Magnus’ Guide to Tokyo

Okay, so I lived in Tokyo for three months, right on the Yamanote line, and it was some of the most fun I’ve had in my life! I really love Tokyo and I thought I’d share some of the best tips I’ve gathered.

Shinjuku by night
Kabukicho entertainment district in Shinjuku

Perhaps the thing I love the most about this city is that it’s so walkable. The subway system is excellent, albeit a bit confusing, and it can take you pretty much anywhere you’d like for a pretty modest fee. And once you get there, there will always be a nice, clean sidewalk for you to experience the city from. Oh, and while you’re walking, don’t forget to check out the adorable manhole covers! They vary from county to county, but are always very pretty.

So here is a list of what I consider the best sights in Tokyo:

Shinjuku – This is, along with Akihabara, the area that’s most like the Tokyo you’ve imagined. The place is chock full of people and there are neon signs and giant animatronic displays everywhere. Go here and look at all the things and just enjoy being in the Tokyo from the movies, especially after dark, when everything is lit up and pretty. During the day it’s more like any other district really, except that on weekends they block off the main road (Shinjuku dori) and it’s all foot traffic. There is one department store I’m fond of on Shinjuku dori if you walk east along it. It’s a chain called OIOI and it’s at the crossing of Meiji dori and Shinjuku dori. Inside there are five stories of the most popular clothing styles (for dressing up/cosplaying), many of which you’ll see if you go to Harajuku during the weekend. What you can also do is to cross the road once you’re done in OIOI and you’ll find yourself in another cool little area, jam-packed with tiny and cozy restaurants.

North of Yasukuni dori is the Kabukicho entertainment district where you’ll find a ton of barkers (I remember one of them shouting “All you can drink, all you can touch!” after us at one point) and the pretty insane Robot Restaurant (it’s pricey, but you just can’t get this sort of entertainment anywhere else). There is also a large, and reasonably priced, capsule hotel in this area. A capsule hotel is a really cool experience (if you’re a guy, since they are usually for men only) if you haven’t tried it; essentially you get a hole in the wall to sleep in that measures roughly 1x1x2 m. Inside you have a little TV and a Star Trek-esque control panel for the lights and TV (the TV has two settings: porn or regular programming – took me a while to figure out). You get a locker to put your bags in, a pair of slippers and a kind of pajama to wear. You are expected to wear the pajama while in the hotel and only change into regular clothes for going out. On the top floor is a bath house where you have several hot and cold pools, a sauna and regular wash stations at your disposal, which is a very nice way to wind down your day before crawling into your hole and pulling the curtain shut. There actually is a mixed capsule hotel, reasonably close to Shinjuku, called Ace Inn. You won’t get the full Japanese experience, and there isn’t a TV inside the capsule. But at least you get a taste of what it’s like, and at a reasonable price.

Cutting up a tuna fish at Tsukiji fish market
Cutting up a tuna fish at Tsukiji fish market

Also worth visiting is the Shinjuku Goyen, which is a rather big and pretty park that you should go to if you happen to be in town during the cherry blossom flowering season (beware that it closes annoyingly early though; 16:00 if I remember correctly).

Probably my favorite area in Tokyo is the one around Harajuku Station (it’s on the Yamanote line, between Shibuya and Shinjuku). This is where the cosplayers congregate on weekends and if you’re lucky, you’ll see quite a few, usually on the bridge over the rails, between the park and Omotesando Street (actually, from what I hear, the cosplayers are no longer around and nobody really knows where they are now). Once you’re done with the cosplayers, you should head up the street, back towards the station entrance, go past it and then turn right across the street into Takeshita street. It’s easily recognizable since it has a large gateway, adorned with balloons and shit. Takeshita Street is just bonkers, in the best possible way; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve simply walked the length of it, just looking at all the wonderfully weird things and colourful people. There are a lot of fun shops here, so take your time and just enjoy the madness of it all.

After a while you have to cross Meiji dori over to Harajuku Street. Harajuku Street is not as much bonkers as it is cozy, and the whole area just has a very relaxed mood. Follow this street (ducking into the various cool clothing stores along the way) until you come to the first car street on your left, onto which you turn (to the right is another cozy street that will take you back out to Omotesando Street). Walk up this street, and when it forks, take the left prong until you come to the end of it. Now back up a few meters, and to your left is a very cool and super cozy treehouse café. Here you can get a light lunch, some oolong tea, and recharge your batteries for further adventures. When heading back, just go right where you previously took a left from Harajuku Street and follow the road back to Omotesando Street. Take a right here and walk up to the big crossing, here you have the rather spectacular entrance to Tokyu Plaza on the corner to your right and you should absolutely go in. On the top floor there is a super cozy Starbucks with a rooftop terrace to die for and on the floor below it are two really sweet knick-knack stores which you also shouldn’t miss!

At the robot restaurant in Shinjuku
At the robot restaurant in Shinjuku

Near Harajuku Station you can also find the very nice Yoyogi park. If you go here in the weekend, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a traditional wedding at the shrine in the middle of the park. The huge tori gates and the display of sake barrels are very nice too. Speaking of Yoyogi, by the way, if you go to Yoyogi station (one stop north of Harajuku on the Yamanote) you can get the best coffee in Tokyo at Tom’s (take a look at the postcard in the window and you might recognize me!).

Tsukiji Fish Market – This is absolutely the number one sight in Tokyo, if you ask me. You may think that you’ve seen fish markets before, but trust me, nothing like this. The cool thing about this place is the sheer variety and weirdness of the sea critters you see. It’s also awesome to just see these people working here, cutting up huge tuna fishes using half-meter long knives, gutting teeny tiny fishes you’d think no one would bother eating, or just sharpening their knives. Be aware that you are at the work place of these people though, so do your best to stay out of the way of the fishermen. The inner market opens up for visitors at 9 am, and you should make sure that you are there on time to get the best experience. If you’re early, there’s plenty to see in the outer market while you wait.

Getting to the Tsukiji Market is a bit of a pain though. Assuming you’re on the Yamanote line you need to change at Hamamatsucho and walk a bit to get to Daimon Station. From there you hop on the Hanzomon line and get off at Tsukijishio and use exit A1, from there is just a short walk to the entrance. It’s a bit confusing, because you first pass through a gateway of sorts where you have a vegetable market on your right and shops on your left, but no fish in sight. This is the so-called outer market (there are also some stalls selling very yummy noodles). You have to continue on for a few hundred meters before you get to the inner market. Beware of all the electric trucks zipping around, they’re all over the place! Allot about an hour to get there, more if you’re not a seasoned traveler. It seems the market is due to move during 2016, so don’t waste time! I’m sure the new location will be good too, but it probably won’t have the charm of this place.

Will you be my friend?
At the Studio Ghibli Museum

Shibuya – This is where you find the so-called scramble crossing, which you’ve probably seen on TV a few times. It’s a lot of fun to just sit at the conveniently placed Tsutaya Starbucks and look down at all the people crossing every time there is a green light. It’s almost magical how they almost never bump into each other, even if it’s raining and everyone has an umbrella. If you stay to the west of the scramble crossing there are a lot of fun shops, including a six-story Tokyu Hands store that you should absolutely visit, and a super upscale fruit store that sells the cuboid watermelons you may have seen online (I can’t remember the exact location of the fruit store, but I think it’s on the southwest corner somewhere, close to the L’Occitane). Stay away from the northeast side of the crossing, that area is a bit seedy with mostly love hotels and such.

Akihabara – No trip to Tokyo is complete without a trip to Akiba. Here you will find lots of electronics shops, giant toy stores filled with anime figurines, sex shops, and a lot of maid cafés. If you’re a video game nerd, I can heartily recommend a visit to Super Potato, which is a five-story video game memorabilia store. They sell mostly Nintendo stuff and you can get everything from an old Game & Watch to giant stuffed Yoshis.

You’ll find Super Potato on the west side of Chuo dori, along with a lot of the maid cafés. A maid café is something rather uniquely Japanese; basically you pay premium to get waited on by super cutely dressed Japanese girls that look and act like stereotypical young girls. Now, it’s not at all as creepy as it sounds, and there aren’t any uncomfortable sexual undertones, just a lot of childish cuteness. Also in Akihabara is something else that’s pretty unique; an owl café! You may have heard of cat cafés before, which basically are cafés where you go and get to play with cats for an hour. This is the same idea, but with owls. You don’t get to play with them exactly, but you get to hold them and pet them. You need to make a reservation though, because the time slots fill up pretty quickly. It’s also very hard to find, since the entrance is rather nondescript and down a bit of a side street, so make sure you have lots of time to spare when going there.

Shimokitazawa – Somewhat of a hidden pearl in Tokyo, Shimokita is a small bohemian neighborhood a bit outside the immediate city center. It has a very cozy vibe and I heartily recommend taking an afternoon to stroll around here. It doesn’t take long to fully explore it but you should take your time here and browse the cool clothing stores. They also have a lot of very nice knick-knack stores, ideal for souvenirs.

The gate to Senso-ji temple in Asakusa
The gate to Senso-ji temple in Asakusa

Asakusa – The home of Tokyo‘s oldest temple and also where you can find the Tokyo Sky Tree – the new TV tower, taking over for Tokyo Tower. Tickets are pretty annoying to come by, because booking online is Japanese only, but if you go there in person you can get them as well. When I was there it had just opened, so tickets were pretty much impossible to get, but I’m sure it’s much easier now. I do think Tokyo Tower is much cooler, but not nearly as high. The temple (Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest) is worth a trip here though, and even though the market in front of the temple is very touristy, you can find a lot of nice souvenirs at reasonable prices.

Tokyo Tower – The Japanese answer to the Eiffel Tower. Kind of annoying to get to, I usually just went to Hamamatsucho station (Yamanote line) and walked up Shibakoen Street (you won’t get lost since you can see the tower the entire time). It’s maybe a 25 minute walk but if that doesn’t scare you, then it’s a pretty nice one. (if you don’t feel like walking though, you can take the Tokyo line to Kamiyacho station, use HyperDia to figure out the Tokyo metro system) Afterwards you can take a walk through Ginza if you want. Don’t expect to shop much there, since it’s almost exclusively super expensive brand stores, but window shopping is fun and there are lots of pretty lights to look at. Also, Tokyo is very safe at night, so you shouldn’t have any problems walking around.

Odaiba – Home to the “life size” Gundam statue and not that much else. Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay and to get there you need to first go to Shimbashi, there you follow the signs to the Yurikamome line, which is a monorail that takes you out to Odaiba. Aside from the Gundam, there isn’t much else here except shopping malls – though one of them has an indoor amusement park, called Sega Joypolis, which is kind of cool. Apparently Leonardo DiCaprio rents the entire place for him and his staff every time he’s in Tokyo.

Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka – If you like the work of master animator Hayao Miyazaki, you owe it to yourself to visit the Ghibli Museum. I’ve been there twice, and it’s absolutely the best museum I’ve ever been to and well worth the huge pain in the ass it is to get tickets to. What you have to do is to go to a Lawson store (the Japanese 7-Eleven basically) and try and make the clerk (who speaks no English whatsoever) help you buy a ticket. Now, if you’re only in town for like a week, you likely won’t get any ticket because all the time slots are already sold out, but you should absolutely try anyway. The Mitaka neighborhood is pretty cozy in and of itself, but probably not enough to warrant a visit if you aren’t going to the museum.

Me and my owl friend
Me and my owl friend

Roppongi – If you want to go out and party, this is the place to go. Keep in mind that cover charges are often akin to highway robbery though, and that the subway stops at around midnight. So have your address written down in Japanese (cabbies aren’t good at English) or just keep on clubbing until dawn (subway starts again at around 5 am, if memory serves). Other than clubs, there really isn’t much to see here, aside from Roppongi Hills Mori Tower maybe, which has a pretty swanky mall attached.

Kappabashi – If you have time to spare, Kappabashi is certainly worth a visit. It’s another one of those places that you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else. It’s basically one street where you can find everything you need in order to open up your own restaurant. And I mean everything. You can get cutlery, china, chairs, tables, a sign, a giant plastic lobster to hang over the sign, staff uniforms, pre-printed menus with prices and all, cooking equipment, beautiful knives, plastic replicas of food to put in the window, coffee makers, chopsticks, tea pots. It’s pretty cool to just browse all the stuff, and maybe even buy a few things. I bought very nice handmade kitchen knives for a pittance, for instance. A recommended souvenir are the little plastic sushi bits that you can get as a phone strap or a kitchen magnet, they look just like the real thing!

Kamakura is a nice half-day trip if you want to get out of the city for a bit. Here you will find more temples than you can shake a stick at. You get here by taking the Yokosuka line from Shinagawa station (on the Yamanote line) and it takes about an hour. I would suggest getting off in Kita-Kamakura where there are a couple of temples right by the station. There are also patches of bamboo forest here, maybe not as nice as the ones in Kyoto, but good enough for photos if you choose your angle carefully. When you’re all templed out you can walk down the only street in town until just before you cross the rails, you make a right turn into what looks like just another temple. But there is actually a path leading into the forest here where you can walk all the way to Kamakura proper. In Kamakura is a bunch of more temples if you have the energy, otherwise you can just stroll around a bit before hopping back on the train to Tokyo.

A little shrine close to Tsukiji fish market
A little shrine close to Tsukiji fish market

Eating – My two favorite Japanese foods are probably ramen and tonkatsu. Ramen can be found almost anywhere, just ask someone on the street if you can’t find a place and make sure you get some gyoza with your ramen. Tonkatsu is a deep fried pork chop, served with shredded cabbage and a malt vinegar sauce. I cannot overstate how good it is and you absolutely have to try it. The chain WAKO has really good tonkatsu for a good price, while Saboten is also good, but overpriced. You should also try at least one kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi), where the sushi go round and round on small plates and you just pick the ones you like and then afterwards the server scans your stack of plates to figure out what you have to pay. Japanese curry is very different from other places; it’s cheap, good and you can choose how spicy you want it. CoCo Ichibanya is nice and you can find it pretty much everywhere. Hawaiian burgers are also a thing that you should try (Teddy’s Bigger Burgers in Harajuku is good but you can find them pretty much everywhere), kebab (yes, really! Tokyo has some of the best gyros  I’ve eaten, look for Turkish flags), yakiniku (fatty beef that you fry yourself at the table), tempura (a variety of lightly breaded deep-fried things) and maybe soba (the Japanese take on noodles, often served cold with sashimi). If you’re really adventurous you should try fugu – the poisonous blowfish that has to be prepared just right, or why not some chicken sashimi? That’s right, that’s raw chicken breast…

Goodbye Japan

I’ve booked one final dive trip with Mariko-san and this time we’re going to Odawara.My last dive It’s down in the western part of Sagami Bay, more or less on the opposite end from Zushi. Mariko tells me that it’s about this time that the squid eggs hatch, so we might see some wee ones. We actually do get to see some, but they’re so impossibly tiny (~3-4 mm) that it’s more or less impossible to photograph them with my camera.

The rest of the dive isn’t all that interesting, but I take some extra care to appreciate the environment since it’ll likely be a good while before I see it again. When done with diving Mariko-san suggests we go visit the nearby Odawara Castle Donjon.Samurai! First built back in 1447 it looks like the quintessential samurai castle and inside is a historical museum. But first Mariko-san pulls me over to a shack in the yard where you can pay to dress up in a very shoddily made samurai costume. Since I have a really hard time saying no to Mariko I end up in the suit together with a couple of giggly Japanese girls who also dress up.

The museum is actually superb with lots of old samurai weapons and armor on display. It’s very cool to see a sword forged back in the 12th century looking like new! It’s also a lot of fun to see real versions of all those weapons I read about as a ninja-obsessed teenager like kasurigamas, naginatas and kama. What is not so nice is the deplorable petting zoo in the castle yard with tiny cages and very unhappy animals.

Back in Yokohama after saying my goodbyes to Mariko and Umeda-san I meet up with Ken as he gets off work since he’s taking me to one last dinner.Yakiniku He had originally planned to take me to a place serving chicken sashimi (which I’m not very sorry that he didn’t (yes, that is raw chicken)), but we end up going to a very nice Yakiniku place serving category A5 Waygu beef which is among the finest beef you can eat. We get the grade 10-12 marbling (where 12 is the highest), Ken also orders in an intestines platter featuring two kinds of stomach, heart, liver, upper intestine and some facial meat! It’s all incredibly gross of course, but I manage to eat it all and it’s actually not bad, the taste is nice on account of all the fat but the texture is iffy. The beef itself is incredible, the thing about beef of this quality is that the fat content is something like 50-60%, but since it’s so evenly distributed it blends seamlessly with the meat. It does make the texture a bit spongy though, which isn’t all that pleasant. We finish off the evening by going for drinks in Roppongi before saying yet another goodbye.

My last day in Tokyo I spend once again wandering around Harajuku before heading over to Shibuya to the wonderful Fab Café. I decide to get a notebook cut in their laser fabber and it comes out great! I also buy a bunch of their little papercraft kits for a rainy day. Shibuya is also where I’ve booked my goodbye beers session, at the same place as the diver pub was. It ends up being over ten people there, including Bonnie from my diver pub adventure. Kenneth brings a couple of surprise guest in my colleague Eva and her boyfriend Carl who I didn’t even know where in Japan, but are staying with Kenneth! It ends up being a lot of fun and a fitting end to my sejour in Japan!

Wrapping up

Sunday we spend in Harajuku in the hope of finding some dressed up people. They seems to have stayed at home today however and we only find a couple of creampuff girls and the trusty “Free Hugs” people.Creampuffs I go for a full round of hugs before we go into the park and Meiji Shrine where there’s a wedding as usual. I take the guys to the Treehouse for lunch and it turns out to be so full that we get to dine on the loft, accessible only by a small ladder. I really love that place!

For the afternoon we head out to Odaiba to see the Gundam. Someone also told me that there is an indoor amusement park there, called SEGA Joypolis. Apparently Leonardo Di Caprio loves the place and rents the entire place for him and his entourage every time he’s there. It’s kinda cool actually, they even have an indoor roller coaster with a built-in video game. There is a Ringu-themed haunted house, that fails to scare us properly, perhaps because we are unable to understand our guide (who puts on a rather good show, but entirely in Japanese). Maybe the weirdest thing about Joypolis is the game they have on the urinals where the degree of wind a girl is exposed to is determined by the force and volume of your peeing. If you do well enough her clothes blow off and leaves her in her undies.Sushi time It’s a really neat idea, but it could do with a less sexist implementation…

We finish up the day with skewers and edamame at Shimbashi station and head over to Ueno where we’re booked for the final night, since the plan is to spend the remaining time we’re here on that side of town anyway. The hotel turns out to be rather tricky to find and it’s not until we’ve asked a whole bunch of people an old man leads us several blocks from where we’re searching to find the place. The address system in Japan sure is annoying!

The following day is the last one for Anders and Hasse here, so we tick off the last must-see in Tokyo; Tsukiji fish market. It’s great as always and we follow up by standing in line for sushi for 2.5 hours in the blistering heat! Fortunately the staff is servicing us with cold tea while we wait. When we finally do get in, the sushi is very good though, red snapper being one of the favorites.Eel They have a seasonal menu where the most disgusting sounding things on it, how about some cod sperm sack for instance? Anyone? No, didn’t think so…

We sneak in one more coffee at Tom’s before heading over to Kappabashi, the kitchen- and restaurant ware district so that Anders and Hasse can load up of exquisite kitchen knives for the trip home. Since Asakusa is pretty close we finish up by visiting the temple there before parting ways.

I have a last few days here in Japan to tie up loose ends, first of which is going to ShimoKitazawa to get a new Hokusai t-shirt to replace the one Dana stole off my back on Malapascua. I really like this neighborhood, but to get the full experience, you should really go here in the evening. I make one last stop in Harajuku since it will probably be what I’ll miss most about Tokyo.

I go and pick up my remaining bag which I left in storage in Shinagawa and go find a café that Henrik mentioned before. You find it if you walk south along the river until you cross a walking bridge, it will now be on your right and it’s called Breadworks. It’s a very cozy place and I spend the rest of the afternoon there doing some blogging and just generally enjoying their free WiFi (exceptionally rare in Japan!)

Fuji Hangover

Having scaled Mt. Fuji yesterday, we’re pretty tired, so we decide to just hop on a train and see where it takes us.Tomatoes! We end up going to Fukushima, north of Tokyo (Fukushima town that is, which is quite far from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which is on the coast, both are in Fukushima Prefecture though). We linger a bit on the platform to film the trains as the shoot past at some 250 km/h. The elderly station master sees what we’re doing and comes up and explains that in just a few minutes an experimental train will be passing at full speed. The test train doesn’t disappoint and we film it woooshing by in excess of 300 km/h, pretty cool!

At ground floor we encounter the largest tomatoes I’ve ever seen, much larger than my fist! Makes sense though, the region is well known for their nutritious soil and excellent produce. We each buy an delicious looking peach and head outside to eat it. It is easily the most tasty peach I’ve ever had and so incredibly juicy that a 3 dm wide puddle has formed in front of me as I ate it!Ultra Police Force Heading downtown we come across some sort of police ceremony, they seem to handing out honorary decorations, but what catches our eye is the hilarious design of the police cars, where you have a crest featuring a Power Ranger-esque silhouette. We should totally have that in Sweden!

The Fukushima city center is rather dull though and after a couple of hours we’ve walked around most of it. As we start looking for a place to have coffee though, we hit paydirt. The wonderful ‘Blue Beans Coffee’ café really cares about coffee, and watching the owner ceremoniously preparing our cups is entirely mesmerizing. I just love how seriously the Japanese take their handicraft! Afterwards we find a second hand store with lots of cool stuff where I buy a pair of the classical ‘ninja boots’ with a separated big toe for a measly 40 sek. We finish up by dining on tempura and soba at a place where the water interestingly enough tastes heavily of iodine…

The following morning we have tickets to the Sumo tournament in Nagoya, just a couple of hours away by Shinkansen. As we make our way through Nagoya station we suddenly spot a sign saying “SCMaglev”, intrigued we start investigating where it leads (since we’re all huge geeks, seeing an actual maglev train would be awesome!) and in the end figure out that it leads to some sort of exhibition hall where old and current trains are exhibited. After a short deliberation we decide we have few hours to spare before the highest division sumos go on so there’s plenty of time to go and see some trains.

Turns out that the exhibition is pretty far off out in the 10 km long Nagoya harbor, but now we’re committed and seeing the giant harbor is kind of cool too. The exhibition hall is really nice, but what strikes me is how old all the record trains are, most records were apparently set back in the 20th century! Most of the record breaking trains are here and you even get to walk through them.

Trains!The next hall is much bigger and features trains from every epoch in railway history. Here too you get to wander through them and along the walls are various information displays and models. One really cool one is demonstrating how they do on the fly rail replacement. There are also huge dioramas and a little movie theater that’s supposed to simulate what it’s like to ride on the fastest maglev trains. It’s super lame though and so is the train driving simulator next door. I’ll never go for a train conductor job, that’s for sure!

Time for Sumo! The seats we have are furthest up and in the cheapest category, but the view is still good and we arrive just as the second highest division is about to go on, perfect timing! It’s a very cool spectacle where you first get to see all the contestants parading around the ring and doing a ceremonial dance of sorts before the first bout starts. Sumo matches tend to be very short, rarely running over 30 seconds and most time is actually spent in the set up, where the wrestlers try and psyche each other by interrupting the set up to wipe their forehead or something similar. It doesn’t take long to pick up the rules, but it of course pays to have read up in advance. I find it really enjoyable at any rate.

When it’s finally time for the highest division you again get the parade of wrestlers, but not before a short commercial break! The commercial break is actually wonderfully done; a bunch of heralds enter the ring each carrying a old-timey banner with writing on them.Sumo ceremony I’m sure those are all names of sponsors, but to us who are unable to read them, it just looks like an entirely natural part of the competition. I wish all advertising was as organic a part of the setting as this! The highest division has a surprisingly high proportion of non-Japanese wrestlers, more than a fifth of them actually! But it makes sense I guess, the highest division wrestlers earn lots of money so that will of course draw the best from all over the world. There’s one guy in particular that really catches my eye as he amazingly enough weighs less than a 100 kg, this must be very hard when a lot of his opponents weigh over 150 kg! Disappointingly enough he loses his bout even though he throws his opponent very nicely. In Sumo, the only thing that counts is who goes into the floor first and since he is unable to turn enough to land on top he ends up losing.

The Hakuhō vs. Kisenosato is really something, reigning yokozuna Hakuhō puts on a real show by remaining ice cool while his opponent Kisenosato makes two false starts in a row. You hear the audience gasping theatrically at the second one when Hakuhō clearly marks his displeasure by walking up close to Kisenosato before returning to his mark. As the bout finally starts, Hakuhō nimbly sidesteps Kisenosato’s fierce rush and sends him sprawling flat on his stomach. Awesome win by the yokozuna!

Fuji-san, take 2

Having done a bare minimum of research this time we decide to take the bus that goes directly from Shinjuku station.Starting out The traditional way to climb is to start in the middle of the night so that you time the arrival at the summit with the sunrise, but that would be rather inconvenient for us as it means we’d have to spend more or less two days on the endeavor. So we decide to time it with the sunset instead and hop on the 12:05 bus to the starting point at top station 5 which is at around 2300 m.

The ascent is really something of an endless slog through brown volcanic sand, interspersed with small stores selling soda and candy (which amazingly enough, _doesn’t_ get more expensive the higher up you get). Something they do make great money off of are the walking sticks you get at station 5 and which you can brand at each successive top station, and those do get progressively more expensive. As we go higher, the colder it gets and I, being here virtue of being an office rat for the last few months didn’t exactly bring any hiking clothes. My mountaineering outfit is basically sneakers, dress pants and all the polo shirts and t-shirts I can fit. This and the fact that our mountaineering diet so far has been two rice pucks for breakfast, a shared bag of mixed nuts and a couple of snickers is making this quite an undertaking.

A victory toastThe slog is somewhat brightened by a trio of American girls that we keep leap frogging for much of the ascent. We chat a bit and decide to celebrate the arrival at top station 8 with a cold beer (yeah, real smart to get an ice cold beer when you’re already chilled to the bone, exhausted and basically haven’t eaten all day). There is a slight difference between us though; they’re stopping here to spend the night and walk the final bit to time it with the sunrise while we’re pressing on to the summit right away…

Man, that final push was some of the hardest work I’ve done to date! Towards the end I’m stopping to breathe at every single switchback; 15 meters of walking, recuperate for 25 breaths, 15 more meters and 25 more breaths… Finally we see the final torii, marking the entrance to the summit. Problem is that the entire summit is enveloped in clouds, so the visibility isn’t more than 3-4 meters. We go over to the crater to look down, but it’s really no use, you can’t even tell there is one there. Oh well, we buy a celebratory Coke from the vending machine (this is Japan after all, of course there are vending machines on top of their highest mountain) before heading down again. The entire ascent took around 5 hours, which is more or less what we planned. So on the way down we get treated to a magnificent sunset once we clear the clouds.

Sunset at Fuji-sanProbably my favorite thing about running around on mountains is the awesome feeling of looking _down_ at clouds, and as we descend there is multiple layers of clouds visible at once. Running down seems like the most logical thing to do and it’s really meditative to just fully concentrate on where to put your foot next. In this meditative state I can’t help but thinking about the insane rate at which my brain is doing image processing and deciding where is a suitable spot to place the next step (when later talking this over with my equally nerdy friend Pascal I would agree with him that it’s probably more a matter of ‘simple’ pattern matching). We make regular stops to catch our breath and to admire the fabulous view but we need to keep the pace up since it’s rapidly getting darker and we don’t want to be stuck in the steeper part as it goes totally black.

We time it rather nicely though and it’s not until we reach the mostly flat walk back to station 5 that it goes totally dark. The path is littered with concrete half-tunnels that serve as protection from rock slides and now in the dark they appear rather eerily in the dim light of our headlights. The music coming out of a crackly speaker completes the feeling of being in an episode of Lost… As we finally make it back down to station 5 we are unbelievably lucky to catch the very last bus – that in turn manages to catch the very last train back to Tokyo, both by mere minutes to spare…

Fuji-Q Highland

We’re once again back in Tokyo and today’s objective is to take another stab at Fuji-Q theme park. We try another train this time, ironically labeled the ‘Express’, this is probably the slowest train I’ve ever taken.The Fujikyu 'Express' It’s very interior is very cozy however and the staff is supremely friendly, so we don’t mind terribly. The weather today is really perfect, which means that all the attractions but the Log Flume are open for business.

We start out with something called The Cannon, which is a rather flat roller coaster that starts off by using compressed air to accelerate you with a force of 4.25 G. 4.25 G is kind of hard to imagine, the only point of reference I have is that fighter pilots need to be able to endure 9 G, but I have no idea really of what to expect. I try to wrist mount my GoPro for the ride, but the staff is not having it.Shinjuku by night Settling into the seat, you’re left with just anticipating the launch………… hoooooooolyyyyy shhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!1! It really feels like my stomach was left behind as we go hurtling down the track! Apart from the launch though, it’s not much of a roller coaster, but I’m still very much in love with that launch (Wikipedia says it goes from 0 to 172 km/h in 1.8 seconds).

Next up is the main draw of Fuji-Q; the Takabisha 121 degrees. It’s one of those modern roller coasters that don’t take up much room, but instead rely on lots of twists and turns that makes it feel like it goes really fast. The name comes from the part of it that is a vertical ascent that turns into a 121 degree drop. Yes, that’s right, that means that it goes past vertical (90 degrees) and into a sort of negative drop. This sounds and looks really scary, especially as it brakes and leaves time for you to ponder the abyss before letting you go, but in practice it wasn’t all that bad. Don’t get me wrong, it still easily is the best ride of the park and since it’s just recently constructed it also means that it’s super smooth and let’s you concentrate on enjoying the twists and turns instead of the rattling of your teeth. A special mention goes to the innovative way it starts, which is in total darkness! That means that you can’t anticipate the turns and makes it even more exhilarating.

Eejanaika in front of Fuji-sanThe Golden Dragon is next. This is the oldest roller coaster in the park and design-wise it really shows. It’s one of those classic hills-and-valleys kind of ride with the huge incline at the start. I rather enjoy it, in spite of its rather brusque turns and bone rattling qualities. The last one is called Eejanaika and is one of those coasters where the track is in the middle and the seats hang on either side of it and are able to move around the mount point, making for an extra dimension of scary. The ride has problems though and we end up queuing for over 1.5 hours, which is largely spend flirting with the hilariously bashful Japanese girls. When we finally do get to ride I rather like it, it’s certainly not as good as the XXX back in Six Flags Magic Mountain (my all time favorite) which is of the same type or the Takabisha, but it holds it’s own.

Before wrapping up we go and give Takabisha 121 degrees another whirl. Just as good as the first time!

Going nuclear

Without knowing it we seem to have booked a hostel right next to the Peace Park (which makes the taxi driver just clueless I suppose) so we set out to do the the Peace museum first of all.Atomic dome This museum of course deals with the nuclear bomb that was dropped to end World War II and the entry fee is a symbolical 50 jpy (like 4 sek). It turns out to be one of the very best museums I’ve been to and is very moving. It’s very matter-of-fact in its presentation of catastrophe and presents a sincere picture of the horrors following the blast.

Among the many amazing stories I learned at the museum, a couple stood out: The first was that as little as three days after the blast, the city trams were rolling again! Take that, SJ! The other was about probably the unluckiest man alive, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who was in Hiroshima on a business trip.VW Café The meetings were done and they were all on their way, but Yamaguchi realized that he had forgotten the seal used for signing official documents, so he headed back into town. He of course timed it perfectly with the first bomb. Badly burned, deaf, and partially blind, he spent the night in the ruined city and come morning managed to catch a train out of town back home… to Nagasaki. So as he is telling his colleagues and boss about the events in Hiroshima – the second bomb drops. In 2009, he was certified as the only known person to have been at ground zero of both blasts. A year later, at age 93, he died of stomach cancer.

There is also the story you’ve all heard about poor Sadako who was sick from radiation poisoning and in the hospital started to fold paper cranes. This because there’s this old Japanese legend that says that if you fold a thousand cranes you will be cured by the gods. She only made it to 644 before being too weak to continue, and she died shortly after. Her legacy lives on in the Peace Park outside the museum however, where her statue stands, next to a display containing thousands of paper cranes from all over the world. Right next to the Peace Park, just over the river stands the iconic dome of the old city hall. The city hall was just a 160 m southeast of the blast, which occurred 580 m up in the air and was badly damaged.Shameless deer It has since been preserved in this state and is a proper monument and reminder of the blast.

It’s a blistering hot day so we’re pretty psyched when we spot an ambulatory café in the form of two girls in a VW bus! That is too cool an idea to pass up and since it’s also unbelievably hot we get some iced coffee and chat a bit. They are very excited over the fact that we’re Swedes and start rattling off all the Swedish brands they can think of. Refreshed we’re ready to tackle our next objective; the little island Miyajima just outside town. Miyajima is home to the enormous red torii that you’ve probably seen majestically standing out in the water. Unfortunately we realize that we could’ve planned this better as we from the ferry see that it’s low tide and the torii now stands on dry land…

Miyajima ToriiMiyajima is also home to a virtual deer infestation, the damn buggers are really everywhere! Today they’re not very perky however, owing to the intense heat. We’re not terribly impressed with Miyajima, it’s rather touristy and even if it does have a fair share of nice temples, it’s not something that you can’t see elsewhere in Japan. The torii however is rather great, even in low tide, but if you decide to make a stop here, try and time it with high tide and you’ll get the most out of it. Another thing the island is know for are the oysters, so as it comes around to eating time we find an oyster place and order some tempura. I’m sure they’re delicious as far as oysters go, but it’s not something I’ll make a point of looking up again… After eating we feel more or less done with the place and make our way back to the ferry, where we’re mercilessly molested by the deer who now, as the day draws to an end and the temperature drops, are more up and about. We witness one woman getting her map stolen right out of her back pocket by a leery-eyed Bambi, so we make sure everything is bolted down.


There’s another reason we’re in Kagoshima; there is an active volcano next door! But that isn’t even the interesting part, as any avid gamer knows there are these white beets you pull out of the ground, some of them as big as your head, and throw at foes in Super Mario 2.Volcano As it turns out, these beets are for real, and they grow right there, at the side of the volcano! They’re called Daikon and they’re basically huge radishes, I guess the reason they get so freakishly large is the super-nutritious ashen soil. We board one of the frequent ferries and head over, only to find out from the lady at the information desk that the Daikon season is late winter! Total bummer… Oh well, we decide to hop on a tour that takes us up to the top observatory together with about a hundred Japanese baseball kids.

The tour is kinda meh, but observing Japanese touristing is always amusing. And at the topmost observatory there is this rather cool scale model of the volcano under the glass floor. In the souvenir shop I get a Daikon fridge magnet, the only Daikon I’m likely to see this trip sadly… On the map we’ve found a lava field that you can visit as well, so we hop on a bus and find ourselves dropped off somewhere in the wilderness with a couple of footpaths leading up a hill.Coins Disappointingly there is no live lava to be found here, even though you wouldn’t think so, given how hot it is! The sun is unrelenting, the ground is all black and the few shady spots are taking by the cleaning staff, gasping for air. The field isn’t much more than a maze of footpaths interspersed by a few bigger hunks of lava rock where people are fond of placing coins. As we’re about to leave the volcano decides to wake up and start billowing sulfurous smoke! Quite cool to watch as we wait for the bus in what is surely over 45 degrees Celsius heat.

We have another stop planned on the way back, touted as one of the best onsens in the area, complete with fabulous pictures, the Furusato Onsen certainly looks like the perfect place to cool off for a bit. The bus pulls up to this Communist-looking, huge box of concrete which probably was all the rage somewhere back in the early seventies.Snow crabs Undeterred we go inside and receive our robes and bathing clothes (this is a mixed onsen, so you’re basically bathing in a pajama). Walking down to the pools we pass this supremely depressing dried out swimming pool, looking more or less like the one I saw in Pripyat, Chernobyl. The actual onsen is just one pool that doubles as a shrine, which is kinda nice. But you quickly realize that the pictures online are taken from more or less the only possible angles and that the place is really not very nice. Suffice to say that we don’t stay that long.

Back at the mainland we have some time to spare and decide to visit the nearby aquarium as well. They have this baby whale shark they’re rather proud of, but the coolest thing I found were probably the snow crabs. Freakish creatures those! They have a dolphin show as well, but if you’ve been to Kolmården, then it’s not very impressive. Towards the evening it’s time to move on to our next destination; Hiroshima. That means traversing almost half of Japan to get there, but with the Shinkansen that is only some three-four hours which is nice. It’s rather late when we arrive so we just grab a taxi to get to the hostel we booked. But due to the mess that is the Japanese address system, the driver can’t even find the place! After a lot of confusion he does eventually find it and we can go to bed in the somewhat crappy but cheap dorm.

Magical Yakushima

The boat pulls into a blistering hot Yakushima, the entire island is basically a dormant volcano which gets about 400 days of rain a year, making it intensely green.Creepy root Our plan is to rent a car and to zip around the island in the about 5 hours we have. That plan is quickly foiled though when it turns out that we’ve chosen a Sunday of all days to go here. And since this is a very popular tourist location for the Japanese as well this means that every car on the island is already rented out…

Oh well, the ladies in the information says that we can take a bus instead that will take us halfway up the volcano to a bunch of trails, totalling about 5 km. This actually sounds just like what we’re looking for (it also helps that we don’t have any alternatives…) so we hop on and start the ascent. The trails start right next to a beautiful stream and the rest of the scenery is no less so. Everything is just very green and the footpaths are kept in impeccable condition. All the Japanese we meet are dressed in very expensive-looking hiking gear, with poles and all. They take their hiking seriously in this country!

Saying “Konichiwa” every time we meet people nets us a lot of smiles and I’m having the best hiking I’ve ever come across. Before long we find our first couple of deer, calmly munching at the scenery. Turning around to call Hasse over, I see him taking pictures of the monkey behind us. Nature is really in your face here! Golden TreeThe place is filled with really old trees, and the very oldest ones have nice and clear signs in both Japanese and English, telling the story behind them and their naming. Incidentally Yakushima is also where Hayao Myiazaki of fame drew his inspiration for one of my favorite movies and as you walk around here you can really see it!

Somewhere along the hike we lose track of Anders, this isn’t that uncommon as you’d think though and since the entire trail is a loop, we’re not too worried. The trail is rather hilly, snaking up and down the mountain and we’re starting to realize that even though it’s only 5 km, it will probably fill up our time quite nicely. Nearing the end of the trail there is an additional loop you can walk, but Hasse and Anders beg off, so I end up doing that part alone. Since most of that part consists of very nice walkways, I get it into my head that I should run full tilt while filming. So I do just that, and it’s implausibly fun! After about 4-500 meters without meeting anyone I almost run over a very confused deer. He gives me a rather bewildered stare for a second or so before flashing his big white ass and bounding off into the vegetation.

Taking a breakThe rest of the circuit isn’t all that interesting though and before I know it I’m back at where the bus dropped us off. No sign of Anders and Hasse though, so I take the opportunity to wade out into the stream to cool down. Turns out that even though I took a detour of 1.5 km, I still arrived ahead of the guys! Since there isn’t enough time for any other excursions we catch the ferry back to Kagoshima and go out for some kaiten sushi (carousel sushi), which is a type of restaurant where all the tables are next to this conveyer belt where the sushi goes round and round at a leisurely pace and when you see something you fancy, you just pick it off the belt and eat it. The plate the sushi comes on is color coded to signify the price and also has an RFID chip inside it, so when it’s time to pay the waiter just scans your stack. Super convenient! There is also an iPad at the table, from which you can make custom orders if you can’t see your favorite sushi on the belt. There is no extra charge for this, and the delivery system is really neat; what happens is that when your sushi is done, a little train, running on a track next to the belt, pulls up to your table loaded with your order! (btw, as we leave, Anders has racked up a stack of no less than 12 plates (where most plates has two pieces of sushi on them))

Golden Pavilion

We have decided to stay today as well in Kyoto before moving on to Kagoshima in the afternoon. Anders’ Achilles tendon is still acting up so he is staying at the hostel to rest a bit while Hasse and I are going to look at the Golden Pavilion.Golden Pavilion To get there we need to take the bus and while finding the right one isn’t that hard with enthusiastic Japanese to help us out, the payment system is another story. We go up to the driver and each plop a 1000 jpy bill into the machine that looks like a payment thing and out pours a bunch of change. Satisfied with figuring it out we move back and take our seats when the chauffeur calls us back, turns out that Hasse had left his Travel Pass up front! No biggie, that’s only about 4 ksek…

The bus ride is rather long, but I always find it fun to ride public transport abroad since you get another sense of day to day activities that you otherwise miss when just catching a taxi. Speaking about that; after observing the other passengers for a while we realize that we haven’t at all paid for the ride! The system works as follows: When you get on you grab a little note from a machine that tells you the number of the stop where you got on, then you have a meter in the ceiling that advances for every stop and tells you the current fare from the start of the trip. Then when you get off you go to the front and pay the difference from when you got on and where you hop off, easy!

Money BowlThe Golden Pavilion is nice, but maybe not as impressive as we’d hoped, most fun is taking pictures of Japanese taking pictures. They love to pose and take every chance they get. The park surrounding the Pavilion is really nice too and we spend some time exploring it, we come across a bunch of people throwing coins at some kind of bowl. They’re really enthusiastic and every time someone hits the mark there is widespread cheering, I guess it’s more interesting than throwing coins in a fountain at least. We meet up with Anders back at the train station and set out to get something to eat before going on to Kagoshima. By asking around we find a Yakiniku place close by that treats us to a really excellent meal with high quality marbled meat, really fun to introduce the guys to some proper Japanese Yakiniku!

Creepy Cat ManAnders had found a palace/fort in the central parts and had been walking around there before meeting up with us, no wonder really, Kyoto (and most other Japanese cities I guess, are littered with temples and such). Talking to the the ticket lady we find out you can’t actually go to Kagoshima (which is at the very southwestern point of Japan) because the area has been flooded! Ooops, that means that we have to come up with a new plan. We decide to take the stop at Hiroshima now instead of the way back, which is no biggie really. Hiroshima isn’t that far so we arrive in mid-afternoon. On a hunch we go and talk to the people at the information desk and ask if there are any updates on the flooding. They act confused and say that there is no problem going to Kagoshima, apparently the flooding was rather minor and the tracks are once again open.

So we hop on the train again and arrive in Kagoshima in the evening. We grab a taxi to get to the capsule hotel we found and then head out to explore the town. There isn’t a whole lot to explore though and very few restaurants that are open. We do happen across an oddity though; a guy with a wagon full of cats, where you can pay in order to pet them. Veeery strange and a bit creepy for sure. We end up dining at the Japanese burger chain Mo’s and flirt shamelessly with the flustered Japanese girls at the next table.