Japan – My Top Five

Posted By on January 18, 2015

I loved everywhere I went in Japan, but I thought I would post my top five favorites in the event anyone is planning a trip.  Granted, these are my top five, but I think it would be hard not to enjoy them irrespective of your particular sentiment.

1.  Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto, Japan.

There is a gravel road leading up to it but you can’t see anything until you round a corner and then suddenly it is there.  It took my breath away.  It is as beautiful in person as it looks in the pictures.  Simply a wonder to behold.

Kinkaku-ji, or "Golden Pavilion" - Kyoto, Japan

Kinkaku-ji, or “Golden Pavilion” – Kyoto, Japan











2.  Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima, Japan.

This place is sacred ground.  I felt it from the moment I got close to it.  If you go to this park and are not affected by it you must not be human.

Peace Memorial Park - view from hotel - Hiroshima, Japan

Peace Memorial Park – view from hotel – Hiroshima, Japan









3. Miyajima, Japan.

What’s not to love?  You take a water taxi from Peace Memorial Park out to the island of Miyajima.  The deer walk right up to you.  There are fabulous shops along a path that winds along the western shore leading to Itsukushima Shrine.  These shops have everything from souvenirs to oysters to sweets.  You can hike the island as well if you are up for it.

Shops on Miyajima, or Island of Gods - Near Hiroshima, Japan

Shops on Miyajima, or Island of Gods – Near Hiroshima, Japan











4.   Higashiyama – Kyoto, Japan.

For those of you that read my blog posts, you might recall that Wolfgang and I went to Higashiyama on Tuesday immediately after walking around the Kiyomizu-dera temple.  Higashiyama was wonderful and very old.  There were lots of shops with local crafts on display, but they were pricey.  It was here I bought some spicy sesame sauce and you can see the shop in the picture, just past Wolfgang down the hill to the right.  This sauce was confiscated at customs because it was more than four ounces.  Learned my lesson on that one.  Next time I will ship it to the states.

Higashiyama - Kyoto, Japan

Higashiyama – Kyoto, Japan











5.  Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo, Japan.

This is where you can find Hachiko.  It is also where you will see the hordes of people you expect when you think about Tokyo, because Shibuya is a very popular place and is featured often on television and in movies.  There are tons of great stores, including Tokyu Hands, and great restaurants.  The lights here at night are also pretty spectacular.

Hachiko Statue in Shibuya - Tokyo, Japan

Hachiko Statue in Shibuya – Tokyo, Japan

Japan Travel Tips

Posted By on January 6, 2015

DISCLAIMER:  these are our travel tips (Wolfgang and I).  They are not meant to be exhaustive.  We had never been to Japan before, so these should help you if you are going to Japan for the very first time.

1.  A yen is roughly equal to a penny depending of course on the exchange rate.  100 yen = 1 dollar.  This is a rough estimate.  The money is very easy.

2.  Don’t tip.  Period.

3.  Have a good pair of walking shoes.  You will do a lot of walking.

4.  If you go during the summer months, they have hand towels you can purchase anywhere.  Buy them.  They are needed to wipe off the perspiration.  You will perspire.

5.  They use money trays and you put your money in the dish/tray when paying for something.  Don’t hand your money directly to a person.  Use the tray.

6.  Your electrical devices work in the outlets in Japan.

7.  Get a Japanese Rail pass before you go over there.  It’s the best deal ever.  Make reservations on the Shinkansen wherever possible and make sure you ask for a car that doesn’t allow smoking.

8.  If you are spending time in Tokyo, get a map of the subway/train system ahead of time and study it.  Learn the lines and the colors.  It will make it much easier once you get there.  It is intimidating the first couple of times you are heading somewhere and you have to change to a different line.  The map/colors/numbers will help you.

9.  The Japanese are very polite.  Be polite in return.

10.  There are a lot of stairs/escalators.  Pay attention.  In some cities custom dictates walking to the left, but in some cities, you walk on the right.  Watch for visual cues.

11.   You can ship your bags/luggage from one hotel to another.  There is an entire economy and system dedicated to this in Japan.  It works, it is safe, efficient and cost-effective.

12.  You don’t need a rental car.

13.  If you estimate how long it will take you to get somewhere, make sure to inflate it by at least 50%.  Everything takes longer to get to than you think.

14.  If you are traveling to several different cities, understand the differences in regional cuisine so that you can try the best of each region.  Hiroshima, for example, has particularly good okonomiyaki and is also well known for oysters.

15.  Americans have a larger personal space bubble.  Be prepared.  The Japanese have very little personal space.  You will be packed in like a sardine on the subway.

16.  If you are sitting and there are seniors or pregnant females standing, stand up and offer them your seat.  It is more than expected.

17.  Most restaurants have pictures of the food along with the cost outside of the restaurant.  You should spend a few minutes browsing and decide what you want before you enter the restaurant.  Also, many restaurants require you to select the meal electronically and pay for the meal on a machine located outside the entrance.  If you do this, you will receive a coupon.  Once they are ready to seat you they will take you to a table and take your coupon, bringing your food a short time after that.

18.  Schedule your route ahead of time, especially if it requires you to change trains.  You may be standing for awhile otherwise.

19.  The train stations are shopping malls, which makes sense considering how many people walk through them every day.  If you are stuck at a station for awhile you can get something to eat, drink or go shopping.

20.  Don’t be afraid.  Japan is generally a safe place to go.  I felt safe the entire trip.

21.  At every train station platform there are several vending machines that sell water, soda, beer, etc.  Make sure to always have some coins/bills and you won’t go thirsty.

22.  Find a ramen restaurant.  It is so good over there.

That’s it for now.  Wolfgang and I will add to this list as we think of more tips.  We hope you find this helpful!

-Mike and Wolfgang

Japan, Day 10, Tokyo and Home

Posted By on January 3, 2015

We woke up early and packed.  Then we met Mark Warchol, a friend of mine from Rotary.  A few years ago both Mark and I were in Rotary.  He moved to a different club in the Austin area and I left when I needed to focus on completing my MBA.  Mark is an engineer and works in the aviation field and literally travels the world.  He happened to be coming to Japan the day we were leaving but we thought perhaps that we could have breakfast if he could get to us before we left for the airport that he just left himself.  It turned out that he met us at our hotel.  He agreed to try the French toast and so we went back to the Orchid Room.

We spent about 90 minutes eating, drinking coffee, and catching up.  I wanted to know more about his world travels.  He had just left Vietnam earlier that morning, and so we talked about that and a host of other things.  Wolfgang got bored and went back to the room.  I saw Mark off and went back up to the room to finish packing.  We had an hour or so to kill before the shuttle was scheduled to take us to the airport, and we had quite a bit of yen left, so we walked down the hill to the 7-11 and bought various types of Japanese candy and soda, including Lemon Fresca.  We came back, packed that into our bags, and headed towards the shuttle.  On the way we stopped at a pearl shop in the hotel and I bought a couple of pearls to give to Kris, which were not mounted but figured she could mount them however she liked, and then took the shuttle back to Narita.

No problems with check-in or through security, except that security took my sodas (of course, stupid me, I had forgotten no liquid more than 4 oz) and they took my sesame sauce I had purchased in Kyoto a few days before.  I didn’t care about the soda, but that hot sesame sauce wasn’t replaceable and hurt my feelings.  While waiting for the plane we went to the stores in the airport and spent the last of our yen on candies and souvenirs, including baseball caps of the Nagoya and Tokyo teams.  I also bought a nice large book all about Tokyo, the districts, and the history.  The flight was two hours faster coming back due to the Jetstream but we took the same general route which was an arc almost reaching to the Alaskan coast.  I watched American Hustle and Anchorman 2.  Wolfgang was packed into his chair like a sardine because he refused to put his backpack in the overhead.  He had a bag at his feet and his backpack in front of him so he was really wedged in, which also served to wedge me in.  We survived and arrived back in Houston.

The Houston airport was something.  We left the plane and I swear walked a mile to get to customs.  Once we got there the process was really simple and our bags weren’t searched.  The plane flight to Dallas was uneventful and Kris and Gunnar were there waiting for us as we came out of the terminal.  Gunnar came in and helped me with the bags and then we came home.

Once home the unpacking began and all the presents distributed.  This allowed us the opportunity once again to talk about the various places we’d been and bring back all those fresh memories.  It truly was the trip of a lifetime and I’m so very lucky and privileged to have been able to do it with Wolfgang.  Long after I’m gone I am hopeful he remembers much of what we saw and experienced during those ten days, because I really believe that traveling makes you a better person and helps you to understand other people and cultures.  While I started writing this for friends of mine who expressed interest, I realize now that I’ll want to read this for me in a year, to keep active in my mind the wonderful time we had and the sense of adventure we shared.  I hope each of you reading this got something out of it as well.

All the best,


Japan, Day 9, Tokyo

Posted By on January 3, 2015

There is so much I’ve forgotten since I started posting.  I waited too long to finish and the details are what makes these blogs somewhat interesting, or so I’ve been told.  I’ll give it a try anyway.

Today was going to be our last full day in Tokyo.  I didn’t sleep any better.  I watched some crazy game shows on television in the hotel room while Wolfgang was sleeping.  The plan was again to meet John in Ikebukuro station.  From there we were going to the Skytree, which is the tallest tower in the world.  See link here.  Now this was a complicated undertaking.  This was a Saturday and our JR pass had expired the day before.  This wasn’t a big problem since we weren’t leaving Tokyo, but it did mean added expense because we couldn’t get everywhere we wanted to get from the subway.  There are different train lines and they are owned by different companies.  To get to the Skytree we had to transfer 3 or 4 times.  Since some of the trains are express and don’t stop at each stop, we actually had to go past our exit to the next stop, then take another train coming back the other direction which wasn’t an express train.  By the time we got to the Skytree, an hour or so had passed and it was now about 10AM or so.  The wait to just get tickets was 90 minutes, and then another period of time before we could go up.  We were running out of time.  Instead we took pictures and did some shopping in an indoor mall area.  Then we left to go to Shinjuku station, which is one of the busiest stations in Tokyo.  I still had pens on reserve at the Shinjuku Tokyu Hands store from the day before which I needed to pick up.

We got to Shinjuku, crossed the street and walked through various plazas until arriving at the large Tokyu Hands store.  As previously mentioned, this store has everything you could want and then some.  I picked up the pens and then purchased a number of other items, including an ipad charger and some little puzzles that I thought would be fun to put on my desk at work.  We went to a restaurant to eat but the details of that escape me now.  We wanted ramen but the ramen place was packed, so we settled for something else that I can’t recall.  It was located in a food court across from the top floor of Tokyu Hands.

We next wanted to go to Akihabara, which is the electronics district in Tokyo.  I wanted to find a cool USB gadget and I’d heard Akihabara was the place in the world for electronics.  There were thousands of people and hundreds of little and big shops.  I couldn’t find any cool USB gadgets.  I was also looking for robots, because I’d heard they had cool robots there.  I did find a few but nothing that really piqued my interest.  I knew Wolfgang wasn’t enthused at the number of people and it became too much for me as well.  We left Akihabara and headed down to the Tokyo dome area where we met up with Swee-Chi.  We were all pretty hungry by this time so we found a sushi restaurant in the Tokyo Dome City area.  I think it was called Best Sushi or something like that.  John can correct me.  John had gotten us tickets to go see a baseball game so he left Wolfgang, myself and Swee-Chi to stand in line at the restaurant.  John doesn’t like seafood anyway so it wasn’t likely he would eat anything there.

We waited about 30 minutes and were seated.  This place was fun.  You sat at tables next to a track on which travelled a mini Shinkansen bullet train carrying sushi.  Below the track was a carousel carrying sushi.  Here’s how it worked:  you could grab sushi from the carousel and the cost was based on the color of the plate.  Likewise, you ordered drinks and the cost was based on the color of the glass.  So, when we sat down Wolfgang just started grabbing plates off the carousel.  Before we knew it he’d already polished off four plates of food.  I ordered a beer.  Swee-Chi said to order off the menu because the food was made fresh and sent to you on the train.  We made several orders and within minutes the bullet train was delivering fresh sushi to our table.  John eventually came back and ordered some fried chicken (as in strips, not with the bone), which was also delivered via the train.  At the end of it we had a whole lot of plates and the total was somewhere around 20000 yen.

We left the restaurant and entered the Tokyo Dome, which as the name implies, was an enclosed stadium.  The seats are smaller because the people are generally smaller, so we were pretty squished in.  I ordered another beer and I think we ordered nachos.  I took some pictures which didn’t come out well at all.  The fans in the stadium were really loud.  They love baseball in Japan, probably above all other sports.  If we’d had more time John would have introduced us to some of the athletes before the game as he has worked in sports for many years and has those connections.  We stayed for about 2 innings, but the noise and crowd bothered Wolfgang so we all got up and left.  I meant to get a baseball cap at the game and in our haste to get out of there I simply forgot.  We gave Swee-Chi and John big hugs, and thanked them for everything, and then we hailed a cab and disappeared in the night to our hotel.

You might recall that I still had a Cuban cigar to polish off and I wasn’t about to let it go to waste.  Wolfgang indicated he would be fine in the room so I went down to the cigar bar and ordered a Bass and smoked my Cohiba.  3 business people came and sat down at the bar to the left of me.  The alpha female of the group started talking with me and even bought me a beer.  She was Asian but I’m not sure whether Japanese or not.  It seemed like they were traveling from somewhere else as best I could tell.  The bartender’s name was Torisawa.  He was in black tux and black bowtie with a white shirt.  Very polished and very professional if not a bit mechanical.  He kept me in trail mix.  I thoroughly enjoyed my cigar and Bass and then headed up to the room where Wolfgang was engaged on his iPod.  Day 9 was over.  Tomorrow we come home.

Requirements for Tipping

Posted By on January 3, 2015

Some of the feedback I received regarding tipping requirements.

Some of the feedback I received regarding tipping requirements.

Anticipation.  Attitude.  Pace.  These are just some of the traits provided by friends of mine when I asked them what conditions are present for them to tip.  I am really trying to deconstruct the entire tipping experience to determine one simple answer:  under what conditions, if any, would it be acceptable to tip a robot?  Before you answer, think through what your conditions for tipping might be.

A friend of mine recently went on a cruise and had a robotic bartender.  Her explanation was that this robotic arm was basically just programmed to mix common drinks.  The thought occurred to me though that in the near future, if not already somewhere, there could be a robot bartender that could do just about anything.  The logical consequence of that line of thinking is whether or not you would tip a robot.  I think it comes down to whether your primary focus of a tip is to benefit you or whether it is to benefit the recipient.

For some, tipping is a consequence of the human condition where we empathize with a service provider (that is, service provider in a generic sense, which could be a waiter, waitress, bartender, or other) and want to help them improve their lot in life.  Provided they don’t seriously mess up, the general consensus is that we tip at least 15% but some would say 20% or higher.

You’ll notice that none of the feedback provided indicates that a human being is required for tipping.  I think we take the human part of the tipping equation for granted and yet not one person indicated a human was a core requirement for a tip.  If you take a look at the words in the word cloud, a robot could certainly handle pace and would most certainly be attentive, efficient, and friendly.  A robot might even be able to anticipate based on the timing of your previous requests.  Certainly, all above items being considered, a robot would almost definitely qualify for receiving a tip.  And yet, when I let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, and inform friends that their requirements do not preclude a robot, I’ve had a few very adamant individuals, including my wife, indicate to me that there would be no way in hell they’d tip a robot.  These individuals fall into the category of those whose primary focus is to benefit the recipient.  It would be hard to conclude that tipping a robot would benefit the robot, unless management indicated that the robot needed preventative maintenance in the form of tip dollars.  Even then most people could care less, thinking that would be the problem of the particular establishment, not a problem of the customer.

My wife points out to me that it isn’t just a matter of improving a person’s lot in life.  It is also about the interaction.  I was a bartender when I was 22 and there are a lot of people that come to the bar believing the bartender is the keeper of all wisdom.  It doesn’t start out that way, but after you’ve done it for awhile, you do gain a lot of knowledge about human behavior.  I went to New York recently and told a story to my wife about a bartender that “had game”.  She was amused that part of my recollection of my time in New York was because of the personality of that particular bartender, which is true.  Human interactions do shape us in ways that are not always apparent or viewable.  Could you cry in your beer to a robot?  Could you talk to a robot about your relationship issues knowing the robot cannot possibly have experienced such a thing and thus has no frame of reference from which to give you advice?  Sure, the advice could be programmed in, but who is the programmer?  Can we trust their views on relationships?  Maybe they’ve programmed an entire generation of dysfunctional robots because the robots have inherent programmer relationship bias built into them.

For others, tipping is viewed as a way to improve your situation.  For example, tipping a bartender well generally means you get more attention, which translates into your glass never becoming empty.  This is a big deal for some.  If ultimately good service is the reason you tip, then the recipient shouldn’t care whether it is a sentient being providing that service or not.  The fact that the service was received is cause enough to tip.  From my own perspective, if I can get as good of service or better from a robot than from a human, I’ll tip the robot every time.  From a competition perspective, it might make humans up their service game.  If you are a human bartender competing in the future for tips against a stellar (or interstellar) robot bartender, you’d better come with your “A” game.  Tipping robots definitely has an upside.

Let’s play out one scenario.  A man walks into a bar.  In this case, it is me.  I look at the robot and say “What do you have on draft?”  The robot runs down the list.  Now, if the robot hasn’t been  programmed with the latest list, the robot could be wrong, just like a human could.  In this case, the robot gets it right.  So then my next question is “What do you recommend?”  Now, you might think the robot would be at a disadvantage with this one, but you’d be mistaken.  The robot replies, “Mike right?  I recognize your voice.  Welcome back Mike.  The last time you asked what I recommended I suggested a Velvet Hammer by Peticolas Brewery, which is a local beer.  Approximately 10% of the bar patrons drink Velvet Hammer.  We go through a keg every 10 days, and the last time you ordered it, I believe you liked it because you ordered 4 more after that.  Sorry to be longwinded Mike, but my recommendation would be Velvet Hammer.  If you’d like to try something different along those same lines, please let me know.  What’ll you have?”  Wow.  That’s something no human could do.  The best human bartenders have excellent memories and may hook you up with your favorite drink when they see you coming, but the level of data and detail above simply cannot be articulated by a human.

The bartender becomes a marketing wizard for the company.  The bartender can tell them much more than they ever knew previously about personal preferences.  The question is, would the patrons feel their privacy was being violated?  Let’s assume for one minute that a human bartender had a photographic memory.  Let’s assume the human could do exactly what the robot bartender did above in our Velvet Hammer transaction.  Would there be a difference?  The answer is yes.  Humans may trust another human to remember (or not) a transaction, but when it comes to recording those transactions on a hard drive (even though the human brain is a hard drive of sorts), then humans become wary and suspicious.  Whereas you would never go into a bar and sign a disclaimer because the bartender would store to memory whatever you say or order, you might certainly do so if a robot commits that data to storage.

Ultimately this becomes a matter of trust.  The more personal the reason you choose to go to the bar, and the more human interaction you seek, I believe you will be less likely to trust and therefore tip a robot.  If you are going to a bar to have a few beers with your buddies, and the robot keeps you in beer and trivia and your group has a great time then I think you may well tip a robot.  I wouldn’t preclude it in any case.  I’ve known a few people in my life that are binary thinkers, and I’d tip them.  If you get a robot bartender named Marvin, you might want to reconsider.

Happy New Year.


Japan, Day 8, Kamakura

Posted By on December 15, 2014

Woke up at 4AM and wrote blog for Day 6. I woke up Wolfgang at 6A. I think John had told me that Tokyo was known for its French toast. I turned to handy dandy Google and lo and behold, the Orchid Room, a restaurant located in Hotel Okura where we were staying, was supposed to have superb French toast. I ordered the French toast and Wolfgang ordered a cheese omelet. They brought ketchup for the omelet which Wolfgang devoured. The French toast was in fact excellent…expensive but excellent. I also had some coffee and fresh fruit with my toast and then we headed back up to the room. Today we were headed to Kamakura, a beach resort located about an hour south of Tokyo on the regular train. Wolfgang wanted to go see the Buddha there, which is incredibly old. It supposedly was once covered by a wooden building until a tsunami washed the building away several hundred years ago.

We left the hotel and walked down the hill to the grey line, which we took to Ginza station a couple of stops away. Then we transferred to the Maranouchi line to Ikebukuro where we met John and Swee-Chi. John was late again and my feet were hurting bad. I wasn’t amused. We then took the JR train to Kamakura. There are a lot of shrines in this town. Swee-Chi tried to get me to go to several of them but I was having a hard time walking. After we got off the train we headed west uphill through the town. We stopped at a really cool Starbucks, which allowed me the opportunity to sit down and rest. We left Starbucks and then did some shopping. There are dozens of unique gift shops lining the street leading up to the Buddha (kind of Disneyesque). I stopped at this little outdoor area where many of the shops were selling their gifts. I bought Gunnar some flip flops shaped like fish. I bought Kris a bunch of different little gifts, including a scarf and a lucky cat. I bought myself some of those little balls with the chimes in them that make music when you roll them around in your hand. I also found a shirt for Gunnar that had Japanese writing on it with the translation written below. The translation was: “Believe in meat only”. Swee-Chi saw it and thought it was really funny. We then came across this cool shop that had swords, knives, and many other types of weapons (just for show, but Wolfgang thought they were cool). Wolfgang wanted to buy one of the weapons but I talked him out of it.

We finally made it to the Buddha. I’ve got pictures of it on my Flickr account. It is very large and very bronze. It is so large that you can walk inside of it and there are notes about how it was made. You can still see the toolmarks from the original craftsman that made it hundreds of years ago. Very cool. We walked back down the hill much quicker than it took us to walk up. We came back to the train station and took the train further down the coast to find a place to eat. I think Swee-Chi knew of a place but I don’t think it was there any longer. The beach was just to our east, with a road running along it and then houses/shops lining the street. There was an island to our south and John pointed out Mount Fuji in the distance. It was the only time we got a good look at it, but it was still pretty amazing to see. We ended up eating pizza and then we walked across the street to the beach. John got in the water. Wolfgang and I just watched. There was a black kite circling overhead. I got a few pictures of all of it. Wolfgang found some Styrofoam mallet and he and John took turns swinging it around. I picked up a rock from the beach which I intend to varnish and use as a paperweight. There were signs on the seawall, which was about 15 feet high, that had tsunami instructions on it. Probably necessary because of the local tectonic activities.

We took the train back to Kamakura and walked through a different part of town. This part of town was full of smaller shops and lots of odd foodstuffs. John bought some ice cream for himself, Swee-Chi and Wolfgang. It was a swirl of green tea/sweet potato. I didn’t want any part of that. I think even Wolfgang said it was sketchy. We walked back to the JR station and headed back to Tokyo. We arrived back around 1535 and took the subway to Shibuya. This is a famous part of Tokyo with lots of lights and thousands of people. We saw the famous bronze statue of the dog Hachiko. See link here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachik%C5%8D.  It is a very popular place to meet because everyone knows about this dog.  We went to the Heckel store, which is like an Amway store, because they had a Retro 51 pen that I was looking for.  Actually they had two of them, so I bought them.  Then we headed to the Tokyu Hands department store.  This store is amazing and they have everything.  I think the store in Shibuya was 7 or 8 stories tall.  There were 5 Retro 51 pens that Tokyu Hands sold exclusively.  I found two of them and they were kind enough to reserve another 3 at the Shinjuku store, where we planned to go the next day.

Swee-Chi and John both wanted to go to The Sizzler (American again!) for the salad bar in Shibuya.  We all four went.  John was giving me directions for the subway but my feet couldn’t walk any further.  We hailed a cab and for about 3000 yen made it back to the hotel in about 15 minutes.  It was 3000 yen well spent.  I had a couple of beers when I got back into the room and then I crashed.  Day 8 was over.  Only one more full day in Tokyo before heading back to the states.  I’m going to miss this place.

Japan, Day 7, Tokyo

Posted By on August 22, 2014

Did I mention that I’ve been fighting a sore throat since Hiroshima? I went to 7-11 and saw a little bottle similar to those 5 hour energy drinks that said Vitamin C, Lemon, 1000mg. I picked it up and drank it. It was like lemonade except not as sweet. Anyway, my sore throat is gone now. You see a lot of people here wearing surgical masks. That is because they aren’t feeling well and so to not disrespect others by passing along their sickness they wear surgical masks as a precautionary measure. They sell those masks everywhere.

Today I continued the trend and woke up around 3A and wrote blog for day 5. Around 6A I woke up Wolfgang, we ate our protein bars and packed our bags. We threw an extra set of clothes into our backpacks, since we would be once again shipping our bags to our next hotel and would need clothes until we received the bags. Our backpacks were getting heavy since we were starting to accumulate gifts. Also, there was the matter of the 5 large full beer cans still in the frig. Wolfgang had 4 Pepsi’s and so we packed them all in our packs and headed downstairs. Checkout was easy and we went to a separate counter to ship the bags. This took about ten minutes. Then we headed across the street to Shin Kyoto station to meet John at the bakery. We found a place to sit down since the packs were heavy and he showed up a few minutes past the assigned time. We boarded the Shinkansen around 925A headed toward Tokyo and arrived shortly after noon.

We were hungry so we walked across the street from Tokyo Station to an office tower and headed up to the 6th floor to the restaurant area, which is vaguely similar to a food court. On the way we passed a Hawaiian restaurant/bar. Apparently Hawaii is really popular here. The Japanese love to go there to vacation. I would think a vacation wouldn’t be going from one island to another but that’s just me. We were all in the mood for ramen so we found an excellent ramen restaurant overlooking Tokyo Station, which is this old brick building in the style of old. While everything around it is modern, it stays the same. Pretty cool. I had pork ramen, similar to the ramen I had in Kyoto but different in that the soup was created by boiling pork bones rather than soy-based, which created this incredibly wonderful full flavor.

We then took the Red (Maranouchi) Line to the Gray Line (Hibiya) ending up at Kamiyacho station. After a 5 minute walk up a hill we arrived at the Hotel Okura. We waited a few minutes to get our room ready since it was about 1340 (check-in starts at 2P). The female bellhop took our backpacks and placed them on a cart and showed us to our room. She spent 15 minutes explaining all the details (laundry, restrooms, how to get assistance, room service, etc). I told her that Friday we’d have two bags coming from Kyoto and she asked if we would be here in the room when they arrived. I told her “no” and she asked whether it was OK to go ahead and put them in our room when we were not here. I told her that was fine and then we thanked her and she went on her way. This was the best room of the trip. It was spacious, even by American standards. Most of the rooms were tiny. There was room for the bed and maybe one chair. This room had a lot of extra space, a king-sized bed, and the mattress and pillows were softer. I think Westerners probably like this place. Even the bathroom was much larger. After shedding ourselves of unneeded burdens, we took leave of our room. We didn’t take time to unpack because John was in the lobby.

Wolfgang thought he would be clever and snuck up behind John and tickled his neck. Not getting a reaction he asked John why he didn’t jump or turn around. John said that Japanese don’t touch like that so he knew it was us. Funny. We walked back down the hill and took the Gray Line about 2 stops to Ginza. This is the ritzy part of Tokyo with the finest stores from around the world. Kris wanted some stationary so we went to Itoya. Itoya is this amazing store that has pens, stationary, notebooks, tablets, etc. Kris had read they have this great paper there so I was on a mission. We picked up the paper and headed over to a shaved ice place across the street. This gave me a chance for a much needed rest. John bought three of these shaved ice treats (like snowcones) in strawberry flavor. Wow, so good.

Now originally Wolf had wanted to go to a monkey park a few hours north. At best it would take a full day, which in the end we didn’t have. As a compromise we found a sword exhibit in the paper that we all thought would be cool. We walked from the shaved ice place to the sword exhibit. We took off our shoes and walked in only to find it was primarily a store selling old artifacts. Still, we spent probably 20 minutes looking around. The oldest sword was about 800 years old, which is pretty incredible. I think they wanted around $50K USD for it. I am sure there are collectors that would love to have it.

We continued walking through Ginza. Swee-Chi had given John the address to a cigar shop so that I could find a good cigar. I knew what I wanted! We couldn’t find the store and so John asked a policeman for directions. He walked us there! The cops here don’t carry guns as they don’t need them. They are illegal. The only killings apparently are due to stabbings and generally that is between people who know each other. Stabbings are personal because you have to look at the person…anyway, this is not a political statement. The fact is that the cops here serve a different purpose and so I was grateful for the cigar assist. John and Wolf waited outside. The humidor was on the right as you entered, the counter on the left, and straight ahead was a lounge which had people smoking in it as to be expected. I entered the humidor and immediately found what I was looking for: Cohiba, and not the fake Cohibas you get in the states. I’m talking Habana baby. They didn’t have the infamous corona size so I settled on a robusto with a beautiful oily wrapper. Since you can’t bring them back, I only purchased the one, whichever as enough at 3500 yen. Oh, and the wooden matches? Yeah, another hundred yen. Now I just needed to find a place to smoke it.

My feet were killing me once again. John said it would be cheaper to take the subway but I really didn’t want to walk further. He hailed a cab, gave him the hotel name, and we parted ways with John, but not before making plans to meet on Friday for our trip to Kamikura. The cab ride cost us about 1300 yen. Money well spent. We got back to the hotel by about 5P. I fell asleep immediately and slept until 10P. John had suggested we take the subway to a couple of cool areas that night to get more sights worked into our time in Tokyo but neither Wolf nor myself had it in us. I think Wolf was taking care of the old man a bit here. When I woke up at 10P I asked him if he wanted to go have dinner but while I was sleeping he had been noshing on the nuts (the Costco supply) and drinking Pepsi. Don’t judge. He was good and so was I. I fell back asleep around 11P. My current inventory at the end of day 7 is one Cuban cigar and 4 beers, having drunk one at 10P.

Japan, Day 6, Nara

Posted By on August 21, 2014

Woke up early again to work on the Day 4 blog.  I’d like to try to get caught up at the end of each day but there just isn’t enough time.  Further, I have been typing the blog on my trusty iPad, so it takes me longer to type.

The temples here are large and everything else is small.  Water glasses?  Small.  Beer glasses?  Small.  You don’t see people walking around with 64 oz. Big Gulps.  They don’t find it necessary.  Oddly enough it is acceptable to throw a half gallon of ramen in a bowl and place it in front of you…in fairness though, at most restaurants they place water pitchers on your table so they don’t have to take the time to refill the puny glass.  Lean.

I am still waking up in the middle of the night but it is working for me for now.  It allows me time to write the blog while Wolfgang is sleeping.  I was watching some crazy shows on TV last night.  I can’t elaborate though because I don’t know what the hell was going on.  I still have 5 beers remaining of the 6-pack I bought and can’t seem to find a convenient time to drink them.  Imagine that?

We met John at one of the many bakeries at Shin Kyoto.  It smelled so good everyday that we passed it I figure we’d give it a try.  We had eaten one of our protein bars earlier but were still hungry.  Wolf and I got there first and we picked out two pastries each.  The first one appeared to be a canoe-shaped roll filled with ham and cheese…except no.  The cheese turned out to be horseradish, which I despise.  The second one was one of the best pastries I’d ever eaten.  It was like a braided croissant with embedded cheese and ham.  It was buttery goodness.  I regret only having it once during my time at Kyoto.  Wolf gobbled down his two.  John arrived and bought one and then we ambled toward the train platform for our trip to Nara.  

To get to Nara we would be taking a regular JR train, which really is like a subway. We got on the train and an hour later were in the old town of Nara. John’s wife had given us directions from the terminal to the Todaiji temple, which holds a massive Buddha statue. We walked through the city of Nara, again heading uphill, until we reached the park. With John taking the lead we walked towards where we thought the Buddha was…it was a beautiful walk. As on the island, the deer were plentiful here and you could buy about a 1/2 dozen pancake looking treats to feed them for only 100 yen. They looked fat enough already so we passed on the cakes. The path was paved but right through a large wooded area that covered us from the sun, which was quite hot. By this time in the trip I had come to rely upon the washcloths that John had given as a present to wipe away the sweat.

We reached the temple except that it was the wrong temple. We literally searched around those woods for an hour without success. Could the Buddha be moving on us? We started to believe so. John finally asked someone and they pointed to the west, so we started back the way we came. We made a side trip into a botanical garden that cost 500 yen each. It wasn’t well spent because in the short time it took us to get to the wisteria gardens, both John and Wolfgang were concerned about the bugs. I was at peace but not for long. As we settled down on a stone bench nestled under a canopy of wisteria, the ants and bugs got the best of the others and I was forced to abandon my tranquility to find the nearest exit. Still, I managed to get in a few pictures which I will post to Facebook at some point.

After leaving the gardens we finally crossed a Main Street and asked an official-looking person standing there how to find the Buddha. We were getting warmer, literally and geographically! The grounds here were impeccable. These temples are very important to the Japanese and they care for them well. No doubt this is paid for by the thousands of good luck amulets they sell at the temples to tourists. After getting some great pictures of blooming crepe myrtles, deer, and landscape we finally made it to Todaiji Temple. I think it was 400 yen each to enter, which we did. John asked a local tour guide to take a picture of the three of us in front of the temple, which he did. John uploaded this to Facebook. The fellow taking the picture had his price though. He was a Chatty Cathy as it turned out, and told about his daughter going to MIT and how he has visited Boston. John grabbed the camera and me and we headed towards the temple. The Buddha inside was indeed massive and impressive. The temple surrounded the Buddha and you walked around him to see the various other exhibits on display, before the inevitable funneling into the gift area where you could buy charms for traffic safety, happy marriage or preventing bad luck among others.

Wolfgang bought a few things and my feet were starting to hurt again so I needed to sit down. We jumped on the bus back to Nara Station and found a restaurant. John is a runner and so needs to eat every two hours. We had lunch (can’t recall exactly what I ate) and it was good enough. We hopped back on the train to Kyoto, but it was a slow train so somewhere along the way we changed trains to a faster train. The conductor sounded like Winnie the Pooh. John recorded his voice as he made one of the many announcements. John and Wolfgang were enjoying each other. As I mentioned, John is one of my oldest friends but until this visit had probably not spent more than a few hours around Wolf simply due to the distance of separation. I was happy to see the interaction and the apparent trust Wolf had with John.

We got back to Shin Kyoto around 1530. We decided we would go back to our respective hotels and regroup at 530 to head to Osaka for dinner. Plus, I wanted to see the lights which I had heard were spectacular. I took a nap for an hour and then we were headed back to meet John again at the bakery. We jumped on Shinkansen to Osaka, which took all of 15 minutes. Then we took the train down to Osaka station and I think we changed again but the details are now running together. Along the way we were discussing what we would have for dinner. John mentioned ribs and I started talking about my ribs (of course) and needless to say, by the end of it, we were headed to Outback Steakhouse in Osaka. After a 40 minute wait, we were seated. Wolf and I had steaks, John had ribs.

We got out of dinner later than expected, because John took us to a great shopping district famous for shopping “arcades” and lights. The shops were closing as we got there but we saw the lights of Osaka and I took a lot of pics which I still have to upload. I hope they turn out well!

We jumped back on the train and Wolfgang fell asleep. We made our way back to a Shin Osaka and then back to Shin Kyoto, arriving back to the hotel around 2200 or so. Before we separated from John we made plans to meet at the bakery again at 0900 so that we could make our way back to Tokyo, where we would finish our trip. A long day, but rewarding. I regret not being able to see more of the Osaka nightlife but they have similar experiences in Tokyo, whichever we will definitely experience over the next few days.

In some ways it seems like the trip is rushing past, but then I think about Hiroshima and it seems like it as forever since we were there. I am not sure I could live here, but I could definitely see myself spending more time here in the future. Day 6 is over.

Japan, day 5, Kyoto

Posted By on August 20, 2014

There are vending machines everywhere selling water, beer, soda, energy drinks, etc.  You drink one and then look for a place to put it and you find there are no trash cans.  In the states this would give free reign to those who would litter.  Here it means you carry around trash for hours.  I’m told the reason for this is that the sarin gas attacks were initiated from trash cans.  The elegant solution was to remove them.  You have to hunt for a recycling bin, which they are big on here by the way.

Day 5 started early for me again working on my day 3 post.  We were trying to get caught up since we’d gotten behind on previous days.  We had overspent in Osaka on taxis and so I wanted to get back to budget (Patrick – my version of an action plan).  This simply consisted of not using taxis.  The first place on our list was Kiyomizu Temple.  We went to Shin Kyoto station and jumped on a bus to take us within ten minutes.  About the buses:  they are in pretty good shape.  They can be tough to figure out if they charge different fares based on distance.  Kyoto charges a flat fee of 230 yen.  You enter the bus at the back and you only exit from the front, which is when you pay your fare.  There is a change machine there that can make change for 1000 yen bills but you are encouraged to have the appropriate fare so as to not slow down the exit process.  Seating priority is given to seniors, mothers with children, etc and from what I could see that is honored.

We got started around 8A and the bus dropped us off maybe 15 minutes later.  We took the path that looked correct up the hill to the temple.  A lot of temples are on hills.  You will definitely do some walking.  This path, as it turns out, was not the main path but a side path that went through a cemetery.  The cemetery was essentially carved into the side of the hill and it looked like there were thousands of stones there.  John told us later that they don’t generally bury their dead but cremate them and so the stones are close together because room for a body isn’t required.  This was a steep climb finally culminating in us arriving at the temple.

This is a really old temple and is famous for the large wooden deck and for the view of Kyoto from above.  The main temple was under renovation so we couldn’t go in.  Instead, we walked around the grounds viewing the various shrines and buildings. We climbed even higher to get to an area where they had two stones set about 2 dozen feet apart.  There is legend around these stones, which is if a person can walk unassisted from one to the other while keeping their eyes closed they will not need assistance in choosing their mate.  If they require assistance, then they will require assistance from an intermediary in finding a mate.  Wolfgang gave it a try but those results are ours alone.

At the ground level is a well that produces three streams of water.  Each one has a property (such as a happy life) and you can drink from any of them but drinking from all three is considered greedy.  Wolf drank first and then I drank.  Then it was time to walk back down the hill.

This time we walked down through Higashiyama, which is a series of shops descending from the temple back to the streets of Kyoto.  This was extremely cool.  There were shops selling food, pottery, chopsticks, souvenirs, and many other things.  Many of the stores were selling the same exact things.  I wonder how they stay in business.  We looked at several items but didn’t find anything we really wanted; that is, until Wolfgang spotted a spice shop.  He saw it and said he thought because of my cooking I might be interested.  I was indeed.  We spent a few minutes browsing and ended up purchasing a medium hot pepper mix and some sesame sauce.  I’m sure I’ll be using these in future BBQ’s!  After walking back down the hill we jumped back on the bus almost immediately and headed back to Shin Kyoto.  We were pretty hot and had jelly legs from the walk up and down the hill.  We decided to go back to the hotel and rest.  We stopped first in Kyoto station and had hamburgers for lunch.  Then we got to the hotel and I crashed for an hour or two.

We headed out again around 1330.  After discussion we decided we would add Nijo Castle to the mix, which had been optional, because we had the time.  We found the appropriate bus and took it to the castle; however, the castle was closed Tuesdays in August (ugh), so we walked back to the bus station and jumped back on the bus that would take us to Kinkakuji, or the Golden Palace.

Again, the bus dropped us off at the bus stop but we had to walk uphill to get to the temple.  It was very hot and humid.  I was wondering whether or not this was worth it.  We paid the entry fee (I think around 600 yen) and walked the route (again, a route) and was directed by a guard to the left.  My goodness.  The temple was across a lake and was so incredibly beautiful words are hard to describe it.  It was like something out of a Disney movie.  I took plenty of pictures.  We weren’t allowed in the temple itself but the path took us around it and along a well manicured path.  Where there was moss under the trees, there was a caretaker sweeping the leaves from the moss.  This place was immaculate and they kept it that way.  They took this stuff seriously.  The route took us back to the beginning and so we walked back down to catch the bus.  We jumped on what we thought was the right bus, but it took us to the main bus station.  It took us a few minutes to figure it out, but we were able to change buses and get on the bus taking us to Shin Kyoto.  This was rush hour and so it took us about an hour.  We got back around 4:30 and Wolf had said we could check out the shopping mall if I wanted since we were finished earlier than expected. This was nice of him because he would have preferred to go back to the room.

We went into a department store that was 11 floors, staggered, with escalators.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  They had everything, including restaurants on the top two floors.  I bought a couple of gifts and then we headed to the room.  Along the way Wolf noticed a ramen sign pointing to the 10th floor of the store we had just left.  We decided to have that for dinner.  After getting to the room and resting about 1.5 hours or so we headed back to the 10th floor.  There were many places to choose from but we settled on one.  Now, many of the restaurants show pictures of their food, which I think I have previously mentioned, but they also have machines where you insert money, pick the items you want, and then take your designated spot in the chair outside and wait for them to prepare your food and find you a table.  This process of picking is a challenge unless they subtitle everything in English, which they did not.  We gave it our best guess.  Wolfgang ordered a large Miso Ramen with roasted pork added for about 1300 yen.  I ordered a large Soy Ramen with roasted pork and extra scallions for about 1400 yen.  We drank water.  The ramen came and as I posted on Facebook, it was fabulous.  I could truly eat it for every meal.  I would not starve if I lived in Japan.  Wolfgang can eat but he couldn’t even finish it all.  We left and walked back to the hotel, first stopping at 7-11 to pick up water and Pepsi for Wolf.  I also bought this little container of lemon looking drink that was 1000mg of Vitamin C.  I intended to have it for breakfast Wednesday as I’d been battling a sore throat since leaving Hiroshima.

We made it back to the room around 9P.  Since John was arriving from Tokyo around 10P, he and I made arrangements via Facebook for our trip to Nara on Wednesday then I went to bed.  Wolfgang stayed up for a while before heading to bed.  The trip is halfway over.  It feels like we have been here three weeks with as much as we’ve seen.  Great sights and great food summed up our Day 5.

Japan. Day 4, Osaka

Posted By on August 19, 2014

I woke up at 2AM and started writing my blog for Day 2.  I updated the schedule so that it would be ready to review with Wolfgang when he awoke.  I also sent to John per his request since he would be joining us in Kyoto on Tuesday night and essentially be embedded with us from Wednesday until we leave.

For this hotel I had also included breakfast tickets in the price, and for room and breakfast the total was $147.  If you plan ahead and shop for hotels online, Japan will cost you much less than you might suspect.  Breakfast was again on a higher floor.  I think our room was on 18 and it was higher than that.  I have some good pics from our table that I’ll share eventually.  While the breakfast at Hiroshima was fine, this was better.  The eggs were similarly colored and the sausages still looked like little hot dogs and the bacon wa s the same, but that is where the similarities ended.  They had octopus balls (like conch fritters really), which I had been wanting to try, since they are a specialty in Osaka.  I was going to make a joke about how much larger the balls were than I expected from an octopus but I’ll let that one go…  They had Acai juice.  I as going to research this before I posted…May revise later, because honestly I know it is a fruit but that’s about all I know other than the juice tastes like a cross between a plum and a grape.  So good.  Wolfgang didn’t like his so I drank the glass I had brought for him.  I had a cold bowl of Udon soup to finish it all up.

We went back to the room and reviewed the plan for the day.  I still had yen (I didn’t want to walk around with a pocket full of cash so only took out a limited amount initially) so I was bound and determined to take cabs around Osaka where possible to save me from hobbling around.  The first thing on the agenda was Osaka Castle, located not too far from our hotel.  Since we didn’t want to carry our packs all day, I was able to extend checkout by 2 hours for 2080 yen, which moved checkout to 1300.  Two asides:  I asked about an ATM machine but at each of the hotels I stayed in they didn’t have them.  You have to go to the train stations to find them.  Very strange.  Will have to ask John why that might be.  Second, if you want to come to Japan and are not accustomed to military time (24 hour clock), then you need to get accustomed.

The front desk called me a cab (front desk was on 2nd floor?) and the can driver came up to greet us.  Another aside, everyone bows.  The cab driver bowed and led us to the elevator, held open the door, and we went down to 1 and jumped in the cab.  The ride over to the castle cost me 1000 yen, more than worth it to us.  The castle itself was quite impressive.  It has a long history filled with wars, competition, exactly what you’d expect out of castle history.  The documents they have preserved though are hundreds of years old, very impressive indeed.  The stones used for the construction came from all over Japan and some are very large.  The inside of the castle is not original.  It is basically a museum and you can walk up to each of the eight floors or you can take the elevator.  We walked up the stairs, though not all at once!  We took pictures from the 8th floor as there was a balcony of sorts extending 360 degrees around it.  I had one of the towels John gave me today and needed it.  You never really escape the heat here.  Even when you walk indoors, the A/C isn’t cranked high like you might find in the states, so you go from being really hot to being a little less hot.  Every night I would crank the A/C down in the room so I could cool off.

It was now 1215 so we cabbed it back to the hotel, arranged our packs and checked out.  We had another cab take us to the aquarium.  When we told him where we wanted to go he didn’t understand, despite repeated efforts (definition of insanity?) and pulling up the website.  That’s when Wolfgang stepped in.  The reason he wanted to come to Japan for a graduation present from high school was because he has been fascinated by their culture for many years.  He watches countless YouTube videos and is into anime and manga.  He said I wasn’t pronouncing it right and properly pronounced aquarium in Japanese.  The cab driver says “Ahhhhh” and off we went.  I love my son!  He dropped us off at a large complex on the bay, far away enough from our hotel that it cost us $40.  Didn’t care.  We purchased tickets and in we went.

I can understand my Lean Six training better after having come here.  They definitely have an order to things that makes pretty good sense.  Most aquariums I have been to in the US allow you free reign.  Once you go in you go where you want when you want.  Not so here.  They have a route that you follow and you can’t really get there another way.  So, if you are at point A, and you want to get to Point C, you are going through Point B first.  They are all about efficient flow.  It works well and I like it.  If I come back I want to arrange a visit to a busy Emergency Department and see how they’ve tackled the throughput issues.  I should have thought about this before.  If we want to see how to do it we should look to the experts, not other US hospitals whose vision is necessarily limited by our very culture on such matters.  Anyway, you take a long escalator ride from the second floor to the eight floor and you spiral around various tanks as you gradually descend.  This allows you to see the fish located at all levels of the tank.  All in all it was a great experience, except for the damned Asian river otters.

In the US, when you have people crowded around the exhibit, people rotate in and out quickly to get a picture and then let someone else in.  Not so here.  The people up front seemingly pitched a tent.  I waited 10 minutes in the #2 slot to no avail.  They were not concerned.  They waited and it was their turn however long they wanted to take.  This was consistent across all exhibits too, so it wasn’t isolated to a couple individuals.  Give me more credit than that!  So we had to take opportunities to get to the glass where we could.  Wolfgang was reluctant at first but he became more adept as the tour went on.  Plus, there were tons of Japanese kids.  They are small and very quick so we had to be on our toes.  We were able to team up and successfully block them from reaching the front of the porpoise exhibit ahead of us.  Oh come on, I am just kidding…sort of.  We walked out of the aquarium around 1500 and walked about .25 miles to find a cab.  During that time a very strange thing happened.  A butterfly apparently thought my fluorescent yellow ball cap was a flower and so was flying around me landing on my bill.  We laughed about it a little and then I thought we should be filming this.  I pulled out my iPhone and handed it to Wolf and he proceeded to film several seconds of the butterfly interacting with my cap.  Will post when I get home.

We got in the cab and I told the cab driver we wanted to go to the Osaka JR station.  Now, those who know me best will tell you I have a compass in my head.  Always have.  So in the few cab rides we took and looking at the maps I had a decent feel for the general layout of Osaka.  The cab driver appeared to be taking us downtown.  During the cab ride the first day from the station to Hotel Monterey #1, I saw a large building downtown called Osaka Station.  Reading about it later I found out this was a central point for rail, subway, and buses in Osaka, but NOT Shinkansen.  Having spent less than 24 hours in Osaka and having been driven across the city only twice, I was nonetheless convinced we were indeed being taken to the Osaka JR station but at Osaka Station, not the Shinkansen station.  I had to act and quickly.  I questioned rather loudly “Osaka Shinkansen yes?”  He tilted his head and said “Shinkansen?”  I said yes and he said something along the lines of “Ohhhhh”, switched lanes, and we were off to the Shinkansen station.  Crisis averted.  By the way, the one city that throws me off is Pittsburgh.  Every road will lead right to where it started if you stay on it long enough, but that is another story.

Now, if you recall, we had several hours of prior experience navigating the Shin-Osaka station.  Let me give you a reference point.  These stations are huge.  Think double the size of the Dallas Galleria and that might come close.  They have taxi areas, malls, various trains, Shinkansen, buses, and escalators going every which way.  Even so, I had this.  We went to the ticketing for Shinkansen and I said I wanted two reserved tickets to Kyoto.  He said the next available was at 1540.  It was 1534. He looked at us as if to say “do you think you can get there?”.  I said yes and he handed me the two tickets.  We saw it was on track 25 so we headed that direction.  It was car 13 and we were at the location for car 3 when we popped up from the escalator.  It was 1537.  I told Wolfgang we needed to hurry and we jogged along the platform and got to 13 precisely when the train pulled in, I kid you not.  3 minutes later we were bound for Kyoto with reserved seats.  Osaka Aquarium to being aboard reserved seats to Kyoto in less than an hour…not bad.  Train karma was giving back.

The ride to Kyoto was 15 minutes.  We had reserved a hotel across the street from the station so we saw the hotel as we pulled in.  We exited the station and walked across the street and checked into our hotel for three days.  The clerk told me to wait one second and he disappeared for 5 minutes.  When he reappeared, he had our bags that had been shipped from Tokyo.  I hadn’t even mentioned them to him.  They took our bags up and we were reunited with all our stuff for the first time in three days.

We walked across the street to the mall at the station for dinner.  I posted a picture of this on Facebook.  The restaurants all have pictures of their food or plastic replicas along with prices in yen so you can walk by and decide whether or not you want to eat there.  Wolfgang and I walked past about 20 restaurants and decided upon one that had breaded pork filet and tenderloin, along with 5 side dishes.  I devoured my meal.  Wolf ate his pork but oddly nothing else.  He was full.  He fell asleep at the table.  I woke him up, we paid, and walked over to 7-11 just a little bit further down the outside of the station.  I bought a six-pack of Asahi and we bought Wolf 3 Pepsi’s.  We brought them back to the room and put them in the frig.  I drank one of the beers and Wolf drank one of the Pepsi’s.  I fell asleep when Wolf was still watching YouTube, around 9P.  It was a good Day 4.