My Trip to Japan: Day 5 Hakone

So that Tuesday was apparently some holiday in Japan (Shun never did tell me what holiday though).  The point is that he didn’t have any school or such responsibilities (not that that really kept him from skipping those responsibilities to spend time with me XD).  So he decided to take me to Hakone, which is a kind of small mountain town in the area of Mt. Fuji which is famous for its hot springs.  We woke up a little late and ate some breakfast, and that might have been the day I tried Kimchi (sp?)  It was okay, but I probably will never go out of my way to eat it again.

We went to Hakone from Shinjuku station on a train called Romance Car.  It a sort of fast (not like the Shinkansen though) express train that has nothing really to do with Romance, but that’s the name.  They had a snack cart come by, and Shun made me practice my Japanese and order him some ice tea.  The train ride was pretty neat, I got to see a lot of interesting scenery and some rural areas as well.  When we got closer to Hakone I took a video (I wanted to take a picture of the mountains behind the town scenery, but I could not because every time I pulled out my camera, the train would descend so I couldn’t.)

When we got to the station, we had to buy another ticket to a train that went up the mountain to the actual town.  The first train was really crowded so we decided to wait for the next one so that we could sit down.  I sat on the aisle seat, but the train was so crowded the lady standing next to me was leaning on me, and it bothered me a great deal.  So all of the other train rides Shun made sure that I had a window seat when he could.  Irritating lady aside, the scenery was gorgeous.  The leaves had started to change colors and all of the mountains surrounding us just made it beautiful.  Once we got to the town, we needed to take a tram up to the cable car to take us to the source of the hot springs.  However, there was a really long line, so we decided to get some lunch first.  We walked up the really steep hill and looked at all the restaurants.  We chose one of the last ones, a family run sort of thing, and had some curry.  The restaurant was small, and it kind of looked like someone could live there.  The owner’s son, who was adorable, was sitting on some tatami watching television.  It was a nice atmosphere, and for most of the meal Shun and I were the only customers there.  Afterward Shun let me try a traditional food (I can never remember the name other than it starts with an M), but it was a kind of bread with anko in the middle.  It was really good!

After that we ventured over the the tram, and then to the cable car.  I forget how high up we were, but it was pretty amazing.  When we went over the source of the hot springs, there was hardly any vegetation and all you could smell was the sulfur.  The water flowed down in several places to the onsen in Hakone, and on the banks of the small streams was a yellow substance.  When we got to the top of the mountain, we walked around a great bit and went up to the main source of the onsen water, which was also where they make their famous black eggs.  All they do is cook them in the onsen water, but it turns the shell black.  We took several pictures, and some of them were pretty good because it was a bit foggy and cloudy at that point and it made for some interesting shots.  It was also the reason I didn’t get to see Mt. Fuji though.

We decided to go back down to Hakone and we were going to do a couple other things, but it was starting to rain a little and we were both tired.  So we rode back and bought another ticket on the Romance Car to Shinjuku, but we had some time to wait, so we went to a little coffee shop and split a small coffee cake and a coffee.  It was nice and a good way to relax after several more crowded rides down the mountain.  On the Romance Car we couldn’t sit together because it was pretty full.  I slept for just a little bit.  When we got to Shinjuku, we still had a little bit before we had to meet Shun’s sister in Roppongi for dinner.  So Shun showed me the Christmas lights.  One was called Mosaic Street, which had a lot of blue lights, and then we went to the other place which I don’t know what it was called.  It was amazing!!  The lights there were so pretty, and there were so many of them.  We also saw some artistic pieces in the train station which were made out of plastic water bottles.  They were quite well done and they even light up.

Shun also showed me a huge department store in Shinjuku.  It was like 14 stories and three buildings.  We didn’t have time to look around the whole place obviously, but he did show me the expensive part.  The most interesting part of that department store was the kimono level.  They were absolutely stunning.  I remember Shun being amazed at some of the prices, but I was more amazed at the detail put into those kimono.

After that we took a subway to Roppongi, which that was the first time I had ever ridden a subway.  I know it is just an underground train, but still, I was excited.  We met his sister outside of the train station and Shun, his sister, his sister’s friend, and I all went to a small restaurant to eat Nabe.  We went into our own private room with tatami and the low table you kneel at.  We had to take off our shoes and everything.  We tried a whole host of things.  The only thing they did order that I didn’t try was raw chicken.  It was a small piece, and I’m sure it was fine to eat, but I didn’t want to risk it.  I also tried yakitori.  I don’t remember all the different parts that I tried, but I know chicken skin and liver were some of the parts.  It was actually very good though.

I also tried some Japanese beer (Sapporo maybe) and some Japanese sake.  It was the first time I ordered alcohol because in Japan the drinking age is 20.  Then we got to make the Nabe, which ours was some leafy vegetables and chicken.  We boiled it in a sort of broth which is made from boiling chicken bones.  It was very delicious.  I also tried some sort of dessert, but I don’t remember what it was because Shun picked it out for me.  It was good though heh heh.  I would also like to note that their bathroom had only a single toilet in it, but the toilet was one of those with the sink in the top, so that was kind of neat.

After that we rode the train back to Kameido and went to sleep!

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My Trip to Japan: Day 4 Shrines, Shopping, and Haneda

Shun and I woke up rather early (of course I never quite fully adjusted to the time change.  I did have a normal sleep pattern, just that of a 70 year old woman where I would go to bed at around 10 and wake up at 6 or 7.)  He made me breakfast, because he is such a sweetheart.  It was spinach soup, over easy eggs, and some rice with just a bit of soy sauce on the egg.  I don’t care what he says, he is a good cook!  Then we went to some various shops in Kameido, including a small dollar store.  Then we kept walking and we got to a small street (which had no side walk so people just walked down the street avoiding passing cars as they came).  It had a lot of flower shops on it and there were streamers, almost like the leis you get in Hawaii (or some I imagine) crossing all over above our heads and down the street.  You could smell the perfume of the flower shops as well.  I took a couple of pictures just because it struck me as wonderful.

Then Shun took me to a small and not so famous shrine (of shinto origin) in Kameido.  There it was, just sitting in the middle of such a big city, but it looked so untouched.  We didn’t really stop and experience all the temple had to offer, but we did look at all the outside stuff and take pictures.  We also threw some yen into a box as an offering and prayed.  I’m not sure to whom, but I did it anyway heh heh.  Then we got on a train and went to the next station, Kinshicho.  We went in this big department store and looked around a Japanese Supermarket.  It was huge, and I did see a couple of American products there, only really expensive.  Spam in America is around $2 at Kroger (or this kind anyway, not the fancier kind) and it was around $3.50 in Japan.  Sour cream was around $3 for less than 8 ounces also.

We also went to a larger dollar store, which was amazing!!  I feel like I should have bought more there, but alas I did the whole, “well this is cute…” *puts said item back on shelf*  We also went to a book store, and I looked around, but didn’t really buy a whole lot outside of a postcard of Mt. Fuji for my mom.  Shun bought some travel magazines.  I looked at a popular clothing store, just to browse and see what sort of things were different.  I do agree with Mai when she said Japanese bras are prettier.  Oh, and they have some awesomely soft clothes.  I also ate some sort of curry bread as a snack somewhere in there.  Shun recommended it, and it was really good.  It had real carrots in there…  I’m sort of getting my whens mixed up here, but I know I also went to an accessory store (I was drawn in my all of the shiny things) and a candy store (mostly with traditional candy).  We also ate at a really popular Japanese restaurant, where I tried a sort of tonkatsu (it was fried chicken, maybe? in a miso broth with vegetables and eggs).  It really left me wondering why we didn’t have any authentic Japanese food in America instead of that Shogun crap they try to pass off…

After that we went to Haneda Airport, where they just finished building a new international terminal.  There were a lot of people there, mostly just looking around like we were.  The shops inside the airport are designed to look like edo period towns.  We didn’t go into many in that part, although we did in other non-edo portions of the airport.  I mostly liked taking pictures.  This is also where I experienced my first awesome Japanese public toilets (which I miss dearly every time I use a public restroom in America).  First, the doors are designed so no one can see you in the stall.  Kind of nice not to have that massive crack in between the door.  Second, the toilet has more features that you can imagine, and the seats are heated.  There is a place in the bathroom for young children as well.  Some (even though they don’t have all the other fancy gadgetry, have place in the very top of the toilet where you can wash your hands after you flush.  The hand dryers are awesome because you just stick your hands into it, and the machine blows air at the top, and you just pull your hands out and the water comes off.

Anyway, we went to some other shops in Haneda, including a toy shop where I bought Shun a toy car and we watched some cute kids race little toy cars on a big race track.  We also went into the Hello Kitty store, because I really like Hello Kitty.  It started to get kind of dark, so we went outside to the platform where you can watch the planes.  There were some more adorable kids, as well as a nice view of Tokyo and the airport.  We stayed out there for a while before deciding to head back.  Shun gave me some other options after we got back.  There was plenty to do, but I was tired, so we rented a movie.  I also got a sandwich at Family Mart, because I was craving bread.  And just as a note, not any wheat bread that I could find and not a wide selection of bread outside of dessert bread.  But the sandwich was good and got the craving out of the way (also different from sandwiches in America).

I don’t remember what movie we rented, I just know we wanted to rent Tonari Totoro but it was already checked out, or something.  So we got something else, but I ended up falling asleep less than halfway through, and he ended up falling asleep at some point as well.  but that was our Monday, and it was quite fun!!

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My Trip to Japan: Day 3 My Solo Adventures in Kameido

I woke up at around 7 AM on Sunday, and I was really hungry.  I didn’t really want to eat all of Shun’s food, so I decided to go out in search of a convenience store.  Unfortunately I didn’t really know where one was, so that meant I had to go out and look for one.  I was a bit nervous at first because honestly, I have never really been in a big city, much less alone.  It was fine though.  It wasn’t that busy because it was so early.  I walked down about two blocks before deciding that probably wasn’t the way to a convenience store.  So I turned right and decided to walk in a large circle in hopes of finding one.  Just as I was about to turn to go back to Shun’s, I found a 7-11.  Had a decided to go the other way in the beginning, my search would have been much more fruitful.  So I went in and got some onigiri and some milk tea and went to the register.  The lady said something to me in really fast Japanese, which Japanese might have been fine had she said it more slowly.  But all I could do was look at her with a puzzled look, and her countenance quickly changed to that of panic and she said, “Sorry, no English!!”  Then she pointed at the onigiri and said, “Hot?”  It was quite an experience.  I was caught off guard though and didn’t really use my Japanese heh heh.

So I ate my breakfast back at Shun’s place and then watched some Japanese Sunday morning cartoons before falling back asleep (one of which was pokemon).  I’m not sure when exactly I woke back up, but I got a shower and got re-dressed and then took some pictures from Shun’s balcony.  Then I decided to go explore Kameido.  I walked past the train station and all the way down that street, looking at all the different shops and restaurants.  It smelled sort of like a carnival with all the different smells from the food mixing together.  By the time I got back to Shun’s, I was starting to get hungry again, but I didn’t really want to go back to a convenience store for lunch.  So I walked down another road for awhile and found a big department store.  I briefly thought about going to a restaurant, but the thought of ordering in Japanese and not really knowing what I was getting sort of freaked me out, so I decided not to.  So I walked back and found a discount store close to his place and got some cup noodle.

Cup noodle’s in Japan may cost more, but you get a whole lot more bang for your buck.  They have a whole host of vegetables and they are bigger.  It was pretty awesome.  So I went back and ate, then rested for a little while.  It really took a lot out of me.  Later I went back out and went back to that department store/mall that I had found earlier and looked around for awhile.  There was a live band playing too, so I took a break and listened to a couple of songs as well.  As I headed back I went to a convenience store and picked up my dinner for later, another bento.  I did a bit of studying as well as wrote some e-mails and then after I ate dinner, I found Harry Potter 2 on the tv and watched that for awhile in Japanese before ultimately switching back to English.

Sometime in the middle of the movie Shun’s mom called, and it was a bit awkward.  I thought it was him calling me, so I didn’t even look when I answered and his mom was like, “Hello?  Shun there?”  I told her no and that he was at his car club thing and she was like, “Oh, I’m his mom.”  I told her I would tell him she called and we talked in some broken English and Japanese for a couple more minutes before hanging up.  Finally, when Shun did come home, we were both really tired, but we talked for a little while and he also told me all about his race, which he got 2nd in!!  So that was Sunday!

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My Trip to Japan: Day 2 Car Club

So Saturday Shun and I had to wake up early and go to a somewhat small town just outside of Tokyo so that Shun could practice for his last car club race that was on Sunday.  Traffic was pretty good, but it was still kind of a shock to look up every once and a while and see that we were on the left side of the road.  We didn’t really have time to get a nice breakfast, so we stopped at a 7-11 and got some onigiri.  I had Shun pick me out some since I didn’t want to accidentally get some with umeboshi heh heh.  I ate a sausage one, tuna, and also a salmon (I think) one, my favorite was the sausage.  Also something I want to note here, the rice in Japan is so much more flavorful than it is here.  Of course that may be because I get the bottom of the barrel Kroger brand too… but I didn’t really pay attention to that until I came back here and made some rice and realized how horribly wrong I was…

Then we went to his club house, which was kind of on a small hill.  I was still kind of tired from the flight, so I slept for awhile in the car after making some introductions.  After I woke up, Shun came over and got me something warm for me to drink, and then I watched them practice.  I got to talk to his coach some, but he didn’t really speak English, and my Japanese isn’t that good either so it was a bit challenging at times.  Around noonish we went to a supermarket and got some bento  to eat for lunch.  I don’t remember what all was in it, because Shun picked it out for me, but it was really good!!  I also got to try Calpis Soda for the first time, which was amazing!!  About the closest I can get to describing the flavor is a sort of weaker tasting sprite, but creamy.  It really is a lot better than it sounds.

After that I did some studying while Shun practiced some more.  They did let me ride with him through a practice run though, which was fun.  They asked if I wanted to try, but I decided not to since it was a Japanese car (with the steering wheel on the right and such) and also since the sort of race thing they were doing was complicated… I talked some more with his coach, who kept trying to get me to yell ganbatte ne and faito while shun was practicing, and then yelling them for me in a high pitched voice when I wouldn’t.  I also got to see pictures of his little boy, who was adorable!

As it was about to get dark, I decided I should take some pictures of the area, since it was a really pretty.  This is why some of the pictures are a bit off, because the light was fading a little faster than I had anticipated.  When we couldn’t see anything anymore, Shun and I left to take me back to his condo and he also went out of his way to show me some Christmas lights in Japan.  The pictures don’t really do them justice, they were gorgeous!  We went to a department store/mall and found a restaurant which served Japanese style pizza.  I don’t really know what was on it, but it was really good.  Very different from American pizza though.  The crust was super thin and it didn’t really have a lot of tomato sauce on it.

When we got back to his place, he stayed for a little bit and made sure that I would be okay, because he had to go to his competition on Sunday so he had to sleep at his club house.  I don’t think he wanted me to go because he knew it would be cold at the clubhouse that night and didn’t want me to sleep there, but I kind of wish I could have gone with him and watched him compete.  I think I watched a little bit of tv before I decided to go to sleep, but I don’t recall what I watched… so that was Saturday!

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My Trip to Japan: Day 1 The Horribly Long Flight

Thursday November 18 (American Time) 5:00 AM:

This is what time I got up (even after going to Atlanta the night before) so that I could roll out of bed, slap some clothes on, and go to the airport.  My flight left at around 7 in the morning to go to New York.  It was my first time flying, as well as my first time out of the country, so I really feel the need to document it.  I was a bit nervous, not so much the going to another country (that didn’t hit me until I got to Narita airport).  I was more nervous about not knowing what to do once I got to JFK and missing my flight to Japan.  The flight was not too bad, I didn’t really sleep, but it didn’t really feel that long either.  I mostly read.  And of course when I did get to JFK, I got lost, mostly because I didn’t realize I had to go out of the secured area to get to the other terminal so I walked around in circles for a little while before asking someone for help.  After much stress and another trip to the ticket counter for my boarding pass and another trip through security, I made it to my gate.

Luckily on this flight I had an American lady, who was very familiar with flying, sitting next to me, so she told me important things like where the toilets were and such.  Here I want to note the difference between American flight attendants and Japanese flight attendants.  In America, their uniforms aren’t exactly uniform, and the flight attendants, for the most part, are a little past their prime.  However, the Japanese flight attendants had the cutest uniforms, and even had cute little aprons to serve us our meals in.  The presentation was just totally different.  There isn’t too much to say about the flight really.  I got some interesting food, I’m not sure what all of it was, but it was good.  My favorite was probably the somewhat doughnut like thing with custard in the middle, only minus the glaze on the outside.  I watched a whole bunch of movies, including Despicable Me in German, and I did like it better the second time around, heh heh.

Around 14 hours later we finally landed at Narita airport at 4:30 PM on Friday in Japan.  We were immediately rushed through to immigration, where I was met with a disgruntled employee not really willing to explain to me what I did wrong on the form… So I guessed and guessed wrong, but the employee at the counter was much more patient and helped me fix it.  Then I got my bag and went through customs and waited for Shun.  I almost fell asleep waiting, but I thought that would not be a good idea in a public place.  Little did I know just how common it is in Japan, and how I would have fit right in, heh.

We rode a train back to Tokyo, which took about 45 minutes I suppose.  I was absolutely amazed at the ticket machine as well as the gate, which means I was in the way of a mess of people behind me.  Haha I was THAT rude American.  I had to learn to stand on the left side of the escalator in a single file, so that people could walk up on the right.  It took several times of Shun pulling me to the left, but I eventually got it.  The train ride was amazing, because it was the first time I had ever ridden a legit train, because trains at the zoo don’t count.  I also liked watching the scenery grow from small buildings and rural houses to vast concrete structures and street lights.  The buildings in Japan are different from the ones here I feel like.  It was interesting, to say the least.  Also, trains in Japan have heated seats.  I’m just saying…

As soon as I got out of the train station in Kameido (the part of Tokyo Shun lives in), I was utterly amazed.  I took a couple of pictures, but the lights were so bright and everything was so different from the small Alabama towns I had grown accustomed to.  Luckily for Shun, he lives close to the train station, so he didn’t have to put up with my gawking for too long.  Then I got a shower, and we ate dinner (which Shun cooked), and watched some Crayon Shin Chan, as well as a bit of Japanese Harry Potter 5 before I fell asleep.  Heh heh that was my first couple of days!  It gets more interesting, I promise.

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