Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Missing Tokyo

Posted: May 31, 2015 in Japan
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It is hard to imagine that it has been two years since I first set eyes on what I truly believe is the home of my soul. There are moments that it feels like it was just yesterday, I was standing in the middle of Akiba being completely awestruck, and yet at the same time, I am starting to forget. I can’t quite remember the smells, or the feeling of being surrounded by so many people, and at the same time feeling more free than I ever have before. I am starting to forget that sensation when I realized how truly silent the city of Tokyo actually is, which sounds crazy, but yet is so true. The moment amidst the chaos when you realize… wait this isn’t chaos at all, just a different kind of order. But what I will never forget and what is with me every day is how much I miss Tokyo!

My journey in Tokyo lasted almost three weeks, which may sound like a long time but in all reality is not! I barely scratched the surface of that amazing megacity, and I spend every day hoping that I can return soon. I should have been able to travel back to Japan to enjoy the Sakura this year in Tokyo as well as Kyoto but sadly, I had to postpone. The fact that I had to put off my trip was truly heartbreaking and at the same time makes my desire to return even more intense. I know I will return to the Land of the Rising Sun, my spiritual home, I just don’t know when.

Come along with me as I go back in time and revisit my favorite moments of that trip. Some of these images may be familiar if you have followed my Tokyo Diaries series, and some I have yet to publish. The Tokyo Diaries series is still a work in progress but is a project I have not forgotten and will most definitely complete.

Journey with me now… as I revisit some of my favorite moments…

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This was so impressive to see, and fortunately I stayed so near to this amazing life-size Gundam I got to see hime every day!

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So much fun and I even won an Evee of my very own!

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 Was so not going to miss a stop at a Pokemon Center. I had complete intentions of going again before I left, but somehow never made it back.

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Must have for any Gundam fan. Made several stops at both Gundam Cafe’s, the one pictured above is in Akihabara.

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So serene and beautiful!

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An oasis amidst the skyscrapers!

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For a brief moment, I thought I had been transported back in time.

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Nihonbashi Bridge

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All you heard was a quiet rustle as they passed you by. All that was left was the faintest fragrance of flowers when they were gone.

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Two amazing achievements!

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The most delicious food!

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I had waited a long time just to come and visit him!

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Only by being there can you truly understand.

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I became obsessed with these delicious little treats!

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These images barely begin to scratch the surface of my journey in Tokyo, and reflect but just a few moments that I will never forget.

I can only hope that I will be able to return soon and embark on experiencing all that this beautiful country has to offer. I will not rest until I have explored it all, and am counting the days until I can return! Stay tuned for more as I continue with Tokyo Diaries.

It has been a long time since I have completed an episode of Tokyo Diaries, and for those that were previously following along, I apologize. For those of you that are coming across this series for the first time, if you like what you see take a look at some of the previous episodes. I have struggled as of late to be able to find time to continue chronicling my adventures in Tokyo, but I feel that I should finally make that happen.

It has been over a year since my feet were on Japanese soil and there is not a day that goes by that I do not miss it horribly! We have recently had to cancel our upcoming trip for Sakura season and that has left me quite sad so I hope that continuing to revisit my last journey will help me in my sadness.

In our previous episode we had a chance to visit Senso-ji and take a trip back in time. This episode we will be going on a whirlwind tour of Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree! I cannot even begin to tell you how exhausted we were at the end of this day!

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I love the fact that when you arrive at certain station throughout Tokyo, you are greeted with amazing art. This was what greeted us that day as we arrived at Shiodome station.

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Tokyo Midtown entrance upon arrival at the station.

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As you ride the escalator up to the first floor of Tokyo Midtown, you come across this amazing water fountain. It is quite impressive and literally takes up the entire wall.

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There is quite a bit of fantastic sculptures and architecture all over. This sculpture was in the center of a very large circular skylight, and you can see from the small child that it is a fairly large piece.

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I found the Konami store!

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This is what you see as you gaze up into the large water feature that resides in the middle of Tokyo Midtown outside.

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This is the same water feature as you see it from outside. You can see the Konami Card Game Station peeking out at you from the other side.

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I was awestruck at the beauty of this place. I think one of the things that amazes me about Tokyo is how much lush scenery you can find and how well they are able to combine steel, glass, and trees together without taking anything away from each one individually.

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Next stop, Roppongi Hills!

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Underground Passage… I’m there!

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Mori Tower

Sadly since we packed so much into this day we were not able to take the time to go inside, however we did explore the surrounding area.

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Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider named Maman.

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Water fountain that follows alongside Maman.

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Entrance to Mori Tower.

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In Tokyo it is disrespectful and basically not allowed to smoke in a random space. So they have strategically placed a bunch of “smoking areas” throughout the city and some are even in governmental buildings. I found myself being pretty obsessed with taking pictures of them all, and I dont even smoke! This was one of the ones with the best view of Tokyo Tower.

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View from the “smoking area”.

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There is a peaceful garden below the Mori Tower with a pond and lush green walkways, perfect for a picnic!

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Tokyo Tower was our next stop on this insanely busy day. Built in the 1950’s to resemble  the Eiffel Tower, although a little taller, this seems to be one of the most easily recognizable landmarks in Tokyo. Inside there are countless little stalls full of souvenirs and goodies that you cant help but want to take home. I did resist although in retrospect that was silly. The wait for the viewing platform was pretty long so we decided to go ahead and head out to our last stop of the day, Tokyo Skytree.

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As you disembark from the rail at Tokyo Skytree station you find yourself walking into a tall maze of escalators that will take you up into what I lovingly call the Tokyo Skytree compound.

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This is the site that greeted me as I rounded the corner after having arisen from the escalators.

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Completed in 2011, Tokyo Skytree stands 634 meters (2,080 ft.) tall and is surrounded by numerous shops and restaurants.

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Breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring!

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I found another “smoking area”!

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Inside the shopping area I found a cute little Hello Kitty store.

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This is one of my favorite representations of Hello Kitty. There is something very classic and yet kawaii about Hello Kitty in a kimono.

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Fantastic sculture right outside the official Tokyo Skytree store.

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There is so much to look at and explore all around that by the time we decided to go get tickets for the observation deck there were none left for the day! We figured we would be able to come back before we left but sadly time escaped us and we never made it back so this is on the “To Do List” for our next trip.

This was such a fun-filled yet exhausting day, it is amazing that you could stay in Tokyo for a couple of weeks and still leave things undone!

Stay tuned until the next Tokyo Diaries!

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One year ago today I landed in “The Land of the Rising Sun” and there is not a moment that goes by that I do not wish that I was back there again. To this day, one year to the day later I am still amazed at how completely welcome and at home I felt in what is to me a foreign land, how at peace and soul-fulfilled I was the moment my feet hit the ground. Its hard to describe the sensation of feeling like you have finally found your home when everything around you is so completely different than anything you have ever known and yet at the same time there is a little voice inside of you that sighs and says, your here, your home.

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There were so many moments for me that made the breath catch in my throat and on a few occasions even made me cry. The sights, smells, sounds (sometimes the silence) and the people have forever changed my life and I am counting the days until I can return again!

As we continue along on my journey through the “Land of the Rising Sun” today we finds ourselves revisiting Asakusa and one of the places that I found myself having the breath being taken right out of me. This is the core of the historic Shitamachi District and one of the places in Tokyo where you can truly capture moments of the old Edo that thrived so long ago. This area mainly centers around the beautiful Senso-ji Temple which was founded in the 7th Century, although many structures were rebuilt after the 1923 Earthquake and then again after ariel bombings in the end of WW2 it is still an impressive site to behold and one I will revisit again!

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Beautiful mural I found as we arrived at our destination station! (Ginza Line)

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Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) gaurded by two Dieties, Fujin God of wind (right), and Raijin God of Thunder (left)

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One of the most recognizable sights at Senso-ji

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Beautifully carved underside of lantern

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Nakamise-dori, Pretty little stalls filled with all kinds of goodies from food treats to various types of souvenirs

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To ensure you are worthy there is a second gate Hozo-mon you must pass before you can reach the main temple

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Back side of Hozo-mon gate these 4.5m tall sandles were made by about 800 villagers from the Yamagata Prefecture

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Five story pagoda, a 1973 reconstruction of a pagoda built by Tokugowa Iemitsu

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Hondo (Main Hall)

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Incense cauldron to bring good health

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One of my favorites pictures I took this day!

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I didnt want to offend anyone but I felt moved to participate…

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Gorgeously crafted cleansing fountain

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Wood Painting above fountain

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View from top steps of the main hall

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Sight of Tokyo Skytree peeking in from above

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Some of my favorite shots taken on the surrounding grounds of the Temple

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“Bell of time”

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Just a rustle is all I heard and for a brief moment in time I forgot to breathe!

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Deliscious bowl of ramen to refill our exhausted selves!

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Quick pit-stop on the way back to the hotel in Odaiba

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Must have all of it!

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Night view of Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower

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Just in time to catch our friend’s night time show, at the end of another amazing day in Tokyo. Even now almost a year later I am still awestruck and am truly counting the days until we return!

Our next adventure in Tokyo took us to Akasaka and a visit to Hie-Jinja. The present site of this Shinto Shrine dates from 1659, although the shrine was destroyed in 1945 and later rebuilt in 1967. My main obsession with visiting this shrine was the amazing tunnel of Torri that I just had to be able to pass through. As you follow us on our journey we will also be stopping along the way in Ginza, the Nihombashi Bridge and then to refuel and replenish at a delicious little curry restaurant on the outskirts of Akihabara.

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This kind of became one of our morning rituals, we devoured those tasty little danishes almost every morning on a bench just outside of our hotel.

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One of my favorite sites that I got to see every day!

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Tameike-sanno Station

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Hie-jinja

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This monkey holding her young depicts the shrines protection against miscarriages

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These amazing lanterns were displayed all through the outer grounds of the shrine

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Tunnel of Torri

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Rock Garden that bordered one side of the shrine

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Absolutely love the clash of modern and old in this water/rock garden outside of a Hotel at the base of the Shrine.

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Miniature Bamboo Forest

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Just outside of the Nishi-Ginza

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Of course I had to hit every Sanrio shop that I could find!

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Out of the serene and into Ginza

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Always such amazing trees everywhere!

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Had to go inside…

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Top floor of Mitsukoshi

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Surprising find that shares the top floor with its very own solar panel array and garden too!

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Nihombashi Bridge (Japan Bridge) dates back to the Edo period during which all distances were measured from this point.

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Great little place to stop and rest our feet alongside the Nihombashi Bridge

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Much needed and quite tasty curry after an exhausting day!

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And although not a drinker, I gotta say this became another one of my favorites treats after a long day of adventuring!

Our adventure continues in Tokyo and with each passing day I realize what I think I have known all along…
Its going to be so difficult for me to leave the Land of the Rising Sun!
On this day our journey began on a visit to the Meiji Shrine and Harajuku where I lost myself to the splendors of what I believe most travelers love about Tokyo, the inspiring class of new and old melding seamlessly together. So let me take you with me on a journey of my favorites moments of the day…

Harajuku Station

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Entrance to Meiji Jingu (this was quite emotional for me to be standing underneath)

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Worshipping Ladies beautifully dressed

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Sake Barrels wrapped in straw

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Inner Entrance

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Ritual Cleansing (I cant begin to explain how crisp the water felt, truly leaving you feeling cleansed)

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Inner Sanctum

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Pathway just outside of shrine (for the briefest of moments, I felt I had been transported back in time)

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Takeshita Dori

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My favorite 100 yen Shop!

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Unexpected Surprise… Evangelion Store!

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Protest March outside of Harajuku Station

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Area Surrounding Harajuku Station

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So fun!!!

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Kiddyland (surprisingly I bought nothing, kinda regret that now)

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This was a very exhausting day for me, I still cant believe that I was there, and I feel like there was so much on my list that I missed. We even went back to Harajuku again before we left and its still on my list to go again when we return in 2015!

Tokyo Diaries, Episode 5

Posted: January 29, 2014 in Japan
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Our trip to Tokyo this past summer was full of beautiful and amazing sights and on our third full day we decided to venture to the neighborhood of Ueno. It is home to the famous Ueno Hill where the Tokugawa shogunate made their last stand against the emperor in 1868 and it is also the sight of the largest postwar blackmarket (Ameya Yokocho) where you can still find some of the best deals on numerous goods. With the gorgeous Ueno Koen (Ueno Park) and its numerous museums, art galleries, and temples I knew it would be a fantastic day!
So follow me on a journey through my third day in the awe-inspiring city that is Tokyo…

Ameya Yokocho
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Tomb of the Shogi-Tai Warriors
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Kiyomizu Kannon-Do
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Pathway of Tori leading to smaller temples and shrines
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Oasis surrounding by a Metropolis, Home to Benten-Do
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Monster Lantern from 1631 (said to be only one of three in Japan)
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Toshogu Shrine
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Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
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Stay tuned for Episode 6…

Our second full day in Tokyo was easy to decide where we would go! Akihabara, the mecca of anime, manga, electronics, and otaku alike and a place we would visit alot during our trip to Tokyo. Before we could enjoy Akiba I neede to make a pitstop first!
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Pokemon Center!!!!!!
I was so like a kid in a candy store! My only regret was being that it was only my second day I wasn’t ready to commit to any purchases yet and due to running out of time in the end we never made it back but alas a must do on our trip in 2015!Definately worth the visit for any Pokemon fan.
On to Akihabara!There are many exits form the Akiba station you can take but no matter which one you use you will be taken aback by the amazing energy and buildings that are as far as the eyes can see (Especially beautiful at night!)
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I was mesmerized by the lush green trees that lined the streets, they seriously looked fake!

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As i said throughout are trip we visited Akiba numerous times and it never got boring, seriously though we barely scatched the surface too as there is so much to see and do from shops, eateries, game centers, and pachinko parlors to name a few but here are some of my favorites.

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Of course! There are only two (this one is the original)

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Not necessarily the best meal I would have but had to do it none the less!
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It was so hard to fit this all in one pic. This place was amazing, it put all Western electronic retailers to shame!

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Literal rows of Gashapon inside Yodobashi
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The true life of Akiba emerged as the day turned into night!
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Each floor was a different shop and its also home to the Good Smile Cafe, I would later realize that one of the shops inside would prove to be one of the best rental box stores in Akiba (great place to find otaku goodies that individuals are selling).

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During my trip I learned that UFO catchers are dangerous!
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Gem found down a narrow side street.

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Best pachinko parlor!

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Super Potato (retro gaming mecca)

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Even the stairs are better in Tokyo!

Everyone always sais that after such a long flight you will have a horrible case of jet lag, that was my biggest concern, that once we had arrived, the first few days would be ruined, that we would waste our first days in this amazing city! But I couldnt help it, jet lag who? I was here, in Tokyo, and it seemed like I was waking up not on the other side of the world, but at home, where I belonged. There was no exhausted sensation, no I need more sleep, no feeling like I am in a haze or any other horrible thing I had heard happen to so many others, I popped awake at an obscenely early hour that first day, ready, ready for all the intense experiences and excited squeals (there would be many) that awaited me.
What to do, that was a difficult question, what to do on our first day? With all that I wanted to accomplish while we were there picking what we did that first day was hard, I knew I didn’t want to rush, I knew that I wanted to take in every second of the day and leave nothing to waste and I knew this would happen. When we were planning/investigating for our trip I got this fantastic travel journal which I wanted to fill with all the amazing places and things I wanted us to do, and that was exactly what I did (I was still working on it on the flight over). My biggest thing though was that I didn’t want it to be an actual itinerary, I wanted to be able to wake up each day and open up the book and say, where do we want to go today? I also wanted it to be a living/ breathing entity that I updated as we lived through our adventure. So needless to say that first what do we want to do today was definitely a difficult question to answer! We decided that the best thing was to get a good look at the surroundings of where we would be living for almost 3 weeks. As I mentioned in my last post we had decided to stay in Odaiba (Tokyo Bay) which all through our trip and even as I write this now I truly believe was an absolutely fantastic decision!
Odaiba is a group of artificial islands that actually date back to the time of the shogun and they sit in Tokyo Bay, the current structures that inhabit these islands are definitely very modern and are more catered to a tourist or business destination. There is so much to do there and definitely worth a day of adventuring. But lets be honest the reason that we decided to stay there is 60 feet tall and fabulous! Im talking about the 1/1 scale model of RX-78-2 Gundam that was erected a little over a year ago at Diver City! Diver City is a huge shopping compound that was built around the same time they erected Gundam, it is five storeys of a huge variety of shops, western and not. For us though it was so all about Gundam, as it also houses one of only 2 Gundam Cafe’s in Tokyo as well as the Gundam Front and Gundam experience. For those of you that might not know what Gundam is (you definitely should though), Mobile Suit Gundam is an animated series that began in 1979 and has become a cultural phenomenon and has seen huge amounts of success and evolving into movies, figures, plastic model kits, and the collectors dream/nightmare!
The day was slightly windy and overcast so we decided to walk to Diver City which was about a 30 min stroll from our hotel. As we stepped outside of our hotel one of the first sites that greeted us was what is known to most as “Tokyo Big Sight”, this mammoth compound is actually a convention center where all types of conferences and events are held and home to one of the biggest annual anime extravaganzas that Tokyo has, which we just missed of course. Being that Odaiba is a group of artificial islands all made very close together their are numerous bridges connecting them, the one we had to cross is called “Dream Bridge” and let me say that is exactly what it is! This bridge is a mammoth concrete and steel pedestrian only bridge with beautiful details, light, and framework all around. When we were planning our trip we used Google Earth to check out all the hotels we were considering and when we were investigating our chosen hotel we saw this amazing bridge that appeared that we would have to cross to make our way to Gundam, so you can imagine my squeal of delight as I walked up to the “Dream Bridge and saw that it was the exact same marvel that I had seen from space (it was especially beautiful at night)!
You can honestly just spend a day walking around Odaiba and just enjoying your surroundings because as you go every section has its own theme and thus the landscape, structures and colors change to match, whether its Palette Town that is the home of Venus Fort (think The Venetian for anyone that has been to Vegas), or Aqua City that sits along the water and has a mini Statue of Liberty beside it as well as being the home of Sega Joypolis, or our most exciting destination of the day Diver City, everything around you changes as you go and the greenery was spectacular. All along our walk was a variety of gardens, fountains, and intricate benches where you can take a moment and stop to marvel at the scenery before you. That was, I have to say one of the things that struck me the most about Tokyo, no matter where we went, or how busy or congested that area was there was always nature sprouting out within the concrete jungle so that you can stop and remind yourself to enjoy life and unlike in America that was exactly what people were doing. From the salary man to the older or younger “Tokyoites” all seemed to find a moment in their day to enjoy the peace and beauty in their surroundings.
As we neared Diver City there was a small ascension in our path and right at the crest of it I saw it, Gundam (for all the Gundam fans I think I will be doing a separate post because there was just so much that it deserves one all for itself). There were a few times on this adventure that I found myself getting choked up and having to force back the tears (the first was when our plane touched down at Haneda airport) and it was happening again. You have to understand we are huge Gundam fans and have spent many an hour building our Gunpla (plastic model kits) and watched every moment as they erected this life size amazingness so to be standing in front of it and staring up with my mouth wide open (Im sure I looked hilarious), the fact that I was there, in person, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he was roped off I could actually touch him was almost a liitle to much for this “otaku” to handle. This trip would be full of several moments like this for me and just simply recounting this now makes me sigh with how much I miss Tokyo! Once I was able to focus on anything else I squealed with delight to see the Gundam Cafe was just about 50 feet away so as I started walking towards it to get what would be the first of many “Haro Latte’s” (I am obsessed with Haro) I realized that right out front of the cafe was a row of Gashapon (small vending machines of goodness/evil), nothing that you have ever experienced before will prepare you for these amazing little devils and if you are anything like me will soon discover that you need to have a completely seperate fund set aside for this little addiction and addicted we became having to stop and check out every row and end up with a small tote bag full of them by the end of our adventures! So here, on my first day in Tokyo I enjoyed a “Haro Latte”, my first Gashapon (who is still my fav.), and the sight of Gundam RX-78-2, and it was amazing!IMG_0164

Tokyo Diaries, Episode 2

Posted: July 6, 2013 in Japan
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We had landed, I had actually touched down in Tokyo’s Haneda aiport. I wanted to jump up and down for joy, I wanted to shout and dance but alas that was not to be so I played it out in my mind, including a happy dance and prepared myself for what would be the most life/ soul changing experience!
As we began our disembarking I realized we were not getting off the plane into a normal tunnel that connected you to the terminal, we were getting off right alongside it, my first chance to breath Japanese air. The air that hit me was cool, crisp and to my surprise clean (I was standing next to a jumbo jet in the middle of an airport after-all), how was that even possible? We were then led into a cute little mini bus and driven the 200 feet to the terminal were we did as all good Tokyoites do and got in line patiently to the left to await the escalator. For those of you that have never visited before it will seem quite strange that everyone is going to the left but as you make your way around the city you will realize how respectful and efficient it is (or you can be a horrid tourist and be completely oblivious to your surroundings and stand in the middle), however this new realization did take us a minute to fully absorb as our American tendencies wanted to creep back to the surface a few times.
Pleasantly immigrations and customs were completely painless, we had been super prepared for the worst and made sure we were totally organized down to all of our things being in convenient little packs, bags, and compartments. Fingerprinting, picture, a few questions and done, you get more scrutiny walking down the street in the US with a video game T-shirt on! Then finally we were done and ready to begin our adventure, at this point it was past 11pm and we had until midnight to get to our hotel or be stuck paying the insane cost of a taxi (after the trains stop the taxi costs can almost double), this was awesome, we were in a foreign city, with an unknown transportation system and had to get all the way to Tokyo Bay from the airport in less than an hour. Suffice it to say we didn’t make it but who cares I was in Tokyo! We had to make a quick pitstop in the smoking room of Handea (which for myself not a priority, but my poor significant other had just gone 16+ hours without a cigarette quite painlessly, so how could I say no). Smoking for the most part is not allowed in Tokyo but they have a very large smoking population so they have established smoking rooms, boxes, and sections, all over the city (even in places that you would never imagine) and I became obsessed with taking pictures of all of the smoking places we would see throughout our trip.
Once we were ready to try our luck with the rails I asked an amazingly sweet information counter clerk a couple of questions to ensure my ideas had been correct and that the plan that I had created back in the US would work, she confirmed my thoughts and gave me a cute little transportation map and sent us on our way (funny, I had several versions of this map already, including a digital one on our ipad, but this one went with me everywhere and I didn’t have the heart to toss it until I had returned to the states, it had by that time definitely seen better days). We had made it out of the airport complex and to the station that would lead us to another station and were taking an escalator down when I like a child was so mesmerized by my surroundings that I let go of my suitcase and oh my, it went tumbling down (like right out of a cartoon) making the loudest noises in this completely quiet and thankfully empty building. Although no one else aside from my other half had witnessed this atrocity I was totally mortified, I not even a few hours in Tokyo had shattered my quiet surroundings with echoed thuds! I didn’t have too much time to reflect on my blunder as we were rushing to catch the “shuden” (last train), alas we didn’t make it, we quite literally had just missed it by minutes, we even had a “salary man” rush by us with the “shark fin” hand that we would discover later meant move aside!
Since we had missed the “shuden” our only option was to get a taxi, now this would normally be easy and don’t get me wrong it is but there is the slight panic in my head at this moment that what if I say something offensive or ask him to take us to the wrong place, huge misconception is that alot of Japanese speak English although most know several words what I discovered was the biggest challenge is the pronunciation, there are certain sounds in our alphabet that are unknown to them and although they use alot of romaji (japanese spelt using the english alphabet) alot of times the way pronounce it is very different. As I walked up to the taxi the side door just popped open all by itself and the sweetest older white gloved gentlemens face appeared before me, he kindly accepted my less than fluent Japanese and escorted us on our way to Odaiba (Tokyo Bay). This choice of place to stay might seem odd as its not in the city proper, however these amazing artificially made islands (made to keep the “black ships” away in the time of the Shogun) had a 60ft tall glory that would grace our eyes every day! Our kindly white gloved gentlemen deposited us safely in what would be our home for the next 17 days. Finally we had made it, we where here in Tokyo, surrounded by all the things I had only been able to see in someone else’s pictures, now they were going to be my pictures!