It is astonishing how quickly your habits can change over a period of two weeks. Over the two weeks I made a concerted effort to eat what everyone else was eating, like soup with noodles and local vegetables and delicious little slime-covered mushrooms:
And on the last day I didn’t even bother with the eggs and bacon and cereal. On my breakfast plate is hijiki salad, two pickled plums, white rice and those slime-shrooms. Not in the picture but also being consumed: green tea and miso soup. I actually wanted these things over the typically Western dishes. Japan had broken me completely.
Also consumed at the final breakfast, this:
Not bad. A little burn-y due to the vinegar, but not bad.
Anyway, back to the tour. The second-to-last night we were left to our own devices and a few of us decided to go to Shinjuku, the Times Square of Tokyo. Our hotel was relatively close to Shinjuku in a cool area. The Moomins and I had a room overlooking nothing, but the guys across the hall took this photo of their view.
So the younger members of the tour (myself included) headed off to the bright lights of Shinjuku.
Where there was the most segregated smoking area ever. It was in the middle of the main boulevard. “Go there and smoke! And feel shame in your corral of cancer!”
And a cab with this on it went by. Eeeg. Dear Lord, if that isn’t the uncanny valley I don’t know what is.
The group decided we wanted some sushi and all of us were pretty cool with any kind of sushi, so we found the most packed place we could (usually a sign of goodness) and ordered the $80.00 platter. I’ve never been so extravagant and ordered the big platter so I tried to forget it was being split six ways and felt fancy.
It was fancy. And delicious. The main difference between Japanese sushi and American sushi is the taste. Even basic sushi there tastes better. The tuna has a real flavor, did you know that? I didn’t, not really. It’s quite nice. And the spicy tuna thing, it’s not there. It’s a uniquely American thing, like California rolls. Uni (sea urchin) shows up a bunch more which is upsetting because it tastes like low tide. Luckily the group picked the platter that was uni-free.
I saw on the wall that one of the specials that day was “deep-fried tuna cheek” and I was like, “Hell, that sounds thoroughly weird and possibly amazing. Imma get that.” So I did. And it was nice. Tasty. Not life-altering, but I definitely didn’t regret getting it. The left bowl has salt, the right bowl has mustard.
Shinjuku. It’s a vibrant area with all kinds of activities open late into the evening. I walked past a store with this monster on the outside.
I have no idea what that store purveys. Video games? Bath products? Don’t know, don’t care. I was creeped out and didn’t bother to stick around and investigate.
We went into a toy store that was many floors and I ended up buying a myriad of these intensely weird action figures from some Japanese TV show, a show like Power Rangers. I mean, how could I not? Look at them, they’re so varied.
We also went to a six-floor bookstore Kinokuniya. I insisted on this because that sentient toilet book had been haunting me and I would come home with regrets if I didn’t make one final effort to find it. This bookstore had a whole floor devoted only to children’s books, so I had high hopes. I navigated through the aisles until I made it to the elevator and went to the top floor. Before I bothered one of the people working there I figured I’d give it my best shot looking on my own. There were many books laying out so I could see the covers (the spines, of course, were undecipherable to me) and I came to the realization that for such a closed-in culture, the Japanese have WAAAAAY too many books on poop. Seriously. These are the poop-related books that were laying face-up. Who knows how many more were stacked so I couldn’t see them. There was this one which had a corresponding set of playing cards:
There was this one, I assume about all the magical textures and shapes:
This one had the protruding display you see there, the cheeks really come out at you. After leafing through it I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s called “Let’s Learn About the Magic of Dad’s Ass.” Not joking. That’s what the book appeared to be about.
Monster wiping. No clue. Didn’t look through it.
After perusing the best that I could and coming up empty-handed, I went to the checkout girl, got out an envelope and a pen from my purse and said, “Okay, this is what I need. There’s this toilet *drew the toilet* and he’s got a Dali mustache *drew the mustache* and he’s going through the forest *drew the forest*.” For added explanation I made a little skipping gesture while swinging my arms to convey merrily going through a forest. After the shopgirl had stopped laughing at me she called her co-workers over and had them look at my sketch and when they had pulled themselves together she held up her hand telling me to wait while she looked on the computer.
After a few minutes the checkout girl said, “Ah!” and turned her screen towards me. There he was, my gamboling toilet-man! She went to the shelf and lo and behold, there wasn’t just one book about him. There was a sequel as well. I bought both. Here are pictures from the original.
One last thing from Shinjuku: Look at this spooky entrance to something on the second level. That is off-putting.
One of the final activities on the tour was going to Odaiba, a man-made island with some crazy modern architecture. First we took a boat over with some great signage inside.
When we arrived, I was impressed with the Fuji building directly in front of me.
Has everyone seen all the X-Men movies? Everybody know Cerebro? Doesn’t this look like this contains Cerebro? I think it totally does.
There was this building as well. Fun story behind that one.
According to Kimi-San that yellow thing was supposed to stand upright and look like a flame but it was too heavy so they left it laying on its side. Kimi-San said everyone thought it looked like a turd, so if you ask a taxi driver to take you to “Turd Building,” this is where he will bring you. I’m sure the architect is thrilled about that. I personally think it looks more like a sperm, but whatever.
This is the Rainbow Bridge connected Odaiba with Tokyo. Yes, that is a scale model of the Statue of Liberty left over from 1999, “The French Year of Japan.”
When the bridge was built rainbow lights lit it up and it was very beautiful. It was so beautiful, in fact, that drivers kept looking at the lights and crashing. So the rainbow lights are only turned on for special occasions. Here’s a picture I found of what it looks like lit up.
Also on the last day we went to the Imperial Palace. Outside was a statue of a famous samurai. I liked it because it had great and powerful motion.
And also because little birds had made a nest in the hollows of the horse’s tail.
We visited the Sensoji Temple, one of the only temples I got to see with big ole pagodas. It was a lovely temple, albeit a bit crowded.
Here are people shaking those containers with the numbers and opening the corresponding drawer to get their fortune. I mentioned how that works earlier.
Off to the side was this statue. The informational plaque didn’t have any English, so when I returned home I looked it up. All I could find out was this sentence.
In Sensoji area, it is built to comfort spirits of mothers and children in Manchuria towards the end of WWII.
I stood respectfully in front of it for a minute or two. I didn’t know what it was for, but the fact that people had covered her with shawls and bibs and a hat made me realize that this was something painful and important to people. Her lips look stained, like people have been kissing her. I felt like it deserved a minute of my time, even if I didn’t know why.
A fugu restaurant. I did not eat there. I do not care how well you prepare your pufferfish, I don’t need to die in such a lame manner just for a thrill.
This is the sign from the Cattleya Coffeeshop in Gion, Kyoto.
Teeny plants in a wall. The Moomins said in South Africa they’re called “fairy gardens.”
A rickshaw. It’s more of a novelty than a real mode of transportation, but cool to see nonetheless.
A store that only sells seaweed and seaweed products.
A store that only sells sweet potato and sweet potato products.
Some kitties I saw hanging out on a sign in Ginza, one of the fanciest shopping districts.
The exterior of an old established Chinese restaurant in Kyoto. One of the only examples of typical European architecture.
And outside the hotel near the airport, a pretty garden and some fantastic koi fish.
That’s it. That was my trip to Japan. It was everything I had hoped for and I cannot wait to go back. In my next entry I’ll link to the itinerary of my tour in case you want to take the same one (I recommend it) and helpful hints that I discovered along the way.