Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 03 – Like a Rock

This week is a very workmanlike training episode, what amounts to a lengthy montage in between scenes of Tanjirou writing journal entries to Nezuko describing all of the things Urokodaki teaches him over a year. That includes how to stand, land, hold a sword, breathe, hold your breath and more. All the while, Nezuko sleeps, and Tanjirou worries about her.

Tanjirou soaks it all up like a sponge in order for his master to clear him for the Final Selection that will determine if he can become a member of the Demon Slayer Corps. Once Urokodaki tells him there is nothing else to teach him, he offers him a final test: slice a giant boulder in the woods clean in half.

The varying environments (forest, mountains, waterfall) break up the repetition that is both a bug and feature of most training episodes, and despite how fast time passes you can really feel how hard Tanjirou is working and struggling, and how frustrated he is when he’s suddenly left on his own to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

For another six months Tanjirou tries and fails to slice the boulder, until he’s approached by a boy in a kitsune mask named Sabito and a cute girl named Mokomo. Sabito offers tough love and clichéd motivational patter as he wails on Tanjirou. In between their sparring sessions, Mokomo teaches Tanjirou how to properly achieve Total Concentration, which allows humans to fight on par with demons.

After six months of that, Tanjirou is ready to face Sabito, who wields a metal sword for the first time after using only wood before. Tanjirou uses Total Concentration, her and Sabito rush at each other, and his strike hits Sabito first, cracking his mask in two. With that, the orphans trained by Orokodaki smile and disappear, and all of a sudden Tanjirou is standing before the boulder, which is sliced in two.

As I said, this episode has some cool moments but gets the job done in a pretty matter-of-fact manner. I’ve seen training regimens last only half an episode or less, while I’ve also seen them last entire arcs or cours. In the case of Demon Slayer, Tanjirou’s training takes an episode an change, which seems about right. On to the Final Selection…and hopefully Nezuko wakes up soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 12 – Off Her Game

I like Michiru. She’s just so damn nice and good! So like Nana, I’m glad she’s not dead, only feverish and dehydrated. Unlike Nana, I don’t think liking or caring about Nana makes me weak or disrupts my Talented murdering spree.

Despite the trained, hardened killer in Nana lamenting how much time she wastes tending to Michiru while Kyouya is distracted by the new killer, she simply can’t and won’t leave Michiru’s bedside, even when Sorano offers to take her place there so she can rest.

Michiru eventually comes to, and we learn her mishap in the shower wasn’t the result of foul play, but the limits of her own Talent. While Nana was gone, two cats came to Michiru’s dorm. One, unbeknownst to her, was really Jin, while the other had a nasty cut on its neck. Shortly after healing the cat, Michiru took a shower and suddenly blacked out.

When Michiru spots the cut on Nana’s hand from breaking into the cafeteria to help her, she tries to lick the wound away, but Nana stops her, angry that Michiru didn’t learn her lesson about overuse of her Talent. In the precious subsequent moments when the two girls are making fun of each other’s unkempt hair, Nana isn’t a killer and Michiru isn’t a target…they’re just good friends.

Meanwhile in the woods, Jin encounters Ishii’s killer, who remains a dark silhouette to us. Without judging their murders, Jin requests that they at least stop hurting animals. We also check in with the committee that sent Nana to the island. She has apparently exceeded their expectations, and they praise the man who trained her, Tsuruoka.

When Nana goes off to clean herself up, she struggles with her sudden conflict not just over whether she should kill Michiru, but whether Michiru is remotely deserving of death. At the same time, she fears what Tsuruoka’s reaction would be if he could see how far off her game she currently finds herself.

When Michiru insists Nana stick around so they can play shogi, Nana brings up the name “Hitomi” she saw in Michiru’s journal, saying she “heard Michiru’s inner voice”—which is true to a degree! Hitomi was a delinquent-ish classmate back on the mainland whose dog Michiru healed. Hitomi, in turn, protected Michiru from bullies.

Hitomi once asked Michiru if she could help her sick “mom”, and Michiru explained she couldn’t heal illnesses. That said, she realize she can help a lot more, so she starts going to the hospital and healing people until passing out like she did most recently in the shower. That’s when Hitomi visits her and reveals she was asking for herself; she has terminal cancer; her orange hair was only a wig.

Michiru feels terrible for “making” Hitomi come to school to rescue her again and again, but Hitomi assures her she did it because she wanted to—and because like everyone, even she felt lonely and afraid sometimes. She likens leaving the hospital to help Michiru to Michiru risking her health to heal people—”we know it’s bad for us, but it’s okay to live a little.”

Shortly after reuniting in the hospital, Hitomi passed away, but Michiru promised herself to never stop healing and helping others—better a short life full of good deeds than a long life of cautiousness. Nana is so overwhelmed by this story, she has to excuse herself.

Out in the hall, she collapses from the weight of what is now the greatest single threat to her resolve. She keeps staring at the text indicating Michiru’s “Potential Death Count” of over 150,000 souls, partly hoping seeing that number will snap her out of her conflict, and partly hoping it will go down or disappear entirely.

She didn’t want to get this emotionally invested in one of her targets, but she is. She didn’t want to doubt the committees estimates, but she does. There’s still time for the show to reveal that Michiru is a supremely deceptive, evil, nasty piece of work after all. I sure hope they don’t go there.

That would let Nana off the hook too easily. I, like her, want to believe Michiru is exactly who she seems to be. Not only that, Munou na Nana created something truly beautiful in Michiru the pure, irreproachable, virtuous angel puppy. I’d hate to see that beautiful thing destroyed.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 11 – Proper Ventilation

Nana arrives late to the latest murder scene with Detective Kyouya already working the case. He questions those in the adjacent room: Muguo and three acolytes, whose talents are voice mimicry, astral projection, and magnetism. They apparently didn’t hear a struggle in the Ryuuji’s room last night.

Ryuuji’s girlfriend, Sorano Fuuko, is the most suspicious to us because she’s in the opening credits and also just framed suspiciously. Fuuko demonstrates her power to focus atmosphere into a powerful weapon on a willing (and invincible) Kyouya. She does it outside because she finds it hard to focus in a closed interior space.

After the demo, Kyouya goes off to ponder, while Nana checks out the crime scene. If Fuuko needed air, that explains the open window and bugs that got in the dorm, as well as the messy state of the place. Michiru tags along, and Nana senses something has been off about her since last night.

Nana is also surprised to find she can’t hold back her emotions when Michiru thoughtlessly talks about how great her parents are when Nana told her about her parents’ fate the previous night. The fatigue could well be getting to them both, but then Nana thinks she’s figured out the reason for Nana’s off-ness when the teacher comes by with a fresh uniform.

Kyouya told him to deliver it, and Nana recalls she had a bottle of poison in it. Thus she suspects Michiru is off because she found it, and like the incriminating photo of her, is torn between their genuine friendship and suspicions of her own.

When Kyouya suddenly appears, her fears seem to be confirmed, but the detective only wants Nana to accompany him for an interview with Fuuko, hoping her mind-reading will help him determine if Fuuko is telling the truth. Interestingly, at no point during their time with Fuuko does Nana consider this is why Kyouya brought her.

When he asks about Fuuko’s thoughts, Nana tells the truth: she wasn’t focused enough, but for what it’s worth, she doesn’t think Fuuko did it…yet. But when Kyouya starts piecing together the night of the murder in intricate detail, he ends up starting to convince her that it could be Fuuko. It’s great procedural stuff.

That brings Nana back to Michiru’s, as she didn’t like where they left things the last time they were together (Nana yelled at her and stormed off). Michiru is in the shower, so Nana searches her dorm for the poison. Instead, she finds Michiru’s open journal, which is full of beautifully pure, earnest entries about how much she loves and admires Nana.

I should know better considering her conditioning prior to coming to the island and, ya know, all the people she’s murdered, but Nana seems…chastened by this journal…even a little guilty for ever suspecting Michiru? No doubt those suspicions were somewhat influenced by Jin’s fake “Dark Michiru”.

Right on cue, Jin appears. Turns out he took the potion from Nana’s clothes before Michiru or Kyouya could find it. He’s determined to allow Nana to “keep swimming”, i.e. continue her mission until he can draw out more about the people she answers to.

Jin then forebodingly mentions how Michiru has been in the shower quite a long time, and takes his leave. Nana suddenly panics and rushes in the bath, where Michiru is slumped over the side of an overflowing tub. Could this be the end of dear, sweet Michiru? Was Nana snapping at her really their last interaction?

Something else to consider: Is this the act of the one who murdered Ryuuji, or did that last terse interaction drive Michiru to kill herself? We don’t know, and at the moment neither does Nana. From the first episode she’s prided herself on being on top of things with regard to who is up to what; it’s what any serial killer needs to be to avoid ending up caught or dead.

But at the moment Nana herself is a bit “off”—both unsure of the second murderer and morally conflicted vis-a-vis Michiru. It’s an intriguingly uncertain place for her to be with just two episodes remaining.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 02

Chito fights to stay awake at the handlebars as she searchs for shelter in a stinging snowstorm…and Yuuri builds a mini-snowman on her head. It’s pretty indicative of their relationship: Chi-chan may be the brains of this survival operation, but her seriousness is tempered by Yuuri’s more easygoing nature—when she’s not pointing a rifle at Chito, her only friend in the whole world (no one threatens anyone this week).

They find an old building, but it’s still cold—until they find a pipe that isn’t. Chito helps a freezing Yuuri steady her gun and blasts a hole in the pipe, then they use the Kettenkrad to haul a pipe fragment to fill and make a hot bath. Not only does the bath look extremely comfortable to spend time in, but proper hygiene is absolutely essential when trying to survive and this is only their fourth bath since leaving home.

After the bath they get a fire going, and Chito writes in a journal by the light. We learn Yuuri can’t read or write (at least not on Chito’s level), and the difference in education and value placed on the written word brings the two into philosophical conflict:

Chito: Memories fade, so we write them down.
Yuuri: Memories just get in the way of living.

(It’s also worth mentioning the language Chito reads and writes in isn’t Japanese, at least as we know it; they come across a Japanese sign she can’t read. Another indication we’re either dealing with the distant future or an alternate universe.)

Yuuri doesn’t even really pay attention when Chito is underscoring how valuable books are, so when asked to add fuel to the fire, she tosses a book in, and Chito isn’t able to put it out until it’s half-destroyed. Chito goes to bed angry at Yuuri, and when the winds outside intensify, it looks as though Yuuri is going to add Chito’s journal to the fire. If the choice is between staying warm enough to live versus the book, there is no choice.

Fortunately, things aren’t that bad (yet), and in the morning, Chito finds that Yuuri drew her sleeping face in the journal, along with the scrawled words “I’m sokky[sic].” She’s no longer mad. And how can she be, when the snows have finally ceased and the skies cleared, giving us a better look at the sprawling ruins of a colossal city of multiple vertical layers, Fifth Elementstyle.

The duo treads water out to the edge of one of the massive structures they stand upon, where a row of huge drains begin to spew forth fresh, pure snow melt, which Chito suggests they’ll use to do laundry—no point in washing yourselves if you’re going to keep walking around in filthy rags.

As their clothes dry, Yuuri finds a fish—something neither of them has ever eaten or even seen—but they’re right on when they fire-roast it on a spit. A hot bath, clean water, laundry, and a fresh meal: it’s been a downright luxurious outing for our post-apocalyptic wanderers.

There’s so much to like in SSR, starting with cute (but-not-too-cute) character designs, yin-yang characterization, deft voice work by Minase Inori (Chito) and Kubo Yurika (Yuuri), and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery of a ruined, deserted, but still thoroughly impressive civilization

The camerawork is great too, with some shots capturing two tiny human specks against the majestic the infrastructure, and others in which the girls’ widening faces fill the frame as they exhale in extreme relaxation. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt show; at once big and small; cold and warm; scary and comforting.

Tokyo Trip Journal 8

11 June, Heisei 22 (Fri)

So the final day arrives. Check-out is a 10 AM but I’m packed and ready to go, giving myself time to soak up a few parting shots of this weird, gorgeous, kinetic city before taking the N’EX to Narita and back to America. I had grown accustomed to this place, and shall miss it for sure.

Here I am, at 2 PM waiting to be bourne to Houston George Bush Airport, to wait another 3-4 hours for my flight back to Philly. Not looking forward to either flight, but I am excited to be heading home. Next week is supposed to be grey and rainy in Tokyo, and I hate days like that, so I think this is as good a time as any to depart, for now. My timing was perfect, as this past week had a couple real gems of nice days. Whatever the weather, I know for certain I’ll be back as soon as I can. After all, I now know Shinjuku and much of theToei and Tokyo Metro lines like the back of my hand (sort of) and in a month, there’ll be a faster means from the airport than even the N’EX, knocking a half-hour off the travel time from the airport to Tokyo. My main mistake was walking around too much too soon, and the resulting soreness and pain i experienced could have been avoided with better preparation (and sturdier shoes.)

Still, I never got really lost (or more lost than I wanted to be) or robbed or got into a fight or cultural misunderstanding, and didn’t sprain or pull anything, and saw most of central Tokyo, including everything/where I wanted to see, had some local cuisine, and had a decent hotel room, if unflashy. I feel like I got my money’s worth and didn’t spend too much in the world’s second-most expensive city to live in. Overall, I’ll call this trip a success!

Tokyo Trip Journal 7

10 June, Heisei 22 (Thurs)

This morning heralded in a clear, warm, sunny, and absolutely perfect day to visit Tokyo’s waterfront district, a reclaimed “Inner Harbor/Harbor East”-like area known as Odaiba. The ruby Uedo. line took me form Shinjuku to Shiodome, and then I only needed to hop on the Yurikamome monorail to take me across the part of Tokyo Bay to Odaiba. As I write this I am enjoying a Georgia Iced Latter (a Coca-Cola product) with the Rainbow Bridge across the bay from me, Tokyo Tower and Roppongi Hills visible behind it in the distance, the eccentric Fuji TV Building at my back, and, oddly enough, a third-scale but otherwise exact replica of the Statue of Liberty to the right.

Odaiba is also home to Toyota Mega Web, the largest Toyota auto salon in the country, but less stylish than the one in Ikebukuro. It is also home to a gallery of automotive history, containing some real gems I had not had a good look at in the flesh before (E-Type, De Lorean, Isetta, Spider, Mustang, Biarritz, etc., along with some notable specimens from Toyota’s storied racing history. At least at the hour I was there, I was apparently the only one interested. From Aomi I dashed to the next station to get an up-close look at Tokyo Big Sight, described as either an upside-down version of the Pyramid building from Blade Runner, or your average convention center flipped upside down and suspended on stilts. It is an insane piece of architecture, very sci-fi. Btw, each monorail station has a unique color and pattern decoration derived from Japanese art and design history. What significance this holds alludes me at this time, but its still neat, and I appreciate the attention to detail, as always.

After sightseeing in Odaiba, I finished the Yurikamome monorail loop to get my 800 yen’s worth, ending at Toyosu station on the Yurakucho line, which conveniently connected to Sakuradamon, on the side of the Imperial Palace grounds I hadn’t been to yet. First I took a quick look at the National Diet building, a handsome structure combining elements of Japanese and Art Deco architecture.

The gardens and plazas surrounding the palace moat were gorgeous and impeccably tended. I wondered what life was like up there on the raised stone ramparts, and whether the Emporer ever walked along its perimeter, gazing out onto the modern city beyond his moat. I had to wonder, because you cannot see much; the main gate was firmly closed and under heavy guard, and the one of the only good views in, while picturesque, still didn’t allow visual access to the palace residences themselves. No biggie though, it was cool just to get as close as I did.

Hungry, i went east to the modern city to find a place for lunch. I found one in “Banri”, another no-nonsense value-for-money place, where I stuffed myself on a miso-like stew with cured pork, mushrooms, bok choy, bamboo shoots and scallions, with excellent pork fried rice on the side. Portions at these restaurants tend to be huge, and people typically eat quite fast. I take my time cleaning my plate, again so as not to offend. Ometachi station was right next door, so I took the now very familiar red Marunouchi line to Shinjuku, where I decided to satisfy my curiosity regarding the “Toto Super Space” on the 27th floor of the Shinjuku L-Tower. The fixtures on display were quite slick…and expensive.

After a brief rest in my room and a shower, I head somewhere I haven’t been before – Ebisu – on the Hibiya line. Ebisu is apparently a diner’s haven; as soon as I emerged from the station I was assaulted by hundreds of places to eat. Choosing where to eat when there are so many good choices can be excrutiating, but I bit the bullet and chose somewhere. I’d eaten Japanese-style food essentially every night I was here, so I decided to switch it up and try out an Italian place called Palermo. They made a mean Margherita pizza.

Tokyo Trip Journal 6

9 June, Heisei 22 (Wed)

I’m a sucker for landmarks, which is why I went to Asakusa on this slightly rainy Wednesday. Asakusa has some awesome-looking old-fashioned Japanese architecture, along with a couple of honkin’ huge red lanterns that mark the portals to a bazaar-market type thing. Were it not for all the schoolgirl sailor suits and other tourists (both Asian and Western) the place would be a dead ringer for a Samurai Champloo setting.

Moving along, I took the Ginza line to Ueno, then the silver Hibiya line to Akibahara (Akiba), which was once know for being a center for electronics, but has become a haven for otaku, or lovers of the anime/manga/video game culture. I didn’t want to miss seeing such a massive concentration of a specific culutral phenomenon unique to Japan. Even the vending machines, numerous here as well, contained “dinner in a can” for those who were too busy gaming, gambling, or gawking at the maids or whatever obsessive activity to sit down to a proper meal. I saw a lot of posters and flyers advertising the imminent video release for many anime I’m currently watching, which strangely enough was a nice connection to home.

For lunch, I headed to a familiar place, another McDonalds. This one had an eating area in the basement as well as one floor above ground level; I went up. What is amazing about fast food in Japan is that while it is incedibly fast, it still manages to be neat and tidy, exactly how it looks in the pictures, not like someone sat on it. It’s perhaps a little thing, but I appreciate it nonetheless. I didn’t buy that canned soup, though because I was scared of it.

Done with Akiba, I backtracked to Ueno. Ueno is characterized (by me) as being dominated by a huge park. Containing gardens, a zoo, and several museums. Unfortunately the Metropolitan Museum of Art was closed for repairs, but the Japanese National Museum was opened, so I took a look. Its exhibitions chronicled the roughly 5,000 years of arts and culture of Japan, from simple pottery to impossibly detailed and accurate map scrolls to early modern Japanese art influenced by the West. There were also some exquisite swords and armor.

After a leisurely walk around Ueno’s park, I head not back to Shinjuku, but to Ikebukuro for supper. Today’s choice of eatery was much easier for some reason, despite being just a random one. I got a whole roasted fish with some kind of horseradish-type garnish, rice, and miso. After dinner I checked out the nearby Toyota Auto Salon, the second-largest in the country. I saw such unsurprising models there as the Camry, Corolla, and Prius, but also many quirky and interesting models not sold anywhere but Japan, or at least not in America. Six floors of tire-kickin’ goodness. Probably only an automotive fanatic such as myself would car about such a wealth of proverbial fresh meat.

From the Auto Salon, I made for the nearby Sunshine 60 building in Sunshine City. This building is prominent in both the beginning and ending credits of Durarara!! and shown throughout, and is so-called because it has 60 floors. It was also built on the site of a former prison where prisoners such as HIdeki Tojo were executed, and is believed by some to be haunted. Anyway, an elevator shoots you up at 600 meters a second…which is fast. It puts on a very dramatic show, too, as the elevator’s lights go dim and switch to a cool blue planetarium atmosphere with constellations and dreamy music; why I don’t know but it’s cool. I imagine Hitachi or someone makes them. Can’t imagine them letting Koreans build their elevator, but who knows. The top floor had excellent views of the city, from a different perspective than Shinjuku or Roppongi, as well as an elaborate display for an anime I haven’t seen called Hetalia World Series.

When I came back down to earth I wandered around Ikebukuro a bit more. It really is something to behold when the sun is down and the lights are up. Most people seem to be wandering around like me too, sometimes stopping at some store like Bic Camera, which seems to sell nothing but white signs with tons of red or blue writing on them. Also everyone seems to always be in need of a new phone from Docomo, SoftBank, Apple, or the like, despite the fact everyone already seems to be covered phone-wise.

The typical cell phone in Tokyo is a flip-phone; rather large and rectangular with squared-off edges and stuff hanging from it like charms. Anyway, I think I may know why everyonee’s out wandering around, eating, drinking, buying big cells and playing Pachinko: because Japanese TV is, on the whole, not that great (at least the analog feed I was getting in my hotel room; an HDTV would have cost extra.) To avoid it, and the creative if structurally repetetive ads, they go out. Such practical people.

Anyway, from Ikebukuro I take the long way home on the Marunouchi line. Shinjuku is 18 stops away, but I paid for unlimited subway service and I’m going to get it; not like I’m in any particular hurry.

Tokyo Trip Journal 5

8 June, Heisei 22 (Tue)

Riding the subway is actually quite fun, especially when you don’t have any set schedule or anywhere in particular to be. Also, you can ride it all you want for 1000 yen (a bit over $10), so I figured I’d get my money’s worth. It threatened to rain all day, but only momentary sprinkles here and there until something resembling a drizzle at sundown.

I took the subway to Roppongi, and to a very trendy (and Westerny) quarter called Roppongi Hills, right next to TV Asahi HQ. Another art gallery sat upon a high place; in this case the 52nd floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower (Mori owns many towers in Roppongi). The Mori Art Museum made the Sompo Musuem seem a little dowdy, not least the which because it was full of much newer and flashier pieces and installations of audio and video. The prices in the museum shop were, shall we say, optimistic?

I made a brief stop in nearby Akebanebashi to check out the Tokyo Tower, which was tall, white, and international orange. Then to the nearest station, Daimon, which via Shimbashi led me to Ginza, of of Tokyo’s swankiest districts. I took a look at a lot of fancy stores like Adidas and Sony, saw the new Nissan Leaf, and got lunch a a fast-food chain called Lotteria, which had very good cheeseburgers and emerald green Suntory Melon Pop to wash them and the fries down. I also bought a bottle of sake.

From Ginza, I took the Ginza line west, all the way to Shibuya, yet another cosmopolitan/bustling/chic ‘hood full of stores selling stuff no one needs at exhorbitant prices. I’m beginning to see a pattern. No matter; I realize these places need to exist. In any case, Shibuya has some of the largest crosswalks; at one notable intersection all automotive traffic stops so pedestrians in all directions can cross. It’s really something to behold and to experience firsthand. From Shibuya I took the Fukushotin line to Meiji-Jingumae, the station closest to the Meiji shrine in Yoyogi Park. I did a bit more walking than I should have, but it was worth seeing such a serene and gorgeous place.

Back in Shinjuku as night approached, I grabed dinner at a hole-in-the-wall eatery packed with smoking diners…after much constirnation and head-wrining about where to eat. The simple matter is, there is so much choice, it can potentially be paralyzing. This restaurant has a machine that tilts a mug and slowly pours Kirin beer, pauses briefly to let the fizz subside, then tops it off. Also, the average diner was smoking 3-4 cigarettes during their meal, not after. Smoking indoors is very much allowed at most restaurants and bars. The diners here ate very fast, too…and loud slurping of broth is not frowned upon. Dinner was 1000 yen.

Tokyo Trip Journal 4

7 June, Heisei 22 (Mon)

Here’s when I thought things would get a bit…tricky.

I was a bit anxious about using public transportation, not knowing what all the flashing characters were trying to tell me, but after using it all day I have no idea why I was at all; it was easy as pie. There’s a slight learning curve to the iconography, but with a combination of bilingual signage and distinct colors for lines and numbers for stations, I had no problem navigating my way around Tokyo.

First, I followed the enormous mass of suited salarymen (and women) clutching phones and coffee to Shinjuku station, the busiest train station in the world by daily passengers (more than 3 million) A typicall trip on the Toei or Tokyo Metro subways costs 160-170 yen. I took the Toei Shinjuku line (leaf green) to Kudanshita, a station near the Imperial Palace complex. The imperial gardens and nearby museums were closed, it being Monday, so I hopped back on the subway on the Metro’s Tozai line (blue) at Takebashi bound for Nihombashi. The whole business district area east of the palace is called Marunouchi. The red line is named after it.

Nihombashi had a 19th century stone bridge with intricate bronzework, but was concealed by a highway overpass. In Tokyo, hardly anything save the palace is sacred, and they will build over/around/on top of whatever they don’t feel like tearing down. I also saw the Tokyo Stock Exchange, but couldn’t go inside. After mailing a couple postcards with the help of a very nice postwoman, I got on at Ometachi station and took the Tozai line to Iidabashi (missing Kudanshita from brain fart). That was okay, because Iidabashi was a junction for the yellow Yurakucho line, which I’d take to my next destination, Ikebukuro.

One of Ikebukuro station many exits led up into a Gallery-like mall, where I was surprised to find a Krispy Kreme – they’re all but extinct in Philly. I was fascinated by suddenly being in the same city where the anime Durarara!! takes place, and from what I saw the show portrays the look of the city expertly. In Shangri-la, which takes place in the future, Ikebukuro is a thick and poisonous forest. Here and now though, the place is surging with people and activity. I float around in no particular hurry until lunchtime draws near.

Rather than eat here, I hop on the brown Fukushotin line to Shinjuku-Sanchome, then back on the Shinjuku line to…Shinjuku. After a brief stop at the hoel for a shower, then searched Shinjuku by my hotel for sushi. I espied several businessmen entering a promising place and followed them, and was not disappointed. Utilizing once again the big pictures on the menu, indicated my choice and received large amounts of delicious, dead raw fish and sea creatures, all for under 1000 yen.

As miles of walking in my Nikes had virtually ruined my ankles/knees, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase decent walking shoes with arch support. I went to Keio, one of the massive department stores positioned around Shinjuku Station along with Odakyu and Mylord. Each has at least eight floors, the bottom of which are massive gourmet food markets selling every kind of food imaginable. I wasn’t hungry, unfortunately, but I did need shoes, so I took the elevator up to the fifth floor. The elevators were attended by extremely well dressed and groomed, polite and soft-spoken ladies with white gloves. I found some comfy Gore-Tex Brooks for 15,700 yen, for which I was able to use a credit card.

Thus equipped, and having purchased Buffrin (the only pain medicine with western letters I could decipher; don’t want to be wrong about labels where drugs are concerned) I hoped to lessen the fatigue on my walking bits as the week continued.

Tokyo Trip Journal 3

6 June, Heisei 22 (Sun)

Wake up aound 5:15 AM. Bed is comfortable and surprisingly, long enough for my frame. A/C is not too harsh. I felt a bit killjoyish sleeping through a Saturday evening, but again, I was a walking corpse and in no condition for sensory overload yet. Didn’t have an appetite for anything other than water and sleep…slept about 12 hours total and woke up refreshed and more or less adjusted to the time, somehow. My Verizon phone even displays local time, but is roaming.

After briefly exploring my hotel, I buy a UCC Black Iced Coffee and start out; around 6 AM. Unlike my afternoon arrival, the city is almost deserted and silent, with the crowing of enormous ravens and bus engines being the dominant sounds. The skyscrapers loom overhead like a grove of mammoth trees. Like yesterday, my route is somewhat random…N, E, N, S, NE…but I am hungry so when I happen upon the first of many Tokyo McDonalds, I go there to grab breakfast. The place is three stories, everyone working there is pleasant and affable, the food looks precisely like it does in the pictures, and the portions aren’t immeasurable. An Egg McMuffin, hash brown and OJ cost 460 yen.

After a few attempts, I find an ATM that takes my card (at a 7 Eleven; Family Mart ATMS will only take Citibank) and procure funds for the coming days. Then I continue weaving through the streets of Shinjuku, passing soda/coffee/tea/cigarette vending machines every 100 feet or so. They’re absolutely everywhere. I swear, I don’t see how anyone who has 120 yen could ever be thirsty in this city.

As I walk, my legs grow weary, so I head south to the lovely and expansive park called Shinjuku Gyoen, only to find it’s not open yet (too early) so I do a loop around it, find a smaller park to rest at and then head back to the gyoen. On the way I experience how cars/pedestrians/motorbikes negotiate the narrower streets of the city, and am also absorbed by the feeling of a pleasant, sunny Tokyo Sunday morning.

Shinjuku Gyoen is gorgeous. There’s a Japanese garden, in addition to English and French gardens, and a picturesque asian pavilion from which to view the scenery. There’s a more modern facility under construction near the entrance. There are sun worshippers here, but no dogs allowed. As the morning grows later, more people arrive. I spot an Oriental Stork in a pond, as well as a turtle identical to a friend of mine’s floating in the same. As I write this, we’re closing in on noon. I’ve walked more than two miles, and need lunch.

I procure lunch at the park’s cafe. A common means of getting food involves inserting cash or credit (its very much still a cash economy) into a machine, pressing the buttons that light up for what you want to eat/drink, and it prints out a ticket. A waitress shows you to your seat and rips the ticket. When you get your food, which I got promptly, she takes the stub. Wonderful procedure. Soba with Prawn Tempura isn’t bad, either, and quite filling. Along with a bottle of ringo (apple) juice, the whole meal is 1000 yen.

I head out of the park shortly thereafter, passing through what appears to be a mini Barnes & Noble just for anime/manga. When I return to the shopping blocks I’d passed through much earlier, they are all open and bustling. The shops sell clothing, cameras and electronics, watches, anime/manga, and restaurants and pachinki/slot and karaoke parlors are interspersed between them. Whatever the business, most of them have someone outside the entrance beckoning for customers to take a look at their wares and handing out fliers.

All the walking (~5 miles) have taken their toll on my ankles/shins, so I walk back to my hotel to recharge; buying a Kirin Cola and some broth-flavoured chips and relaxing in my room with some televised Go and, I find not soonafter, Japanese baseball, which is quite entertaining. The fans in the stadium are constantly singing/chanting like they would at a European soccer game. The teams are typically named after corporations/holding companies rather than the cities they play in, in this case the Hanshin Tigers vs. the SoftBank Hawks. Teams have the occasional white or hispanic player on their roster, just as MLB teams have the occasional Japanese player. When it becomes an 8-2 lead in the Tiger’s favor, I take a shower and head back out.

I end up on the 42F of the Sompo Japan Building, one of the skyscrapers that make up the Nishi-Shinjuku grove. This floor is an art museum, exhibiting a retrospective of the French painter Maurice Utrillo, as well as three permanent pieces in a special dark gallery – flanked by a Gaugain and Cezanne is Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, purchased by the museum during the Japanese economic bubble for 5 billion yen. It’s pretty neat to see it in the flesh, and the views of Tokyo from the observation lobby are well worth the price of admission.

Back down to earth, I find a Japanese barbeque restaurant in the basement of a building (most buildings have 2 or 3 basements with more shops/restaurants, in addition to those above ground) and settle in. The hostess and waitress didn’t speak English, but they were extremely friendly, polite, and helpful, and thanks to a menu with pictures (a necessity for me here) I successfully order a platter containing all kinds of delicious morsels, including grilled marinated beef. With beer, dinner didn’t cost much more than 1000 yen. They provide customer service cards you can mail in, but I don’t seen how service would ever be anything other than exlempary. Three food joints today – McDonalds, the Shinjuku Gyoen cafe, and the barbeque joint…three very tight ships.

It isn’t just cashiers and waitresses though…whenever I asked a random Japanese passerby something, they tried their upmost to assist me, despite usually not knowing any English. A security guard on duty led me nearly a whole city block away from his post to point out where the Art Museum was. There’s something to society here that’s lacking back home; a sense of pride in their work and in themselves and a strict decorum to business that isn’t allowed to come up short. If anyone was unhappy in their jobs, they didn’t look it. Far cry from heart-on-sleave Americans in low-wage jobs, who can rarely contain their contempt for their plight. To that end, I felt it my duty to clean my plate completely, to honor those who served me so well. I returned to the shopping blocks as night fell, getting my first tast of the electric circus Tokyo is famous for, but by 9 PM I had been up 17 straight hours and needed sleep.

Tokyo Trip Journal 2


What follows is the account of my week-long vacation to Tokyo in June 2010, where I stuck to the 23 special wards and got a taste of the people, food, music, art, pace, and culture of 21st century Japan.

5 June, Heisei 22 (Sat)

Arrived just before 2 PM, Tokyo time
after waking up @3 AM Eastern time
Didn’t sleep on plane / dozed maybe 2 hrs total
Immigration/customs were no sweat
Took Narita Express (N’EX) to Shinjuku Station from Narita Airport Terminal 1. Price? 3,110 yen.

Walked through a mass of people on roundabout route to hotel and checked in to Shinjuku Washington Hotel.

Had so many meals and was so tired, took a hot bath/shower and just went to bed in my room at the @ 5 PM.

Tokyo Trip Journal 1

What follows is the account of my week-long vacation to Tokyo in June 2010, where I stuck to the 23 special wards and got a taste of the people, food, music, art, pace, and culture of 21st century Japan. The only other foreign country I’d visited prior to Japan was the Dominican Republic.


4 June, 2010 (Fri)

Left home @ 3AM
Depart PHL @ 6 AM on a
tiny plane.

Tiny plane was in air for half
hour. Got to EWR
@ 7.
Waited from 7 to 11 AM, for
Big Honkin’ Plane.

Been in Big Honkin’ Plane

for many many hours.

Watched Up In The Air
and Death Note I + II

Couldn’t see out; had aisle
seat. Over Alaska all clouds.
No Scenery.
Same with Kamchatka Penn.

3 1/2 hours to go.
Seat too upright to sleep

properly.

4577 miles so far
~1800 to go…