Stumbling Through Japan: Arrival in Tokyo

EDITOR’S NOTE: I originally hand planned to write about this trip soon after I had taken it — in fact, the majority of this entry was written while I was actually on the trip. But the tried and true blogger excuse — I got busy (aka – I got lazy) — kicked in and whelp… here we are a year and a half later. (If there is some form of extreme blogger repentance I should be doing, please let me know.) I know that I have probably forgotten a lot of the details of the trip that I would have liked to remember — the exact feelings and thoughts that were running through my head at the time or the funny little things I had noticed — but I’m going to do my best to try to pound this sucker out… you know, for posterity.

……

In April 2013, I took an amazing trip to Japan — all by myself. No friends or family to rely on, just me, my suitcase, and my pocket Japanese phrasebook. At the time I was in the midst of tending to the wounds of a recent heartbreak, and I needed to get out and do something that would force me to challenge myself.

My plane took off around around 12 noon from JFK on a 14 hour flight to Tokyo’s Narita Airport. I’ll admit, I was a little afraid I would go stir crazy, or the time would just drag on and on, but I actually found that the time flew by so fast, I hardly had time to sleep.

I flew ANA, which I had read was one of the best airlines to Japan, and rightly so. The food was fantastic — a healthy Japanese dinner (salmon, sushi rice, fruit salad, soba noodles, and a whole load of pickled things, with a miso soup and green tea AND a tiny carton of Hagan Daaz ice cream for dessert!) and a not-so-Japanese penne pasta with fruit for lunch.

The plane, a Boeing 777-300ER, was super comfy and modern – with multiple USB ports to charge devices, ample leg room, and cushy seats.

Spending the majority of my time listing to Japanese language lessons and music on my phone, it was only in the final hour or two of the flight that I finally cracked open the checked-out Rough Guide to Tokyo library book I had brought along. Whoops, so much for “planning on the plane ride”.

NOTE: I will pause here and report to you without remorse I pretty much played Maroon 5’s Overexposed album on repeat the entire time, with only a bit of the 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift’s Red, and my “Japan” Rdio playlist mixed in. When flying, I want the audial equivalent of Dipsy Doodles and mac ‘n’ cheese.

In hindsight, I will tell you, for me, the hardest thing about traveling in Japan was simply getting out of this airport:

Not shown: My look of utter confusion
Not shown: My look of utter confusion

I’m not kidding. It was probably a mix of jet lag and the barrage of unreadable Japanese words written on every backlit, glassy surface that spun me into a spiraling whirlpool of “HUH”? Never before and never since then have I ever been so confused as to how to even get OUT of an airport. I swear I must’ve spent at least two hours sorting through some mass confusion of locating the *correct* booth where bullet train tickets into the city were sold and hunting down my bank ATM. By the time I found the JR East office (where the issue the combo deal SUICA card + N’Ex pass), I saw this crazy line:

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I headed back up to the smaller booth for N’Ex passes only that was upstairs, only to find that they closed EXACTLY at 5pm (it was probably 5:02). Back downstairs to the dreaded line. Took FOREVER, and they wouldn’t issue JR Passes unless you were activating it that day due to “high volume”.

Safe and sound on the Narita Express or N’Ex, as the cool kids call it, I headed into Tokyo proper! From here on in the transport was pretty much smooth sailing. Not only was this train incredibly clean and modern, outfitted with comfy red stadium seating style seats, but it had awesome digital graphics in both Japanese and English that told you exactly what was going on and where you were:

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THIS HIGH SPEED TRAIN IS GOING TO SPLIT APART?!?! *Mind explosion*
THIS HIGH SPEED TRAIN IS GOING TO SPLIT APART?!?! *Mind explosion*

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Getting off Shibuya station, my taste of Tokyo was being plopped right into the classic Hachiko Square scramble crossing — neon signs hanging from every imaginable building surface, casting a other-wordly glow on the hordes of people walking every which way with shopping bags and briefcases in hand, shuffling through a pedestrian crosswalk that split in endless combinations. All the while cars impatiently waited for the light to turn green, seemingly ready to mow down anyone who dared to still be in the scramble once the vehicles regained control of the road. It was the equivalent of getting off in Times Square, during the theater rush, while on LSD, on Black Friday:

An accurate depiction of what it looked like through my jet lagged eyes at the time -- tree obstruction and all.
An accurate depiction of what it looked like through my jet lagged eyes at the time — tree obstruction and all.

Here’s a video (not mine) of what it’s like:

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Candlepin Bowling in Maine

Earlier this month I headed north with a bunch of friends and spent Labor Day weekend up in the glorious state of Maine. What a beautiful place! We rented a house in Rockport and with the threat of Hurricane Earl rearing his ugly head the next day, we decided to take in some local flavor by heading to the nearby candlepin bowling alley for some good ol’ fashioned fun.

I’d never been candlepin bowling before, and let me tell you, it is way more fun than regular bowling. No sticking your fingers in disgustingly grimy bowling balls — you just pick up the hand-sized balls and try to knock down the ten little pins.

The place was empty — except for a young wedding party who had rented out arcade. When the newlyweds and co left, we basically had the run of the place. We bowled for at least two hours, with the total bill coming to a whopping 20 some odd dollars.
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An Ode to Iceland

The last year’s worth of bad news about Iceland (bankruptcy, volcanic ash, etc.) has saddened me quite a bit. When I visited the country in 2006 for the Iceland Airwaves festival I fell in love with the uniqueness of the landscape (from glaciers to geo-thermal heated pools) and the quirkiness of its people.

I never get so excited about dispensing travel advice about places I’ve been as I do about Iceland. It’s truly a magical place that seems like the spot where civilization ends and the wild, beautiful wilderness begins.

I hope the country can quickly rise back on its feet after all these catastrophic events have dissipated. Here’s to wishing the best to Iceland.


My Icelandic viking figurine guards the contents of my freezer. (After William Eggleston)

Road Trip USA!

Hey y’all. You may have been wondering what the heck I’ve been doing over the last couple weeks (obviously it hasn’t been updating). Well, I was on a totally awesome road trip across America.

I just got back (and I’m still a little jet lagged) but here is a little taste of some of the truly amazing things I got to see in the US of A:

The table hockey game and nature paintings at the Plaza Tavern in Madison, WI:
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Camping at Arches National Park in Utah:
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Hipster, Scenester Barcelona

It seems that recently everyone I know has decided to go to Barcelona, Spain. I went a couple of years ago, so I’m deciding to just put all my tips about the great city all in one place for everyone to read. (Feel free to add your picks in the comments.) Check it out:

HOTELS
A hotel I really wanted to stay in was the Hotel Banys Oriental. It’s moderately priced, and is very sleek and modern, but unfortunately it was all booked up by the time I got around to securing a room. It’s in the SoHo-ish area of Barcelona, meaning hip, but slightly fancy. The area is a little bit on the more expensive side in terms of restaurants and stores, but a nice area right of La Rambla.

COOL NEIGHBORHOOD
I especially liked the El Raval area of Barcelona, which is the southwest side of La Rambla. It can get kind of dodgy at night (there was literally one street we walked down where I think it was all drunk people and prostitutes), but just stay on the main streets and know where you’re going and you’ll be good. It’s fine in the daytime as well.

Cool hip restaurants are scattered throughout the area and it’s the “ethnic” area of Barcelona–but a very up-and-coming neighborhood. In NYC terms, it’s kinda like the equivalent of the Lower East Side/Chinatown.

The contemporary art museum Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) is in the area, as well as Barcelona University which means the area has lots of young hip kids running around.


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Thoughts on the Inauguration of President Barack Obama

Hey everyone, I’ve been here in Los Angeles for the past couple of days. Yup, from Inauguration to Academy Award land. It’s been a bit rainy, but it’s pretty nice not to have to wear a big puffy down jacket when I go outside.

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Tom Cruise’s star is under a construction site.

On my way over American astronaut Buzz Aldrin was on my flight, sitting two rows in front of me. When you have a man who landed on the moon sitting in your sight line, you feel pretty confident that if something goes wrong, and something happens to the pilots, that it’ll be OK because you know someone on board can probably manage to steer you to a safe landing.

Know this is old news now, but being there on Inauguration Day was truly amazing. To see all the millions of people out there on the Mall, so happy and enthusiastic, it was fantastic to see. Standing out there for several hours wasn’t exactly my favorite activity (it was incredibly cold!), but it was definitely worth braving the chilly temperatures to actually be there during a pivotal moment in our country’s history.

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Kinda mad I didn’t wait on line to buy these OBAMA socks at Shepard Fairey’s OBEY pop-up gallery in Georgetown. Fairey was actually onhand DJing the party…but no one there seemed to know who he was!

Watching millions of people waving flags, hearing the voices of everyone cheering (and jeering when shots of Bush came on the screen), made for a memorable experience.

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Mad crazy amounts of people on the Washington Monument Hill and on The Mall.

Afterwards you couldn’t go anywhere without stopping and talking to people about being down there during the swearing-in ceremony. Walking into stores, the storeclerks were eager to hear about it–getting into a cab, the cab driver wanted to chat about the experience, sitting down to lunch, all the people around us wanted to chat and trade stories about our time down there.

I know I’m not being so eloquent, but there are no words to describe how excited I was to be there as President Obama took the oath of office. It was a proud day to be an American, and a day I will never forget.

Was anyone else there on that day? How did you feel about the experience?

Kickin’ It In DC at the We Are One Concert

Hola! Arrived in DC proper today. Headed down to the We Are One concert, but clearly did not get down there at anything resembling early, so we ended up walking down to the Washington Monument and watching from there, but on the way we saw Hoda Kotb from the Today Show.

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Er…you can sorta almost see something in the distance..

A nice lady had a Shepard Fairey Obama “HOPE” poster and was collecting signatures from people from all 50 states, so one of us signed it as a representative of NYC. People were all about Obama of course, folks were even excited to pose with a cardboard cutout of the President-Elect:

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Got hungry and chowed down in Chinatown at Clyde’s. Some street team guy for Pepsi gave me a handful of Pepsi “HOPE” and “ALL FOR ONE” pins I didn’t want. Then headed back to our friend’s house to watch the concert on HBO.

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Clyde’s had special Obama cocktails

Very excited about Tuesday. If today was any indication, people are freaking excited. Hoping to take more of the town in tomorrow. Maybe a little shopping (perhaps a stop in a local yarn store?), need to pick up some Inauguration souvenirs of course!

Back from My Vacation!

I took a much-needed vacation last week to Ocean City, Maryland. (I know, not as glamorous as say… the Riviera or Belize… but there was a beach!)


Sure it looks warm but it was freeeeezzziinnnnggg

I got to freeze my buttocks off by the seaside. (Beaches are not perpetually warm… even in September.) I felt the strongest winds of my life, which made the sand feel like a million little tetanus shots pricking my bare legs. The gusts of winds were so strong, that while I was riding a bike down the boardwalk, I went a length of about 30 blocks without pedaling ONCE (I kid you not!).

I saw some *interesting* things when I headed “downtown”…


Perhaps they have these kind of shirts all across beach towns in the US, but all I could say was OMGWTF?
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