December 17-22, 2015: Livin’ it up in Tokyo

Tokyo was INCREDIBLE. As the most populous metropolitan area in the world, from the second we arrived to the second we left, it was like a constant assault on all our senses (thankfully, mostly in a good way). The lights were incredible, the food some of the best we’ve ever had, everything was so clean and beautiful (even the public bathrooms and toilets!), so much noise and sound – it was the ultimate sensory overload. I don’t even want to imagine what the city’s electricity bill looks like.

We explored, we ate, we made friends and had a grand old time. Hope you enjoy the pictures below.

Disclaimer: You may notice Samsonite’s lack of appearance in many of the photographs. This is because he wasn’t feeling very well and he was too cold to go out, so he stayed back at the hostel most days. Poor little guy.

Miles walked:                   60
Miles transported:        ~1700

Exploring the City

Firsts things first… the toilets!!! I’m sure many of you have heard about the toilets in Japan at some point or another in your lives, but boy oh boy are the toilets a joy. Whether you want a nice little butt spray or some soothing tunes to accompany your bladder/bowel evacuation (you’re welcome), these toilets deliver (which is why you need a full-on manual to use them). Check out these beauties from the AIRPORT:

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Second… the Shinkansen! Japan has one of the most sophisticated public transportation systems in the world and the Shinkansen, the bullet train, is one of the fastest in the world – though the maximum operating speed is 200 mph, it can reach speeds far greater, holding the world record for manned passenger trains at 375 mph!!! You can practically cross the entire country in just a few hours. It’s incredible. It’s also INSANELY expensive, but if you buy the Japan Rail Pass (also expensive, but BEYOND worth it if you plan on making even a few short trips outside of the city), the Shinkansen is included (with a few trains exception). We were on the fence about whether or not to get the Rail Pass, as it is definitely an investment, but didn’t want to feel limited in our travels and sigh-seeing by outrageously high ticket prices, so we took the plunge. Best decision. If you’re going to Japan – GET THE RAIL PASS. In fact, we haven’t met a single traveler before, there or since that didn’t get the rail pass. Anyway, because we had the rail pass and paid an arm and a leg for it, we used the SHIT out of it, especially since riding the Shinkansen was so damn fun!!!! Check out this compilation of shots we took of the Shinkansen doing its thing, from the outside AND the inside:

First day in Tokyo, it only seemed fitting to visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum and learn about the history of Tokyo before venturing out into the city. It was also very conveniently located less than a 2 minute walk from our hostel. If you’ve ever visited the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, this is pretty much the Japanese equivalent. We learned about the history and foundation of the city during the Edo period and saw how local living developed throughout the ages:

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An old bank:

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An old market:

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An old sushi cart! Look at that big old sush back there.

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An old street:

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An old tricycle driver:

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On the right is a model of a balloon bomb developed and utilized by the Japanese army during WWII. Of the 9,000 that they deployed, less than 300 reached the American continent, claiming 6 lives in Oregon. And that mangled scrap of metal on the left is a remnant from a local theater that was destroyed by one of the U.S. bombers:

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And also like in the Henry Ford museum, the Edo-Tokyo Museum had a timeline display of fashion and fads throughout the ages:

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That night, we met up with one of the fellows that works at my uncle Dave’s company, Conceptis Puzzles (previously mentioned in a post when we visited a puzzle store in New Hampshire). This lovely lad’s name is Guchi and we were joined by his lovely wife, Chieko. They took us to an awesome Izakaya, a traditional Japanese after-work pub-type establishment that serves tapas-style dishes to accompany your drinks:

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And showed us around the wild and lively Kabukicho neighborhood of Shinjuku:

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Where Francy befriended a big-breasted robot:

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And then we visited a Shinto shrine, before Guchi and Chieko gifted us with some delicious sake and sweets, and said goodbye. We had an awesome time with them! Thank you guys and thank you uncle Dave for putting us in touch!!

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But the night wasn’t over yet. As most of our clothes were trekking/backpacking clothes (as in, my pants options were either hiking pants, leggings or elephant pants…) and we were in one of the most fashionable cities in the world (and it was COLD!), I was in desperate need for a cheap and light pair of jeans. Though I had never actually been in a Uniqlo store (I have one of their down jackets that I stole from my sister and I love it!), I had heard that this was just the place to go to to find what I was looking for. And oh, how it was. Uniqlo is a magical place. Amazing , high-quality stuff for ridiculously cheap prices. And since it’s a Japanese company, this was as cheap as it was gonna get. So I got my jeans. And maybe another item or two. In fact, this was the first of 4 total visits to Uniqlo stores in the two short weeks that we spent in Japan, which is funny because it’s probably the only clothing store either of us had stepped in to in the last 6 months! And on top of everything that I mentioned that makes Uniqlo amazing, they carry these babies, whatever the hell they are:

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As this day was the 18th of December, which some of you might remember as the premier date for the new Star Wars movie, the first six movies were playing on loop on practically every single TV screen in Tokyo, including those in our hostel:

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The next day we really wanted to go see the famous Tsukiji fish market tuna auction, but unfortunately it is closed to the public during the busy holiday season, so we had to settle on visiting the amazing, world-famous fish market itself. I know, I know, woe is us. Fun fact – this is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind (stole that directly from Wiki). Look at that dude slicing up a massive tuna like a champ:

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We then went to one of the little sushi bars in the market to eat that tuna (probably not that exact one, but maybe his close friend or neighbor) fresh from the ocean:

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No, I was not enjoying the food. At all. In fact, I was clearly miserable:

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After digesting the absurd amount of tuna that we ate, we ventured back into the city for some more sight-seeing, starting with the Tokyo Skytree. At 634 meters (2,080 ft), it is the tallest structure in Japan, the second tallest structure in the world (second to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa), and the tallest TOWER in the world!

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We don’t know what this thing was, but we took a picture with it anyway because that’s what everyone else was doing:

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Saw this curious object jutting out of the buildings:

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And got another great glimpse of the Skytree + curious object:

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Made our way over to Senso-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple and Tokyo’s oldest temple, in the old town of Asakusa. The path leading in to the temple:

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In case you can’t tell, it was INSANELY crowded and Francy tried to escape from me (but he did not succeed):

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The temple:

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The massive crowds:

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Some cool shots of the pagoda:

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BANANAS!!

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Left the shrine and walked around the old city of Asakusa, where a street festival was taking place (no need to watch the whole video, unless you want to see my sexy dance moves at the end):

Walked by The National Museum of Nature and Science (we didn’t go in, just did a quick pass-by), where this cool whale was hanging out:

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Passed some beautifully lit up streets and markets, making our way through Harajuku (saw some Harajuku Girls wandering around) on our way to Shibuya:

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And arrived at the famous Shibuya Crossing (one of the world’s most heavily used pedestrian scrambles) just in time for the lights to change:

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And as the lights turn green…

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This guy was giving out free hugs…

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And since I can’t pass up on anything that’s free…

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Woke early the next day for another full day of sight-seeing! Hopped on the Yamanote Line to just circle around the city for some good views (might as well, as this line is covered by the JR Pass!), stopping at various sites along the way. Started out with a visit to Meiji Shrine:

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Where MULTIPLE traditional weddings were taking place:

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We then made our way over to Ginza (the upscale shopping district), which is home to tons of high-end shopping stores and department stores, but most importantly, the Uniqlo flagship store, which is 13 stories tall!! This time, it was FRANCY who did the shopping (he was jealous of all my awesome previous purchases)!

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We then checked out the Ginza Mitsukoshi Department Store, which was cool, but what’s SUPER cool about these department stores are the markets hanging out in the basement selling anything you could possibly dream of:

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From fresh meats:

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To fresh vegetables and salads:

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To fried chicken:

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Or grilled chicken:

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And an entire assortment of kimchi!!!

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We then paid a visit to the Jinbocho district, famous for its used bookstores and (apparently) delicious coffee shops. We didn’t end up getting any coffee, but checked out some cool used book, comic and antique stores as we meandered down the street:

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Wrapped our day up with a visit to the Tokyo Tower!

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Which was beautifully lit up for the holiday season:

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Day trip to Matsumoto and Nagano

As I mentioned before, we wanted to use the hell out of our Japan Rail Pass. Even though Matsumoto is a solid 2.5 hour train ride away, we had the time, the means (as in, the cost was entirely covered by the pass) and Samsonite really wanted to see Matsumoto Castle. So… he did!

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He even got to meet a Samurai!!

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No, seriously… a REAL Samurai!!

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Samurai selfie:

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Inside the castle. You can’t wear shoes, so they gave us these sexy matching slippers:

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Nice view of the gardens from the castle:

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Said goodbye to the Samurai, still guarding the castle, and made our way out:

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Seeing swans on the way:

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These two are ALMOST making a swan heart!!

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Teasing these silly fish:

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Stumbled across a few cool Shinto shrines and temples as we made our way back to the train station:

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One of these things is not like the other:

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Took the train from Matsumoto to Nagano, a ski-resort town famous for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics:

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The charming, over-priced main street of the city:

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Checked out the Zenko-ji shrine:

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Hung out with this smoking gargoyle for a bit before making our way back to the train station to catch our first Shinkansen back to Tokyo (see Shinkansen video compilation above):

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Putting the Finishing Touches on Tokyo

Our final night in Tokyo!! Decided to “treat” ourselves and stay in a traditional Japanese capsule hotel for the night. A capsule is exactly what it sounds like… a hole in the wall in which you sleep for the evening. Designed for business men and women who stay out too late drinking in the city and don’t want to pay for an absurdly expensive cab ride home (public transportation shuts down around midnight in Tokyo). It was a very interesting experience, but suffice it to say that it was one neither of us have any burning need or desire to experience again. The check-in counter looked like an old-school telephone operator’s switchboard:

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The female floor (only 1 floor for females… the rest were male only):

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Met up with Waturo, a good friend of our friend Dave from Toronto. He took us to his favorite local restaurant in Harajuku where we tried a horned turban (essentially a giant snail). Neither of us gagged and we both swallowed it all, so we consider that an accomplishment! It actually wasn’t that bad. Just a little too slimy and chewy for my liking…

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We washed the snail down with a couple beers and sake at a local bar. Thank you, Waturo, for an awesome dinner and evening! We can’t wait to come back to Tokyo (2020 Summer Olympics??) and see you again!!!

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Back at the capsule for the weirdest night ever:

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Headed out for the train station and were bid farewell by this curious creature climbing upon building rooftops (it’s Godzilla, in case you’re not up to date on your Tokyo cinematic stardom/history):

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