Category Archives: Travel

I want to live in a golden house.

Kyoto is great for those of you that love history, but because it’s an older city with more historical landmarks, there are tourists everywhere. The worst are the Chinese tourists. Remember how I said Japanese people are the nicest, most polite people ever? Chinese people are the complete opposite, loud and pushy.

The storm that had forced us indoors the day before was gone, and we were free to explore Kyoto and get some culture. While we like to see historical culture spots, that’s not why we wanted to visit Japan. I’m going to breeze on through these without much commentary.

I want a golden house on a lake.

Kinkaku-ji.

One of the few pictures of us from the trip. Who wants to travel with us next time and take photos of us?

World’s largest rock garden. It kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? No? Me neither.

I asked her if there were cowboys and saloons in there. She stared blankly at me.

Some of the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom in Kyoto.

Hanging out river side.

While kimonos are pretty common in Kyoto, there is a section of Kyoto that is known for the geisha. It has become somewhat of a tourist spot as the geishas take on traditional service roles in restaurants, and tourists pay a lot of money for the experience. It’s been noted that tourists swamp these girls like the paparazzi. I am ashamed to say that I was not an exception. It’s no wonder why they speed walk to their work and sometimes sneak in via taxi. I bet this is what Kim Kardashian feels like. Well, you know, if she had a job.

Have I been to this restaurant before?

After finally getting back to our hotel room, we got to lie down and rest a bit. It was nice to get out of wet clothes. Soon the hunger set in and we realized food wasn’t going to bring itself to us. Fortunately it had stopped raining.

We settled on Uroco, an Izakaya restaurant two subway stops from our hotel.

The restaurant had a very Western design to it.

The menu makes me think of a joint we like to go to back home called Musha. For those of you that have been, I’m sure you agree.

No, these are not testicles. They are actually a tofu appetizer. Very light on the flavor, unlike testicles.

Pork belly over peas and baby corn.

The closeup.

This is very similar to MFC, Musha Fried Chicken. Perfectly crisp skin on the outside and the meat is so juicy.

Kim chi and cheese tempura rolls.

Ebi mayo. This was the only dish I wasn’t impressed with of the meal. The batter on the shrimp turned to a spongy texture from all the sauce on it.

Tofu donut and Houji tea cream Brule of parfait. I copied that straight from the menu. This is green tea ice cream on an egg custard with donuts,whip cream, and a few pieces of fruit topping off the whole thing.

Cheesecake of a Strawberry plentifully. Again, straight from the menu. I’m not a dessert person. I turn down birthday cake, even if it’s my own birthday, but I loved this. Maybe it was the going such a long time without having any sweetness that resembled American flavors that made me enjoy it so much.

I probably would have also enjoyed A lot of fruit is crepe ice.

Kyoto has the same letters as Tokyo!

When we originally planned our trip to Japan, we really only were excited about Tokyo, but we figured since we flew all the way across the world, we should at least something else. In an attempt to get a little history we stopped into Kyoto. The bullet train only takes about two hours to get to Kyoto from Tokyo, so we arrived in the morning to a wet mess.

Kyoto is an older city, and some of the people there stick to older traditions in clothing. Women in kimonos walked the streets in the rain.

A temple. I honestly don’t know what this was, but we were just trying to get out of the rain.

Nijo Castle. They make you take your shoes off. There is bare wood floor with no insulation underneath it, just air. I thought my feet where going to freeze and snap off.

The rain stopped just long enough for us to get some views of the castle grounds.

Cherry blossoms were just starting here too. Nothing was in full bloom.

Then it started hailing and raining sideways, so we took cover in some restaurant.

It’s pretty much like Yoshinoya, but the meat isn’t complete fat.

After the meal we were soaking wet and knew we weren’t going to want to do any more sight seeing. We went to a bath house, where we separated ourselves to our respective gender baths and got naked in front of strangers. Sorry, there are no pictures except this one. I found a beer vending machine!

Our room for our stay in Kyoto. I could totally live like this.

Raumen Museum

If you haven’t figured it out by the last post, Japan has museums for everything, but they’re not quite like museums in America. They tend to be more like mini amusement parks than museums. The Raumen  Museum is even called a food amusement park on the Wikipedia page.

Here we are at the entrance to the Raumen Museum in Shin-Yokohama. The doorway is a noodle bowl! This is going to be awesome.

What we walked into was mostly a gift shop that also housed this remote control car racetrack. We proceeded to head downstairs to find out what else was going on in this “museum.”

One flight of stairs here was like a time warp, dropping you into a 1950’s Tokyo neighborhood.

Inside ramen shops representing different regions of Japan surround a plaza, where performers entertain guests.

I was baffled at this place. Although it did not cost very much to enter, it was obviously very gimmicky. I wondered why they would even bother offering a yearly membership to this place. Then I realized that it was really buying a pass to a food court that serves up some pretty delicious ramen.

This is probably the first amusement park I’ve been to where the food was good but not sugary or fried. If I lived or worked near the Raumen Museum, I think I might get an annual pass. It’s be great to have so many good options for ramen in one spot all the time.

Nissin Cup Noodle Museum

Michelle and I jumped on a train to Yokohama, a short ride outside of Tokyo. It was a day of noodles for us. We arrived at the Cup Noodles Museum, and there were kids everywhere. It reminded me of the time we made the unfortunate decision of going to The Aquarium of the Pacific on Labor Day weekend.

You can create your own cup noodles? We’re all over that!

On second thought, too many kids.

There’s even a kitchen where you can make chicken ramen with fresh noodles but again, too many kids. We decided just to get something to eat.

Noodles Bazaar! They serve different noodles from all over the world.

China.

Thailand.

Singapore.

Each noodle stand had posters to represent the country. China had Mao.

Korea had a Pokemon movie poster in Korean.

Kazakhstan had…Borat!

The coolest thing in the museum was the Instant Noodles History Cube from the very start in 1958. They had all sorts of instant noodles, stuff I’d never seen or heard of before.

A sculpture to the glory of noodles in a cup.

This man probably kept me alive freshman year of college. Raise your noodle cups in honor of a hero, Momofuku Ando.

Craft Beer and Fugu in Japan

During our trip Michelle asked me if I missed home. I told her, “Not at all.” Then after thinking about it for a moment I said, “Beer. I miss beer.” There is plenty of lager available, but I was craving an ale. Japan’s laws have recently changed to allow craft breweries to become a reality, so they’re not well distributed. Fortunately I put a spot on our map just in case I started to miss beer.

This is Craftheads, a place to get good beer and bourbon as well.

They carry beer from Fujizakura Heights Beer.

If you look at the list of beers they carry on tap and bottle, you’ll find some familiar brewery names like Stone, Lost Abbey, and Bear Republic. I decided to stay local and went with the Sakura Bock. So good when it hits your lips!

After a beer we headed down to Shibuya to watch a horde of Japanese people walk across an intersection. As one of the busier subway/train stations, Shibuya Crossing gets packed with people. Although they don’t like it, Starbucks is a great spot to take photos.

This is fugu, also known as puffer fish. It’s known to be poisonous but also a delicacy in Japan. We decided to try this rare food.

Skin, which seemed to be blanched. This was super chewy with little flavor, like a cross between tendon and jellyfish. I guess that’s kind of what we should’ve expected for a fish that can inflate its body to double the normal size.

We also ate fugu sashimi. This was also a bit chewy, though not quite as much as the skin. Flavor here was also very light, almost non existent.

Some pieces of fugu were set out for us to cook in a soup. When you cook the fish it actually becomes very tender, but before it’s cooked it’s tough. It also continues to move on the plate.

Did I forget to mention that our friends Jen and Charlie were also in Tokyo the same time we were? Actually they’d been with us since Yoyogi Park but I had no pictures to prove it. The good news is none of us died from eating fugu.

After fugu Michelle and I went to Albatross, a two-story bar that holds about five people on each floor. What you’re seeing here is about half the bar.

I can barely fit the bar in the photo, because there’s no room to back up.

One of the guys at the bar with us was an origami master. He was sitting there folding squares of paper in the dim light. He made us a cat!

He then proceeded to whip out a pair of scissors from his coat pocket and made this piece of art. He also made us Minnie too, which is even more intricate with a bow on the head and eyelashes.

I’m going to say it again. Japanese people are awesome.

Yoyogi Park

Imagine a place, where space is a rare commodity. You live in a tiny apartment. Work is a small office. To get in between the two places you are crammed in a subway car, pressed up against your neighbor. This is Tokyo. There has to be a place for you to unwind before you snap. That place is Yoyogi Park.

Just outside the park some kids were modeling their latest fashions.

At the entrance to the park, kids are playing double dutch.

Then you turn and see these people. Rockabilly music is blaring and they’re dancing relentlessly.

This guy seemed to be their leader for the day. He had the tightest jeans and the biggest hair.

They dance so hard that their shoes are taped up with black tape. When we left the park four hours later, they were still dancing.

This group performed nearby, but didn’t hold down the tough guy attitude.

We were very fortunate to be in Japan during cherry blossom season. It’s a huge deal in Japan. In order to celebrate they have hanami, flower viewing parties, which consists of picnicking with friends, sharing food and drink. Yoyogi Park is one large park where some of these picnics unfold.

There are people everywhere! Unfortunately the cherry blossoms were nowhere to be seen, because it had been a little too cold.

Business men and women also gather to see non existent sakura.

While most of the people in Tokyo stick closely to their circle of friends and are very quiet outside this circle, some were welcoming.

This is Dodge-bee, a game where you try to get as many people as possible to jump with a huge jump rope.

There was a man, blowing bubbles for the kids.

The park is also used to practice and perform just about every imaginable type of performance. Here is a group doing some color guard routine.

This was some type of dance routine. It was mostly confusing.

There was a drum line going on in the park too. They played on for 30+ minutes while people danced around and had a good time.

If you don’t have a drum, just bring a guitar and join this group.

This seemed to be the only professional performance group, doing some interpretive dance while painted gold.

Our trip to Yoyogi Park made us love the people of Japan even more. Everyone did their thing, and no one jeered or taunted anyone else for being different. If such a gathering of people with diverse interests ever came about back home, you’d have some kind of hobby war with skaters fighting dancers. Japanese rule. I’m only talking about the Japanese in Japan. I have Japanese friends in America, and they are assholes.

Wandering Harajuku

Harajuku is a fashion-forward region in Tokyo. This is where Tokyo’s youth like to spend their time. On Sundays it is crowded, people everywhere. We didn’t step into most of the clothing stores because they were packed.

There are people everywhere!

Again with the options. Clean in any color you wish.

And the snacks!

So many snacks!

MoMA has a store where you can buy expensive, cleverly designed products.t

Japanese people love crepes. There are crepe shops all over the place.

They also love condoms.

Just a chicken sandwich from a fast food joint we poked our heads into while walking the area.

They cook noodles perfectly, but they also always cook eggs perfectly so the yolk is perfectly runny, not so thin that it runs away from the sandwich.

I really want this foosball table.

Stopped for a coffee break.

We got hungry so we stopped for some ramen. There is one rule in Japan for food. If the line is long, it’s probably awesome. We kept getting into lines and then realizing they were places we already had on our map to check out.

Hungry customers slurping down noodles.

Michelle always goes the spicy route. Always.

Egg, pork, chashu, bamboo, onions, and seasoned cod roe.

So, so very good.

 

Ghibli Museum and some more wandering Tokyo

I’ve got a golden ticket! Too bad they won’t let you take pictures inside the museum. Some of the animations are pretty neat.

They will let you take picture of the Giant Robot from Laputa Castle in the Sky. Our eyes are barely open here as the wind whips dust around everywhere. It was pretty painful being on the roof.

We tried to return the favor and take the picture of the couple behind us that took our picture. No, they trusted their five year old instead.

I did manage to sneak one picture of an exhibit from Princess Mononoke.

After seeing the museum it was starting to get rainy, so we decided to head back into Ginza to hang out in shops where it was dry.

That is where we found this.

And where I took this.

Sony has a great showroom, where you can play with all of its newest toys. These little cameras made me wish I had a smaller body camera like this, that is until I saw the price tags on them.

They have different lighting setups so you can play with camera in different scenarios. The software is so good on these cameras now that they adjust for damn near everything. The only thing these things can’t do is compose the shot. A great camera still doesn’t make you a photographer. Damn. I was so close.

Dinner was tsukemen. Every single place we stopped into cooked noodles perfectly. This was no exception. Great bite and the dipping broth was excellent. It was packed with flavor but not heavy.

After dinner we said we’d take an hour nap and head out on the town for the first night since getting to Japan. Four hours later we woke up and forced ourselves downstairs to our hotel bar. At least they had some good Scotch.

 

The time I got naked in Japan (without pictures).

I lied. There are pictures, but there aren’t any pictures of me. Okay, that is also a lie. This post contains pictures of me, but none of them are nude. Do you believe me?

After doing some shopping we were beat from waking up early on top of adjusting to the local time. Michelle did some searching online and found a spa for us to try out. Only after we got off of the subway and started walking towards the place did she tell me that this wasn’t one of those coed places, where you keep your clothes on and that I’d have to show brain in front of everyone. Hell, anything goes on vacation, right? It’s onsen time!

I think that sign says, “Want to get naked in front of a lot of people? Here is your place!”

After you strip down to your underwear, you come out of the locker room looking like this.

You leave the locker room to enter a completely different world. It’s like entering Miyazaki’s Spirited Away but without all the odd creatures.

There are shops and carnival games for the kids to play.

There are plenty of places to eat.

There’s even a bar if you really need to unwind.

They have taiko drums for a video game!

After spending as much time as possible clothed, I went into the men’s spa and stripped down. Inside there are multiple hot tubs at different temperatures, including some hot tubs outside and one very cold tub. As one of the few foreigners I would hold the tiny wash cloth in front of my crotch as I made my in and out of different tubs, while everyone else seemed very comfortable letting it all hang out. After a couple of minutes, it quickly became no big deal.

The one section that is for men and women is a foot spa. Here is a tub with rocks that are supposed to massage your feet as you walk over them, but holy crap it hurts.

There’s even a section where you can have your feet exfoliated by fish, but really that’s a pretty good way to get hepatitis. We passed on this.

While the idea of being naked in front of other men is an odd concept for me as an American, it’s liberating to not try to size oneself up to the next guy. Nobody gives a shit.  So what if your wiener is pulling a scared turtle? If you are ever in Japan, don’t shy away from the onsen experience. It’s a great way to relax. While it is a bit odd it’s still kind of fun, and you can check out what other men look like naked if that’s your thing.

“Yeah I’ve never seen a circumcision like that before. That’s really great.”