Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jam-Packed Weekend: Tokyo in the Snow & Strawberries

So I've been feeling like a bump on a log lately and wanted to get out and you know, do things. So I made plans with my friend that is going to school near Tokyo to spend some time with him on Saturday. Small problem: Upon going to bed on Friday (at 10pm mind you, living it up here) my friend warns me to be careful going to Tokyo the next day: they're supposed to get a blizzard.

My initial reaction is severe disbelief. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if "blizzard" equaled like 3 inches of snow. So I kept it in mind to check out the weather before I left the house the next day and went to bed.

So I wake up around 8 (I went to bed at 10 remember? lol) and figure I might as well make an early start of it and head over there. I also figure, oh hey, I'm up so early and I've got time, I can be cheap and take the bus instead of the Shinkansen (bullet train)! Well all the buses were cancelled for the day. And the trains were running late. Hm. Must be snowing pretty hard this morning. So I check the weather, and it says it's snowing but it should stop by the time I get there.  SO, Do I bring my earmuffs? No. Do I bring a hat at all? Nah. I head down to the station around 10, and the train is about 20 minutes late, no big deal. I even manage to snag a seat, even though it got super crowded. Win.

Meanwhile, Shizuoka (the land of no snow) is freezing and rainy, so I'm looking out the window on this train, waiting for snow to appear, and we hit Mishima and BAM snow. All over the place. No sign of stopping.

...Oops? So I get off in Tokyo station, firmly the land of snow for the day, and my friend is sleeping in late due to a long night before, so I have some time to kill. I found on the internet that several years ago, there was a store in Tokyo station that sold all the different kinds of crazy Kit Kats from all over Japan. I searched and searched and searched, no luck. So then I set out in this:


To find me some good ol' cheap gyuudon for lunch. (Also: Pictures) I still have lots of time to kill, so I get on a train to Tokyo Dome City in search of a store called the Jump Shop. You probably don't remember, but I've visited these on occasion: they are stores of a particular brand of manga/anime that sell goods from these particular shows. Which means I had to find it with my slowly dying phone with snow pelting me in the face and tennis shoes slipping in the snow. It took a bit of effort, but I made it! Whee spending money! I didn't buy much though, what a novel idea. But I definitely want to go back to this place when it's warmer, because this:

Now who can pass up a rollercoaster.

So THAT will happen eventually. (Terrifyingly, the ferris wheel was running in this weather. Did not go there) So at this point, I received a reply from my friend, but no further, so I headed back to Tokyo station anyway. (He had fallen asleep again, haha). I set up camp in a cafe and get a phone call from him, where we plan to meet up in an hour. At this point, my phone's battery is at 30%, and stupid here didn't bring her charger with her, so phone usage will be down to nothing unless necessary. So I head over to the meeting place in Shibuya (place with largest crosswalk in the world, if you recall) and wait in front of the train car, outside, where I suggested we meet.

Another great idea by me, waiting outside in the snow! The first 15 minutes, no problem, it's just snow. But then I started to feel soaked. Like, I-just-exited-a-water-ride soaked. And my phone battery was at 14 percent, so I didn't want to change where we were meeting. Yay. (Sidenote: You could tell who was foreign and who wasn't by who was using an umbrella. SidenoteSidenote: I realized AFTER this that I had both a hood on my cloak and an umbrella, and used neither. Victory) So 10 minutes later friend shows up, and we head to the first place we see to get dinner.

At this point, I have no idea how much I resemble a snowman until the server takes one look at me and says, お!すごい雪ですね!(Wow! That's a lot of snow!) I say that I was waiting outside for a bit and he just laughs as he returns to the kitchen. Not chuckles, full on laughter.

As we sat down, I noticed that my bag was utterly white on the front. And I reached back and my ponytail had a half inch of snow on it. I was a snowman. o.o 

So it was very cold as I melted, but dinner was nice. I caught up with my friend, and then we went to Starbucks because warm. We also wanted to take purikura (crazy photo booth pictures), but this means we had to find somewhere and my phone's battery was at 6. I managed to find a map to Purikura Mecca (literally what it was called) but I wasn't able to leave the map up as we looked because battery. So we marched around in the wind for a while and we knew it was by Forever 21 but we couldn't find Forever 21...and when we finally did there was no purikura. But then we walked down an alley to the other side of the building and there it was! Victory! And then we did an hour or karaoke to celebrate. So it was around 8 o clock and I get on the train to head to the Shinkansen; this is when I start panicking as to whether or not they are running. It has been snowing steadily all day, despite the weather report, and other normal trains were delayed or closed. I mean, if they were closed I could still get home by taking normal trains (just take several hours longer), but my phone was almost dead and I couldn't use it to figure out how. 

So once I get to Shinagawa, I book it over to the Shinkansen area and talk to the station man about buying the right ticket. He says the trains are still stopped, and to check the board to see if the train I need is still on the list. I bend down to look at the board from afar: of the trains listed that are late but will depart eventually, there is one that I can take. So I buy a ticket and book it to the queue. Mind you, I still had to wait there for a half hour, so it was by no means a close shave, but still. They kept updating the delay information in Japanese, but the English was staying the same >.< 

And then finally it showed up and finally we left. Hoo. 

And then Sunday my friends and I went strawberry picking: Strawberries are in season right now, and you can pay to eat them right off the vine, as much as you want. We did this, lol. The smell? Beautiful. The strawberries? Delicious. I ate 37. My friend at 57 lol. Then the area was below a famous shrine (Kunozan: home of Tokugawa Ieyasu) on top of the hill, so we climbed up 15-20 minutes to see it! 

And I forgot we were going to do this, so I was wearing way too many layers. Grr. And I forgot my shrine/temple stamp book. More grrrr. But I will return! And then we came back down and ate strawberry ice cream, because it was delicious. 

After we came home, my friend and I were full of strawberries but yet hungry for dinner. The restaurant we go to was advertising strawberry parfaits (noooo) AND when we walk in, what song are they playing? Strawberry Fields.

....All the strawberries. 


So We Went to the Zoo

So last weekend (although I guess this is Tuesday, so...two weekends ago? National holidays make everything confusing) my friend and I went to the zoo! Nihondaira Zoo, a cute little thing that we live very close to. I had spent the weekend before holed up in my house, and I needed to get out. So we did!

We arrived around lunch time, so we first immediately sought food...and who are we to mind if the closest food happened to be a hot dog? Yum. Then we started our round of the zoo (pictures). Some highlights from the first half of the adventure:

Red pandas in Japanese are called lesser pandas (poor pandas).

They had a cage you could go in that said "homo sapien" on it, and you could take a picture (I just took a creeper picture of people in it, because it was crowded)

In the polar bear/seal area, the one polar bear was back flipping off of one rock, over and over. For probably at least a half hour. Every time we looked at him over an extended period of time, he just kept going. Must've been pretty fun.

They elephants were very far away and I was unable to get good pictures of them. -.-

All the cats in the feline area were taking a nap when we went by, except for the puma.

The bird are was this huge enclosed thing that could very easily have been used as the set for the pterodactyl scene in Jurassic Park III.

So as we make our way around the zoo, we notice this colored....procession of chairs, if you will, going up a hill to God-knows-where. At first we think it's some ridiculously random water ride, because Japan; this could be a viable thing. But it was too cold; there was no way that many Japanese people would get on such a ride without a raincoat! Once we get over there, we decide to have a peek. In front of the area, it says WONDERSHAW CASTLE.

We have no idea what this WONDERSHAW could be, but we pay our 100 yen (about a dollar) and follow the Japanese people to get on a little car that took us straight up into the sun to the top of the hill...

Where there was a huuuuuuuge expanse of a picnic area (beautiful view) and this little castle. We get some ice cream from the vending machine (although if we really wanted to, we could have got actual food from the vending machine too: there was a machine that spit out hot food such as friend fries and takoyaki: we watched the magic happen) and we sat for a while. Then we went to this castle (apparently shaw is supposed to be a forest, by the way) and inside appeared to be a Jumpin Jolly Jambers like play area in which I would have been so game if we were of the appropriate age. So instead we went up to the top and took some more awesome pictures.

Then we had two options of getting back down: we could ride the car, or scoot down on this giant slide....thing. I say slide, but it really had no slope at all. It was those rollers that slides sometimes have, and you had to scoot to get going at all before you had to scoot again. Sounded like a lot of work that would cause us to get stared at by a lot of Japanese people, so we took the little car.


Then we saw some very unenthusiastic penguins, alligator (crocodile? I think it was an alligator), and some terrifying snapping turtles before heading home. THEN we went shopping, and to complete the evening sang 6 and a half hours of karaoke.



Sunday, February 9, 2014

Oh Hey Hamamatsu (and Gotemba Too)

This may or may not have happened November 23rd. >.> (And mid December too.) So why bother to write about it? It's going to bother me if I skip something that we actually went out to make effort and do, so...everyone follow me into the time machine as we go back to the end of 2013...

So November 23rd. A movie that my friend wanted to see was coming to Hamamatsu instead of Shizuoka. Hamamatsu is another large city in Shizuoka Prefecture, about an hour away by normal train. So since we were going to go there anyway, I figured hell, let's make a day of it! Yay! So we get on the train in the morning and head over there for merriment. (Here's some pictures if you don't have Facebook) So we arrive in the train station and it (creepily) looks identical to Shizuoka station, which we just left. Weeeird.

First order of business is to head to the tourist information so we can figure out what to eat later (and get a map as well.) Hamamatsu is famous for it's gyoza (potstickers) so we wanted to make sure we got the best. It was a b-e-a-utiful day; super blue sky and awesomeness. Next, we wanted to go to the movie theater and make sure we had tickets for the film that night (because the ultimate fail would be to miss the movie that we came for). Tickets acquired, we trolled around in the mall that the movie theater was in (they had a Toys R Us that had plastic food sushi XP) for a little while.

Then, we wanted to go to the observation deck in Act Tower, which is the harmonica shaped building in the city that has a great viewpoint. (Hamamatsu is known as the city of music) So we hit the elevator button and wait. And wait. And there's a sign like off to the side of the elevator entirely in Japanese; we pay it no mind. People are looking at us as we wait. On another, hidden sign, we discover that the freakin tower is closed on the weekends.

Good job Hamamatsu.

So that waste of life done, grabbed some lunch (gyro! And I had turkish ice cream which was ridiculously sticky) and headed over to Hamamatsu Castle, where there was a beautiful park with fall leaves (mostly) still on the trees to take pictures of. Hamamatsu Castle is small to begin with, and with half of it under construction at the moment there was precious little to see. Still, was cute. Beautiful day and beautiful park that we explored for a while. On the way back towards the station we stopped at a shrine we passed (and you know, I keep forgetting to bring my damn stamp book with me, so I picked up another loose leaf one) and took some pictures.

Then we lingered in the mall in the station for a while before heading to the movies! On the way to the theater, we ran into Ieyasu-kun himself. (Tokugawa Ieyasu is honored at Hamamatsu Castle, and so the mascot of Hamamatsu is a cartoon plush version of him). We were very excited and took a picture with him ^.^ Then we saw the excellent movie (and I ate real popcorn yes). The movie theater by my house took away actual popcorn; they now only sell pre-made super teeny containers of stale crappy popcorn and I am depressed.

And then we came home. So Hamamatsu! Woo!

Next, flash forward to December. Seeing Illuminations (Christmas lights) is a big deal in Japan around Christmas time, so I wanted to make sure to see some. We had heard wonderful things about the Illuminations in Gotemba, a short bus ride away, so my friend and I jumped on a bus to Gotemba Illuminations!

They were weird and not Christmas-y at all! I mean sure, they were okay, but we were just surprised at how...un-Christmas like they were. As we walked through the lights we kept looking for the actual light display. And we found a place you pay for and we assumed that's where the actual lights were, and then...they handed us an umbrella.

....? So we went up the path and found not Christmas lights, but a fountain show. Because yes. Fountain show. We were a bit taken aback to say the least. So we went back through the lights and did some more shopping. In order to not wait around for 2 hours for another bus, we left very soon after.

Adventures!! Look how often I leave my house lol.