Yesterday I spent the morning wandering around Akihabara's "Electric Town". Originally known for it's famous radio stores, it expanded into selling all sorts of electronics at very reasonable prices. You can browse bins of video games for Super Famicom, Game Boy, Sega Genesis, along with some of the more rare systems with all the games usually costing 1500 yen or less.
After purchasing some bulky things, I decided to return to the Youth Hostel to drop off the stuff and take a break. When I got there, I was feeling sleepy so I lay down to take a short nap. This was around 3:30 PM. When I woke up, it was almost 4 AM! I guess all that walking took it's toll. After I got up, I watched a few episodes of Trigun and then slept until 8 AM. I guess it's good that I've been getting plenty of sleep on this trip, as I'm sure once the semester starts I won't be getting that much...
Today, I stopped off at a few stations around the Yamanote line. The Yamanote is a loop that goes around the busiest part of Tokyo. Most of the best places to shop and eat are right off of that line. I ended up wandering around Akihabara again, and found a huge bag for only 1000 yen, one that will hopefully be big enough to cart home all the loot and plunder I've gathered here. Hee hee!
I have over a hundred pictures that need posting, which I plan to do tonight.
As for food, I had some sort of beef stir-fry over rice for my mid-morning meal and then a tempura set for my afternoon meal. Dinner will probably be a 100 yen bowl of noodles. One of the great things about the noodles here is the variety. They come in all shapes and sizes, with varying sauces and packages of other stuff to match. Every bowl is an adventure in itself.
I'm definietly picking up a few Japanese cookbooks on Amazon once I get back.
Yesterday I moved to a new youth hostel, this one called Tokyo International in Iiadabashi. It's located in the middle of the city, right next to the railway station.
The hostel is located on the 18th floor of the Ceneral Plaza building, and has a great view of that part of Tokyo (and the mountains beyond). In this new hostel, each room has four beds and lockers to store valuables. There is a curtain that pulls around the bed to shut out the light and give you privacy for changing and the like. I went to bed early last night, so I didn't meet my roomies until today. There were two japanese guys and a man from Norway. They were all friendly, especially this one Japanese man. We talked for awhile, and exchanged addresses to keep in touch.
One interesting change from the other hostel is that breakfast and dinner meals are served. They cost extra money, but it's nice to have a hot meal in the same place you sleep.
Dinner last night was "Curry Hamburg". It was a hamburger patty served with a bowl of curry, soup, rice and a trip to the desert bar. After the meal however, I was so full I could only eat a bit of maccaroni salad. I enjoyed it.
This morning, I opted for the "Japanese Style" breakfast. It consisted of a piece of grilled salmon, rice, a hard boiled egg, and soup. Not exactly standard American fare, but nutritious and tasty nonetheless. I left the meal feeling energized and alert, not the way you feel after downing a McGridle sandwich and fried hash browns.
Me, Sang and Liz are going to go sight-seeing today. Hopefully we can see some nice things while not spending much money!
That's all for now, I'll take lots of pictures and post them hopefully tomorrow. Until next time!
Yesterday I spent most of the day relaxing in the area of the Yoyogi National Olympics Memorial. I think my feet needed a day off. They were much happier today. Sang, Liz and I decided to pursue different interests today, so I've spent the day venturing alone. It's amazing how far a guidebook and a little bit of japanese knowledge will get you.
Oh, and did I mention it was SNOWING today? Not enough to get in the way of things, but it was a nice change of scenery. You might be able to see it in some of the pictures.
I ate lunch at a restaurant where you put money into a machine and punch in what you want to order and it prints you out an order ticket, which you hand to the server. She then brings out whatever you ordered when it's ready. The food was really good too, and not that expensive. I had beef kalby with rice and a greens salad, some soup and a cup of tea for only 550 yen.
This was while I was venturing through Kanda. Kanda is a very interesting place. The book I had recommended it for purchasing printed literature saying there were a lot of bookstores. As you may know, I am on a quest to obtain all the Ah! My Goddess manga I can find. However, the Viz prints from the US are flipped to be read left to right, and cost almost $20 a volume. Skanky... The bright side is that there is a bilingual version available in Japan with both Japanese and English text, costing only 850 yen per volume. I have only been able to find volumes 3-5 so far, but I know the rest must be out there. Sadly, I only found one bookstore in Kanda, and they had very little selection. There were however many gambling places (pachinko and slots). One of the highlights was a McDonalds that had an experimental McBB Phone, which allows you to make free calls to anywhere in the world for up to 3 minutes per call using Yahoo!'s internet phone service. Very handy thing, considering I just found out that using my parents' AT&T calling card internationally costs over $10 a minute! Eep... I put in an order for an e-phone card that has pretty good rates, just have to wait for them to e-mail me the pin.
I found one other neat thing in Kanda... A small we-sell-everything type store... With Hikaru No Go! themed Gobans for $20! I bought one. I couldn't help it! Only thing is, it's a bit on the bulky side. It'll be fun trying to get it home =-D. Oh well, so worth it.
My next stop was the Yurakucho station. The guide I had recommended it for it's many department stores and other shopping places. Ginza is also known for it's electronics stores. After wandering through floors and floors of overpriced department store cruft, I went to the famous Sony building. For those not familiar with it, the Sony building is a towering 8-story hulk that has rooms and rooms full of-you guessed it-Sony products! One of the coolest things there is a new video game for PS2 where you connect a camera to the PS2 and play the game using body movement based on a picture of you superimposed on the screen. You use your hands to punch boards, attack pirates and grab things. There was also the PSX... Sony's new PVR/PS2/DVD Burner thing. Apparently it's selling like hotcakes over here regardless of it's $970 price tag. Might we expect a US release by summertime?
After stumbling out of the Sony building, I managed to find a Citibank, which is one of the few banking chains over here that will let you perform banking transactions to the US. I took out some extra spending money and enough to pay Liz back for the remainder of the airline tickets since she is running low on spendable cash.
After wandering randomly for about 45 minutes, I 'accidentally' came across the Apple Store again, which is where I've been for the past two hours. The people are really friendly here... It was very crowded when I got here so I sat in the corner with my laptop. After about 30 minutes, one of the ladies came over and offered me a chair to sit in. Judging from how full the store is right now... Apple definietly has a very promising future in Japan.
I should get going soon, the Memorial grounds close their gates at 10 PM and I should get back there with plenty of time to spare! Until next time.
We went to Shinjuku today, about a 15 minute train ride from our Youth Hostel. We went shopping in many stores, the most impressive being Takashmaya "Times Square". It is a series of large buildings, almost like a department store but with some departments taking up entire floors, all owned and run by one corporation. You can find anything there, from clothes to electronics to toys to books (there was another 6-floor building full of books, with each floor being comparable in size to a small Borders). In the international section, I managed to find some Bilingual Ah! My Goddess manga. They only had Volumes 3, 4 and 5, but I'm going to try and find the rest elsewhere. Each volume was only 850 yen, which is really cheap compared to the $18-22 Viz charges for the English edition in the US.
After shopping at Times Square for a few hours, we went wandering again and ate lunch at a local soup restaurant. All of the menus were in Japanese, and I don't think anyone spoke English there, but Sang and Liz were able to figure out a good portion of the menu and we ended up ordering fairly standard things. It was really good, and they gave big portions. One interesting thing about Japan is that in public restrooms, no toilet paper is provided. However, there seems to always be small vending machines around that will give you a package of tissue paper for 100 yen. And there are people on the street in some places that are handing out small packages of tissues to everyone that walks by.
We shopped for the rest of the day, and must have walked at least 5 miles. I don't think my feet and legs have been that tired since my marching band days. After spending almost 2 hours at a used video/DVD/music/other stuff store, we ate dinner at McDonalds and headed back to the train station. In the Japanese McDonalds, the food is a little different, like they have a Teriyaki McBurger (which I ordered, couldn't resist). It was pretty good, I wish they served something like that back in the states (with an equally cool name).
I've been trying to pick up as much Japanese as possible on this trip. I've been studying kana - the collective name for two of Japan's written character sets (the others being romaji and kanji). So far I've learned about 20 katakana characters. All kana are fairly simple (and can be drawn with four or less strokes), however both katakana and hiragana contain a total of 46 unique simple sounds and distinct characters. The thing is, the 46 sounds represented by 46 katakana characters are exactly the same 46 sounds represented by the 46 hiragana characters. So, you are basically learning the same alphabet twice. And the hiragana characters are a bit more complicated than the katakana. Confused yet? And this doesn't even take into account the modified characters... Both character sets are used for different things in Japan, the katakana used primarily for emphasis and to represent foreign concepts and terms and the hiragana used to represent things that cannot be represented in kanji or to modify kanji (verb tenses are written in hiragana). As for Japanese phrases, I've learned a few, but memorizing phrases seems to be much harder for me than learning characters of the written language. For some reason, it takes a lot of effort to commit these strings of words to memory. I'm still working on it...
On a final note, someone remind me to NEVER invest in cheap razor blades again... It's pretty bad when after you shave, when you press a tissue to your face you see more than six tiny spots of blood where the stupid thing cut you... And it was a brand new razor only used once! I'm going to toss this thing and pick up a better one at a drug store... Sheesh!
I'm writing this from my room in the Tokyo-yoyogi Youth Hostel... In Japan!!! We arrived at Narita Airport around 4:30 PM local time, and then spent an hour wandering around the airport taking care of things like exchanging money and getting our rail passes. The airport didn't quite feel like Japan yet though... Everything was subtitled in three or more languages (Japanese, Korean and English typically). We decided on attempting the train ride to our hostel rather than hailing a cab as the train was the cheapest route. Three hours and several exchanges later, we ended up close but not quite at our youth hostel. We decided to hire a taxi to go the last few miles as taxi drivers are very good at finding places and we had to check in by 10 PM.
The Yoyogi youth hostel is part of the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center thingy, so once we actually got here it took us another 30 minutes to actually find the right building. After the check-in process (in which we all had to buy memberships to the Hostelling International Association for 2,800 Yen. Now we can stay in any hostels around the world for the next year at prices of around 3,000 yen a night ($30). It turns out we all got single rooms, which are actually quite cozy. There is a bed and a small table and a place to hang things. Not bad at all... The bathrooms for each floor are located down the hall (just like at college park). My room is on the first floor, and Sang and Liz's rooms are on the second floor. The only problem is, men aren't allowed onto the womens' floors and vice versa. So, we have to make sure to establish meeting times in a place we can both go otherwise we won't be able to keep track of each other.
My first hot Japanese meal consisted of chunks of fried chicken, rice balls and thin noodles. And I got it... From a vending machine! That's right... They have vending machines here where you put money in, press a button and wait 90 seconds and it will give you a piping hot meal. It's a little expensive for what you get, but for that late night craving it can't be beat. I'm taking pictures of everything, so I have a record of how all this stuff looks. Tomorrow we're going to explore the area around the youth hostel, and are meeting at 8:50 AM. This is mainly because we have to leave the hostel between the hours of 9 and 5 PM. But we can leave our heavy bags here, which is good. I should be going, it's almost time for lights out. Until next time... Itte kimasu!
"We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." -- George Bernard Shaw