Golden Week & Tokyo Disney, Land and Sea

The Land of the Rising Sun, the other dragon in the East, is sleepily stirring from a 10-day vacation, the likes of which are seldom seen. This was Golden Week, and this year’s saw the abdication of Emperor Emeritus Akihito, to be replaced by his son, Crown Prince/Emperor Naruhito!

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As seen on TV. On the right, the Imperial Treasures of Japan. On the left, Emperor Emeritus Akihito and his wife Empress Emerita Michiko.

Golden Week is a time where FOUR whole national holidays line up together in such a way that most people get the whole week off, making it one of the longest breaks and thus busiest travel seasons of the year. These holidays are Showa Day (April 29), Emperor Hirohito’s birthday; Constitution Day (May 3), when Japan got its new constitution under Allied occupation; Greenery Day (May 4), a Japanese Earth day; and Children’s Day (May 5).

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A screenshot from the era name announcement ceremony.

I was in Tokyo for three days, the first of which included a stop by the Imperial Palace where the Emperor lives. This was on May 1st, which, because of Akihito’s abdication the day before, marked the beginning of a new era: from 平成 Heisei (1989 – 2019), “achieving peace,” to 令和 Reiwa, which means “beautiful harmony.” The name is chosen by a panel of experts that includes academics and company presidents, and this particular one was chosen from a line from a classical Japanese poem. Japan uses a special calendar based on Emperors’ reigns, so a new era begins when a new one takes the throne, and ends upon their leaving it (usually from passing away). This has been a tradition for 1400 years. Just to give a sense of how much history these eras can cover, the last emperor before Akihito was Hirohito, who was Emperor during World War II. Go only two more eras back, and you’re already at the time of the Meiji Restoration, when Japan ended its policy of isolation and opened itself up to the world in 1853. Damn!

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Even LEGO Woody wants to welcome you to the new era!

Besides the hubbub, although I was able to get closer to the palace than I was last time, as a mere peasant I was sadly unable to catch a glimpse of the Emperor or anything like that. Anyways, onward to my next two days, at…

Tokyo Disneyland

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I’m a huge fan of Disneyland. I’d go once a month, and even twice a month during my considerably freer college days. It is only natural that I should visit Tokyo Disneyland, and though this wasn’t my first time, it is my first time writing about it!

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Tokyo Disneyland features Cinderella Castle instead of Sleeping Beauty. Credit goes to Rika M. for this one.

Tokyo Disneyland was built in 1983, apparently the first to be built outside the US. If you asked me to sum up the biggest difference, well, I’d say that it’s Disneyland, except in Japanese. The rides/attractions and layout of the park are near exactly the same to its counterpart in Anaheim. Some, like Pirates of the Caribbean, are even still in English! Now that’s some culture shock. All the animatronics, set-pieces, scenery, and so on are the same, except perhaps just a tiny bit differently laid out in terms of order. Some, of course (such as Star Tours), are in the Japanese language, but the rides in and of themselves are exactly the same. There are a few exclusive attractions, like Stitch Encounter and Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek, but you will also recognize many others such as Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Western River Railroad (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad), and the various Fantasyland rides we all know and love. The lands are also roughly the same, featuring World Bazaar (similar in appearance to Main Street, USA, complete with Penny Arcade), Adventureland, Westernland (i.e. Frontierland), Critter Country, Toontown, and Tomorrowland.

Nevertheless, there is still a distinctly Japanese twinge to the park, in the food and souvenirs they offer– much more focus on snacks, aesthetic packaging to make said snacks candidates for nice omiyage, handkerchiefs, a lot of Duffy products, soup bowls, soy sauce dishes, chopsticks, and so on and so on. Either way, I must admit that at the end of the day I felt more like I was in Disneyland in Japan, rather than being in a Japanese Disneyland. Now, if you want a totally unique experience, head on over to its aquatic neighbor.

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Some of the food offerings at the Tokyo Disney Parks, including seafood calzones and garlic shrimp popcorn.

Tokyo Disney Sea

Hop on the Disneyland Monorail to take you to Disney Sea.

Much as how California Adventure is the slightly more thrilling counterpart of Disneyland, so too is Tokyo Disney Sea. Indiana Jones is housed here instead of in Tokyo Disneyland, but aside from that, it doesn’t share a single ride in common with Anaheim Disneyland.

Being Disney “Sea,” the park is very decidedly water-themed, where each land represents a different region of the world: American Waterfront, recalling early 1900s San Francisco; Port Discovery, its steampunk aesthetic based on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea; Lost River Delta, exactly where you’d expect Indiana Jones to be, 1930s Central America; Arabian Coast; Mediterranean Harbor, complete with gondolas; Mysterious Island, another Jules Verne-themed land; and finally, Mermaid Cove where Ariel lives.

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Clockwise from top left: globe fountain at the entrance, Tower of Terror and the SS Columbia of American Waterfront, Mount Prometheus of Mysterious Island, the Temple of the Crystal Skull of the Lost River Delta, and the gondoliers of Mediterranean Harbor.

At the center of the park is the volcanic Mount Prometheus, and the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride takes you into the depths of it. Think Matterhorn Bobsleds except subterranean and with magma instead of snow, and with weird Half Life-ish boss creatures rather than the Abominable Snowman. The ride itself is kind of like Radiator Springs Racers in California Adventure, in that the first part is a slow ride taking you through different scenery and dioramas, and the final part is when you “break out”– it speeds up, there’s drops and bumps, and before you know it you’re back to civilization. I didn’t take a video because it was my first time riding it, but here’s a POV ride-through on YouTube.

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It’s worth mentioning that these pair of parks are the only ones not actually owned by Disney– instead, they’re owned by the Oriental Land Company, which licenses the Disney brand from them. This means that you get to see creative choices that would otherwise probably not fly at Disney parks, namely focusing on things as obscure as Jules Vernes’s works, two of which aren’t even Disney movies: The Mysterious Island and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Since I went during Golden Week, both parks are incredibly crowded. We had to wait three hours for each ride, so we were only able to do three rides a day or so. I would not recommend going during this time, absolutely not. But any other time at all, absolutely yes! If you love Disney, or at the very least, enjoy fun and aren’t a contrarian, you’ll enjoy these parks. And finally, since there was nowhere else to put it, there is this amazing, utterly bizarre animatronic alien that “makes” pizzas over at Tokyo Disneyland, at Pan Galactic Pizza Port:

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Cherry Blossoms and Reflections

I have been in Japan for over half a year now, completely shattering my previous record of two months. I started this blog so that I could have something to look back on, a diary of sorts. The problem is, this hasn’t really been a diary at all. Funnily enough, I feel much more comfortable writing instruction manuals/guides rather than writing about myself, even privately! To look back 10 years from now to an explanation of Osaka’s Sun Tower by my 25-year-old self won’t feel particularly self-reflective or nostalgic. So buckle down, tab out, and unsubscribe, here comes an incredibly long, personal post.

Life in Hollywood: A Retrospective

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The cherry blossoms in Osaka Castle Park.

The same as my degree, the only tangible benefit about having worked in Hollywood is just being able to tell people I did. In reality, for the former, my grades were mediocre, and for the latter, I was pretty much the bottom of the totem pole. I have been interested in filmmaking ever since my family got an audio-less digital camera when I was in the 7th grade. To date, one of my first, and admittedly best, attempts at it was this short lightsaber duel I made in high school.

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Before that, though, I had been obsessed with a show called Get Smart, a sitcom that ran from 1965 to 1970. It was a parody of James Bond and the spy genre in general, created by none other than Mel Brooks himself. It was hugely influential, to watch a show that, despite being nearly half a century old, could still surprise me and make me actually laugh. It taught me that high quality doesn’t age.

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A second big influence was Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, in which a poor village hires seven samurai to fend off an upcoming bandit attack. It taught me that you don’t need to have an Inception-esque complicated plot in order to make a good story. I set about on a project that consumed nearly two years of my life– creating my own action-comedy spy series, called Special Agent Jones. I wrote several scripts, created an intro sequence with music, had rehearsals, auditions, even fight choreography.

Long story short, despite my ambitions, we produced the first part of the first episode and, being a typical high school production, it fell far, far short of my expectations. We didn’t have a boom microphone, we used a handheld camcorder, and though spies and their enemies are supposed to wear suits, the majority of the “cast” didn’t own any, so they looked even more like high-schoolers. It was pretty discouraging, and of course there wasn’t anyone to blame but myself– I could’ve tried harder, at the very least, like making my own equipment and basically applying just a little bit more ingenuity.

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Not even my apartment block is safe from the sakura aesthetic.

Fast forwarding through the pity party, throughout college, though I also had opportunities to make more short films, I preferred to stay in the background in minor roles as I was afraid to truly step up to do anything creative. I occasionally still tried to write, but by this point I didn’t really have any good ideas anymore. I never finished a single script, and any plot outlines I had always ended in some twist. Although this can be used to great effect, a twist ending does NOT excuse the rest of the story from having to be written well, or meaningful. Also being at UCLA, home to one of the best film schools in the nation, I was even more intimidated seeing how talented some people were. What it boiled down to, was that growing up I was a big fish in a small pond. Now, at UCLA, I was a fish in an ocean. I couldn’t bear to find out that I wasn’t actually a big fish after all, that everyone who told me I was so promising growing up, was mistaken. Diagnose-happy people may call it Impostor Syndrome, but I never was worried about being exposed as a fraud, or something. I simply didn’t think I was talented.

I applied the same mentality to my career track, where I thought the business side of the entertainment industry would suit me better. Creativity may not be my strong suit, I thought, but I still want to be involved in making movies in some capacity. I worked as an assistant at a talent agency, and then at a film production company. I learned a lot about how things run, but I also learned that maybe this life wasn’t really for me. Long hours, low pay, and bad people abound. Assistants would swap stories on how their bosses look down on them in secret Facebook groups, and then at the very same time make threads like “intern fuck-up stories” where they would laugh at how stupid and incompetent interns are. Everyone sticks together as equals, but once they advance, they immediately turn around to look down on anyone below them. It definitely left a sour taste in my mouth, and it made me want out. That ennui is what eventually led me to the JET Program.

The thrilling conclusion shall follow in part 2!

 

Staying in a Capsule Hotel

Nightlife in Japan is ruled by an incredibly powerful force, one that many seldom dare reckon with– the last train. If you miss your last train home, usually around midnight, the choices are slim: you can either take a taxi at exorbitant prices, or stay out, hopefully intoxicated, till the first train about 5 hours later. You could also get a hotel, but that’s a little too expensive for most people. $100 just for a bed to sleep in for 8 hours? No way!

Or, you could stay in a capsule hotel for about 1/3 of the price.

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Instead of rooms, capsule hotels are made up of individual Space-age-looking pods, essentially human-sized drawers containing nothing but a bed, and perhaps a small TV on the roof your capsule. A typical one measures maybe 6.5 feet (2m) long by 3 feet (1m) tall. There’s just barely enough room to sit up properly. Thanks to this, the use of space is incredibly efficient– what you see above is enough accommodation for 12 people!

There are communal bathrooms, as well as showers. Some extra-fancy capsule hotels will even have their own onsen (public baths). It’s really the perfect solution for a cheap and quick overnight stay– the one we were at, the Asahi Plaza Shinsaibashi located in Amerikamura, Osaka, was only 3000 yen ($30) a night. The Asahi Plaza, by the way, was one of such hotels with an onsen. Nice!

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Common in Japan but uncommon in hotel lobbies, we had to take our shoes off at the front. In such situations, lockers are provided so the front doesn’t get so cluttered, and I suppose so people won’t steal your shoes. However, we had to surrender said locker keys to the front desk, and we’d have to ask for it back any time we needed our shoes. The only key we were given at check-in was for a locker to store our stuff in. These lockers were in a room separate from the capsules, on the first floor. Up to the second floor we went to find our capsules. Exciting!

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The second floor was essentially a series of hallways shooting off into capsule rooms. Each room contained about 16-20 capsules. Efficient!

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Interior view facing in, back of TV on the top left.

Lo and behold, my “room” for the night– surrounded by plastic, on top of a rather thin mattress pad. A small nozzle in the back blows heated air, which you can manually point or close but otherwise not control the temperature. Other amenities included a TV, control panel, shelf, some cubbies, a power outlet (had for an extra 400 yen/$4), and a mirror. I crawled inside, and was happy to find that there was enough room to turn around, albeit kind of scrunched on all fours. Spacious!

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Interior view facing out.

Rather than any type of door, you get a thin pull-down blind, kind of like a straw mat. That is all you get for security/privacy/noise-cancellation– there are no locks anywhere on or in the capsule. In fact, according to their website, “hotel industry law” dictates that locks are straight-up not allowed in capsules. I suppose that might put claustrophobics a little more at ease. Sensible!

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The control panel is of the same sort you might find at any hotel, but I included a picture for posterity’s sake. Functions include alarm clock set, TV on/off, radio on/off, lights, and, unlike most hotels, an “emergency button” on the bottom left, protected by a swing-out plastic cover to prevent accidental pressings. Sorry to say, I have no idea what it does. I imagine it either summons an employee to your capsule or launches it towards Rigel 7. Handy!

In conclusion, for its combination of novelty, price, and convenience, I’d absolutely do it again. And, before I forget to mention, it was about as comfortable as it looks– you’re not sleeping on a cloud, but it is perfectly adequate and I slept like the dead anyways. One might even say… like a body in a morgue :^)

 

Travels Thus Far: Awaji Island

In the beginning, the surface of the Earth was without form, covered in oceans. The gods stirred this void with a spear, and drops of seawater fell back and hardened into islands. The very first island ever formed was Awajishima, and soon the rest of Japan would follow. And since this very same Awaji Island is what lies across from my city’s most famous landmark, the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, naturally it was about time that I made the pilgrimage.

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Viewed from the mythical genesis of land on Earth, Awaji boasts some of the most beautiful views I’ve seen in Japan. It is also a quiet, tranquil place, without a single train (!!!) and everything seemingly shutting down at 5 PM. My short trip included:

Izanagi Shrine

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This shrine, purported to be the first in Japan, is dedicated to Izanagi and Izanami, the two gods who stirred the seas so long ago.

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There, you can also find the lucrative cure for baldness, in the form of some weird orb thing you can rub for good hair fortune. The idea comes from the fact that kami is both the word for hair and for god/spirit. Thanks to Rika for pointing that out, and translating the stone tablet!

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The shrine itself is good for students who need help with their studies, and for couples as well. There you have it– according to the gods that created the world, the three most important things for us mortals are: studying hard, harmonious love, and great hair.

Naruto Strait

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To get it out of the way now, yes, there is a city called Naruto in Japan, in the Tokushima Prefecture. Although there may be connection between the character and this city, the city itself is not dedicated to him the way “Conan Town” is, for example. Tokushima is a prefecture of Shikoku Island, the southwest neighbor of Awaji. It is known for the whirlpools that swirl under Naruto Bridge, formed from a unique combination of the tides or something.

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“Mine!”

You can take a short hour-cruise to get up close and personal with the whirlpools. When I was a kid, I always thought that whirlpools were the equivalent of oceanic black holes, sucking ships and smashing them to smithereens with great force. That is not the case at all; the ships can sail right next to them, and whirlpools aren’t even swirling fixtures of water, they just kind of coincidentally form for a few seconds and then dissipate. It was incredibly windy that day, so that may have affected the whirliness. Either way, besides that, I also had fun feeding the seagulls, who are so bold as to eat right out of your hand.

Uzushio Science Museum

Awaji Islanders seem like they can’t decide what to commemorate harder– the whirlpools, or Awaji onions, for which the island is even more famous. The Uzushio (Whirlpool) Science Museum area was dedicated to both. The actual museum had a miniature scale model of the oceans around Awaji, complete with a machine that simulates the tide patterns.

Then, in the actual center part, onions galore: a gift shop dedicated to all things onion– soups, chips, dressing, sauces, mixes, and just plain onions. There was even a claw machine where you could try a hand at winning your very own onion. You bet there was a line for it.

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If you manage to win one, you get to keep that and get a 1.5kg (3.3 lb) bag on top of it.

Outside, a large onion overlooks the eastern Pacific. There’s onion benches, and even onion wigs to pose on them with!

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In conclusion for the curious: Awaji onions are indeed sweet and fragrant, but admittedly they aren’t MINDBLOWING or anything. The scenery, however, was.

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Travels Thus Far: Kinosaki Hot Springs

Would you travel four hours in order to get naked around a bunch of strangers? If you ask me, the answer would be “absolutely!” In a country that holds 10% of the entire world’s volcanoes, this also means that selfsame volcanoes are heating up and mineralizing wonderful spring water for your bathing pleasure. There are thousands of onsen, or hot springs/public baths, throughout Japan, both indoor and outdoor, and this weekend I made a trip up to Kinosaki Onsen, on the north coast of the Hyogo Prefecture, to enjoy a few.

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After a grueling, though still physically comfortable 4-hour train ride, we were first greeted by a quaint (read: frustratingly primitive) train station where you have to pay in cash for transportation instead of the usual tappable, reloadable IC card. That’s okay, though, there’s a very nice anime lady welcoming us to Kinosaki!

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In front of Kinosaki Station.

Kinosaki is an onsen resort town, home to dozens of onsens along their main street, all within walking distance and set amongst scenic stone bridges overlooking a river teeming with koi, and traditional Japanese restaurants where best-of-your-life meals await. Since this is an onsen town, it is de rigeur to walk around in kimono and wooden block sandals (geta), and your hotel will even provide these for you, free of charge!

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Edited slightly for increased aesthetics.

At each onsen, you walk in, take off your shoes at the entrance, and head on over to the locker room. They, and the baths themselves, are separated by sex, and there are a few simple rules to follow: one, you must be naked. Two, you must shower before actually entering the water. Thirdly, you can only take with you a small towel, which you can use to cover yourself if you so wish, but more than that it’s for drying off. And don’t dip it into the water either.

If you felt a little nervous about being naked around other men, well, it’s pretty easy to cast that aside straightaway, because the moment you walk into the tatami-matted locker room, you’ll immediately see guys casually walking around completely in the nude, as well as guys dressing down to get to that state. Walk through another door, and there are rows of sit-down showers, with stools and shampoo/soap provided. Wash well, put your lone towel on your head (the cool way) or over your modesty, and head on over to the many facilities offered, from steam saunas to mineral pools and private one-man tubs.

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Inside Goshono-yu. Not my picture as you can’t take picture-taking devices with you. Credit goes to Shogo Nishiyama

Take some time to ponder the age-old question, “could I possibly be any more relaxed?” as you soak in the hot, silky, and mineral-rich waters of Japan, blessed by the heat and material bounties of Earth itself. It is said that the dozens of onsen around Kinosaki all have different specialties– one has waters good for fertility, another has waters good for successful marriage, another for general fortune, and so on. We did not check which ones were which, so I couldn’t tell you whether you’re reading the words of a luckier man today, or a more fertile man. At this stage in my life, I’d rather the former.

After some time, you’ve realized you shouldn’t get too comfortable and basically die here, it’s time to head to the next one. Put on your hotel yukata (male kimono) and wooden sandals, and clop on over to the next one. Yukata are fashionable as hell, as well as being practical for onsens, since it’s a robe that takes seconds to put on, and it helps dry you as you walk since you don’t wear anything but underwear underneath. Just make sure to tie your obi (belt-sash) behind or to the right, as wearing it in front was originally associated with prostitutes, and wrap the yukata left-side over right. The other way around is for funerals.

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In case you were wondering, geta wooden sandals are slightly more comfortable than they look, and are in fact superior to pathetic Western shoes– just kidding, they’re blocks of freaking wood, so they are not really comfortable either. They were a little awkward to walk in, and I had a feeling that you’re supposed to walk differently than with normal shoes. I also nearly fell over any time I had to bend down to pick something up. I’m sure I just have to learn the technique and/or practice, and in no time I’ll be running full-speed and striking down peasants with my katana.

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The exterior of Goshono-yu.

All in all, we visited three onsens, one we nicknamed “Splash Zone” for the drunk guy trying to pick a fight by deliberately splashing us (another behavior considered very rude), in actuality Goshono-Yu, Mandara-yu, and Ichino-yu. Since I couldn’t take pictures of the interior baths owing to the no-cameras rule, take a look at the tourist website!

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That concludes the onsen portion of my post, and let me make a brief, very honorable mention to the other Kinosaki specialty, snow crab.

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Yes, it was delicious. Quite possibly the best crab I’ve ever had in my life. It was fresh, of excellent flakiness, succulent, and tasted like it had been *just*! perfectly salted.

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Featuring the ” we” component. Clockwise from top right, myself, Siseko, Danien, and Cameron.

Wash it all down with sake, and that’s sayonara to a supremely blissful experience at Kinosaki.

Christmas and New Year’s in Japan

KFC, disease-curing water, ominous fortunes, bar-hopping in Osaka, traditional New Year’s osechi-ryori, the reappearance of glorious festival food– the holidays in Japan were just as magical as they can be in the US.

“Kentucky for Christmas”

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The order form at my local KFC.

Although not as widespread as, say, the idea of turkey or ham for Christmas is in the US, it’s the closest you can get to the idea of a “traditional” Japanese Christmas dinner in a nation that’s 1.5% Christian. But don’t be mistaken– it absolutely is a thing, with reservations opening up weeks in advance, and hours-long lines on Christmas day if you failed to make one. KFC even offers a bottle of “shanmerry” (their words) alongside their whimsical Christmas-design buckets. I made my reservation about a week in advance, and even by then, they had already run out of said buckets and said champagne.

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Grungy 1980s aesthetic courtesy of Polaroid.

How was it? Well, they don’t change the recipe just for Christmas, but you better believe that combining that warm Christmas drunkenness with greasy, salty fried chicken makes for simultaneously one of the best and worst meals you’ll ever have in your life.

Osechi-Ryori: New Year’s Cuisine

The prevalence of Christmas in Japan is more for marketing and as a couple’s holiday than for religion or family. Instead, New Year’s Day is the most significant holiday in the Japanese calendar. The first part of this is osechi-ryori, traditional New Year’s food. It always comes in a special box, and although you traditionally cook it yourself, it has become much more common to order it instead. Most of the food is pickled, boiled, steamed, and the like: basically, food that could’ve been prepared a few days beforehand and would’ve kept well until the actual holiday.

img-2881It is, of course, best enjoyed with sake.

Hatsumode: Hiraoka Shrine and Saijinja

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Hatsumode is the tradition of visiting your family’s shrine to make prayers and offerings. Each shrine houses a particular god, and there’s a specific way to make a prayer:

  1. Throw a coin into the donation box at the front.
  2. Bow twice.
  3. If there’s a bell, ring it.
  4. Clap twice, to get their attention.
  5. Tell them your deepest desires and wishes.
  6. Bow once more as thanks.
Hiraoka Shrine, my girlfriend’s hometown shrine in Osaka. The rope in the middle rings a bell.

My girlfriend, her grandparents, and I also took a short hike up to Saijinja Shrine in Nara, famed for its mountain spring water with healing qualities.

linecamera-shareimageThe water was dispensed from this stone fountain thing, where people were waiting in line with empty bottles or standing by with metal cups provided by the shrine. It tasted fresh, very mineral-y, and exactly how you would imagine the boulder above to taste, but of course there was no sediment or anything like that. I definitely did feel a little more invigorated, enough to decide to buy some of it bottled– only 100 yen ($1)!

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Click to listen to the meditative sounds of Saijinja Spring!

There was also a bamboo stick piped into the spring, where you could listen to the wonderfully comforting sound of dripping water, echoing deep inside the recesses of of the Earth. Forgiving the background noise of passersby, you can listen a recording I made here!

IMG-6899.jpgYou can also get your fortune, omikuji, at shrines. They are printed on tiny scrolls of paper, and the one you get is determined by shaking around a bunch of sticks inside a wooden box. One stick comes out, and the number printed on it tells you which one to ask for from the shrine maiden. Now, these are the most legitimate fortunes I have ever received: firstly, they contain many different sections, from romantic relationships to your studies to that thing you lost. And they are not always positive or platitudinous either– one year, Rika’s mother got one that essentially said “You will never be happy or successful.” Mine told me to stop eating junk food, and the one I got for my friend told him to stop being lazy, and that the “person you are waiting for, will not come.” Dream-crushing fortunes, now that’s something I can get behind!

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Photo credit goes to Rika’s aunt.

For the price of another coin, you can wash down the sorrows of an outrageous fortune with a pour of sake.

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A shrine maiden pours sake in the background.

Hiraoka’s offering was very light and a little syrupy, with a hint of flowery sweetness.

img-3220Festival food makes its reappearance too– one of these is tamago senbei, which translates to the much less sexy-sounding “egg rice cracker.” It’s a shrimp-flavored rice cracker topped with takoyaki sauce, crunchy bits of tempura batter, and an egg fried over easy, finished off with a generous squeeze or two of Japanese mayo. If you like eggs, or delicious food at all, I’m sure you’d love tamago senbei. As a bonus, the eggs are sometimes fried in fun shapes, like hearts.

That was all New Year’s Day, January 1st. As for New Year’s Eve and the countdown to the beginning of 2019, it’s very much a party atmosphere like anywhere else. I spent it outside a club in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. The name and the details, I can no longer recall.

Travels Thus Far: Tokyo – Part 2, The Station and Imperial Palace

Tokyo Station

Japanese train stations are massive. Some are so big, that it could take you a full half hour to walk from one end to the next. Many have stores, restaurants, and even markets. You could buy dinner for the day, a book to read on your next train, and hell, even an outfit for the day before even exiting the station gates. Tokyo Station is no exception. It serves over 450,000 people a day, more than the entire population of Iceland. Featuring stunning early 20th century architecture, what you see is in reality a restoration only six years old, a return to form after the station had been damaged by Allied bombing in 1945 and never quite the same thereafter.

As a side-note, it is interesting to be in places with such connections to history, to be somewhere that had actually been bombed just a generation ago. Interesting fact– Japan did manage to bomb the US exactly one time, in a failed attempt to start forest fires in Oregon in 1942. The story of that, and pilot Nobuo Fujita’s attempt to atone for what he did, of a man prepared to commit suicide in case the residents of Oregon would not forgive him (spoiler: they did), is a heart-warming read.

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Anyways, Tokyo Station is the terminus of many a Shinkansen ride, i.e. the famed Japanese bullet train. It covers the 300-mile/500-kilometer distance from Osaka in a breathtaking 2.5 hours, which makes for an average speed of 120 miles an hour (193 km/h). That’s roughly the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco! One of the highlights of this sprint to Tokyo is passing by Mount Fuji:

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Upon arrival, you find out yet another cool thing: that the station is directly across from the freaking Imperial Palace of Japan, the residence of Emperor Akihito himself.

 

Tokyo Imperial Palace

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View of Tokyo Station from the palace side.
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“Hello, loyal subjects!”

The actual Imperial Palace grounds are open only on special occasions, for example on the Emperor’s birthday, and unfortunately we happened to come on a day that it was neither. In fact, it was pretty much surrounded by policemen, who incredibly are still armed with…

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The New Nambu Model 60, which is still police standard issue. Not my picture.

I’d say it’s either a testament to how safe Japan is, or perhaps how, in a lot of ways, Japan is still pretty old-fashioned. The police sport 5-shot, .38 special revolvers, much like how American cops did up until the late 1980s. Either way, I think it’s awesome.

The palace perimeter was closed off, so the farthest we could get in was the avenue of trees at the top of this section. Despite this, where else in the world would a quick train ride and hop across the station take you so close to the country’s most eminent person?