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Japan 日本 2019

I’ve never been anywhere in Asia before and Dana and I had both wanted to go for quite a long time so we decided to finally do it. It costs a ton of money to travel to another country but it’s one of the few expensive things that seems worth it to me.

I saw an incredible amount of beautiful things in Japan. It’s an especially decorative country.

Even the farms are incredibly maintained.

We took the well-traveled Narita Express to spend the first night in Tokyo. We were instantly surprised that we had to wait in a long line to get tickets but I suspect that it was a line for dumb tourists like the line for the cable car in San Francisco. The locals were using a self-service machine that we couldn’t figure out.

Besides the language and the way that signs are made, there aren’t as many differences as I expected. Mostly it’s just people in suits going to work. If you swapped out the language it could be a massive European city.

One thing that impressed me is that no matter where you go, the roads are impeccably maintained. Even in the country the roads have fresh asphalt and paint. It seems that there are a lot more jobs in Japan. For every four people I saw working there we’d have one crappy self-service station doing the same job here in the USA.

One thing that cameras do not capture is how quiet it was. In a big city I’d normally expect to hear much more noise. Dana loved this aspect of the city because she is overwhelmed by lots of loud noises.

The views were amazing but nothing compared to the extravagant design of the photo-op ropeway cars.

Hakone 箱根町

We basically just crashed in Tokyo for one night because that’s where we flew in. Still experiencing the more extreme effects of jetlag, we decided that it would be nice to visit some hot springs first. I’d never heard of Hakone but it was on our way to Kyoto so we stayed there for one night.

The hot springs we went to were in our hotel and felt good but not really like anything we couldn’t do here in the US. Apparently this is a hot spot for train enthusiasts because they have a really cool rail line to take you up the mountain. It does a bunch of switchbacks because the mountain is much too steep for a train to climb directly. They had targeted ads on the train encouraging train enthusiasts to ride a train in Switzerland.

In the morning we rode the ropeway over some sulfur mines. Visually this was the most striking thing I saw on the whole trip. The fact that it looked so cool combined with the fact that I had no expectation of seeing it before going on the trip made it incredibly fun.

The photos don’t capture the sulfur smell which you can be quite happy about.

There were a lot of tourists near the top. Supposedly you can see Mt. Fuji from here but the weather was not on our side.

We had a travel pass called the ‘Hakone free pass’ that allowed us to travel all over the place so we took a boat across Lake Ashi.

Lake Ashi was pretty cool. Kind of like a Japanese Lake Tahoe.

On the other side we had a pretty great view of the lake.
I didn’t think that pictures captured the speed of the Shinkansen very well so I mainly took videos of the landscape.

At the end of the day we took the bullet train (Shinkansen 新幹線) for the first time. It was such an incredible experience.

I took this photo immediately after getting off the train.

Kyoto is a more traditional looking Japanese area and it’s pretty much beautiful all of the time as a result.

For the first day I thought that this logo was a logo for the city of Tokyo but it turned out to be the logo for the post office.

All of the infrastructure in Japan is better than the USA. The trains, the roads, the post-office, the vending machines… I guess not having a military pays off. Good to remember.

We spent a day looking at temples in Kyoto. This was taken on a road that was designed to look like an older version of Japan. There were surprisingly few tourists compared to the bamboo forest next to the train station. I’m guessing that most people didn’t want to walk. Our legs were hurting by the end of the day so maybe they were right!

The coolest temple of the trip was this one with tons of sculptures of people covered in moss.
It was incredibly cool how nature was an integrated part of the design.
Osaka is pretty close to Kyoto so if you are staying in one of the two it is easy to pop over to visit the other one.

We met up with some of Dana’s hometown friends to have a night on the town. The food was great and we got to go to an alley full of drunk people. It was Saturday night and everyone was enjoying themselves. It was super fun but the jetlag caught up to me late at night.

In this area just about every building has ornate sculptures that are close to the ground. It’s really great.
This is one of countless decorative manhole covers. Most of them didn’t have color though so this one is the winner.
I was excited to find an old Puyo Puyo arcade machine here. I grew up knowing this game as Dr. Robotnic’s Mean Bean Machine but you may also know it as Kirby’s Avalanche, Kirby’s Ghost Trap or even Super Foul Egg!
Osaka tower. After taking this picture I resolved to take a picture of each city’s tower. (If there is a Hakone Tower I missed it!)

I went to the Manga Museum in Kyoto the next day. They had a real manga artist working on a comic! Just as I expected, he is using Manga Studio. Here it is known as Clip Studio Paint. All the best comic artists use it! ;)

Obligatory Kyoto tower pic per my new resolution.

We went to a delicious yakitori place for our last night in Kyoto and the staff were pretty cool there too. For some reason this is the only picture I got.

I made a new best friend on Yokai street right before we left Kyoto.
Next we returned to Tokyo! This time we were going to have a lot more time to explore.
This is by a place called Sunshine City. It’s just a big mall but there’s some good stores if you are into buying Pokemon toys.

Something I noticed in Japan is that even though many things are smaller than their American counterpart, there is a much greater tolerance for building decorative sculptures on top of things. Buildings large and small have sculptures on top and the police cars and vans have bulky protrusions. The lights even raise up like this which I thought was awesome aesthetically.

Got lucky on a bridge and got this interesting shot of the train station. I’m sure every tourist that has crossed this bridge took the same shot, haha.

Vending machines are so frequent that you would never buy something out of fear that there won’t be another one where you are going. They’re even on the platform! I think this wouldn’t work in the US because we’d end up with litter everywhere.

As a big nerd, Akihabara ‘electric town’ was a place that I’ve always wanted to visit. Dana was less enthusiastic about this part but she was a good sport. I kind of think that if I had gone here in the early 2000s I would have enjoyed it way more. All of my favorite game franchises from my childhood have been replaced with new things that I’m not as familiar with. We did a sushi belt place here that was very delicious. I can still taste this pesto shrimp roll. It is burned into my memory.

There was one spot called Super Potato that sold retro games for collectors. Here’s Super Mario USA which was just Super Mario 2 here. (Probably the only Mario game that the USA has gotten before Japan!)

A game that needs no introduction.
Saturn Alpha 3 for $170

I was glad that I no longer have my collection of video games or I probably would have spent a fortune at Super Potato.

It was our anniversary so we went somewhere special this night. A show at a place called the Robot Restaurant. My expectations were kind of low because it seemed like it was for tourists and everyone knows tourists are easy marks for overcharging. In my head it was like seven overused animatronic robots that just go through the same little show next to some tables people eat at.

It was far, far better than I ever could have imagined. My favorite act had a giant battle between robots and nature. Dinosaurs were on both sides but I suspect that the ones on the robot side were robot dinosaurs so the plot holds up.

The Raphael soldier ninja turtle with an uzi made a good case for abandoning copyright laws altogether.
A robot was eaten by a t-rex like a foot in front of my face and my brain melted out of my ears.
Since tourists are idiots, they actually taught us how to duck when robots come close so we wouldn’t be hit in the face. There are no bad seats at the robot restaurant.
We went to the Shitamachi museum the next day and there was a lot of cool printed material from before WW2. It was amazing how modern some of the graphic design was. I suspect that the rest of the world is still catching up.
People suggested that I eat some convenience store food but I had no idea how much I’d eat on the trip. On visit #100 I got some fried chicken with corn flakes. 10/10. Is definitely chicken.
Time for the last tower! Tokyo Tower. There are higher towers in Tokyo but this one seemed cooler from the outside so we decided to visit it. It was well worth the trip.
I honestly thought we would be there before the cherry blossoms but they were in full bloom when we were there.
We managed to time the trip to the top just right and we were able to see Tokyo in both day and night from the top of the tower! Miraculously they didn’t kick us out after a set amount of time.
By an extra bit of good luck the lighting conditions allowed us to finally get a peek at Mt. Fuji.

On the last day before we got on the plane, we split up. Dana went to see a beautiful park and I went to Meguro. I had one last goal for the trip. I had to see the Meguro Parasitological Museum.

The museum had really amazing specimens.
I did not get as much time to draw as I would have liked but of course I did some sketches here!
They had many varieties of tapeworm. A very successful evolutionary development! I guess the first worm to get accidentally stuck in a digestive system did really well for itself.
Here’s an awesome display of similar species and how they develop to take advantage of their environment. All the parasite has to do is hang on and eat. Pretty cushy life if you ask me! Kind of like being royalty.

The very last thing I saw before leaving for the airport was Shibuya Crossing. It was pretty cool but I only got a video.

Photo credit: Dana Jennings

While I was looking at parasites Dana was getting some great pics of cherry blossoms. I have no regrets!

Something that my dad taught me when we moved to the United States is that it’s still worth looking out the window when you are flying over the ocean.
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