The evening of August 7, we had a game night with the neighbors and their friends. I made a whole meal using things harvested from my garden (potatoes and pickles in potato salad, tomatoes and parsnips in soup, and mixed berry compote for dessert). It was fun, but then I had to get up early the next morning for work, so I didn't get much sleep.
On Saturday, August 8, after finishing my shift at work, I came back home to pack for a two-week trip to Japan. My parents and I would be joining mangaroo, sara_tanaquil, and wednesday_10_00 in Tokyo, and our flight was departing at 2am Sunday morning. A neighbor kindly drove the three of us (and all our luggage) to the airport, and our adventure began.
megory once again had trouble with TSA, because her boarding pass didn't print out her first name. I had to call up her email on her mobile device to show the confirmation notification for the flight, which included her full name. After that complication, however, the rest of the trip went fine. After getting barely any sleep the night before, working a full shift of work, then staying up until 2am for boarding the plane, I thought I would sleep through the flight...but it was not to be. I think I managed to sleep about two hours, but the rest of the time I just sat there restlessly watching movies.
We arrived at Haneda at about 4:45am local time on Monday, August 10, got through customs quickly, and waited a little over an hour for our bus to our hotel in Ikebukuro. We eased into our shopping extravaganza by hitting the shops near the hotel. On Tuesday, we ventured out to Shibuya for more shopping. I picked up three bags full of comics and then made an additional stop at Shinjuku on the way back to browse at a board game store. In the evening, my parents treated us all to a meal at a nearby okonomiyaki restaurant.
Wednesday, August 12, we did more local shopping and then met up with an acquaintance who was holding onto a box full of board games for me that she had purchased on my behalf at the spring Tokyo Game Market. We had a delightful lunch with her, and then later picked up supplies for a group wine and cheese night in one of our connecting hotel rooms.
August 13, my parents occupied themselves by exploring the area while the rest of us spent the day at Disney Sea. We had bought tickets at the Disney store in the same mall as our hotel the day before, so we were able to take the subway from a tunnel entrance in the mall and get into the park early, at about 8:15am. It was a very long day, filled with numerous rides and lots of walking. It rained a bit at first, but after a while the rain tapered off and we were left awkwardly carrying around our umbrellas the rest of the day. I finally worked out how to use the camera on my Kindle and managed to get a decent photo. (Note: I am intentionally excluding all the shots in which I look terribly puzzled because I have no clue what I'm doing.) We stayed at the park until closing, after which we took the subway back...and learned that the subway tunnel leading to the mall closes at some point in the evening. We had to exit across the street from the mall and walk back from there.
On Friday, I took my parents on a sightseeing trip to Yokohama while everyone else worked on planning our attack on Comiket in preparation for the next day. We exited Yokohama station and spent some time shopping at the department stores there. We picked up some lunch items at the basement grocery shops and paused to eat on some handy benches with a nice view. Then we walked across a pedestrian bridge to the Minato Mirai area, stopping first at the Nissan world headquarters, which is set up like a museum with a bunch of interesting cars on display.
We walked around the Minato Mirai area for a while, passing many impressive luxury car dealerships along the way. When we got to another shopping center, we saw a sign posted for a summer festival to be held in an oceanfront park that evening, so we decided to stay to watch. We spent most of the afternoon sitting on benches watching the ocean, though we did briefly visit the Red Brick Warehouse, which was jam-packed with people, probably due to a Pokemon festival being held right outside the building. Finally the summer festival started, and we were able to watch the bon-odori, complete with a live taiko drum performance. We ate some ice cream from a vendor stall and then found a subway that would take us back to Ikebukuro.
August 15 was Comiket Day. Technically, Comiket lasts three days. In previous years, the items we wanted to purchase were spread out over 2-3 days. This year, however, all of the things we wanted to buy were being sold on the same day. That meant it took serious strategic planning to divide and conquer, because the vendor tables (and their sometimes extremely long lines) were located in widely separated areas of the event site. All four of us had different maps and shopping lists of things to purchase for each other. To give some idea of the amount of coordination involved, I believe the planning session took about 18 hours. We left the hotel at about 6:30am in order to get in line and into the event site quickly when the doors opened at 10am; vendors tend to sell out of desirable items early. Even so, we were quite far back in line (particularly those of us waiting on the East Hall side). By the time poor wednesday_10_00 got into the building and in line for the first vendor on her list, the line for the table was already so long that it was a 2-hour wait.
With plentiful teamwork, we managed to survive the day and acquire most of the items on our shopping lists. Yay! We spent the rest of the evening dividing up our purchases and recovering.
On Sunday, we spent a leisurely morning at the hotel and then set out after lunch to see Tokyo Skytree. This is Tokyo's most recently built tourist attraction, and their merchandising efforts are in full force. Not only does it have its own train line, with numerous signs posted at nearby major transfer stations directing passengers how to get there, it has a shopping mall of its own, with exclusive Skytree goods of all kinds. (I was tempted to buy one of the Skytree-shaped wine bottles, but at about $50 it would have been on the expensive side for something both heavy and breakable. I settled for the Skytree-shaped water bottle instead.) Sadly, none of us actually went up to the observation deck. It turned out that purchasing a ticket only entitled a visitor to wait 2.5 hours in line for the ride to the top, and we didn't want to spend our afternoon waiting. (Ordering tickets online allows visitors to select a specific time, for an added cost of about $5. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that in advance.)
After shopping at Skytree, we headed to nearby Asakusa, a more traditional tourist spot. We browsed at a number of the shops lining the walk to the temple, though by the time we got to the temple itself, everything was closing for the evening. After finishing up our sightseeing, we went back to Tokyo Station to eat at a vegan restaurant called T's Tan Tan. It was delicious, though there was a bit of a wait for a table, because the restaurant itself is quite small.
August 17, my parents and I separated from the group and set off for an overnight trip to the former capital city of Kamakura. Upon arriving, we had lunch at a cozy shoujin ryouri (traditional Japanese vegan) restaurant called Narutoya Tenzo. After that, we braved the rain to stroll along a shop-lined street to the nearby large shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachimanguu. In the summer, this shrine is known for its lotus ponds. The central island of one of the ponds was inhabited by a flock of doves.
I had planned to stop at more places, but the awkwardness of trying to manage our overnight bags and umbrellas and cameras in the rain was getting us down, so instead we headed to our lodging to check in. To get there, we took the Enoshima Electric Railway, nicknamed "Enoden." This train runs along the coast, at some points becoming essentially a streetcar through the towns along the way. This area tries to give visitors the impression that they are vacationing at a tropical island resort area. To this end, some of the train staff wear Hawaiian shirts. There are also numerous Hawaiian goods shops to be found.
After a short wait, we checked into our room, which was set up like a traditional inn, except with actual mattresses on the floor instead of the typical Japanese futon. Our room faced the ocean, and we had a lovely view of the nearby island, Enoshima. Once we were able to drop off our luggage in our room, we felt much better about walking around in the rain, so we headed for a walking tour of the island.
The pedestrian bridge to get to the island is guarded by a pair of impressive stone lanterns wrapped with dragons. Upon reaching the shore of the island, visitors encounter a number of shops and a pathway leading up the hill to the large shrine complex covering most of the central portion of the island. Decorative maps help visitors find notable sights. Those coming to pray can walk through a straw circle for purification before communicating with the gods. A nearby dragon fountain also allows visitors to wash and purify their money.
At this particular shrine, romance is big business. Visitors can purchase pink wooden tablets upon which they can write their romantic relationship wishes. These wishes are hung next to this large holy tree, which is supposed to help the wishes come true. Visitors can also buy love charms in the hope of getting together with that special someone.
In contrast to those wishing for a relationship, those visitors who are already in a relationship can visit the nearby Bell of Dragon Love. It is said that couples who ring this bell will stay together forever. For additional insurance, couples can purchase a special padlock, write their names on it, and attach it to the fence (a portion of which can be seen behind my parents in the photo).
We walked a complete circle around the shrine complex and returned to our lodging for the night. In the morning, we set off on more walking tours. At a stop about halfway back to Kamakura, we encountered an 800-year-old temple that is making an effort to appeal to a modern crowd. A sign at this temple, which again focuses on relationship success, proclaims that visitors can gain the benefits of the temple by taking a picture of these statues and setting the image as the background on their cell phones.
Next we stopped at the giant Buddha statue at Koutokuin. In addition to the entrance fee (about $2), visitors can pay a few cents to walk inside the statue and see how all the individual bronze pieces fit together. We continued our sightseeing, also visiting several shops along the way, ending with a nice meal at a soba/tempura restaurant in Kamakura station before heading back to Ikebukuro.
August 19, we all went on a shopping trip to Nakano, which has a mall filled with various shops, including many branches of Mandarake, selling comics and various other fan goods. Once we had made our purchases there, we went out for a meal at the vegetarian Indian restaurant Nataraj. (I tried to stop at the Sugorokuya board game store on the way, but sadly they were closed on Wednesdays.) On Thursday, sara_tanaquil joined me and my parents for a shopping trip to Akihabara. I made a number of purchases at the game and comic stores there. It seems that Akihabara is now a huge tourist destination. I saw more foreign visitors there than anywhere else outside of our hotel. (It's easy to spot the tourists, because the first thing they do upon stepping outside the train station is start snapping pictures of the buildings.)
Friday, August 20, was our last day in Tokyo. After packing up our belongings and checking out of our room, we had to pass the time until our late-night flight home. While my parents visited with some former study-abroad students they had met in Michigan, I went on a walk with sara_tanaquil to locate a nearby temple. (It turned out to have a subway station entrance right in front of it. Now we know.) I found it interesting that Japan is apparently quite concerned with the proliferation of drones. This sign at the cemetery attached to the temple proclaims that drones are prohibited on the grounds. It was not the only anti-drone sign I had spotted on the trip; I had encountered another one at Enoshima warning that using drones during a fireworks festival could be dangerous.
We finally concluded our last day of shopping and boarded our flight back to California. This time I was able to sleep for about half the trip. Here is my merchandise haul:
2 non-fiction books
6 board games (plus several game expansions and extra copies of games I already owned)
3 coffee mugs
1 tote bag
1 hand towel
Now I just have to find room to store everything...
I had all of Saturday to recover from the trip before I starting work again on Sunday. (Benny was excited to be back on the job again!) On Monday, the workers arrived to put in my new fence. They made good progress and finished in two days. The ground isn't completely level along the length of the fence, so there are a couple areas that may need to be filled in to prevent a dog from slipping underneath, but I'm really happy about it overall. The new gates are great. Hopefully Benny will have fun running around in the yard after he retires next year.