Thanks everyone who commented on my last post! 🙂
As promised, here are some pictures from the last few days, and even a couple of VIDEOS 🙂 I also re-did the video page so it’s part of the Gallery now…
Here’s my luxurious penthouse suite at Hotel New Azuma, Japan’s finest and most expensive hotel
Located in a nice little suburb near Ueno.
Since I’d already walked around my hotel’s immediate area, on my second day in Tokyo I took the subway to couple of my favorite areas from my last visit. See all of those friendly folks pressed up against the window?
First stop: Ueno Koen (the biggest park in Tokyo). Check out how different it looks in the winter
Versus the summer (this picture is in the exact same spot, from my first trip here with Nick)
Next I headed to Yoyogi, another park that’s right next to Shibuya
And then to Shibuya! Shibuya is Tokyo’s crazy nightlife area – I was only there during the day, before all of the flashing lights go on, but it’s still a real trip to see…thousands of people pouring through Shibuya Crossing, store clerks on loudspeakers trying to draw in crowds, huge buildings with different businesses on every floor, giant underground electronics stores, etc. It’s really amazing to experience.
Finally, I headed over to Ikebukuro, another action-packed area of Tokyo’s nightlife. From here, I spent a few hours just walking – randomly – Tokyo’s subway system is so efficient that no matter where you are, it’s easy to get anywhere else. This led to the best experience I had during my short stay in Tokyo:
I ended up inadvertently stumbling into a small local neighborhood. I bought a snack here and sat on the corner watching the locals go about their daily lives – buying groceries, teaching their kids to ride bikes, taking out the trash, etc. I know it sounds pretty mundane but I always love to see what the local life is like when I visit another country. And to add to the mood, one of the stores was playing a nice tune over a loudspeaker for everyone around to hear. Check out the video!
Oh, and let’s not forget the EngRish. I swear I wasn’t even looking for it, but by the time day 2 ended I had already amassed quite a collection of goofy advertising. I won’t post them all here, but you can check them out in my Gallery.
Finally, I headed back to Ueno where I met up with Miyuki, a girl who Nick and I met at a club last time we were here. We went to a Japanese bar, had a few drinks & dinner, and headed back on the last train.
The next morning I woke up and headed straight to Tokyo Eki to catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. For those of you who’ve never ridden one, these things are insane – they fly through the Japanese countryside at nearly 200MPH, yet they’re so smooth that you can barely tell you’re moving at all…just look at how sleek they are. Here is a short video clip of a couple of the different models leaving the station. Unfortunately, I opted for the cheaper unreserved ticket and had to stand inbetween two of the cars due to a seating shortage. But the trip did hold a really nice surprise – part way through it I looked out the window and it was snowing! This is probably a bit more exciting for me than it would be for most people, because growing up in Southern California we really don’t get much snow 🙂 but it did look especially beautiful to see snow on the tops of traditional Japanese thatched roofs. Since my camera was packed, I wasn’t able to get a picture…
I got off in Kyoto and transferred to a local train which I took the rest of the way to Hirakata-Shi, which is where I’m now living. And man, was it ever hard to get all of my crap here from Tokyo. I figured that since one of my bags was a backpack and the other two were rolling suitcases it would be easy to get them from A to B – but in Japan many of the subway stations don’t have any sort of handicapped access! So I ended up having to carry all 3 of the bags up and down stairs – total weight over 150lbs – a bunch of times. My knees are still feeling it!
And finally, I got to my new room here at OEH! The room is really nice, comparable in size to my first year dorm room at UCSD, maybe 90 square feet or so. Without my big TV there’s plenty of room for all of my stuff, particularly because there’s a storage space under the raised bed. The social atmosphere here is great, too – everybody is really friendly, and people hang out in the common rooms all the time. It’s exactly the type of place I was looking for; however because of the location and cost of transportation (painfully expensive) I’m actually considering moving to a less fun place that’s right near Downtown, Kyoto. Hirakata-shi is a small town with everything you need to survive, but there’s not all that much to do here – certainly not as much as in Kyoto – so it would be nice not to have to take a train somewhere every single day. But we’ll see, I have some time to think about it.
Right after arriving I headed to a nearby supermarket with this British guy who also lives here, and thus began my first Japanese shopping experience! This store is great; it’s huge and even has a hyaku en shop inside (place to get stuff CHEAP). Then we headed back and I took another train down to Osaka to meet up with Tyler, an old buddy who’s teaching English there. We pre-partied at his place with a few of his friends, then went to a bar where he used to work, and finally to an all-night club in Osaka. And somewhere around 5am we headed back to his place. I slept on his couch until about 2pm the next day.
Since I was feeling pretty hungover, I took my time heading back home – stopped at Citibank to get cash for the rent (apparently unlike in Europe, Citibank is the ONLY place in Japan where you can use a US ATM card…and they, along with every single business here, close for New Years), then at McDonald’s (shut up, I know…I was hungover and not creative), and finally back here…which brings us up to now!
One thing that I should mention, though, is how amazingly nice and helpful the locals here are. It’s so refreshing, especially when I’ve grown so accustomed to the rude, inconsiderate Americans you find…well…everywhere. For example, I asked the girl who was working at Mc Donald’s how to get to a nearby subway station, and when I couldn’t understand her Japanese she left Mc Donald’s and walked me all the way there, TWO BLOCKS AWAY. That level of helpfulness is really surprisingly typical here – I can’t tell you how many people have drawn full maps for me when I asked them for directions. Another example is a little old lady who I sat next to on the train back here – I asked her where I needed to transfer to get to Hirakata-shi, and when she learned that I speak Japanese, began to ask me about where I was from, what I was doing, etc. Keep in mind that my Japanese is still really crappy, so she was speaking slowly and repeating herself all the time – always with a nice smile on her face. When it was time for me to get off the train she wished me a happy new year’s and gave me a small pastry that she had just bought. Just for talking to her for 5 minutes! If only everyone were so kind…
Anyways, I guess that’s all for now. My VoIP phone is all set up and working so feel free to call me whenever…it’s a local call to the 310 area code (not an international call) but remember, I’m 17 hours ahead!
Ja, mata ne~