August 17: With great sadness, I left Kyoto today for Toyama. This is a place I kinda wanted to explore, if nothing else, but for the food. Toyama’s in northern central Honshu, close to the aptly named Toyama Bay. This means that they have really good seafood, and I was curious to try. My shinkansen left around 12 and then I had to transfer in just 10 minutes, so that was kinda exciting. I was afraid I would miss my train, but I got to Toyama with little difficulty.
My hotel was nice. It’s about 6 minutes away from the station, it’s pretty cheap (59 dollars per night) and quiet. I didn’t have too much time to myself when I got there, but I had enough time to explore the immediate area. Toyama’s a very quiet city, compared to Kyoto or Tokyo, and while there was some English, like I thought, there wasn’t much. Just walking the city as it gets dark was really nice and relaxing. I got back to my hotel, tried to do laundry and failed miserably. But I guess it had to happen eventually.
August 18: The lobby of my hotel is really large. That’s because instead of a separate area for breakfast, they serve it in the lobby itself. Breakfast was nice and simple and I really enjoyed that.
I probably should’ve done more hiking and exploring the scenery, but I didn’t. I did some more omiyage shopping and exploring. This time, I went a little further out. Toyama has this really cool light rail service, like the one in San Jose in California. I was supposed to get out at the second to last stop from Toyama station, but I fell asleep and got off at the last stop. But that didn’t really affect my plans too much. I really wanted to see Toyama bay and the observation deck was close to the last stop anyway. The view was really nice. You can see most of the city and the bay itself. I returned to the station, ate a really good lunch, and then walked an hour to the outskirts of Toyama. The further out you go from the station, the fewer stores appear (I did find a local dango store that I think just sold out of dango when I walked in. Feels bad). It took me most of the day to walk out there and then get back. There’s a kinda run-down train system that gets you back to the station from the outskirts. I had a bit of a scare there. People had this small tickets, and I didn’t. there was a ticket dispenser, but it didn’t have a ticket, so I couldn’t take one. I put 310 yen (the fare) in the machine, which didn’t light up, then thought that I should’ve given it to the people at the station. I checked later, and there was one last ticket, which was the driver’s. However, after talking to the station guy, turns out there wasn’t a problem at all. So long as I paid, I could leave, so that was a relief.
In hindsight, I probably should have done more careful planning with Toyama. I didn’t go see cool temples or pretty scenery. I just saw street after street of buildings (clearly, I am not a country boy). That said, I had a lot of fun just walking around. Just being in the city was enough for me.
August 19th: I left Toyama today for Sendai. I had previously planned to stay for longer, since I’ve never been to Sendai, but my JR pass expired the next day and I needed to get back to Tokyo. As such, I wasn’t able to see much of the city, but I was still able to walk around.
It seems many stations have a similar layout in front. When you exit Sendai station, you get spit out onto these walkways overlooking the street. It was like this in Tachikawa as well.
My hotel was close to the station again, so I got to see the immediate area. After coming from Toyama, Sendai’s much more in line with Tokyo. It’s busier, which I honestly kinda like. But unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see the city in much detail. When I return to Japan, I would love to give Sendai a proper exploration.
August 20th: I returned to Tokyo today. The past shinkansen trips have been packed and since I’ve been lugging around a big suitcase, I feel like I’ve been causing people some trouble. I had a bit of trouble getting out the station (again). For whatever reason, my passmo card was not accepted and I didn’t know what was wrong with it. One of the workers did, but I didn’t understand him and he couldn’t speak English. I got it working by catching a random train to Ueno, and then riding the subway to my stop, Nihonbashi. After that, it worked fine; I don’t know why.
My last nights in Tokyo were in a capsule hotel. These things are crazy. The “rooms” consist of a single bed. You have headphones, a radio in the wall, a small tv, a little counter for things, and a control panel. That’s it. You can’t even stand up. Your luggage is kept in the lobby in a storage room. On the floor you sleep, there’s a small locker for your stuff. It looks like a gym locker, only much narrower. Bathrooms and shower rooms are public. Oh, and you need to be out of the room by 10 AM every day and you can’t go back until 4 PM. It was wild. The lady who helped me out was actually from Russia, so we had a nice little chat in Japanese. Helped boosted my confidence since I was really frustrated after the station fiasco. Other than that, I had a very lazy August 20th.
August 21st: This was my last full day in Japan, and I wanted to cram as much as I could in. I started off the day with a visit to Asakusa. There’s this giant temple there, which looked vaguely familiar. I think many years ago, I visited with my family. Like in Kyoto, en route to the temple are all these stalls selling food and small gifts, so I stopped and checked them out. The temple itself isn’t all that impressive inside; what I mean by that is that you can’t go very far inside. When I got there, there was some Buddhist prayer going on and everyone was taking pictures, ignoring the fact there was a large “no photography” sign. Today was hot; after spending time in Toyama and Sendai, I had forgotten what “hot” meant. On the way to the temple, I caught a glimpse of the Tokyo Skytree, one of, if not the tallest, tower in the world, so I decided to pay it a visit. On the way, I got stopped by a Japanese family looking for the Tobacco and Salt Museum. With the help of my passable Japanese (and iphone), I think I pointed them in the right direction. I hope they got there ok; the father gave me 100 yen, so if I got them even more lost, he might have wanted this money back.
The Skytree was pretty impressive; it reminded me a lot of the Empire State Building, with long lines and really fast elevators. From the 4th floor, it took about 3 minutes to get to the 350 floor. The view was impressive, but it was a little hazy that day; I’ve heard that on a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji. And for the crazy ones, a few floors down, they have a glass floor, so you can see just how far you would fall if that floor broke. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
After some last minute omiyage hunting, I decided to return to Musashi-sakai and ICU one last time. When I left after the program, I felt like I didn’t give it a proper goodbye, so I returned to see everything one last time. I also chose to have my final full day meal in the same place I had my first full day meal: at the Matusya right by the entrance to campus. I hope one day I can return to ICU.
I spent the rest of the night at an arcade in Shinjuku. I was initially going to try Pachinko, but the pachinko arcade was loud, smelly, and confusing. A more traditional arcade was better after all. I even got a blast from the past. In the arcade was a rail shooter called the House of the Dead 4 (in 2003, the nightmare returns, it said. IN 2003!) When I was 8 years old, I saw that game and it terrified me, but now, 13 years later, I finally understood what was going on and wasn’t scared anymore. Funny how those things turn out. I didn’t expect to see such an old game in a snazzy arcade.
I did have one day left in Japan, but I didn’t do anything, so I don’t think I’ll write about it here. Ultimately, I had a lot of fun in Japan. It hurt a little to leave, but that is all the more reason for me to come back. I’ll see you all later. Until the next adventure
Obligatory Food Pictures