Japan: Tsukiji Tuna Auction and Tedious Air Travel

My alarm is going off. How can my alarm be going off? I just fell asleep 5 minutes ago.
Nope, I am mistaken. It really is 2:30 already. I fell asleep 3 hours ago. Why would anyone ever want to wake up at 2:30am? There’s no better reason than a good old fashioned market. A Tokyo Fish Market, to be exact.

Japan: Birthday in Tokyo

I wake up to so many wonderful birthday messages from my friends and family, all of whom I miss terribly on a day like today! Everyone has been so supportive of my globe galavanting, and as much as I love being out here, it’s so nice to hear from everyone back home.
I’m not ready to be 22.

Tsukiji Tuna Auction and Tedious Air Travel

My alarm is going off. How can my alarm be going off? I just fell asleep 5 minutes ago.
Nope, I am mistaken. It really is 2:30 already. I fell asleep 3 hours ago. Why would anyone ever want to wake up at 2:30am? There’s no better reason than a good old fashioned market. A Tokyo Fish Market, to be exact. This place is famous for it’s early morning tuna auction, to which they only allow entry to 120 spectators. 60 for the first auction, 60 for the last. The first auction starts at 5:30, but rumour has it that you need to be there hours earlier if you plan on getting a seat.
So here we are. Getting ready to leave our hotel at 3am. Did I mention that I have to leave for the airport at 8:30? Yeah. That’s happening.

We take a 20 minute taxi to the famed fish market, where I can already see a couple of other tourists walking towards the market. STAY BACK, tourists! If there’s only 120 seats I refuse to be arrivals number 121 and 122. Best believe I’m racing out of this cab to get in line.
A total of four people get to the crosswalk before we manage to jump out of the car, where three officials are standing to direct pedestrian traffic to the tuna auction waiting area. We are lead into a room stuffed with more tourists, all wearing yellow vests. At a first glance, I figure there must be well over 60 people in front of us, but upon doing a quick count I find that it’s really only about 50, and we’re going to make it into the first auction! Sweet! About 10 more people are given yellow vests, before the blue ones start being handed out, signifying the second wave of auction goers. We’ve made it in time! Hooray!!
We’re directed to sit on the ground with everyone else, huddled as tightly together as possible to make room for more people. I don’t think it would kill them to provide some chairs…or a pillow…or really anything besides a 1,000 sq/ft hardwood floor for 120 people.

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It’s 3:20. Now what? We shift around uncomfortably for 2 hours, that’s what.

Hallelujah, 5:25 is here! Us yellow-vests are herded out into the market, leaving the blue vests to fester in that tiny room for another half hour. See ya, suckers! We have previously been warned that any harm that may come to us in the market is our own fault. Now I understand why they have to do this. There are trucks and mini forklifts whizzing about all over the place and none care if they take out a nosey tourist or two. They might even kinda like it. They’re just trying to do their jobs…and now they’ve got a daily flood of photo-happy foreigners to watch out for. Probably not ideal.
I can’t be sure, but it looks like all 60 yellow vests make it to the tuna auctioning room in one piece. Which is a little unfortunate for me, because now we are crammed into an even smaller standing-only space in an aisle of the market room. There are approximately 8 zillion giant frozen tuna fish laying all over the floor to my left and right. Men with pick-axe/fish hook hybrid sticks walk around with flashlights, poking at the tuna, inspecting it for colour, and sometimes stabbing them a little with their sticks.

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I’m looking to the left side, watching the tuna experts examine the huge fish, when a very loud voice holds a long monotone sound from across the room. Cow bells start ringing. Everyone whips around to the right, where an auction is about to begin!
The booming voice starts yelling out what I can only assume to be prices; throwing his hand up in the air like he just don’t care. Similar to English-spoken auctions, the auctioneer has a bizarre humming, quick and barely comprehensible way of yelling. Two or three men stand across from him, some very large tuna fish laying on the ground between them. The group of men stand casually, moving nothing but their hands in very understated gestures. I gather that these hand gestures represent bidding, but again, I can’t be sure.
Some dude wins though, because after much hum-yelling and hand gesturing a forklift rolls up to collect like 8 giant tuna. The auction champion hooking his pick axe into their mouths and hauling them up onto the forklift with the help of a pal. They look REALLY heavy, these crazy frozen fish.
We just catch the beginning of another auction before our time is up and we are pushed out into the busy, truck/forklift traffic hell that is the fish market. I do another great job of not dying, but there are a few close calls.

While sitting and waiting in the tiny pre-auction room, we had been chatting with some other tourists who knew of this supposedly incredible sushi place within the market. Apparently the wait times to get into this place, for sushi at SIX AM, can be over four hours. This famous chef’s son also has a restaurant in the market, with more reasonable wait times of over an hour.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Dad and I stop at the first sushi restaurant that we see. It’s still in the confines of the market, so we’re bound to get fresh fish no matter where we go. The idea of raw fish at 6am is a weird one, but when in Rome Tokyo… do as the fish market people do.

We sit down at a bar where Dad’s sushi and my sashimi are prepared right in front of us. We’re also served a miso soup with mussels in it! I swear the sashimi is like the freshest most fabulous fish I’ve ever eaten. We even get a free gift when we leave! It’s something black in a jam jar… It has yet to be identified. I’m not like a sushi connoisseur or anything, but I can’t imagine how that 4 hour wait could be worth it. I’ll be in Korea by the time these people sit down to breakfast (is it lunch if you have to wait that long?).

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It’s time to head back to the hotel and get my life together. I still haven’t been on public transport where the attendants push people into the train car, so we try once more for the subway. It’s Friday morning…that’s rush hour right?!

Apparently not. The subway is empty. Lame.

Back at the hotel, I finish packing, and try to fit in a nap. I feel another small earthquake while I’m laying in bed. Feeling slightly terrified when the shaking lasts longer than 10 seconds and increases in intensity. Then it’s over, no big D. I fall asleep.
10 minutes later it’s time to get up and go. Solid nap.

Dad and I take our last selfie-of-the-day, and say goodbye before I get on a bus bound for the airport. As per usual when I’m traveling, I feel a mixture of happy and sad. Sad to be leaving Papa Lai and Japan, but simultaneously excited to move on to some place new.

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I am back to the pov life of a backpacker. In order to save money, I booked the dumbest flight ever. I leave Tokyo at 12:25pm to arrive in Osaka at 1:30pm. Then I must wait from 1:30pm until 6:15pm to board my flight to Seoul. Because I’ve essentially been up since 2:30am, it’s a really long day. I’m too old for this stuff now.

I get to eat one last bowl of soba noodle soup before leaving Japan. I’m craving soba noodle soup, and make it my mission (to keep myself occupied during this boring layover) to find a noodle restaurant. I obviously do, but by the time I arrive at a suitable location, I’m a little hangry. Maybe I’m being crazy, but I swear every other patron of the restaurant is watching me eat. Like turning around in their chairs to look at me. Is there something wrong with my hair? Something on my face? I’m just eating noodles…
I’ll never know.

The girl a seat ahead of me loses her passport on my flight to Seoul. I’m kind of a bad person, but I think it’s funny. She’s so flustered, making the flight attendants flustered. All the crew members are on their hands and knees looking under peoples seats, and stepping up on the edge of other peoples seats (including mine) to access the overhead baggage compartment. This goes on for a solid 20 minutes before she finally finds it stuffed in one of her bags. SURPRISE! Everyone claps, she hugs the flight attendant, and they even make an announcement about it. It’s certainly provides me with a bit of entertainment.

Before they announce our landing, my left ear gives me some serious discomfort. I try to be a champ and just deal, but like I’m literally crying because it hurts so much. I grew up learning that if you keep swallowing the pain will all go away, but it’s totally not working. When a flight attendant walks by I politely ask him for a water and he just gives me sad eyes and says “noo, sorry”. I, in a bit of a panic because my ear feels like it’s got pop rocks in it, respond with “I CAN’T HAVE A WATER?”
“Noooo” he says, pointing to the Peach Deli food menu in my seat pocket, and pointing out that it costs ¥200 ($2).
“Ok!”, I say, “Yes that’s fine”, And he just shrugs and says “sorryyyyy”, then goes to walk away.
I stop him again, “are you going to bring the water?”
“Well it’s ¥200 then” he responds, smiling. This irks me beyond words. I understand it’s probably like a bit of a language/cultural barrier; He’s used to people paying up front, and I’m used to free water. Still dude, I need a water pronto. I give him the ¥200 and get a water within a matter of minutes. I drink it in big gulps until my ear spazzes out, and I’m feeling like my brain might quite literally be exploding. Then the pain is just…gone. I have no idea what’s wrong with me but I’m going to attribute it to the small head cold I’ve had for a couple days. Can sinuses explode?

For the next 30 minutes before we land, I feel like I will never fly Peach again. I hate Peach! With their dumb altitude changing and ¥200 water and stuff. Then, when we land, I breeze through customs, collect my bag, hear Gangnam style playing over the airport speakers, and remember that I’m in Korea. Saweeeeeet!

I take the subway to my hostel. So far, I find Seoul’s subway system to be much more comprehensive than Tokyo’s. Super straight forward from the airport at least!
The hostel seems good. I have to sleep on a top bunk. OOOOH backpacking how I have missed you!!!

Birthday in Tokyo

I wake up to so many wonderful birthday messages from my friends and family, all of whom I miss terribly on a day like today! Everyone has been so supportive of my globe galavanting, and as much as I love being out here, it’s so nice to hear from everyone back home.
I’m not ready to be 22. One day you’re at home playing with dolls, wishing so badly to be 16, 18, 21. Then in what feels like NO time, you’re in Tokyo celebrating your 22nd birthday. What now? I’ve never wanted to be any older than 21. Though, technically, I still am for a little while longer if we’re judging by the current time in my original place of birth…which obviously we must. I still have my youth in Canada! Here I have arthritis and bunions. I’ve got a few short hours to figure out what to do with my life as a 22 year old.

Dad orders our breakfast to the room and steps out to speak to the concierge, leaving me in charge of receiving our meal. He isn’t coping so well with this no-tipping thing, and instructs me to offer the room service attendant a ¥500 ($5) coin. We’re staying in a pretty western hotel, so I figure it’s a grey area anyway. I’ll try it.
The doorbell rings and I am greeted by the most anxious, apologetic fellow on the planet. He keeps saying a mixture of “semimasen” which is Japanese for sorry or excuse me, and a lot of English sorrys too. He is very particular about where each plate and cup must go on the table, which is time consuming…so I just stand there awkwardly and watch him. He points out every individual dish. Water included. I thank him and offer him the ¥500 yen to which he throws his hands up at his side and waves them around saying “no no no” so I retract it. Oh god I am SO sorrrrrry. What have I done?! I’ve made him more stressed. He backs out of the room, bowing and saying thank
you and some more sorrys as he goes. Oh me oh my.

When Dad gets back we enjoy our breakfast while Skyping Mom and Sev, who have just arrived in Chicago. Last year on my birthday, we made a three-way Skype call between the four of us when I was in Australia, Dad was in Peru, and Mom and Sev were at home. I wonder how many years in a row I can accomplish this…

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We plan to go visit the Sky Tree, which is Tokyo’s equivalent to the CN Tower. We have dinner reservations at a mountain-top restaurant at 5:30 so time is of the essence yet again. Dad finds out from the concierge that the Sky Tree and the restaurant are at opposite ends of Tokyo, and Tokyo is huge. She’s stressed. She says we need to leave NOW if we want to go to the Sky Tree. I don’t want to leave now, so we decide not to go.

What do we do instead? We go to the gym. Who am I?
The Miyako has a pretty nice gym with a lane pool, sauna, onsen etc. I workout for a bit and then head down to the pool. There are a bunch of rules posted on the wall, like to take off your shoes, shower before entering the pool, and to exercise BEFORE you swim. I don’t see why it matters which order I choose to workout in, but fine.

It’s not a busy day at the gym, and I’m only one of two humans in the pool. There’s one lady who’s been doing laps since before I started my run. I hop in and take it easy, paddling around more than actually swimming for fitness. I make it through one full length of the pool before I’ve broken a rule. A lady comes over to me with two swim caps to choose from and urges me to put one on. I’ve never even worn a swim cap before so I don’t know what to do, but I throw my hair up in a bun and pull the rubbery hat over my head. She looks so relieved. As I go to swim away, I watch her dip a test tube into the water where I have just been. Can she really be checking to see if my hair has contaminated the whole pool? I’m not an expert at chemistry…but that’s totally how it looked. I have ruined the Miyako’s pool. Evacuate! No one swim. There might be a blonde strand on the loose somewhere.

I leave the contaminated fitness centre and get ready for the day in my hotel room, where no one can tell me how to live! I do what I want.

Dad and I leave early so that we have time to explore the surrounding area of the mountain before sitting down to dinner. It’s a long train ride away, and we have to transfer in Shinjuku so we decide to hang out there for a bit and get a coffee instead of heading straight to Takosanguchi. We come across a bakery named Hokuo: The essence of Scandinavia. The sign also says “Scandinavia’s Smell”…which is easy to misread.

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We stop and get three little pastries that look like rundstykke (Dad’s spontaneous spelling of what I would pronounce like rrreun-stroo-ga; a classic Danish weekend breakfast bun).

While sitting and waiting for our train to come, we sit down to try our Scandinavian essence pastries. The first one I bite into is filled with bean paste. Danes don’t eat bean paste. The second, has a sort of Indian flavour…perhaps a little tumeric? The third is just ham, cheese, and corn. They were doing so well until the corn. None of the pastries are what we would classify as Scandinavian, but at least they taste good!

Next up is our long train ride to Takosanguchi, yet another destination right at the end of the line. Dad and I take turns napping, and therefore take turns snapping awful sleeping photos of one another. It’s only funny when I do it.

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We take a shuttle bus up the mountain instead of hiking, because we’re out of time and my knee is still kind of bothering me. It would take us 90 minutes to hike, and the shuttle only takes 10. We reach the top in no time, which is now a little awkward because we’re way too early for our reservation. No one seems to mind at all, and we are immediately shown through the gardens to our table by a woman in a kimono. We walk over small bridges and on rustic stone pathways to our own private room, over looking a beautiful koi fish pond and the surrounding gardens. We take some more time to wander the gardens before sitting down in our little room, where we have the ability to call our wait staff…from a real phone, not just a button.

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I’m not sure if this makes me happy or sad, but the waitress comes without us having to call her. We order one Wagyu beef set and one charbroiled chicken set. We plan to share. They each come with multiple dishes, brought out periodically during our meal. Everything tastes incredible, but the most extravagant part is when our own little personal chef enters the room to set up our hot stone stove and to prepare our beef. He cooks it to absolute perfection (like seriously could be the best thing I’ve ever eaten, and I’m not a big beef fan), he then gives us instructions on how to cook the chicken. We get to do it ourselves! I love things like this.

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Rice and miso soup come shortly after we’ve indulged in our main dishes, which I learned from Angela, signifies the end of the meal. Next up is dessert! Sesame ice cream and a pounded rice matcha bean paste ball (totally not the same of it, but I forget the official one), served with rose-hip tea.

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Over the course of our meal, we watch the gardens outside as they change from day to night. Fire torches line the walkways in zen harmony with some electrical lamps, creating a dramatic effect over the grounds. We take some photos, but like all most beautiful places in the world, the magic just doesn’t quite transfer.

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We have an amazing experience from start to finish, and I know this will be one of the first things I recommend to anyone traveling to Japan. Only second to sleeping in a Buddhist temple in Koyasan.

What a fabulous way to spend a birthday, and our last day in Japan!

Japan: Robot Restaurant and Other Strange Tokyo Things

After not getting back to the hotel until about midnight last night, I have another late morning. I’ve only got two and a half days in Tokyo left and need to make the most of it! If only sleep weren’t necessary.

Robot Restaurant and Other Strange Tokyo Things

After not getting back to the hotel until about midnight last night, I have another late morning. I’ve only got two and a half days in Tokyo left and need to make the most of it! If only sleep weren’t necessary.

We take it easy for the afternoon and spend our time shopping in Shibuya. We didn’t get enough time there yesterday and there’s so much to see!
We find some cool stores, and even a shoe store that carries my size. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I don’t buy a pair. I do, however, get a sweet t-shirt that has a whole bunch of English gibberish on it from a store called Candy Stripper. It’s kind of the bomb.

Dad comes across an awesome restaurant, where you order and pay for your food outside from what’s basically a vending machine that spits out tickets. Once you go inside, they collect your tickets and bring freshly cooked food to your seat at a long bar. I order a small sized bowl of ramen that comes with a side of pork dumplings. I am SO happy I ordered the small, because even after 20 minutes of shovelling noodles, pork, and vegetables into my mouth, I haven’t made much progress.

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We move on from Shibuya to Harajuku; famous for it’s wild fashion. I don’t see anyone totally decked out in Harajuku style, but I do catch a couple of interesting outfits.

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We find some weird giant fem-bot things, parked on the side of the road behind a car. We think is a prime location for our selfie of the day.

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Our reservation to the Robot Restaurant is at 6:30, so our time in Harajuku is cut short in order to get to Shinjuku on time for the show. What I’ve read about Robot Restaurant is that it’s a totally weird, awesome and fun experience, but that the food is awful. Seriously, just read some trip advisor reviews. It sounds kooky. Robot Restaurant Reviews
Naturally, we have to try it. Also, fun fact: my favourite musician in the whole world, Macklemore, was in a Tokyo like a week before me (just missed him, so traumatizing), and he went to Robot Restaurant. So clearly it’s legit.

We take a short cab ride from Harajuku to the Robot Restaurant, still unsure of what to expect. We round the corner onto a small side street and BAM! Lights everywhere, colours, mirrors, music all up everywhere. I think we’ve arrived. Even from the outside, before we give our reservation name, we can see scantily clad girls riding sparkly mirror plated horse robots and giant fem-bots (which, coincidentally, are the same as the ones from our selfie today), as well as power-rangeresque robot people playing music. What is this magical place?

We are early, so we are sent upstairs to a lounge area where two women dressed like what I can only describe as…what the 1960s thought slutty future space people would dress like. All the furniture is crazy and gold. Robotic dinosaurs are dancing on some tables (not ours, unfortunately), mirrors are absolutely EVERYWHERE, and when I go to the washroom the toilet is covered in a floral print (and of course the walls are all decorated in sparkly things too).

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Shortly before the show begins, we are ushered into the elevator and then down three or four flights of stairs to the basement, where I assume the show takes place. We find our seats and settle in for the weirdest show on earth.

I’ve been having enough trouble trying to write about Japan as a whole because it’s just SO different, I don’t think I can manage to properly describe the Robot Restaurant. It is out of this world. Hands down the weirdest thing I’ve seen… and I’ve been to Bangkok. Here are some photos. Everything you are imagining and MORE happens during this show. The trip advisors are right…if you get the chance, GO!

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After crap food at the robot restaurant, we plan to get a late dinner at one of our hotel restaurants. Everything is closed besides the California Café, which describes itself as a fusion of Japanese and French cuisine. Dad orders Italian risotto.
It sounds like a terrible idea but their food is actually good…what are the chances? I just have a simple chicken salad because I’m still full from the 400 pounds of noodles I consumed 6 hours ago.

Soon, it shall be my 22nd birthday! Wahhh

Japan: Cat Cafés and Earthquakes

I sleep in quite late compared to all the 6 and 7am mornings I’ve been having over the past two weeks. I feel guilty sleeping in, when we have so much stuff to fit in over the next couple of days! Dad is an angel not to wake me.

Cat Cafés and Earthquakes

I sleep in quite late compared to all the 6 and 7am mornings I’ve been having over the past two weeks. I feel guilty sleeping in, when we have so much stuff to fit in over the next couple of days! Dad is an angel not to wake me.

We take the train to Shibuya, where there is one of Tokyo’s best CAT CAFÉS! Wahoo! I shall pay money to pet a cat while I drink a latte. Is there anything cooler? I think not.
The Shibuya train station is right in the heart of the city, where the famous Tokyo cross walk is located. Here, we are thrown right into the fire! All of my senses are assaulted as the sights, sounds, smells and sheer density of the crowds overwhelms me. In the best way, though. I definitely feel like I’m in Tokyo. I don’t know which way to turn, every direction has something awesome calling my name. Luckily for me, Dad is sensible and has a map. He’s already figured out where the cat café is, and has started walking towards it. I follow him, whipping my head in every direction as I go, absorbing what I can.
We make it to the cats. The café is up on the third floor of a very non-descript building. We would never have stumbled upon this on our own.

When we get up to the third floor we have to wait outside. Not because the tables are full, but because apparently the cats feel that there are too many humans in their café. Alright.
We wait about 20 minutes, behind a family of 4 from the USA, before finally getting to sit down. We have to agree to a bunch of cat rules; like don’t pick them up with one hand, don’t touch the cats who have pink collars, don’t give the cats any human food etc. We pay to sit down for half an hour, and get a drink included with the entry fee. I get a chai latte and dad gets a coffee. I am SO pumped to go pet some cats!

I won’t lie, it’s super anti-climactic. All the cats are asleep and/or totally disinterested in hanging out with any humans. There are only 6 other people in the café, which is designed like a child’s playroom, and only one cat is actually up and about. There is one beautiful fluffy white cat and I try to pet it, but it runs away. Rude.
The whole experience is pretty weird. We sit down on a tiny, low to ground sofa and just stare at the cats all over the room, waiting for one to come over. None ever do. Eventually I get up and walk around and pet some cats, but they totally couldn’t care less about me being there. Typical cats. This would never happen in a dog café.

I refer to the lady who runs the place as a crazy cat lady. Not because she loves cats, but because she’s crazy. She has so many rules!!! She picks up a cat toy and demonstrates it to the daughter in the American family. Then, when the young girl goes to touch it the crazy cat lady says “NO!” and puts it down. Dad tries to get a cat’s attention by dangling the string of his camera and crazy cat lady yells “NO!”
She isn’t much fun.
I pet a sleeping cat against it’s will.

After our half hour is up, we go back to the busy streets of Shibuya, feeling no regret about having only committed to half an hour with the cats. They were pretty and fluffy and stuff, though!

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We walk around Shibuya feeling totally overwhelmed by all the cool shops everywhere. We end up in a department store which is mostly full of of old lady clothes priced at many thousands of yen. I clearly can’t buy anything but somehow we find ourselves on a floor full of restaurants, so we stop and get a bowl of noodles. Restaurant ramen is SO MUCH BETTER than 2 minute noodle ramen I’m used to eating at home. I don’t know how Japanese people stay so skinny, because this bowl is packed full of pork, green onions, mushrooms, bean sprouts, an egg, and obviously, noodles. Will I be able to eat simple pre packed noodles ever again? No.

One of my Uncle John’s oldest friends lives in Japan, and has done for about 25 years now. He lives just outside Tokyo, so Dad and I go to visit him and his wife Lin for dinner. It takes us some time to figure out what subway line to get on, but we do eventually manage to get to Larry’s. We’re getting better at the whole subway thing, but it’s hard! I’m used to the Toronto subway, which is basically two lines; north and south. Tokyo’s system is, well, quite different.

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Larry and Lin live in what seems like a great little neighbourhood in a suburb of Tokyo. They have two children around my age, but I don’t get to meet either of them. It’s too bad, because I’d really like to meet these like, children of the world! First I met Angela, who’s son has American and Australian parents, was born in Ireland, and grew up in Japan. What a sweet life! Larry is Canadian, Lin is Chinese, and their kids grew up in Japan. Again, I find that SO interesting and would have loved to have met them. Maybe one day!

We have a delicious Japanese Okonomiyaki dinner that Lin prepares for us; cooked right at the dinner table! I get to hear some funny stories about Dad, Uncle John, and Larry from when they were younger (Dad used to brew his own beer, HA!).

We almost die during dinner, when… an EARTHQUAKE HITS! Don’t worry, Mom, I’m being a tad dramatic. No where near close to death. But we do totally feel a quick little rumbling, which Lin and Larry confirm to be an earthquake and say happens quite often. Apparently all new buildings in Japan are built for this stuff though, which is comforting. How cool though! My first earthquake.

We take a late subway home, which is entertaining because the mix of people getting on and off the train range from totally drunk and stupid to super tired after a long day at work.

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Japan: Kyoto to Tokyo

It’s our last day in Kyoto. It’s a city that I could spend A LOT more time in, but it’s hard to fit every thing in over a three week period. I need to spend some time in Tokyo!
We check out and spend the morning walking around Teramachi for the last time. It’s so nice to walk around with just our day packs and not to worry about our big luggage. It’s probably sitting safely in our Tokyo hotel as I type.

Kyoto to Tokyo

It’s our last day in Kyoto. It’s a city that I could spend A LOT more time in, but it’s hard to fit every thing in over a three week period. I need to spend some time in Tokyo!
We check out and spend the morning walking around Teramachi for the last time. It’s so nice to walk around with just our day packs and not to worry about our big luggage. It’s probably sitting safely in our Tokyo hotel as I type.

We come across a small street where there is a coffee shop with a patio. I haven’t seen very many patios in Japan at all so this feels like a novelty! Dad orders pancakes. So Japanese, I know, but one can only eat fish for breakfast so many times. The fruit topping on the pancakes is frozen. Like, still frozen. I steal one of his blueberries and feel no regret having only ordered a matcha latte. It’s not awful of course, frozen fruit is fine. I’m just not jealous.

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We catch a Shinkansen (super fast train) to Tokyo around noon. Because we were traveling with our luggage before, Dad had upgraded us to a nicer train car with more space, charging stations, more comfortable seats, etc. This time, because we’re traveling so light, we book the peasant seats. They’re still fabulous in comparison to what you’d get in other countries, but with these tickets we actually don’t have “reserved” seats, and therefore risk getting onto a train which is full, and having to stand. Luckily for us there are a couple free seats next to each other.

The trip to Tokyo is around 2 hours, and I bore easily. In search of something to keep me entertained, I pull out my new Lush shampoo that I purchased earlier in Kyoto. I don’t know what I plan to do with it. Just stare at it? That’s what I end up doing. I go to read the instructions (because using shampoo is so hard) and find that after a bold HOW TO USE: all the instructions are in Japanese. Well shit. Good thing I’ve got the English instructions memorized!

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Arriving in Tokyo is weird. Tokyo is kind of weird. Unlike Kyoto, everyone here dresses basically the same. Everyone wears a black suit. Not grey, not blue, just black. Sometimes the tie colours vary, but even those are very plain. Dad says Tokyo reminds him of Blade Runner. It is pretty interesting to see how conformist this society seems to be. The weirdest thing about Tokyo though, is that the business districts where everyone wears the same black suit, can coexist with the Harijuku area where everyone wears crazy anime-like costumes. It’s an eclectic mix. I’m also obsessed with how adorable the school uniforms are for young kids. They dress like little sailors. This, to me, is a perfect hybrid of the two. An adorable, almost cartoony kind of conforming.

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We try to walk from the train station to our hotel. Dad has looked at some maps and feels like he knows where to go, and it’s a nice day. Why not?
The only small wrinkle in this plan, is that we don’t actually know where we are, and all the maps are in Japanese, and never point North. They just put maps up any which way they please, so if you can’t read the language, and don’t know where you’re going, it’s pretty easy to get turned around. And of course, we do. We have no idea where we are, so after 20 minutes of walking we just give up and get in a cab. Our driver instantly makes a U-turn. Classic.

One of my friends whom I met living in Lake Louise, Alberta, last summer, has been living in Japan for the last few months. He happens to be in Tokyo tonight, so of course we meet up and go for a beer! I haven’t spoken to anyone my age in over two weeks now (with the exception of my young monk friend in Koyasan), so I look forward to the opportunity to be around people my age, catch up with a friend, and check out the nightlife in Tokyo.

We meet in the lobby of my hotel, then head over to the club district of Tokyo called Roppongi. It’s Monday, so it’s not a very busy night out, but I can totally imagine how crazy this place would be on a weekend! Tacky bars covered in lights line the streets, where club promoters stand outside shouting at you to come in; offering drink specials and saying it’s the best bar in town. I’m so happy to have had the chance to come out for a night like this during my short stay in Tokyo!

Guest Blog: Written by my lovely father, Mr. Mark Lai. This is what he did during my night out.

Naomi is craving a bit of night life (and no doubt a break from the Old Man) and so has arranged to meet up with a friend of hers whom she met while working in Lake Louise last summer. His name is Murray Christmas…I know, say no more…and he just happens to have been working here in Japan for the past several months. I take it he leaves Tokyo tomorrow, so the timing for Mr. Christmas to show Naomi around the Tokyo club scene is tonight or never.
Anyway, this means I have to fend for myself this evening. I read about the bar here in the hotel and see they have a cigar menu! That piques my curiosity, so I decide to check it out.

I find a seat at the bar and chat with the bar tender in broken English. I observe that he is quite talented and is kept busy mixing elaborate concoctions of colourful “girlie drinks” for stern looking conservative business men in black business suits. I opt for a glass of Bordeaux and an 18 year old single malt on the rocks. Then I ask to see their cigar menu. They have a surprisingly extensive selection of (mostly Cuban) cigars , complete with dimensions (length and circumference) and estimated smoking duration. I choose one if the Romeo ‘y Julieta options available…estimated smoking duration of 65 min. The keeper of the cigars (not the bar tender) brings my selection (which is of course perfectly humidified) and proceeds with a ritualistic clipping of the end and painstaking torching of the tip in preparation for me to smoke. Wow, only the Japanese could elevate the lighting of a cigar to an art form as complex and subtle as their tea ceremony.
Smoking a cigar may not be the wisest thing for me to be doing in preparation of my marathon in Banff this June, but this has to be the most enjoyable cigar I have ever experienced. What’s more is that I am smoking it inside, at the bar. Nor am I the only one but somehow their ventilation system is able to deal with it because the air quality is quite tolerable.

The dynamics within this bar are quite interesting to observe. It appears to cater to Japanese business men. Other than the bar itself, where solitary drinkers are hanging out, the rest of the place consists of curtained off “private” rooms. As it is almost 100% men in the place, I surmise these private “rooms” are intended to enable confidential business discussions. I feel like I’m in some kind of Japanese version of Goodfellas. I
I finish my cigar just before last call at midnight and then make my way to bed. Naomi is still out, but I know I don’t have to worry about this travel savvy kid of mine. She has a good head on her shoulders.
She arrives safe and sound sometime well after I have fallen asleep.