Japan 2007: Nagoya, Tokyo, Kyoto Nagano

Around March of 2007, I looked into a trip to Japan in hopes of seeing the first Formula 1 race at Fuji Speedway (it was previously held at Suzuka, which, IMO, is a better track). I talked to Amy about going to Japan to see F1, and she was into it, but when I tried to buy the F1 tickets, they were already sold out (no surprise). I suggested that we go there anyways. Now, the Formula 1 race was in September, and it suddenly dawned on me that the Rebuild of Evangelion movie (1:0) was going to be in September, and suddenly I had a renewed enthusiasm for making this trip happen. In truth, I really did nothing, Amy planned and bought the plane tickets and everything, all I did was contact my friend in Nagoya to buy some Rebuild tickets.

I fly into JFK and spend 2 (drunken) nights in Brooklyn before flying to San Francisco then to Nagoya. The flight was as expected, airplane food (although I was half expecting a bowl of ramen like my flight to China), but the bonus was one of the in-flight movies was Satoshi Kon's Paprika. I'd already seen it several times before, but the subtitles were very hard to read on one of those tiny LCD screens on the back of the chair. After watching the first 6 episodes of Evangelion on my laptop, I took some valium and drank a bunch of screwdrivers and promptly passed out. Upon arriving, we went out to eat (MORE|MORE|MORE) and drank some more, end of story.

After eating at an awesome restuarant and drinking several glasses of some kind of Japanese distilled liqour, we hopped onto the subway and headed toward Nagoya station. From there we rushed to a 109 Cinema, reserved a set of seats for the new Evangelion movie, bought the "Combo Set", which was a Shogouki figure that sits on top of your drink cup and popcorn. The movie was great, here's a short spoilerless review that I posted on a few forums:

Bought one of those Eva-01 things for your drink, didn't bother with the other
merchandise because the line was insanely long. There were cute girls there too.
Story is very straightforward and told mostly chronologically. Maybe 2 or 3
flashbacks that last maybe a second or two. Lilith's mask is different, Ramiel looks
AWESOME, I mean, REALLY AWESOME. Nerv is now spelled in all CAPS. There's a lot of
blood. We get to see Rei's nipple as well as full nudity. The whole "if daughter then
Rei, if son then Shinji" is a little different, I don't quite get it. The preview eva
looks, interesting. Glasses girl in preview looks like Misaki from Darker than Black.
The Kaworu part was a little confusing, going to pay more attention to that and the
Lilith part the next time I watch it.

After the movie, which ended at around 11:40pm, we had to rush to the subway station to catch the last train. Chilled at rockthing's place (another) with Hiromi and drank some of the Belvedere that we brought for her.

Day 2, got out of bed and was greeted with a delicious (Oishii!) breakfast of tuna sandwiches and a seaweed salad with raw salmon that Hiromi made before she left for work. Afterwards, we went into Chigusa to buy bullet train tickets and hotel reservations to Tokyo. It was surprisingly easy and cheap (19,000 yen per person for both the train AND the hotel). The hotel is a few blocks from Tokyo Tower so it's near the center of town, close to Akihabara and Shinjuku. I was really glad rockthing was with me because the Japanese she was speaking sounded like complete gibberish to me. Afterwards, we went to an art cafe that's run by a friend of rockthing's, had some great hayashi rice, coffee and the walls were either covered with paintings or shelves of manga. I picked up the newest volume of Gantz to read as well as a couple of volumes of Monster. We were also served dessert of Campari jelly over grapefruit sherbert. The sherbert was more like ice cubes (but it DID taste like grapefruit) and the Campari derived jelly actually tasted like it had alcohol in it. After chilling out there for a few hours, we walked 2 subway stations to Sakae. My goal was to buy some Evangelion doujinshi (self-published manga works usually by amateur artists, and usually pronographic in nature), so we walked past the "Central Park" to a Mandrake store which had 9 floors of manga, cosplay accessories, games, figures, and on the 9th floor (only accessable by elevator with a clear "only over 18" notice next to the button) which contained the doujin. Amy, who I feel really bad about, was in utter shock when we walked into the 9th floor and was immersed in vulgar pornography (I think she found the futanari really disturbing, along with the shitting dick nipples). There was no where you can stand or look (beside the floor, I guess) that didn't have drawings of exposed breasts or submitted females in compromising poses. I've never been in a place like this, but at the very least I knew what to expect (thanks to the internet), and yet I was still in awe at an entire floor filled with nothing but pronographic doujin of every flavor: Nanoha, Lucky Star, Haruhi, and even such unlikely suspects such as Azumanga Daioh and Claymore. I went to the Evangelion section and picked up an Uroboros collection then found another new publication called "Confusion Level A" (front) that featured Asuka on the front and back covers. Needless to say, Amy was glad that we left. We were going to stop at a pachinko parlor that had Evangelion machines but decided to head back so that we can meet Hiromi for dinner. After a short subway ride, we stopped at a Matsuzakaya store and bought some random groceries and a bottle of "Shochu", Japanese distilled liquor, sometimes made from brown sugar, plums, wheat, or sweet potato. The one I bought was made from wheat because I knew that was the kind Hiromi liked. We ordered pizza and drank shochu all night, listened to some old recordings by me and rockthing from back in college, Amy drank Yebisu (in the spirit of Evangelion), we kept replaying Misato drinking beer from episode 2 and tried to get Amy to mimic it, then later passed out.

The third day was chill, we really didn't do much. School started today so Hiromi didn't have to go to work until later in the morning. Me and rockthing went to Nishihara (a sandwich/coffee shop) for a lunch. The sandwiches there were delicious and the coffee wasn't bad either. We stopped by a 7-11 to pick up a sandwich for Amy and I found a magazine dedicated to the Evangelion pachinko machines and slot machines, so I went ahead and bought that. Later, as I was browsing the magainze, I found out that there was a 4-5 page section about rebuild (page 2, page 3, page 4, posters). I watched anime until Hiromi came home and made dinner that consisted of a 3 mushroom salad and pasta. We then got drunk and I played a little Gran Turismo 4.

The next morning, we had to rush to get to Nagoya Station to catch the bullet train (Shinkansen) to Tokyo. While waiting for the train, I noted that the name of the 3 different types of trains were VERY FAMILIAR (The class representative and her 2 sisters from Evangelion). We rode on the older, 300 series, Hikari train. The train was very confortable, we had reserved seats, and they sold bento boxes on the train. It was about an hour and 45 minutes and there were a few stops along the way. We also passed Hakone at some point along the way. When we arrived at the Shinigawa station in Tokyo, we hopped onto the JR train to get to the Hamamatsucho station that's near our hotel (Prince Hotel). It was super hot and humid outside with high prospects of rain, so we all took showers at the hotel before heading out into Tokyo. Amy wanted to go to Harajuku so we attempted to ride one of Tokyo's VERY CONFUSING subway lines to get to a station close to Harajuku. We ended up in Yoyogi Station, but who the fuck knows. The subway map looks like a 2 year old took a box of crayons and scribbled a little with each color. We did eventually end up in Harajuku and checked out all the shops. Lots of school girls in school uniforms, lots of gothic lolis, and lots of hip stores along narrow streets. A quick stop back at the hotel to grab some Nagoya specialty noodles that rockthing brought with him, then it was off to Shiguya for dinner. We met up with rockthing's Belgian friend, Wouter, and went to a restuarant called "Tengu". Shiguya had TONS of people, it reminded me of Shanghai. When our old college buddy, Aki, showed up, he ordered some food and drinks and the dinner got started. We had some plum wine (it was really sweet), more shouchu, tuna sashimi, kabobs, and oysters. Wouter had to leave early because of work the next day, but Aki stayed for the long haul. After we left, it started raining really hard, probably because of the incoming typhoon, so we hurried to a nearby bar and got a private room. After more shouchu, Aki took off around midnight and we had left after a few more drinks. It was really great to see Aki, he hadn't changed at all (except now he's married and has 3 kids). We took a taxi back and looked for a bar near the hotel, but in our drunken state and it raining, we soon gave up and called it a night. Some random pictures:

On our second day in Tokyo, we got to an early start and headed to Tokyo station, where we would eventually transfer onto the Shinkansen that would take us back to Nagoya, and dropped our stuff off in coin lockers. Then we took the JR train to Ueno and transfered to a local subway that took us to Asakusa (or so we thought). After walking around for an hour or so and not seeing anything familiar, we hopped into a cab and had the driver take us to the outdoor shops (the goal of going there in the first place). I bought a wallet to replace my old tattered one, Amy bought a print and some random cellphone trinkets and rockthing bought some crackers for this office coworkers. The subway line that we should have taken was right next to all the stores, so it was easy to find our way back to the JR line, and once there, it was off to Akihabara (Electric Town), the geek capital of the world. I've seen pictures and read plenty about the place before so I was well prepared for what the place has to offer. Upon arriving at the station, we dropped off the stuff that we bought at Asakusa, and upon leaving the station, we were greeted by 2 girls in pink maid uniforms handing out maps and flyers. They directed us to 3 maid cafes (where the staff are all girls wearing french maid outfits) including one where you can try on maid outfits, so we walked over to the first one called "I love Maid" (but the "love" was a red heart). It was reasonable, they had internet there (you had to pay extra) as well as a huge screen with a NES connected to it and a wall full of games. We got some coffee and sandwiches, and some mixed nuts, which was brought out to us in a champagne glass and the glass was filled with this huge plastic bottle with nuts inside. I took a smoke break inside their smoking room because you weren't allowed to smoke on the streets in Akihabara. We perused the map of Akihabara that the maids gave us and highlighted the big anime and manga shops. We headed over to an Animate, which was huge, I bought a Gurren-Lagann T-Shirt, an Asuka in a maid outfit T-Shirt, a bunch of collectible Evangelion figurines, and since I had my ticket stub from the movie, they gave us 5 boxes of something that had to do with Evangelion (I haven't opened them yet, but they're probably small posters). Then we walked to the Tokyo Anime Center, where there was life sized Rei and Asuka, along with a large (but not life sized) Shogouki. There were also a lot of production drawings on the walls for the new Evangelion movie as well as glass cases filled with Evangelion figures. I left there with a set of Haruhi Suzumiya figures and a Shogouki paper craft book. Nearly the entire store was dedicated to Evangelion. I stopped at a few more places but didn't buy too much, some of the doujin places was just entire floors of yaoi and other places it was hard to find where stuff was. A lot of the figures I browsed were either kind of lame, really awesome but super expensive (10,000+ yen), or were available in the states. As expected, Lucky Star was everywhere, Evangelion was everywhere, Gundam was everywhere. We also stopped by some electronics stores because rockthing was looking for a RF wireless video receiver and I bought him an 802.11bg wireless router that came with a USB stick. We stopped at a coffee shop and drank some blood orange smoothies and smoked. It was around this time that rockthing received a call from Hiromi saying that one of her students which was in Tokyo couldn't get back to Nagoya because all the Shinkansen trains had all stopped because the typhoon was inbetween Nagoya and Tokyo, and it was headed straight to Tokyo. Since we had bought our tickets through a travel agent, we couldn't simply change the departure time. It was still pretty early so we stopped at a cosplay cafe (it looked like all the girls were dressed in school uniforms) for some coffee. These girls greeted us with "onee-chan, oni-chan" and for 500 yen, they'll play games with you like Uno, Othello, or some game where you stick swords in a barrel and the one that sets the guy to pop his head out loses. Also, the curry and rice there was heart shaped. When we left, we had 100 yen removed from our bill because rockthing beat one of the girls playing rock-paper-scissors. It's too bad we weren't allowed to take any photos while inside these cafes. Some random pictures:

Once that was over with, we headed straight to the Tokyo station to try to figure out what the fuck was going to happen with our ride back to Nagoya. The bullet trains were out of the question, they were all stopped. At some point someone suggested taking a bus, but after seeing footage of the typhoon on the TVs at the station, we didn't think riding in a bus through that shit was a good idea. We went to Tokyo station to try and figure out if we could exchange our tickets or buy new ones. The line at the Shinkansen counter was super long, so we went to eat dinner while calling up hotels in Tokyo to find a place to stay. Everything was booked, and it seemed that even 24 hour net cafes were full. Our last option was either a love hotel (which we couldn't make reservations for, or even call to see if there were rooms available) or sleep at Tokyo station, which was hot and kinda dirty. When we walked back to the ticket counter, there were people sitting on the floor everywhere, but at least the lines had died down. Different people at the counter gave us contradicting answers, so we decided to just cut our losses and buy new tickets for tomorrow, however, by this time they weren't even sure if the trains were going to run tomorrow at all because the typhoon was going to be in Tokyo. I figured that if we stayed the night there, we may have to stay another night because not just southbound but all trains wouldn't be running, and we'd probably have to sleep on the floor in the station, so our best bet is to get the fuck out of Tokyo now. The northbound bullet train had already stopped running, so we could only go to Nagano (where the winter Olympics were held). Rockthing managed to find us a hotel there so we went ahead and bought 3 non-reserved tickets for about 700 yen each. The train stopped at every stop along the way so it took maybe an hour and some, and I took a nap. After a taxi to the hotel, we checked in and our room was SWANK, with 3 beds, 2 HDTVs, a living room area, and a 2 room bathroom, but best of all, we had internet. We watched the news for a little bit while downloaded all the new episodes of anime that I was keeping up with. Based on the havoc that was being wrecked just south of Tokyo, we were glad to be out of that mess, and also, since we were in the mountains, it was cool and dry with temperatures in the 70s. Hopefully, it'll cool off a little back in Nagoya. More random pictures:

We left the hotel around noon and went to look for a local restaurant. Pretty much the only thing that there is to see in Nagano (in the non-skiiing season) is the huge temple (Zenkoji) up the hill. The prices for food got more and more expensive the closer you get to the temple, so we found this great dive that served local soba about halfway between the station and the temple. I had some awesome soba with mashed mountain potatoes. This is the kind of soba you eat by dipping the noodles into a cup of cold soup/sauce. Afterwards, we headed up to check out the temple before heading to the station to find a way back to Nagoya. It was about a kilometer walk up the hill and it was starting to get really hot outside. The temple itself was huge and the majority of people there were probably older than 50. Once we did the walk around the place, we decided to take a cab instead of walking back down to Daimon street to wait for the bus. Apparently, there were trains leaving for Nagoya pretty frequently, so we hopped onto the next one. Having non-reserved seats, we had to sit in the section of the train that was a free-for-all seating-wise, but fortunately, this train leaves from Nagano so we were going to be amongst the first to get on the train. The trip back took us through the mountains of central Japan, through quaint towns, rivers, and lots of mountains. Upon getting back, we had to sort through all the shit that we bought while in Tokyo, and waited for Hiromi to get back before leaving for a local sushi restuarant, highly recommended by both rockthing and Hiromi. The sushi was awesome, with uni as good as the "special" stuff at the Blue Ribbon in Manhattan. Apparently, everything that they had (and I think most places that serve sashimi is the same) was fresh that day, which means sometimes they don't have salmon, or squid, or roe; if it wasn't caught that day, it wasn't going to be on the menu. We then hiked to the whiskey bar, had some Talisker, Craggamore and MacCallan for comparison's sake. Hiro was getting kind of sloshed so we headed back to the apartment, where we continued to finish all the alcohol in the house. Some random pictures:

Saturday was going to be my second viewing of the new Evangelion movie, and since there was already a torrent of an audio mp3 of the entire movie, I thought I'd help out by making a timestamp transcript of the movie's significant cuts and scenes (WARNING: that link contains SPOILERS). I was able to pick up on more things this time because I knew were I had to pay extra attention to, as things happen quite fast sometimes. But, prior to me and rockthing heading to the theatre in Sakae, we all went to eat lunch at the Nishihara (sandwich and coffee shop) next to the whiskey bar, then parted ways since the girls were going to go shopping. After the movie, we went to Osu to buy a wireless video kit and a new HD for rockthing's webserver. We also tried to find the teashop that sold the tea my roommate wanted me to get but after an hour of searching for it, we couldn't find it, or it was closed. The rest of the night was very chill, Hiromi made dinner, I used sopcast to stream the Formula 1 qualifying at Monza, drank more shouchu, and I updated the gentoo servers at the office.

The next day we went to lunch at a place in Sakae called "Yuri", which was a Jazz/Coffee shop. It was small and blasted Jazz from their extensive collection of LPs that lined the walls of this tiny place. When we got there, the place was closed, and just as we were about to leave, the guy came out and flipped the close sign to open (Lucky). Once we were inside, within a minute or two the entire place was packed. We all got the lunch set, which was a dish, a salad, and a drink. Me and rockthing got curry sets and Amy and Hiro got the taco salad set. The food and coffee was good, and the girls went shopping while we sat around for another round of coffee and just listening to the Jazz. After we got back to the apartment, we just hung out, me and Hiromi watched clips of Azumanga Daioh and laughed, we watched the F1 race at Monza, we tried to get Gentoo installed on one of rockthing's old machines, and drank a lot of shouchu.

On Monday, we went back to the sandwich/coffee shop near the apartment for lunch and Amy went back while me and rockthing went to Nagoya station to the 109 Cinemas to pickup a few theatrical programs for the Evangelion movie as well as the other combo set with Rei Ayanami. We also stopped by a CitiBank, which was on the 33rd floor of a building with elevator banks that only went to certain floors, so it was a hassle. Outside of the building, though, there were these seating areas surrounded by plants with water flowing down glass and mist spraying out, hard to describe. It was around 5 or so by the time we got back to the apartment, so we had to hurry and meet the Tadas (Hiromi's parents and grandmother) for dinner at their house. The Tadas were awesome, Hiromi's mother drinks beer and her father drinks the cheapest whiskey known to man. Her mom made this huge spread of food, thinking that we'd eat as much food as Patrick. Hiromi's mom went to bed early but her father hung out with us until he fell asleep in his spot next to the dinner table. Around 10 or so, we hopped on a cab back to the apartment, where we drank the rest of the shouchu from the Tadas.

I was woken up from my drunken slumber the next day because the network at the office had gone down and there was also a power outtage, causing ALL of the servers to lose power eventually. The next few hours was spent coordinating the restarts and making sure all the services were up. Around this time, Haruko, and old friend who lived at Comet Way house for a month when she was an exchange student many years ago, came by and we chit chatted and hung out, watched a video of the Noshintoh band, and Hiromi came home. Haruko needed to meet another friend in the area so she had to go before Hiromi started dinner, which consisted of some bitter Okinawan vegetable (hard to see in this picture) and yakisoba. I, for some reason, was kinda of tired, so I layed down in the bedroom and watched some anime and fell asleep.

I spent most of the next day helping rockthing put together his new 500G harddrive and installing Gentoo Linux on it. We had our last lunch in Japan at the Nishihara sandwich/coffee shop, then Amy went to Sakae to do some last minute shopping. When Hiromi came home from work, she brought with her a bottle of high quality shouchu. We were going to go to the sushi restuarant down the street, but decided to call them to see if we could pick up food. Ended up, they would deliver the sushi to us, and they delivered, by foot, 3 wooden bowls wrapped in a cloth. We ate the finest sushi the restuarant had to offer while drinking the shouchu, and afterwards, we left the 3 wooden bowls and the cloth on the doorstep for them to pick up tomorrow (Hiromi said not to wash them, as it would be impolite). Something like this would never fly in the states. We drank more shouchu, and after drinking everything in the house, me and rockthing left for the convenient store to buy more. I also bought the cheapest and best saki they had there for the folks back at home. Around this time, I was made aware that a proxy server that went down while the office had a blackout needed restarting, but the machine only accepts connections from one IP, the router at Comet, and the only tunnel was down for some unknown reason. I was too drunk to deal acceptably so I turned off my laptop and went to bed. We needed to pack because we have an early flight out of Nagoya, which the airport was renamed to Japan Central International Airport.

We got up early the next day to finalize the packing and hang out a bit before leaving for the Airport. We were going to stop at Sakae and take the bus to the airport because the Sakae station had fewer steps (we had luggage with us), but it seems the bus no longer runs to the airport from there, so we had to go to Nagoya Station and take the JR train. We had lunch at one of the restuarants near the ticketing area. The check in and security was smooth (the trains, subways, and airport were all a model off efficiency) and soon, we were on the plane. Here is where I begin my rant about the flight from Nagoya to San Francisco. This was one of the worst flights that I have ever been on, but it wasn't because of the seats or crying babies. The flight attendants were downright rude to me, even to the point of eye-rolling when I asked for a drink. I understand that the free alcohol that's served on international flights isn't something to be abused, but all I wanted to do was get drunk and pass out. When the first drink service came by, I asked for a "Vodka and Orange Juice", which the flight attendant condescendingly replied "I know what it is, it's called a Screwdriver". Amy got one as well, because usually the drink service for a packed Boeing 777 goes a little slow, and after I finished mine, I drank the one she got for me. Apparently, the flight attendant knew of this and when I asked for another when drink service came back around she made sure to remind me that this was my third one. I wanted to say, "I know, and I'll need 4 just to catch a buzz", but knowing very well that being rude to the person serving you drinks will only result in fewer drinks. With no buzz yet, and an hour into the flight, I decided to break out my laptop and catch up with some of the anime that I had downloaded while I was in Japan. When the lady in front of me hit her call button, a male (different) flight attendant came to tend to her, since drink services had stopped (we were flying west to east and it became dark outside) I stopped him and asked for another drink, and he made sure to express disdain that either a) I was getting my 4th screwdriver or b) he had to make me a drink. Either way, the next time he walked down the isles (maybe 10 minutes later), I asked for another, and when he brought it to me he said "I think you need to slow down". I took this as a your-getting-cut-off hint. So, now that I was at least buzzing, but not nearly enough to fall asleep, I decided to give up on the alcohol endeavor and just pop a valium, which put me to sleep within the hour. I made sure to go http://www.ualsurvey.com and leave a most scathing review and comments concerning the flight attendants. I was tempted to take down their names and vandalize their myspace or whatever the fuck but decided to just be polite, take it in the ass, and make sure to fill out the survey after I get back.

Click HERE to see all the pictures.

more to come, and pictures too

Filed under: Travel & Events