A Travellerspoint blog

Hawaii + Seattle

sunny 30 °C
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On my way home from Japan I had a 12 hour layover in Honolulu, Hawaii. I arrived at around 10am and my connecting flight wasn't until 10pm. Luckily I was allowed to leave the airport. By the time I got through customs and rechecked my baggage is was about noon. Waikiki Beach was only an hour bus ride from the airport, so I decided to spend the day there. Not a bad location to have a 12 hour layover!

Hawaii was just as beautiful as you would expect. The sun was shining and the water was crystal blue. I found a surfing hut which had lockers, so I rented a locker to put my carry-on luggage in for the day, and then took a walk down the beach. I was pretty hungry, so after my walk I decided to try and find some food. Running parallel to Waikiki Beach is a shopping street lined with designer stores and hotels. I eyed a Cheese Cake Factory, and I had never eaten there before, so that sounded good enough for me. I had been craving nachos for the past 2 months, so I ordered some nachos, and they were SO delicious!

After I finished eating I wandered around the shopping street for a little while then made my way back to the beach. I went for a swim, then laid in the sand for a while. I had heard kids yelling earlier about there being a giant sea turtle in the water, but unfortunately I didn't see him. The lady that had been sitting next to me on the plane had told me that there was a park near Waikiki Beach that was nice, so after my sunbathing I took a walk to that park, then made my way back to the airport.

It was a fun layover... Hawaii definitely lived up to my expectations!

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I flew overnight from Honolulu to LA, then flew from LA to Vancouver in the morning, where my Aunt and Uncle were waiting to pick me up. By this time it was Friday afternoon. Because I had crossed the international dateline, I technically spent all of Thursday Aug. 14th in Osaka, flew out in the evening, then spent all of Thursday in Honolulu as well. I was incredibly tired by this point. When I got back to my Aunt's place I just crashed.

My flight from Seattle to Toronto was Sunday evening, so my Aunt and Uncle offered to show me around Seattle. We got there on Saturday evening and went downtown to see the Space Needle. I like the Space Needle. As far as tall towers go, it's probably one of my favourites. The view of Seattle from the top of the Space Needle was very pretty in the evening. The ferry boats made me happy... they remind me a Derrick Shepherd (I'm a big Grey's Anatomy fan). After coming back down we walked around the area around the Space Needle for a little while. There was an outdoor movie going on nearby which was really cute (they were watching The Great Gatsby). After that we made our way back to the hotel.

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On Sunday morning we got up bright and early and headed to the Woodland Park Zoo. We had gotten the Seattle City Pass, which includes admission to the Space Needle, the Woodland Park Zoo, and 3 other attractions. The zoo was fun - my favourite animal there were the warthogs... they were relaxing in the mud and looked oh so happy. The Red Ruffed Lemur was pretty sweet as well!

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After the zoo we went to a little Italian restaurant for lunch, then headed to the Seattle aquarium. The Seattle aquarium was a lot smaller than the aquarium I had been to in Osaka, but I think I liked it just as much. What it lacked in quantity it made up for in quality. I had never seen a giant octopus before, but they had two of them! They were apparently fully grown, but were a lot smaller than I had expected. But they were sleeping, so perhaps if they stretched out their tentacles they'd appear a lot bigger. I never knew I liked octopuses, but after seeing these guys I really do! They looked so cute and delicate with their little eyelids all closed. And apparently they have three hearts! I think they're really cool. The aquarium also had sea otters which are always one of my favourite too. They're noses are so cute... and I love how they eat off their tummy!

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A few blocks away from the aquarium was Pier 56, which is home to the Argosy Harbour Boat Tours, which was also something that was included in the Seattle City Pass. After we finished up at the aquarium we got an ice cream and then hopped on a Harbour Boat Tour. The tour was actually really great! There was a narrator telling you facts and history about Seattle which was entertaining as well as educational. We saw a nice view of Seattle, and even a buoy full of California Sea Lions - apparently the male sea lions who lose the battle for prime territory in California migrate to Seattle for the summer. They were so cute!

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After the boat tour we went back to the hotel, I got my luggage, and then made my way to the Seattle airport. I flew overnight to Chicago, had a quick layover, then boarded my flight to Toronto. Unfortunately, my layover was so quick that I caught my plane, but my checked luggage didn't. When I got to Toronto my luggage didn't come out... so I had to file a missing luggage report. This had never happened to me before, so I was a little worried (although of all the flights I had taken in the past few months, this was probably the best one to have my luggage get lost on). It turns out that you can track the status of your luggage online now, which was really great and put my mind at ease. My luggage showed up at my door the next day all in one piece.

It's great to finally be back home in Hamilton. It was an amazing experience to see Japan and travel this summer, but all the same, it sure is nice to be back!

Posted by sneezekoofer 09:41 Archived in USA Tagged seattle hawaii Comments (3)

Karuizawa

rain 20 °C
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On Tuesday morning I hit the road early and hopped on a train bound for Karuizawa, a town in the Nagono prefecture. Karuizawa was "discovered" by Canadian missionary Alexander Croft Shaw. Since then it has become a popular resort town for rich families in Tokyo trying to escape the heat. Karuizawa is an hour north of Tokyo on the bullet train. It's a beautiful place, surrounded by mountains, and the temperature is quite a bit cooler than the swelteringly hot Tokyo. It also has natural hot springs, so there are lots of onsens (Japanese public baths) in the area. I wanted to do a few day trips from Tokyo, but it was difficult trying to decide where to go. I wanted to see some animals/ wilderness that is unique to Japan. So, after searching and searching I found this giant flying squirrel watching tour at the Picchio Nature Reserve on the Hoshino Resort in Karuizawa. So, I decided to let the squirrel choose my fate and chose Karuizawa for my last day trip from Tokyo. I think it was a good choice.

When reading about the town, I discovered that John Lennon use to spend his summers in Karuizawa with Yoko Ono in the 70's. Apparently he really loved the place and there's a french bakery where he would frequent most days, which still exists. This made me feel pretty good - if it's good enough for John Lennon, it's good enough for me! The squirrel tour was happening in the evening, however (the squirrels are nocturnal), which made me a little nervous about the possibility of missing the last train back to Tokyo, so I decided to book a place to stay near Hoshino Resort for the night. It was quite difficult trying to find an affordable hotel, however. Most hotels in the area cost over $600 a night, and there were no hostels since it's not a popular tourist area (it's a popular place for rich Japanese families). However, I eventually found a little ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) for $100 a night, which was four times as expensive as a hostel, but I decided it was worth it for the peace of mind of not having to worry about making the last train back to Tokyo.

I arrived at Karuizawa station at about 8:30am. I wanted to get an early start to make the most of my day. My plan was to drop my luggage off at my hotel, go to the Hosino Resort to confirm my booking of the squirrel tour, and then hopefully rent a bike and explore the little town. However, the weather threw a wrench in things. As the train approached Karuizawa it started to pour. If it was only lightly raining that would be one thing, but it was teeming. I was so upset. With the exception of my first day in Hiroshima, it rained, or was at least gross and cloudy, my entire trip (although when I was in Osaka it was hot and sunny almost every single day... go figure). The weather had already ruined my "nature viewing" days in Miyajima and Hakone, and now on my third and last chance to see something pretty in Japan, it rains again?! Plus, my main reason for coming to Karuizawa was for this squirrel tour, and I couldn't imagine it would happen in weather like this. I was fighting back tears (I was quite hungry at this point as well which tends to make me less emotionally stable).

Being a small town, the local transportation wasn't great, however my hotel had a free shuttle service. I called them from the station, but the man on the other end couldn't speak a lick of English. I didn't know what to do. My plan B had been that I'd walk a half hour to the hotel, which might be doable on a nice day, but it seemed quite secluded and I didn't want to walk blindly with all my luggage in this rain. I decided to go directly to Hoshino Resort, check in with the squirrel tour people, and worry about my luggage and hotel later. The resort had a free shuttle service from the station, which was very convenient. With no umbrella and my feet cold and soaking wet, I shuffled through the resort grounds, eventually finding the Picchio Nature Center. It was here that my day began to turn around.

The man I had communicated with via email was there and his English was quite good. He remembered me and went above and beyond to help me. He really saved my day. He said that the weather forecast for the morning was heavy rain, but in the afternoon and evening the forecast predicted light rain. He said that if the heavy rain continued they would have to cancel the tour (the squirrels apparently don't come out of their nests if the rain is bad), however if it was only lightly raining he said it would still be a go. He said of course it was impossible to know for sure, but he thought that there was a good chance that the tour would still go on. This made me feel a lot better. Then, he offered to hold me luggage for the day. He said they usually charge a fee, but since I had booked the squirrel tour already, it was on the house (I think he felt bad for me). He said that the walk to the hotel might be difficult with my luggage and it would be dark by the time the tour ended, so he recommended a cab, and said he would call it for me after the tour. He said to check back at 5pm and they'd make a call on whether the tour would be a go or not, and they would hold my bags until then. He then asked how I planned to spend my day until then, and showed me a nice coffee shop on the resort map, and translated the bus/train time schedule (which would take me back into town) to English for me. He even lent me one of their umbrellas! I'm so thankful he was so kind. I'm not sure what I would have done otherwise.

With my luggage checked and umbrella/map in hand, I was ready to face this rainy day. I had a delicious hot coffee and cheese cake at a nice little coffee shop on the resort and made a plan for the rest of my day. I decided to visit the resort's onsen, go into the town for a few hours, and then make my way back to the resort to check on the tour status.

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Onsens (public baths) are a huge part of Japanese culture. Many years ago it was expensive for a family to have a bath in their home, so instead the town would have a public bath house. Although times have changed, onsens are still very popular. Japan is full of natural hot springs, so in onsens like this one the hot water just comes directly out of the hot spring, which is neat! The man who worked at the front desk spoke English quite well. I paid, rented a towel, and I told him that I had never been in a Japanese onsen before. He walked me through the process and told me what to except, which was nice. The onsen has a male and female section. On the inside you remove your clothes (no bathing suits... everyone is completely naked), put your things in a locker and go into the bathing area. Along the wall there are 20 or so little hand held showers. You sit on a little wooden stool, and take a shower. There's shampoo, soap, and conditioner. After you're clean you get into the bathing area. There was one on the inside, but also one outside, which was neat. It was nice having the rain pour down on my head while still being nice and warm in the water. I thought being completely naked would be super awkward, but it actually wasn't too bad. Everyone else was in the same boat too, and it's not like I knew anyone or would ever see them again, so I didn't feel weird. They had a sauna area too. I sat in the water for a while and warmed right up. It was the perfect thing to do on this rainy day. I had wanted to try an onsen too, so this worked out nicely. It was a beautiful resort as well, so I think it was a good place to try it. Also worth noting is that if you have a tattoo, you're not allowed to go in. Apparently tattoos are viewed negatively in Japanese culture. The man at the desk asked me if I had any tattoos before I went in. He said that when people see tattoos it conjures up unpleasant thoughts. So, that's quite a cultural difference!

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After I finished in the pool I got dressed, dried my hair (they have a fancy wall lined with stools, mirrors and hairdryers for you to use after your bath) and caught the shuttle back to Karuizawa station. By this time the rain had eased off a bit, as the forecast had predicted. Feeling quite warm and comfy with my umbrella in hand I headed towards the town's main shopping street (which is also where that bakery John Lennon liked is located). Karuizawa is a quaint pretty town where everything moves at a slower pace. Although there were lots of Japanese tourists, I only saw one non-Japanese family my entire time in Karuizawa (whereas there were lots of European/ North American tourists in Tokyo, Hakone, etc.). I bought a cheap pair of shoes (my flats were utterly drenched and I didn't want my feet to get cold again), peeked in the shops, and found the French Bakery I was looking for. They had a large photo of John Lennon on the wall, so I knew I was at the right spot. I ordered a loaf of bread/ apple juice and sat at a cute little table near the window, where I'm willing to bet John Lennon had sat before. I watched the strolling people outside and felt quite relaxed. After finishing my lunch I headed back towards the train station, buying a little flying squirrel souvenir in a shop along the way.

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When I made it back to the resort I found out that the squirrel tour was still a go (hooray!). The guide apparently didn't speak English very well, but they gave me an English booklet to follow along with. To fill up the hour and a half they first took us to an area where the guide taught us a bit about flying squirrels. Then, we walked for about 10 minutes to where the squirrel was located. The nature centre built a bunch of squirrel boxes, each with a camera inside, so they were able to tell before the tour started which boxes contained a sleeping squirrel. Also, apparently the squirrels are extremely punctual and they come out within 15 minutes after sunset. They made us stand back a good distance so that we wouldn't scare the squirrels (there were 2 squirrels in this box). Then they turned on a laptop and we could see the sleeping squirrels. Eventually the squirrels woke up and began grooming themselves. Then one poked out his little head, checked to make sure the coast was clear, and scurried up the tree. A little while later the second squirrel did the same. Then, the first squirrel leaped off the tree top and glided into the night. The second soon followed. Because it was so dark it was impossible to get a good picture (you can't use flash because it could hurt their little eyes). I couldn't see them all that well, but I did see them fly, so I was happy!

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If I could have used flash, this is what it should have looked like (a picture in the Nature Centre lobby).

If I could have used flash, this is what it should have looked like (a picture in the Nature Centre lobby).

When the man at the nature resort called my hotel, they offered to pick me up at the resort after my tour, so I didn't have to get a cab which was nice. They picked me up and drove me to the Ryokan Shimizuya Sanso. I had expected this place to be a little sketchy (a $100 hotel in an area with $600 hotels must not be the greatest). It was sketchy, but not terrible. The worst part was the smell... I'm not sure what the smell was but it hurt my throat. I got the impression that the hotel was run by a family. The man who picked me up ran it, and could speak a very small amount of English. He mostly spoke to me in Japanese the whole way. When I got there he left and a young boy showed me to my room. I hadn't paid yet, so I tried to ask him when I pay, but he hadn't the faintest idea what I was saying, even with my expert miming skills. A traditional Japanese room has a bed on the floor. I was a little afraid because I hate bugs... but once I was brave enough to turn off the lights I had a nice sleep. The next morning when I checked out of the hotel the man who had driven me was back and I paid him. He asked me if I would get in a picture with his young daughter (I'm guessing they don't have many non-Japanese visitors). In the light of day the place seemed okay and the family was very nice. It's certainly not glamorous, but it does the job.

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It was actually a nice sunny morning for once (hooray!) so I decided to go for my nature walk before heading back to Osaka. The man from the hotel dropped me off at Hoshino Resort, and I walked their hiking trails for a few hours. Unfortunately, I didn't see any animals (a few birds, but that's it). But, it was still a nice walk. I'm glad I got to see a bit of Karuizawa on a nice day!

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After that it took about 5 hours to get to my hotel in Osaka. I stayed at the B&S Eco-cube Shinsaibashi (only a few blocks away from Glico Man on the Dotonbori Canal!). I had read about capsule hotels and really wanted to try one. They were originally made for businessmen who just wanted a place to rest their head for the night. But, they're a bit more popular now, so this one had a women's only floor too, which is where I stayed. The floor consisted of a sink and shower area, and then a room lined with capsules. I didn't know what to expect, but it was actually really nice! It felt very clean; they had little lockers for you to store your valuables (although no free large luggage storage) and gave you a towel, facecloth and robe. At $30 a night it was really a bargain! I had a nice shower and a restful sleep. It was nice having my own space. I wish they had these in Canada!

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On the Shinkansen on my way back to Osaka.
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I came back to Osaka, because my flight flew out of KIX Thursday evening. It was an all night flight with a 12 hour layover in Hawaii. I was able to explore Waikiki Beach on my layover... so I'll make a post about that soon.

Posted by sneezekoofer 09:40 Archived in Japan Tagged karuizawa Comments (0)

Hakone

all seasons in one day 20 °C
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Monday was my last day in Tokyo, and so it was my last chance to see Mt. Fuji. The girl I had met at the hostel a few days before had also wanted to see Mt. Fuji, so we met up at the train station. I had read that Hakone was the closest and best spot to spend the day and view Mt. Fuji if you're based in Tokyo. It's an hour train ride to the town, and then it's recommended that you buy the Hakone Free Pass, which costs $40, and gives you unlimited transportation in the town for the day (train, cable car, ropeway, boat, and bus). Tourists do the "Hakone loop" where you take these 5 forms of transportation in a circle around the town. It was a beautiful warm blue skied day when we began. I had high hopes of seeing Fuji. However, after a half hour bus ride up a mountain, it felt like a different day. It was probably 10 degrees cooler and completely foggy. Needless to say, I didn't see Mt. Fuji. Not even a glimpse. In the spot where it should have been, all I saw was grey fog. The day was a bit of a bust. All it felt like to me was 8 hours of travelling, being shuttled around to different places only to see fog. Also, it was extremely windy at some points. It felt like a blizzard without the snow. At least it wasn't raining!

The saving grace of the day was the volcano. After riding up a ropeway we reached Owakudani. Owakudani is a volcanic valley which was created by the last eruption of Mt. Hakone about 3000 years ago. It's a crater full of active sulfuric vents and hot springs. The smell was super overpowering - it smelled like rotten eggs (apparently due to the hydrogen sulfide). Also, the hot springs were extremely hot- hot enough to boil eggs! You could walk up to this gassy area (although signs say not to stay too long because the gases are poisonous) and can buy black eggs, which are eggs that are cooked in the hot spring (they turn black because of the iron sulfide in the water). Apparently eating one of these eggs is supposed to bring you good fortune and add 7 years on to your life. I'm not a fan of hard boiled eggs to begin with, so I didn't think my stomach could handle it that day, but I did buy two black pickled eggs, so maybe I'll try one when I'm back in Canada. Later in the day we took the ropeway back to see if Fuji was any more visible, but unfortunately it wasn't. So, a bit disappointed, I headed back to my hostel for the night.

August is the absolute worse month for viewing Mt. Fuji. The internet says that 25/31 days there is zero visibility (and when they say zero visibility, they're not kidding!) But, since it was such a clear beautiful day at the lower elevations in Hakone, I thought my chances were pretty good. Apparently not. But at least I tried! I would not recommend Hakone unless spending the entire day on these five modes of transportation sounds fun. It was packed full of tourists, and although the internet says there's lots to do, I tend to disagree. It seems closer to Tokyo than the Five Lakes area, but once you take into account how much time it takes on buses, ropeways, etc. to get to the Mt. Fuji viewing area, you're really not saving any time. If I ever came back to Japan I would give it another go and try to view Fuji from the Five Lakes region instead.

I'm at least glad I tried to see Fuji... can't win em all!

[I wrote this post the next day on the Shinkansen on my way to Karuizawa, so I was still a little bitter about the weather. Looking back on these photos I guess it wasn't so bad... the volcano was definitely cool! ]

large_IMG_5423__2_.jpgWe took a pirate-styled boat to get from Togendai to Hakone-machi. It was so windy in the morning the boats were shut down, but they reopened them around noon.

We took a pirate-styled boat to get from Togendai to Hakone-machi. It was so windy in the morning the boats were shut down, but they reopened them around noon.


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Ancient Cedar Avenue

Ancient Cedar Avenue


Mt. Fuji is hiding behind these giant clouds... he's a shy fellow apparently... grr.

Mt. Fuji is hiding behind these giant clouds... he's a shy fellow apparently... grr.


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This man (left) is cooking eggs in the hot spring.
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They're carrying the eggs up to the volcanic area in this wooden crate (left).
This should be a view of Mt. Fuji from the ropeway.... unfortunately all we saw was fog.

This should be a view of Mt. Fuji from the ropeway.... unfortunately all we saw was fog.

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The Cablecar.

Posted by sneezekoofer 01:16 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Tokyo: Asakusa, Harajuku, & Shibuya

rain 25 °C
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On Sunday I had planned on going to Hakone to try to see Mt. Fuji, but there was 90% chance of rain, so instead I decided to explore some other areas of Tokyo, and save Hakone for Monday.

I woke up quite early on Sunday morning and headed to the Asakusa area - Tokyo's geisha district, which was quite close to my hostel. Asakusa has a more traditional feel to it than other areas of the city. I had breakfast with a girl I had met at the hostel the night before and wandered around the Asakusa shopping street for a while. It was nice and reminded me of Kyoto. It's also home to the famous Sensō-ji Temple. In the morning it was pretty quiet, but as it grew closer to noon the tourists began to funnel in.

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After walking through Asakusa, the next thing on my itinerary was to check out an Owl Café (Tokyo has a bunch of crazy themed cafés... dog, cat, goat, and other random non-animal themed ones too, but I was mostly interested in the animal ones) . An Owl Café is just what it sounds like - they apparently have a bunch of owls and you can interact with them as you drink your coffee. I arrived at the Owl Café just as they opened at 2pm, but unfortunately they were already completely reserved for the day. So, I instead continued along the subway line and headed to the Harajuku area of Tokyo.

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Harajuku is known for its shopping and fashionable youth. Apparently on the weekends they dress up in elaborate outfits for fun and wander around this area, hoping to get photographed by a magazine, or at least by a tourist. I didn't see many of these people when I went, but Harajuku was still a cool place! I had lunch at a pizza/pasta restaurant and then wandered down the shopping street for a while, where I bought some socks (sock stores are a huge thing in Japan. Most shopping streets have 4 or 5 stores dedicated solely to socks!). After that I decided to try to find a Rabbit Café I had heard about, Ra.a.g.f., since the Owl Café had fallen through. It was difficult to find, but after asking a few people for directions I found the R.a.a.g.f. sign. It had been spilling off an on all day, so tired and dripping wet I hobbled inside and up the stairs. The lady asked if I could come back tomorrow, because they were very busy that day. I gave her my saddest eyes, saying how it was my last night and Tokyo, and how I had been wandering around in the rain all alone trying to find this place; luckily it worked! She left for a minute, came back, and then said that I could come back at 7:30pm for a half an hour. Hooray!

I had a little over an hour to kill, so I wandered around Harajuku in the rain for a while longer. To my delight, Kiddyland was only a few blocks away. Kiddyland was on my list of things to see that day, so I went in and explored the 4 floors of toys. Japan is already full of cute things, so you can imagine how many adorable things are in a Japanese toy store! The first floor had toys from a variety of different shows. The second floor was called "Snoopy Land", and it was a full floor full of every type of Snoopy toy imaginable. The 3rd floor had legos, My Neighbour Totoro toys, and toys from lots of other shows. The fourth floor was my favourite; at the front it had Hello Kitty things, which I not particularly a fan of, but the rest of the level was the Rilakkuma Store. I had seen these Rilakkuma toys before in Akihabara and thought the characters were cute, so after I hmm'd and ha'd for a bit I eventually bought something cute for myself from that level.

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After Kiddyland I made my way back to the Rabbit Café. It was on the 3rd floor of a small building and wasn't very big inside. It had an area with three little tables that could sit four people each. The other reservation must have cancelled, because it ended up just being me and one other Japanese couple. Admission was $7 and this included one beverage. I ordered a hot chocolate. It felt more like paying to play with bunnies where they happen to serve you a drink than a real café with bunnies everywhere. But it was still fun! They had about 20 rabbit cages, and the rabbits appeared to be for sale. They let one bunny out and she was hopped around and would climb on my lap. She was so soft and cute! I don't think I had ever pet a bunny before. I've never felt anything so soft! The bunnies seemed happy enough though. Although their cages weren't very big, they seemed to get a lot of floor time, and they'll probably eventually get bought by someone. For an extra dollar or so you could buy some veggies to feed the bunnies, so I did, and that was fun. After my half hour was up I said good-bye to all of the bunnies and headed towards Shibuya.

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Between Harajuku and Shibuya is a large street lined with designer shops - Channel, Coach, etc. I looked in the windows as I passed by wondering who could ever afford to actually shop in these stores. After 20 minutes or so I ended up in Shibuya.

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Shibuya is the Times Square of Tokyo. It has a busy square full of billboards and flashing lights. I had read that the 109 Department Store is a "must see" of Shibuya and it's where a lot of visiting celebrities shop. I rode the escalators up, browsing through the shops as I went, and then went back down. I didn't spend too much time there; it didn't feel much different than the Hep Five department store I had been at in Umeda. After leaving 109 I wandered through the streets for a while scoping out the best place to have a snack before I headed back to my hostel. The right side of the square was full of restaurants, but it turns out the left side was significantly more sketchy - it had a Hooters (I didn't know Japan had Hooters!), pachinko parlors (a popular form of gambling in Japan, similar to slot machines but involving balls), and strip clubs. I made it back to the right side of the square and eventually found somewhere to eat. I ordered a beer, some green onions, and fried cheese. They brought me some snow peas too which was nice. After I finished eating I made my way back to K's House Tokyo for the night.

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I'm sure two days probably isn't enough time to scratch the surface of Tokyo, but I had researched before I came, and these were the main things I had wanted to see. Tokyo wasn't as overwhelmingly busy as I had expected. Yes, it was busy, but no more busy than the busy downtown places of Osaka. However, although no one area seemed to be overwhelmingly busy, the point probably is that the entire city is busy, not just a few specific areas. I'm glad I saw Tokyo, but it wasn't shockingly different in any way. Japanese culture is different of course, but I found it comparable to Osaka (only a bit harder to navigate).

But, you can't visit Japan without checking out Tokyo! So I did, and it was fun... but I still like Osaka more.

Posted by sneezekoofer 17:45 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Tokyo: Akihabara

overcast 30 °C

On Saturday morning I left Hiroshima and hopped on the Shinkansen bound for Tokyo. The Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) is like a plane on land. It hurtled me from one side of the country to the other in less than four hours (it would take about 10 hours by car). (The trains look like airplane cabins on the inside too!)

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I have the one week JR Rail pass which is basically good for any Japan Rail travels, with the exception of two trains - Nozomi and Mizuho. I remember having read this, and thought, "Oh okay, no problem, they just won't let me on those specific trains" and I didn't worry too much about it. However, it turns out that's not how it works. Basically you can hop on both of those "bad" trains, just like any other, and they come on the exact same tracks as the "allowed" trains. So, as luck would have it, I unknowingly boarded a Nozomi train (I should have waited for the next train bound for Tokyo on this track to come by). I didn't find out there was a problem until I was a half hour away from Tokyo. The man came by checking tickets, and informed me this train wasn't covered by my pass. I panicked. A train ride from Hiroshima to Tokyo costs about $200, which is why I bought the JR pass in the first place (if you're making a round trip from Osaka to Tokyo it pays for itself). Luckily, the train man showed me mercy, and said it was okay, but don't do it again. (Thank God!)

So, a little shooken up, I eventually arrived at Tokyo station. Another quick train and subway ride later I arrived at my hostel, K's House Tokyo. K's House Tokyo belongs to the same chain of hostels as K's House Hiroshima, where I had stayed the night before. It was extremely similar, although a little less nice in every way. K's House Hiroshima was pristine, with huge drawers to safely store your suitcase, nice little shelves near the bed to store you bedtime things, and a cute little basket in the shower room to place your clothes in. Tokyo didn't have any of this. I was able to rent a tiny locker which could hold my laptop, but it didn't give me the same peace of mind and having all of my things locked up. But in the end, everything worked out fine. It was a nice hostel, but not the best.

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After checking in at the hostel, I walked a half an hour to the Akihabara area of Tokyo. Akihabara is the electronics/ manga district of Tokyo. The streets were lined with manga stores, some containing five stories of manga comics.

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They also had a few large arcades, so I decided to check one out. I had seen the photobooth area in the arcades in Osaka, but I was too scared to try it out, but Akihabara seemed like the perfect place to try. The machines cost $4 and you can dress up in a costume and it takes your pictures and alters your eyes to look more anime-like. It was pretty fun! Sailor Lauren!

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On the streets of Akihabara there were also maid cafés everywhere, and waitresses dressed as maids on the streets trying to beckon costumers into their café. I had read about these; the maids treat you like you're their master and you can order cute drinks and snacks. After wandering around the shops for a few hours, I decided to check one out. I walked up to the 2nd floor of a building where I had seen a sign, but it wasn't at all as glamorous on the inside as I had expected. It was all dark and smokey (people still smoke in restaurants in Japan...) and there was a maid on stage hopping around singing karaoke. I decided that this wasn't the place for me, so I left trying to find another one. The next one I tried was better, but not great. When I came in they sat me down and listed all of the rules - you can stay one hour, no pictures (except of your food), 500JPY cover, and you must order something. I really don't like being told what to do, and especially by this "maid". It completely breaks the character that she's suppose to be playing a maid, but whatever. I'm guessing they don't want you to take pictures, because they charge you money if you want a photo. I would have paid a few dollars more to take a picture, but their English was not good at all. I ordered an adorable dessert, ate it up, and then went back to my hostel. I'm glad I tried it, but I'm sure there exist much nicer maid cafés in the area - it's just hard to tell what it's like until you walk in!

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Akihabara was a really cool place. It's strange and weird and it was fun wandering around!

Posted by sneezekoofer 23:43 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo akihabara Comments (0)

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