Category Archives: Honeymoon

Stuff…

I noticed we hadn’t posted in a while, so I thought I would write a quick update. Nothing has really happened lately… we have just been settling into our new roles at work. Sean seems happy with is new job, and I guess I am happy with my promotion. These days I am really busy, and the work day flies by. It goes by so fast that usually I am staying late just to get things done. Both of us are pretty wiped out when we get home lately.

Nothing new to report on the house really. The seller is supposed to be getting the things from the inspection taken care of… we are just waiting right now. We haven’t  even started packing yet; we have four weeks left now, so still plenty of time. I guess we should get started soon though.

I still don’t have my new iPhone either. I really don’t want to stand in line for one. Right now people are still lining up around the store every morning to wait for them. I noticed Southpoint showed them as being in  a (online) last night, so I gave them a call just a few minutes ago… and they of course confirmed they sold out immediately. Evidently if I want to go down there at dawn every morning and stand in line I can get one. I don’t think I want one that badly though. I will just be patient and get one when they actually have them in stock all day. It looks like it is going to be a birthday present after all at this point!

This weekend looks to be pretty full again. I had really hoped buying an iPhone would be part of the weekend events, but, well… I already went over that. We have tickets for Batman tomorrow, looking forward to that. We are also dog sitting again (only Lucy this time), and Sunday we are supposed to go hang out with Sean’s family. Maybe we can get motivated and start clearing out the junk we don’t want to take with us when we move too.

Next weekend we go to Charlotte for Avenue Q!

We’re home!

We haven’t been able to post in the last few days. Our last day in Osaka was a little busy. We started out the day by packing and cleaning up the room we had stayed in, and then headed to Umeda one last time for lunch with Hiro. We ate at his restaurant because he had to work all day, and seemed to want to say goodbye to us. We wanted to say goodbye and thank you to him as well, and I think Sean was quite happy to have okonomiyaki one more time.

While eating we chatted about some of the things left undone, and decided to take care of one last gift we had been contemplating. That started a last minute hunt for an item that we had previously had no trouble finding, but of course as soon as we decided to buy it we couldn’t find it. We eventually got our second choice because time was running short.

From there our luck seemed to change for the better though, as the cab we hailed to take us back to the apartment for our luggage turned out to be a stretched version and was a little bit larger than the standard cabs. So, our worries about getting 4 large bags and 4 small bags to fit vanished and we asked the driver to wait so he could take us to the train station. Luckily we had left the apartment with everything ready to go, and all we had to do was grab our bags and drop the key in the mail slot… and with that we bid farewell to the apartment we have spent the last few weeks in.

The next bit of luck was that the cab driver dropped us at the perfect entrance to the train station. We were relieved to find that the train lay just beyond the gate, with no need to drag our bags through the maze of underground passageways and stairs we have come to expect. Thanks to the taxi all we had was a short walk and one escalator to deal with, and our timing was perfect as we only had to wait 15 minutes for the next train to arrive.

40 minutes later we arrived at Hotel Nikko at the Kansai International Airport. We were looking forward to our stay a little, as we have become accustomed to excellent food and service from Japanese hotels. However, we were very disappointed by this hotel. It is a shame that it is the only hotel at the airport. I wish we had chosen a less convenient hotel back on the mainland (the airport is a manmade island 3 miles offshore).

Seeing the prices for the hotel food we decided to try a little eatery instead… but the food was so awful we just ate the better bits and then went back to the hotel for room service… which was worse. We also had breakfast from the hotel room service, which was another “American breakfast” only this one was not nearly as good… and it cost $80 for the both of us! The fruit was not very good, and the meat was pretty much ham cold cuts. The eggs were good though, and the toast was good… but they didn’t give enough butter. It was a disappointing end to our Japanese food experience.

After a night of fitful sleep on the most uncomfortable mattress we had ever slept on, we boarded another sold out plane back to America. We were already tired from a night of little sleep, but it was still hard to sleep on the plane somehow. At least the return flight is a bit shorter, and seemed a little easier.

When we landed in Detroit we both felt so glad to be home, and were eager to step off the plane and be in our own country again. Not that we didn’t love Japan, we just missed the simplicity of being in a culture that you are familiar with and being able to speak and read fluently.

Detroit was a bit of a pain. We had to wait for what felt like forever to get permission to offload the plane, but I guess it was only about 10 minutes of everyone standing crammed in the aisles. Then we had another huge line to stand in for immigration. After that it was waiting for our luggage… which they put on two different baggage carousels, so Sean had to watch one while I watched the other for our luggage… then we had to lug it all through customs. Customs is such a joke in my opinion. It seems you can just make up some reasonable amount for your purchases and you are stamped and let go. I don’t think I have ever given a customs agent a real price for what we have spent… it is hard to keep up with it. After that we had to recheck our bags and wait in another long line to go through yet another security screening.

After all that we only had time to grab a quick bite to eat before boarding our next flight. Which of course ended up sitting on the runway long enough to make our flight go from an early arrival to a late arrival. Evidently DTW has closed down some runways for maintenance or something.

But, yesterday, at 3:40 we finally arrived at RDU. That was a great feeling to be back at a familiar place, and know that home was only a few minutes away. Although… we knew it would take us longer than that to get there of course. First up was baggage claim, then we went to Sean’s mom’s to retrieve the car and spend a little time chatting with her before coming home.

It was great to walk through our own front door for the first time in nearly a month. Our exhaustion seemed to lift at the sight of it. We then shared some of our toys with Wendell like excited kids. It wasn’t long before we had a surprise visit from George, who brought us a digital picture frame loaded with wedding photos as a wedding gift. That was awesome! I had been wanting one of those for a while now, and planned to get one very soon for wedding and honeymoon photos.

Not long after that we all met Marie and Tim at Petco to pick up a freshly bathed Jack. He was so excited to see us! Our first sight of Jack was a little head bouncing up and down behind the counter at the PetCo grooming salon. We could hardly get his collar back on him. He was so excited to see four people he hasn’t seen in what must be forever to a dog.

We then went back home to enjoy some take out Carino’s food and the company of George and Wendell for a while before finally sleeping in our own bed. We missed our bed so much! After a month of sleeping on futons and hard Japanese beds, our pillow top bed was wonderful. We happily called Jack up to cuddle with us, and we were soon sound asleep.

Today we ease back into the real world… we are getting ready to go get hair cuts and do mundane things like grocery shopping for the next week. It is hard to believe that we have to go back to work Monday. It still feels a little surreal that yesterday we were in Japan. I miss it already.

 

Day 22: Shipping and Sushi

Today we had to ship out some of the goods we purchased. There were 2 large boxes to send home, and we did not feel like lugging them to the post office on a bus, so Hiro called the post office to come get them. The post office pickup guy was late coming to the apartment and then would not wait for Robyn to fill out the forms, telling us to have it ready in three hours. We ended up just lugging them to the post office anyways, and emailed Hiro to call off the next postman visit.

After sending the goodies home, we headed out for lunch at a sushi place we spied a couple nights. In the front of the restaurant is a large fish tank, full of lunch swimming around waiting to be prepared. There was also a fish tank on the inside with different fish. The salmon there was the best I’ve had yet. The other types were pretty good too, the fish tasted very fresh. It’s like the difference between eating the day’s catch when you visit the beach versus thawing out frozen fish and frying it yourself.

Sushi places are a little different than back home – there are no “special” rolls at all that I have seen. Just nigiri sushi, and a few roll type pieces. I do miss spicy tuna rolls – I have not found them in any of the sushi places we have eaten at so far. Although, the tekkamaki (tuna rolls) we had at lunch did have a fair amount of wasabi hidden inside, so they had a little kick.

We were really close to an arcade, so we stopped in for some more gaming before heading out to the “Relax” spa for our reflexology massages. We had to wait when we got there, and I was falling asleep in the lounge. When they took me back to the room and put the towel over my eyes it was really hard not to sleep. Once the girl started rubbing my feet it was lights out. I woke up a few times when she would really dig into the pressure points, and think I could hear Robyn snoring lightly in the room next to me. So we fully lived up to the namesake of the place, and relaxed.

Later on we walked back to one of the areas full of restaurants, and Robyn picked up lots of goodies on the way. We found a busy kaitenzushi place and decided it looked good enough to stop in for sushi – again. I was pretty tired and grumpy at this point, but a few pieces of shrimp, salmon, tuna, and a beer cheered me right up. We managed to stack up quite a few plates, but everyone around us had way more. The place reminded me of Sushi-Thai in Raleigh because it was kind of bargain sushi, but it was tastier and all-you-can-eat!

 

Day 21: Sayounara, Kyoto

We took our last trip into Kyoto today to look for some souvenirs we had not picked up in our earlier trips. There were no temples steps, but plenty of walking around. The weather was a little warm,  however it was still a nice day for shopping.

We stopped in more shops than I care to count. I did notice today while shopping for a small sculpture that by far the most numerous figure I have seen in Japan is the beckoning cat (or maneki neko in Japanese). Almost every store, restaurant, and bar has one. A few stores specialize in these figures, and walking into one is a overload of cuteness. I think we got away with only one the other day, but I wasn’t looking the whole time.

Robyn picked up a good number of items today. She racked up a few fans, incense burners, incense, and another Evangelion model. We also took care of the rest of our souvenir shopping; I’ll skip those details.

While shopping we saw a chankonabe restaurant and it’s one of the “must try” foods in Japan. Robyn suggested stopping the shopping marathon to eat there, and I did not debate. The waitress setup our meal, which was a large pot on a burner filled with a miso soup base. She masterfully added pork, chicken, vegetables, mushrooms, and tofu. It was piled so high I thought it was going to fall off the pot. Eventually it cooked down and she told us it was ready to eat.

As usual in Japan, the service was wonderful. Not only did the waitress completely prepare our meal, but she made sure it was artfully arranged as well. Then, she seemingly would not allow us to serve ourselves. No sooner had I picked up the tongs for a second helping did she magically reappear and take the tongs from me. She also came back just as I was finishing my second bowl, and took the bowl to serve the third and final round. And if at any time we needed her for a drink refill or anything else, all we had to do was touch a button on the table.

Chanko is a very tasty and healthy dish. I would like to try and make it when we get back home. Despite our best efforts we were not able to finish the meal, and left the restaurant eager to walk off the huge lunch. I know the meal was good, because I was not even hungry when we got dinner (we ate a little anyways because of our schedule).

So, at a slower pace, we continued our day. Shopping in Kyoto differs from Osaka – there are way more tourist traps, traditional clothing, plastic sword stands, kid’s ninja outfits, oriental fans, printed t-shits with “I love Japan”,  etc… Osaka is mostly clothes, gadgets, or other  goods related to city life. Robyn led us to a shopping district off the tour-guided path, and we found some neat stores with traditional craft goods.

At what would be our last stop at Kyoto Station for a very long time, Robyn said her goodbyes to Mister Doughnut by buying a few more doughnuts. She also wished the escalators well and waved to the cool architectural details as she passed them. There were just so many things to see in Kyoto that we did not get to experience them all, but I do think we visited the “best of” Kyoto.

On the train we only had one doughnut, to save room for our last visit to Okonomi Yukari, the restaurant our host works at. We got another cheese okonomiyaki, which was a struggle to finish. Since it was the last one I might get in a very long time I made room.

Tomorrow will be our last full day to do anything thats not packing up or flying home. We plan to take it easy in Osaka and get some reflexology messages.

PS- there are a few new Engrish photos from our shopping trip today

Day 20: On a Stick

In Japan they put ice cream in buns and hot dogs on sticks. Then again any food could be found on a stick here. Our lunch and dinner were both on sticks. Meat on sticks, like God intended. I don’t really miss the buns either, is that wrong? I’ll get to todays food later…

Today we visited “Hobby Complex 4”, a convention for various figure hobby enthusiasts. Inside we were greeted by easily recognizable stench of 2 day old Otaku and plastic. Our noses are well trained after years of convention going ourselves.

We did see a lot of cool toys, models, and figurines. There were many figurines of women in lewd poses. It seems thats all the rage with the crowd, as men of all ages would line up with expensive looking camera equipment to photograph the dolls. The longest lines were for dolls with huge breasts or other parts hanging out.

While walking the floor we ran into one of the guys from the store yesterday, manning an American-ish toy booth that was selling GI-Joe, Transformers, and Star Wars toys. At the booths on either side of him, Robyn found a ‘perfect grade’ Evangelion model and I picked up a VF-17 toy. Both were really good bargains and the total for today was very reasonable.

With everything we wanted to see out of the way we left the convention and picked up some hot dogs on a stick from a street vendor outside. The mustard here is really spicy, but it looks so innocent in the standard condiment packaging.  Both the hot dogs were topped with mustard. I was surprised with how spicy it was but Robyn seemed to expect the spiciness.

Later in the day we visited a yakitori restaurant, not a little hole in the wall like before, but a nice place that looked clean. We ordered all sorts of meats on a stick. Chicken, beef, and pork were available at our whim. We also tried out some grilled peppers, which turned out to be really flavorful and not spicy at all. Robyn even liked them so much we split a 2nd order!

After dinner we headed back to the arcades. The first arcade we visited had a virtual reality Gundam game. Let me set the stage – this game is a first person shooter, and you play as a pilot in a giant robot battle. The arcade machines are pods you walk into and sit down in, with a wrap around screen. Inside the pod are two joysticks, two foot pedals, a seat, and headphones with microphone attached. The arcades that have this game usually have 4-6 networked pods.

I’ve watched Gundam plenty so I thought it should be easy enough. A nice worker helped me get started by creating a “pilot card” to keep track of my stats, which is not much use to me because we leave Osaka soon. But anyways… I got to play the game. The seat did not slide back enough for me, so I had to jam up my knees close together to fit in-between the joysticks. I was pretty annoyed by the time everyone picked a Gundam unit and weapons so that the game could start.

I managed to figure out how to move around in a few seconds. The controls were over-simplified in my opinion, with no way to look up or down. The computer would lock-on for you when you lined up an enemy in the targeting circle. I took second place in the first game and placed first the second game. I don’t think they can handle American FPS strafe skill. Overall, despite my complaints, the game was very fun and I wish it was available in America.

Next up it was time to finish off the remainder of tokens we had stockpiled from winning at “Monopoly: The Medal”. Time flew by, as did another pair of crepes, and soon it was closing time. So, we blew the remainder of our tokens on some Mario and ‘Lupin the 3rd’ games. It was a satisfying final visit to Joypolis, as we made it to the “big game” three times and were actually getting a bit bored with Monopoly by the end of the night. So, we are able to happily leave Monopoly behind.

I have a few insignificant things left in the bucket list for Japan. Karaoke was one of these things, and I got Robyn to agree to go tonight. We found a “Big Echo” karaoke joint that was open to 6am, which is impressive as most things in this city seem to shut down pretty early. We were given a tiny room that had a couch, video monitor, and sound system. At first we could not work the song remote – small language barrier there. An attendant showed us how to search for songs in English and we were off.

I picked up the microphone and Robyn picked some songs from Rock Band to start with. She sang along, mainly I think so she could drown out my howling with her own voice. I think she had a good time in spite of her dislike of karaoke. In what seemed like no time we were already having to buy another hour (and another round of beer for me). In our second hour we also figured out how to search for bands with “The” in the title, which helps a lot in finding “The Beatles” songs. Apparently Japanese search engines think a little differently, as there was a “The” button.

That about sums up our day, and now it’s really late and we are trying to wind down. It seems every night there are various sirens wailing outside, with a person on a loudspeaker yelling something… probably asking people to move over. Maybe I can go to sleep before the next emergency vehicle drives by.

 

Day 19: Another rainy day in Osaka

Robyn and I woke up this morning to the sound of rain, so we knew immediately that we would end up shopping again. I checked my email – and Chris sent me this cool photochop of Robyn & me… except that instead of me it’s Darth Vader shooting lightning. It made my day.

So we got the umbrellas and headed back to Den Den Town, where our first stop was the really good curry restaurant we found on our first trip there. Robyn got the typical katsu (fried pork cutlet) curry with rice, and I tried curry rice topped with cheese. It was not as good as we remembered, but it’s still the best curry in Osaka so far.

After lunch we walked down to the hero figure shop to try and find a Megatron gun figure to attach to the Starscream we purchased earlier. Turns out they did not have it. The clerk called over two guys… we could tell they were geeks of equivalent status, one had a UN SPACY shirt on, the other was wearing shorts and had a 10 day beard. I made sure to give props to his shirt.

We tried to tell them what we were looking for and eventually we got the point across that it was a small gun that attached to another figure. As soon as they understood what we wanted they confirmed the store did not have any. The guy with shorts also told me that Kawamori only owned had about 10% influence on the Starscream figure and from the sound of it he might have just owned the rights.

On our way out, we were looking in a display case, and behold – there it was, a tiny Megatron being held by Starscream. Conveniently the other uber geeks were standing there talking  and we showed them the tiny Megatron. We never got around to asking a clerk if we could purchase it from the display case because the guys told us about a toy convention at Osaka harbor called Hobby Complex. We found out where it’s held and got directions on how to get there, as it sounds like something Robyn and I are interested in going to.

We also stopped by the hobby shop with all the Mr. Products Robyn likes. While we were there Robyn told me to get a couple of models for her to practice on. I found a transforming VF-1 model, and a 1984 Toyota Celica Supra XX. It did not have the fender flares but it’s close enough. The shop did not have a 1989 Nissan 240SX, but it did have plenty of Silvia models of the same year. Of course the headlights are all wrong so no luck there. They are both cars Robyn don’t want in the driveway, so at least I can have them as a model. Robyn gathered a large collection of other modeling goodies she claims are just not as good from America. I owe her for the toys & models so no complaints there.

In the rain, and slowed down by bags, we decided against the subway or bus and opted for a cab to our next location – a luggage store. We have run out of room in our current bags from all our shopping, so we picked up an extra checked and carry on bag. The bigger bag is already packed and full.

And speaking of packing bags, it’s only 3 days till we head out to Kansai airport for the trip home. It’s really gone by so fast. It’s been so fun, and I have seen so many new things. Robyn has enjoyed having a loved one to share the experience with. We both are dreading the flight home. At least this time we will get a taxi to take us to the airport train stop so we don’t have to lug a huge load of luggage up and down so many flights of steps in the subway. We also won’t pack our carry on luggage as if we will never get off the plane.

Robyn found this clip of Japanese commuters getting shoved into a subway car in Tokyo. Tokyo is way more crowded than Osaka, so that does not happen here. I’m kinda glad we did not go there, I would have gotten pissed off if someone did this to me.

 

 

Day 18: Itsukushima

Today we woke up earlier than we really wanted to… the sun comes up so damned early here (4:30ish). And it seemed to aim directly at our hotel window. There are thick curtains that block out the light… but that made it hard to get up yesterday. So, last night I left them open just a little. That was enough to fill the room with light though, and wake us up at 5. So much for that 7:30 alarm!

At least it meant we were ready for breakfast when it was delivered at 8 by room service. We had ordered two “American Breakfasts” which consisted of our choice of eggs, meat, bread, juice, a salad, and coffee or tea. I also ordered “assorted fruits in season” which were pretty tasty. It was a great way to start the day. Of course, it wasn’t exactly American. Whoever heard of a salad at breakfast? And the bacon was more like slices of ham. It was good though!

We then packed up and headed down to the lobby to check out so that we could make it to Miyajima (an island) before high tide. Luckily the hotel held our bags for us so we didn’t have to deal with it for the rest of the day. We had packed lightly just in case, but we still didn’t want to lug around a full backpack and a laptop all day if we didn’t have to.

Anyhow, the goal for today was simply to see the famed Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima. Everyone has probably seen a picture of this even if they don’t know it… it is one of the most popular icons of Japan. If you have ever seen a big red torii (shrine gate) out in the water, then you have seen what I am talking about. This shrine is built so that when the tide comes in the buildings look like they are floating on the water, and one of the main features of this shrine is a huge torii positioned out in the water. When the tide is out, however, it is just sitting on some stinky sand. Although Sean says it isn’t stinky, it just smells like the ocean.

I am not sure if the time we found for the tide was incorrect, or if it just doesn’t come in very far this time of year. I have now been there twice and have yet to see it with the water high enough that it reaches the bottom of the buildings. It is still a pretty neat place though.

We were very fortunate to have picked a day during which a wedding ceremony was being held. It was very interesting to see an traditional Shinto ceremony. Although, we tried not to gawk too much because it wasn’t so long ago we were getting married in a public place ourselves and we would have been irritated if people just started standing around watching us.

The ceremony was beautifully simple and had an air of ancient tradition. It seemed to consist of a main officiant that chanted and performed other ceremonial rites; a few others dressed in traditional robes that looked like they were from the Heian period, these people mainly seemed to bow and play music; there were also two women dressed in traditional robes that took part in the ceremony by bringing a ritual drink to the bride and groom several times among other things; and then of course there were the bride and groom with what appeared to be their immediate family… only 2 or 3 people on each side. The bride and groom, and their families, each sat in a line opposite each other. I was a little surprised at the distance between them. It looked more like a ritual transaction than of what we think of a happy marriage ceremony in the west. Maybe that is why it is popular for couples to have two ceremonies here… a traditional one and then a stereotypical western wedding that is more of a show than a real wedding.

The ceremony seemed to culminate with a performance of a traditional Shinto dance. It was very interesting to watch. The dancer wore a bright orange costume, and his head was covered with an intricate mask. The dance was slow and deliberate, lasting for at least ten minutes. While the dance was performed, the bride and groom (now seated beside one another) watched with their family members seated beside them.

Once the dance was finished we left the shrine. We didn’t stick around to see if there was more to the ceremony, as we still didn’t want to intrude… plus we were getting hot from standing in the sun so long. We next did a brief tour of some less exciting minor shrines before wandering back towards the station, stopping in at several of the little shops along the way.

The shops mostly had the same stuff over and over, but there were a few with unique items. These were very interesting to browse through, but we have been trying to curb our purchasing because we have accumulated too much stuff to easily pack. I did find a cool manekineko (lucky cat) bank though, and a few more small gifts. We also stopped in at one shop that sold flavored honey concoctions that can be used for various things. They offered us some samples, and immediately Sean wanted some. I liked it too so we bought a box of six varieties. Although, after we realized how heavy it was we weren’t quite sure it was a wise idea! I can’t wait to get home and try it out though.

We also stopped in at a cool little pottery place. There was a little old man sitting in a side room spinning away at his pottery wheel. We were afraid to buy much though, as the nice pieces are not cheap and we would have a long way to travel with it.

That was pretty much our day so far. After that we had some unexciting sushi, so we decided it was just a snack. Then we grabbed a couple more snacks to tide us over until dinner (cheaper than mediocre sushi) and headed for the shinkansen.

We just got back to Osaka and are currently debating what we should do. We will probably end up at Joypolis again, as we have lots of tokens stored there and it seems a good easy and fun way to end a long day.

Will work on pictures a little later…