Tyrnn goes to Japan!
Oh, where to begin. My flight left Salt Lake City around 8:50 in the morning, and now I'm sitting here in my friend's dorm room at 10:00 at night two days later. Where does all the time go. Not much of interest really occurred during my flights from SLC to Seattle, and from there to Tokyo and from Tokyo to Nagoya airport. I did try to get in touch with Flinthoof while in Seattle, but my cell phone's battery had died, and the number listed in the phone book did not work... so sorry I missed ya, Flinters. The actual transatlantic flight was simply time for sleep, with the exception of being able to sit next to Dr. Isao Murata, a resident Japanese who we exchanged cards with. I wonder if he likes American comics, and ever will visit this site, since we exchanged cards on the flight, so if you're reading this, Dr. Murata, I'm having a great time in Japan so far, and good luck with Tohoku University!
Upon arrival in Tokyo... well, that's where the English really started to drag. There were a >lot< of helpful people who were more than willing to put up with the stereotypical 'gaijin' tourist, and I really needed it when I wandered into the wrong section of the airport, and was re-directed to Customs to make sure that Mr. Bin Laden wasn't shipping high explosives in my luggage. Customs was a breeze, immigration put enough ink on my passport to add a half pound to it, and I was in. Japan. Had to stop by to exchange my worthless American money for valuable Japanese Yen, at the going rate of 114.40 Yen to the Dollar. Once that was overcome, I had to find my next flight, which was amazing, considering most of the airport is in Japanese. Three different written languages, two of which I can read and write, but only one of which I can translate. Yeah, it's kinda complicated from here on out.
So I made my way to the Domestic Flights area, and waited for the next flight, on a Fokker 50 propeller plane from Tokyo to Nagoya. Nothing really eventful, save for gazing down at all the little neon lights with my binoculars. Which I bought on the Duty Free section of the Seattle-Tokyo flight for $36.
And so I arrived in Nagoya, claimed my customs-approved luggage, and met up with Adam, whom some of you may remember waaay back in Comic #1. We'll be seeing more of this fine chap in future storylines, and he's providing me with plenty of material, too. For the first night, I was pretty much zonked. We took the bus from the airport to Adam's dorm, had a quick drink at the local bar, got me and my baggage safely smuggled in, and went to sleep.
Aeris' theme woke me up around 9 am. (Japan time from here on out) This was Adam's cell phone, reminding us that this was a vacation to go see stuff and be touristy. So I took a shower, got prepared for the day, and then smuggled my way out the laundry room balcony to take on the first city in this tour, Nagoya. We walked across the street and up a ways to the local bus station, and purchased a day pass for the bus and subway system. We made it to the subway station, and started to really pick up the pace. The entire subway system of Nagoya mainly consists of cute little chiming bells, doors opening on the trains, people come off, people go on, little cute chiming bells (Re-Mix version) and train whisks off. There's also paths of raised bumps crisscrossing the stations all around, and Adam explained to me that these are actually for the blind to navigate by. A pretty interesting concept if you ask me. The trains weren't really packed, since it was only a Thursday, and so the trip wasn't too stifling. We did get a lot of long stares and a few Japanese girls thought we were cool. Our first stop of the day, Nagoya Castle.
Now, I'm sure you don't want me to bore you to death about how it was build in the 1600s and bombed to the stone age back in WWII, so if you want to learn more about the castle, there's your local internet center to tell you more. If you've even read this far, I'll be brief. Nagoya Castle is a really big, very beautiful, and artfully designed Japanese castle, right down to the Golden Dragon-Dolphins that adorn the pinnacle. These are the symbol of Nagoya, and look rather interesting when viewed up close. There were several life-sized replicas in the museum inside the castle, as well as a 'now you can pull a giant block of stone too!' game, much like how the original foundation stones were placed. I managed to 'score' 50 kg worth of pulling. Adam got 58 kg. It's harder than it looks to pull a rope.
Next on the list was The Market. And oh, what a huge stretch of shops it is. Everything that you can put a price tag on is for sale in countless tiny and big shops. I wound up getting at least four different Godzilla toys, a couple games, including Vib Ribbon (Yes, I got it, Ben. Be happy now.) I found the fabled GameCube PSOnline controller with the keyboard in the middle, but they wouldn't accept my Visa card for some strange reason, and I couldn't get it. So I'll get it in Tokyo tomorrow, along with a Game Boy Advance SP if I can swing it. I also purchased a nifty little Japanese-English translator device, and this deserves mention. The guy who helped me works at a major electronics store called Super CompMart. This salesperson, Mr. Katou Masaki, has got to be the most customer-oriented salesman in Japan. He was all over making sure that I had a translator that had a manual in English, had an English menu system, and found the perfect one for me. He cross checked it with other models. He compared prices. He made sure that it rang up the same price as advertised. And when he had it all taken care of, he even threw in a leather carrying case, free. He was beyond polite the entire time, making absolutely sure that everything was taken care of. If this type of work ethic came to America, we would >never< have to worry about a recession again.
I also found a nifty little sign for a restaurant selling yakisoba noodles I thought it was worth a picture, so here it is. We walked around the shopping area, had some lunch in a little restaurant, and visited the Nagoya Towers to get my Japan Rail Pass exchanged for the actual Pass that I'll be using tomorrow. By this time, unfortunately, I've already blown most of the cash I had come with, but luckily payday is but two short days away. I'll have more funds to spend in Tokyo and Kyoto down the road, and I've got a decent amount of credit cards to keep me company until then. I'm pretty tired at this time, and my little clock on my PC says 6:40 am. It's 10:40 pm in Japan, so I'm majorly jetlagged. I'll try drawing/photoshopping something up with the pictures I took today, and I'll see about posting them soon. Until then, Ja Ne! (Take care!)
Ugh, I can't believe that I haven't found any decent connections to the internet so far, but I hope you didn't mind the wait very much. The third day of my trip started out pretty sour, as we reached Tokyo in the middle of a huge downpour. Luckily, it was only a short walk from the station to where we decided to stay, the New Koyo Hotel... Unluckily, we got lost. So we're getting soaked by the rain, getting funny looks from any Japanese people who are walking along with their umbrellas, and getting nowhere fast. We have to stop and ask for directions three times before we finally wander in to the hotel. This is where the day started to get better, though. Have you ever slept in a closet? The size of the New Koyo's 'rooms' were little more than a large closet space, complete with tatami mat, color TV (static included at no extra charge), and window. I couldn't complain much, since it effectively prevented rain from soaking me any further. My feet were in the worst condition, however. Since my shoes are kinda old, they leaked, and became sponges for any water we came across the first day we went around town. We tried to avoid any heavy outside walking, and decided to go shopping the first day that we were here.
The best place we could think of to get some good Japanese electronics, according to the guidebook, was a place called Akihibara, otherwise known as Electric Town. We didn't really find much electronics there, but once the neon signs came on at night... man, you need to see them in person to see all the flashy motions and colors. We did find a cool chain of stores called 'Gamers' which caters to anime and pop culture materials. I purchased several packs of Godzilla Game cards (which I will try to translate sometime if I can) and Adam found a whole bunch of Trigun toys and other anime stuff to stock his shelves at home. I was unable to find any of the stuff I wanted to import back to the US, mainly a GBA SP or the Gamecube ASCII keyboard, so after a quick meal of yakisoba (good stuff), we headed over to the Ginza district for more searching.
Now this was Neon. Dramatic, billboard sized televisions proudly exclaimed all about the wonderful products available, massive electronic signs glittered like a thousand jewels all around. You really have to see it to believe it. We tried again to find the elusive GC keyboard and GBA SP, but our search was futile. Several really neat department stores offered other treasures, such as the new Zelda game which still hasn't come out in the US, and a Godzilla Saturn game that I had been offhandedly searching for for a while now. We walked around some of the better lit areas, and found some arcades, and more of those Gamers places. About the biggest thrill for me was finding some of the places and buildings that Godzilla had trashed back in Godzilla 1985. Since time was running out and stores were going to be closing soon, we decided to check out another section of the city, the Roppongi district.
We had heard that a nice place to eat, called Hassan Zushi, was located there, but after about a half hour of hungry searching, we just ate at Wendy's. I must say for posterity that Wendy's in Japan is only for light snacking, not a full meal. I paid about the price for a full Biggie Size meal, and got what would barely fill up a child. The food doesn't come in small, medium, or large. It's miniscule, petite, and small sizes. I kinda got hungry after a while, but I was able to snack at a couple places. We did a bit more shopping, and I finally found my beloved Gamecube Controller! Mission Complete! I did see the Tokyo Tower fully lit up at night, and urged Adam to take a walk over to the tower, to see about visiting the Observation deck, but about 3/4 of the way there, we found out it was closed... but hey, we got some really cool pictures of the tower in full orange lighting! We decided to just get back to the hotel and call it quits for the day. This wouldn't have been much of a problem had my feet not started hurting dreadfully from all the walking and constant soaking from the rain... I had to use my umbrella as a walking cane once the rain stopped, but we made it back to the train station okay. One problem, we had 17 stops in the meantime... and the train was packed closer together than sardines in a can. Adam and I were the only Americans on the train, and we were kinda forced to the back, and there we stood the whole ride... more people got on, some got off, but my feet were hurting so bad, I couldn't really tell. Needless to say, I was glad once we were finally off the train back in the right station, Minowa Station. Now, we got out of the station, and headed back to the hotel. Hm. Bit longer than usual. Wait, was that McDonald's there before? I don't remember that store... We got lost again, trying to find our hotel. We did a big circle at night in the back alleys of Tokyo, trying to find a way back to the station. We got more funny looks from local Japanese folks, but we made it home in one piece. Tokyo's famous for being so confusing and deceptive when it comes to addresses and locations. I swear it moves around at night. Sleep came quick once we finally made it back. One day of Tokyo down, one to go...
We got up around 10 o'clock, so we had a full night's rest, at least. My feet were still aching, but it was pretty manageable by this time. We decided that the first thing to do was go to see the Imperial Palace, the heart of Tokyo proper, and the weather was perfect for it. Just a few little clouds, and blue, blue skies. The imperial grounds are huge. We didn't really have access to the main areas, since they're only open a couple days a year for New Year's celebrations, but we saw quite a lot of open space... a rarity in such a packed country! The imperial grounds are like the eye of the Industrial storm of Japan's economy. Huge, high rise office complexes all surround the ancient, timeless castles and pagodas of the Imperial family. We didn't see many palaces, but got at least one picture of me in front of the gates.
There was a marathon going on around the Imperial grounds, and about a hundred people were running, even some little kids, so it was cute to see them try to run around the huge grounds. We walked around to the other side, and saw the Diet Building up close there. This is another famous building that I know of only from watching Godzilla stomp the crap outta the thing repeatedly from one movie to the next. Supposedly it's the Japanese equivalent to the Capitol building in Washington DC, but I honestly don't know much about it other than that.
We also read in Adam's guidebook about a really neat building to view the entire skyline of Tokyo from, called the Sunshine Building, waaay out of the way in the northwest area of the city. The subway there was uneventful, but actual locating the building was kind of fun. We got distracted along the way by at least three different arcades. One of them was completely Sega themed, and you could play versus mode with the guy across the way with the way the arcade was rigged up. It was amazing! There were a lot of UFO catcher games around as well, with little trinkets set up like crane games, but they really weren't worth playing to get the cheap stuff in.
We found the tower (tallest one around) and entered, only to be again distracted by a Toys R Us store... the only one I've seen that actually carries >loads< of Godzilla/Ultraman themed merchandise. Hallelujah! My wishes had been fulfilled! I got a basket, and filled it up with all sorts of goodies and monster junk that I adore. Best Toys R Us, ever. Now with this spending done, we purchased an observation ticket, and ascended the tower. It really zips up fast, my ears popped three times on it! We really enjoyed the view of the skyline, and I, of course, recognized a lot of areas that Godzilla had destroyed in various movies. Especially poignant was the distant view of Yokohama that I recognized solely from the Godzilla Generations Game for Dreamcast. It was pure awesome and a half. We even went up to the roof for open air viewing, and my binoculars came in exceptionally handy for seeing all the way to Tokyo Disneyland and farther. The city didn't end, all the way from the sea to the mountains!
We made our way back to the station, again distracted by different anime and toy shops littered around the district. By this time, I had gotten the whole Tokyo Subway system down pat, and I could find my way anywhere on my own if I needed to. So we went back to the Roppongi district to ascend the famous Tokyo Tower. We weren't disappointed. The view, once it gets dark, is >spectacular.< Neon signs and red lights covered the skyline all around, and I could once again make out famous battlefields for Godzilla and Co. when they were wrecking the place again. We bought a few souvenirs, and were pretty hungry, so we decided to find a nice place to eat authentic Tokyo cuisine. We ended up actually finding the place this time, Ten-ichi Deux. The original one was far too expensive for our limited budget, but the Deux version was for us. 3400 yen bought us a five course meal, complete with a bottle of Sake to wash it down with. It was some strong sake, probably the strongest I've ever had, but we did learn some secrets to dull the edge. Eating Octopus before taking a swig or drinking Miso soup will soften the blow without removing the flavor, and I managed to get a half shot of Sake down in one throw without even batting an eye. The meal was superb, the finest tempura and soup I had ever had... and now we were half drunk in Tokyo.
Listed on the map just north of Ginza is a 'Statue of Godzilla' that's been dedicated to the 300 foot tall behemoth that I have made mention to several different times. We managed to find it quite easily, once we got our bearings, and lo and behold, there's a 2 foot tall replica of Godzilla made of copper or bronze, and a dedication plaque to one of Tokyo's best movie stars, right in front of dozens of bronzed handprints from other famous actors, much like Hollywood's walk of fame. Of course, I was extremely happy to see this monument, plus we were both half drunk from sake, so we ended up taking about fifty pictures of the statue from various positions, just to make them look cool. Even Adam was really enjoying taking multiple pictures of the Godzilla monument here. On the way back, I once again recognized a famous scene from Godzilla 1985, where Godzilla picks up the train and looks in on all the little people. I can now say I was on that train line, and I walked under those tracks! There was even another keen little arcade under there with more fighting games and puzzle games to try. And some.. >ahem< Severely Naughty games that were really hardcore, if you know what I mean...
We made our way back to the hotel much easier than the night before, and prepared for our journey to Kyoto the next day. Sleep was again comfortable in the tatami mat/closet hotel, but we decided to book Western style rooms for Kyoto, right at the base of Kyoto tower, right next to the station. We'll take the Shinkansen (bullet train) out there tomorrow, and we'll see what happens in Kyoto! Tokyo was a complete wonder to me, and I got almost every thing I wanted to do accomplished in two days, but I still want to come back again and spend more time exploring more, finding other treasures and learning new things. We'll have to see when I can come back, but that's for another story...
I still haven't found any kind of internet connection, and I leave for home early tomorrow, so I'm very sorry for being unable to update my strip for so long. I've got some neat drawings in the sketch/ink stage, so I'll retroactively post them when I get them done. Now, on with the show.
We took the Shinkansen train out from Tokyo to Kyoto, which was the original Capitol of Japan. The skies were pretty clear, so we were treated to some absolutely magnificent views of Mt Fuji all along the way! It's truly a volcano that I will remember for the rest of my life. The rest of the train trip was uneventful, and we arrived at Kyoto Station rather well rested. Upon exiting the station, the hotel wasn't all that difficult to find. The Kyoto Tower is visible from most anywhere in the city. It was pretty late in the day, since we had been travelling for a couple hours, and had a late start since we were still tired from Tokyo. So we decided to drop off all our stuff and go exploring. Now, if you've ever heard of an old Sega Genesis game called King of the Monsters 2, one of the levels that you can fight on is Kyoto. I immediately recognized not only the Kyoto Station and Kyoto Tower, but these two Buddhist temples, the largest wooden structures in the world. We explored those temple grounds a bit, but since it was getting late, we just decided to get some dinner.
So we decided to this restaurant that Adam had been touting for a while from his guidebook... so we got on the bus... and searched... and never found the right stop. Turns out we just missed the stop, and did one huge circuit of the entire city of Kyoto... so it was the ultra cheap tour for only 200 yen. Woohoo. So we decided to just wander around, getting some more Godzilla shopping done and picking up gifts and trinkets. We began looking for some food at around 11:30 pm, and not much was really open except this little ramen place. It was pretty cool though, and it was a nifty little bit of hot ramen to heat up an otherwise chilly evening. We topped the night off by hitting the arcade across the street. I never managed to find a single working DDR machine in Japan, but there were all sorts of Beatmania and Drummania and Guitarmania games... Adam and I played some Beatmania, and it was good. I tried playing Drummania, but the stupid arcade closed right as I was starting, and they turned the machine off right from under me! 100 yen down the drain. I was pretty mad, so we just went back to the hotel and just went to sleep. Kind of a slow day compared to Tokyo indeed.
Now the fun begins with Kyoto proper. We decided to start out the day around 10 am by travelling to a nifty Zen Rock Garden in the northern area of the city, and it was pretty nice to see. Not very photogenic, but some of the little temples and shrines around were very pleasing to see, and we left some coins for good luck on our journeys. The next stop on the route was the Kinkakuji Temple, fabled because it is completely covered in Gold. We took the bus out to the proper stop, walked a half block, and were met by a nice policeman type person who showed us a picture of the temple as it currently looks: Covered with a white tarp while it's being reconstructed and renovated. Joy. It won't be ready for another month, so we kinda couldn't see anything there. We got back on the bus, prepared to just go back to the station... and found Nijo Castle just five minutes' worth of bus travel away. Cool! We got off the bus, and proceeded to the largest (area wise) Ancient Japanese castle in all of Japan. Of course, we had to take off our shoes to show respect, and the tour of the castle was quite informative as well. The castle floorboards were designed to squeak, so no silent movement was possible, and intruders would be heard right away. The Shogun's offices and Minister's offices were all preserved perfectly, right down to the original artwork on the sliding doors. We walked through the gardens as well, and the cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom. Very beautiful. We hopped back onto the train to get back to the station, and go to take a look at the other sights to see around town. Now we went back to the wooden temples that we had seen the previous day, and we were able to visit the inside as well. Amazing. There were some very intricate designs carved into the wood, and liberally covered with gold leaf. Our feet got kinda cold from the frigid climate, so we didn't stay there too long.
So we were feeling kinda hungry, and Adam wanted to try to find that restaurant in the Gion district once again. We found that place that Adam had been talking about this time, and I got to try out Japanese cuisine, Shabu Shabu style. This is more fun than it sounds. The food is served to you all you can eat, raw. There's a pot of boiling water in the center of the table, and you basically boil some choice cut beef, and myriad vegetables in this pot, and dip them in various sauces. I loved it! It was the best meal I've ever had in all of Japan, and it makes a fitting end to the meals I've had over the past week or so. It was getting kind of late, and we had to get the train back to Nagoya soon, but we managed to get a tad more shopping done in the Gion district, and even managed to find a famous Noh Theater. Didn't get the name, but we got a decent picture of the place. We made our way back to the station, immense quantity of luggage in hand, and bid farewell to Kyoto. We returned to Nagoya late in the evening, and my plane will be leaving tomorrow. We returned back to the International House where Adam's dorm is, and decided to show off some of our photos and trinkets. A couple card games kinda sprung up, and somehow, Sake got involved somewhere along the line... As I sit here typing this in the wee hours of the morning on March 11th, I'm watching Adam and five other international students draw random cards from a pile, stick them to their foreheads, and hope they don't have the lowest card. They then fill up a glass with sake, not knowing what card they have... and the loser has to drink the sake. It's gotten pretty funny watching them make each other drunk like that, Adam's pulling out his Lord of the Rings Ringwraith action figure, and it's even got a horse to ride (With Special Galloping Action). Most of the folks around are getting fairly drunk, so the night will probably wind down in a few minutes. I'll wrap up for now, and by this time tomorrow, I'll be home safe and sound, and finally able to post this long chronicle of my week long escapade to Japan... One final entry once I'm home, and I'll post all I can at once.
Technically only a half day, since my plane left at 12:50 in the afternoon. We made it to the airport, reminiscing on the past week, with all of the fun things that had happened. We bid farewell to each other at the security gate, and my wonderful trip to Japan finally came to a close... I watched Japan recede into the distance from my airplane seat, wondering when I'd ever get a chance to return. There are so many things I'd like to do yet, and I hope to learn Japanese more fluently in the future so I can at least be literate there. The novelty will probably wear off and the hardships will appear, but I still want to see Japan once more, somewhere down the road.
I finally got through customs okay, but from about that point, things went downhill fast. I forgot a couple items in Seattle that I apparently was supposed to pick up, and I probably will never see again. No big deal for me though, just a pocketknife/scissors and a letter opener I never used. Darn terrorist crap. I arrived at Salt Lake terminal to expect a welcome home by my friends... but... uh, I forgot to tell them when I was arriving apparently. I can swear up and down that I told them exactly where I'd be... but they didn't get the message. And since I never found any internet connection in Japan, and my cell phone battery was clinically dead, I had absolutely No way to contact them. After frantically searching around for some means to communicate, I ended up lugging my 60 lbs of luggage on the Utah transit system. An hour long bus ride. And I'm jet lagged, and I'm extremely tired. It was certainly the worst part of the trip. Once I did get home, more bad stuff happened. Several items that I had bought in Japan either didn't make it, breaking into pieces, or didn't even show up at all! I had purchased a small fox phone pendant, and apparently they forgot to wrap it up.. (Or maybe the empty wrapping paper was far more sinister...) My sake set's plate came home in four pieces that would look terrible glued back together, and a Kirin glass shattered horribly in transit as well. The worst loss of all though was my memory card for my Gamecube. I lost >everything< I had been saving on it. Phantasy Star Online, Godzilla, Mario Sunshine, Zelda, EVERYTHING was gone! It now can't even read the card, so I have to start from scratch on at least five of my games... Everything else survived intact, and I don't know where I'll put all these Godzilla toys.
I still don't have a frickin' internet connection now at 5:19 am, where I sit awake, still on Japanese time, apparently. The cables are all there, but the only person who might know how to fix it is asleep. I hate this severely. I haven't been able to connect to the internet for over a week now, and you are all probably wondering where the hell I am. Annoyed, sitting at home in a dirty room, wishing I was back in Japan, basically. I'll adjust to the US soon once more, but I'm really upset right now that I can't connect to the internet... I suppose I'll go through what I've written and add links to any photos that I've taken while I sit here instead... The trip has come to a conclusion, I'm not happy right now, but I had the most wonderful time of my life exploring Nagoya, Tokyo, and Kyoto, Japan. Ask me for more details if you'd like to hear them, so for now, I will work on drawing more Boomer Express comics and restarting the storyline... hopefully getting 5 comics a week will help, if I can manage it...
Japan over. Tyrnn tired. Peace out.