January 5th, 2014

Japan 2013 Trip Report

My journey began Sunday, December 22, when I hauled my suitcases to SFO to meet up with mangaroo at the check in line. We had both come quite early, so we ended up hanging out at the gate for a long time, playing on our tablets. (This was definitely the year for electronic devices.) Our flight on JAL went really well, and I definitely prefer it to Delta for comfort. The vegetarian meals were possibly the most appetizing that I've encountered, though it was a slight disappointment that I didn't get the ice cream handed out to the rest of the passengers. (And I specifically signed up for vegetarian rather than vegan, too.)

Anyway, we managed to make the last bus to Ikebukuro (with five whole minutes to spare!), where we were met by sara_tanaquil and wednesday_10_00, who had kindly stayed up past midnight to help us take our luggage to the apartment we had rented for our stay. We sorted out our sleeping arrangements and got a few hours of rest before waking up quite early the morning of Tuesday, December 24.

Since nothing opens early, we spent the morning trying out a cooperative game of Shadowrift, which we ended up losing. Once the day was properly underway, we began our shopping adventure by visiting Sugorokuya, a game shop where several of us picked up some board games. We continued on to Nakano, where we shopped until we were too hungry to continue. We went out to eat at Nataraj, a vegetarian Indian restaurant that we try to visit at least once every time we are in Tokyo.

On Christmas, we played a couple of the games we had bought before once again setting out for some shopping. This time we started at the local used book shop before making a trip to Shibuya, where we nearly got lost trying to find a particular art exhibit we wanted to see. We looked at pretty pictures for a while, then made our way to another used book store for more shopping before heading home. sara_tanaquil bought a special manga-themed cake for us to enjoy for our Christmas meal. It wasn't exactly what we had expected when we opened the box, but it was definitely a unique experience.

December 26, the four of us got up bright and early to catch a 7:30 train to Kinugawa (near Nikko). We spent the day visiting Tobu World Square, which has scale models of landmarks from all over the world, such as the pyramids of Egypt. We stopped at a cafe that served enmusubi doughnuts (intended to help a romance succeed) that are served along with a small wooden tile upon which the customer can write a wish and then hang it outside the cafe door. The pinkish doughnut is strawberry flavored while the paler doughnut is yuba flavored. Strawberries and yuba (the skim that forms on the top of soy milk when it is heated) are regional specialties, along with yuzu (a type of citrus).

After we finished at Tobu World Square, we saw mangaroo off on the train and then checked in at our ryokan, Nanaeyae. Our room was very nice, particularly since we had paid extra to reserve the room with the private rotenburo (open air hot spring bath). The bath was extremely relaxing, particularly after we had already spent a couple days carrying heavy shopping bags.

What impressed us the most about the ryokan, however, was the food. I had specified in the reservation that two of us were vegetarian, but most places have a hard time understanding the concept. Nanaeyae did an excellent job of serving us vegetarian meals, even making a point of giving us broth made without fish. In fact, they gave us so much food for supper that we could barely eat even half of it. The quantity of food was much more reasonable at breakfast, and I managed to eat everything.

As part of the reservation, we also got tickets for a free coffee at the cafe and $5 off merchandise at the gift shop. Then, when we checked out, the woman in charge of the ryokan gave us a gift bag of more souvenirs. We were treated very well, and I would highly recommend the place to anyone.

We had a few hours before our train, so we spent the morning walking around town. It was quite cold and windy, so it wasn't the most pleasant day for a walk, but we did get to visit a few shops, including one with a kitty that sat in front of the glass door just like a maneki-neko. That shop sold wooden items with hand-carved designs that were lovely. We had lunch at a combination souvenir shop/restaurant that was so cold, they couldn't make enough hot tea to keep up with the customers' demand for it. We finally boarded our train and got back to Tokyo in time to do some late-evening shopping at more bookstores.

Saturday, December 28, we went out to Akihabara for more shopping. It was incredibly crowded there, though the population skewed heavily toward male (in contrast to the largely female crowd in Ikebukuro). Some of the shops were so packed that it was hard to squeeze through to see the merchandise, and the line for the register stretched the entire length of the store. We went to Nakano afterward for even more shopping, then returned to our apartment to share some wine and leftover cake.

December 29 and 30 were devoted to Comiket, which was as crowded as usual. In fact, I think it was even more crowded than I expected for winter (though not quite as bad as summer). The cosplay area has spread to several locations on the site, blocking off areas that we usually go through to exit back to the station, so we wandered around trying to find the way out on the first day and ended up traveling in a big circle.

After the second day, when we were all carrying heavy bags (and lamenting how much money we had spent), we decided to hunt for a bakery called Andersen that we knew was somewhere in Ikebukuro station. We started searching the east side department store (Seibu), only to discover that it was actually associated with the west side department store (Tobu). We went all the way through Tobu, only to run into an entrance to the Tobu train line that runs right through the department store. We located the side corridor that would take us around the train gates, but even when the map told us we were right on top of the bakery, we still couldn't find it. It took us several more minutes of hunting and going behind escalators and around corners before we managed to locate the place. It was well worth the hunt, though, because it had delicious baked goods. We returned to the apartment, dropped off all our shopping bags, and then went out to have okonomiyaki for supper.

December 31, the morning started with an earthquake. It was strongest in the area where we had stayed at the ryokan, but we could still feel it in Tokyo (a two hour train ride away). Fortunately, because it was inland, it didn't lead to any tidal waves. We spent the day shopping at more used book stores and then went back to the Tobu department store to buy food for the evening. That may have been a mistake, because the place was a madhouse, with people rushing to pick up New Year's Eve meals before closing time. We bought some cheese and more baked goods from Andersen to have with our wine and hightailed it back to the apartment to watch Kouhaku (a song competition that pits male and female artists against each other). We barely made it until midnight...in fact, a couple of us crawled into bed as soon as Kouhaku ended at around 11:45.

We began the new year with—what else?— more shopping. We also played San Juan and Timeline in the evening before bed.

January 2, I went with sara_tanaquil and wednesday_10_00 to Tokyo Disneyland, which was all decorated for New Year. We managed to get fast passes to three popular rides and spent most of the rest of the day trying to rest and find food we could eat. They were not very vegetarian-friendly for the most part; even the pizza place where we had managed to get plain cheese pizza years before would now only serve sausage pizza. We did, however, discover one restaurant (East Side Cafe) that had a special vegan pasta meal. They still didn't offer any actual choice (there was only one single non-meat option on the menu), but at least it was better than nothing.

sara_tanaquil and wednesday_10_00 spent the morning of January 3 packing, and then (although no one had any luggage space left) we went out for last-minute shopping. mangaroo and wednesday_10_00 left late that night, while sara_tanaquil and I had one more evening of trying out a couple games.

sara_tanaquil left early in the morning on January 4, which left me in the apartment on my own. I spent most of the morning cleaning the apartment and packing. I had been told that a maid would be coming in the afternoon to do a thorough cleaning, so I left my two big suitcases with a note saying I would be back to pick them up and then went out shopping. I traveled to a town called Tachikawa to visit a small game shop, hoping they would have a particular Japanese game, but sadly they didn't carry it. Since I had some time left, I made another trip to Akihabara, which was just as crowded as it had been the day before Comiket.

I thought I would have time for a leisurely meal in the apartment before leaving on my bus to the airport, but I walked in at 5:30 to discover that the next tenant was already there. Oops. I quickly apologized for disturbing her, grabbed my food and suitcases, and ducked back out. I somehow wrangled all of my bags to the bus stop and arrived at the airport in plenty of time.

It turned out that the flight was so full, the airline was offering people $300 to take a different flight. I declined, since I knew I would have to go to work on Monday, and I really needed some time before then to recover from the jet lag. However, due to the full flight, the airline was particularly concerned about heavy bags. Not only did they carefully weigh both of my checked bags, they also weighed my carry on bag (which has never happened to me before). They were going to hit me with a fine for having an overweight carry on bag, but I managed to take enough out (stuffing small things into my coat pockets) that they were satisfied I wouldn't kill people by dropping a bag full of manga on their heads.

I couldn't keep my eyes open much on the flight back...but I couldn't really sleep either, because there were about six screaming children in the same area of the plane. I would start nodding off, only to be awakened by a baby crying. This continued for about five hours. I tried watching a couple movies at that point, but I dozed off about halfway through whatever I was viewing...only to be awakened by the lights coming back on and the flight attendants bringing drinks and food around. Thankfully I got back home without too much incident...though I think I dropped my house keys in the taxi. I know I had them in my hand before paying, but after I paid the driver and he drove away, they were nowhere to be found. Fortunately, I have a spare set, so no real harm done. I crawled into bed at around 6:30 and slept for about 11 hours straight.

So here it is, my haul from the trip: The spoils of "light shopping"...

Japan Trip 2013 Game Record

Please let me know if I need to make corrections. I'm sure there was at least one day when I forgot to write down tablet games.

December 24

Games Bought
sara_tanaquil: Lost Legacy, Hanabi, String Railway
spacealien_vamp: Machi Koro, San Juan, Say Bye to the Villains, Yaminabe
wednesday_10_00: Mini Russelbande (aka Piggy-back or The Piggyback Brigade), Shephy

Games Played

December 25

Games Played
Machi Korosara_tanaquil win
Mini Russelbandewednesday_10_00 win

December 26

Games Played
Ascension (digital)
Haggissara_tanaquil win

December 27

Games Played
Morelsspacealien_vamp win
Yaminabe—spacealien_vamp win

December 29

Games Played
Ascension (digital)
Lords of Waterdeep (digital)

December 30

Games Played
Cupid's Holiday—mangaroo win

January 1

Games Played
San Juanspacealien_vamp win
Timelinewednesday_10_00 win

January 2

Games Played
Ascension (digital)
Carcassonne (digital)

January 3

Games Played
Citadelsspacealien_vamp win
Say Bye to the Villains—win

January 4

Games Bought
spacealien_vamp: Road to the Palace