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Browsing Posts published on August 2, 2006

Woke up this morning around 7:30AM. Apparently my weird “sleep from 6AM to 1PM” lifestyle made it really easy to adjust to Tokyo time. I don’t think I’m jetlagged, but who knows. I started off the day by trying to get free breakfast at the Executive International Club here in the hotel, which I knew I wasn’t entitled to since I’m paying Expedia rates on the hotel rather than normal expensive-as-balls rates. I thought I’d give it a shot anyway, but they actually checked with the front desk and I was denied my free food. Instead I went to the nearby conbini and got a sandwich, tuna onigiri, and some cafe au lait. All the old favorites. All that was missing is one of the weird Japanese sandwiches, like a yakisoba pizza roll sandwich, composed of at least 4 different types of carbs. I have time though.

this wasn't here 2 years agoThis is going to sound so majorly dorky, but I was trying to figure out what I should do my first full day in Japan, and ended up wasting a lot of time at the hotel and then finally going to Akihabara. There wasn’t really anything I was going there for inparticular, but it’s close and seemed like something to do. So cut me some slack! The big plaza area outside of the station, which is what the picture to the right here is of, was under construction when I was here in the Fall of 04. I saw it mostly done last summer, but now it’s in full force. Seems like a pretty sweet place, with stores and some other stuff. A big open plaza/concrete park kind of area, which seems a lot less crowded than a lot of places here in Tokyo. But anyway, I had lunch at the Edo Sushi place in the department store connected to the station, that I go to every once in a while. It’s cheap and good, which is probably why I go there. I had so much sushi for less than 10 bucks; it would have cost at least three times that much back in Bloomington, and the quality isn’t even comparable. I had some salmon for lunch here that pretty much melts in your mouth.

I went to like two or three different arcades trying to find the Mario Kart game, but no luck yet. I went to a few stores, including the Liberty store that has sweet Kamen Rider stuff. Spent more money than I planned on, just on stupid little things that I tend to accumulate randomly here in Japan. The weirdest thing I noticed today was how big the whole maid and “moe~” (萌え~) stuff has gotten. I don’t even remember ever seeing stuff like this last year. Moe~, to the best of my understanding, is the way that hardcore anime and Akihabara nerds (Akiba-kei, アキバ系) talk about those anime porn girls. Or something like that. Theres also a lot of products that have either Moe or Akiba-Kei on it, I guess it’s becoming like a trend in itself. They had like shirts, hats, coffee mugs, buttons, and even stuffed animals that look like the 2ch ascii art cats. I have a feeling the whole Densha Otoko fad Japan had last fall is partially to blame for this.

The whole maid thing is even weirder though. This started a while back, with the maid cafes. I remember once or twice trying to find these places, and I never did. They were like secret or something. The whole deal is, you go into a coffee shop where all the girls are dressed like maids, they call you “master” and stuff like that. Nothing really sex related at all, it’s just for the Akiba-kei guys who get off on girls who act like they’re 5 and/or are from an anime. At some point between last summer and now, the maid fad got even worse in Akihabara, because just walking around the street, a lot of places (at least 6 I saw in one stroll down the main street) now use girls in maid outfits to hand out flyers, invite people into the shops, etc. They’re not exactly French maid outfits, and they’re not really revealing or anything. Again, the Akiba-kei guys love this. There are apparently more Maid Cafes all over the place, and I found one today somewhat inadvertently. I was browsing around Don Quihote, this multi-level department store that pretty much sells just random stuff, and I went up to like the 7th floor. Only instead of the usual random DonQui products like oversized sombreros and cheap neck ties, they had a Maid Cosplay store. An entire little area selling all sex toys, videos, and of course hundreds of maid outfits for a few hundred bucks a pop. You would think that guys buy these for their girlfriends, but something tells me that they’re instead either wearing them themselves or putting them on their life-size blow up dolls at home. Here’s a pic I took, super secretly:
weird
The rest of the floor was arcade machines where you can win maid-related prizes, complete with 2 female attendants dressed in maid outfits, and a huge Maid Cafe that reminded me of a theme park ride because it was walled off from the rest of the floor. There were two creepy chicks dressed as gothic maids outside of the cafe, trying to get people to come in, and one of them was probably the ugliest Japanese girl I have seen in a costume ever. I wish I could have gotten a picture, but I was afraid if I did she’d blow fire on me or something. But either way, the whole maid thing has gotten more abundant and it’s started to weird me out. I have no problem walking down the street and seeing nerds drool over anime porn and creepy model kits of the girls from Evangelion, but something about the whole maid thing just creeps me out. Maybe it was just the super ugly maid that did it to me.

After that, I came back to Shinjuku and did some browsing in the areas around the station, which are huge to boot. I’m going to hit up the department stores and like Takashimaya Times Square soon, maybe tomorrow. For the rest of the night I think I’m going to relax and make up a tentative schedule of when and where I’m going and doing stuff for my work assignments. On a closing note for this day, I would like to say that writing three long travel blogs in a single night is difficult and taxing, overshadowed only by the physical exhaustion I felt when I got back to the hotel a few hours ago to write these entries. They always say that you use totally different muscles when you’re in Japan, which may be true, but I think it’s just because you do so much damn walking around this country. Compared to life in Bloomington for the past year or two where I drove almost anywhere, my body just aches as if I ran a marathon. Well, maybe not that bad, but I’m tired.

And since I now see how much text I’ve written in these three entries, I’m thinking of not doing complete summaries of what I do here; maybe I’ll just pick one interesting thing a day and talk about that.

After getting settled in the room and trying to coordinate with people on the computer with IM and e-mail, I met up with Bryan and we headed out to explore Shinjuku. This won’t be the last time I say it, but trying to plan things with people in Japan without a cell phone is one of the biggest hassles ever. You’re usually out for the entire day or night without coming home to use a computer, so cell phones make communication not only convenient, but possible.

Kabukicho at nightWe met up with Yuji at the Shinjuku East exit, after we waited at the East-South Exit for about 15 minutes. We’ve both been out of kanji-reading practice, so I say that mistake wasn’t really our fault. Anyway, we goofed around Shinjuku and Kabukicho a bit, which of course is the red-light district in Japan. That’s what it’s famous for. I totally forgot all about what is what in Shinjuku, so it wasn’t until we were already on our way that I realized Yuji had made us meet there, haha. We grabbed food, my first meal after coming back to Japan, at Yoshinoya, and oh man was it delicious. I think US beef is legal in Japan again, but they still don’t have just regular gyuudon. They had gyuuyakinikudon, which is pretty much the same though, so I had it and it was delicious. We went back to the station to meet up with Sunny and Joel. No one else really made it. Yuji ended up having to go back to his work, since he apparently kept the key to the entire building of where he worked. His boss was pissed. But either way, the 4 IES alumni walked around and we just decided to go into some bar to hang out since Joel had to catch a 2 hour train back to the other side of Chiba. We ended up going into some place downstairs in a building called the Hibiya Bar, which ended up being way swankier than what we were looking for. I guess it was just kind of fake nice, because there wasn’t much in it, and not a lot of customers either. The waitress seemed to be waaaaay to excited about this “invisible ink pen” that the used to write on a coaster. The pen had a light on it that let you see the message, and she was seriously about to pee her pants she was giggling so much. I guess she thought invisible ink pens were something gaijin never have. Well she’s wrong, since after paying 1500 yen to just sit and have 1 drink in addition to the mandatory appetizer Japanese bars love making you pay for, I stole her invisible ink pen. Oops.

After Joel and Sunny left, me and Bryan figured Yuji wasn’t coming back so we went to go walk around Kabukicho. We had no intentions of going to anywhere sleazy, but Bryan had never walked through it at night so we decided to see what was going on. This turned into us looking at buildings and laughing, at stuff like the building appropriately labeled “Crab.” The Nigerian street pimps were also out in full force. I think we had at least 5 approach us just as we walked around the street. The best part about these guys is that you can mess with them and they’re pretty harmless seeming, although I’m sure they’ve got ties to the yakuza who run these sorts of establishments. The last one we talked to approached us near an intersection and was like “Hey brothers! Final answer! I am the problem solver!” He was trying to get us to go to his bar, which was 10000 yen for an hour, all you can drink and all you can touch. Classy joint, right? Well since he liked us so much he was willing to cut the price down. All you can touch, you say? Yes, I asked him what you were all thinking. “Can you touch the girls ears?” and then Bryan asked if we could stick our fingers up their noses. I don’t think the Nigerian guy had any idea what we were talking about, but he probably assumed it was something more sexual than it was, and was just like “yeah, yeah, all you want!” You mean we can pick this girls nose all we want? Oh man that’s great. We asked him to wait at that intersection for 20 minutes while we went across the street to eat. He actually started following us across the street! Somewhere in there he asked where we were from, and Bryan said Germany. I wanted to see how far this guy was going to follow us in hopes of saving his commission, but when we were almost across the double street intersection, Bryan told him to buzz off. Fun times, messing with street pimps.

On the way back, we stopped in several arcades, the best find of which was an arcade version of Mario Kart! I’d never seen anything like it, it was great. Like the racing games you see in arcades, but it had awesome Mario Kart graphics, characters from Pac-Man, a camera on top to put your face in the game, and a big “ITEM” button on the middle of the steering wheel. This is what Mario Kart should always be like.
I want one

That was the end of the night. I got back to the hotel and was so tired, I went almost immediately to sleep. I’ll write the entry for Day 2 (today, Wednesday) later tonight. Now you’re all caught up on my Tokyo trip. I’m sorry these are so long, I guess I’m in writing mode.

Tokyo Trip: Getting here

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Here we go, I’m going to start the first of many blog entries I’ll write having to do with my current trip to Tokyo. To summarize, I’m here working on researching stuff for my summer job. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be top secret or whatever, so I’m not going to go into much detail. Plus it’s boring to write about work, so I won’t focus too much on that here. Ideally, I’ll write everyday, but that won’t happen, so I’ll just try to summarize things between posts. Maybe I’m trying to make this blog more accessible and worth reading to people who don’t know me. I guess I could have some interesting insights on life in Japan? And by that I mean I like wasting money in arcades and wasting money on things like Dragonball Z keychains. Like what I’m writing? Don’t? Comment either way, even if it’s just to say hey. Might as well.

So on to what we’ll call Day Zero. I was at home in St. Louis for less than 35 hours before I left for the airport. With my flight to Houston being at 7:40AM on Monday morning, I was planning on leaving for the airport with my Dad around 5:30. Around 1AM, I decided I should stop watching News Radio with my brother and start packing. Around 4, I was not even halfway packed and thus went into a panic. It got even worse when my Dad woke up at 5, and I realized I wasn’t done yet. What followed was the fastest packing session ever, pretty much me just throwing stuff I thought I should take into my two suitcases and backpack. Somehow, I managed to do it pretty well, and even had time to take a 5 minute shower before hitting the road. Must be a record or something for me. After waiting around 45 minutes in the line to get through security at St. Louis Lambert Airport, I was on my way to Houston. It was a small plane, and I had a seat that was both a window AND aisle seat (only 1 seat on my side, 2 across the aisle). Things weren’t too bad, although St. Louis was already hot, and the plane was sitting there for a while without the air conditioning on because I think the plane’s battery was dead or something. Who knows. Either way, we were about 15 or 20 minutes delayed which had me worried because I had less than an hour scheduled to catch my flight to Tokyo. Slept the entire way, got off and went as quickly as possible from 1 terminal to another, with a tram ride in-between, and made it as my flight to Tokyo was boarding. So we’re set for now.

I don’t remember flying Continental in recent history, and for some reason I had a pre-conceived notion that it was a ghetto airline. I was somewhat wrong, which was good, as the plane was a standard nice 747 with decent seats and the personal TV with video game controller built into every seat. I had a window seat, with a Japanese chick with the artsy glasses on the aisle and an old guy in between us. Soon after taking off, within 30 minutes I learned 3 important things about this old guy, who somewhat reminded me of John Locke from Lost:

  1. He was British, or from somewhere near there. I could tell this by his accent.
  2. He was an alcoholic. I could tell this because although drinks were not free ($5 a pop), he ordered at least 6 by the time our first meal was served. Again, they were not free, and this isn’t a party, so I don’t understand his thinking.
  3. He was decaying. I could tell this because he smelled like death. You know how some old people just SMELL like old people? This guy did times like 1000, which was not comfortable to sit next to. I don’t know if it was just his old man B.O. or his breath after 6 drinks, but he smelled like death.

So that’s all for Locke. As for me, I spent most of the trip either sleeping, listening to my fancy new iPod, or doing both. I made the mistake early on of not replying to the stewardess when she asked “Would you like anything to drink?” because I was still taking my earbuds out. Of course, this went to make her assume I didn’t speak English, so she asked me in Japanese. I figured whatever, and ordered in Japanese back at her. Big mistake. The rest of the flight she assumed I was Japanese, which I suppose I could have corrected, but I was afraid she’d get mad or something. On a related note, what in the world happened to stewardesses? Didn’t they used to be hot, like back in the 80’s? I thought so at least. Nowadays, every American airline I’ve been on has had the oldest, grumpiest, frumpiest stewardesses you could ever imagine. What in the world happened? Are these the same stewardesses that used to represent men’s airline fantasies, only aged 20 or 30 years now? Asian airlines don’t seem to be as bad, but it’s still getting worse and worse every year. If you ever happen to get a flight attendant nowadays who is under the age of 30, it’s probably a dude, which just doesn’t do it for me.

I slept pretty much the first 8 hours of a 12 hour flight, which was great because it’s the best way to pass time. I listened to my iPod the rest of the time and we finally touched down around 2PM Japan time on August 1st. Went through customs fairly quickly, having to wait in line only 15 minutes or so. If I would have gotten to the customs line 10 minutes later, I would have had to wait behind an entire flight from China or something, and it would have taken over an hour. I’m glad I booked it all the way off the plane. After all that, got my luggage and a ticket for the Limousine Bus, which cost 3000 yen (a little under $30) but goes straight to my hotel. I had only about 10 minutes to catch the bus, so I called my parents real quick and got on the next ride, which was almost another 2 hours of sitting and traveling. Along the way I zoned out until we started driving through Makuhari, which finally kicked in to my brain that I was back in Japan. We drove past all sorts of places and stuff I know, which was sweet. Finally arrived in the Shinjuku area, and I had some major deja vu of Spring break in Tokyo 2004. I remember the last day of the trip getting up early and walking around the station before anything was open. But either way, I finally got dropped off at the Keio Plaza and checked in. The only downside was that there were 1400 JET orientation people at the hotel, so the elevators took forever. Once I got to my room, I unpacked and got settled into my room, which you can see part of here.
Sweet gold sheets
I’ll try to post some pictures with the blog entries for this trip, since I know I’m too lazy to actually make albums (if you haven’t noticed, I haven’t posted any new pics since March).

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