A month ago Dustin and I began our trip in Tokyo! So, as with our last trip, I’ve decided to copy out each day of my travel journal into my blog. Each day for the next 18 days I will share a post of what we did in Tokyo a month prior.
So, let’s get into it!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 3, December 16th, 2019
I’m freaking exhausted but I need to get this incredible day down on paper before I go to bed! Today was tattoo day at Studio Muscat, so I headed out to the train station early to find the place (amidst some major construction in Shibuya). The train ride from Ikebukuro to Shibuya (around 7:50-8:20ish?) was INTENSE. I now know what it’s like to be squeezed into the train. I had never experienced it before, not even during our entire trip in 2017, but this was legit cram-packed. I had strangers intimately squished against me from every angle, and we moved and swayed as one big wave of humans. Something about it was sort of beautiful- everyone just stayed still and quiet and carried on with their routine despite having their nose pressed against a stranger’s armpit. The pressure against me from all angles reminded me of how a mother swaddles her baby- I was swaddled with and by humanity today.
So finally I made it to Studio Muscat and had wonderful sessions with Haruka (my tattoo of a cat resting on a traditional ball bell toy w. ribbon) and Eiji (my tattoo of a nephilia clavata spider). Both were very kind and professional, and thanked me for the cards I wrote them and the maple candies I brought them from Canada. I also chatted with some American tourists who came in to inquire about tattoos. 🙂
At some points I was cursing myself WHO’S IDEA WAS IT TO GET TWO TATTOOS IN THE SAME DAY?! (mine) as it was painful at times getting all stages of both tattoos done in one day with no numbing (the highlights of Haruka’s tattoo hurt like a BIIITCH) but I’m glad I got them done!
After my tattoos I visited the next-door cafe “Reism Stand” because I had the tattoo-shakes and needed to eat something. I got a hot cafe latte and some amazing, thick French Toast with apple and cinnamon.
Next, I headed to Shibuya to meet up with Dustin. I brieflyperused Village Vanguard (a claustrophobic cavern of novelties and trinkets) and then checked out the Punyus in Shibuya 109 where I could actually find clothes that fit me!
Dusty and I headed to the brand new Parco building and had a lot of fun exploring the new Pokemon store– huge glass tank with MewTwo suspended inside! Poke-nostalgia! The store also features a new graffiti art theme.
The Capcom and Shonen Jump stores were pretty cool, too.
We waited in line for about 30 minutes (a line that extended down a winding stairwell!) so that we could browse the extremely popular new Nintendo Store! I went to the one in New York years ago (2007?ish?) on my choir trip for High School, but this one is apparently the first one in Japan! I spent a significant amount of money there o.o
Lastly, we explored the basement level which is full of unique and quirky resturaunts and cafes. We stopped at Tyffonium Cafe, a whimsical spot with a sort of steampunk-circus vibe. The cafe uses AR cards for augmented reality that can be displayed on your table using a tablet. Each parfait you order comes with a different AR card (which you get to keep!) that gives you a different visual show, each seeming to be based on/tie-ins to particular video games. I chose the “Tarot” parfait, and it was so strange and wonderful! It had a gummy ball, clear and round on top, and an umbrella of gelatin which draped over the parfait. I love textures, so it was FUN to eat!
From the time I began saving up my pennies and planning my first trip to Japan (Oct 2017), I’ve gotten 3 particular types of responses from my friends and family:
OMG JAPAN!? FJKEANJACMJNDKFNJAKENLK TAKE ME WITH YOU
Japan? Wow that’s gonna be an amazing trip for you!
What kind of reaction do you have when thinking of yourself or someone else traveling to Japan? This blog post is aimed more toward questions of the latter sort: those who don’t understand the origins of the intense enthusiasm that many non-Japanese travelers have for Japan, especially Tokyo.
As I am returning to Japan soon with my hubby (Christmas in Tokyo!) I’m getting more of these reactions from people again, including a new question:
4. Why Japan again? Didn’t you just go there? Why not go somewhere else?
and so I’ve been thinking that sharing my thoughts about vacationing in Japan would be an awesome blog post.
A quick note: this post reflects my personal experiences and feelings as a foreign tourist in Japan based mainly upon one previous visit. I have not traveled around the entirety of the country, and I know that from region to region cultures, dialects, cuisines and customs vary widely among Japanese people. While I am very interested in Japan and enjoy reading Japanese literature, news, and so on, I am certainly not an expert on Japanese culture. Also, as a visitor on holiday in Japan I explore the country in a privileged way that is surely very different than how Japanese citizens experience living there day to day in a variety of ways.
It’s complex for me to explain on the spot why I love visiting Japan so much because there are so many factors at play- it’s certainly not just about anime and manga! Although, since that’s what comes to mind for many people, I guess I’ll start there…
Anime & Manga Culture
The explosion of translated manga and anime into North America has found a very enthusiastic audience, resulting in a lot of new foreign tourists flocking to Japan to be closer to the source of their interests. Manga, which is the Japanese word for “comic”, is a format that presents stories of any genre and style, but which also often has uniquely Japanese humour, references, and settings throughout. Anime, similarly, is Japanese animation, often based on manga series. Both anime and manga are formats that are used to tell stories for every age and interest, so anime and manga fans are similarly diverse.
Anime and manga culture extends from comics and animated shows into video games, visual art, music, and many other aspects of life. Specialized museums in Japan focus on the history and impact of manga and anime, and I greatly enjoyed visiting the whimsical Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.
Some popular manga and anime series even become scripted theatre/musical shows, or will have fan events with voice actors, pop-up cafes with themed food and drink, and so on.
These niche interests are catered to avidly in the big cities of Japan, and pretty much not catered to at all in Canada aside from a sprinkling of yearly conventions, so it means that I am very excited about immersing myself in otaku hotspots like Akihabara and Ikebukuro!
Amazing Food And Desserts
I love sushi– sashimi, nigiri, maki, give it all to me! But Japan has a lot more than sushi to offer. Wherever you go you will surely find delicious meals of all kinds.
If you aren’t a picky eater, you will face tough decisions – not what to eat, but what not to eat, because you will want to try so many things! The distinct and savoury taste of umami was discovered by a Japanese scientist, and there are ample opportunities to experience this “fifth taste” while in Japan.
Japan is big on local and seasonal food, so every prefecture will surely have something special and delicious to offer any time of the year. Street food is also something to look for, and there are many different kinds to stumble across during festivals or in certain areas such as the walking paths toward some shrines and temples.
You’ll also want to leave room for dessert, though, because Japan serves up some seriously impressive treats: from traditional wagashi sweets to overloaded parfaits, gourmet chocolate, shaved ice confections, matcha ice cream, and taiyaki. You can’t go wrong.
Even the convenience stores in Japan are leaps ahead of the ones you’ll find in Canada, stocked with really tasty foods made daily.
Each Prefecture Is Beautiful In Its Own Unique Way
For this upcoming trip, we will be staying in Tokyo pretty much the entire time. However, on our last visit we did some bullet-train trips to other prefectures, and I found myself in the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been. These are the sorts of places that make you want to soak every scene into your mind forever because you honestly can’t believe the beauty of what surrounds you. Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, Gunma, Hyougo: each offers its own distinct charms.
Thinking back on my trip always gives me so many lovely memories of winding roads, crowded streets, temples, shrines, parks, quiet pathways, and scenic bridges. We didn’t even make it off the main island of Honshu, but from north-most Hokkaido to Okinawa in the south, Japan offers everything from snowy skiing to sandy beaches. Japan changes a lot with the turning of the seasons, so I know I will always have reasons to return!
The prefectures of Japan also celebrate different festivals, and specialize in unique types of impressive handicrafts, so there is so much to see and do wherever you might go.
Anybody who knows me knows I am a sucker for cute things– especially animals and stuffed toys. Japan offers 100% more cuteness than Canada: informational signage, manhole coverings, kitchen tools, stationary, anything is a candidate for being kawaiified. The arcades in Tokyo have claw machines with quality items you ACTUALLY wanna win! Dollar stores and grocery stores offer items with adorable packaging and products, and many traditional handicrafts are also quite cute.
Prefectures and cities have their own mascots, most of which are super cute. I fell in love with Gunma-chan!
Of course not everything is cute in Japan, but it’s certainly a lot easier to find cute versions of everyday things like stationary, dishes, and decorations– at least that’s what I’ve found in shopping destinations in the big cities particularly.
Aside from sleeping over at my grandparents’ or aunts’ house, I’ve never felt more taken care of than when staying at a ryokan (traditional inn).
We stayed in 3 ryokan on our last trip: Takaragawa Osenkaku in Minakami Gunma, Mikunia in Kinosaki Hyougo, and Sawanoya in Ueno Tokyo. Each was a lovely, relaxing experience.
Ryokan offer rooms and facilities with traditional touches, and provide yukata robes for visitors to wear during their stay. They are often located in scenic areas that are a joy to peruse.
Locations near hotsprings are often peppered with ryokan, as a special feature of many ryokan is their indoor and/or outdoor onsen bathing facilities fed with geothermally heated springs. Visitors always thoroughly wash and rinse their body from head to toe first, then enter the water and soak for as long as they wish. Traditionally onsen are communal, but some ryokan also offer private onsen that can be reserved. When a ryokan doesn’t have hotspring access, you can still soak in a deep ofuro bathtub.
Imagine tucking in to an elaborate kaiseki meal with hot green tea in a dining hall or brought straight to your room, then soaking in the ofuro or onsen and returning to your room to find cozy futon bedding spread out on the tatami mats for you.
Tokyo: Big City Life Done Right
Here are a few ways that I think Tokyo does city living right:
Public transportation is easy, cheap, and hella reliable
The streets generally feel very safe, even at night (this is due to a variety of reasons, but gun control is also very strict in Japan)
Shopping in Tokyo is amazing, whether you’re interested in quirky knickknacks, fashion, name brands, anything really. Certain areas cater to particular interests:
– Jimbocho is the “book district” where you can find many shops selling used and rare books – Shimokitazawa is a great place to explore stores selling gently-used vintage clothes -Shin Okubo is Tokyo’s Koreatown where you can find Korean resturaunts, kpop merch, and some excellent skincare stores
– Ginza is a luxury district where name brands and expensive high-end shops are clustered – Akihabara is known as the centre of all things geeky, and Ikebukuro features similar sorts of shops, but with more focus on targeting geeky women’s interests – Shinjuku Ni Chome is known as Tokyo’s Gay district, with many LGBTQ+ friendly businesses, bars, and dance clubs
These are just a few examples- there’s much more to explore!
Even in huge cityscapes like Tokyo, you will find peaceful sanctuaries and green spaces like parks, temple grounds, and so on.
While Japan has room for improvement with regards to equitable access and opportunities for people with disabilities, it is great to see yellow tactile ground surface indicators throughout big cities which help to direct visually impaired people situate themselves while out and about.
Theme cafes can be found all over Tokyo, and they are really fun! I enjoy that even as an adult I can immerse myself in a playful fantasy for a while. Maid Cafes are the most famous, but there are also cafes based on game and anime series, Sanrio and San-x characters, and special themes such as the Vampire Resturaunt in Ginza.
I could continue to wax poetic about Japan endlessly, but I will close here by simply saying that if you’re thinking about Japan as a potential travel destination I highly recommend it!
Penguin Highway is the kind of story that pulls you along like a strong and bending current- you have NO idea where it’s going but enjoy every turn and dip of the way nonetheless. This afternoon I settled down with a blanket and a bowl of ice cream to watch the anime adaptation of this Japanese science fiction novel by Tomihiko Morimi (which has also been made into a manga in the past).
The film, directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, centers around the life of a young boy, a 4th grader who will be the first to tell you that he is a bright, smart, scientifically minded kid who will surely have his pick of marriage partners when he grows up! He’s only got eyes for one woman though- a mysterious dental worker who seems to have something to do with the sudden and in-explainable appearance of penguins in the area.
Sound confusing? Yup, like I said, you just need to let the story unfold and enjoy the ride. The strange story involves natural and unnatural phenomena, scientific experiments, adolescent longings, bullies, friends, and lots of penguins.
I especially enjoyed the friendship between the two kids who enjoy using the scientific method, documenting their findings, playing chess, and discussing the theory of relativity.
Some parts were truly mind-bending. It’s not all charts and diagrams though- there are lots of funny and sweet moments throughout this fast-paced family film! The strange phenomena start small and build into a visually and emotionally powerful climax.
While the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff will no doubt leave many viewers scratching their heads, I found the conclusion to be satisfactory in how it tied things up. I enjoyed this film and highly recommend it.
I just finished watching Modest Heroes, a collection of three short films by Studio Ponoc. It’s an excellent anthology for any age with gorgeous animation, whimsical imagery, and universal themes— I wasn’t expecting any less, as Studio Ponoc was founded by former lead producer of Studio Ghibli, Yoshiaki Nishimura, and the strong team of dedicated animators had already won my heart with their first feature film Mary and the Witch’s Flower.
Each of the the three stories making up Modest Heroes is crafted by a different director- Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Yoshiyuki Momose, and Akihiko Yamashita. Each is very different in style, situation, and tone, but they are unified by the larger theme of life- it’s precariousness, hardships, and beautiful moments.
I won’t spoil the charming stories of Modest Heroes— to do so would be a grave misstep for me— but I’ll give a taste of each to entice potential viewers of this family-friendly collection.
First, we have:
Kanini and Kanino
Mixing hand drawn animation with dazzling CGI, this story is a feast for the eyes, with lifelike realism in a lush natural world blended with stylized wide-eyed characters. The minimalist “crab language” spoken throughout, largely improvised ad-lib by the voice actors, is no hindrance to communication, as the expressive animation carries the story along.
Life Ain’t Gonna Lose
In Life Ain’t Gonna Lose, young Sota Shinohara makes his voice acting debut as Shuu, a boy who has a very severe allergy to eggs. This short film is based on a true story, and indeed feels very real. The everyday routines of people in Tokyo are painstakingly rendered in bright and detailed scenes, and the complexity of human instincts and emotions are lovingly portrayed.
The last film in this trio has a somewhat darker and grittier feel, but is still full of surprise and whimsy. It confronts what it means to be invisible, both literally and figuratively.
We should not live without recognizing or caring about others. There are many people who are sad, happy, suffering, or angry around us. If the world today doesn’t have anything to offer them, then we should deal with those invisible people in our film.
The bonus materials on the DVD are definitely worth a watch, and include features such as interviews, a press conference video, art galleries, and trailers. I found these extras to have a lot of depth compared to the fluff-filled bonus features that are often included with films. The creators of Modest Heroes, from the animators to the voice actors, music producers, and so on, share thoughtful, funny, and interesting insights from the making of the project. For example, Studio Ponoc’s founder Yoshiaki Nishimura expressed his strong belief in the validity of short film as a format with its own intrinsic value and no less capable than feature length films. He also explained the focus of Studio Ponoc being firstly and foremost to create quality films to entertain children with authenticity and depth, capturing their hearts and inevitably inspiring adults in the process.
It is happily evident that the true spirit of Studio Ghibli lives on with Studio Ponoc.
Last night I watched A Silent Voice, the anime adaptation of the manga by the same name. I’d previously read the first volume of the manga, so I had an idea what the movie was about and expected it to be an emotional film, but it surprised me with its masterful and deliberate techniques. It brought a few tears even to my eyes, and I very rarely am able to cry.
A Silent Voice focuses on the relationship between Shōya, a young man who was once a habitual bully, and Shōko, the deaf girl who used to be his favorite person to tease and bother. The movie weaves naturally between the memories of the past and the raw emotions of the present day, wherein Shōya is trying to make amends for the callousness of his past actions.
Many moments of the movie hinge upon the subtleties of communication and mixed messages— through spoken word, written word, and sign language. It also touches upon the delicate ties maintained between former friends and acquaintances, and how efforts to rekindle or mend former friendships can open oneself to vulnerability and shame.
At the same time, A Silent Voice highlights the maturity and bravery of making choices that open up this vulnerability, and the struggles and rewards that are born of it. The deeply personal messages of the film, as well as the several gutdropping and heartstopping moments throughout, punctuated by moments of silence and crescendo, make for a truly thoughtful and moving film.
Takaya Natsuki’s Fruits Basket was one of the first manga series I began collecting in my teen years, and I also loved the original anime.
When I moved out from my parents’ house, I left behind my Fruits Basket manga in their attic (there were too many for me to fit in my suitcase!) and eventually ended up donating them to a library a few years later (still couldn’t fit in my suitcase!)
I haven’t read Fruits Basket, or watched the original anime, since those years long ago, so I was excited to see that the manga was being remade and accompanied by an anime reboot! I have a Crunchyroll subscription, so I watched the first new episode today and found myself getting sucked back into the story.
This new Fruits Basket keeps the humour, optimism, and sentimentality of the original while presenting a fresh, detailed new art style that I really love. The shading is lovely and the highlights really pop!
For me, the casting and animation of Tohru is most important for this story- she is the main protagonist of course, but more importantly she’s also someone who was really inspiring to me when I was younger, so for me to enjoy this new reboot Tohru has to feel right. Happily, I wasn’t disappointed! The voice acting by Iwami Manaka captures Tohru’s bright personality perfectly.
When I worked my first job in high school, as a grocery store cashier, I was thrown onto the till with very little training, and customers would get mad at how slow I was ringing through their purchases and looking up their product codes for produce. The store I worked at was very busy, lines were long, and I struggled a lot at first. I would sometimes be driven to tears.
During this time I specifically remember looking up to Tohru as a role model- from the very beginning of the story we come to know that she has a hard life, but she works hard through every circumstance to try to make things better, not just for herself, but especially for others. Her work ethic made me want to be strong too- and I did get better at my job eventually!
The story of Fruits Basket involves the animals of the Chinese zodiac- each member of the Soma family is cursed with an animal form, so it’s fun to see each one revealed as the story progresses. In the first episode we see three such transformations happen in quick succession- I love the powdery & otherworldly mist that is unleashed in the new anime!
Most die-hard fans of Fruits Basket (that I knew of, anyway) were either Team Kyo or Team Yuki- these two boys are the major contenders for Tohru’s heart, but I found it hard to pick sides, myself!
I always did have a little thing for Shigure, though…
There are also lots of other interesting characters who will be revealed as the show goes on, each with very distinct personalities, so it will surely be increasingly entertaining!
Overall, I’m impressed with this first new episode, and I’m sure that this new Fruits Basket will capture the hearts of fans both new and old!
This is the sentiment that forms the undercurrent of Maquia, a standalone high-fantasy story centered around the lorph- also known by humans as the “clan of the separated” because their near-immortality has caused them to live isolated lives and become the stuff of legends.
Maquia is a woman of the lorph. When a power-hungry kingdom raids her village, she is torn away from her kind and finds herself rescuing a human infant despite her deep knowledge of the heartbreak that will inevitably ensue.
Maquia is a rollicking story of adventure, with heaps of drama, spoonfuls of humour, and touches of romance. It’s also quite emotional- if you are a crier, be prepared to cry. By the end of it my husband looked at me and said “I feel like they’re trying their damnedest to make me cry”.
One aspect of the story that I really like is the Hibiol- the lorph are weavers and have a unique language of the cloth which they use to record history and share messages amongst themselves.
The film carries along at a good pace. It is interesting to see Maquia’s adopted son Ariel and the other humans in the story growing up steadily around the ever-youthful lorph characters. The way the characters developed and the decisions they made surprised me in some instances.
Another engaging aspect is the existence of the Renato- huge dragon creatures capable of flight that the kingdom of Mezarte have enslaved to do their bidding, but which are slowly but surely dying off from a mysterious “Red Eye disease”.
A word of caution- if, like me, you prefer sub over dub, stick with the Blu-Ray for this one. Sub and dub options are usually included on both the DVD release and Blu-Ray for most anime nowadays, but this is an exception- I borrowed the DVD from the library and then realized that it only had an English dub, so we had to watch it with English voice acting. The BluRay, I found out, does have both a sub or dub option.
Overall I really enjoyed this film and would totally watch it again someday. I think that, since it’s an engaging standalone film with a PG rating, it would be a good movie to introduce someone to anime, to share with your family, or to enjoy on a date. Or, just cosy up and enjoy it on your own!