A Detour Through the Mountains

September 10, 2017

Morning walk through Nagoya

The day starts with the morning sun peeking through my Nagoya apartment window. I had quite the journey set before me today. Before I continue down south towards Kyoto, I wanted to spend a night in the more rural city of Takayama. A city found within the mountains of central Japan. To get to Takayama, I had to take a special train all the way up the mountains. Fortunately for me, this special train was covered by my rail pass, so no problems there.

Before that, though, I needed to get ready and get some breakfast in me. I took a morning walk through Nagoya and about half a mile later, I found a 7/11 where I topped up on cash and got some pastries to eat for breakfast. Mornings are always so peaceful in Japan. I take great pleasure in simply walking to the convenience stores in the morning just to experience what the early day is like within each city I visit. After my visit to the store, I head back, eat-up, and get ready.

It was a little sad that I only had this apartment for one night. It was so cool! Oh well, off to the next adventure. I head out at around 10:30 and begin to walk the streets of Nagoya towards the train station. All the tiny kei-car sized delivery trucks and their drivers were offloading goods to stores and restaurants. It’s always fun to see what kind of crazy things they pull out of those trucks. Fish, fresh vegetables, bottles of booze… I’ve even seen a whole frozen pig delivery!

A mile and a half or so later, I arrive at Nagoya Station. Google Maps suggests that my train towards Gifu/Takayama departs at 11:40, but it was 11:10. As I walked up to the station platform, I noticed that there was already a train there that read “Gifu.” Well, that’s the station I’m going to anyways. Should I just ignore Google Maps and board this mystery train that may or may not end up in the city I’m looking for? Sure, why not. Turns out, I was correct. Again, it’s the little day-to-day successes that are most satisfying – even if it’s just correctly reading the destination sign off of a train. After an hour and a half, I arrive at Gifu station and wait for my next train towards Takayama. Already I could tell that my surroundings were getting a bit more rural. The city hues of blue, grey, and white were fading into blue, green, and brown. A little more time passes, and the train to Takayama arrived.

Now this train was special. Even though it was the only arterial rail line to Takayama, it was a specially designed train with very large windows so passengers could enjoy the scenery. The train was definitely older. The doors stuck a little more, there was a lot of worn down carpet on every surface, and the chairs looked a bit more weathered. Further still, instead of the wonderfully futuristic electric trains of the big cities, this beast of a train was running on straight diesel. Definitely not as clean and sleek as the city trains, but the ride itself was incredible.

As you can see from the video above, I was pretty far out from the mega cities and was plopped right into rural Japan. Every so often, a prerecorded voice (as heard in the video) would point out interesting facts about the scenery or any historic buildings that we passed.

The Hida 9 train route cuts through all the mountains and follows the Hida river leading up to Takayama. It was the single most scenic ride I have ever taken in my life. The entire route was gorgeous. I took lots of photos, but the onslaught of beautiful views just never ended for the entire 2-and-a-half-hour train ride train ride. Just incredible!

Basically, the entire ride looked like this:


The incredible views were never ending. While the river scenery was beautiful, one particular part of the ride stood out to me. When we hit the valley of seemingly infinite rice patties:

The Kanji for rural areas or rice fields really makes sense now: 田

After that unbelievable train ride, I was in Takayama. I’m excited for tomorrow since I get to take that same route back down towards Nagoya again! But now, it’s time to focus on Takayama. Takayama is most famous for its well-preserved “old-town,” where Edo-period buildings still remain in remarkable condition and are still in use. After checking-in to my hotel and relaxing a little bit, I strapped my shoes back on and went for a 7 mile wander throughout the town. There we a lot of tourists here… I mean.. A. LOT. Which was odd to me since this city is pretty far out from any major airport or city center. Eventually I come to realize that Takayama is kind of a scenic vacation hot-spot and shares similarities with the small tourist towns that you’d find near beaches and lakes back in The States. Fair enough, but I didn’t really expect that.

I wandered through the streets of Takayama for 45 minutes or so, actively avoiding the hordes and hordes of tourists. While the weather and location were very pretty, I didn’t really find anything of significant interest… Should I just jump-in with the gawking mass of humanity that is currently swarming the Old Town just so I could see some neat stuff? …Yeah.. And just then, as I turn onto yet another random street. I see this:

A temple. Far away from the busy hustle and bustle of the tourist hot spots. Almost as if by fate I should stumble across it. At first, I didn’t know if it was open to the public, so I cautiously walked up to the gate, then noticed that a few people were freely coming and going, so I proceed. Under the gate stands no guard, only a large chest that makes no mention of monetary requirements for entry. Just a lowly, humble wooden chest with a slot on top where it is up to you to donate money. Since I was a guest to this temple, I saw it fit to give the humble chest my loose change. I continued on towards the main building in the center of the temple campus. Everything was so well kept and clean.

Up the stairs I walked when I noticed that the temple door was opened and welcomed visitors; however, there were tatami floors, so my shoes must be left outside. I took off my shoes, faced them towards the world against the stoop of the temple, then walked through the door. It was silent. Truly Zen. The temple was clean, ornate, and beautiful. I stand alone within this enormous hand-carved temple. What a neat experience that I just so happen to stumble upon.


That was a little bit more of what I was expecting out of Takayama. Not to sound like a hipster that’s “too good” for the tourist hotspots, but those kinds of places always feel a little heavy handed to me. Beautiful as tourist traps may be, I don’t think they give an accurate picture of what life is really like in that area and it often seems that they’re just pandering for the business of the hordes of tourists wanting to “do what the Ancient Japanese did!” I am aware that I myself am just another bumbling, photo-taking tourist, but you know, something about the specific tourist traps just rub me the wrong way. I felt very fortunate to have stumbled upon this temple far off from the crowds to have my own isolated experience within a literally divine building.

A bit more walking later, and I decide it’s time to jump in with the crowd and see what Old Town is all about. Before that though, I actually stumbled across yet another beautiful structure!


It really is amazing what you can find if you wander off the beaten path for a while.

Speaking of beaten path, holy mother of tourism. This is probably the biggest collection of tourists I’ve seen since Disneyland. I didn’t really expect this. Old Town Takayama was filled to the brim with people. It was a little much to be honest and kind of detracted from the experience. Don’t get me wrong, the old buildings were in incredible condition and it was great to see them, but seemingly every inch of the place was populated by tourists blocking the paths to take selfies. I didn’t take any photos of the Old Town, but I’m pretty confident that if you’d like to see it, you’ll get a couple quadrillion results for it on Google Images just from the sheer amount of photographers there!

Beautiful town, suffocating tourists. I had to get out of there.

If you Google search Takayama, there is a good chance that you will see this red bridge that I stood on as the cover photo.

A view from said bridge.

I walked far away from Old Town and wandered the city a little bit more. I found a couple of interesting small businesses and even a little bird shop! I was getting pretty hungry, and since I knew that this was in the heartland for Japan’s rural farming industry, I wanted to try a dish that sampled a lot of the local flavors around here.

I remember from the Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama that each region of Japan likes to prepare its ramen in its own special way. I sought after a local ramen joint and began to do a little window shopping. After a hour or so of searching, I found a little nondescript ramen shop that served up quite the meal for only 1200 Yen (~$10).

Seared beef Nigiri Sushi, A bowl of local ramen, an iced coffee, even a little salad with some fresh local greens. There was even a sumo match on TV. Perfect. I was the only person in the shop at the time, so I pulled the cashier aside, pointed him to the meal I wanted, and within minutes… Man, it was super good. Everything was so fresh and delicious. Finding little places like this is probably the best part of the trip.

The Ramen Museum was right. This region’s ramen is very different from Tokyo’s! 

Making my Way Down South

September 9th, 2017

A truly spectacular sunrise. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

I awake early on my futon in the middle of my Ryokan room. It’s about 4:30 AM, and I think to myself that it would be awesome to go down to the Onsen this early in the morning to wake up relaxed. I push through my drowsiness, wrap up my Yukata and begin to head down to the changing room. Remember, Onsens are public baths, meaning, you must bathe in nude with strangers. As a westerner, this idea sounds pretty odd. I push open the doors to the changing room and… nobody. I had the entire Onsen to myself. Sweet.

After removing my Yukata, the only possession I carry forward was a small white towel. I must admit it did feel a little weird at first, even if there wasn’t anybody around, but at the same time, it was kind of liberating and relaxing. The changing room had a subtle incense smell and a tiny hint of sulfur from the Onsen baths. It smelled like relaxation. Now, in order to enter the Onsen waters, you must first be entirely clean. Just in front of me lie several low sinks, some tiny stools, and small buckets. Soaps, shampoos, and the likes are provided at these little cleaning stations. After bathing myself with nothing but a small bamboo bucket and some soap, I was ready to enter the waters.

It should come as no surprise that cameras are forbidden at Onsens, so I must describe it in text (or you can visit the venues website for photos). The bath itself was outdoors within a miniature zen garden with bamboo trees and small plants. It was still dark outside, but I could see just the faintest bit of brightness in the sky pending the morning sun. I step over the rocky decorative stone and into the pool of warm, milky-colored water. Oooooph…. That’s nice. The water temperature was perfect and contrary to how sulfur compounds usually smell, the very subtle volcanic odor was actually quite relaxing. I quickly dipped my hand towel in the water then placed it on my head. This is to regulate your body temperature. After about 15 minutes in the pool, I was getting a little toasty, so I decided to take it all in for a few extra moments, then left the waters.

I’m not one to believe the whole “Minerals will do wonders for your skin, remove toxins, rah rah rah” bullshit, but these Onsen waters were genuine. My skin felt so smooth and refreshed – it was actually kind of amazing. Almost like I bathed in lotion or something. The sensation was very neat! You’re not supposed to shower-off after a dip in the Onsen; instead, you’re supposed to keep the minerals on your skin to soak in. Within the changing room lie a shaving station with fancy soaps, razors, and after shaves. I had a bit of a 5 o’clock shadow, so I went ahead and indulged. A quick shave later, a little splash of nice-smelling aftershave, and getting dressed again of course, I was back to off my room.

A couple of bird friends having a chit-chat on my balcony. I like the stubby fat one.

A couple of hours later at 7:30, breakfast was served. Again, it was a beautiful spread of various delicious foods. Crab-leg miso soup heated at my table, fresh fruit displays, fancy eggs, cured fish and meats, fancy fruit yogurts, all sorts of little things! I believe it was about 12 courses in all. Delectable! Ryokan food is so much fun because you never know what you’re going to get. Don’t be afraid to try everything, even if it does look a little bit gross. I tried things that visually looked nasty, but tasted very good – and vice versa ;) I’d say that 98% of the food was absolutely delicious, but the other 2% might be better suited to somebody with a palette from this region. Either way, both breakfast and dinner were culinary adventures!

After breakfast, I relaxed a little longer in the sunroom with some green tea and just took in the world. At 10:30, it was time to check-out. As I left, one of my hosts walked me out while thanking me and did not leave until I was out of sight. I love this polite culture so much.

Adorable mascots are everywhere in Japan, even in otherwise conservative Ryokans.

Eventually, I arrived at the same T-line bus stop that I stopped at yesterday and began my wait. I noticed a sign next to the bus stop that outlined all the route prices and cost-per-stop. Well, that would have been helpful to read when I was at Oradawa Station yesterday. 1050 Yen – I can easily prepare that well before hand so no more fumbling for coins. Yay!

Soon, the bus arrived. I took my ticket, stowed my luggage in the back, then just enjoyed the ride. There was no worry from me when it came to having exact change since I knew what the price was going to be ahead of time. That’s something that I like most about this trip. No matter how much you research and prepare, there will come many a time where you are just going to have to be “that guy” for a little bit and learn from your mistakes. Getting through the “first time” is always a struggle, but now that I have that experience, I can perform day-to-day tasks just like the locals do with no problems! I love learning how to cope with daily life here and stowing away the little tid-bits of information to build-up my knowledge of just doing stuff. Doing more things outside of my comfort zone builds up my confidence with living here significantly.

Bus-u, no problem!

My little bus trip through the mountains ends back at Oradawa Station where I must wait for an hour or so for my Shinkansen towards Nagoya. I make my way up to the tracks and begin my wait with a little blue bottle of Boss Coffee (I love this stuff) that I nabbed from a nearby vending machine. At this station, Shinkansen trains “slowly” race by the station platforms. Slowly in quotes, as these trains are still booking it, but have slowed significantly due to being near a station. Here’s a video of one of the slowest ones I saw. Usually these things are moving so quickly that they’re here and gone before my camera app even opens.

Warning, video loud because train:

A little while later, a couple of other travelers sit next to me on my bench. They were a middle-aged married couple from Australia and were very friendly and open to sharing their experiences with me. They had just arrived from Hakone near Lake Ashi. After talking to them, it was clear that they were taking the “money is no option” approach to traveling in Japan. They described visiting tourist traps, high-end dinners, and staying in hotels that were significantly more expensive than what I considered to be my most expensive Ryokan stay. I peer over and see that they’re got special green-car reserved tickets for the Shinkansen while I was merely hopping on to the unreserved ordinary section. Fancy, but from everything they told me, it sounded as though they were unsatisfied or even unhappy with their visit to Japan so far. Sad as that may sound, they were very nice people to talk to and kinda’ made me feel a tiny bit of schadenfreude. Not so much that I take pleasure in these people weren’t having the best time, but the fact that I was having a great time on a fraction of what they seemed to be spending. I don’t know. I felt a little accomplished that I have acclimated to the area so quickly on a fairly modest budget with really no set plan and have been having the time of my life while those who drank the “ultra mega exclusive #1 travel package” koolaid aren’t getting their moneys worth.

さよなら, until we meet again, I say to the travelers as I wish them the best of luck with the rest of their stay. They head towards the green cars while I to the unreserved section. I quickly find a seat and we’re off. You know, the green cars make little sense to me. The ordinary seats are already super comfy, have huge reclines, and have TONS and I mean TOOONS of leg room. Soon, we depart from the station, and a mere hour or so later, I’m in Nagoya. These trains never cease to amaze me.

My visit in Nagoya will be brief as I’m only spending one night here, but my accommodation is very special. I’ll be staying in my own contemporary apartment! I get to see what living in Japan is really like for just a little tiny bit. Of course, there aren’t any bills to pay or mouths to feed (except mine) – ain’t nothin’ in this world is free, but at least I get to see what home-life is like.

But first… I need to find this damn place. If you’ve never taken at a look at Japanese addresses before, look one up. They’re pretty ridiculous. That’s probably one inconvenient thing about this country: their address system is just plain backwards and confusing. I begin my walk from Nagoya Station towards the direction Google Maps says to go. It was hot and humid outside. The hottest I’ve ever experienced on this trip so far and the humidity was killer. I’ve heard weather like this was very common and man it’s pretty brutal. A couple posts back mentioned that I was more than okay with walking 20 miles a day… well, that kinda’ changed after having to walk through that weather while having to lug around all my belongings. Blegh. At least Nagoya was pretty!

After about 45 minutes of walking, I arrived in a sleepy bloc of apartments. Google Maps says my destination lie directly in front of me… but it looks nothing like the photos. Uh… Yeah, after a bit of looking around, this ain’t the place. I have to find a little tiny key-box on some random apartment building in a sea of concrete, then put in a code to get my key. What is this? Lost? Admittedly, it was kinda’ fun to search out this key, but the weather was really wearing me down. After a lot of wandering around aimlessly, I was exhausted and decided to ask a local for help. I walk up and say “すみません” (sumimasen, excuse me), probably the most handy-dandy magic word in the Japanese dictionary. The local turns, “Hai?” he says with a smile. I point to the address listed on my phone. The local quickly pulls out their phone and types in the address. He even tried his best to use English for me which he did quite well! He points me in the right direction and BAM there it is. THANK YOU random citizen of Nagoya, you were wonderfully helpful.

I unlock the key-box, grab my prize after a long journey, then head up the elevator to enjoy the spoils of my trek. Dude. This apartment.

Correction on the video. The little timer panel outside of the bathroom was actually to control a drying fan!

So sweet. I get to live here for a night!! Everything was so futuristic. There were switches and control boxes on the wall for just about everything. You could even dial-in the exact temperature of your bath or shower should you want to take one. From what I’ve read, most of these fancy futuristic luxuries are standard in most Japanese homes. So cool.

If I was going to live a contemporary Japanese life in my own apartment for the night, then I’m going to try and get food delivered like I owned the place. I heard that the Japanese take on pizza was really unique and should be tried out. Alright, I’m going to order pizza and have it delivered here. Delivery address? Erm.. well.. Turns out, addresses here are so convoluted that you could search based on the nearest American Military installment. Yes, no joke, addresses based on American Bases. That’s how convoluted they are. Thankfully, there was an automatic GPS locator that pinpointed my location. Good enough.

In the special instructions, I put the Kanji “Room Number: 501” and within like, 15 minutes, the delivery guy was at the front door asking to be buzzed in. Good lord these guys are fast. I kid you not: Order in, 15 minutes later, the delivery guy is here. I press “Answer” on the rooms’ call box and say “hai!” The delivery man replies, “ピザはこちら!” (Pizza is here!). I press the button on the call box with the key and sure enough, over the speaker, I hear the lobby door being opened. Moments later, the pizza man is here, hands me my food, and bows. NO TIP OR DRIVERS FEE THIS COUNTRY RULES.

Ha, I managed to order pizza in Japan. It’s a silly thing to be proud of, I know, but it’s the little satisfying successes in life. This was actually kind of exciting. After my lackluster experience with McDonalds, I was really curious to see if Japan’s take on Pizza would be any better. Oh man, these guys know what’s up when it comes to pizza.

It’s not Digiorno, it’s ヂリブリ (De-ri-bu-ri)


Corn (what?), chipotle chicken, peppers, cheese, Japanese mayo, and served with seasoned potato wedges. It was awesome and delicious – also very heavy and fattening. I love it. The crust is a lot more pastry-like here. Very light and airy. Super good!

From the best breakfast I’ve ever had in an immaculate Ryokan, to some delivery pizza within my own little apartment. Man, life is fun!

Journey to the Ryokan

September 8th, 2017

My post today will be brief as I only have a short while left to enjoy this Ryokan. For those who don’t know, a Ryokan is a traditional Japanese hotel that are usually known for their Onsens (volcanic hot springs) and exquisite meals.

My day starts off in Shin-Yokohama. After planning out my route for the day, I pack up all my stuff, get cleaned up, then check out of my room. I made way towards the bakery that I wanted to try yesterday and thankfully it was open today! I got a flaky donut and a thick cut of bread with some kind of pudding on top of it. They were both delicious!

After breakfast, it was time to hit the trains again. This was going to be a slightly longer stint on the Shinkansen towards Odowara Station, so I was curious to see how fast we would go. As I arrive at the station, I pull out my phone to verify that I’m about to board the correct train and… a police officer is walking towards me. Aww man not this again. The officer says to me, “Hello! Visitor? Tourist?” I say back, “Yes, visitor!” He replies, “Okay, can I see your passport?” “Sure!” I say back. A few checks later and I was off. A little nerve wracking for sure, but even when the Japanese suspect that you may be an illegal alien, they’re still polite and friendly!

Okay, back to my train. Soon, the Nozomi Super Express arrived at my station. I found a seat and we were off. WHOOOAH this thing goes insanely fast. I can’t describe how weird the feeling was to be going so fast while being so low to the ground. It actually felt like being in a jet airplane but near the ground. Incredible – Again, that journey makes me long for such trains in the US.

After feeling like I was teleported via Shinkansen to Odowara, I walked off the train and noticed that the climate was significantly different. It was hot, humid, and rainy down here while in Shin-Yokohama it was warm and sunny. Now I needed to find the bus to my station. Many travel sites recommend getting an IC for daily expenses in Japan. Up until now, I’ve forgone the IC card and have mainly stuck with cash. Now I’m seriously considering an IC card after that bus ride.

With buses in Japan, if you don’t have an IC card, you must first take a ticket from the bus entrance, stow your luggage in the back of the bus, then find an empty seat. The number on your ticket will determine your fare. Now here’s the tricky part. Your fare is calculated near the end of your trip. This means that you will have to scramble for exact change (no cash allowed!), grab your belongings, and move through a crowded bus. I made a little bit of a fool of myself trying to exit the bus but to be fair, what a strugglefest that was. Oh well, at least I know what to do now. I think I’ll grab an IC card when I get back to town.

The bus ride climbed up narrow mountain hills through a lovely waterfall-filled forest. There was lots of traffic on the route up to the mountain – I had almost forgotten what traffic was due to the extreme efficiency of the trains! After about an hour, I arrived at my stop and walked through the now heavy rainfall. I was a little early, so I checked my bags and waited in the lobby for a little while. Soon, I was taken to my room and was shown all the different amenities by my host. The room was very big and it smells relaxing! Like light incense! Here’s a brief video tour featuring me in the Yukata (light summer kimono) that you must wear throughout your stay.

Throughout the rest of the day, I relaxed in my room and enjoyed the heavy rainfall, my beautiful view, and some green tea /w fresh mochi. It was wonderful.

Soon, it was time for dinner. Ryokans are known for their exquisite and beautiful meals. Mine was no exception. 15 courses of the most beautiful dishes I have ever seen. Each and every bite was unique. They do not allow phones in the dining hall (in-fact, you’re not really supposed to be using your phone at all!) so I don’t have any photos, but you can be assured that it was gorgeous. There was even a raw snail! I ate the raw snail on a bed of fine salt! I do not like raw snail! :D

It was a lovely dinner. The prettiest? Yes by far. The most delicious on the trip? Actually, I think that title still stands with the sushi I had in Ikebukuro. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful dinner and I can’t wait to see what I get for breakfast.

By the time dinner was over, I was very tired and a little too full to go down to the Onsen. I decided that I would go early in the morning. As I write this post-onsen, I can tell you that going early in the morning (4:30) was the right idea. It was beautiful and I will share the experience along with what I had for breakfast on tomorrows post!

As for the lack of photos: hopefully the ones supplied by the venue will give you a better idea of what I experienced, though I don’t see my specific dinner on there. I believe the food is seasonal.


The Walk

September 7th, 2017

Good morning, Shin-Yokohama.

Today is my last day in the Kanto region before I board the Shinkansen for Hakone. Near my hotel lies the famous Ramen Museum which I most definitely want to check out, but for now, it was much too early for lunch. On my little walk through the area yesterday, I noticed that there was a bakery downstairs that sold all sorts of fresh breads and breakfast goods. I got dressed and began my morning with a walk to the lobby of the hotel with freshly baked bread in mind.


In fact, not just the bakery was closed, but an entire wing of the mall attached to the hotel. I suppose they were cleaning it or something. Nevertheless, I was a little disappointed and was still pretty hungry. I did notice that there was a McDonald’s near by though. At home, I hate McDonalds. I think it tastes gross and is way too expensive. …But, I was willing to see the Japanese take on it. I ordered the standard pancake meal that we normally have in The States. This was referred to as the “Mega Meal,” even though to me, it seemed like an average breakfast portion. Ordering was very simple. It seems that most things in Japan, especially near the train stations, are very foreigner friendly. Simply point to what you’d like on the menu at the counter, pay, wait a little bit, then your number is placed on a big screen when your order is ready. Easy. I picked up my breakfast and headed back to the hotel to dig in.

I don’t know what I expected.

Yep. It was still the same mass-produced, overly expensive garbage that we have at home. I must admit that everything was cooked well and tasted better than what we have in America, but it was still a super greasy, mostly unsatisfying meal. For the same price, I could have waited until lunch and grabbed that fancy tuna meal I wrote about in my previous entry. McDonald’s has made my personal list of international disappointments. At least I know now!

That breakfast made me feel pretty “ughufdsirelhuaishfd.” If that is a real word. I wanted to walk it off a little to get the “ughufdsirelhuaishfd” feeling off my mind. I packed up my bag, grabbed my rail pass, and took a walk through Shin-Yokohama in the morning. Much like the last couple days, it was grey and lightly drizzling. I like the rain here so far – It’s soft and gentle and doesn’t soak you through. 雨, 雨, 雨. My morning walk through Yokohama mostly uneventful. One thing that I loved was the soundscape of the area. In the little manga books I bought, there is often Japanese onamonapia that describes the ambient sounds in each scene. Frequently, you’ll see “チチチチチチチ” (chi-chi-chi-chi) in outdoor scenes. While I read, I wondered what it represented. As I walk through Yokohama, I hear it. chi-chi-chi-chi. It was the cicada bugs in the trees! Another onamonapia is “ピ-ボ” (Pi-bo). It’s the crosswalk signs beeping to let you know when you can cross! Listening to the sounds of the world just as they’re described in text was super fun. Even the crows here caw with their own unique Japanese accent which I found to be super neat.


A couple hours later, it was just about lunch time and I was pretty gassed from walking. I needed an awesome lunch to offset my disappointing breakfast. Ramen museum time. Fortunately, the museum was only a short walk away from my hotel, so I set off in search of some delicious noodles. After a short walk, I see a line of people and the famous noodle-bot-9000. To enter the museum, you needed to insert 310 yen to the front ticket machine for admittance. In retrospect, I see that this is actually pretty clever design since this is a foreigner hot spot. They were attempting to teach visitors how to use the ramen ticket machines before they even enter the museum by forcing them to use one to buy an admittance ticket. Clever. I paid for my ticket, gave it to the attendant, and walked through the gates.

On the first floor, you see a large display of banners and exhibits on the history of cooking ramen and all of the different styles possible. There was also a gift shop and… an enormous slot car racing track? I love this country. I even met a couple visitors from America! Once you’re ready to eat, you must walk down a flight of stairs to the real portion of the museum. After you’ve reached the bottom of the stairs, you’re suddenly transported to a recreation of a 1950’s Tokyo. There were lots of dark alleyways and real ramen bars around every corner serving up any style you could think of! So cool!

A bit of walking through the alleyways later and you will arrive at the main hall. Here, dozens of little ramen shops serve up delicious bowls of soup and noodles. I walked down to a shop serving a style of ramen with a darker broth than what I was used to, bought a ticket from the machine outside, then was quickly seated at the cozy little ramen bar in front of the chefs that were tirelessly working away. I didn’t take any photos of the food or bar since it was a little too cozy for photos, but you can be assured that the meal was delicious! That totally made up for my lackluster breakfast. I even met back up with the American visitors in the same store and had my first English conversation in about a week. We talked about how awesome Japan was and how confusing Kanji characters were.


A maze of old-school Tokyo alleyways leads up to the main chamber.

The main ramen hall. I went to the shop in the middle right.

Your ramen museum doesn’t have slot car racing? Psh…

The Ramen Museum was a great experience and the food was delicious. Totally recommend it if you’re in the area. After I left, it was only about 13:00, which was still pretty early in the day. I was kind of out of activities within Yokohama that I could reach within a reasonable time and I still wanted something to do. Then I remember – earlier this morning I took my rail pass with me.

…What if I just hopped on a Shinkansen and zoomed off to Tokyo station just because I could. Yeah, that sounds fun! I’ll go down to Tokyo again and just turn off Google maps and get lost! I begin to walk to Shin-Yokohama station and proceed through the gates to the Shinkansen platforms. I find the platform bound for Tokyo and as if by fate, there stands the train bound for Tokyo just about to leave in 20 seconds. I jump on as fast as I could and within seconds, the train departed. As I walked down the length of the train towards the unreserved section the train began to accelerate. It feels like you’re running at an incredible rate, Harry.

I find an open seat, begin to stow away my bag.. and.. a JR employee is looking at me concerned. uhh… did I do something wrong..? uh oh. The JR employee walks toward me and asks, “May I see your ticket, please?” Oh shit. I hope he means my rail pass. I slowly show him the pass and… “Okay, thank you.”

ALRIGHTY THEN GUESS I’M GOOD. That slight heart attack aside and within minutes I’m back in Tokyo. Man, I love these trains so much. They’re just incredible. As I depart from the train, I find an exit that reads “Imperial Castle” and decide that I’d like to head in that direction first. I close out of Google Maps and begin to just wander. I walk… and walk… and walk… I have no idea where I am. Then…

One of the many bridges that cross the Imperial Garden Moats.

In the middle of a concrete wonderland from the future, The Imperial Gardens. There have been so many times on this trip where I have been surrounded by the high-energy, fast-paced lifestyle of Japan then, bam, sudden serenity. I walk along the silent gravel paths and admire the perfectly still moat waters. Ancient stone structures are scattered throughout the park and they are huge. So much of the park is forested, and on this mild and humid day, the cicadas were singing in numbers. Before I officially entered the park, I noticed another beautiful symbol of Japan grooming itself along with its mate within the moat waters.

Hello feathery friends!

A short walk later and I arrive at the main entrance of the gardens. Here, a police officer requests to search any bags that you may have in search if anything that could damage the ancient stoneworks. My backpack was checked and soon I was released into the enormous stone walled gardens.

Past the huge gates and down a bit lies a large open expanse of land surrounded by giant stone walls and guard barracks. I love the sound of the cicadas. I also loved the juxtaposition of this serene and ancient park smack-dab in the middle of the craziest city I’ve ever seen. Further still I wander through the park, randomly forking through all of the paths and wondering where I would end up. Eventually, I reach some huge fields and what seems to be castle ruins in the distance. I pass the fields and take in the nature a bit on a bench before embarking on the steep climb towards the top of the ruins.

New and Old Coexist.

One of the many large expanses of grass.

Battlement Ruins.

Atop the battlement ruins.

An observatory visible from the top of the battlement ruins

Moments after reaching the top of the ruins, the rain began to lightly pitter patter and I thought it to be best to move on. I opened my umbrella and continued in a random direction and left the gardens. Now remember, I’m still challenging myself not to use Google Maps here. The Imperial gardens have exits that lead in all sorts of different directions, so I genuinely have no idea where I am. I am reminded of a silly web game called “Map Crunch” where you are placed in a random location in the world and must find your way to an airport. I wanted to try out a real life version of this to see if I could find a major train station that would eventually take me back to Yokohama. No subway or bus cheating!

I began my walk and searched for landmarks. Nothin’ looked familiar, so I looked at the street signs. From those signs, I had an approximate idea of where I stood. I knew that Akihabara lie to the north east and Kanda to the far east. Both of those towns I was familiar with since that is where I stayed last, so I set off in that direction. I walked loosely in that direction for a while, then walked north until I found train tracks. The fact that I finally found train tracks means that I was on the right… track. Heh. I looked at where the trains were headed and loosely followed them in the direction I thought that Akihabara was. A few hours of walking (and a little coffee shop stop), I found tall buildings that I have seen before. Wait… there’s the train station. Hey I’m in Kanda again! I did it! I navigated all throughout downtown Tokyo and found a train station that could take me back to Yokohama without Google Maps. That walk was LONG. I think that’s the most I’ve ever walked in a day before. What’s funny is that when I first arrived here, my legs were killing me after only walking a couple miles or so. Now, I can walk over 10 miles no problem. As I write this a day later, my legs do not feel sore at all. Amazing!

Well, now that I’ve made it here, I might as well catch some dinner and have a little more fun in Akiba. I had amazing ginger-pork Donburi complete with raw egg. Food here is just to die for. After dinner, I spent a little more time in the massive arcades and even met some more English-speaking visitors from the United Kingdom. Sweet, two English conversions in one day! Of course, we had a common interest in the Table-flipping game. Nothing quite brings people together like absurdity. I love that game.

By the time I was done messing about in Akiba, I decided it was time to go back to Shin-Yokohama and get ready for bed. Only one problem… it was rush-hour. I’ve heard horror stories of the trains in Tokyo during rush hour – salary men packed in a small train as close as they can get with zero breathing room. I look up towards the passing trains and sure enough, each and every car is PACKED! Wow.

You know what? Screw it, I’ll go up and see what it’s like anyways. As I enter Akihabara station, I notice waves and waves of white-shirted, dresspant wearing, breifcase holding salary men walking through the station. It was so crazy crowded in here – but you know what was a funny detail that I noticed? While it was pretty hot and stuffy in there simply due to the amount of people in there, it didn’t… well… smell like a hot and humid pit of humanity. It by no means smelled fresh as a daisy, but on a hot damp day like this, I expected to be insufferable. Interesting.

Eventually, I navigate to the green Yamanote headed towards Tokyo station. I head up the stairs expecting the worst and…. only a few people stand in line. What?
I turn around and see DROVES of people heading in the opposite direction. I suppose that makes sense. People are mostly leaving Tokyo and not heading towards it. My train into Tokyo station was mostly empty! Neat!

I quickly zip off to Tokyo Station, where yet again, as soon as I navigate to the Shinkansen stations, there lie my train just moments from departing. I jump on board, walk the entire length of the train to the unreserved section, and easily find a seat. Back off to Shin-Yokohama like clockwork.

What an incredible day of just walking around and seein’ stuff. Traveling in Japan is so crazy convenient. I love hopping on the trains without a care and seeing where I end up. I highly recommend the JR rail pass to anybody planning to visit. It’s awesome and well worth the money!

Here’s where I traveled according to Google:

My route at large. Not shown is the large amount of walking I also did in Shin-Yokohama.

My crazy route through Tokyo. You can see where I begin to get my bearings once I encounter the train tracks.

Legs aren’t even sore!


Finally, I just wanted to share this short clip of people Mario-karting down the streets of Tokyo. So awesome.

The Comfy Day

September 6th, 2017

I can’t believe the first leg of my trip is already over. The trip feels like its flying by so fast, but I really want it to last forever. It was time to leave Kanda and board the Shinkansen bullet train towards Yokohama. I packed up all of my clothes and belongings, had a simple breakfast consisting of melon bread (Amazing, by the way) and a little tray of breakfast goods, and even had a little free time to call my friend Skyler to attempt to play Super Smash Brothers over a woefully high-latency connection. Fun, but it didn’t really work out.

Soon, the clock struck 11:00, and it was time to check-out of my very first home in Japan. Sad, but at the same time, exciting because now I get to see what else is in store. Now even though I felt confident with the local train systems, the Shinkansens operate slightly differently. They’re ran in a similar fashion, as in, you just show your rail pass to the attendants and wait for your train, but each train goes somewhere completely different. You must follow the signs towards your route, train number, and final city. Google Maps as always is a godsend in situations like this. It didn’t take long before I found a sign with the hiragana characters “のぞみ” (Nozomi) and my route number. That was it!

Edit: I learned later in my trip that I was actually not supposed to be on the Nozomi trains as they are not valid for the Japan Rail Pass. I needed to wait for the Hikari trains. Oops! Everything still went smoothly though!

As I climb the stairs toward the station platform, I notice that things are a bit bigger on the Shinkansen tracks. The queues are clearly laid out on the floor, there are shops to buy bento boxes for long trips, and there are much more staff bustling around. Just then, a N700 series Shinkansen arrives to the station platform – whoah, these things are enormous. I walk down to the unreserved seat section and wait for my train. On the sides of the trains near the doors are little electronic signs that show the route number and line information in Kanji, Hiragana, and English. Helpful, but this isn’t my train. My train arrives in thirty minutes or so.

I wait the first train out and watch as it departs. I found it interesting that even though the train was leaving the crowded station at about 60 miles per hour, the engineers inside of the train were sticking their heads and most of their bodies outside of the train to ensure that everything was all clear. As I wait for my train, I notice that a league of women in head-to-toe pink uniforms begin to line up near me on the station platform. As soon as my train arrived, they stepped on, closed the doors, and began rapidly cleaning the trains. They slammed the seats forward, changed head rests, and cleaned the seats with remarkable speed. Very impressive! Soon, the train doors opened and it was time to board. I’ve heard rumors that getting a seat in the unreserved section of the Shinkansen can be a nightmare – in my case, this was false, as there was ample seating. I suppose it helps that I’m not traveling during peak time.

A few moments later and we were off. The seats on the train were so roomy! I’d kill to have seats like this on my plane trip home. My journey today was actually pretty short in comparison to the ones I will take later in the trip, but it was cool nonetheless to get a little practice with the Shinkansen process. Soon, the train accelerated rapidly, and Tokyo was whizzing by at an extreme speed. Building after building, street after street, zooming by effortlessly. I loved when the train would pass along reflective buildings so I could look out the big windows and see myself within the reflection. I really like the Shinkansen and desperately wished the US, or even just California had a rail system like this. It truly is remarkable and is something the people of Japan should be very proud of.

Two blinks of an eye later and I arrived at Shin-Yokohama station. I’m not quite sure what I expected from Yokohama, but it felt much more “metropolitan” than Tokyo. Sure, it was still a mega-city in Japan, but it felt a little more oldschool and higher-class. I booked my nights here quite a while ago, and I remember getting a fairly good deal on them since I was so early. As soon as I walked out of the train station, I looked to my right and… whoooah… that’s my hotel?

My hotel is the cylindrical tower behind the blue sign.

Dis gon b gud.

A little walking in the light, drizzly weather later, and I was inside of what looked like a very ornate shopping center. Turns out, this hotel has a very upscale mall attached to it complete with neat restaurants and stores! I walked to the check-in counter, and since I was a bit too early, they allowed me to check-in my bags and return at 14:00. It was about 12:00 at the time and I was pretty hungry. This was a good time to hit the streets and see what there was to eat. Yokohama’s atmosphere is interesting to me. It’s like Tokyo, but older. The crossing lights are no longer futuristic-looking LED signs, instead, they’re incandescent backlit plastic. Buildings are less dense, but certainly just as tall. It was like a sleepy version of Tokyo. A short bit of wandering later, I stumble upon a restaurant that had some pretty appealing looking lunch specials. I walk in and am directed to the top section where I was helped by a friendly server who graciously attempted to translate the Kanji lunch menu for me. It was a little hard to understand, but we managed to work it out!


I ordered a tuna special. It included a bowl of ground-tuna & nori, rice, miso soup, and a whole bunch of delicious little toppings. I assume the idea was to kind of “build-your-own-sushi.” Well, at least I hope it was, because that’s what I did anyways. It was delicious, filling, and very affordable (870 yen, or about ~$7).

After lunch and a bit more waiting, it was time to check-in to my room. I walk to the elevator lobby and am stunned at how gorgeous everything is. I also found one of the most Japanese things ever – amidst all of this ornate and beautiful architecture lies a 7/11. Talk about juxtaposition.

Worlds fanciest 7/11

Hilarious!  Now it was time to get to my room on the 19th floor. I’ve never gone so high up on an elevator to the point where my ears pop before. I get to my room, open the door, and DAMN! This room is huge compared to my last one. I really didn’t expect that this hotel was going to be baller status. On the far end of my room lies a huge panoramic window that shows off downtown Shin-Yokohama. Man, this was so cool.

At that time, and still as I write this, Yokohama is experiencing some light rain. I remember talking to my sister before this trip that I really wanted to have just one day where it was raining outside and I just get to laze around. Is it as exciting to write about? No. Was the prospect of being ultra comfy exciting to me? Hell yeah. So that’s just what I did. I stayed in my hotel and just took it all in. I read the books I bought, caught up on my subscriptions on YouTube, and just stared out my big window. I had a room downtown with a bed and a big TV. That was the way to go.

Look! I can see and hear the Shinkansen go by!

Yokohama bustles away as I look below from my room at night.


More comfortable hours pass, and I’m hungry once again. If we’re going baller status here, then I’m going to the very top of the building and eating dinner in the cocktail lounge. I don’t drink, nor do I ever plan to, but the upscale idea of a jazzy bar atop a tower in Japan just sounded so friggen sweet to me. So I just went up anyways and ordered a fancy dinner. At first, the wait staff were shocked that I just requested plain tap water and forewent my included drink. I explained and they obliged.

My meal was wonderful. I will always remember the view that I took in there and the atmosphere of the room. 42 stories above a rainy Yokohama, while what sounded like the soundtrack to a Fallout game play in the background. A little slice of the good life. I love it.

Dinner. Steak, Salad, Rice.

My view. I watch as clouds lazily pass the top of the building.

Grape Sorbet. Extremely light and airy. It was wonderful.

I leave you with one last short clip that I recorded of my dinner. I wanted to share the atmosphere. What a great night. Damn I’m comfy.

Straight Up Fun

September 5th, 2017

Today is my last full day in Tokyo before I depart for Yokohama. I’ll be back to Tokyo for a few more days after the rest of my trip, but it’s gonna’ be a while before I’m in this area again. Up until now, I’ve actually been very conservative with my money, averaging 3000 (~$30) Yen below budget every day. Japan so far has been surprisingly affordable. I decided that since I was well under budget for the past couple of days, I could splurge a little.

Before I venture out for the day, I noticed that I was on my last set of clean clothes. It was time to try out the laundry machines in Japan. This was actually pretty straight forward. Drop in the clothes to the little washer and add three, 100 Yen coins. Detergent was added automatically and 30 minutes later, the clothes were done. Now, they also had driers available for 100 Yen/15 minutes, so I gave them a shot. Meh. The clothes were still pretty damp. I took them back to my room and hung them up Japanese-style to air-dry. That seemed to work better as by the time I write this, the clothes are dry.

Time to get ready and hit the trains. Already, I’ve mentally mapped out my surroundings and don’t rely on Google Maps for this area anymore. It’s quickly become my little home away from home – I’m a little sad that I have to move on soon. I love Kanda and Akiba. Further still, after yesterday’s excursion to Mitaka, I already felt confident with how the train system worked. I really feel like I’m getting the hang of this place. I proceeded to walk down to Kanda Station and jumped on the green Yamanote towards Ikebukuro. Ikebukoro is one of Tokyo’s many premiere shopping districts and during my visit today I had a specific target in mind.

After a 40 minute train ride, I arrived in Ikebukuro. Here, I encountered the largest crowds of people I’ve seen on this trip so far. This place was hoppin’! My destination was only a couple blocks away, so I proceed on foot down the crowded streets. Where was my final destination? Tucked away within the Sunshine Plaza Mall (A real life Coconut Mall!) was one of the greatest stores I’ve ever visited.

Through crowded halls of shops, I walked deeper and deeper into the mall. As I walk, I notice customers leaving the mall with bags from my target destination. I felt I was getting closer. Then, as I climb the elevators…

I see Pokeballs on the ceiling… There are Eevees on the wall… I see in the distance a blue glow accented by orange and yellow…

Awww hell yeah.

DUDE. THE POKEMON MEGA CENTER! Japan is known for its countless temples and shrines, but as a long time fan of the Pokemon series, I think this counts as one. This store was awesome. Much like many other shops in Japan, the Pokemon Mega Center was filled with wall-to-wall Pokemon merchandise. Stuffed Pokemon, trinkets, cards, games, bags, and various other tchotchkes. This was Pokemon Mecca. I just had to do some gift shopping, as friends of mine (and my sister!) love Pokemon too. It was a bit on the pricey side, but I mean, common. It’s the Pokemon Mega Center in Tokyo…

Within the store lie full sized statues of popular monsters. These things were enormous and awesome. Even the exterior of the store and the surrounding area is completely dedicated to Pokemon with games, murals, and more statues. Here’s a photo dump of some of the cool things I found there:

Mega Lucario and Mega Mewtwo Y

Mega Charizard X


Lunala near the outside of the shop in the “Catch a Pokemon” arcade section.

Exterior of the store

Enormous Mega Charizard Y mural on the exterior of the shop.

The logo of the store Ft. Mega Charizard Y & Pikachu

Poke Poke Nu-da-ru.

After I was done being in heaven, I was pretty hungry. Since it was Tuesday, I could finally get some fresh authentic sushi. Thankfully, there were a couple sushi joints in this mall, so I wandered a bit until I found one on the next floor up. I walked up to the front of the restaurant and was immediately seated. They brought me a glass of complementary green tea and I began to parse through the menu. All of it looked so good, but I settled on a variety lunch special board. In Japanese restaurants, you are not automatically served by the wait staff. “すみません!” (sumimasen, excuse me) I say as the waitress passes. I point to the large photo of the dish I want and also say “お水をください” (water please!). The waitress quickly tapped the order into her little smartphone looking device and forwards my request to the sushi chefs. A few moments later, I’m greeted with a slate of beautiful fish and miso soup.

I don’t like taking pictures of my food, but this was too good not to share.

Okay, here comes my first taste of authentic Japanese Sushi. I pick up my chopsticks, grab the Salmon piece first and….
oh. my. god.

America. Step up your sushi game.

That was the most ridiculously good tasting meal of my life. Sushi is completely different in Japan. The cuts are big, flavorful, and the texture of the fish is so perfectly soft. Every single piece was wonderful. That just spoiled me for life – I don’t think I can go back to eating sushi any other way. Also, it was like, $13. Seriously.

After my meal, I wondered where my check was. Usually in restaurants like this, the server will leave the bill at your table and you walk up to the counter to pay. I pulled aside the server to ask, and she directed me to the front counter. Turns out they’ll just handle everything at the counter and there was no need to bring up a check. Once that was finished, I wandered through the mall a little more, then left and explored a bit more of Ikebukuro.

An hour or so later, Ikebukuro was just packed with people. The streets were absolutely alive with humans shopping around, merchants shouting their sales and passing out fliers, and arcades buzzing with excited patrons winning prizes out of skill catchers. Man, Tokyo is just such a neat place. A few moments later, I jumped back on the train and departed for Kanda station to rest at my hotel for a little bit.

As I lay in bed relaxing, I realize that even though I was just steps away from Akihabara, I never actually set foot inside of a book/manga store there. There was an enormous one right down the street, so I figured, “Why not…?” Yet again, floors upon floors packed with any book, manga, or published good you could think of. What is it about Tokyo stores and just having the world’s largest collection of everything? After a bit of looking around, nearly all of it was alien to me. I’ve never read manga before or really watch anime, so I didn’t quite know what was good or not. Eventually I stumbled across something that did actually look pretty familiar. Kobayashi-san Chi No Maido Dragon. A story of a fearsome dragon named Toru, whom which is fatally pierced by a sword, is saved by an average girl, Kobayashi. Toru appreciates the gesture and fearlessness Kobayashi shows towards her (even though Kobayashi was intoxicated after a long night of drinking!), and shape-shifts into a servant into repay Kobayashi.

I picked up a couple copies because why not, “when in Rome… err.. Akiba.” This is definitely a guilty pleasure that I wouldn’t even think about buying in the States, but you know… It turns out these are pretty enjoyable to read. They’re just long comic books essentially. I figured that since I was in Japan, I might as well indulge on the silly things a little. I quote Willy Wonka, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

Yep, it’s pretty much exactly what I expected.


Ghibli and the Trains

September 4th, 2017

My day begins early. I can’t quite seem to get my sleep schedule right yet. After getting cleaned up and ready, I open my backpack and pull out a few folded papers. This was my Studio Ghibli Museum ticket. For those who don’t know, Studio Ghibli is a Disney-owned Japanese animation studio spearheaded by the creative genius, Hayao Miyazaki. Ghibli movies are anime, but they’re different. No other studio comes to mind that conveys such attention to detail to their world-building, character design, and story telling. Each and every story is wonderfully creative and unique in its own way.

My ticket was valid for entry at 12:00. It was currently 7:00 and I was starving and also a bit low on cash. I decided to walk down to the local 7/11 shop to grab some breakfast and visit the ATM they had there. 7/11’s in Japan are SO much better than the ones we have in America. There is no comparing the two as the ones in Japan are genuinely convenient. Snacks, meals, magazines, video games, home goods, you name it. I walk to over to the ATM first. As mundane as withdrawing money normally is, Japan has managed to find a way to make it interesting and convenient. I inserted by debit card into the slot on the front panel and was able to choose English from the main menu. There, I withdrew 20,000 Yen. The machine whirred a bit, then opened a flashing compartment on the bottom shelf while cheerfully playing a triumphant jingle as if the machine was proud to give me the money. Good job little ATM, you did it.

Breakfast from the Kombini

I take back my card and begin to peruse the shop. I was interested in trying out some of the breakfast pastries that I heard so much about. I grabbed a neat rolled-up donut and a raisin bread bun. I also noticed some wasabi popcorn which I just HAD to try later, so I grabbed that too. A lightning-fast checkout later and I was on my way back. The little donut thingy was super delicious as was the raisin bread. Japan has a much more subtle approach to sweetness than America does. Honestly, I like it more. I personally think our food back home is much too sweet.

After breakfast, I brushed my teeth and prepared to head-out on the trains towards the city of Mitaka. Up until now, I’ve only used the N’EX train from the airport. That train was pretty straight forward to use since it only goes one way and is clearly designed for foreigners. Needless to say that I was a little nervous about taking the real trains, but honestly, it was one of the most efficient processes I have ever seen. The Japanese have trains down to a science. I walked to Kanda Station and found the RFID gates. There, same as last time, an attendant sits inside of a glass room. I briefly flash my rail pass and am waved through. That was it? Okay!

Next, I needed to find the orange Chuo line. Every Japan Rail train line is color coded along with all the signs leading up to the station platform. Only problem is that there are two trains per line: one that moves forwards and one that moves backwards. I accidentally chose the backwards one first… whups. Thankfully, fixing that mistake only meant that I get off at the next station (only took about 2 minutes) and wait for about 3 minutes until the next train arrived in the opposite direction. Easy!

An information sign in Mitaka adorned with Totoro.

The morning trains at the time I left, which was around 10:45, were not crowded at all. The train itself moved so quickly through the city and was very quiet and smooth. I watched more of Tokyo go by and noticed a whole bunch of big, flashy, and interesting looking places that I would love to visit. There is so much to see here – I could spend a thousand years in Tokyo and only experience a small percentage of it. After about 50 minutes of travel (really felt more like 20), I arrived at Mitaka Station. There, I followed the signs to the exit, flashed my pass at the gates, and I was off. Now I needed to find the museum.

My walk through Mitaka was lovely. It was lightly drizzling and took me through some of the small communities of houses and tiny businesses. After a little walking, I spot Totoro, Ghibli’s mascot, atop an information sign. I must be getting close. I eventually arrive at a large park and see signs that say the area is a nature preserve – fitting given Ghibli’s frequent themes of nature appreciation. Futher still I walk until I see a little green sign.



The sign outside of the Ghibli Museum

It was the Ghibli Museum tucked away quietly inside of the nature preserve forest. The entrance lie just left of the sign. Immediately, you see Totoro sitting at his yellow Ticket booth to greet you.

Totoro, who just so happens to be my neighbor.

Just right of Totoro, a large line formed underneath several Ghibli-themed easy-ups. After a short bit of waiting, I was taken care of by the attendants and was given an awesome movie ticket for the short film being shown inside of the museum. The movie ticket contained three frames worth of genuine film strip from a Ghibli movie. How cool!

One rule of the Ghibli museum is that you’re only allowed to take photos while you’re outside. You may not take photos of the inside of the museum. This not only prevents people from blocking and ruining the exhibits, but it keeps this place a magical mystery to those who have not visited yet.

The exterior of the Ghibli Museum.

The exterior of the building is decorated with multiple colors and features a distinctly Ghilbi-style architecture. The entire building is surrounded by forest and is very close by to a large park. It’s green, alive, and beautiful.

Once I was inside, I could instantly tell that all of the attention to detail and gorgeous artwork that Studio Ghibli is known for is fully resolved within every inch of this testament to art. Murals on the ceilings, carved-out wooden paneling, Ghibli-esque mechanical marvels, art everywhere. There was a lot to take in.

The first thing that I wanted to see was the museum-exclusive movie. As soon as I entered, I saw a crowd of people waiting within the western wing of the building. I joined them by first handing my ticket to the attendant, who then stamped it, and gave it back. I was relieved to find out that they allow you to keep the ticket instead of confiscating it… because it’s so neat lookin’!

Excerpts from the film I saw.

The theater was small with little red seats. Of course, it was head-to-toe covered in the creative stylings of Miyazaki. “星をかった日,” (The Boy who Grew a Star) the film I watched, was about a farmer boy who grew enormous turnips on his plantation. While traveling on his old, sputtering motor bike, he stumbles upon two unique characters – a frog man whose eyes poke out from his hat and his mole friend. The boy is offered magical seeds by these two characters. He decides to pick one and plant it. Eventually, a little floating world appears from it. Depending on what the boy did to care for the miniature planet would alter its attributes. It was whimsical, magical, gorgeous, and fun.

After the film, I wanted to see what was on the other side of the building. The philosophy of the museum is to “not worry about getting lost. Just explore freely and see what you can find.” In this room on the opposite end, a massive collection of zoetropic carousels were on display. They were just breathtaking. Each and every “frame” of the zoetropes had to be modeled out and positioned just right to give the illusion that they were animated under a strobing light. Within the same room was a massive and overly-complicated film projector exhibit that let you peer onto the raw film as it whirred through countless reels and gears. Up a few more levels and you will find a recreation of Miyazaki’s work rooms. They’re beautiful and covered in wall-to-wall sketches, character design sheets, and props. They even had an interactive camera rig on display that would demonstrate how zooming and panning is done in an animated film. Further still, inside of another room was an exhibit on the design process of characters eating food in films and how food should behave on screen. It sounds a little odd to someone that hasn’t seen it, but it was interesting and extremely fun. Real models of the food eaten in the films were on display as well as all of the base sketches that showed how a character would eat something. Ghibli is very good at making animated food look delicious.

He was huge. Thank you to the lovely people who took my photo!

I eventually made my way up to the top of the museum and saw the full-sized cat-bus exhibit for young children to play on. Cute! Just beyond the cat-bus was the exit to the roof garden. Up a flight of green colored spiral stairs lies a silent giant basking in nature. The giant robot from Castle in the Sky. There he stood with open arms enveloped by the garden which he watched over. I met a couple people from Turkey who requested that I take their photo. I obliged, and in return, they took mine. How nice!

After a bit more exploring and “taking it all in,” I was getting a bit tired. The very last thing I wanted to do at the museum was to relax in the garden in peace. So, I did. I found a little wooden bench next to a broken brick well and just sat.

I hear nothing but the wind push through the trees and birds softly coo in the distance. The iron golem stands off in the distance, unmoving. Serenity in my own personal Ghibli movie.

The Electric City of Everything

September 3rd, 2017

Akihabara. The words I write today will never do this city justice as it's one of the first indescribable places I've ever been to. Every niche interest, every hobby, every sick fantasy, and every brightly colored slender girl you could imagine, all contained within a few city blocks. Akihabara is the "otaku" culture super city. "Otaku," meaning young people that are obsessed with technology and facets of popular culture. It is the be-all-to-end-all city for electronic goods, video game arcades, hobby goods, Anime, and basically anything you could possibly think of. It was awesome and a bit shocking to say the least.

I start my day off with a quick bit of writing as I do now, and once finished, decided to go for an early morning walk. It was about 7:00 AM, so still plenty early to watch Tokyo wake up. I found a vending machine serving iced aluminum bottles of coffee, I sat on a bench near the street, and then I just watched the world go by. Tokyo is gorgeous and serine in the mornings on clear days. There was something about how the sun diffused through the light cloud cover and the feeling of the air that just made it seem so calm and peaceful. That's one thing that I find interesting about Tokyo: you can always find large swaths of quiet, peaceful areas. After finishing my coffee, breakfast came from the local kombini near my hotel. It was onigiri (rice ball covered in nigiri wrap) with a tuna fish stuffing. It was 102 yen, or about 90 cents and it was delicious! I wish convenience stores in America were this good.

Some of the various arcades, shops, and manga cafes you'll find in Akiba.

After breakfast, it was time to visit The Electric City. My hotel sits just south of Akihabara, so I decide to just walk there. After crossing the bridge over the Kanda river, I arrived at Akihabara station. Immediately after emerging from the bottom path of the station, you are enveloped by a sea of tall, colorful buildings filled to the brim with stuff. I mean, wall-to-wall, fire-hazard-level filled with just about anything you could possibly imagine. It was a sight to behold... but, what to visit first? I decided to visit a small drug store to pick up some sunscreen as the sun was getting pretty intense. This is actually the first time I had to bust out Google Translate, as I had no idea what the word for "sunscreen" was. I pull aside an attendant and show her my phone. "Sunu-screena?" she asks, puzzled. She then motions over her eyes pretending to, well, screen the sun with something like a visor or hat. I motion back with rubbing my arm. "Ah!" she says as she directs me to a tiny display of sunscreen. 1600 (~$15) yen for 25 mL of sunscreen... guh. But I need it or I will die, so fine.

It was about 9:00 AM at this point, still a little too early for the relatively late-starting Japan. Most shops opened at 10:00 AM, so I decided to scope out a little cafe where I could relax for a little bit. What happened next, in retrospect was a tad bit rude on my part, but I'm still learning how the culture works, so it was no big deal. Unlike in American coffee shops where you can sit without buying anything for a little while, you are required to buy something if you'd like to stay at a Japanese cafe. After about 10 minutes of sitting with no drink in my hand, I was approached by a server and was requested to buy something or beat it. A little embarrassing, but whatever. I bought a little iced latte and decided to wait out the next 30 minutes or so in the shop.   

If only this was an In-N-Out

9:50 AM. I leave the coffee shop and begin walking down the streets of Akihabara. Strangely enough, I stumble across a Carls Jr. (AKA Hardees) with a sign out front that reads "Taste of California" with hamburgers all over it. Funny as that was, I really hope the locals don't associate California with the taste of Carls Jr. I continued walking down the streets and found several closed shops with enormous lines forming outside of them. I suppose an idol group was visiting or there were some anime voice talents doing meet-and-greets. What ever was happening, it was attracting quite the crowd! Further still I wander with no real goal in mind, I just wanted to find a place that was open! I listen to the locals on the bikes as they pass "おはよう!" (O-hai-o, good morning) say the bikers as they pass crowds of people waiting at the stop lights.

Let it all out with this table-flipping game.

Finally, it was 10:10 AM and nearly all of the shops were fully opened. I first visited the large, red Sega main arcade. The first floor was entirely dedicated to games of skill, mostly UFO catchers with lots of stuffed prizes that need to be caught or knocked from a deceivingly stable mount hook. The next floor contained rhythm games where the players must time their inputs to match falling notes on the screen. Watching the dedicated Japanese rhythm game players was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. They have superhuman speed and accuracy. I have no idea how they process such a huge barrage of information so quickly and with such precision. The mind boggles. I proceed up one more flight of stairs to find a game that have actually heard of before and always wanted to try. The Table Flipping Game. You play the role of a disgruntled father with anger issues. You are seated with your wife and two kids at the dinner table and must listen to them talk about their day, all the while you're stewing with anger. SLAM! You physically hit the table controller in the center of the arcade cabinet. This draws shocked looks from your family - they continue to talk. SLAM SLAM! They look at you, concerned. Then, the best part of the whole game. Your opportunity to physically flip the table across the room and try to destroy as much of the environment as you can with it. I decked the wife in the face and exploded the virtual television as my table's path of destruction carved through our lovely dinner setting. Crude and violent? Yes. Satisfying and hilarious? You bet. 

One floor of many inside of Bic Camera.

After my romp through the world of virtual domestic violence, I decided to switch gears a little and explore the non-video game section of the town a little. I left the arcade and wandered down the street aways before seeing a large tower with a man shouting towards the streets promoting a store-giveaway and touting a Nintendo Switch. This store was Bic Camera, a multi-level mega store filled to the brim with just about any cool gadget you could think of. The first floor contained super market goods and was mainly filled with people looking to pick up a quick snack or some up market toiletries. The next few floors were stuffed with thousands upon thousands of electronic doo-dads and gizmos all basking in the unique hyper florescent glow of the extremely bright store lighting. Drones of every size, digital cameras, stationary, cellphones, televisions, appliances, software packages, ANYTHING you could possibly think of having to do with electronics or office goods was inside of that building.

Akiba-tan. Your virtual assistant. Many stores in Akihabara feature anime girls as mascots or assistants.

Up a few floors, you will find a fairly impressive collection of drones and other remote-controlled vehicles. The atmosphere of the store was distinctly Japanese, as every few minutes a short happy jingle of singing girls touted the store slogan and name. Further still, the store offers a virtual assistant to help you shop in the form of a pink-haired anime girl and her telephone-shaped companion. I could only imagine the reception of American shoppers should they see any store in the states that showcased anime girls as store assistants. 

The largest set of quad-copters I have ever seen.

The display of drones was very impressive. These things were massive. Some of them were taller than me length-wise. After a bit more perusing, I decided to head to a shop that I've heard so many cool things about. Super Potato. A shop that specializes in selling like-new vintage video game consoles, games, and accessories. Super Potato is tucked away inside of a nondescript hallway and up a flight of steep, narrow stairs. Through the hallways, posters of Kirby and other video game characters are plastered floor-to-ceiling and at the end of the path, a doorway to vintage gaming heaven. 

After Super Potato, I wanted to explore another arcade. There was just so many of them, so I wanted to see the variety of different games they offered. Much to my surprise, your choices of games are pretty much identical regardless of which arcade you chose to play in. The format seems to be skill catchers, rhythm games, fighters, and a couple specialty titles scattered about. One such specialty game that I found was in a large red building called, um, "Game." On the basement level of Game, there was a full-sized set of Mario Kart cabinets that actually let you drive the carts with real steering wheels with restive feedback and pedals. It was so much more fun than the home console versions, but MUCH much more difficult as the AI is ruthless. Still managed to eek out first place though ;)

Mario Kart arcade cabinets

A typical anime outlet store complete with yellow Gachapon machines.

After a bit more gaming, I felt that I was satiated and decided to move on and walk the streets a little more. It still seems odd to me that there exists a place that is completely dominated by anime absolutely everywhere. Most shops have no bare walls, instead, anime promotional material is densely posted filling up absolutely any possible blank space on the wall. It really is a surreal sight to behold and one that you would never seen in America. You could hear the voice actors of anime girls blaring through nearly every store. 

Another common thing to see are the Gachapon machines. These a little capsule dispensers that release random trinkets and toys relating to what ever franchise they're representing. Toy vending machines are something we do have in America, but not nearly to this magnitude. They're absolutely everywhere - there are even entire streets dedicated to these Gachapon machines vending anything between anime figures to underwear. Yes, I did find a panty vending machine. Those are real apparently. Japan is weird. 

A bit more wandering later, and I was starving. It was time to find some lunch. Originally, I wanted to finally try some authentic Japanese sushi. After a bit of searching, I found a place near me that looked awesome. Walking... Walking... Walking... finally, here it is! Sushi Tomi, a little non-descript shop in the middle of a desolate ally.

The hearty ka-chunk of trains passing overhead aptly describes the soundscape for Tokyo.

I step up to the sliding door, give it a pull and... locked. Locked? It's lunch time! Okay, fine, I'll search up another sushi joint. Closed. All of them. How odd. Reason? It was Sunday. As it turns out, Sushi shops are usually closed on Sunday and Monday. Reason being, the fishermen take Sunday off and because of that, there is no fish to purchase on Monday. Guess I'll have to wait until Tuesday before I can get some authentic sushi.. aww. 

Okay, plan B. Wander the streets and eat anything that looks good. After a little bit of searching, I found a little diner-esque restaurant and decided to give it a shot. Here is where I made another foreigner mistake. Many restaurants in Japan have different setups and rules. Once I found a seat, I sat down and was quickly approached by a confused server. "Can I help you?" she says. "おすすめ" (recommendations?) I ask. "uhh.." she replies. Uh oh.. what did I do.. I hope I didn't accidentally mispronounce that and have it mean something completely different. The server realizes that I'm not familiar with the operating procedures and leads me to a refrigerated cabinet with lots of premade fresh foods. Oh.. I'm supposed to pick up what I want and they'll prepare it for me. Whups.

I picked some Tuna shashimi, a whole roasted fish fillet, and a bowl of rice. It was pretty good, but I could definitely tell that it wasn't the highest quality food. More akin to fast food. At least it was pretty cheap and filling.

After lunch, I was pretty tired. I went back to my hotel room and rested for a bit, indulging on the absurdity that is Japanese public television. After that, I walked back down to Akiba and explored a little more, checking out a couple more shops and arcades. I did this for a couple hours or so, and then went back to my hotel to shower up and search for dinner. It's funny. I could be so drop-dead tired while in the hotel room, but as soon as I force myself up, lace up the shoes, and get walking outside, I'm suddenly instantly recharged and can easily walk for miles. I guess that's just the inherent energy of the area and the promise of discovering something new and exciting is a constant motivator. After a bit of random wandering in the pursuit of something to eat, I found myself back in Akihabara yet again. It's so close by and there are so many places to eat there! I stumbled across a Soba noodle shop that also used a ticket vending machine type system. I ordered Soba noodle soup with a large panko-friend shrimp in it. It was incredibly delicious.

They really know how to make a good bowl of noodles in the City of Everything.

Akihabara at night. The soba shop I visited is on the bottom right with the red awning under the huge anime banner

The Convenient Land

September 2nd, 2017

11 hours, 27 minutes. There I sat inside of a metal tube gliding above the seemingly infinite Pacific Ocean. Months of planning and research all came down to "now," and I still can't quite believe that I'm here. The moment I disembarked the plane, I could already feel the strange and different energy of Japan. The smell of the Tokyo area hits you first. It's indescribable, but extremely distinct - The strangest mix of modern industry and humid forest. I think it's what Cyberpunk smells like.

As I walk through the door of the Airplane, I'm greeted by the staff of not only the aircraft, but the ground crew. Each member individually bowed and thanked every passenger. 



Meaning, "Thank you." This phrase summarizes the entire attitude of the country so far. Every service industry member, every cashier, every information booth person, every post office employee, every restaurant host, every random person in a yellow safety vest standing near an escalator. They thank you. Perhaps the most interesting to me was on my first rail trip on the Narita Express (N'EX). A train employee that was simply passing between cars reaches the double doors at the end of our section, stops, turns, bows, "Arigatōgozaimashita" and proceeds. Amazing.

I'll talk more of the N'EX soon, but first, I'd like to share my experience with Narita Airport since I had a few errands to do without any internet on my phone to help me! First step, get to customs & passport control. This was actually quite simple, as all paths directly led to this point. Further still, convenient "fast-walking" moving floors zipped you down what seemed like over a mile walk in mere minutes. Convenience will be a reoccurring theme.

I eventually arrive at passport control. This was very simple - wait your turn in an incredibly short and fast-moving line. Hand your passport and immigration slip to the attendant. Fingerprints, photo, bam, you may move on to the next attendant who will verify your information and let you proceed. Now you're not done yet. A short walk down the hall and you will now see the blue-shirted customs officers. Naturally, it's a little scary to confront foreign TSA-esque officials, especially with a language barrier. I went up to the counter and was immediately greeted with smiles. "こんにちは," says the officer as he picked up a tattered binder of laminated photos. Within the binder lie photos of hard drugs, gold bars, firearms, and explosives. "Do you have any of this?" he says while cheerfully pointing to objects of malice. "No," I reply. "Okay, may I check your backpack?" the officer asks. "Sure!" One quick check later and I was off. Of course, not without a respectful Arigatōgozaimashita.

...That was too easy. Something has got to cause me issues here soon... right? No. Japan simply isn't like that. Just from my incredibly brief exposure, I could already tell that every part of this country was designed to be convenient. This was confirmed by my next two tasks: Getting a SIM card delivery for mobile phone data, and redeeming my Japan Rail Pass for a ticket on the Narita Express. 

To obtain my SIM card delivery, I had to scope out the post office. After a little bit of wandering and a quick inquiry at an information booth, I found the post office inside of the main hall of Terminal 2. There I greeted the attendant, asked for a delivery, and the package was dispatched to me as soon as I showed my passport. Installation was very simple - pop in the SIM card, type in the information that comes with it, and that's it. I now have data on my phone! Woo! Google!

Next, it was time to redeem my rail pass. After one last quick check at the information desk, I'm directed to the basement level of Narita Airport. There, I see three sub-buildings. A red N'EX building, a blue Keisei Skyliner building, and finally, a green JR East information building. I first walk into the green JR East information building, and was immediately greeted by an attendant. The second I showed my rail pass order, I was given a little sheet to fill out and was directed to the secretaries behind the counter. The secretary was of course wildly friendly and helpful and redeemed my pass very quickly. I even managed to slip on to the very next train that was leaving in 10 minutes. Convenient!  

After I had my pass, I walked over to the red N'EX building area. Here, there was a giant line of people buying tickets and a set of beeping, RFID-controlled gates. Next to those gates, an open attendant window sits. I walk up to the window, not knowing which of the many slips of paper I'm supposed to hand to the attendant. He points to the main JR pass, gives it a stamp, then waves me through. ...Convenient!

I now have my train ticket, my SIM card for data, and know which train to take. It was time to leave Narita Airport. I simply had to find my train. Immediately after the ticket gates, there was an escalator that led down to the train station platform. Here I witnessed a bright blue train with an English automated voice blaring "This is NOT the train to Tokyo!" on repeat. I thought that was pretty funny, but I also wondered where the N'EX train was. What seems obvious to me now was not entirely evident in the moment I was there. The trains will share the single station platform as they arrive. My N'EX train was next, and all I had to do was to wait a little bit, wait for the electronic signs to switch, and find my car. Sure enough, within literal seconds of the time listed on the ticket, a fancy red, white, and black train arrives at my platform. I get on, stow my luggage, and find my seat. Less than a minute later, the doors shut and we're off.

Silence. This was the weird part to me. There was no talking. There was little to no train noise. There was no music. Silence through the green Tokyo hills. The train ride was 50 minutes long, but felt much shorter than that due to the sheer amount of awesome sights that are visible from the train's route. Soon, I was at Tokyo station. I walk off the train, get out of the way a little to get my bearings, and as I look back, the train is gone. I was in Tokyo. This was it.

The very first things I saw after being released into Tokyo.

I now had the choice to walk about two miles through Tokyo to my hotel, or to take another train. As tired as I was, I elected to walk through Tokyo. But first, I needed to snake my way through the crowded subterranean maze of Tokyo Station. I found signs for a central exit - I had no idea where it would lead, I just wanted to get up to the surface. A bit of walking, a few escalators, and a whole lot of "learning to walk on the left" later, I made it to the surface... WWHHHOOOAAAAAH!!! Up until that point, I was mainly enclosed inside of either a building or a vehicle, but right then and there, WAS TOKYO! I am here! 

First thing that I noticed was the size of everything. The buildings were huge, flashing with lights, and plastered with enormous ads. The cars mainly consisted of very shiny black taxis, luxury vehicles, and many varieties of itty bitty, boxy kei-cars. I fired up Google Maps, pin-pointed my hotel, and started my first journey through Tokyo.

The rumors of the city being impeccably clean are true. Everything seems to be completely spotless. No streaks, no grime, no dust. Every car I saw was mirror-like. I also found that their crosswalk lights are interesting too. There was one point where I came to an intersection alone and tried to find the "push-to-cross" button. Erm... well.. uh... hey where is it? I guess I'll just stand here and hope it changes... please change...

Contrary to the incredible amount of verbose advertising, the city is actually quite quiet and peaceful.

The light eventually changed green and signaled for me to walk. Turns out, there are no "push-to-cross" buttons. You just have to wait your turn. I suppose this makes sense - from what I've perceived so far, it seems that if the Japanese don't have to touch something, they wont. Not just out of convenience, but for avoiding contact with "dirty" public utilities!

As I walked through the city, I enjoyed the perfect sunny 75°F, oh sorry, 24°C, and slightly humid weather. I walked down big streets, I walked down little ally-ways, I crossed under bridges, and I saw trains go by. I don't really watch Anime, but from what I have seen, it felt exactly like I was in one. It's surreal. It doesn't feel like this is a real place. 

A self-defogging mirror. Neat!

Eventually, I managed to find my hotel. I walked up to the front desk, and wouldn't you know, the attendants were happy and delightful. After a little more paperwork, I was given my key and off I went! My room is very tiny. I mean, VERY tiny. But at the same time, the lack of space is so perfectly utilized that there is no discomfort due to the small size of the room. It's actually a very comfortable room with lots of cool features! All of the lights in the room are activated by placing your card in a special glowing key slot near the door. Plop in your key and your room comes to life! Convenient! Speaking of convenience, these guys have literally thought of everything. Any sort of mild day to day nuisance has been rectified with a clever solution. Don't like cold toilet seat? Automatically heated. Ever take a shower and have the mirror all fogged up? No problem, we'll automatically defog a spot for you. Don't want to get up to turn off the lights? Easy, lighting controls built into your bed's headboard along with a power outlet and a USB port for charging. Every little tiny inconvenience you could think of (and even some that don't even occur to you) is taken care of. 

Another thing I looked forward to was experiencing Japanese television. I flipped on the TV and on the second channel, I found Japanese-dubbed SpongeBob. It's wonderfully wrong in all the right ways.

Many things in Japan have mascots. I like this happy lil sun dude.

 After a quick shower and bit of freshening-up, I was suddenly hit with a wave of both hunger and overwhelming exhaustion. It was my first night and I haven't had dinner yet. Should I just skip it and get something in the morning? There's a Kombini (convenience store) right outside, maybe I'll grab something quick...
NO. I must go out and find something special. I came here to wander the streets in search of what ever sounded good. I'm getting myself some ramen, dammit. I decide to get dressed yet again and head out. I refused to look at my GPS and began to wander the Tokyo streets alone at night. The city was still very much alive since it was only about 8:00 PM. Tired salary men and women gathered in small restaurants and bars, laughing and having a good time after a long days work. I wandered for about 40 minutes or so and found quite a few interesting places to eat, but admittedly, I was a bit nervous to enter any of them. Most of these places are not like American restaurants where you are seated by a waiter and served. Instead, you often have to sit at a bar-like table and order directly or with a coupon from a vending machine. I don't have the strongest grasp on the Japanese language, so ordering was going to be a challenge. After a bit more wandering, I stopped at a street corner and looked at the signage for a larger noddle restaurant. It looked alright, but not exactly what I was looking for. In that moment, I had my first unforgettable experience. 

In Japan, it's not often you see the public reaching out and directly interacting with foreigners without being asked first. But, as I was just about to leave that little street corner, and older and happy local looked towards me and motioned eating noodles and smiling with his hands. "おいしい" (delicious) he says, "good!" as he motions me to find the smaller, hidden RAMEN SHOP! It's like he read my mind! I reply with two thumbs up and say "それは良いですか?" (Is it good?). He nods and smiles "hai! hai!" I laugh, he laughs, and I say, "I'll take your word for it!" and enter the shop as he walks away laughing cheerfully. Inside, I find a small wooden bar, a ticket vending machine, and a few patrons slurping away at amazing looking noddle bowls. "いらっしゃいませ" (Welcome, come in) says the woman working the ramen bar. Here's the location of the shop on Google Maps.

At this ramen bar, there is an older, clunky looking ticket vending machine that will give you an order slip after you have selected what you want to eat from a large set of buttons. Only one problem. It's all in Kanji. I can read Hiragana and Katakana, but an entirely kanji menu? Ruh oh. Just then, a young man and his girlfriend slip through the door. I decide to step away from the machine for a moment and let them go first (of course, they politely motioned that I could take my time and go first, which was sweet, but.. uh... I dunno what I'm doing here). I watch them carefully and hear the words "Miso Ramen," as the man pushes a nondescript brown button on the machine. Oh hell yeah, Miso Ramen sounds great! They finish ordering, grab their ticket, and now it's my turn. I push the button that I hope is for Miso Ramen, pay in cash, grab my ticket and change, then seat myself at the bar.

Immediately after placing my ticket on the top section of the bar, the host shouts the order in Japanese and pours me a glass of water. I sit. I take in the atmosphere. I appreciate where I am and try to take it all in. It's exactly what I expected and yet at the same time, nothing at all like what I expected. Locals next to me slurping away on their noodles, exhausted after a long day just like I was. I look through the window to see the glistening lights of the Tokyo streets and over some to peer into the kitchen where they were preparing my meal. Minutes later, a piping hot bowl of pork miso ramen is placed in front of me. Holy. Shit. It looks incredible and smells amazing.

It was probably the greatest bowl of soup and noodles I have ever had in my life period. Wow. Genuine ramen noodles are so different. The noodles are a bit stiff and chewy! The broth was deliciously seasoned and oily with a big cut of incredible pork with other fresh toppings in the middle. I finish slowly - it was too good not to savor. I'll never forget the series of events that led up to this discovery and the man that I met who directed me here. It was magical. Once I was done, I cleaned up my space, pushed up my bowl, and the second I moved an inch to get out of the store,