Last October was the 1 year anniversary of our 2017 trip to Japan, and I revisited all of the memories in a series of daily blog posts featuring my photographs and journal writings (check them out if you’d like, starting with day 1 here!)
I miss Japan very much- it’s like a reverse homesickness where I have a special place in my heart that aches to visit this far away place again. I am still thinking about Japan every day, and I convinced Dustin that we need to go back sooner rather than later- so we are going to spend Christmas in Tokyo this year!
When we went in 2017 we traveled around from Tokyo using a JR pass to get to Gunma, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kinosaki. We saw so many gorgeous places and ate so much amazing food. It was a fantastic trip.
This Christmas we are planning to spend the whole time in Tokyo so that we aren’t moving from place to place so much (resettling into new inns and hotels, moving our luggage around) and we can just explore at leisure from our home base in Ikebukuro. There are so many spots in Tokyo that we have only barely explored, or not at all. I can’t wait. I even have 2 tattoo appointments penciled in with a studio in Shibuya!
Wish us luck! I’m saving all of my pennies… (well, figuratively- they don’t make pennies anymore in Canada…)
I finally made some videos with clips from our 2017 trips around Japan 🙂
These are just mashups of videos taken from my cell phone, my camera, and probably a little bit of Dustin’s cell and camera too. Some parts are a bit shaky but I kept them in because they were still cool memories. A few of these seem to be things that I didn’t even realize I was filming at the time… each video has a whole bunch of quick clips featuring some of the cool and beautiful things we saw in Japan.
Video 1: Tokyo- Ikebukuro, Ikebukuro street festival, Shinjuku, Shinjuku park, Shibuya, Shin Okubo, Harajuku, Ueno, Nagano Broadway, etc.
Video 2: Gunma- Takaragawa Osenkaku onsen ryokan (family run hot spring inn)
Video 3: Kyoto, Osaka- Higashiyama, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Universal Studios Japan, Harry Potter World, Kyoto Station, etc.
Video 4: Kinosaki- Mikunia onsen ryokan and ryokan town (hot springs town), autumn street festival, kaiseki meals, etc.
This is day 21 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.
So, day 21, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 21, October 21st, 2017
Our last free day in Japan. I can’t say “it went by soooo fast!” because having 3 weeks here ensured that we had enough time to explore and enjoy our trip without it feeling too short. It feels like forever ago that we left from home and arrived at Narita airport, but still I have a hard time saying goodbye.
Today was an emotional day for me and I found I went to tears easily just thinking of leaving Japan and how this has been my dream wish trip for so long.
So, today Dusty and I revisited a few of our favourite spots together. After ham and eggs at the Sawanoya and a quick bath each, we went out into the rain again.
Together we revisited Akiba and played rhythm games and a Walking Dead crossbow-shooter at Akiba Taito Station.
We returned to a few shops, including one of Dustin’s favourite finds, Yodobashi Camera, which he’d been wanting to show me for a while. At Yodobashi I was looking for a simple handheld CD player so I could listen to my new drama cds and music cds on the plane ride home. While I was examining the different walkman models on display, the alarm went off- the security wire on one of the walkmans was loose. A security guard appeared INSTANTLY, seemingly out of nowhere. I didn’t know how to explain in Japanese that the alarm system wire triggered because it is loose, and that I wasn’t trying to steal the walkman! A staff member was understanding and fixed it right away, but I was impressed with the security at Yodobashi!
Dustin got me some Japanese PS Vita games (Diabolik Lovers, mainly) for my Christmas gift <3. After Akiba, I headed out to meet Hazuki for lunch- Dustin wasn’t feeling up to it (or… he’s also shy with meeting new people, I don’t know!)
The metro was a bit confusing, so I was a little late ^-^’ but we went to a delicious resturaunt where we had sushi and sashimi (I can’t remember the name of the area at the moment…). I met Hazuki’s friends Tomo and Momo who were very kind and friendly and easy to talk to. We chatted and had a really great meal.
I gave them some maple candies from Canada and one of my tiny Northern Lights paintings- coincidentally we had talked about the Northern Lights during lunch, so they were interested in the painting! They helped me find my way back to the JR lines afterward.
I went back to Ikebukuro and visited Lashinbang and Animate one last time, picking out some more CDs for the plane ride home. I made the mistake of taking the stairs instead of the elevator all the way to the top of Animate. I ended up as sweaty and gross as our first day in Ikebukuro, and I felt bad for the people who had to stand in my armpits on the back train back to Ueno!
The night involved bathing, crying in the bath, packing, crying while packing, being very tired, and carefully applying eyes and mouths to my doll heads so I could spray them with Mr. Clear (“Matt” Spray) finisher in the morning (I don’t know if I can bring the aerosol can with me on the plane).
I stayed up too late and went to bed sometime after midnight. Who knows what time it was when I actually fell asleep…
This is day 17 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.
So, day 17, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 17, October 17th, 2017
I got up before 7 so I could go to an onsen before breakfast and checkout. I was tired, but an onsen is a great way to wake yourself up… after another excellent breakfast and a little chat with the owners, we were off. They gave us this lovely thank-you note!
While leaving Kinosaki behind is hard, it also felt good to go back to Ikebukuro in a weird way. Our home-base. We are staying in the Tokyu Stay again for a couple of days before we will move again to the Sawanoya Ryokan in Ueno- the last home of our trip.
Dustin and I did a little shopping together, and later in the afternoon I stopped by the BL cafe- my new friend Tequila Queen (Yuri) was there and we shared our twitter accounts 😀 I tried a tequila sunrise (super yummy) and then another… and I ate a yummy bbq chahara dish. I met some new staff tonight as well, Kakeru and Mitako. Mitako and I sang This Is Halloween 🙂
This is day 7 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.
So, day 7, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 7, October 7th, 2017
Today was definitely an adventure. Dustin and I were going to go to Akiba again, but his feet were in bad condition from all the walking we’d been doing, so I went out on another solo exploration. Originally I was going to go to Akiba alone and get more doll supplies, but I got distracted by loud music near the station.
I’m not sure what sort of festival it was, but dancers of all ages were doing group choreography in colourful dress. Some performances featured huge flags being waved in synchronization- each flag used someone’s entire body weight to wave! One performance utilized costumes that flipped into different colours 3 times (green to white to pink.). It was such a cool thing to see. Lots of people on the sidewalks stopped to watch along the sides of the roads.
After i’d watched several impressive performances, I was starting to get hungry and was feeling brave, so I used Google Maps to find the place i’d been extremely curious (and nervous) about visiting: Theme Cafe #6 of my trip- The BL (Boys Love) Cafe in Ikebukuro!!! o.o
Be forewarned: the following adventure is not for everyone, but I couldn’t resist!
This cafe has developed a reputation for providing a very unique atmosphere and experience, and was something I just couldn’t pass up- again, you’re not in Japan every day! Might as well check out the yaoi cafe! Judge me if you will!
I came upon a discrete signboard and steps leading up to a nondescript door with a cherub knocker. When I entered with a tinkling of bells, I was greeted by a handsome young man and I said in my best Japanese, “Hi, I don’t have a reservation… is it ok?”
He said yes, and guided me to a seat at the bar. He gave me a brand new Cafe ID card for their points program, and explained the menu to me as best as he could, often turning to “Sensei” for help. Hyuma Sensei has very good English (he told me he studied in America for a while). He turned to me and said “so, you’re 16”.
Me: “Oh, me, no! I’m 27! You need my ID? I have it som…”
Sensei: “No, we don’t care about that. But here, you are 16. I am “Sensei”. This is high school. So-and-so has a ____ coloured tie, so he is a 1st year. So-and-so has a ____ tie, so you can see he is a 3rd year.” etc. I couldn’t keep the names, tie colours, or other details straight, but I got the idea. So, I had entered a strange world of role play where I, and all of the customers and staff, were “in high school”.
I ordered a full set – cafe au lait (iced) with a hamburger steak meal and for dessert- the infamous Pocky Challenge.
As I ate my hamburger steak and nervously sipped my cafe au lait, the staff chatted with me about my trip, about Dustin, about Canada, about if I knew what BL was (>.<‘) and how I found their cafe (internet!). I asked if they get many foreign visitors. Hyuma assured me, “yes!”
It was starting to feel sort of like a normal cafe, until a girl ordered the “Coupling Pocky”- I watched from the sidelines as Hyuma Sensei and another guy did a role-play scene resulting in a close encounter on the chaise lounge and a pocky eating challenge, each biting the pocky stick as far as they could without their lips touching. I felt my cheeks burning red. When staff returned to the bar I exclaimed in Japanese “IT’S WARM IN HERE, ISN’T IT? T-T” which they thought was really funny.
I finished my meal and worked up the nerve to ask for my Coupling Pocky to be served- the final part of my meal set. I nervously ate the pocky as instructed, eating all but the last stick (which I was to save for a heart-pounding performance featuring 2 boys of my choosing). I chose Sensei and Shoma, a funny, chatty boy who spoke excitedly with me in English about his love of Gossip Girl and my love of vampires. (We kept making jokes about the phrase “xoxo- Gossip Girl”).
Sensei pulled a chair out to the side of the room and motioned for me to sit. He asked “what kind of scenario would you like?”
Surprised, I paused awkwardly and said “like… kabe don? Sort of thing? Sort, of, maybe?…”
The kabe don wall-hit move is an often over-the-top anime and jdrama trope that never fails to bring a blush to my cheeks (or a smile to my lips): here is a kabe-don example video for the unfamiliar:
Could the young men of the Ikebukuro cafe do kabe-don justice?
“OK” Sensei said with a smile, “which one of us is performing the kabe-don on the other?”
“Sensei?….” I peeped.
So, together they created and acted out a scenario where Sensei scolds Shoma for being a messy dresser and not wearing his uniform correctly. In the heat of the argument, Sensei pins him to the wall- pushes him so hard the walls rattle and all the girls in the cafe turn to look at the spectacle I had commissioned: the two boys against the wall (mostly hidden from view of the other customers) and me sitting stiffly in a wooden chair in the middle of the room covering my mouth and stifling nervous giggles.
The boys’ eyes met briefly with a stifled laugh, silently acknowledging, I think, something like “oops, I pushed you too hard lol”. Then, Hyuma Sensei procured the Pocky stick and they completed the scene as I watched through my fingers, my hands pressed against my cheeks.
Afterward they asked “So, how was it?” and I said in english “You did great!”
“Wow, we did good!” they rejoiced.
“No. GREAT. Better than good. Totemo, totemo good”, I assured them. They were proud XD.
Before leaving the cafe, I was offered to pick a photo from a random draw as a memory keepsake of the cafe- I got this picture of Souta, the boy who initially greeted me at the door. We had some language barrier, but he is very kind and funny. He kept making jokes about important aspects of Japanese culture I needed to experience on my trip, such as harakiri/seppuku. Ok! I’ll get right on that!
I told the staff that I was leaving soon for Gunma and Kinosaki but that I would be back after and wanted to visit again. Sensei said “We’ll waiting for you!” All of the guys gathered at the door and said bye to me… then I forgot my umbrella and had to run back to get it ^-^’
So, it was a VERY memorable experience in the heart of the Otome Road.
After that thrilling lunch, I collected myself and took the Maranouchi line to see Maika at the cafe where she works. I had to take 2 trains but I missed a stop and had to backtrack. I made it eventually! It was a nice walk through residential neighborhoods to her cafe, Allpress Roastery. There was construction in some places, and it was a quiet area without much signage- i’m so glad for google maps! I saw lots of people walking dogs, and one biker collide with an apologetic woman. (Gomennasai!!! Daijobu desu ka!?)
At the cafe Maika made me a beautiful latte with hearts in the foam.
I saw a big, interesting bug on the door.
Maika introduced me to her friends Colleen and Kyosuke, and we went to a cosy little Okonomiyaki restaurant together. It was my first time sitting at a traditional Japanese low table with my feet folded under me. We made the okonomiyaki together and it was so delicious. The bonito flakes sway and move from the heat like they are dancing. I drank beer and plum wine.
We went for a lovely evening stroll after dinner. While walking on the streets together, Maika pointed out remnants of a completed festival: scarecrow-like figures with large bag heads.
Maika, Colleen and I took the same train for part of the way back. The train seats were different than others i’d seen before- they were the colour of bread. I was the first to have to get off, and wished my friends goodbye.
After such a busy day I wasn’t tired at all, and it’s not often that I’m in Ikebukuro on a Saturday night so…. I looked up the BL cafe and found out it was OPEN UNTIL 5AM! I wanted to make the most of all the time I had in Japan, so I headed back there again and was greeted warmly by the staff.
I met a cute, stylish girl who was also seated at the bar. I complimented her style and we began chatting excitedly with the aid of Google translate. We talked about my trip, and her visit to the BL cafe (she is a semi-regular customer and rode the train 1.5 hours to get here!). Another woman to my left was shy and barely spoke any English, but when staff told me she was an expert tequila drinker, I declared that she was Tequila Champion, Queen of Tequila. I got the staff chanting “1 tequila, 2 tequila, 3 tequila, 4!…” and we all had a good time chatting for a bit.
A few more shenanigans:
Before he finished his shift for the day, Shoma was showing off a cute sticker on his middle finger and making it talk. I asked “what is his (the hamster) name?” Answer? HAMUSTA CHAN!
Before he left, Hyuma and I had a conversation about mascots in Japan vs. Canada. He thought (maybe he was pulling my leg?) that moose were made-up creatures! When I explained how big they are, he was shocked.
Before she left, my bar-mate friend told me I was pretty and showed me on her phone translator “I’m glad I met you.” She told me I am a “colourful person who can do anything” and that my personality and expressions remind her of a puppy dog! Haha. She was such a sweet girl and wished me a great trip.
One staff, Misaki(?) was quite a joker, and kept doing the “I have a pen- I have a apple- UHH! PINAPPLE PEN” song, except at the “UHH!” parts he made a variety of indecent noises that had me in stitches.
Another late-night staff was excited to learn I was Canadian and trying to learn Japanese, and cheered me on with “ganbatte!”
One of the staff found out I like SHINee, and he was also a kpop fan- he played SHINee Lucifer on the speakers for me!
Around 11:45 or so I left the cafe- the boys said “Bye bye!” and made sure I was comfortable with finding my way back to the hotel. I played a couple of rounds of the drumming game at Taito station before calling it quits and walking back to the hotel amidst a current of swaying salarymen. I got to pet a corgi!
This is day 2 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.
So, day 2, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 2, October 2nd, 2017
We woke up quite early this morning after sleeping for hours and hours. The konbini (convenience store) beside our hotel was closed until 10am, so we wandered around to find food. We ended up at an adorable bakery where we shared a delicious quiche-ish sandwich, melon bun, grape bun, and sesame cream horn. All of them were so good; we drank apple juice with it.
A lot of businesses are featuring decorations and special items for Halloween! I love Halloween, so I am in my element.
After eating we went to the konbini to buy a few essentials (sunscreen, etc.) and I had a very embarrassing moment. I was waiting to pay for my stuff when suddenly Dustin grabbed me by the shoulder and steered me forcefully away. I was like WHAT THE HECK DUSTIN!?!? But apparently he had been calling my name repeatedly because a man was trying to get my attention due to the fact that I had unknowingly cut in line. Oops! I didn’t notice there are little arrows on the floors and designated areas to line up, and I didn’t see that there were customers standing in the middles of the aisles waiting to pay! I was so embarrassed and worried about bothering the staff and customers.
We took our purchases and headed back to the hotel to get ready to check out and head to Ikebukuro, and Dustin starts feeling nauseous. We aren’t sure if it was humidity, jet-lag, or the Poccari Sweat drink he had, but he ended up puking and feeling gross the rest of the day, unfortunately.
We checked out and headed back to Akiba station, where I grabbed some adorable bunny-themed souvenirs and gifts. By the time we reached Ikebukuro Station Dustin was in need of Tylenol, so we went to a drug store in the station and I attempted to get some for him with my attempts at speaking Japanese. It went something like this:
Me: “Ibupurofen wa arimasu ka?” (Do you have ibuprofen?)
Cashier: *puzzled look*
Me: “Tairenoru? Adobuiru?” (Tylenol? Advil?)
Cashier: “eeh…. Nihongo?” (Um… in Japanese?)
Me: *rubs head with pained expression, trying to show “headache”*
Young Guy Behind Me in Line: *stifled chortle* “You need Tylenol? *explains to cashier in Japanese*
Me: “DOUMO ARUGATOU GOZAIMASU!!!” (THANK YOU SO MUCH)
What would I do without the kindness of strangers? Thank you random dude!
We made the trek to our hotel, Tokyu Stay Ikebukuro, where we were able to drop off our bags but couldn’t check in until 3pm. So, Dustin looked up a random sushi place and we went in.
We almost turned around and left because it was a very tiny conveyor belt sushi place and all the seats were already taken by locals, but we were seen and greeted with “Irashaimasu!” (Welcome!) and were directed to a waiting area bench where we sat for a few minutes until some spots freed up.
It was SO TASTY! We ate a lot of sushi for a good price. The intimacy of the little sushi-ya was lovely, and the staff were very helpful. I fumbled with the hot water dispenser (for tea) but staff noticed right away and showed me how to use it.
At one point, Dusty and I each chose drinks at a vending machine. He chose one with blue packaging called “Aqua” or something, hoping it was plain water. I chose one, “I Lohas”, with green packaging, hoping it was flavored water, but both of our selections were the opposite of what we wanted, so we traded!
After lunch we headed to Animate: a 7 floor behemoth store of otome stuff, official merch, drama cds, adorable plushies and figurines: so many things to explore, it is amazing! It was nicely air conditioned inside and we were sweating SO MUCH at this point after having hauled our bags around that morning. My back felt so wet I thought something was leaking in my backpack!
We headed back to our hotel with our bags full of gashapon (coin-machine toys) and other cool stuff.
After a glorious shower, I headed back out to get our advance-reservation tickets for the Eorzea cafe at a Lawson Konbini- my friend Maika kindly did the online reservation for us! A helpful Lawson staff helped me figure everything out on the self-serve ticket computer.
I went back to the “Otome Road” area and visited Lashinbang, a 6 floor building with lots of unique items. There’s just no telling what you might see on the fabled otome road- stores and floors full of niche, quirky, sometimes blush-inducing items. I got some Diabolik Lovers and Amnesia doujinshi (fan-made comics)!
I wandered the streets of the fabled otome road, through stores and floors of niche, quirky, and blush-inducing items, in awe and amazement.
After that I decided to wander a bit and ended up at Tokyu Hands: seemingly endless floors of everything from camping gear to stationary. I got lots of stickers and gifts, including my most exciting find yet: flipbooks! I adore these creative little things!
Before heading back I went to Family Mart, as I was starving and basically out of cash (I actually had to cancel a few items at Tokyu Hands…). So, I got onigiri (rice ball), egg sandwiches, and fried chicken for us. All were good. The chicken was gloriously greasy!
As I was walking back to the hotel it began to rain, and most people had umbrellas at the ready (except me). However, the rain was actually refreshing and didn’t bother me as it gave me a different look (hey, i’m not a sweaty tourist, it’s just rain! Really!…)
People were scooting around, trying to avoid the rainfall. As I neared the hotel a few guys were standing talking and all had umbrellas. One looked at me and ‘tut-tut’ted as if to say “aw, poor thing”. I felt like he was going to approach and offer his konbini umbrella to me, but I didn’t want to be a nuisance so I speed-walked back to the hotel!