Unanticipated Encounters on the Other Side of the World

We had set our alarm clocks for 8:30 so we could get an early start on our second full day in Tokyo. After hitting the snooze button several times we were up and ready to go by 9:30, which was still an improvement over the previous day.

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Our morning commute back to Tokyo was pretty packed. I guess I shouldn’t complain since I was able to keep my head above the fray.

The previous night, after we had gotten back to our AirBnb at Nagatsuta, Alana (through some means of social media wizardry that is beyond my capacity for comprehension) found out that a couple friends of ours from our university marching band were also in Tokyo! What could beat catching up with old friends but unexpectedly catching up with old friends in another country? Naturally, we made plans to meet the next day.

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We were off to Akihabara, home of all things anime-y and arcade-y.

Alana and I grabbed another budget breakfast of rice balls at a 7-11 on the way to the train station. It was good, though not quite as good or convenient as Lawson (no English on the wrappers). We hopped on the train and headed to Akihabara to meet with our friend Johnny O. We got there just in time to say hi before he started his Mari-Car tour (more on this in a later post!). We had booked a tour for later in the week, so we tried to move up, but unfortunately we weren’t able to.

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I’d love to share the significance of this little statue, but alas it was only our second day and my Japanese wasn’t yet up to the task of finding out.

While the tour was going on, Alana and I wandered through the Ameyoko market. This would have been a really cool place to spend some time if we had been interested in buying anything. As it were, we were still super intent on not spending any more money than necessary, so we settled for some light window shopping. The market was a completely mix-matched menagerie of everything under the sun. There were stalls selling clothing immediately next to stalls selling fresh produce. People shopping for shoes were bumping elbows with people shopping for fresh fish. As far as I could tell there wasn’t any particular order to the layout.

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Here we see the exact moment Alana gave up on getting a good picture in front of the temple.

After wandering through the market we headed to Senso-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo. Keeping up with the superlatives, it also must have been the most crowded temple in Tokyo. I haven’t been in a crowd this thick since our trip to Shanghai over the Chinese Labor Day holiday. I’m not really a fan of crowds, so I had to go into low power mode while we worked our way through the masses. It was one of the few sunny days while we were in Tokyo so that might have had something to do with it, though it was also a weekday in the middle of the morning. I shudder to imagine what it would be like on a weekend or a holiday.

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Not that mine turned out any better. The main street leading up to the temple was lined with souvenir shops and was about as tightly packed as our subway car on the way in that morning.

The coolest part of the temple, in my opinion, was the little self-service fortune telling booths that were scattered about the temple grounds. There was a metal box that you had to shake until a stick with a number came out. The number corresponded to a drawer that you opened up to get your fortune. There are seven different fortunes you can draw, ranging from excellent to terrible. The fortunes were translated into English, though the meaning beyond the initial title wasn’t particularly clear. Alana pulled a bad fortune, but fortunately (heh heh) there is a means of escaping this kind of situation. Around the fortune booth there are rows of metal wires where you can tie up any unwanted fortunes, leaving your bad luck hanging there at the temple instead of taking it with you. My fortune was a little better so I held on to it.

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At only 100 yen per fortune, we figured this was a pretty good budget friendly activity.

We took the train back to Akihabara where we met up with Johnny O and spent some time hanging out in a seven story SEGA arcade (one of four in the area). Each floor had a different theme. The first two floors were nothing but claw machines. Then there was a music game floor, a fighting and shooting floor, and so on, with the top floor reserved for VR games (those cost extra though so us cheapskates just stood and watched people moving around an open space with their cool futuristic visors on).

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Whole sections of sidewalk were lined with little gumball machines selling everything from little action figures to hats for your dog or cat.

We were all feeling pretty hungry at this point, so we wandered down the street looking for a place to eat. There were plenty, and we decided on a vending machine soba shop. There was a vending machine out front with pictures and prices of all the food. Once you had payed and picked a meal you got a ticket to take inside and give to the person at the counter. The food was cheap, and delicious and the servings were pretty enormous.

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Not only did the vending machine have pictures, there were life size displays of all the menu items in the restaurant window. These are both pretty common features in Japanese restaurants.

After refueling we were ready for another adventure. We decided to go check out the Imperial Palace, but by the time we got there it was already closed. Unfortunately I had to work that night (I work online, even when travelling), so I hopped on a train back to Nagatsuta while Alana and Johnny met up with our other friend Mike and went out to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant for dinner.

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How good was the food, you ask?

Here’s Alana with more about her experience:

Johnny and I wandered around the Tokyo station area, not really sure what to do. After grabbing a couple of free chocolate samples, we wound up at the Lego store for about an hour playing with Legos and just building a bit of nonsense. Mike Chott, another of our former marching band friends, met up with us and the three of us went in search of some conveyor belt sushi. It was surprisingly difficult to find conveyor belt sushi near Tokyo Station!

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I was pretty bummed when I saw all the fun I missed out on.

We did eventually find it and Johnny, Mike, and I ate in complete satisfaction. Without Rich’s troublesome vegetarian self, I was free to eat whatever fish and meat I wanted to! Surprisingly my favorite sushi ended up being the slightly sweet Inari sushi, a pocket of tofu skin with rice inside. I continued to search for that Inari sushi for the rest of our time in Japan and likely will continue to at every Sushi restaurant I come across.

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Alana’s and my favorite: Inari sushi (in the front).

After eating, we tried to go to a karaoke bar but found it too expensive and finally called it a night. Alana remarked that even at almost 11 at night, the train back to our area was still packed! What’re these people doing all night? It’s amazing to be in a city again (have we ever been?) that never sleeps, especially after having spent a year in New Zealand.

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