Sunday, June 9, 2019

Japan (May 11 - 17, 2019)

I'm a little behind, but slowly getting caught up with my life!

Last month, I took a trip (for work) and tacked on the weekend for travel so I could sightsee ahead of time. Kelvin coincidentally had travel plans for Japan as well, so I found time amidst the back and forth to spend some time with old friends, do research, and work.

Japan was my first trip to Asia since our family trip to China back in 2005. I was excited but knew I'd have to cram everything I wanted to do in 2 days - what to do?

Chie and Takako picked me up from the airport, and it was the cutest thing I could have asked for! I met Chie many years ago via the Disney Tri Team - she was our only member in Japan, and when she came to visit for D23 a few years ago, we got to meet for the first time. I let Chie know that I was heading to Japan, and she graciously offered to pick me up from the airport and take me around to places she thought would be suitable for research and for my tourist-y mind!

I was warned that cash was king in Japan, despite its technological advances. I should have listened! The first thing we did upon arrival was get a Suica card - similar to an Octopus card in Hong Kong - but suitable for all things, including the rail and payment at convenience stores and vending machines . I was so surprised by this (I guess I'm just used to other forms of payment?) but we ended up loading a Suica card for me before taking the rail to the hotel. What an experience!

By now I had been awake for 17 hours - it was a long flight and we knew we had a long road ahead of us. Day one included:

Takeshita Street in Harajuku - the BUSIEST street ever, it felt like! As we walked through it felt like Christmas Day at Disneyland. Instead of strollers, there were hoards of teenage girls giggling, shopping, and snacking .

We stopped by the Hot Toys Avengers Pop Up Cafe, which had smoothies and burgers in addition to display cases full of Hot Toys figurines - a true gold mine for true fans for Marvel!

We made other stops at the Line Friends store, Kiddyland (a multi-level toy store with themed floors) and ended up in Akihabara to walk around quickly before heading out . 

Taka told me I was very lucky, as we got to witness a Kanda Matsuri - a festival that only happens once every 2 years!

They say that during the festival they parade a portable shrine (mikoshi) in the neighorhoods on the Sunday of the parade.

So cool! the streets were closed so I got to see a different side of Japan that night. I also got to meet an owl!!!!

That first night, we had dinner at Tendon Tenya, which is a local tempura restaurant chain. Combined, the three of us paid $18 for a meal! I couldn't believe it! Yummy, delicious, and inexpensive.

I was on the verge of falling asleep at the table as I had been up for so many hours - Chie and Taka took me most of the way home and I made my way back to the hotel to finish up the night in a nice clean bed.

I had a lot ahead of me!


The next morning, I woke up rather early without an alarm. Chie had gifted me a ticket to a Disney property (many thanks, Chie!!) -

so in my broken japanese and my aversion to public transportation (It's not that I don't like it - it's that I don't understand it!) I made my way to the Tokyo Disney property! I chose Disney Sea as my theme park for the day as I knew I'd see a lot that I normally wouldn't ever see.

I gave myself a few hours to get there (I tend to get lost easily) and arrived at the park at 7:30 am -- the park opened at 9. I got into a line and filed in behind many Japanese locals who seemed accustomed to waiting. They had plastic lined sheets (licensed!) that they sat on, and everyone was polite and kept to themselves. Around 8:45, everyone quietly got up and made the lines a little tighter. I was so surprised by how courteous everyone seemed - nothing like what we have in the states!

At 9, the gates opened, and ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE. Literally, a hoarde of people scanned their tickets and started running. Where, I'm not sure, but castmembers held signs that said "PLEASE DO NOT RUN" and they were definitely disregarded.

No one even noticed that Mickey and Minnie were welcoming them to the park!

I quickly made my way to Tower of Terror - I had read (while in line, obviously) that this ride was different from the ride in California - and it was!

Everything was in Japanese! It sounded so foreign but with the same intonations as the ones in CA, so I assumed it was similar. As it turns out, the ride is different because of the storyline - It isn't based on the Twilight Zone (probably due to lack of familarity) but is instead based on a stolen relic that was taken during an expedition and ultimately haunts the building.

I had a blast!

I spent the rest of the day walking around the park ...

and eating everything up - literally.

I had a turkey leg, which was not abnormally large like in the states - just a regular drumstick that tasted the same!

I got a Fastpass to the park's flagship ride - Journey to the Center of the Earth!

and rode single rider for Indiana Jones - it was great! I've never been to a theme park by myself but I totally recommend it. You get to do everything you want without having to wait for anyone!

I even snuck in an iced treat -


My favorite meal was a "gyoza dog" = literally a fusion of my favorite asian food and my guilty pleasure - gyozas and hot dogs! Highly recommend .

I walked around the rest of the park before heading back over to a performance of Big Band Beat - a collection of musical acts starring Mickey and Friends! Because of the popularity of the show, lottery tickets were administered and admittance was determined on whether or not you "won the lottery" - luckily I was able to snag a ticket - in the third row!

By 3pm I had walked the whole park and left to meet Chie at TDR. We walked the Disney Store and ended up at Character Street at Tokyo station - a huge mall of sorts featuring (you guessed it!) licensed characters popular to Japan.

Chie took me to try a local dessert called Anmitsu - I will admit: not my kind of dessert, but the ice cream was delicious!

We made our way to Zauo, a fishing restaurant in Shinjuku - where we were able to fish for our own dinner. It was definitely an experience but I'm not sure I would do it again. The food was great, but the fishing part felt a little inhumane to me. I didn't like the idea of "hooking" the fish, but I do see the appeal of being able to "fish" for one's dinner.

Regardless - I had a great time, and I got to see my brother!

The food itself was almost too pretty to eat!


By now I'm exhausted. Day 3 -

Kelvin and I started the morning by heading to Tsukiji Fish Market.
It . was . delicious .

Gigantic prawns and squid. Overpriced but worth it!

and of course, we topped it off with ice cream and mochi :)

We made our way to Tokyo Skytree and of course, I HAD to see the Studio Ghibli store:

We walked past the Kirby Cafe, which was so cute! Sad we didn't have reservations .

At the top of Tokyo Skytree, we took some pictures and made a stop at the Sanrio pop up cafe - SO MANY pop up shops in Japan!

The glass ceiling seemed like the biggest draw - you could sit on the floor and take a look at Tokyo underneath you!

Kelvin and I left shortly after and made our way to the Sensoji temple:

We got our fortunes told, and I got the best fortune! Looks like my wishes are coming true sometime soon ;)

As we made our way through Tokyo, Kelvin and I headed over to Roppongi, where we partnered with MariCar to ride Go-Karts through the streets of Tokyo!

Clearly they are unrelated to Nintendo. (Sounds like someone got sued!)
We spent 2 hours with MariCar - 1.5 of which I had to pee so badly!
But it was worth it. We got to drive right up to the Shibuya scramble, skirt right by the Olympic Stadium (Tokyo 2020!!)

and ride by Tokyo Tower! I saw more on that ride than I thought I would!

After MariCar (yes, this was a jam packed day), we headed over to...

a hedgehog cafe! They were so cute!!!

The real draw, however, was the meerkat. It was hyperactive and SO ADORABLE . We probably spent most of our time with the meerkat. The hedgehogs, while cute, didn't seem like they wanted to socialize too much .

Next stop?

Bifuteki Kawamura, a Kobe Beef establishment.

It's rumored that Hugh Jackman loves this place - and I did too! Possibly one of the best meals I've ever had in my life .

I loved every minute I spent in there .


The remainder of the trip I spent working, which doesn't sound as fun as the sightseeing  We went back to Harajuku and to Shibuya - We  comp-shopped at Shibuya 109, saw the Shibuya Scramble from up top -

- and made Okonomiyaki! in addition to walking 8+ miles through the streets of Harajuku and a few other neighboring cities. For a small Country, we walked a lot of Japan.


The next day was filled with meetings, but included a visit to the Studio Ghibli Museum - a gorgeous venue filled with all things whimsical and Ghilbi related!

We had dinner at Hibiki - where I learned to eat Soba and royally screwed it up :)

All in all, a great week. I can't wait to go back!

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