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5/27/2017 More Japan

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May 25th (Thu): Shibuya
Today didn't get off to the greatest start. While preparing everything for the day ahead, I realized that the vouchers for our JR train passes had been left back in Virginia. That was stressful and I got pretty frustrated with myself since I had somehow completely forgotten about them all that time. Despite referencing them repeatedly in my travel plan, they never got added to the packing list and I hadn't noticed them when packing the passports, despite them being in the same spot. Unfortunately, without the actual vouchers, there's no way to get the rail passes, even if you have the order confirmation info and everything. On the bright side, I was able to declare them lost to get a refund (though not for 100% of the price). In the past, we would have had to make do without rail passes entirely (or at least order new vouchers and have them shipped to our next hotel (forcing us to pay for tomorrow's expensive train trip)). But, just a couple months ago, they started selling JR Passes in Japan at a limited number of stations. You pay a small premium, so it's still much better to order them ahead of time, but it's way better than going without.
Anyway, after figuring out all the details about that, Connie, Zack, and I finally set out for Shibuya, Tokyo's center of popular fashion. After a quick visit to Hachiko, we headed into Shibuya 109, a famous mall made up of a number of little clothing and accessory stores, mostly focusing on Japanese brands. Not really my thing, of course, especially since the main 109 building is all women's clothes, but Connie enjoyed it and I have to admit that some of the outfits on display were rather interesting to see. After that, we ate at a family restaurant, did a little more shopping, and got back on the train.
Next stop, Harajuku. But, before hitting more shops, we detoured into Yoyogi Park to visit Meiji Jingu Shrine (and its collection of sake barrels). Part of the shrine is currently undergoing renovation, but we were able to enter the main courtyard. We also swung by the nearby garden, which is small but pleasant.
We were planning to browse the shopping streets next, but Connie was feeling a little off so I took her back to the hotel to rest a bit. I headed back out a little later but by then I only had about an hour before I needed to meet my parents (who were arriving from the US to join us) so I just walked around Shinagawa Station for a bit. On that note, there's a decent amount of restaurants in the area, but it's definitely not worth a trip there just to eat or look around.
After my parents arrived, I got them settled in the hotel, got Connie and Zack, and we all went to Tokyo Station to pick up new rail passes. It was getting late by then but, fortunately, Tokyo Station has a ton of restaurants and we eventually settled on a nice little oyakodon (chicken and egg rice bowl) place before calling it a day. Tomorrow, on to Fukuoka!

May 26th (Fri): Off to Fukuoka
We set off from Tokyo a bit later in the morning than I would have liked but the earlier shinkansen were mostly booked so we didn't have much of a choice. On the bright side, it did make the morning a bit more relaxed. Anyway, it was our longest train ride of the trip (a little under six hours, counting the time switching trains half way) and, since we didn't get an especially early start, it ate up a good chunk of the day. By the time we arrived and checked into our hotel (a nice Dormy Inn), it was too late to do any serious sightseeing so instead we walked around the Canal City Mall, watched the fountain show, got dinner, and did a little shopping for tomorrow.
Not an especially interesting or exciting day, but I'm glad we got it all out of the way.



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5/25/2017 Japan 2017

As a note, until I return to the US, updates will generally be posted early to mid morning of the update day.

Connie, Zack, and I made it to Japan ok, so let's get this travelogue started!

May 22nd- 23rd (Mon - Tue): Traveling to Japan
Why another Japan trip? Well, for starters, I love it there and like to go back frequently (and it's been three years since the last time). Plus, Connie had never been, but wanted to. Plus my parents had promised to pay for trip for us as a late wedding present, which we never got to use last year thanks to having to switch jobs and move to Virginia. Finally, my parents had originally planned to go sightseeing with me in Japan back in 2011, but canceled at the last minute due to the big earthquake. Since then, I've been trying to get them to resurrect those plans. And having them around to help Connie and I with Zack will be really great. So this trip will be a bit different than my previous ones, which focused mostly on exploration. This time, we'll be mostly visiting places I've been to before, with me playing tour guide for everyone else. As such, I might not go into as much detail about some things and locations as in past travelogues, since I've covered them before. But anyway, on with the show...
Connie and I left Monday morning and had no trouble getting on our first plane and then switching in Toronto. Zack was great on the first (short) flight, sleeping most of the time. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case on the much longer (13 hour) flight. He was mostly awake so we can to almost constantly hold, rock, and entertain him. That was a bit stressful but, in the end, we made it to Tokyo. We landed in Haneda Airport (which was converted from a local to international airport only a few years ago), which I've never been to before, as all my previous flights were through Narita. It's supposed to be really nice but I didn't have a chance to look at much other than the customs area and the train station, so I can't really comment. Fortunately, it did have a direct train to Sengakuji Station, which is where our hotel is. It's a little bit of an odd spot for a hotel, actually, right in the middle of relatively quiet residential area. Though there's a much more major and metropolitan train station a 10 minute walk (or 2 minute subway ride) away.
By the time we checked in, it was around 5 in the afternoon and we were both pretty worn out so we just walked around outside a little and went to the nearby Shinagawa Station to grab some soba for dinner before calling it a day. Though I did take advantage of the hotel's very nice public bath as well. I really missed Japanese baths...

May 24th (Wed): Tokyo Basics Part 1
With this being Connie's first time in Japan, I naturally have to take her to some of Tokyo's major sightseeing spots. Today, we started out with an old favorite, Asakusa. If you don't remember, Asakusa is famous for Sensoji Temple and the surrounding shopping arcades, which are a great place to stroll, eat, and shop for souvenirs. Since we arrived a bit before most of the stores opened, we started out by exploring the temple and its grounds. I had forgotten just how many little shrines and statues were nearby, aside from the main building. Despite it being a weekday during the school year, the place got pretty crowded by mid-morning, with quite a lot of tour groups, many of which were made up of junior high and high school students.
After finishing up at the temple, we moved on to the shopping streets and arcades (covered shopping streets). They're mostly as I remember (including my favorite taiyaki place), but I think the owl cafe is new. What's an owl cafe? Well, it started out with cat cafes, where you can buy overpriced drinks and hang out with lots of cats. The idea caught on so much that the concept began to expand to include other animals, owls being one of them. While the idea of a cat cafe doesn't excite me much, I have to admit that I wouldn't mind trying an owl cafe sometime... Anyway, we walked around, browsed some shops, and ate lunch at a pretty good soba place before moving on.
Our next stop, Tokyo Skytree, the world's tallest tower (though not the world's tallest building, which technically isn't a tower), currently celebrating its 5th anniversary. On a side note, they currently have some sort of Attack on Titan promotion going on, though I didn't have a change to check out the details. The Skytree, fortunately, wasn't especially crowded and we were able to get tickets and head up pretty much immediately. While it wasn't quite clear enough to see Mt. Fuji, the views were still great. We could even look down at Sensoji.
After spending some time admiring the view, we headed down to explore the shopping mall filling the first few floors of the tower. There's some nice stores and restaurants there, including some otaku focused ones (most of which I don't remember seeing on my last visit), including a store selling Gundam inspired clothes (cool but way too expensive for me) and a Pokémon Center. We had a pleasant time walking around and stayed long enough for dinner before calling it a day. It wasn't especially late, but it doesn't hurt to take it easy the day after such a long flight.


5/22/2017 Off to Japan

Well, I'm off to Japan! If all goes well, updates will continue as normal (though they'll likely be posted in early to mid morning of the update day, rather than the night before), but don't be surprised if I miss one here or there. Here's hoping that Zack sleeps through most of the flight...



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