A Travellerspoint blog

Tokyo Get Away Continued

Part 2 of my mini adventure

sunny
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Let me begin by saying two things:

-Sorry for the delay. I just got back last Wednesday and then started my new job on Monday. Just a bit exhausted!
-Looking back at my last post about Tokyo, I realized I provided all of these pictures and no explanations! So, I updated that post

Here is the second part of my adventure. It covers the evening of July 31st and the morning of August 1st. I still have lots of pictures and stories to share, so please stay with me. I'll hopefully catch up by this weekend. My goals for the weekend are sleeping and posting. Oh, and maybe find somewhere to live.

Manga hunting and butler cafes

After leaving the Meiji Shrine, Kristen and I wanted to explore Japan manga culture, but with limited time, we decided to go to Ikebukuro. It is closer to Harajuku. This neighborhood is focused on female fans of manga and is smaller than its male counterpart, Akihabara. We wandered for a while hunting down the street where the stores are all located. Either they hide them well or its smaller than we thought.

Manga is a Japanese comic style. It has a very specific style and it enjoyed by almost everyone in Japan, no matter their age or gender. We walked into one manga store, and we got the least friendly welcome I received in Japan. There aren't many tourist in this neighborhood and they are very protective of their culture. Kristen and I were really impressed and wanted to learn more about it, I hope that came across. In addition to going to a manga store where they sell the comics, we also went into a store that sells the outfits. Many manga fans dress up as the characters they read about. This can be done for fun or worn every day. Remember how I mentioned that on Sundays in Harajuku people dress up? Sunday would also be a day the manga fans dress up.

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We also tried to find a butler cafe, which is similar to a maid cafe. A maid cafe is where the customers are waited on by waitresses dressed up as maid characters from Manga. The dressing up is also called cosplay, which is short for comstume play. See here for a better explanation. The butler cafe is a version dedicated to female customers. All of the men are nice looking and well dressed. The best part? They treat you like princesses. Unfortunately, it was a two month wait for a cafe called Swallowtail, so we missed out! Here is a video if you want to learn more. Sorry it's in Japanese, but you'll still get a good idea of the experience.
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Ginza

As the night went on, Kristen had to return to her husband, Ed. So selfish! So we parted ways in Ikebukuro. This meant I was on my own as I attempted to find my hotel in Ginza. I just had one small problem, my cell phone was almost dead. You would think it would be easy to charge your phone in the country that is known for designing phones...think again. As in America, I ran over to the Starbucks thinking I could charge there...nope! It was so packed you had to wait to be seated by the host. So, I rushed over to Ginza and hoped I would make it before my phone died. I didn't make it before my phone died, but I went old school and used a map...yeah that's easier said than done.

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So, that is the Tokyo subway. Despite what it looks like, I find it easier to use than the NYC subway. The trains don't change schedule and everything is in English. I think the biggest obstacle is confidence. If you are not confident, you wouldn't survive. Also, I had my Suica card, so I avoided buying tickets for the exact amount of each trip. There were a lot of tourist staring at maps trying to figure out how much they needed. I just breezed through. Best thing I ever did.

I needed to get from Ikebukuro, which is in the upper left to Ginza, which is south west of Tokyo. Between all the guidance Kristen, Ayako, Jun and the Japanese teacher gave me, I actually made it with no mistakes!! Of yeah, and I cheated by looking up a route before my phone died. When I arrived in Ginza, I had no idea where to go and did not have a detailed street map. I figured out the general area and then decided to put my Japanese to the test. I had heard that very few people spoke English in Japan, so I made sure I knew how to say, "Where is..." I carefully selected this gentlemen waiting around. I said, "Dori doko desu ka?" and pointed to the street name on my map. I followed that by saying, "Koko, soko, asoko," which means here, there, over there." Could I make it clearer that I don't speak Japanese? So what happened? In perfect English he says, "It's over there." Have to say that was a bummer.

I quickly checked into the hotel and showered. Tokyo is so humid that I took several showers a day and changed my clothes at least three times a day. Feeling refreshed, I headed out to look around and find dinner at the local 7-11. Ginza is to Rodeo Drive of Tokyo. All of the stores were closed by the time I got there, but I did some window shopping before turning in for the night.
Ginza street 1

Ginza street 1


Ginza street 2

Ginza street 2


Ginza street 3

Ginza street 3

In addition to the shopping, Ginza also has a Kabuki theater. The season did not start until August 2nd, so I just missed it! Guess I have to go back!
Kabuki Theater

Kabuki Theater

After wandering around a for a bit, eating more 7-11 and watching some very strange TV shows, I went to bed. Early morning ahead!

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Tsukiji Fish Market

I woke up at 3:00 am and caught a cab at 3:30 am to get to Tsukiji by 3:45 am. So what is Tsukiji and why did I get up so early to visit it? Tsukiji Fish Market is the fish market in Japan, maybe even the world. It is the largest wholesale market in the world and only allows 120 people a day to visit its famous tuna auctions everyday. I was around the 40th person to show up and all 120 showed up by 4:00 am. The first group doesn't enter the fish market until 5:20 am, so we hung out in our safety vests for a while. Plus, we had to watch the orientation video, which outlined where we were allowed to go and to remind us that it is a place of business, so stay out of the way or you'll get run over by the carts.
Safety vests!

Safety vests!


Here is me in my safety vest! Thanks to my new friend Roberto from Italy, I got a couple of pictures of myself.
Me in my safety vest

Me in my safety vest


At 5:20, we walked into the auction. We watched as the purchasers checked out the tuna. When a seller is ready, he'll ring a bell and step on a box. He'll auction them off until he is done. Then the next guy goes. We were only in there for 25 minutes. Then we moved out for the next 60 visitors to enter.
Fish inspection

Fish inspection

fish

fish

Tuna

Tuna

Auction

Auction


After the auction, Roberto and I went looking for the sushi place Ayako recommended. Finding it was a lot of fun. We wandered down these side streets full of stalls that selling different food products. There were things that I not only could not name, I could not tell you want animal they came from!

Here is some of the sushi I ate. I also had some eel, but it looked so good I ate it before taking a picture :( shame! Roberto and I shared our Japan stories and he showed me his Fuji pictures. He booked his climb two months in advance! He stayed in one of the cabins so he could be at the top of at sunrise. It was really cool.
Tuna sushi

Tuna sushi


Sea Urchin

Sea Urchin

I helped Roberto find the subway station he needed and we parted ways. He was off to Brazil for business. I headed the opposite direction to go meet Ayako and Jun! Along the way, I found this guy heading either to work or heading home. Not sure.
Market Cart

Market Cart

Posted by Coreycbrewer 19:03 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo Comments (0)

Demystifying the onsen

Immersing myself in Japanese culture, literally

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I mentioned in my last post that I went to the onsen with my coworkers my last night in Karuizawa. Many of you do not know what an onsen is, so let me explain.

An onset is a public bathhouse, and they are very popular in Japan. What's the difference between an onsen and a regular bathhouse? It is all about the water. In a bathhouse, it's regular water heated up. In an onsen, they use hot spring water. In Karuizawa, there is lots of nautral hot springs, so naturally there are lots of onsens. In addition to the natural minerals in the water, they add others that promote health and beauty.

So what is the big deal about going to an onsen? What is my subtitle about? In Japan, you do not wear a bathing suit therefore, you're naked. This was a bit hard for me to get over at first. I was asked to go earlier in my stay, but was leaving for Tokyo. Then my friend in Yokohama recommended that I go because the ones in Karuizawa are so famous. Finally, on my last day, I was asked again. Given my experience over the last month and not knowing when or if I would ever be back, I had to seize the opportunity.

The offer was present after dinner the final night. We had this great final meal and a few people wanted to go out. Someone mentioned going out for drinks, but I was too tired. Then someone mentioned an onsen, and I was directly asked. A little bit of me was still nervous, especially because there are special rules you have to follow, which I'll explain later. Overall, I was excited. This is a big part of Japanese culture and I wanted to experience as much as I could while I was there. Also, I saw this trip as an opportunity to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone. And boy, this is way outside my comfort zone.

I went to the onsen with the science teacher, a board member and the founder of the school. This is important to note because the onsen is designed to erase your social standing. When naked, no one knows who you are or what you do. In a very hierarchical society, this is an opportunity for people of different classes and professions to come together.

What is the onset like? What are the rules? When you arrive at the onsen, Males and female separate into their own onsen. Like the majority of onsens, the onsen we went to does not allow tattoos. In Japan, tattoos are associated with the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Lucikly, I don't have any, so no last minute bandaging. After entering and taking your shoes off, you enter the locker room. Find a locker and store all of your clothes. Keep your small towel out, we'll need that later. While changing, I needed to use the bathroom, but you may remember I took my shoes off. What's a girl to do? I went to the bathroom and found three sets of sandals, one for each stall. You wear them in the bathroom and leave them at the door for the next person. My only problem is I have large American feet and these sandals are made for cute, small, delicate Japanese feet. I had to be very careful not to fall over as I shuffled to the stall with half my foot hanging out of each sandal.

Now with that done, finish undressing and take your small towel to the shower room. Before going into the hot pool, you need to take a shower. The showers are not like American gym showers. You enter a large open room with maybe 30 or more showers, but the shower head is waist high and there are stools. Sit on the stool and turn the water on. The shower heads detach so that you can wash yourself. If you want to go old school, you can use the wooden bucket and use that to douse yourself. I went more modern and use the bucket to rinse out my small towel i was using to wash myself. Wash your entire body and your hair. Make sure you get all the soap off or you will cloud the pool and get dirty looks from all the regulars. Now you are ready.

There are several pools to choose from. At this particular onsen, there is an indoor hot pool and an outdoor hot pool. In addition, there are smaller cold pools to help cool you down. We chose the outdoor onset since it was such a beautiful night. The outdoor pool is surrounded on two sides by the women's shower room and the sauna. The othe two sides are blocked by trees and shrubs. There is also a small pond to help create the sense you are in nature. The onsen was not tranquil the night I was there. It was hopping. Clearly this was the place to be in Karuizawa. There were small naked children trying to climb into the pond with mothers chasing after them. Several families there had three generations of women. There were groups of friends catching up. It was cool, and I honestly forgot after a while that I was naked. I did have to get up and dip in the cold pool. Knowing that it was going to be a shock, I just dipped in quickly. I tried to muffle my scream, but then I heard the round of giggles coming from my coworkers...thanks for the support.

Eventually two of my coworkers left to get into the sauna. Then the last coworker and I left. I took one final shower, got dressed and the exited. We were all suppose to meet outside at the onsen restaurant where our male coworker and another female coworker who did not come were waiting. I exit, wearing my school t-shirt and caring my backpack. Could I look more like an American tourist? To my surprise, I couldn't find them! I searched around. Asked some of the waitstaff, but couldn't find anyone! Trying not to freak, I went to parking lot to look for the founder's car...okay not there! Starting to freak out. Like a dork, I stand outside the onsen hoping someone I know comes out. A few minutes later, the board member walks out and I almost jump her. It's a long walk home, and the night is dark and full of bears (Game of Thrones anyone?). She checks her phone and finds out that the other group left because we took too long...oops!

We did not have time to do the post-onsen rituals, which includes a glass of milk, but that just means I need to go back! Except for being abandoned, I had an amazing time and would encourage everyone to try this when you are in Japan. You do not have to go to Karuizawa, they truck in water from Karuizawa to Tokyo!

NOTE: I am actually in the US writing this. I came back on Wednesday, but have so many stories I need to share with you all, so I will continue to write on my blog. This will also occupy me as I try to recover from the jetlag. It's 1:43 in the morning and I'm wide awake watching Say Yes to the Dress. Oh yeah, I start my new job in Monday. I hope I get enough sleep before then.

Posted by Coreycbrewer 21:19 Archived in Japan Tagged onsen Comments (0)

Final adventures


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After a day of meetings, I finally got to go to the onsen, a Japanese public bath house. It was amazing. Never felt better. Ended the night stargazing in the middle of the street with coworkers. Saw a couple of shooting stars from te meteor shower while eating koala cookies and tomato flavored chips. Couldn't end it any better.

Posted by Coreycbrewer 08:33 Comments (0)

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