Torii Race

We leave Tokyo for Kyoto the next morning. The Shinkansen trains are really something else, with the JR pass you don’t get to go on the absolutely most modern ones, but the ones you get to go on are plenty!Tenryū-ji Temple They are incredibly efficient in everything they do, when the train stops at the station, the cleaning crew sometimes has as little time as four minutes to clean the entire train set before it goes out again. This is not on every station though, where we board, in Shinagawa, they only stop for one minute. Plenty of time to unload people and let a new batch on.

Anders and I discuss how they can be so incredibly efficient and theorize that it has a lot to do with the fact that the train comes in to the platform with the door exactly level to the platform. This means that exiting is very easy, even if you’re handicapped or you have bulky luggage. There is also plenty of legroom for all seats, which means that there is no problem to have your luggage at your seat, leading to further time savings when exiting. Another thing that probably helps is that the train stops at exactly the same spot every time, so you can figure out beforehand where you’re supposed to be queuing up. Which is another thing; there is none of that trying to enter the train before everyone’s exited bullshit, everyone politely waits at the designated line until everyone has gotten out.

Awesome desserts!Arriving in Kyoto we make our way to the hostel we’ve booked and find that the trains in this town leave something to be desired, leaving us to walk a couple of kilometers. Being late afternoon already, we dump our bags at the room and catch a taxi to the only temple that’s still open; Tenryū-ji temple. It’s rather nice though and we stroll around until closing time. Next to the temple is the Arashiyama bamboo garden – something I was quite looking forward to seeing. We find it rather disappointing though, it’s not very large and consists of a few paved walkways and a couple of fenced in bamboo groves. Nothing special at all actually, my tip is to go to Kita-Kamakura to see the same thing. Feeling that we’re about done with this place we head back, problem is that the hitherto light drizzle now turns into full on canine and feline proportions. Not that that’s uncommon in Japan, it has island climate after all, but none of us have picked up umbrellas yet. So we decide to seek shelter in a nearby café.

Inari ToriisThis turns into a lucky break, since for a ridiculous amount, something like 700 jpy, we get access to a dessert of our choice and access to a cookie, coffee and tea buffét. And the desserts are something else! We are able to watch as actual chefs are lovingly preparing them in the back. The interior is really nice too, it feels like you’re at a really fancy hotel and we feel a bit out of place in our comfy travelling clothes. We have one thing left on our list before bedtime though, and that is the Inari Torii gates. A fair amount of walking (Kyoto is annoyingly hard to get around, you more or less have to take a taxi or invest some time into understanding the bus system, because the trains are scarce. We do however make it there and seeing as it’s still raining quite heavily we invest in the classic Japanese see-through umbrellas before heading up to the temple area. There are a bunch of temples to navigate before you reach the Toriis, unfortunately some kind of unsightly, very modern-looking, paper lanterns have been set up together with electrical wiring throughout the path. That’s kindof a bummer, which means you have to get creative with picture angles and so on, but it is nonetheless undoubtedly the highlight of the day. The Toriis all bear the names of the donors who paid for them and are really tightly spaced, it’s a magnificent sight to behold! The entire trail is supposedly 2-3 hours if you trek all the way up to the shrine on the hill, but after a while you realize that there isn’t much variation to be had and one place is as good as the next for photos. It’s also starting to get rather late and dark, so after an hour or so we head back to the hostel. Our room there is actually really nice in traditional Japanese style with roll out beds on the floor, a low table, sliding door closets and rice mats on the floor. The excellent ending with the awesome Torii gates has put me in a good mood and I go to bed with a smile on my lips.

All you can drink, all you can touch!

I’m once again on Japanese soil to meet up with my friends Hasse and Anders.Akihabara by night Together we intend to do the rest of Japan, mainly by train, using the excellent deal you get if you buy a Japanese rail pass. For just under 60 000 jpy you get almost unlimited travel on the JR trains. You don’t get to go on the most modern Shinkansen, but there are enough of the older ones that you never have to wait very long at any one place. I arrived yesterday and checked in at a capsule hotel in Shinjuku. Capsule hotels are interesting. You get a tiny locker to put your stuff in and jammies-like pants and shirt to change into. Then you can roam the premises, go nuts on the vending machines, watch TV or go wash yourself at the onsen. Your dwelling is 2 cubic metres of hole in the wall, with only a curtain separating you from the other guests. There is a tiny TV in your capsule and at first it seemed to only show porn, the Japanese kind where all genitals are censored and the story line almost always involves the girl not really wanting to go along with the sex. Not sure why that’s the case, but suffice to say that it’s creepy as hell and not very enjoyable.

ThirstyThere’s no WiFi, but you can rent an ethernet cable and after a bit of exploring I realize that you can change the “band” of the TV to get the normal channels. Or whatever passes for normal in Japan that is… I’m meeting the guys at the Starbucks in Shinagawa and I treat them to one of my favorites; the mango smoothie, when they finally arrive. It’s rather hot in Japan this time of year, so it’s a welcome refreshment. We head back to the capsule hotel to check in, but apparently we’re too early, so I take them for lunch at the nearby CoCo Ichiban. CoCo Ichiban is a chain serving the Japanese take on curry, Their thing is that you can choose exactly how spicy you want your curry on a scale from 1-9. Since I’ve been here before I decide to go for an 8. Not too bad actually, I could probably stomach a 9 if needed.

Back at the hotel the guys check out their caves and we decide to go for a bath since they’ve just been travelling for some 20 hours. The onsen (and the entire hotel) is male only, these hotels rarely are co-ed, and even when they are, there are usually two entirely separate wings. A bath and a nap later we head over to check out Akihabara as I want to see if I can get my camera repaired at one of the shops there. When I pick it up to demonstrate its brokenness to Hasse and Anders though, it turns out to be working again!View from Tokyo Tower I guess it was the humidity that did a number on it. So mostly we end up checking out all the big electronics stores (as well as another visit to Super Potato) but also just walk around taking in the neon and atmosphere of it all. When we later return to the hotel, which is situated in the middle of the party quarters we get pursued by a multitude of barkers, of whom the the funniest one promised us: “All you can drink, all you can touch!”

The next day the plan was to walk up and down Mt. Fuji, but by the time we get to Kawaguchiko, the train station closest to the mountain, the weather isn’t that great and Anders is having problems with his Achilles tendon to boot. So we decide to postpone the entire thing and go for the FujiQ amusement park instead. Problem is that all the roller coasters are closed due to hard winds. We just can’t catch a break it seems. So we retreat back to Tokyo and Yoyogi station for the best coffee in all of Tokyo at Tom’s. Finally something going right! The guys fall in love with the place just as I have and we spend upwards a couple of hours in there.

We make another stop in Harajuku and Omotesando street, but today isn’t very lively so I suggest we go for Tokyo Tower instead. The guys go all the way to the top and spend a small eternity taking pictures before calling it a night.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Calico Cat CaféHenrik and John has tipped me off to another strange phenomenon called a “Cat Café”. It’s a place where busy people go to ease their stressful lives by cuddling with cats. 1000 jpy gets you an hour in a room full of cats and cat lovers. Most of the fun actually comes from watching the Japanese interact with the impossibly blasé cats. Fully grown salary men throwing themselves on all fours and generally acting like children. I guess the cats have had it up to here with all the petting by now, poor things.

I’d also found a group on Facebook while looking around for diving in the Tokyo area. It’s the Discovery Divers Tokyo and it’s connected to a dive shop with the same name. They’re hosting a diver’s social about once a month and while I’ve intended to go earlier, this is the first time it’s working out for me. It’s a place called Goodbeer Faucets in Shibuya and as I make my way there I find out that the Shonan Shinjuku line doesn’t actually go all the way to the regular Shibuya Station.Me, Pascal, Bonnie and the Japanese bar owner Instead it stops at a smaller station just south of the big one, which means that I’ve quite a walk ahead of me since the pub is to the north west of the real Shibuya Station. Turns out though that the neighborhood south west of the Station is rather cozy though, so I don’t mind that much. (Now, where you don’t want to go is north east of Shibuya Station. Lina and I did that and ended up in a rather seedy neighborhood with lots of “love hotels”, i.e. hotels that rent rooms by the hour…)

The social is maybe one third Japanese and two thirds expats from all over the world. Most of them speak great English and I have a really good time. The pub closes at midnight, but one of the organizers, Pascal, convinces a few of us that we should go to this bar in Ebisu. In the end there are five of us going. The bar is this cozy little place with a very eccentric owner who likes to dress up in 80’s heavy metal style tights and sunglasses even though there’s hardly any light in there. Pascal explains that the owner had been doing LSD for the last ten years prior to opening this place, which explains the rather, ‘eclectic’ decoration choices.

The others drop off and in the end there’s just me, Pascal and Bonnie left. By this time all the trains have stopped running (they do that pretty early in Tokyo). Pascal offers us to crash at his place which is more or less around the corner. Friendly morayBoth Bonnie and I agree and find ourselves in Pascal’s 10-odd square meters, incredibly dirty, apartment listening to wild stories about his travels, like for instance the time when he got free lessons from a Russian tennis pro, or the time he partied with some Siberian indigenous people in a tent somewhere in northern Siberia… He had some thing where he would celebrate each New Years in a new time zone, so far he had worked his way from the Netherlands over to Thailand.

I spend the night on a leaking blow-up bed in his kitchen, which also happens to be the hall. The bed actually goes from wall to wall, making getting into the bathroom something of a challenge. In spite of the circumstances I manage to get a few hours of sleep and at somewhere around eight Bonnie and I stumble out of his place. Pascal had insisted on that we grab some breakfast on our way out, but a quick look inside his fridge and the lone, family-sized, jar of pickles is enough to dissuade us from that. Taking the subway home I for the first time get to experience the white-gloved pusher guards, I guess the line I’m usually taking in the morning just isn’t full enough. I manage a quick stop at home for a shower and change before heading off for another day at work.

The potter and my ball of clayFriday evening brings another after work; it’s me, Nishihata-san, Kenneth, Thomas and Tore this time and we manage to find a nice place at the bottom floor of the department store next to Yokohama Station. Nishihata-san makes sure we get all the weird stuff ordered in to our table, grilled gristle seems to be my personal stopping point though… It doesn’t drag on too late, which is lucky since Saturday brings another diving outing.

This time the site is Izu Ocean Park, a dive resort some 2.5 hours drive down the coast from Yokohama. The resort has all sorts of diver amenities including a nice big hot tub to soak in between dives. The site has some rather nice diving and I manage to see heaps upon heaps of morays, a scorpion fish, clown fish as well as a bigass Napoleon Wrasse. I also have my very first encounter with schooling catfish – love those guys! Returning to Mariko-san at Splash, Umeda-san and I sit down and log my 40th dive (yay!) and we separately end up drawing me photographing morays in each other’s dive logs (maybe because that was more or less all I did that dive)! =D

Yesterday was also Midsummer’s Eve, which in Sweden is a pretty significant holiday. So today the Swedes from work have cooked up a party, when I arrive they’ve already taken care of the Brännboll part (a Swedish version of Baseball that is much less complex (and where other players than the pitcher actually matter)) and have moved on to an Izakaya in Shibuya. A couple of guys from the Swedish embassy are here too and it’s interesting to hear about their work. We keep eating the snack skewers that are on order, there are tiny quail eggs, chicken liver, chicken hearts, roast gristle – you know, the usual. 😉 When we finally hear that they are all out of skewers, we figure that it’s finally time to leave.

Midsummer karaoke!The next place we end up at is a room at Big Echo – the major Karaoke chain in Tokyo. What you do is that you get a room of a certain size and then the drinks are free, pressing a buzzer produces a guy, ready to take your orders. Being free also means that the drinks are pretty bad. The Mojito I got was easily the most awful one I’ve ever tasted, only mildly reminiscent of an actual Mojito. It’s a ton of fun though and Kenneth turns out to be a great singer. Him and I belt out a pretty decent Mr. Brightside at the top of our lungs. Not wanting the night to end just yet (it’s only midnight!), Kenneth, Justin, Jonas and I share a taxi bound for Roppongi to find a club. The place we end up at wants to be really exclusive, but since it’s packed to the rafters it pretty much fails at that. When I say packed to the rafters, I really mean it, It’s actually hard to move in there and dancing is really problematic! That is maybe the most amusing thing about the place by the way, there are actual signs saying that dancing is prohibited at the premises!

We only stay a couple of hours at the club before getting bored and going for a late night kebab instead. The way to the kebab place is as usual littered by barkers, which wouldn’t be that much of a problem if Jonas didn’t stop to troll _all_ of them… This is amusing the first couple of times, but we quickly get fed up and in the end we just about drag Jonas along to the kebab place. The kebab is delicious as usual, I honestly think the Tokyo kebabs are only rivalled by the Turkish ones! Jonas and Justin actually want to go find yet another club, but since it’s about 2:30 am at this point and I got up at around 5:30, I beg off and catch a taxi for Shinagawa. I don’t remember the address of the hotel though, so I tell him to go to Shinagawa station instead, which turns out to be a really lucky break! He drops me off at the far side of the station, so to go home I have to pass through it. At night, only the entrances down to the tracks are closed, the walkway through the station is still open and as I walk through I encounter a lot of “Japan drunk” (an expression coined by my friend John) salarymen are strewn around, hugging pillars and whatnot. If it weren’t for them all wearing expensive suits you would think they were homeless! Drinking in moderation is not that common in Japan…

The Kamakura trailEarlier when diving, Enrique told me about something I missed when going to Kamakura. Apparently you should hop off the train at the station before Kamakura, called Kita-Kamakura. That’s where the nice temples are. I take his suggestion and on Sunday I give Kamakura a second chance. Enrique was right, these temples are much nicer! There are also huge hortensias decorating the surroundings, framing it nicely.

Enrique also told me about a trail in the woods where you could hike all the way to Kamakura. That sounded like a really nice way to wrap this week up, so I go for it. Right at the beginning of the trail there is a sign in Japanese for a side trail, I decide to investigate and find myself at a little pottery. I suddenly remember something my friend Jonathan told me about a year ago. There is this thing called Dorodangos – basically an old Japanese art form of taking clay, shaping it into a ball and then gradually polish it until it shines like a mirror. So after some labored communication using the potter’s daughter as interpreter I manage to buy a ball of clay for 100 jpy. The daughter doesn’t seem to understand what I’m talking about, but the potter seems really satisfied when he figures out what I want to do and I end up promising him I’ll send pictures when I finally make it.

The trail itself is nice and brings back memories of Nepal. It’s a good 4-5 km before I get to Kamakura and something I can really recommend, not very difficult and lots of cheery Japanese along the way. Also rather clean, I only manage to collect a handful of trash along the trail.

The deadliest catch?

The Fugu placeMy last week working in Japan begins and me, Kenneth and John go to knock another item off my list: Fugu! Fugu is that poisonous puffer fish you’ve all heard about. The one that needs to be prepared juust right or it’s deadly. I found a place when wandering around Shibuya that only serves Fugu that seems appropriate, the pricing seems good too, around 500 sek per person for a set meal. When eating things that might kill you, you probably shouldn’t go for the cheapest available alternative. Sort of like with sky diving 😉

The restaurant is divided into private little rooms with a hotplate built into the table. The first thing we get is sashimi (raw pieces of fish, sort of like sushi, but without the rice) that you just dip in soy and eat as is. It tastes like any white fish sashimi I guess, nothing special really. The next course is something else though; we get the fish, seemingly haphazardly chopped up on a plate. The pieces so fresh that they are actually still twitching! We also get a wicker basket in which the server places a large piece of waxed paper and a metal plate. The plate acts as a conductor for the induction hotplate and the eerily ambulatory fish is plopped into the basket together with some broth and veggies to simmer for a while.

Foiled by kids!The boiled fish tastes as you might expect; pretty bland. But that’s okay, because immediately following that we get the favorite part; the tempura. It’s hard to go wrong when deep frying and it doesn’t disappoint this time either. All in all I wasn’t all that impressed by Fugu, but then again I’m not that much of a fish person either. But it was an interesting experience and I’m glad I tried it.

Another thing I’d been having on my list was to go up the tallest building in Yokohama; the Landmark Tower. So Thomas, Henrik, John and me take a long lunch and head over to the galleria at the foot of the tower to find a nice place to eat. That pretty much ends in failure as we spend far too much time and end up at a, admittedly nice, but overpriced place. When we finally make it to the elevator we’re met by a horde of school kids, who are also going up today. We admit defeat and grudgingly go back to work. As I’ve wrapped up most of my work business, me and Ken go for another long lunch to find me an extra suitcase so that I can get all the Hello Kitty stuff I’ve bought back home. He takes me to one of the interesting Don Quijote chain stores, which is basically equivalent to the Swedish Rusta chain, but classier. They sell all kinds of shit and they make use of every last inch of space in there, so it’s rather fun to just go around browsing. They have really good prices as well and I get a really nice suitcase out of it.

Nishihata-san and meThomas suggest we go to a really cool store over in Akihabara as well. It’s called Super Potato and it sells all manners of used video games, consoles, tie-in merchandise. Basically a nerd heaven, of course I agree! The place isn’t easy to find, it’s nestled in among the maid cafés and you have to go up some stairs to find it. The maid cafés are in themselves worth mentioning; they’re more or less a café where the staff is dressed up in over the top maid costumes and entertain you by playing games or just conversing (at least the legitimate ones…) , sort of like a modern day Geisha I guess. There is a rather creepy vibe to them, since the overwhelming majority of the customers are older salarymen. Super Potato is really fun though and I certainly get my fill of Nintendo nostalgia!

My colleague Tore and I will be leaving at roughly the same time so Nishihata-san has arranged a going away party for us. The dinner is a dish called Shabu-shabu, something I’ve managed to miss entirely during my stay. It’s basically a Japanese version of Hot Pot, you get a pot of broth and pick up raw meat from a tray and dip in the broth and stir it around (hence the name; Shabu-shabu is mimicking the noise when stirring). It’s really good, I like it better than the Chinese kind actually, it’s much more flavorful. My boss Sarbel has heard that I sing in the Red Army Boys choir and has been talking about that I should sing for a while now, and since this is the last opportunity for it I get up and do a couple of songs, to much merriment. I also make sure I get pictures with all my lovely friends. On the way out Okamoto-san buys me a lovely present in form of Ghengis Khan candy, that’s right, it’s lamb-flavored candy (not as awful as it sounds it turns out).

Diving with Doraemon

It’s starting to dawn on me that there are only a little more than two work weeks left here in Japan. I guess it’s time to tie up all those loose ends before I leave.The Mario Bar Going home from work I notice there are people dressed in yellow sitting at pretty much every corner of the way from the Nissan showroom to Yokohama station. They all have a row of clickers in front of them and seem to be straight up just counting people. Way to be strange Japan!

I pester Kenneth to take me to that Mario bar he has been talking about and he agrees to take me on Wednesday. Henrik tags along as well and we make a stop at a proper tempura restaurant on the way. Tempura is basically deep fried food, but not like you get it at Chinese restaurants back in Sweden, where there is an almost impenetrable shell of dough around the meat. Here you get a thin, fluffy crust that you need to be quick about eating because it goes soggy before long. At the best places you get served only one piece at the time just to avoid that problem. It is really delicious, and we learn that you can really deep fry anything if you put your mind to it, as evidenced by the deep fried lettuce we’re served.

The Mario bar is located in the food quarters that is sort of behind the main street in Shinjuku and is just adorably tiny. The owner has gone all out on decorating the place with all sorts of Nintendo paraphernalia. Even the drinks are Nintendo themed, and I go for a Princess Peach. At the table is also Wii controllers so that you can play Mario Kart on a big screen TV (where we proceed to totally own the Japanese).

The Gay IzakayaThis Friday’s AW Okamoto-san, Thomas, Henrik and I end up on the roof of the Sogo department store in Yokohama. There they have a beer garden where you just pay a flat fee to eat and drink as much as you want. After a while we’re joined by Jonas and Justin who lobbies for us to move to the Yokohama izakaya quarters instead. Well, we were about done with Sogo anyway so I tag along, the others drop off as we pass through the train station and once again it’s only me, Jonas and Justin. Jonas is praising this izakaya, talking about how excellent drinks they serve, so I’m pretty psyched as all the drinks I’ve had in Japan so far (with the exception of the New York Bar) have been awful.

Turns out that Jonas is a big, fat liar though. The place in question is a very downtrodden joint, the kind where you select and pay for your drink in a vending machine, get a receipt to present at the counter and then receive the actual drink. I’m not sure why they do it like that, but you see it all the time at cheap lunch- and breakfast places as well. The joint is good enough for drinking though and we have a pretty good time. The Japanese frequenting the place are really friendly and eager to talk to us, even though their English isn’t very good. After a while we notice them getting more and more forward, and when I finally get my ass grabbed by a guy who hasn’t even introduced himself the last doubts vanish. I seamlessly transition to the other side of the table so that I have my ass to the wall and go on to enjoy the rest of the evening.

The Saturday is spent hanging out in Asakusa, but there is no getting away from that Asakusa is rather boring district. I pay another visit to the inventor shop, but the nice old man isn’t there, just a bunch of kids that aren’t very talkative. Clearly not as fun, so I move on and just wander about in the light drizzle until it’s time to make my way down to Yokohama where we have tickets for tonight’s football game between Yokohama F. Marinos and FC Tokyo.After Dive Dinner The game is played at the huge home arena of the Marinos that seats over 70 000 people, as a result the stadium seems rather empty even though we’re something like 15 000 in attendance. The weather continues to be not great and when it starts to rain for real I go and buy a branded poncho which is in fact cheaper than normal on acoount of the rain! Way to go Japan!

My Sunday is once again dedicated to diving. I tag along for Enrique and Claudia’s first real dive. The site is called Eno Ura and it is an extreme newbie site. You have this long ramp leading down into the water, with a rope to hold on to as you stand in line and wait your turn to get wet. There is a shit ton of divers in the water today and they’re all newbies, so as you let go of rope and descend you enter a sort of fin soup. Best strategy seems to be to just hold on to your mask and get to the bottom, out of the way of all the haplessly flapping limbs.

You can really tell that this is a newbie site as there are ropes mounted along the bottom that you’re supposed to follow and little markers on every little noteworthy site where you’re supposed to each take a photo and then move on (don’t dilly-dally, there are other divers behind you, queued up to see the same thing). There are hula hoops mounted on the bottom that you’re supposed to swim through to see that you have proper buoyancy control. Following that there is a little Doraemon statue (a popular cartoon character that is a robot cat from the future, teaching children manners) that garners another obligatory photo and a weird bush-like thing that is chock full of squid eggs. The eggs are kinda cool, they look basically like a string of see-through sausages but are far from hatching so there’s no chance of seeing any tiny squid. Final stop is a patch of anemone featuring a handful of surly anemone fish (you know, the Finding Nemo fish), fiercely protecting their homestead.

Getting out of the water is equally interesting as there is a queue for doing that as well. And God forbid that you take the wrong rope! There is one rope for entry and another for exit and that’s that. It doesn’t matter that the entry rope is free and noone is even planning on entering, you wait your turn at the exit rope. All things considered, it’s a rather bad dive, but a very memorable one!

Ghibli Museum

The shoes I got in Shimo-Kitazawa didn’t really work, they turned out to be way too small.Movie café So this week I went back there to exchange them. I did still have the box, but I couldn’t find the receipt no matter how I looked. I decided to give it a shot anyway and I’m pretty sure that not knowing the language worked to my advantage because the clerk just got a pained look on his face, likely as he was trying to figure out how to tell me that it would be impossible to exchange the shoes without a receipt. Instead I not only got to exchange them for a cheaper pair, I also got the difference back in cash! I guess that in courteous and non-confrontational Japan, playing the stupid foreigner card works very well.

Just like last time I hang around in Shimo-Kitazawa for a few hours just because I like the mood of the place. I find this fabulous, tiny café when I decide to find out what’s up those tiny stairs in an alley. It’s run by a guy who’s an absolute movie buff and has covered the place with vintage movie posters. So I sit down at the counter and just sew for a couple of hours, looking at the other two guests out of the corner of my eye and just enjoy the quiet competence of the owner when he prepares my coffee.

Totoro!Another thing on my list of things to do while in Tokyo has long been to visit the Ghibli museum. It is a few subway changes away from central Tokyo though, and you also have to reserve tickets since there are a limited number of visitors allowed in each four-hour time slot. Hopping off the train you also have to walk a couple of kilometers through a rather cozy, upscale neighborhood where I found the residents to be rather excellent at English. After a couple of wrong turns I finally find the museum and is greeted by a live sized Totoro behind the ticket counter! I soon realize that this isn’t the real entrance though and that I have to go around to the other end of the building. It isn’t big though and once inside there is all sorts of wonderful things to look at. I am politely admonished when taking pictures though, because for some lame reason photography isn’t allowed.

The place is filled with wonderful little things that you only notice the third time you pass them by, much like the films they produce. There are hand painted three-dimensional scenes, wonderfully weird architecture with mysterious little shortcuts you can take throughout the place, a terrace where they sell their own branded beer and strange ice cream. I get the chili-flavored one and it tastes as you might imagine chili ice-cream would; hot and cold at the same time, not very good actually, but certainly worth trying!The robot from Laputa There is one part decorated like a cluttered office that has original scene sketches from all the movies we know and love, but the thing that stays with you is when you enter one of the rooms and find yourself eye to eye with the giant cat bus from Totoro! Leading up to it is a line of little kids all waiting for their chance to climb around of the wonderful thing. Too bad they have this stupid rule about having to be less than five years old to get to climb around on it, otherwise I would totally be in there with them!

The cat bus room leads out to a little balcony connected to a spiral staircase that takes you up on the roof. Here you find a lush garden, probably modeled after Laputa – Castle in the Sky, complete with the wonderful sad-looking robot. Topping it off is probably the best gift shop I’ve ever been to, packed with quality souvenirs. Hell, I spend almost half an hour just in there, rummaging around the knick-knacks, trying to decide what I can fit in my bags going home. Easily the best museum I’ve ever been to!

On Friday a bunch of us at work have gotten baseball tickets at the Tokyo Dome to see the Yomiuri Giants face off against the Saitama Seibu Lions. The arena is huge and we had pretty nice seats. There are these cute girls going around selling chilled beer out of tanks on their backs, so of course I have to buy some just to get a picture with her. The game is just as boring as baseball usually is, until the very end where it actually gets rather exciting. The Lions end up winning anyway and we make our way out of the arena.Beer girl It’s really cool to walk by as they fully open the doors to the arena because since it has a roof, all those people in there have been shouting, farting and breathing for an entire game have built up quite an air pressure. So walking by, there is a really strong gust of wind coming out of those doors.

We finish up by eating at the galleria connected to the Dome. Overhead is a really cool-looking roller coaster and I decide to go back here there on Sunday and check it out. Saturday morning I manage to oversleep for my diving outing (it didn’t have anything to do with the girl Mariko-san was bringing, promise!) so I just do my usual wandering around in Tokyo, looking at people. I send a Facebook message to Sachi, telling her that I’m going to check out the roller coaster on Sunday and maybe she wants to tag along. I never hear back though so I have to explore it on my own. Turns out the roller coaster is closed though, apparently since an accident back in 2010, where a 25 cm long bolt fell from it and hurt a kid. Too bad, it looks really sweet.

The Tokyo Dome City – as it’s called is rather cool though, so I still have a good time wandering around the various shops filled with weird little things.


I had another thing on my list of stuff-to-do-in-Tokyo that I hadn’t gotten around to yet.clock A few years ago i came across this article about a Japanese guy making these totally outlandish watches and after seeing that I knew that I had to try and buy one if I ever found myself in Tokyo. So I enlisted the help of Okamoto-san to figure out where this guy is located and she told me that I should go to an area called Shimo-Kitazawa. It involves a fair bit of train-hopping but when I finally find myself there I’m treated to a really cozy neighborhood with cramped, snaking streets, small shops and generally a relaxed mood. Talking with Ken the following day revealed that I accidentally stumbled over one of Tokyo’s prime sights in his opinion. He compared Shimo-Kitazawa to Stockholm’s Söder (the most bohemian part of Stockholm) and where a lot of new bands are discovered and so on. Anyway, I had a very good time just walking around and taking in the atmosphere and the fact that the store selling the handmade watches didn’t currently have any for sale hardly mattered.

Another thing I’ve had on my to-do list was to get a Docomodake phone charm. But anytime I’ve been into a Docomo store (or a regular phone charm store) I haven’t been able to find any. This time I decided to actually ask a staffer and he excitedly disappeared and then reappeared with a whole bunch of them. I’m was rather happy and annoyed at the same time at how easy it had been. They were even free! I also bought some really cool clothes, a pair of shoes and had a special kind of iced latte where you got a glass of regular milk filled with ice cubes made out of coffee, really nice!

MorayWalking back to the station I notice a little crowd sitting on the sidewalk around some dude that in the light of a flashlight is reading aloud from a manga while doing voices for all the characters. Even though I don’t understand a thing it is hugely entertaining and I stay for the entire time. I sure lucked out when deciding to to Shimo-kitazawa!

Come Friday my fika is an unmitigated success, the Japanese love the novelty and all the Swedes love the familiar taste of home. Me, Thomas and Horiguchi-san go out for AW in the Bay Quarters and end up at the hilariously named “Ask a Giraffe”. Unfortunately the name is about the only thing that is good about that place, for instance we get to wait like 40 minutes for a 80 sek pizza that is 20 cm in diameter and doesn’t even taste very good.

The Saturday brings another dive trip, this time to Zushi. This is a very nice site and actually accessible by regular train right out of central Tokyo without having to switch trains even once! But we take the car as usual. Claudia and Enrique are also tagging along since they will be doing their first pool dives at the same place. Mariko-san have been bugging me about having too much weights so this time I try with as little as 2 kg (with a 5 mm full wetsuit and steel tank), which turns out to be juuust enough to get down if you breathe properly during the descent. This is a boat dive and the site is almost like a miniature underwater mountain range teeming with life. I see lots of yellow morays, nudibranches, various fish I’m unfamiliar with and also some supposedly poisonous sea urchin that we take care to stay away from. The layout of the site gives you all manner of environments all rolled into one; you get wall diving, shallow plateau with lots of light, sandy bottom where you can peek under rocks. The only bummer is the somewhat poor visibility.

We get lunch at a nearby, very cozy, restaurant with tasty tempura and go back to the dive shop to log our dives. Mariko-san had earlier asked me if I wanted to hang around for that evening’s fireworks display and in accordance with my yes-policy I agreed. That meant that I had to spend the entire afternoon awkwardly conversing with Umeda-san since Enrique and Claudia left after we were done logging and took the train back.Fireworks Mariko-san hangs around for a while though and takes the opportunity to tell me that she knows this really nice Japanese girl that I should meet. This deserves some background though: My colleague Tore, the guy that told me about Mariko-san, actually met his wife when working for Mariko-san as a dive master. So now, devious and business minded as she is, Mariko-san has a plan. She will hook me up with a nice Japanese diver girl and then I will settle in Japan and work for her as a dive master. Foreign dive masters are very popular in Japan for two reasons; it’s easier to get foreign customers if they know that there will be someone who speaks good English along and you also get more Japanese customers since they like the opportunity to practice their English. There is a good reason behind that Mariko-san has kept the picture of an English guy who briefly worked for her years ago up on her homepage.

The evening finally arrive and we go out with boat in the middle of the bay and wait for the fireworks. The fireworks turn out to be really stupendous, they clearly haven’t been stingy when buying. I have no idea how long it went on to be honest, but it felt like a continuous barrage for upwards to half an hour with really beautiful arrangements. After a while I got bored though, some kind of sensory overload I guess. When I finally get back to the dive center, at around ten in the evening, Mariko-san phones the girl in question up and simply hands me the phone! What follows is probably the most awkward conversation I’ve ever had. Turns out that the girl barely knows any English beyond “Hi” and “My name is”, so after a lot of humming and other fruitless attempts at conversation I hand the phone back to Mariko-san who claims that the language barrier is no problem at all! I will see when I meet her next Saturday when we go on another dive trip!

On Sunday I hang out in Shinjuku and find a really cool OIOI store (OIOI is a department store chain) which basically has one floor per fetish. You have the creampuff thing, where the girls dress up in huge platform shoes, pink dresses with lots of petticoats, lots of makeup to make the eyes bigger, elbow gloves and sometimes even a little umbrella. The entire staff are dressed like that and it’s just adorable. Another floor has the goth lolita getups and a third one has the rockabilly outfits.

Almost total Eclipse

This week was pretty exciting since Monday promised an almost 97% solar eclipse over Tokyo! The weeks leading up to this event had been pretty crazy with the special protective goggles selling out all over town. We managed to get our hands on some at the very last minute and got to pay a pretty penny for it too, but what the hell, this kind of thing doesn’t happen often.The Eclipse The eclipse max was supposed to be at 7:34 in the morning, so it was perfect to get up a little early before work. I walked over to one of the artificial islands in Tokyo bay to get a good view and everywhere you could see people with enormous cameras. I was at first rather bummed out that it was rather cloudy, but that turned out to be rather fortunate actually since I didn’t have a filter for the camera and those clouds provided just the right amount of filter for most of the pictures to turn out okay.

The coming week I am responsible for getting the Friday fika, a tradition exported by the many Swedes on our team. I thought I’d treat my colleagues to some Swedish crisp bread I had brought with me all the way from Sweden. So in a rather uncharacteristical fit of forethought I realized that I needed some traditional stuff to put on the sandwiches, so I headed over to IKEA to get some hard cheese and butter. I took the opportunity to get some meatballs and lingonberry jam and to see what IKEA looks like on the other side of the world. Turns out that it’s very much the same of course, but it was rather amusing to see all the Swedish names being kept even here.

AW is a dinner social for the entire department at a buffet place in Bay Quarters. Drinks are free and I fill up on sho-ju, a mildly alcoholic juice drink that’s one of my favorite Japanese discoveries. A bunch of us haven’t had enough so Nozawa-san picks up his phone, makes a couple of calls and before we know it we’re in an izakaya, eating edamame (lightly boiled immature soybeans with salt – the best beer snack ever). We end up going to yet another place before the night is over, honestly I don’t remember all that much since I got rather drunk in the end.

Free hugs!Saturday is spent in Harajuku as usual, it’s a very nice day and I wander around in the rather peaceful Jingumae quarters just north of Omotesando street. There I stumble upon some weird Swedish celebration, only without any actual Swedish people. It’s rather unclear what it’s all about and noone knows enough English to tell me what’s going on, so I just file it away under ‘Wonderfully weird Japan’ and move on. I happen across the ‘Free Hugs’ people and take the opportunity to fill up on hugs. In the Jingumae labyrinth I find a Hawaiian burger place (Tokyo has some obsession with Hawaiian burgers, and they’re super tasty). As I sit there waiting for my food I glance over at the Japanese girl on the next table and see that she’s studying some digital electronics. I can’t let this pass so I strike up a conversation and find out that she works at a software company and that she if she passes this course she will move up to the next pay grade. Her name is Sachi and her English is above average for Japan, but that really isn’t saying much – people here are generally lousy at English. But I’ve found that it’s mostly talking and listening that is the problem, reading comprehension is actually pretty good. So if you write stuff down you usually get further.

Diving is fun!She suggests we go for some coffee and I take her to the tree house café, it’s kinda cool to be showing native Tokians hidden gems in their own city. We talk a lot about what I’ve been seeing here in Tokyo and my plans for the remainder of my stay. I don’t know if she’s shy or if it’s the language barrier, but I don’t find out much about her, the conversation is mostly about me. She adds me on Facebook though, which was cool. When we later say goodbye, obviously unsure of what to do, she awkwardly offers to shake my hand. I end up hugging her instead, which is probably a huge breach of protocol.

Sunday has a dive outing scheduled. Mariko-san, Umeda-san and I drive down along the coast to Miyagawa where we are doing two boat dives. They are actually nice sites, but the visibility is terrible, we see only about two meters so you really have to keep track of your buddies. Fortunately, at over 4000 dives, Mariko-san is pretty experienced and manages to keep track of me without much trouble. In spite of the visibility, we manage to see a sea horse, squid eggs, nudibranches, a gobi and a little octopus, hiding out in a little hole. Between dives, Mariko-san tells me that a couple from work has contacted her and asking for the Open Water diver course and since her English isn’t the best, maybe I can help out with explaining. I agree and she suitably knocks off a bit of the price for today’s outing. This means that the rest of the day is spent together with Enrique and Claudia as they go through some of the Open Water theory. It’s quite nice actually and I get to know them both a bit better.


I’d booked a tour at the fish market for Monday morning since Lina is here and all.Just washing an octopus We show up at the tourist office at 9 am and our guide Toro sits us down to watch a video about the tuna fish auction which normally goes on at around 5 am. It’s quite interesting actually, the wholesalers each get one bid only and the only thing they have to go on is a flap cut at the tail of the tuna. It’s a huge gamble since the actual value of the tuna is mostly determined by the amount of toro it has – the fatty part of the belly that yields the very best sushi you can eat. But usually the amount of toro correlates with the size of the fish, so the largest ones fetch the highest prices. Today the highest price was 5500 jpy/kg, with a large tuna fish weighing around 200 kg!

At about 9:30 it’s time for the tour. I was getting a bit antsy since I knew that the market usually begins winding down after 9:30 so I was glad when we we finally on our way. But Toro has a slightly different plan and starts out by taking us to the vegetable market that is right next door. WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU, HOW CAN YOU THINK THAT WE WILL BE JUST AS INTERESTED IN TOMATOES AND FREAKING WASABI AS IN ALL THE AWESOME FISH?!!1 (needless to say this wasn’t the actual conversation we were having, being polite and cowardly Swedes we just made a fist in our pocket and quietly endured).Tokyo Tower reflected Once in the actual fish market, Toro gives us a cursory tour and after less than 10 minutes he’s ready to leave. We talk him into staying a while longer but since it’s getting late they’re mostly packing up anyway. The rest of the tour is more regular market stuff; dried fish that looks like wood chips, huge lobsters, crabs and so on (obviously the salesmen are friends of his but we are unimpressed and don’t buy anything). The tour ends at a sushi restaurant where we’re served a set menu. It’s okay I guess, but I’ll take a Kaiten Sushi any day of the week.

As I get off work I meet up with Lina at Hamamatsucho station and we head for Tokyo Tower. The tower is really lovely at night and Lina is just smitten by it. We get tickets for the top platform which is 250 meters up and a really great view! Too bad the lighting is so harsh in there, making photographing hard with all the reflections.

Tuesday evening we dress up and go to Park Hyatt (The Lost in Translation hotel). We slowly sip on our excellent coctails as we stare at the fog outside. Tokyo is almost entirely covered from up here on the 52nd floor today, bad luck I guess. Wise from experience we leave just before seven, before the cover charge goes into effect.

Wednesday night we go out to the artificial island Odaiba and the giant ferris wheel.Lina in the rain Lina is all over the place as we go around while I’m more stationary, concentrating on survival… The wheel is almost as big as the London Eye actually, so it’s one of the world’s largest. We also swing by my favorite thing, the Gundam Wing robot and watch it light up, blow smoke and do generally heroic stuff (mainly turning its head and blinking with the eyes). We also wander about to try and get a good nighttime view of the Tokyo skyline, but don’t do very well, there are surprisingly few good lookout spots on Odaiba.

Thursday we run around Shibuya with the famous scramble crossing and the plentiful Neon Signs. For some reason we end up at the really cool megastore Tokyo Hands that is 21 floors (if you count generously) of crafting supplies and a lot of other great stuff. Sadly I am unable to locate a Tonkatsu place to treat Lina to so we end up eating at a mediocre Korean Barbecue place.

I wave Lina off Friday morning and head to the office we’re treated to an afternoon earthquake. Just big enough that the screens are gently rocking (those are the best ones!). An After Work has been arranged at a place called Ghengis Khan. To me it seems like a regular Yakiniku place, but the difference is that they serve lamb instead of cow. Then apparently they don’t call it Yakiniku anymore (even though Yakiniku means exactly ‘grilled meat’), it’s called Ghengis Khan. If you ever find yourself in Japan, keep your eyes peeled, because it was delicious!

Since the week has been so hugely busy I spend Saturday just chilling in Harajuku, looking at people and working on my stitches. Come Sunday however, me, John and Henrik have decided to go see the last day of the Sumo tournament currently in town. So had a lot of other people though and as we wait in the long line for cancellations we in the end find ourselves without tickets. While in line we stumble on this aquiantance of Henrik’s named Henry, he’s a British guy who speaks a spot of Japanese and we decide to team up and go see if the festival currently in Asakusa is any good.

First order of business though is to get some breakfast. After asking an elderly Japanese couple they lead us several blocks (they are nothing if not courteous the Japanese) to a very Japanese breakfast establishment. This means that you select the breakfast you want from a vending machine, get a note which you give to a waitress and then sit down and wait. The breakfast is the usual; rice, raw egg, natto, soy sauce, fish and pickled greens. Not really a fan, but it fills you up I guess.

OktoberfestThe festival seems to be mostly pantless men carrying around shrines on their shoulders while chanting. Not terribly interesting really so we decide to go check out another festival Henry says is happening in Hibya park. It turns out to be an Oktoberfest, in Tokyo, in May… We are met by a conga line of very enthusiastic Japanese, cheered on by an equally enthusiastic German guy up on a stage. The beer and snacks are customarily expensive and we settle in pretty fast. We are joined by Henry’s friend Ian and we have a rather good time hanging out with the Japanese who dare strike up conversation with us. As the night draws on Henrik and John drops off, leaving only me, Henry and Ian to take part in the late night Chicken Dance that signals the end of the festival. The Japanese are of course loving it, and with that kind of mood in the air it’s hard not to get caught up! Since it isn’t super late, Ian suggests we move on to Roppongi to go to a salsa club. I’m not really up for it but decide to tag along anyway and I’m glad I did!

We criss-cross between very insistent barkers and finally find the club in a back alley. Its 2000 jpy cover charge is a bit steep for the measly hour we planned spending there though, so Henry, being half Mexican, breaks out his best Spanish in an effort to get us in for free. That dog won’t hunt though and we need a new plan. Luckily Ian knows yet another place, maybe not as fancy, but it has a nice vibe to it. Plus, the cover charge is only to have a drink from the bar! Now I don’t really know any salsa, save from what I’ve gleaned off my friend Niclas, but just studying the people on the dance floor and just going with the flow actually gets me pretty far. I end up having a great time even though I didn’t even feel like tagging along! A very fitting end to a really eventful week!

Depp Fever

I’m really getting somewhere at work so I tend to put in long hours. On Tuesday I’m chatting with Lina from the Central America trip and out of the blue she suggest that she should come visit me! Awesome idea and fifteen minutes later it’s a fact, Lina will arrive on Saturday!

At the dog groomersAn old colleague of Henrik and John’s is visiting and I tag along for some after work on Thursday evening. We end up at a place in Shimbashi station that is serving deep fried stuff on skewers, really tasty! You have chicken meatballs, quail eggs, asparagus, pork, shrimp and some other stuff I’ve forgotten. You dip the skewer in some sort of thin sauce before eating it, but only once! The staff is very insistent that you only dip once, I guess they recycle the sauce.

In Roppongi you meet strange peopleWe do another after work on Friday, this time it’s John, Henrik, Norman, Stephan and me. We end up at a Hawaiian place in the Yokohama Bay Quarters. You can actually order Guinness here, but the Japanese kind isn’t very good. After a couple of hours we move on to Shinagawa and Time Shower for a bite to eat, it’s not a very good place, but the name is so awesome that we really can’t help ourselves. Stephan comes up with a better idea after a while though: Let’s buy some alcohol at the convenience store and head over to our hotel and the top floor terrace instead! Much better, the view is better and after a while we also get to meet Stephan’s wife who swings by on her way home from work (around 9 pm, Japanese work crazy hours!).

I meet up with Lina on Shinagawa station on Saturday and as a first order of business we head over to Shinjuku. I do the very same mistake as last time though and arrive at Shinjuku Goyen just as they close up… So I take her to Roppongi instead and we go exploring around Roppongi Hills. Suddenly we hear high pitched shrieks in the distance – is there a roller coaster here that I don’t know about? We investigate and to our surprise it isn’t a roller coaster but a red carpet event of some kind. WeddingAfter a little while a limo arrives and out steps Johnny Depp, followed by Tim Burton! They’re here for the premiere of Dark Shadows and do the usual long-winded red carpet thing. After a while we grow tired of the spectacle and especially the anal retentive guards that for some unknown reason don’t want you to stand any closer than one meter from the railing. As darkness falls we go around taking pictures of the skyline before heading back to Shinagawa.

Sunday is cosplay day and we go to Harajuku of course, Lina falls in love with Takeshita street just like I have. We also go to Tokyu Plaza with the wonderful Starbucks roof terrace and cool tidbits stores. We have lunch at my lovely find, the Café Hideaway and also make time for Shibuya Crossing in the evening.