If you’re anything like me, you’ve come to the realization that you are a very wise and capable globe-trotting traveler. It’s not the sort of thing that one spends a lot of time evaluating, but one day you may just wake up and there will be a seasoned adventurer staring back at you in the mirror. Upon realizing this, the responsible course of action is to do your best to relate the tales of your travels to others, in order that they may also feel emboldened to take the plunge themselves!
Today, I am announcing the conversion of The Fraudster’s Almanac from a valuable source of cultural criticism, to an online home for (and monument to) the spirit of adventure.
You may recall my entry from a year ago that detailed a very pleasant (and eventful!) journey to Mexico. It will now be joined by my account of a recent honeymoon trip to Japan. In this, the first of two posts that I am planning to release, I hope that you find the information and inspiration that you need in order to plan your own trip to see Japan, before the shroud of nuclear destruction descends upon the helpless heads of the Earth’s children!
The first thing that you will notice about Japan is that it is very far away from you if you live in Toronto, Canada. Very, very far. You will hear about how long the plane ride is and you will laugh at the funny joke answer until you’re told that it was the actual serious correct answer. Japan is far enough away that you could watch Batman vs Superman twice on a plane and still not be in Japan.
Although it is very far, it is very worth it. You will see things that make your eyeballs grow eyeballs. You will taste things that will make your tongue leave your skull and start some kind of religion for tongues. That’s how enlightened your tongue will get.
My second post will go into further detail about what your tongue might get up to in Japan. This post will give you an in-depth look at the cities that you may find yourself in when you visit Japan, if you happen to make the exact same choices that my wife and I made.
Tokyo is Japan’s largest city. We spent the bulk of the time in our two-week stay here in Tokyo, and did not come close to scratching the surface of everything that this city has to offer. The city is broken up into a number of disparate little areas, and we visited as many of them as we could.
You have been very patient thus far, given that you probably clicked on this post in order to see travel photos and I haven’t included a single one. From here on out, I’m going to keep my commentary to a minimum and focus on those sweet, sweet travel photos.
One thing that Japan is big on: shrines. Boy, there are a lot of shrines in Japan. They are all very impressive and worth visiting. Nobody in Japan has ever heard of Metz, but I sure wore this t-shirt a lot.
It is nice to visit sights in Japan at somewhere around 6am, because if you wait any longer, the sights fill up with approximately 27 trillion tourists. This was not a big challenge for us for the first few days, because 6am felt like 7pm. Jet lag is a terrible monster and deserves a blog post all its own.
Japan is very, very good at having things in it that look Japanese. You see so many things that look like this, it stops feeling as surreal as it ought to feel.
Expect to do a lot of chin scratching! There’s a lot to wonder! Most of what I wondered was “Why is this place so clean when I live in a supposedly civilized city in North America that is a garbage-infested hellscape by comparison?”
There are statues of people and things everywhere in Japan. Please enjoy this statue of a dog wearing a funny bib.
Please enjoy this statue of Japan’s crowning achievement. Tokyo is full of places where you can nerd out. There are entire districts dedicated to being a fucking dork.
We went to the Dork District and visited this business. It is called “Super Potato” and it is essentially a classic video game museum. They had piles and piles of old games for sale and for play.
You can be a dork and nobody tries to stop you. You might stop when you realize that Final Fight is actually totally not fun to play. I did. Still an amazing experience. The funny thing is, this wasn’t even called an “arcade”.
This is what the Japanese call an “arcade”. It’s just a street or an alley with a roof on it lined with shops. This was taken before stores opened, but these places get mega-busy. They are all pretty neat to look at, actually. Even for me. And I hate shopping.
I prefer things like posing for photos in an alley. You can’t even tell that this was not my bicycle.
There are plenty of other things to do in Tokyo. This is a picture of the Tokyo National Museum, which is only one of the great big pile of museums that Tokyo has to offer. We decided to go to this one, because it seemed like it might be the biggest.
The Tokyo National Museum has all kinds of interesting things to look at. Like this guy. I like this guy.
Here I am acting like I’m impressed by a katana sword, when really I was very impressed by the katana sword. Emotions are difficult for me.
AHH! OH MY GOD, A GIANT SPIDER IS TERRORIZING JAPAN! Ha ha ha. I’m just kidding. This is just another statue thing. Boy, do they like to put statues around places in Japan.
This is a statue of a dog that the Japanese erected in honour of a dog that got very sad when a man died. I believe that they call it “A Very Good Dog”. They bring piles of bones and squeaky toys to it every morning on their way to work.
The above paragraph is badly mangling the story of Hachikō. The story is actually quite touching and I encourage you to read more about it!
One important thing to do when you’re in Tokyo is checking out one of the many cat cafes. This is where you can spend a bunch of money for every ten minutes that you spend in a strange room with cats that all hate you.
This may seem strange and pointless and kind of unsanitary, but being around so many cats makes some people very happy. See? Look how happy.
This is the least naked cartoon woman that it is possible to find on the side of a building in Tokyo. Some of the cartoon women that you’ll see on the sides of buildings are practically showing you their internal organs. Japan is pretty weird sometimes. I think that this was a pachinko parlour. Pachinko is some kind of cross between a pinball machine and a slot machine. I don’t know anything more than that, because we went into a Pachinko place and the sound was unendurable. It was like being in hell, but instead of fire and the screams of the damned, it was just like a big industrial fan full of bees that were also screaming. No thanks, Pachinko!
Mishama is a small Japanese city about an hour outside of Tokyo by train. It was good to experience a side of Japan that wasn’t a bustling metropolis nor a tourist trap. It has a great view of Mount Fuji and a pleasantly subdued vibe.
The room that we rented in Mishima went along with the relaxed attitude of the town by including deck furniture and a hammock. Please note the futon-style beds, which are pretty common and more comfortable than I would have expected.
Mishima may be small, but its shrine game is strong. We visited a very beautiful shrine beside a park that contained some strange deer and a tree with a cat in it. There are cats everywhere in Japan, fyi.
It is very nice! It makes you want to just relax all day, but then you realize how much money you’ve paid for your trip and decide that you need to do the opposite of relaxing every single day.
So you go grocery shopping instead, and find the biggest fucking green onions you’ve ever seen. The produce (and food in general) is pretty spectacular in Japan. I’ll talk about this more in my next post, which will focus on things to eat and drink. This post is about exploration and having fun.
See how much fun you can have, even in a small Japanese town? Like cats, Mario is everywhere. You can still find places to play video games, as well.
This is the cabinet from a video game I played at a shopping centre in Mishima. It is a scary game where you are attacked by 3D zombies that you shoot. It blows cold air at your neck and your seat rumbles when you get attacked by zombies. Chantal sat in it with me for about 5 seconds and then screamed and ran away. It was the most peaceful moment of our entire trip, and I loved it.
Kyoto is possibly the most physically beautiful city in Japan. In fact, if I hadn’t also been to that bar in Toronto that has all of the pinball machines with little drink holders on the side of them, I might say that Kyoto is the most beautiful place in the world. The problem with Kyoto is that word has gotten out and everybody else knows that it is beautiful, so they all come there at the same time. This makes walking around and looking at stuff more difficult, because everybody else it walking around looking at stuff and bumping into you. But it is still worth going to Kyoto, because they have a very nice Starbucks there somewhere.
I can’t even begin to tell you how beautiful this Starbucks is. It’s like the world we live in is the shittiest possible dimension and this Starbucks is just poking itself into our dimension from another dimension where everyone does everything right all the time.
Japan has water running around everywhere, especially in Kyoto. Instead of doing the North American thing and damming waterways up in order to build cities, the Japanese build around the water, which means that their cities just automatically have an edge on everyone else’s cities. Looks-wise, anyway.
I have never been able to do this in the middle of a street in Toronto. Not even once. Not even that time that we were all walking home at like 4am and there was a burst fire hydrant shooting water thirty feet into the air and we all ran through it a bunch of times. That was close, but clearly an accident. In Kyoto, all of the street water is planned street water.
In Kyoto, you can go walk through a giant bamboo forest, which is something that I had assumed that they had invented for movies and anime series about dudes that wear dresses and throw swords at each other. Nope. Bamboo is real. This bamboo is very old, so it is a lot bigger than I would have expected.
If you walk far enough through the bamboo forest, you’ll come upon yet another body of water with a tree-covered mountain beside it. You’ll say “C’mon, Kyoto. You’re just showboating now.” Speaking of boats – look at these boats! If you take a boat trip, a second boat pulls up at some point and sells you lunch. We didn’t do this, though, because I hate boats.
One thing that this park didn’t have that most of Japan had in spades was a public toilet that I was willing to use. Most public toilets in Japan are super private and will do everything but give you a backrub. The ones in this park contained the weird traditional Japanese-style toilet where you basically just squat over a porcelain bedpan embedded in the floor. I was pretty unhappy about it, and you can really tell from this picture.
Kyoto has a number of great big shrines and temples, just like everyplace else in Japan. You almost get sick of how impressive the sights are. Almost.
What an ugly place Kyoto is. Look at all of that moss, just lying there on the ground, like garbage. Majestic garbage.
Kyoto also has its fair share of statues of people and things. Here is a statue near the Kyoto Zoo of a big musclebound dope riding a dope bird of some kind. If you can’t tell from the picture, this statue is very large. I think I said “Holy fuck, look at that guy!” There were people around, but they didn’t get offended, because they were also all very impressed.
We saw some floats being prepared for a parade and they were 100% cooler than the floats that one might see in their local Santa Claus parade. Later, we saw the parade in action. It took place after dark and there were many children. You can take a look at a video I captured of the parade on my Instagram feed right here. This was on our last night in Kyoto and was a pretty great send-off.
Kinosaki Onsen Town
We wanted to spend a night in a ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese inn. We booked one in Kinosaki Onsen Town. An onsen is a traditional Japanese bath house (often situated upon natural hot springs), and Chantal really wanted to visit one. Kinosaki Onsen Town has many different little inns and seven different public baths around town, so it was like killing two birds with a whole wheelbarrow full of stones.
At our ryokan, they give you what basically amounts to a bathrobe and a cape and expect you to walk around town all day in it. This is called a yukata, and I’m still shocked that I was talked into it. A Mark Meeks is still gonna Mark Meeks, though, so I only attended private baths. You can maybe get me to wear pajamas in public, but there’s no way I’m going to get my dinger out in front of a bunch of stranger dudes! No way, sensei! Chantal visited the baths and enjoyed her experience.
I found a really sweet Super Mario Bros pinball machine in this town, so I wasn’t bored at all while my wife bathed. In case you were worried.
Our stay included dinner and breakfast, both of which involved a more elaborate mix of food than I could generally expect to eat in a month. Our dinner, seen above, was served to us in-room by a woman on staff at the inn. She came to our room and assumed that I was a deaf mute, because I just shrugged and nodded. Chantal speaks some Japanese, so I’m sure that the two of them said horrible things about me as they worked out how the meal service would proceed. There were many yummy things and a few things that were kinda… icky. Great experience, though.
We were meant to head to Osaka the next morning, but decided to take a ten minute train detour from the Onsen town to a small beach town called Takeno. We were very glad that we did. It was unbelievably gorgeous and completely deserted. We were given free bikes at the train station to use during our visit. It was a beautiful and unexpected morning of relaxation and quiet and was possibly my favourite part of our whole trip.
Osaka is basically just Blade Runner, but instead of people running around with guns hunting robots, you just eat a bunch of food on sticks and drink Asahi. So that means it’s maybe even better than Blade Runner.
We only had one day in Osaka, so we did not actually get to see much of what the city had to offer. There seemed to be loads of shopping centres available, and lots to eat and drink. And absolute throngs of people. Oh man, the people. Tourist-central!
Also: A real, goddamned castle. We actually paid and took the tour. It was too crowded to actually be any fun, but was impressive nonetheless. I got less of an impression of Osaka than the other large cities that we visited, but I definitely had the feeling that there was a great deal to be seen that we simply did not have time to see. My fellow blog-buddy Jay lived here at one time, so perhaps you can ask him about it.
One thing you can in Osaka is Spiderman’s tight little butt as he climbs a building to lay down inside of a clam. Oh boy!
City Guide Epilogue
Japan is crazy and nuts and amazing and exhausting. There are so many things to see and do, you’ll be frantically trying to find things to cross off of your list in order to have an afternoon to just sit the fuck down and be not-amazed for a minute. The “holy shit!” receptors in my brain just started to fail from overuse at one point.
I haven’t gotten into the food and drink yet. The food and drink one can experience in Japan are perhaps even more earth-shattering than the sights! I’ll take you through an absolute gastronomical orgy in the next installment of: The Fraudly Planet – Japan!