Japan 2005: The Rest of It

This is basically what happened post Shinjuku, which is the last time that I updated when we were out there.

On the night after we went to Shinjuku we went into Roppongi which is one of the big districts for nightlife, and then visited a bar called Gas Panic. We got there at about 10pm and ended up leaving when it closed at 5am when it was light outside and people were actually starting to go to work. The language barrier wasn’t an issue since it was so loud, and I ended up getting some face/crotch action on the bar with a cute Japanese girl. Jan had a similar experience and got slightly aggressive at the end of the night when he found himself with us instead of a girl, screaming with laughter at himself outside a Yoshinoya restaurant while Eynon and Jude got their second post-drinking food fix, after already buying a kebab from a street vendor outside the club.

Unsurprisingly the best part of the next morning was pretty much a write-off, with us not getting out until the early afternoon. After that we went to Harajuku which is famous for the cosplay fraternity, especially on a Sunday. Also in Harajuku was our first brush with traditional Japanese culture when we visited the Meiji Shrine which consists of a really nice Shinto shrine in some absolutely beautiful surroundings. Heading back into Harajuku, we looked around the shopping area (it’s very much a fashion area, in keeping with the cosplay influence) and grabbed something to eat at a Japanese restaurant before calling it a night.

The Monday was the day we were booked into the Ghibli Museum which was conveniently on the same line that our nearest train station was. We took the train to Mitaka and instead of taking the shuttle bus to the museum from the station we just walked the kilometre which probably ended up losing half our body weight in sweat because it was about 30 degrees and still as humid. It didn’t really get any cooler until we left Japan, either.

The museum was very nice but didn’t allow photography inside the building. We got to see a Ghibli short film which will never be shown outside the museum (I don’t know the name but it was about a small puppy who gets lost) and explore the exhibits before hitting the souvenir shop. I was very good to my wallet and only bought the £10 souvenir book, but Eynon went a bit more wild. He managed to get himself under control and stop before the temptation to buy a £200 Spirited Away cel got too great. A lot of the museum was lost on us without being able to read, but I enjoyed it and it was worth the £5 to get in.

We got back to the hotel from the museum in the mid-afternoon and hung around for a bit before braving the heat again to see Shibuya by night. I was actually disappointed with the famous crossing because it’s smaller than I imagined, but at night the district is very pretty and has some great shops. One of them was about three floors underground but was huge and absolutely full of manga, games, and toys. It made me laugh how you’d have a case of Transformers, a case of Gundam, a case of Dragonball, and then a case of rope bondage figures in the middle as if there was nothing unusual about them. We went up into the Starbucks overlooking the crossing where photography isn’t allowed, but we followed the example of the Lost In Translation film crew and got covert pictures out of the window when the waitress wasn’t looking.

Tuesday was just a chance to head back to Akihabara to pick up more stuff. I’ve lost track of what I bought when but I think this is when I got Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan on the DS which is fantastic. It’s a rhythm-action game that’s probably never going to come out outside Japan but seems to be picking up a big cult following, and both me and Eynon ended up getting it and annoying the others with the endless repetition of infectious J-rock songs at full volume. I also got a few more DS games – Electroplankton, Touch! Kirby (Kirby Canvas Curse outside Japan), and Meteos.

On Wednesday we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto which was damn expensive (£150 for a return ticket) but got us the 500-odd kilometres from Tokyo to Kyoto in a little over two hours and, well, it was the bullet train. Considering our trains can barely do 70mph without derailing, this one was an amazingly smooth and comfortable ride for the speed of the thing. A short walk from the station we found the Higashi Honganji Temple which is one of the biggest wooden buildings in the world but is currently undergoing a big restoration (to be completed in 2011). A short subway ride away was the “must see” of Kyoto, Nijo Castle. Some of it was absolutely beautiful and I’d imagine that if you visited when the trees were blossoming it would look unbelievable.

Eynon was adamant that we should visit Kiyomizudera, the Pure Water Temple, so we went to a subway station somewhere nearby. It turned out it wasn’t as nearby as we thought but there were a ton of temples and shrines in the backstreets so we walked it, eventually getting there through a sea of cheap souvenir shops. It was in the hills outside Kyoto and the view back at the city was spectacular, as were views of other temples in the hills. Then we had the choice of subway, taxi, or walking back into central Kyoto and someone had the bright idea of walking it – bearing in mind that it was stupidly hot and this photo illustrates how far it is back to the centre of the city (where the Kyoto Tower is), I think I lost the other half of my body weight.

Back in the city we found a big electronics store that, not being in Tokyo, obviously wasn’t as packed as the ones in the capital. That meant that not only did they have iPod nanos (I abstained in the end) but they also had the Advent Children Pieces, which were utterly sold out in Tokyo, for £120. Eynon and Jude grabbed them both and it looks like Eynon’s has already sold in the shop for £400. I grabbed Street Fighter III: Third Strike on PS2 as well as a sale copy of the PS2 Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution for ¥1,000 (£5). Eynon also got a Panasonic Q for an absolute bargain price.

The last two days were spent just doing any other things that needed doing before the end of the holiday. I can’t remember exactly but I remember hitting Akihabara one last time and going back to Harajuku, and when I saw that I could get there on the JR Line for less than a fiver I was tempted to pay a visit to Yokosuka but was able to bring my Shenmue fanboyism under control before I did. Maybe next year…

And that was it. The morning we left it was raining torrentially, but I still would have stayed if I could. Now I’m completely fed up with typing so you probably won’t hear from me for a few days – I’m off to play Katamari Damacy.

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