WHY EVEN BOTHER at this point?
* I can't go to Asia for the first time and not document it!
* It was a life experience, including THREE things from the book of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die
* It's on my to-do list and I am pretty much incapabale of moving forward in life until I complete it
Okay so post number one was the whole getting-to-Guam experience and post number two was the Guam story.
All caught up?
So hey, Carrie and I went to Tokyo for a couple of days on the trip home from Guam (THAT's how far away Guam is, you guys). I hadn't really considered much about the Tokyo portion of the trip and it wasn't until we landed that I realized I hadn't done my normal pre-adventure research on things like how to get from the airport to the hotel, what the exchange rate was, etc.
I'm going to gloss over the whole getting-from-the-airport-to-the-hotel part because if I publicly disclose the details someone from the Bureau of Organized and Prepared Humans is going to come over and confiscate my membership card.
Fast forward, WE GOT TO THE HOTEL!
We were tired and we were feeling cranky from the ground transportation experience but we were in TOKYO! We decided to walk down the street to the grocery store to get snacks and tampons. I mention the tampons so I can make the following public service announcement:
Japanese tampons: Not recommended.
I don't know what the Japanese women use instead of tampons, but jeeeze...that's one technology they haven't mastered.
But anyway, we went to the grocery store and marveled at all the weird stuff and then looked at the snack section in dismay because the other thing the Japanese people haven't mastered is snacks that don't suck. This is when Carrie purchased the can of Pringles that made up 60% of her calorie intake for the remainder of our stay in Japan. (Japanese food just aint her thang.)
The grocery store was called DON.K! (pronounced "donkey") and I guess, per the sign, it was more of an "amusement discount shop" than a grocery store. Sort of like a Target.
This appeared to be a glove that you would use to check your mammaries. Maybe it's inappropriate to touch them directly? Not sure.
There was even an American section of the grocery store, but it seemed to be heavy in the Mexican food so it was more like the North American section, which is totally fair because our grocery stores sure as heck plop all the Asian stuff into one section too.
So we took our snacks back to the hotel and sat on our beds inspecting them (and then putting 80% of them in a bag outside the door so they wouldn't stank out our hotel room) and watching Japanese TV. I don't remember what we watched exactly, but I remember sitting there mesmerized by whatever the hell it was.
Also: WTFIUW Japanese porn?
So then we pulled ourselves away from the TV and, still feeling the mental burn from the airport transportation experience, decided to venture out to the bar on top of the Park Hyatt hotel since the hotel itself is on the list of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. This time we asked our super awesome friends at the front desk to help us get there without issue -- and we did!
We sat there for an hour or so and looked out at a sea of lights that are so poorly represented by these photos, I can't even tell you. In the same way the Grand Canyon is awesome in it's natural majesty, I'd say the view from this hotel was too, but in a modern/city lights kind of way:
And then there was some walking around and an ehhhhhhh dinner at a "pub" that was super strange, but that put a lot of effort into ensuring my watermelon cocktail looked VERY watermelon'y:
And then the next morning we woke up, got ourselves onto a bus, and went on a tour to Mount Fuji (also on the list of 1,000 Places to See). It was a day-long tour that included a bunch of other stops and a tour guide who was SO thorough in her explanation of how to pronounce Hakone that to this day whenever I see a sign for Hakone Gardens (a park here in San Jose), I think "HA-KO-NAY. Hakone. HA-KO-NAY." This wasn't a tough one for us because, thanks to Hakone Gardens, we were already familiar with the correct pronunciation, but she spent so much time talking about it that it makes me wonder if it's a huge insult for dumb Americans to pronounce it "Hay-Cone" or whatever.
And then we were at Mount Fuji! You can only go so far up the mountain the in winter, but we were lucky that you could see almost the entire mountain, which is apparently a rare treat because of the weather. Our guide was insistent that we pose for photos in front of a picture of Mt Fuji in front of the actual Mt Fuji, but we realized later that this was likely because she's used to having tours on days without the excellent visibility:
Note that back 100 years ago I posted this picture of my dad and friends 46 years earlier, also on a clear day near Mt Fuji:
We were also treated to what was possibly the crappiest lunch I've ever been served (a Japanese attempt at an American-style lunch, which was not what appeared in the picture we were shown when asked to choose between option A or option B), which was made suckier when I saw other tables of people at this place (I have no idea what this place was supposed to be, but it struck me as a nursing home cafeteria without the patients) who decided to go against the guide's advice and order soup and beautiful-looking plates tempura from the a la carte menu when we arrived. On the upside, whoever made the chicken in my lunch seemed to have figured out the Colonel's top secret spice combination because it SURE did taste like Kentucky Fried Chicken (but soggier).
But it was while we were standing around outside after lunch, talking to our co-tour'ees, when I was wildly amused to discover that we were traveling with the head of anti-terrorist intelligence from a country I'd never heard of before (Carrie was shocked that I'd never heard of Azerbaijan but she forgets that while she drives to work listening to NPR, I drive to work listening to Huey Lewis):
They seemed like a strange combo -- four or five young, handsome, swarthy men plus one older dude. The older dude was practicing his English on me and told me that these dudes were his security staff. I figured he was confusing his English words so I sort of blew it off, but one of the young ones was like "You don't misunderstand him. We work for him."
And then more chit chat and then he tells me that he's the head of anti-terrorism intelligence for Azerbaijan and that they were in Japan for a conference on terrorism and they had the day off so they decided to get out and see Mount Fuji. By the end of the day we had been invited to join them at a club that night (Carrie was already wary of them anyway, but there was no way I was going to a night club in Japan in sneakers -- the only non-flip flop shoes I brought with me) and I also had an open invitation from the head dude to join him on a goat hunting trip in his country.
[I was totally confused about this goat hunting stuff -- HOW HARD COULD IT BE? Goats just seem to stand there! But then I was telling my dad this story and he thinks my new BFF must have been referring to mountain goats, which are apparently more challenging to hunt.]
I still have his card in my wallet so my goat hunting dreams could still come true. (I also happen to have the business card of Jeff from Jeff's Pirate Cove in Guam in my wallet...I was collecting business cards from old dudes RIGHT AND LEFT!)
I'm not really sure why, but there was a "pirate ship" cruise involved in this tour, so here are a bunch of pictures of me and Carrie from that general portion of the adventure, including one of us and our new anti-terrorism friend.
[Incidentally, I took all this with a huge grain of salt but when we got back to the hotel I Googled him and SURE ENOUGH, this dude really was the head of anti-terrorist intelligence for Azerbaijan.]
There was another portion of the adventure that involved a ski gondola up to a place with black, stinky eggs that we were invited to try, but Carrie and I got separated from the group and ended up narrowly escaping frost bite and pretty much just waiting until it was time to get back on the bus.
As a reminder, this was where we were just a couple days before:
At some other point in the Mt Fuji experience we started talking to a silver fox who was traveling with his son. He had just retired (he couldn't have been 50 -- definitely a young retiree) and was taking his teenage son on a trip around the world. On this leg they'd done Australia and big chunks of Asia and then they were going home to regroup and then were going to do Europe.
Chit chat, blah blah blah, and eventually we get around to what he did before he retired -- he was a slot machine designer. Interesting and apparently lucrative since he was so young and also able to take his kid on such cool adventures, but the part that made my jaw drop was when he told us that he was the one who invented the Wheel of Fortune slot machine.
YOU GUYS, THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE IS OUR FAVORITE SLOT MACHINE EVER!
That maaaaaaaaaaaay have gotten me a little bit starstruck. Nevermind the anti-terrorist intelligence team from Azerbaijan -- I JUST MET THE DUDE WHO INVENTED THE WHEEL! OF! FORTUNE! SLOT MACHINE!!!!!!
He said that the one he finished right before he retired and that would be coming out later that year was a super interactive Michael Jackson slot machine. I haven't been to Vegas since we met him and they don't really have the latest and greatest slot machines in the casinos in Tahoe, but when I finally see it I'm going to put in $20 and hope that my conversation with that dude (broken up by the bullet trains and their incredible noise zooming past us) brings me some good luck.
That night we enjoyed a cocktail or two at the surprisingly dark and sexy hotel bar:
While we were happy hour'ing, we decided that instead of trying to find a crappy, Japanese version of food that Carrie would like to eat (she doesn't eat fish and everything else had a weird flavor that didn't suit her), we'd go to a sushi place so I could say that I ate sushi in Japan and Carrie would just eat rice and drink beer. HER IDEA, I SWEAR! So that's what we did:
There was some debate over whether or not we'd BOTH be tackling the third thing on our list from the list of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: The Toyko fish market. This activity required a 4AM wake up call and things that involve 4AM wake up calls are NOT Carrie's cup of tea, so we were going to play it by ear. Luckily our body clocks were all jacked up PLUS we figured the more tired we were, the better we'd sleep on the flight home (allegedly), so we both got up and at 'em early the next morning.
I'd read about this fish market and I looked at the map and I knew it was a relatively brief walk away, so we headed out into the COLD ASSSSSSSSS morning. Incidentally, I asked the front desk if it was safe for us to walk there and they seemed surprised -- yes of course it was safe! And it was. It was also one of many examples of how the Japanese people are, WITHOUT QUESTION, the most civilized folks in the world.
So we got to the market and it was this super huge industrial looking place where people were doing actual work. We had NO idea where to go to find any of the goings on in my book, but when we were standing there looking bewildered, a dude in a truck yelled "Tuna?!" at us. We nodded because sure, that sounded fine, so he got out of his truck, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and motioned for us to get on the back of a golf cart thing like this one:
I very clearly remember thinking that this would either be a very, very bad idea or a very, very good idea and after looking at each other to see which one of us was going to be the voice of reason, only to discover that we were both game to blindly follow this dude's instructions, we stood there on the back and HELD ON as our new friend steered this thing, at a high speed, through the fish market. I remember the cold air in my face and I remember us both laughing and damn near peeing our pants and I remember that at that very moment, there wasn't anything in the world I'd rather be doing than getting a high speed and totally unsafe ride through the Tokyo fish market with Carrie. I can't tell you how FULL OF LIFE I felt.
He deposited us outside a door where a few Australians were standing and went about his morning. We weren't really sure what we were in line for, but we stuck it out and not long after we arrived, the line got long and we were lucky to be at the front of it because we were going to make the cut (for whatever it was).
We were eventually deposited in a holding room and instructed to put on these super awesome vests that identified us as tourists and then watch a safety video that replayed itself in multiple languages, multiple times. Carrie and I were really just following our noses at that point -- we didn't have a clue what we were in line for, but these other non-Japanese people were doing it so we just sorta followed along (I don't think at this point we realized it was a tour).
And then we eventually followed the other green vests into a huge warehouse where they were conducting a tuna auction!
The auctioneer was amazing and had this whole Rainman'ish rocking thing that he did while he was working.
This video doesn't do the whole thing justice, but there was a lot of yelling and organized chaos:
I don't know what these fish are bought for -- they seemed to be sold in small lots that would be too small for industrial use but too big for restaurant use. They drag the frozen fish around on the ground with a hook and then the sold fish are painted with the same brush I swear they've been using since 1795 and then hauled away on a cart from the same era.
So that whole adventure was sort of an accident, but it was definitely a highlight!
Welcome to the Department of Random Photos!
There's actually a Yoshinoya in Japan!!
This was not our bus but it was one of many "What the heck, Japan?" things we saw:
Buying train tickets -- complicated and intimidating:
Bathrobes! I think we took these pictures independently of each other and then discovered later that we'd both done it:
I swear to you, I've peed in several different countries in my day, but never have I peed in a country with SO MANY variations on toilets. Each bathroom we went into seemed to offer at least two different styles, if not three...but what I totally don't get is why the Japanese toilet designers think that we need toilets that are so complicated that they require really thorough instructions. This one had a lot of features, but rarely did I find just a toilet in a room that expected me to already know the procedure.
This one was warm when I sat down, which is actually undesirable in a public restroom because if it's warm it leads me to believe that the person before me had been there long enough to have warmed the seat, which could only mean that they were pooping and DAMNIT, I should have picked a different stall!
But by the third or fourth warm toilet seat, I figured out that it was automatically warmed for comfort and while that was sort of appreciated because it was snowing outside and the bathrooms on this tour tended to not be heated, I'd still prefer to have a brisk toilet seat when peeing in a public place.
I'll also add that in addition to all the confusing bidet features (I think my anatomy is different from a Japanese woman's because whenever I attempted to push any of the buttons, the water or the air never seemed to be correctly positioned), my favorite Japanese toilet surprise was that there's a button to push that makes fake water noises so that I could be a lady and mask the sound of my pee!!!!!
Chow mein hot dog?
I popped a candy cheese into my mouth and learned that this was actually just poorly translated cream cheese. Gag.
I'm relatively sure this was supposed to be thousand island dressing:
I don't know what this hamster warning was all about, but I didn't see any while I was in Japan:
And then it was time to head home!
Carrie's liquids were almost entirely pink lipgloss:
I spent a STUPID amount of money on all the weird flavored Kit Kats I could find (I was disappointed to see only a couple flavors in the wild, but the airport shops were a GOLD MINE and I bought every single flavor to share with my Kit Kat posse back home). As we waited for our plane, we sat at the bar pairing Sapporo with different flavors and made the discovery that pancake flavored Kit Kats are AWESOME with beer.
And then there was the whole flying home process, which sucked for me. I wanted to jump out of my skin the whole time and no number of sleeping pills washed down with airplane wine could knock me out, but it was enough to make it impossible for me to follow the book I was reading AND give me the worst dry mouth EVER, so I either walked around the airplane trying to calm myself down, asked the flight attendants for cupful after cupful of water, or I sat and stared enviously at Carrie, who slept the whole time:
And then we were home and OMG I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M FINALLY ABOUT TO PUSH PUBLISH ON THIS ONLY A YEAR AFTER IT HAPPENED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!