("thank you, thank you"... Or... if you're me, you use it for everything -- appropriate or not -- because it's pretty much the only thing you can remember. It took me two weeks to remember "thank you" in Vietnamese -- "cảm ơn," in case you're interested.)
That's basically the extent of my Japanese, although we did learn a new phrase the other night:
"Okawari!" (I'll have another!)
We were, not surprisingly, in a bar when we learned that one. It was this cool little basement bar in Osaka, all decked out in Rolling Stones gear, run by this awesome Japanese hippy, who only served Heineken beer. This guy!
So lets back up....we have been in Japan now for over a week and we are moving fast, as opposed to our slow and steady style of Vietnam. We've hit up Tokyo, Matsumoto, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and are now on a train (the last of 4 trains today) to get to a mountain town called Yoshino. Moving fast because 1) We can, now that we've (mostly) stopped sweating since leaving Vietnam, and 2) To take advantage of our time, and the rather pricey Japan Rail Pass. The rail pass is like an all-you-can-eat buffet: you pay the same price for your pass (in our case, we bought a 14 day pass) no matter how many times you go up for another plate (train tix). For the two of us that's about $60 a day, whether we travel that day or not. Aaaaand, it doesn't cover all lines or subways. There are so many different rail lines. Yikes! All aboard, ya'll.
So far Japan has, in a word, rocked. This country is efficient, clean, polite, beautiful, fascinating, bizarre, convenient. And despite its reputation, Japan can be cheap. Not always in transport, but you can definitely eat and sleep cheaply if you try. 7-ELEVENS here are AWESOME. Cheap, with huge varieties of fresh ready-made meals. We've gotten breakfast and snacks there or at other convenience stores just about every day. Why aren't they like this in the US!?
We have about an hour on this train before we get to our mountain-top ryokan (a traditional japanese inn), where we will hike, do nothing, and see if we are brave enough to get naked with strangers in the traditional onsen (hot springs/ communal bathing). Just the kind of thing Adam Kanner is known to love.
So lets see how far I can get on Japan thus far...
To get to Tokyo, we left Hanoi for Singapore and had to take a red-eye from there. And let me tell you, the Singapore airport is incredible... koi ponds, butterfly gardens, and a free movie theater that played Everest and then got us really depressed?? It rocked, even with the Everest depression.
I really felt the need to describe that airport, it's putting Dulles to shame ("Really? Better than Dulles? I'm surprised!" -- said no one, ever.) And by the way, once again you didn't have to take off your shoes, in Vietnam or Singapore, because they are normal countries (well, kind of) that recognizes one guy shouldn't ruin it for everybody. YOU HEAR THAT, TSA?? They did, however, find my nail scissors and take them and I was an ass about them taking them ("well, we can allllll rest easily now!"), and Adam did pretend I wasn't his wife.
Sorry, where was I? Right, so we get to Tokyo, and Tokyo was awesome, huge, and our immediate how-the-hell-does-this-massive-train-system-work boot camp. I had read a bunch of things before we arrived that touted the simplicity and ease in using the trains, but it took direct help from 2-4 people (they have people at the ready to help, so that's incredible), specific directions from our AirBnB owner, and 3 apps to get us to our station the first day. And we still messed up and almost missed meeting our check-in guy. We've (mostly) got it down now, but we still use 2 or 3 apps to figure out our route and rates.
So we (somehow) made it to our tiny AirB&B apt in the Hatsudai neighborhood, napped, and took on Tokyo over the next 3 days.
We saw the famous Shibuya crossing, which is madness, as expected. However, it seemed like 1 part true madness, 2 parts madness just from tourists stopping on the middle to take a selfie. Which I totally made Adam do with me.
We nerded out at the Tower Records (or Adam did anyway, I was trying to stay awake), took photos of a guy we assumed is a famous Japanese rocker (obviously, he had an AMAZING outfit that fit all of my stereotypical Japanese rocker assumptions), found a couple cheap and delicious 300 yen bar (everything, including cocktails, $3), and went to a couple temples. Meiji temple was nice and peaceful, we accidentally came across it while walking through Yoyogi Park, an island of calm in the chaos that is Tokyo. Asakusa and Sensoji temples had crazy hordes of tourist, the opposite of peaceful. It was here in Asakusa that I had my first grean tea (matcha) ice cream, which has turned into a daily thing. Hey, I'm in training for Italian gelato. This is serious.
We had our first bowl of ramen on the first day and it was SO GOOD. A lot of spots here, you pay and order first through what looks like a vending machine (ha! Except if you don't know Japanese you're going off nothing but the price. Except for beer. That was labeled "beer"), and it spits out ticket for you to hand to a human, who then brings you deliciousness. Oh so good. Salty though...you can definitely eat too much ramen.
Also encountered my first squat toilet...contrary to my last post, about luxurious Japanese toilets. Some public ones are like this. Honestly, I cannot believe I didn't encounter these in Vietnam, but to be fair, I purposefully avoided all public bathrooms in Vietnam, if I could help it.
And yes, this blog IS just as much about worldwide toilets, as what we ate, what kind of vermin fur is in my new hat, and what tourist sites we saw. Just in case you were wondering. Toilets and possums. That's this site.
We also signed up for a Tokyo food tour. Our guy was great, Kanemoto, and took us to a bunch of spots in the Ginza neighborhood, and was just a great resource for a lot of our random Japan questions.
This food tour was way less crazy than our Hanoi street food tour, but we DID try raw chicken. And it was delicious, and no one died. Kanemoto told us the restaurant owned a chicken farm, so they could be sure of the health of the chickens they serve. Only in Japan would I trust this system enough to eat raw chicken with the idea of not dying.
He also showed us a store that apparently was the only spot around selling fruit, so they could charge something like $250 for a melon. That's insane. I just cannot imagine needing a melon that badly. Cantelope, maybe. Honeydew? NEVER.
Kanemoto also gave us great tips that we attempted to tackle the next day, including watching sumo wrestlers practice for free. Which we failed at, as we showed up too late, and nope, neither one of us was in a bad mood about it. Nope.
Also, he gave us some sweet tips about getting sushi at the famous Tsukiji fish market. This was achieved, though it was super expensive. But delicious. Oh. So. Delicious.
I want to also note that some people get up at 4am to see the tuna auction at Tsukiji. We did not even pretend to entertain that notion. We just ate tuna instead. I'm fairly certain we won.
We also went up in the SkyTree tower, which gives you a crazy view of Tokyo. I'm pretty sure its 879 floors high. Pretty sure. They say on a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji, but there was too much haze for us. The view was still awesome, but this was the first time we doubted Japanese order. Soooo many people, felt like we spent half our time in line. And you know how Adam feels about lines.
But they WERE orderly lines. So there's that.
And then we went to Matsumoto and beyond.
The end, for now.