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Apr '11


Friday, the day of departure, we made sure to check out very early to avoid the daily traffic jam, or trainstuffing. Because we had quite a bit of baggage with us it wouldn’t be very smart or friendly towards the Japanese to travel by train at high season.

We took a local train to Tokyo central station and from there an airport express would take us to the airport. After traveling through Japan for a while we came to know none of the trains really required you to reserve a seat, however it would be wise to do so, so you are certain of a sitting spot. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to reserve seats without missing our train. So we figured we would just try to sit in an unreserved car of the train. Looking for a car that said: “Unreserved” we walked down track nr. 4. However, this train did not have any. A train operator made that clear to us. But he also told us to get in.
So there we were illegally sitting in a train. Well no big deal really. The train took us to the airport in about 1 hour. During this time we ate our breakfast and when we arrived at the airport we started looking for the right place to check in our baggage. This was done easily and without any trouble.

As for ourselves, we went through the gate and got to the shopping-side. There we walked around, looking for more souvenirs, eating and drinking some, walk around some more and finally started to wait at the boarding gate. Sybren sat down, packing his bag with the newly bought items. While he was at it several names passed by on the intercom; demanding people to please board their planes.
Until a certain point where Sybren heard some name on the intercom that sounded weirdly familiar. It was something that sounded like ferzabur or something like that. Followed by Maruselu. Sybren figured this was Marcel’s name, pronounced by a Japanese staff member.
Followed was a name that could have been Sybren’s (Cruesenk, Saiblen), and so he thought as well.

Marcel got this message as well and wondered whether it was his name indeed. He made his way back to the boarding gate.
Worried we both made our way to the desk to ask what was amiss.

When Marcel arrived, Sybren was just talking to one of the stewardesses at the desk. He had given his ticket and when the stewardess came back, she had some news for us.
The tickets we had were not sufficient.
However, the lady was friendly and had already printed new tickets. Although these tickets would get us to Paris as well, the seats would be different. Instead of the nice seats we should be getting, we got upgraded to business class tickets.
Relieved we took the tickets and thanked her. Soon after a line was formed for everyone to board. Good for us we didn’t have to wait for anyone, because we now had business class tickets, meaning we had our own line, with nobody in line. We went through the gate and entered the aircraft.

We got to our comfortable seats and settled down, checking out the chairs. These chairs were something different form the economy class’ ones. They were operated through some buttons on the armrest and we wondered how flat the chair could get. So as two young boys in a toy store, we checked the limits of the chair. It turned out the chair could almost completely flatten and thus form a nice bed to rest in while flying over the big country of Russia.
Also we noticed we were not the only ones who had received an upgrade to the business class, to our left and right, several others were checking out their chairs, tv’s and lamps.

The plane started to taxi it’s way over the airport grounds. As it did, we got offered some champaign, adding to our feeling of wealth and importance. After draining down several glasses, the plane got to the airstrip. We took off, and agreed taking of is different when you are in the front of the plane.
The flight itself was pretty straight forward. Although we had enough space for our legs and a seat that could almost transform into a bed, it was still hard to get to sleep.
The menu was handed over to us and we got to see what we would get for lunch and dinner. For lunch we had chicken, this was served when we flew over Korea/China. After this we had some time to kill and started gaming and watched some television or listened to some music.

Nothing of importance happened while we made our way over Russia and when we got to Finland our dinner got served. Smoked duck with either ravioli or scallops.

Shortly after finishing this meal, we landed in Paris. We got out of the plane and started following the signs that would lead us to our next boarding gate.
After having enjoyed the annoying queues and the jabbering Frenchmen and -women, we finally got to our gate. We sat down and waited. Finally we got aboard and pushed ourselves in the not-quite-as-comfortable-as-business-class-seats seats. We were literally stuck in our seats, no space for our legs or whatsoever. Lucky for us this was not a 14 hour flight, but only 45 minutes.
When everyone who needed to get on board, was aboard, the plane took off. When we reached the flying altitude, we got a drink and a cookie.
We killed the remaining time with watching clouds and training Pokemon.
Without any trouble we reached Schiphol. We got to the ground once again and made our way to baggage belt 13. We waited for our baggage to pass by, but it didn’t. Not either Marcel’s or Sybren’s baggage had made it. After some extra useless waiting, we went to the desk for problems with your baggage. Yet another queue.

When it was our turn, Marcel explained our problem. The lady behind the desk asked for the needed papers and we filled out some form. Sybren’s baggage was still in Paris and would arrive with the next flight. Marcel’s however, was not reported yet. So a search team was activated to start looking for it. Not long after, Marcel’s baggage got on the baggage belt. Unhappy that it didn’t last 4 hours for his baggage to be found -he would get quite a bit of money from his insurance if it did- Marcel got his suitcase and we made our way out towards our awaiting parents.
Sybren’s baggage would be delivered to him the next day.

We got home safely.

Apr '11

Last few words

I think we owe you one last post to tell you about the events of the last few days we were – yes, we are back in The Netherlands safely, although Sybren’s baggage still needs to arrive – in Tokyo

Tuesday we headed out to see a few malls. The end of our trip was coming in view and we still needed souvenirs to bring back. To make sure we would find some, we headed out and made our way through a lot of malls. Some had wide (5m) pathways, others had tiny (0.5) ones.
Well actually there is not much to tell about, you all know the drill.

After getting tired of seeing shop after shop and souvenir after souvenir, we went to our hotel to rest a bit before getting ourselves some dinner.
This time we headed south to get some food. Since there are only a few restaurants with an English menu, we had to search for quite a while. But in the end we found a small restaurant with cheering people as we entered. To the right of the entrance there was a Japanese style dinner, where people sat on the ground at low tables, passing food and sake to each other. That area was full, so we got an actual table. We ordered our food and a beer. As the beer arrived, Sybren stated as the fool he is: “Drinks are on me.” When we finished our food we drank a few more, payed and went back to our hotel.

The next day we would go to Mt. Fuji. But as we got up, Sybren did some research on how to get there and it turns out it is actually a 3 hour trip to get there. Besides, it would not be smart for us to climb it, since there was still ice on the track and it would be dangerous for amateur hikers like us. So we passed this, and we went out for another souvenir hunt.
Tuesday, we didn’t succeed in buying every souvenir we wanted. Marcel did get some games he wanted to bring home, but not much else.

So we checked the internet to see where we should get our souvenirs. Turns out Shinjuku would be the place to be; Meaning, we got on the train and got to Shinjuku. There we found some more duty free shops and bought some more souvenirs, while stopping at the occasional arcade hall.
When we got our bags filled with souvenirs and our stomaches drained from fuel, we got back to Akihabara and searched for yet another restaurant.
This time we headed to the east of Akihabara. We found a casual Japanese style restaurant with an English menu, so we asked for a table and the menu chart. To get to our table we would need to get out of our shoes and get to a table that was placed in a gap, so it would seem you sat on the ground, but actually there would be enough space for you legs to actually sit. The waitress knelt down next to us to take our orders. We ordered some beef, pork, omelet and a bowl of rice. When the food was brought, we finally got an explanation on how to actually eat the Japanese meals. Turns out that every meal in a hot bowl with a raw egg on top it, is a meal that needs to be turned a few times, the egg will bake from the heat of the bowl. And so we mixed the ingredients together. It was a very delicious spiced rice bowl. And with some pork terikyaki and some beef we ate our dinner.

After finishing our meals we thought about the wasabi achievement we had on our list and so we asked for two teaspoons of wasabi. The waitress was not sure what we would need that for, since we already finished our meals. So we explained, or tried to and apparently she understood because a few minutes later she returned with a wooded spoon with wasabi on it. She asked: “Is this correct?” “Yes, we need one more” And soon after the second spoon got delivered to our table.
The amounts on the spoons were not the same, but we made sure it was and we put the wasabi in our mouths. Not swallowing it right away.
It wasn’t actually as spicy as everybody might think. Sure we felt it, but after swallowing the burning feeling was gone instantly. Disappointed by the level of spiciness, but satisfied with nailing yet another achievement we left the restaurant.

We headed out to see what this Karaoke thing in Japan is all about. We went north because there was the main street of Akihabara and we figured some kind of karaoke bar would be available there. We got to a Big Echo and asked for a karaoke room.
It would be 450 per 30 minutes and you would need to buy at least one drink. We got a room for 30 minutes and got to that room. When we arrived we needed some time to figure out how this works. With a wireless touch-screen device we would be able to select the songs and then we would be singing through the microphones (Yeah, really).
Since Sybren is not very known with any music Marcel queued the first song.
As we finished this first song, a phone rang. We looked around and found a phone hanging on the wall, Sybren answered: “Yeah, hello, this is Sybren speaking”, “you finish? or extend?” “extend”
Of course the 30 minutes were not really over. But that is probably how the business is. At least we now knew how to queue songs and so we sang a few more. The phone rang again, “finish or extend?” “extend please, and could we get another 2 beers?”, “two beer, oke!”
We enjoyed the Karaoke for another hour and then we went down again to see the damage to our wallets. As to be expected the beer we ordered was expensive. We went out and we went back to our hotel.

Back in the hotel we did some research on how to be able to enjoy mount Fuji without climbing it. Apparently, it was possible to get a clear view of the mountain from a few lakes nearby.

The next day we got up early and got a train to lake Kawaguchi, one of the five lakes near Mt. Fuji. When we arrived there we found beautiful weather awaiting us and so we started walking to a nearby hill to get a clear shot on the mountain.
We got there by buying a one way cable cart ticket. On top of the mountain we did indeed get a clear shot on the mountain and took a few pictures.
The way back down would be 40 minutes by walking. We took another path. However this was not the path we needed, which we only discovered when we walked it down a few miles. We turned around to climb back up the hill and get down on the other side.
Marcel took a look at the time, to see wether we would be able to beat the time. And indeed we did beat it.
We managed to get down in only 9 minutes, instead of the 40 minutes the board claimed it would take.

We got back by train and walked around Akihabara for the remaining time of the day. We spent some more time – and our last few 100 Yen coins – in the arcade halls and after having stuffed ourselves with some dinner we got back to hotel and went to sleep. The next day would be our departure.

buyed some souvenirs, enjoyed the view at lake Kawaguchi, ate wasabi and enjoyed karaoke.

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Apr '11

Spring Sunday and Moving Monday

First of all, we’d like to let you know we are safe. The news will or is telling you about earthquakes in Japan and even one that would have hit Tokyo. However, what we felt in Tokyo was an earthquake with a magnitude less then 2.

Spring Sunday
Yesterday we went to the Harajuku district in Tokyo. This district is famous for the people that should be there on Sundays, wearing outfits of their favorite anime character or game character. We got this from the internet and so we took the JR-line to get there. It was not too far away.

When we got out of the train, we saw a street loaded with people. So we went in and since Marcel needed to find an ATM we tried to find one. Passing all kinds of shops (mostly cloths), we got to a supermarket. Marcel got his money, and while we were looking for the ATM we came to the conclusion this street was not something we were interested in. We got out again and followed a massive queue. It went to a park with a shrine. We walked through the park. Apparently, the biggest wooden shrine-gate was here.
We took our moments to recover from being struck by awe. Moving on, the weather was very nice and when we got out of the park the sun was really nice and warm.
Also we found another swarm of people heading to something. We followed this line, which led to a park filled with thousands of people. A lot of them were picnicking, others were jamming, others were dancing dressed like Elvis Presley. It is very much comparable with the freedom festivals we have in the Netherlands every 5th of may. Only this is every Sunday and no weed is involved.

It seemed we were not the only ones enjoying the weather. We took a few pictures before heading back out.
We didn’t find any weirdly dressed young people, apart from a badly dressed Pikachu.
After having had another walk around the shopping area in this district we went back to the hotel, took a little rest from the walking and hot trains before heading out for dinner.

We got back and went to sleep.
During the night we felt an earthquake hit. Marcel says it is comparable to the one we had earlier in the capsule hotel. It lasted only for a few seconds and we got back to sleep.

Moving Monday
This morning we would go to Mount Fuji, however the weather was not very clear and the mountain would not be open for hiking, at least, not for amateurs. So instead we would go to see yet another part of tokyo, with lovely cherry blossoms and a lot of shops. We took the train, only to find out it was a ride of about 20 seconds. We got out and started walking around. We saw a few arcade halls when we were on the train, so we walked in that direction. Visiting one or two shops on the way. Not much to tell you about.

When we were satisfied from the sight of this district and arrived back at the hotel, we decided to check out a Pokemon center in Tokyo. It was not far away, only 7 minutes by train. We arrived there, Marcel had his Nintendo DS with Pokemon Black with him, just in case a lot of people would be there with whom he could trade Pokemon. Unfortunately at this time the shop (it was actually a shop, not a real Pokemon Center), was not very crowded, apart from a few business men nobody was there to talk with.

We headed back to our hotel. When we were halfway from the station to the hotel another earthquake hit. We felt this one as well. It was like standing on a ship. The Japanese guy next to us had more problems with it. Maybe he was just exaggerating to add to the drama.
The weather also made a change, from sunny weather it went to rain and wind. We took another stroll around town before heading back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel another few earthquakes hit. There was even a tsunami warning for a few minutes. But that was lifted quickly after.

Thousands of people in a park. Seen a shopping area and felt a few earthquakes.

Apr '11

Shocking experience in a box.

Yesterday, 7th of April, we checked out of our hotel in Kyoto. We moved to the main station to put our luggage in a locker. Before leaving Kyoto to head towards Tokyo we would first check out one last shrine. The popular and famous shrine of Inari. The god of better income.

To this particular shrine a lot of donations were made by a lot of people all over japan. This resulted in a very long path covered with gates. Orange gates. Each gate would cost about 5 to 30 thousand euros, depending on the size and bears the name of the person or family who donated. We could not count them all, we didn’t even see them all. The entire mountain, Inari Mountain, was covered with these gates with a lot of shrines.

After gotten tired of seeing gate after gate we got back to the station, got our luggage and reserved a spot for our superexpress. We got in and got out in Tokyo. Our first hotel in Tokyo would only be for one night. It would be a capsule hotel. We got to the hotel fairly easily and checked in. It was only 17.00 now and so we got out to check out the neighborhood. After heaving dinner and some more walking around, playing games and seeing huge buildings, we got back to the spanish feeling hotel. We climbed in our bedrooms with size 2x1x1 and watched a bit more of the weird Japanese tv-shows (yes a small tv was installed in these capsules to make sure we didn’t have too much space to use).

We slept in, or at least tried to. Apparantly Sybren succeeded at first, because he didn’t feel a thing from the earthquake that hit just before midnight. Marcel however did feel it, he went down with the elevator to ask whether stairs would be available during emergencies. After having sketched the whole thing on paper they understood and answered: “No.” The earthquake stopped and Marcel got back to his box.
As you can imagine, we slept horribly. Tiny boxes in which we had to put our luggage as well as get our rest. The heat was killing unable to bare.

Anyway next morning we checked out again and headed for Akihabara, where our next hotel would be. When we were checking out our location on a map, a man walked up to us and asked whether we would like to ask him about any directions. So we asked him directions for our hotel; Mystays . Unfortunately he could not be of service to us, so he apologized and moved on. We found the way ourselves a bit later.

We got there early and asked if they could take watch on our luggage while we waited until we could check in. During our wait time we didn’t sit idle. We went out to check out our new neighborhood. Since Akihabara is famous for its arcade and electronics shops, we headed out to check out a bit of this. When the time was right, we got back to the hotel and were happy to see our rooms were a lot bigger as our last ones. We took a little rest before heading out once more to get some food, which is quite hard in such an electronics based area. We succeeded and are now in our hotel drinking a beer to yet another story to tell you guys.

Got to Tokyo, survived earthquake, seen a view spots in akihabara. cheap games everywhere. If only the language would be easy to learn.

Apr '11

Meet Johnnie Hillwalker

Today we went for yet another walk around Kyoto, only this time, we would have a guide to lead us.

Before the tour started an old man walked up to us and asked us where we were from. “Holland”, this made him very pleased. He told us he was happy to finally meet some foreign people that could speak English. We had a little conversation. He lived in Kyoto his entire life and remembered the war, when he was just a little kid.
The tour started and the man made quick work of getting away.

The guide was nobody else then the famed Johnnie Hillwalker. Those of you who don’t know him, don’t blame yourself.
I will briefly explain who he is. Johnnie Hillwalker is a Japanese man of 80 years old. He has been a city-guide for his entire life. His tours include fun, history, wisdom and a lot of walking.
At 10.15 the tour would start. Then entire group counted 9 tourists and 1 Johnnie Hillwalker. Of course the size of the group is of no importance, but it helps to form a picture in your head.
I could help you by describing the lot, but that would be a very boring story. So I will just describe our guide Johnnie.
As I said, he is an 80 year old man. His white hair reached to his shoulders and started to thin out. To cover the skin that was visible through his hair he wore a hat, one you could refer to as a tourist hat or fishing hat (without the hooks of course). He wore a black jacket that was almost as short as he himself. I would guess he was about 1.6 meters and his jacket close to 1.5m. His face looked a bit like mister Miyagi’s (without the beard).

The tour started and he started by telling us where we would go first and handed out a view maps he made himself, though very good readable.
The first stop would be the Higashi Honganji Temple. This particular temple was famous, because both it was very old and the buddha inside. The Buddha inside this temple is called Amida and he sees to it that everyone would go to paradise after dying.
Outside this temple we stopped and Johnnie told us about the Japanese religion. Which is quite a mixed up thing. They worship Buddhas, which comes from India through China. As well as some Chinese Symbols. For example Johnnie pointed to the dragon that stood at the washing table near the temple. The old Japanese religion is called Shinshü, which includes a lot of gods, but no god for the afterlife. So this is why the Japanese people are so fond of the Amida Buddha. Other Buddhas can by found throuhgout the streets, inside every home and in other temples. Apart from the ones in the homes and the family temples they are all open to public. Temple headquarters like this big temple controlled a lot of smaller temples, but also elementary schools and junior high-schools.

I could tell you more about the temple. But it is a lot more fun to talk about the rest of the tour instead of spending words on the religion.
Our next stop would be a Kyosendo. A place where they make the famous fans. We got to see how the fans were made and how time consuming it is to do. Also we learned entire blocks of houses were actually working together to make the fans. Some households would fold the paper, others would make the bamboo sticks. Others would assemble those and yet another household would make the finishing touch.
These handmade fans had different goals. Some were for tea ceremonies, others just for decoration, dancing or practical use.
In the workshop where we could take a look one pair was working. An old lady and a man of about 40 years old. The man would weld the outer pieces of bamboo to the paper and the lady then made sure it wouldn’t move while drying. They would do this every day (except for weekends) from 8.30 to 12.00 and from 13.00 to 17.30. Together they could finish 500 fans a day. It sounds like it is a brain-killing job. Which brings us to the next stop.

The next stop was a Shinto shrine. The Shinto shrines can be recognized by the gate and simple paper decorations. The sacred ground in such a shrine is always surrouned by a rope, most of the time on a height above your head. You could only enter these areas by first washing yourself. The Shinto gods don’t like dirt. Some monks take of their cloths and wash themselves intensively and only then they would be entering the temple of the god. Johnnie only cleaned his hands and mouth before entering the sacred area in front of the small temple.
Shinto gods are invisible though so one would never be sure if your prayers would be heard. To get the attention of the god there is a bell you may ring with your washed hands. After this you clap your hands twice to make more noise and get the god’s attention. After doing this you pray and bow.
Johnnie told us this particular shrine was of the god of the brain. You could pray here for a better brain. “Very popular among students”

Next we would stop at a small graveyard near a local Buddha temple. Here we received some information about the ceremonies people go through when one of their loved ones passed away. Every month a priest would come by the house, usually on the day of the month on which the person in question passed away. Together with the priest they would make sure the person would have a good afterlife. the grave also gets visited, but not every month. Only a few times a year. 3 Times if I recall correctly, around national holidays the family would go to the grave where the ashes were stored and refresh the flowers and write something on bamboo to put at the grave.

Next would be another shrine, this time one for the protection of women. Johnnie made another prayer for his wife and on we moved to the next stop.
We would get some green tea with vegetarian sushi. The sushi we got was made of rice, black sesame seeds wrapped in a sweet pancake-like covering.
On we went, through the Geisha area (officially geisha area, unofficially it had just been prostitution until last year), to a small pastry shop. They made their own cookies and sold them, here we got to try a cookie of which almost nobody knows the name and of which we already forgot the name. But it was a flower cookie. It tasted like thin paper filled with some kind of honey paste. After checking out the shop and it contents (they even spent time on learning young cooks how to bake all the delicious cookies and sweets), we got out and moved to yet another Buddha shrine.

This shrine was build by the famous farmer Hideyoshi. We briefly got his story. Apparently he has become famed as a hero, not by fighting, but by talking to other people and make them his friends. This way he managed to unite a big part of the Japanese people. This day they still worship him and his deeds. Next to this sake loving Buddha temple (people offer sake to this particular Buddha) was a little shrine of another Shinto god. This was the god of good income, Toyokuni. You could pray here to ask for a higher income. Not to anyone’s surprise this was a very famous god and so was this shrine.

Next we got to the old Nintendo building. Not much to tell you about. Nintendo started in a wooden cottage and slowly expanded through their playing cards into a nice building. This buidling was no longer in use, so getting Sybren’s achievement here would be just as silly as it would be at the current Nintendo building. As a little souvenir Johnnie handed out original playing cards made by Nintendo.

After this we got to see another household craft; pottery. We passed a part of Kyoto that consisted of a lot of pottery families. We stopped by one of these houses. In this house they painted the pottery and indeed when we got to take a look inside we saw an old man and an old lady painting pots. Outside these potteries were sold, either for 300 yen for a small cup or 400 yen for a bigger one, through self-service. This was the last stop already.

Now, I did not include everything Johnnie told us, because the man just had too much information to share with us.

After the tour which ended near a famous temple, we went to see that temple and walked back down through the crowded streets. back down we took another stroll around town before heading to the Italian restaurant where we couldn’t eat yesterday. Today they were open again and we got to a table. To our benefit the people here could actually speak English!
We got to see the menu and felt our wallets shrinking. This place was very exclusive apparently. The prices were towering above our budget, but we kept our cool and ordered the food, although the cheapest pizza they had on the menu. We ate the pizza that was twice the price and half the size of pizzas we were used to and drank our beer (which had relatively the same prize). Feeling like rich and wealthy business people we payed the bill and went back to our hotel, stopping to buy some ice cream at the local supermarket.

Our trip and some photos are accessible through our Trip Journal page.

Apr '11

For real, or just a prank?

Yesterday evening I wrote the last post. In the post of today I will describe what actually happened when we went out to get our dinner.

After locking our hotel room we got in the lift to get to the first floor. We got into our shoes (since in the hotel it is not allowed to walk on shoes) and headed to the place where would be some restaurants awaiting our arrival.
While walking there we walked past a few Pachinko halls, not much of importance happened though.
We arrived at a little restaurant and got inside to ask whether they had an English Menu. They had and handed it over immediately. The place got our approval and we got to a table. This table was much like a bar, apart from it not being an actual bar.

First we would order some beer. Seeing the beers they had we noticed a list of beer cocktails. As nosy as we are we both tried one of those. Marcel got a strawberry beer and Sybren took his chance at a cassis beer. As weird as this may sound, the taste was even more weird.
We felt our lust for blood die out, our beards fining their way back in our face, our voice getting higher by each sip. In short we felt our manly hood shrinking by each sip. Hearing the giggling and the pointing from the waitresses did not help either.
So we finished this particular beer quickly and ordered two pints to re-establish our manly hood once more.

The food we ordered arrived and we finished this quickly since Marcel got himself some kind of big pizza cookie and Sybren got something with a raw egg on top of it. We went out and made our way back to the hotel.

On the way to the hotel though something came up in th mind of Marcel. We would try to play Pachinko, but first we would get back to the hotel and search the internet to get to know how to actually operate these weird machines.

At the hotel the necessary Google-ing was done and we found a few YouTube movies explaining us exactly what to do. We got back to the first floor, got into our shoes again and moved to the Pachinko hall we passed earlier.
In there rows and rows of pachinko machines were waiting for our money. The machines would only except 1000 Yen a time. So we threw in 1000 Yen (~10 Euro) and started by turning the handle a bit so metal balls would actually be thrown out. Each time a metal ball got into a special gate, a slot machine would start. When each of the 3 slots contained the same number we would get a jackpot.

At some points in the game, the screen would tell us to push the button (the button that said: “push” would start flashing as well).
As we played and pushed the button as quick as we could we saw our score get higher and higher, with added sound effects. Each time we were out of metal balls we used one of the 10 credits we got by the 1000 yen. Another button would print a card which we then could use in a different machine.
Each machine had it’s own theme; from Ninja Gaiden to under water world fun. After checking out a few machines to see what themes they contained and hearing sounds that told us we achieved something, we eventually ran out of balls to play with.
We didn’t want to put in an extra 1000 yen so we moved to hand in our card to get to see our points and buy a price.

We already checked out what prices we could actually get. This diverted from regular soap to golden watches. Before playing we figured we would at least get some washing powder, but seeing how well we did we figured we would get something better.

With our mind running through all the possible prices and the card with our points in our hand we got to a crew member of this castle. We handed over our card; if the Internet was right he would then use it to measure our points. He walked us to a machine and showed us how to do it ourselves. We would have to put the card in, it would then be checked and pooped out again.

The man did this for us, since it was our first time. Happily he got our card out and handed it to us. He showed us to the price booth and encouraged us to get the best price there was. Smiling we handed over our card that now would show us how much points we earned in total.
The lady behind the counter gently took our card as if it was some kind of holy artifact. She put it in some machine and our total score was displayed.
After spending 1000 yen and a lot of laughter hitting the button we earned a total of 1 point. The lady showed us and handed over the prize we would be able to get by it. A small, though very useful, toothpick.

Happy with our prize we got back to our hotel room and got to sleep.

The next morning we would go to the heavenly bridge.
Which actually was this morning. So here is the next part of the story.
We got out of bed, took a shower – in the bathroom that is about 2x1m and contained the toilet as well – as usual and got to our way to the station of Kyoto. On the way we would get our breakfast and in the train we would eat it.
Marcel did some research and found the train we would have to take was not covered with the JR pass we had. So we bought a ticket of ~4500 Yen a piece for reserved seats.
On the train we ate our breakfast, drank our coffee and enjoyed our milk. It would take about 1 hour to get to the next stop and another 30 minutes after we got on the next train.

At last, we arrived at Amanohashidate. We bought another little snack and something to drink and we moved to the heavenly bridge. It was not a heavenly bridge at all. Really, it was just a big sandbar, but if you would look through your legs from a certain spot you could see the heavenly bridge. All excited we got to the other side by walking the 3.6 km long sandbar. The sandbar itself was covered with pine trees.

At the other side we found a sign that told us from where we would have to look through our legs. A small train would get us there for only a few Yen. But as dutch as we were we didn’t want to use the train and with our youth we climbed the 700m long staircase. At last we arrived at the spot. We looked through our legs and we saw the same, but only upside down. After looking longer it was still the same. What you had to do was turn of the auto-adjustment of things in your head. Your head knows what is up and what is down. If you would succeed in doing so, you could say it was a very strange bridge, connecting two different lands.

After seeing this we moved on and got to a small shop. You could buy some cookies there, but we didn’t. Outside there were some more spots on which you could try seeing the bridge. Also at the far end we found a ring on a pole. Next to it was a stack of small clay Frisbees. For 100 yen you could take 3 pieces and try throwing them through the ring. Marcel gave it a try and failed. As stubborn as he is he threw in another 100 yen. Sybren wanted to try it as well and threw in 100 yen of himself and succeeded nicely the third try. “Suukooi,” was the reaction of the few watching Japanese. Marcel also managed to get his fourth frisbee through the ring.

To enjoy this happy moment we bought a Japanese candy. Miso on a stick with a very thick soy sauce painted (yes, painted) over it. We agreed the white Miso tasted like air, or some other thing that doesn’t really have any taste. The soy sauce however was nice.
After heaving seen what was to see, unwilling to pay a bus to get to yet another temple, even though this one might have been on a mountain, we moved back down the stairs and back over the sandbar.
We hopped back in the train and got back in Kyoto.

We both agreed to want to eat some pizza now, after eating Japanese meals for a week. So we moved to our hotel room and tried to see where we would be able to eat pizza.
Sybren found a place, it was not too close, but neither was it too far away. We went down again, put on our shoes and started heading to the north-east. When we arrived at the place, we discovered it was not open. From seeing the sign we figured he was away from 29th of March untill 5th of April. This could mean he would be open again tomorrow. So better luck tomorrow. On the way there Marcel had noticed a small restaurant with an English menu. So we moved in there and asked for the menu. They had traditional Japanese food sets, with a few plated a set. Sybren had fried boneless chicken and Marcel had some chicken terriyaki.

Having finished the meal, we finished the day.

Got an awesome prize by testing Pachinko, got to see a heavenly bridge, and yet again ate Japanese food.

Apr '11

Last few days

Hello again.

This is a very short post about the stuff that happened after we got back from that night we ate so much weird things.

We got the Shinkanser superexpress from Osaka to Kyoto and we have been residing there ever since.

When we first arrived in Kyoto I wrote thet last blogpost. From that point on we have been walking all around Kyoto to see what it has to offer.
We found a few arcade halls, a few shrines and temples and a curry bar that has a leveling system in the menu.

In the arcade halls Marcel got to play a lot of pop ‘n music games. In between the arcade halls we happened to pass quite a few shops. Most of them were clothing shops.

Yesterday (3rd of April) we got to see Kyoto Castle. Finally a castle that was still standing, for 400 years. Sadly, this castle did not have a main tower and thus making it much less impressive to the eye. But now for once we got to see where the people would sleep, train, eat, welcome guests, etc.

Today we did some laundry and walked around town some more. We happened to pass by an old temple that is still in use. As we got in they started a ceremony. Not much to say about that. As little we understood, we just got an impression of what this temple was like. Another part of the temple ground had a lot of chairs and it seemed like a play would start soon. But seeing who were in the audience we decided not to sit this out. The audience consisted only of women.

We headed to the Nintendo HQ, Sybren had an achievement running to ring the bell and run away.
After watching the gate for a few minutes Sybren got to the conclusion it would not be really impressive to ring the bell at the gate and run away. And it would not get anything near enjoying for people at home to see. Only if he would do something illegal and get arrested. However, this was not on his list. Marcel agreed.
We even tried to get some co-operation form the guards to make it at least look like fun. This failed, because they did not speak English.
We passed by the panasonic HQ, same story.

After some A LOT more walking around town and entering just one new arcade hall, we got back to our apartment and got a little rest before heading out for dinner again.

That is all.

Walking, a lot of it! (~60km of walking over the last 3 days)

Apr '11

Time for celebration?

How we managed to get through yet another April 1st. The day started just as any other day, by waking up. We went to a local 7-eleven and bought some breakfast there. Nothing unusual. With our breakfast in a bag and that bag in our hand we walked to Osaka castle.Before entering the castle we ate our breakfast seated on the bridge to the castle. We finished our coffee and went through the massive door (about 30cm thick). So we entered the castle and got struck by awe.

Osaka castle is a castle that has been rebuilt twice. Over the years it got destroyed by earthquakes and lightning bolts. The last time it was rebuilt, it was done with money that was donated by the people of Osaka, in 1931. They did not rebuild everything though, Just the main tower. But seeing the size of this tower we could get the general idea of how big this castle must have been.
Well, that is how far the history lesson goes. If you like more information on this topic, please google it. For pictures refer to our Flickr account, accessed through the link that is posted on the photos page.

When we got out of the castle we went back to our hotel, got something to drink and a little snack. This finishes the first part of the day.
On we went to the next part. A part filled with arcade-joy and good food.

We got to the streets again and took the subway-line to Umeda station. This is one busy place for all kinds of people. When we first passed here, the day before, we saw a big sign that said: “Namco Land” telling us there was lots of arcade fun to get.  We went searching for this again and soon after we found it. We crossed the road and got inside. Inside we got to the second floor since the first floor only contained machines that we now refer to as I-am-a-14-year-old-girl-and-I-like-to-take-pictures-with-my-friends-and-then-photoshop-them-so-we-look-like-models-machines, and yes this name is a work in progress.

We got to the second floor and started searching for any fun arcade machine, after not much searching we found a tetris machine with a controller the size of your head attached to your leg. Unfortunately this was not the machine we were looking for and we did not really like to play a game of tetris for now. The rest of this floor was all about some kind of music game of which we are not sure why it is so much fun to play. But apperently it is, since the Japanese literally stand in line to get to play.
The rest of the floors were just stuffed with fighting games like Tekken 6.

We got out and wondered what else Umeda had in store for us. We passed several other arcade halls, most of them were Pachinko&Slot machines, but some of them were actual fun. Marcel got to play a few more Pop ‘n Music games and tried to buy and e-amusement pass. A card on which your progress can be stored in between games. But it failed, the machine just took his 300 Yen and did not bother anything else. That sucks!

When we had seen about everything there was to see in Umeda, we got to the subway line and took the subway to Namba. The part where we had spent last days afternoon as well. This was quite a bit bigger for people like us. So we spent some time here, seeing what there is to buy in such an electronics based shopping mall. We got to try the new Nintendo 3DS at the upper floor in one of the shops.

Time to get some food. At the castle Sybren got his hands on an information folder and in it we saw some good places to get some food and with the book we could get a small discount. Great! As our Dutch blood started boiling we made our way to a BBQ restaurant we picked out. After searching for a few minutes we found it.

We got inside and found a Japanese guy leading us to a table. We shoved our jackets and bags in one of the seats (yes, it was like a box where you could sit on). We hurt our knees as we tried to push ourselves into the seats. Since the BBQ was installed in the table we couldn’t really fit our knees and legs under it, but we found a solution quickly. At the far back to the wall was a small opening big enough for one knee and leg.
The man brought us the menu and started to explain. They had 4 menus; A, B, C and D. Menu A contained meat of several sorts, pork, lamb, cow and chicken. Menu B had the same with added steamed rice, and some vegetables. Menu C had a desert included as well. The  man didn’t bother telling us what Menu D held in addition to the rest. After asking, he told us he never explained it to foreign people, because the added meat was cow tongue and the price was about 700 Yen extra.
All menu’s were all you can eat for 2 hours based. And if everyone in the group had the same menu you had the choice to get an all you can drink as well for and added price. This was 1300 Yen extra, but seeing a beer was already 600 Yen this was decided quickly. We would take Menu B with all you can drink. Because we had the coupon with us we got a discount of 100 Yen a person. Also he told us we should reconsider taking the all you can drink, because this would only serve us if we would drink 3 beverages. We looked at each other and thought, sure we can handle 3. We told him it was no problem and our BBQ got lighted.

He asked us what meat we wanted for the first round, asking whether we could eat pork, chicken, lamb and cow. “Sure, bring it on” we told him. Not much later our first beer arrived and the meat followed soon after. The man explained what it all was. From Pork Belly (not stomach) to a long spare rib (no bone in it, it was just a long piece of meat from in between the ribs) to cow cheek. A scissor was served to cut our food with before dipping it in one of the different sauces.
We ate the first round of meat quickly and after this we ordered “more of the long piece please”. Understanding he nodded and brought more meat. What else? We already forgot what every piece was but we knew the above 5 or so were tasty. So we ordered more of those. Also this second round Sybren ordered cow heart, because he figured it was a massive muscle and should be quite juicy for that. He baked it for a few minutes before eating. It tasted like regular heart, he told Marcel.
For the third round Marcel took his chance and ordered cow heart as well, Sybren ordered this as well and of course apart from that also more bacon, rib-eye and what not. After finishing this, he had to agree with Sybren: “Yes indeed, like regular heart.”

In the mean time we took our pick from the vegetables, rice and spices. The next plate was served and Marcel threw his cow stomach on the bbq and So did Sybren with his second piece of cow heart.
When we finished this round as neatly as any other we got to ask more for the fourth round. Sybren went completely bonkers and ordered large cow intestine, but only a small piece he told the lady who asked what we wanted this time. Again we also ordered more meat and, after asking how sake was traditionally served (depending on the weather), room temperature sake.
The cow intestine was served with the other food and Sybren put it on the bbq. After a few minutes he gave it a try. Squishy, and unable to bite through, so he was bound to swallowing it a whole. After sharing stories with Marcel it seems like stomach and intestine are about the same in taste and texture.
Sybren ordered some melon soda to wash away the taste, but when he tried doing so the lady warned him. “It is very very very sweet. Very sweet!”. Alarmed Sybren ordered only a small glass. When she was about to get it, she asked quickly what the intestine tasted like. “so so?”, “No, downright nasty and very strong.” The soda was served, and she had been right, this was like drinking syrup without adding the needed water.

1.5 Hours after starting we were already full and so we finished our beer and at the last round for drinks Sybren ordered shochu, a potato based spirit, on the rocks. Marcel just took another beer for himself.

When our time was over and we couldn’t fit any more food in our stomachs we payed the bill and decided we would go to Tako Tako King to get one beer and see whether they would still know us.
On the way there we walked through a weird street. Seemed like this was some sort of very crowded red light district. Woman on the streets that asked questions that didn’t make sense to us. What made it weird was the way this place was filled with people, couples, old, young everyone was here. At one point a guy came running up to us and asked us whether we liked gambling; Poker, Roulette or any other thing. We gently shoved him off.

After some walking we got to the bar, which was quite close to the earlier discribed weird street. We got inside and got some nods of recognition. We got a place at the bar and ordered 2 beer. Next to us were 3 friends. One of them already had his fill, since he told us so, but nothing stopped him from talking to us. We kind of enjoyed this, because he had some funny stories and we learned a few Japanese words. “Mecha Kawaii” – Very Gorgeous, “Kyodo” – cool.

With the dictionary on the table we tried communicating and so did they, for it was a 2-way dictionary. At one point the middle guy who was quite big got a paper and pen and wrote “I am pig” then a little drawing. Making us laugh. Marcel thought he misspelled an corrected pig to big. It was only later when we discovered the drawing was a pig’s snout.

He asked about our age and Marcel told him he was 22 and so did Sybren, with a little side note. When the clock would hit 12.00 he would be 23. “Happy Birthday, let me buy you a Japanese spirit” So he got him a glass of Shochu, pronounced like Sjotjuu. Sybren said cheers, but got interrupted by the guy (Yossyan), he told him in Japanese they say “Kampai.”So Sybren said: “Kampai” and drank the shochu.
Yossyan and his friends, Tae and Sakkan got another plate of food, and he insisted we tried it. Unable to refuse such a generous gift we handed over our little plates which we already got before we could even say we didn’t want any food (when we got inside).  Marcel noted “Ah it has bacon in it, I see bacon”.
Sybren already tried pickin up the squishy ball with the chopsticks. A very hard task to complete, but he succeeded. Though he couldn’t cut it with his teeth without having it fall of again he placed the entire thing in his mouth. HOT!!! They were only baked just now. Sybren tasted the weird cheese they have here and there was something else. Something with suckers. “Oh my god” this is squid or octopus. He tried biting it away, but the squid was unbelievable hot. The taste wasn’t really awful, but the little suckers kept sucking to your tongue.
After finishing this and being happy it was over, Sybren quickly took another gulp of the beer he had. Marcel thought the octopus-balls were oke.
Shortly after this adventure Yossyan fell asleep at his spot suddenly. His friends told us he was really drunk and they would get him home. We finished our beer and went back to our hotel as well.

Castle, Arcade, cow intestine, stomach and heart, weird conversation and octopus tentacles.

Apr '11

Best. Bar. Ever.

This is the story of how Marcel and Sybren got to the best restaurant/bar ever. But first, let me tell you how the trip to Osaka went.

In Hiroshima we had to check out of the hotel before 10.00 and so we did. Marcel got all the trains and trams we had to get on mapped out on his phone so we would’nt have to check and recheck all boards on the stations.

Since our hotel in Hiroshima was not too far away from the station we walked that bit and got there easily. We were a bit early though, our train wouldn’t leave before another hour, so we got some breakfast and made a seat reservation. A seat reservation is not really needed, but if you don’t reserve, there is a chance you will have to stand the entire trip. After all this we got on the train and got out of it at the last stop; Shin-Osaka station. From there we had to get on a local train to Osaka.

It did not really matter which one this would be, as long as it would leave from track 15. At Osaka station we got out and wondered how we got of the station. Apparently the statino is a few stories above the ground so we had to take a few steps down. At the ground level Sybren was amazed. He had been in a part of Tokyo and in Hiroshima, but here he saw an impressive view of giant buildings all around him.

Now we had to get on a subway line that would get us to some place near our hotel. We got out there and started our search for the hotel. Without taking a wrong turn we got to the hotel and checked in. We got to our room and we got filled with happiness by seeing the room. It was about 2 or 3 times as big as the rooms we had before. Our beds were bigger, well not longer, but that we got used to already.

It was about 14.00 now and you know what that means; Osaka-exploring-time! We got out of the hotel and we headed south-west. There should be a really big mall somewhere, called Namba. We walked untill our feet hurt and even then we wallked some more. And finally we got to a crowded place full of arcade halls, shops and food stores. Of course we did pass some of these to get here.

Anyway, we got into an arcade hall and had some fun there, moved to the next one, only to have some more fun. Time passed and we had to get back to the hotel, since soon it would get colder and Marcel did not bring his jacket. So we walked all the way back to the hotel and ate a snack there.

Time to get some food to fill our rumbling bellies with joy. We turned in the key of the room once more and went out in search for some food. Everywhere seemed to be little restaurants, but they did not provide us with an english menu and so we would not be able to get our order straight. This means we walked quite a bit again, but not as much as we had that afternoon.

We got to a restaurant that seemed oke, Marcel asked in his best English if they had an English Menu, but they didn’t. In the meantime, people in the back of the restaurant started pointing and waving to us. So Sybren waved back, making them have the time of their life or so it seemed. We moved on.

After taking another turn to the left we happened to get past some really noisy and happy Japanese people. They told us to get food at their restaurant. So we asked wether they had an english menu; and they did! So we got inside and as we did so everyone there started cheering and seemed so happy we got in. Sybren figured this was probably because we were not Japanese.

We ordered 2 beer and got to take a look at the menu. Apparently this was an octopus restaurant, because a lot of the menu’s contained this ingredient.

Not being in the mood for octopus we both ordered fried noodles with pork. The beer was served with another cheer of all the personel. After waiting a bit and drinking our beers we discussed about this restaurant. “It seems like Pablo’s Disco Bar” “Yeah indeed, only there are more people here and the guys are Japanese instead of Jamaican.”
New people got in and another cheer went through the room.
So it wasn’t just because we were foreign.

Our beers got empty and we order new ones, again served with some loud cheering.
The food got served shortly after. The noodles with some kind of cole and very good spices. Even Sybren ate all of it. On the wall was a list of cocktails you could order here and after finishing the meal, which by the way was served in a small frying pan. We both ordered a random cocktail from the list, since it was all Japanese and we didn’t bother askin what it all contained. After making sure Marcel’s wouldn’t contain a coconut-liquer, the drinks were prepared. As it turned out Marcel got his cocktail served in some sort of small cocktail glass and Sybren’s got served in a long drink glass with a lemon in it. We finished those and payed the bill. We got a business card -the place was called TakoTako King – and we were already saying to each other this was the best bar ever.

On the long way back to the hotel we both had to go to the toilet, so we noticed a bar called “Limbo dance” and we ordered 2 beer and went to the toilet in turns. The toilet was a japanese toilet with some funny mechanics. The water you used to wash your hands with after flushing went straight to the water storage for flushing. We agreed this is smart to do and we should have a system like that in the Netherlands. Anyway, we drank our beer and got up to pay.

The man behind the bar asked us where we are from; “Holland.” “Ah so, you can not speak english?”, “Oh yes we can!”, “Do people in holland speak English then?”, “No, we have our own language as well”, “Ah, so you can speak 2 languages.”, “Yes, and a bit of German.”

We paid and got back to the hotel. There we got some oreo-ice-cream and finished the day.


Went to Osaka, got to the best bar ever, ate oreo-ice-cream.

Mar '11

Leisure suit equiped!

This morning, to our luck, we woke up again. I mean, it would be quite sad if we didn’t.
Anyway, after waking up and sleeping in again, we woke up once more. This time we would get ready for quite a slow pacing day. We only had one item on our list, this was to get Marcel the achievement to get his crane to the park in Hiroshima. So this was what we headed out to do. We did not have breakfast yet, so we stopped on our way to the park at a lunch house. This is best compared with the canteen you may be used to. The only difference here is that they had a special menu containing some bread, coffee and a little snack. Of course we only got note of this after we got our breakfast excluding the coffee.
At least it gave us an explanation of why they asked us if we wanted to have a drink with it so often. When our bellies were full of stuffed bread, we moved on to the park.

This was not too far away and we took a little detour through the arcade hall, in which we discovered a new arcade machine. It was quite the hilarious machine with buttons for 3 players, each player only needed 4 buttons and the games were easy to understand. I probably need to explain the game consisted of a lot of mini-games that were randomly chosen and the difficulty would increase after completing a few games successfully. The first time we played Marcel got the hang of it and got to stage 8 or so. Sybren, however, was already down after stage 2.

We knew we had to move on to the park now and so we did. It was a short trip, as I already stated. We delivered the crane, took a picture and headed back to our hotel room. Back there we took a little rest, somehow we were quite tired, not by this small trip in particular. For Sybren it probably had to do with the cold he caught. As you all know this is quite nasty at times. After taking a little rest and watching some television. – Japanese commercials involve a lot of dancing by the way – We got some noodles for lunch.

Shortly after having finished the noodles we decided it would be a good time to get some clean clothes. So we figured we should wash some. Luckily the hotel provided us with washing machines and tumble dryers.
We went to the floor where the washing machines were set up. Of course we had our filthy clothes with us and a small vending machine next to it sold us the needed washing powder.
“How does this work?” we  both thought. To our luck, the always friendly Japanese people of the hotel made a translation for us.

A little side track. We are currently learning the French language via the television!

Back to the story. We started decrypting the written English (there will be a picture online soon covering this). What we got out of it was we had to put in money and hold the one button (as much as an iphone has!) on the machine for 30 seconds and after 10 seconds it would start cleaning itself to prepare to clean our clothes. So we did this exactly and seems like were doing something right. After 30 seconds passed we put in our clothes and it started washing. We got to our room and killed some time with playing games, watching some Japanese shows and talking about what to do next. We figured we would go back to the arcade hall after having tumble-dried our cloths.

The alarm ringed and we got back to the washing machine to pick up our cloths and put them in the dryer. This was quite an easy task. All we had to do was put in our wet cloths and throw some coins in it. It started without warning and said it would take 30 minutes. So we killed some more time. When the 30 minutes were over, Marcel got back there and discovered the clothes were not dry yet. So another coin went in and we waited another 30 minutes. Yes, this was quite a tiring task; washing and drying our clothes.

We got our clothes and were totally satisfied with the result. Clean and soft clothes! All this waiting got us quite hungry (it was about 18.30 at this time) and we got out to get some food. Sybren decided he wanted to try the Beef Doria, Marcel told him about the day before and so we went to the “Italian Tomato” and ordered our food. After having finished this and having agreed Beef Doria is quite nice food to fill your stomach with, we went on to the arcade hall. This time we came prepared and had about 500 Yen in coins of 100 Yen each. Each continue we used one of these coins. And after having finished all those coins only Marcel was still standing and he got to the last stage and nailed it.
Before heading back we stopped by a local supermarket, also referred to as a Seven-Eleven or 7-11, to get some snacks. Marcel bought himself a beer, which Sybren already did when he got the noodles, he needed smaller coins and there was no exchange machine nearby. So he thought he would just buy a sprite like drink, only to discover it contained 6% alcohol. (Kirin Chu-hi was the name of the drink, if you find your self interested) Back home we watched some more Japanese shows (really weird, as always). During this we drank our beer. Sybren’s beer was no beer, but some lemon juice with alcohol and Marcel’s tasted like Whiskey, so he deciphered the code on his can and apparently it said: “Whiskey with Soda”; so that got explained. After finishing our beer and snacks, we typed the blog-post and went to sleep.

As a last note, I get comments telling me the big wall of text hits for 9999 and they can not sustain that much damage.So I figured to put a little Too Long; Did’nt Read note at the end.


Got up, went to park, washed some cloths, ate and got to sleep.

Thank you again for reading.