I headed back towards the hotel. I found ONE convenience store, a Lawson, and I had their chicken with tartar sauce inside. I would’ve taken more pictures, but I stood outside and inhaled them. It was all I had for lunch.

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And then it was off to the hotel. I figured if nothing else I’d sit in the waiting area and catch up on all the junk email I get. On the way, however, I found another reason not to move to this area:

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I made the image smaller because it’s horrid enough at this size.

Walking up to the hotel, I noticed a lot of flaws in the exterior and some inside as well. The rooms are OK. It just seems a bit old and need of renovation. Check out the elevator doors on the fifth floor:

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But what I was waiting on was dinner and that was great. I suppose the only thing not great was the loud party of elderly people across the room, but what are you going to do about that?

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I felt like i needed something other than water to drink so I had a non-alcoholic beer. I felt a little buzzed but I think it was the jet lag kicking in. BTW, the raw meat in the box on the lower left is raw pork for shabu-shabu in the sterno-fired, metal lidded dish above it.

I didn’t even go to the onsen here because i already went to another one earlier today. And the hotel even has a sand bath in-house. I guess the trick here is to not show up until 4pm and then do all of the sand bathing and regular bathing at the hotel.

Well, I made it. I told myself I wasn’t going to bed at 8pm and it’s 9:10pm now. Time to call it a day.

Japan 2023: Day 0

Sorry for the late start. It’s been a bit hectic. My first travel day took me 24+ hours to get to my hotel and, as you’d expect, I wasn’t 100% towards the end of that. Up at 4AM, on the shuttle at 4:30AM, on the first plane from PDX to SEA at 7AM, 4H layover plus lots of walking to other terminals, 11H flight to HND, 3+H layover, and then the final flight from HND to KOJ (basically a few hours from Kagoshima).

The longest flight wasn’t that bad. New plane but it had a bunch of glitches. We were delayed because the satellite uplink for the WiFi wasn’t working and I don’t think it ever really worked. The movies paused from time to time. My air blower didn’t work. A whole column of seats (not the rows) had their entertainment systems lock up. But for the most part it was fine. I got to watch several foolish movies: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Fast X, F9, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, and since I didn’t have time for a full fifth movie, part of Central Intelligence (again). 

I was glad to get to Haneda, but there were extra settings on my phone that were necessary to get the internet working and the WiFi there is always janky. That meant the travel forms which were supposed to be completed online to get a QR code didn’t really work at first and I had to fill out one of them on paper. They’re no longer giving the airlines the paper forms because they’re supposed to be a backup, but you know how that all works.

Being AZN, we have to take gifts when going back to the home country. That usually meant having a whole extra suitcase full of gifts we had to cart around. We finally realized we could just mail them from the airport and this time I arrived at a time the post office was open! Unfortunately, Haneda’s three terminals are widely separated buildings with shuttle buses, and I got to tour all of them. My flight arrived at Terminal 3, the post office is in Terminal 1, and my ANA domestic flight was in Terminal 2. It was much easier than last year.

My first actual hiccup was when I couldn’t find the key to the lock on the bag with the presents. Fortunately it was locked through some strings and I just cut the strings. Then I couldn’t find my “Japanese wallet” with all my Japanese money. Fortunately, I had a Suica app with money on it so I used that. (I should mention I’m carrying two phones because I need be logged into two Apple accounts since I had ¥7700 on an old account and that meant I had to have a spare iPhone just to spend it.) I have ways of getting around problems like this and later the next day I found the key and the wallet in a pocket in my bag that’s really hard to see.

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Anyway, onto the food. It was about 1:30AM Portland time when I was looking for dinner (4:30PM Japan time) and I wasn’t really feeling like anything heavy. All the flying was making my stomach feel a bit weird too. I found a nice cafe with a view of the runways that had Japanese coffee house fare including Napolitan spaghetti. I can’t tell you how happy spaghetti with a ketchup based sauce made me, but it’s something I like having on every trip.

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I got to Kagoshima airport and it was larger than I expected. Booking.com told me that the prepaid cost of a taxi was ¥35,0000 (about $2,000) so I think they have their closest airport marked as Fukuoka or something. When I called the hotel, they told me to pre-book a ride and gave me some numbers but when I called they told me just to get in a cab at the airport.

And that’s about it for the first day.

Japan 2022 Day 29

Well, it was only a little bit of Day 29, but there was a Day 29. I successfully got on my delayed flight that left around 1am after a seven-and-a-half hour delay. And I successfully got back to Portland by 9pm on Saturday. But I did spend at least 14 hours in the Haneda airport.

Most of Haneda is meh but the Delta Lounge is great. More of the food I had. I started with a bunch of these chicken & cheese sandwiches.

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Two types of mini ramen. Dandan ramen and shio ramen.

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And more of the mini sandos and some pumpkin salad and dessert.

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Nine hours in the lounge and lots of snacking. They stayed open late for our delayed flight!

Then at 1am I finally got on the plane! I think if I have the chance I’ll do Comfort++ again (or whatever it is that they call the second level of Comfort +).

We landed in Seattle and I had a short layover. I went to the Delta lounge there which is big and quite nice as well. Clam chowder and ribs! Oh, and I didn’t show you the Hop Valley IPA I got. It was a slip in judgement: after about half I thought I was going to fall asleep right there. I made it to the plane and took a quick nap. Very quick. I thought we’d landed but we hadn’t even started taxiing yet.

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Best part of the trip: seeing friends and relatives I haven’t seen for a couple of years.

Worst part: getting laid off right in the middle of it.

Well, thems the breaks.


Japan 2022 Day 28

Woo, more adventure.

I got up after got of waking up early and often. To be expected on a day I’m flying. It started out normally…

Then I got a text message at 6:59am saying my flight was canceled/delayed. My 5:20pm flight wouldn’t leave until 12:35am, eventually getting me to Portland about 8:52pm. That kind of ruins my plans for a nice quiet Saturday doing my laundry.

I checked the app like they told me to and there were no options.

Then, at 8:47am I had a message telling me I’d been re-rescheduled for a JAL flight to Honolulu at 9:55pm which connected to a Delta flight to Seattle and then another Delta flight to Portland, getting me in about 11:30pm.

I’d had enough and decided to head to the airport. I canceled my prepaid taxi after finding out I couldn’t push it earlier. No refund at this late date. I called the driver and the local contracting company to warn them what I was doing, and then canceled on the web site and for good measure I called the contracting company again. Then I paid another ¥10,610 to get to the airport, arriving just before 10am. Of course the Delta counter until open 1:10pm. In fact, the Delta counter was an American Airlines counter, and a Korean Airlines counter before Delta showed up. I had to sit with my bags, having eaten nothing, no chance to use the bathroom, until I checked in.

While I was sitting I had an hour-long phone call with Delta to change my flight back to the “late” flight so I wouldn’t have to fly coach. They even offered to fly me to Atlanta and back to Portland but that would be coach as well. And I asked but there were no first class seats open. I got booked on the flight that’s now delayed until midnight and a later flight from Seattle to Portland.

While I was standing in line, the taxi driver and some number in California kept calling me because booking.com is a bit of a mess. Meh.

Check-in was a bit of shenanigans as well. But now I’m booked on a 1am flight to Seattle, and the “earlier” 8pm flight from Seattle to Portland. Delta gave me two ¥1000 food vouchers and I used them to get unagi, which I hadn’t been able to eat during the trip.

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I made it to the Delta Lounge which is wonderful and is staying open late until 11pm for the few people who are stuck here waiting for the Seattle flight. The first thing they gave us was a little taste of turkey and Sangiovese wine. Then I passed out for a while. It’s a comfortable place to wait.

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I asked a bunch of randos if they had the same series of changes I did. Nope. Well I’m headed home. Wish me luck.

Japan 2022 Day 27

Today was my last full day in Tokyo. I was trying to figure out what to do but there were a couple of regular stops that I haven’t made yet.

First, Hoshino Coffee again for the Eggslut. Why not? I like it. I went to the nearby Hoshino Coffee and I think they might have less on the morning set menu than the other one. But it’s close.

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Then I went to Akihabara to see all the electronics stores. I was initially very happy when I got there and then I realized that most of the small stores had closed. All the weird little parts stores and kit shops were gone. It was the saddest I’ve been this whole trip. I realized that I’m just a dinosaur with no job and even my hobbies are leaving me. I didn’t give up for a while. I went looking for a store, any store, that might have a cable tester I wanted. No dice. It’s on Amazon, but I’m leaving soon. I had to get out of there.

I took a train to Shibuya and the whole area is still under a lot of construction. At first it seemed impossible to get out of the station. When I finally got out and got my bearings, I went to the new Shibuya Scramble building to see the observation deck. I found out it’s ¥2000(!) to go up to the deck. Screw that. I got on the next train to Nakano.

Before I went to Nakano Broadway I got out of the arcade and saw a tsukemen restaurant. I have never tried tsukemen so I figured this  was my chance. This is the “medium” sized bowl of noodles and it was a lot.

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I think I’ll have to get used to tsukemen. I’m used to regular udon and ramen which are a lot thinner soup.

Nakano Broadway was the perfect place for this old dinosaur. There are a lot of stores with tchotchkes, mostly anime-related but other stores as well. There’s a LOT of watch stores and I almost bought a Wakmann Cricket alarm watch but it was ¥45,000 and looked in rough shape. I saw some Grand Seikos that were as old as I am.

There were figures that I hadn’t thought about since I was a kid! Obake no Q-taro? The second run of the manga ended in 1974!

Anyway, I felt better and went back to my hotel as the sun was setting. My last tasks were to have some dinner and to buy some new tchotchkes for my sister. I completed those tasks and I’m back in my room.

I got Indian food for dinner because why not? Japanese Indian food is different than US Indian food as it’s probably adjusted to the palate. The butter chicken was sickly sweet, however, and tasted like it was sweetened with honey.

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Tomorrow is a travel day. The plane doesn’t leave until 5:20 but I have a 1PM taxi scheduled. My unreliable app says it’ll be raining so I’ll probably hang out in my room for as long as I can and then hang out in an airport lounge as long as I can. Basically I get up at the usual time 6am Saturday morning (about 1pm US time on Friday) and try to stay up until 9pm Saturday evening. I don’t even land in the US until 2am Japan time.

Oh well, them’s the breaks.

Japan 2022 Day 26

At some point yesterday I decided I’d just take a bus to someplace in Yamanashi Prefecture so I’d have all the 47 checked off my list. I kind of didn’t want to because that meant one less goal and I’d already checked off all five of the castles that are Japanese National Treasures on this trip (or technically parts of five castles are designated treasures). But whatever. At first I thought I’d just go to Fuji Q Highlands which is a roller coaster amusement park, but then I found I could go to the lake nearby and just see the scenery. I wondered what else it was famous for and what they should list is that it’s OVERRUN WITH CHINESE TOURISTS. OK, not overrun. You have to get the China Chinese and not just the SE Asia Chinese to have it be properly overrun.


Anyway, I finally got my butt out of the hotel and to the bus terminal only to find that the next bus was full. So I got tickets for the 10:15 bus and went to Hoshino Coffee. That would’ve been easier if I hadn’t gotten lost AGAIN. I found a different Hoshino Coffee that was closer to the hotel, in a basement. I sat at a table for one (loser).

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And I had a salad for breakfast. I wanted something different but I used my coin flipping app and landed on salad. At least it was tasty.

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The bus ride was an hour and 45 minutes but the view was nice and as we got closer I could tell it would be a clear day to see Mt. Fuji.

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It’s a fairly quiet tourist area with certain areas where the tourists congregate. I just kept walking around because I had time and there really wasn’t much to do.

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The first thing I found was all the restaurants appeared to be closed (turns out I went the wrong way). I saw a French place that looked open, checked google maps, and found a Japanese restaurant that was quite tasty. Very nice people too. I asked what was the most Yamanashi thing and the lady told me it was houtou, and I could leave and go find it if I wanted. But nothing else was open so far, so I had tendon which was great.

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I walked towards the town away from the tourist area and found several other open restaurants as well.

I took a couple of pictures of Mt Fuji.

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Which really were creative framing because it really looked like this.

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I also saw a huge Toyoko Inn up here.

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The bus trip back took longer because we hit a traffic jam. And then I went to a place called Noah which is Tokyo Sando’s family restaurant. I had a hard time trying to decide what to get because they have everything on the menu. I started with something they told me was the start of Tokyo Sando, an Indocurry croquette.

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Then I had to get the Napolitan spaghetti (ketchup sauce) because I haven’t had it yet.

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And yakitori because it’s Thanksgiving and I have to have some sort of chicken.

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And the rest of the “chef’s suggested items”. Potato salad.

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Satsuma age and tempura of sardines in perilla leaves.

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Everything was great and I got out of there for ¥4200. Pretty light for one of my trips to an izakaya.

Oh, and on the way back I saw this long line. I think they’re buying year-end lottery tickets. With the exchange rate it’s not worth it.

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Japan 2022 Day 25

Not many photos today. it was mostly a travel day, and raining at both ends of the trip.

I just had dinner from McDonald’s and it was AWFUL. I think they use more salt and less MSG here. And this is coming from a guy who has to keep himself from eating Mickey D’s less often than the several times a week he usually has it.

Anyway, I started out in Okinawa and it was a rainy day. It was only sprinkling for most of the day yesterday but at some point in the early evening it started POURING. It rained so hard that someone’s security light kept going on outside.

I actually slept pretty well although I woke up too early. Who wants to wake up before their alarm goes off and not be able to go back to sleep? Anyway, the fact that I slept so well makes me wonder if the heat and humidity are what my body wants. It would be pretty ironic.

Anyway, it wasn’t just sprinkling this morning so I just grabbed some food from the combini and stayed in to play with my computer all morning. Then I packed and got a cab to the airport because i didn’t want to walk around in the rain. I think I left the hotel around 10:45am.

The cab driver was a very interesting fellow who gave me his card. He also works as a tour guide from his cab and he was telling me all sorts of facts about the trip to the airport. I forgot to ask him why there weren’t more famous fish dishes in Okinawa.

I got to the airport quite early for my flight. They have an A&W here and I kind of wanted to try it but when I first got there the line was pretty long.

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It just got longer as I wandered around. I wasn’t that hungry so I just got some snacks at the Family Mart and found some tables that weren’t too busy. And there were airport and airline employees eating their lunch here. The tables overlook the departure lobby, too, so there’s something to do.

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The picture isn’t very indicative of the crowds. This is between two packed counters. I’m not sure why there were several hundred people in line at ANA. There were a half-dozen checkin kiosks and no one was using them.

When I finally went to my gate, there was no one there and they were about to close the door on the departing plane. The sign on the board had my flight listed. The departure time was still an hour later, but I had to scramble to make sure they didn’t push up the flight time as I’ve encountered in past travels. No, they just changed the sign very early to panic me.

The last picture of the day is the mini-Coke I found at the airport. They used to sell this size exclusively in Japan, that is, this is the only size I could find when I was younger. I wanted a mini-Coke several times during this trip but this was the first time I found it. It was also the same price as a “full-sized” 350ml Coke.

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The plane trip took about 2 ½ hours and there was nothing much to do on the packed 777-300, a plane I’ve always been afraid to fly on. The flight was a little bumpy too. Fortunately I finally remembered there are card games on my iPhone and when it wasn’t too bumpy I reconfirmed that I’m even bad at Solitaire.

It was properly raining in Tokyo too. I was going to take a taxi but before I could find the taxi line I saw that a bus was leaving for Shinjuku and even stopped at my hotel. I got in my room around 6:15pm, and that included weaving my way through a bunch of Chinese tourists who wouldn’t know a line or waiting for their turn even if it smacked them in the face. I suppose they were from other countries like Singapore, but what do I know?

Oh, and I got the two pieces of luggage I had shipped here but the intern kept taking the wrong slip for their records (it’s a multi-carbon form and they have to keep one of them for some reason.) They even called my room and apologized and came and got the form they gave me in the first place but then swapped me for because they were so confused. I just gave him ALL the copies because I was going to throw them away anyhow. He can put them in his binder or whatever he wants to do with them. Maybe SPINDLE them.

I had to navigate the Chinese tourists to try to borrow an umbrella. I was afraid someone would steal the umbrella because, well, that’s one of the only things they seem to steal here in Japan. That and bicycles. It stressed me out so much that I went to Mickey D’s for the awful takeout food I mentioned (even the fries weren’t great) and popped into a Family Mart to grab a bottle of water. SOMEONE STOLE THE GODDAMN UMBRELLA FROM THE FAMILY MART. Well, I remember what they told me in Osaka when I lived there and just grabbed someone else’s umbrella.

I got back to the hotel and asked the front desk about the umbrella and told them what I had done. The kid actually laughed and said, “I’m going to pretend I didn’t see anything.”

Anyway, I’m back in Tokyo. People seem to love this place but it’s just a place with lots of stuff. The food isn’t the best, there’s too many people, and if I ever move back to Japan this won’t be the place I live. But it can be fun and makes for lots of stories.

Some people don't believe my luck.