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!

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!

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.