March 24th, 2007


十日: 誕生日!

[This is a day late, not because I didn't have internet, but because we were in a hurry and I didn't have time to write this up.]


Okay, bad stuff first (but not so bad): man, my feet are hurting. I've been on them for over a week now, and they're starting to hurt real good. Good thing I also have a high tolerance for pain. Also, Japan makes me feel fat (well, tall, too). I swear I don't fit anywhere -- and Japan is really, really tight on space. Or at least Tokyo is -- it's astounding how much crap they squeeze into this place.

So, good stuff: finally rode the Yamanote line all the way around Tokyo (first time I'd ever been to the part of the loop between Ueno and Ikebukuro, actually). Cheap fare, since we just went around and two stops farther to Ueno (from Akihabara, where the Tsukuba Express terminates, that being the closest line to our hotel). Where we wandered through Ueno Park and went to the Tokyo National Museum.

The cherry blossoms weren't quite blooming in Ueno Koen, unfortunately, although people were already camping out to reserve spots for the 花見 (flower viewing), and lots of people were getting their drink on pretty good by the time we left the park. We wandered over to the lake and temple, but spent most of our time in the museum, which at 600円 is a pretty good deal. We saw lots of cool stuff (although, actually, a lot of it was also kinda wasted on us, since we didn't have enough context to appreciate it, although I'm sure it was astounding if you happened to be Buddhist). Our favorite bits were the samurai weapons and armor, probably, and I also really liked the caligraphy (both Japanese, and Chinese in the building with all the Asian art. Although, apparently, Egypt is part of Asia, but never mind that). The grounds of the museum (and the park as a whole, actually) is also pretty nice.

Anyway, looking for a place to sit down near Ueno station, we found the funkiest Starbucks you can imagine in what used to be, well, one of those rotating garage things they have in Tokyo. Not much of a menu, but it was shelter from the cold (it was getting dark by this point) and had chairs.

After that... Off to Akihabara to meet folks for birthday festivities. I got stuffed on yakiniku (a.k.a., "Korean BBQ") and fed lots of beer, and afterwards, we headed off to a karaoke booth, where many songs were sung, beer was drunk, and festivities continued. Besides Dusty and my friend from Tokyo, four other members of the Nippon2007 committee attended, including Mr. Chairman and his wife. Everyone gave me wonderful presents, and while I know I shouldn't pick favorites, the best were the sushi fridge magnets that made me squee when I saw them -- it was the best possible gift, I think.

Also, I got a 2000円 bill that someone had (totally cool, that was something I really wanted to find while I was in Japan), which I traded for a $2 bill I had with me (actually, I had two -- that was the only money I didn't exchange at Narita).

Anyway, we got home without incident (this time!), although the train was almost rush-hour crowded on the way back from Akihabara at 11:45.

So... Tomorrow Nagano and Matsumoto.

[see photos on flickr]
domo-kun is a viking!

Day The Eleventh... And Then God Said: "Let There Be Shinkansen"

So... Dusty and I got up early this morning (reasonably early, anyway, given how late we'd been up) and met my Japanese friend at the hotel, then hopped a cab to Tokyo station (he tried to pay, but we wouldn't let him -- divided between three people, though, the cab fare wasn't bad. Nice not to have to take the suitcases down all those stairs to various stations, though). He's holding onto my suitcase for a few days while I wander around north-central Honshu by backpack (I'd told him we'd meet him at Tokyo station, but he kinda short circuited all that -- the Japanese will go out of their way to help you if you're their guest, but I think he's done a lot even by Japanese standards). Our plan had been for Dusty and I to exchange/activate our JR Passes earlier today, but turns out we had to wait until 10AM, so we hung out in a coffee shop for a bit, then were the first two people in line, and got that all taken care of with minimum fuss.

After that, we said goodbye to my Japanese friend and grabbed the next shinkansen to Nagano, where we saw the temple at Zenkouji, which was fairly nice. Better, though, was the castle in Matsumoto, which was really cool. One of the three best castles in Japan, it's quite well preserved, and you can walk all the way through the interior. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't all that cooperative (cloudy all day, and rainy by the evening), but it's been so nice so far that it's really kind of hard to complain about it now. Matsumoto's a pretty cool place, too... I'll have to come back and visit it again someday when I have more time (and my feet don't hurt so much. My sunglasses were kind of annoying me inside the temple, too, which was kinda dark, and they kinda suck for using the laptop, but c'est la vie).

Had soba today with Dusty (apparently Matsumoto is known for its soba). It was okay -- but I think I like the nikudon the best still. After dinner, though, we split up -- he picked up his bags which he left at my hotel on the way to the castle, and I went up to my room here. So from here on, I'm really and truly on my own for a while, which will be interesting, especially as I wander farther from Tokyo and start attracting more attention (especially with my ridiculous sunglasses at night). I think I was worried about this leg of the trip before I'd started out from Denver, but now I'm just mostly going to miss the company, I think.

Soaked my feet in the tub for a bit, and I think I'm going to crash early tonight and recharge. The next couple of days I'm going to do everything possible to avoid walking anywhere (short of paying for taxis), but we'll see how that goes. Tomorrow I'm taking the trains to Niigata, and the day after, the slow trains all the way up to Akita. Hope the weather cooperates then, but it's hard to say for sure.

[see photos on flickr]