Day 6

Today we went to Hakone, one of the best cities to view Fuji from at a distance. Unfortunately, mother nature was not on our side (the weatherman lied, as per usual) and we could not get a view at all.

Cable car train up the mountain.

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After the cable train, we took a gondola even higher up, which gave us another potentially beautiful view of Fuji. The view was incredible, but the clouds were too thick to see Fuji.

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After the gondola, we took a tour of the lake on a large pirate ship-esque boat.

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The lake is another good place to view Fuji.

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We had a small stroke of luck at the end of our tour of the lake in Hakone, and could get a small, faint peek of Fuji, but it was barely capturable by my camera.

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Fuji is just barely visible if you zoom in on the tallest hill in the middle, and the peak is poking out behind it. The view from here is supposedly perfect when the skies are blue. I can see why.

It’s too bad the weather wasn’t better, as there were some potentially breathtaking sights to see. We hope we can see Fuji on another day passing by on the Shinkansen when the weather is better.

Day 5

After breakfast, we went to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. It is impossible to understand the absolute massive scale of this huge fish market until you see it in person. There are rows and rows and rows of raw fish, big and small, lining the soggy floors of this gigantic building. It is not for the faint of heart, either. The amputated heads of large tuna (heads the size of my torso) line the floors, along with fish guts and other disheartening sea-creature parts. It’s fascinating yet slightly dirty.

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A large portion of the creatures still on display are alive, like these large prawns.

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After we visited Tsukiji, we took the metro to the Tokyo Imperial Palace, wherein the Emperor currently resides. I was unaware that Tokyo still had an Emperor, but he is mostly symbolic, similar to the Queen of England. He lives in a large greenspace, in the middle of downtown Tokyo, surrounded by a moat and a huge guarded gate and beautiful wall. From down below, you can only see a small portion of the palace.

If you look closely, you can see the palace on top of the hill.

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There wasn’t a whole lot to see here, as nobody is allowed inside the gates to see the actual palace up close.

After lunch, we went to Akihabara, the technology/gadget district of Tokyo. There is one major store that is 9 stories tall, that sells every electronic device and accessory that you could possibly imagine. Like 9 Best Buys stacked on top of each other, each with different devices inside. It was extremely crowded, but very fun to play around with all the toys and phones.

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After looking around Akihabara, we went for dinner at a Japanese restaurant centered around beef. After having two beef dishes, I had some Fugu soup. Fugu, also known as pufferfish, is extremely poisonous when prepared wrong, and requires a special chef to properly cut away the poisonous parts of the fish. It is one of Japans most famous delicacies, and is very expensive when ordered plain. Luckily, I didn’t die, and survived to tell the tale about how wonderful it tasted.

One of the beef dishes.

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Fugu soup.

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This was our last day in Tokyo and, overall, another great day in Japan.

Day 4

Today was the first full day in Tokyo. The jet lag is mostly gone and I can finally enjoy everything to the fullest, without falling asleep (usually). After breakfast, we visited the Tokyo Sky Tree, a tower that stretched 650 meters above the Tokyo horizon. After a very long wait in line, we went up the elevator. One would think an elevator would take a very long time to reach a height of 350m (height of the viewing deck), but this elevator traveled at a rate of 50 meters per second. Very fast! This extreme height made for some very cool pictures and panoramas, as well. On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji from the Sky Tree, but unfortunately it was too cloudy of a day to see it.

The base of the Skytree

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The whole tower, as viewed from the bottom.

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It looks much larger in person. It was quite awe-inspiring.

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I would gladly visit the Skytree again on a clearer day, as I’m sure the view would be even more fantastic.

After the Skytree, we rested for a while in our rooms and then took a taxi over to the Sumo venue, accompanied by Dr. Amemiya, who graciously supplied us with front row seats! It was quite an amazing experience, and a few time the sumo wrestlers almost ended up in my lap.

The wrestling venue is decorated with banners for the match,

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The pre-wrestling ceremony. Sumo has many religious properties still attached to it and there are many rituals before, throughout, and after the wrestling that occur to keep evil spirits out. It was very interesting.

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Once the wrestling actually begins, matches can last one second or a whole minute, they are very unpredictable.

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After many hours, the sumo was over and we went to eat dinner at a Yakitori restaurant, which is a type of chicken restaurant that serves almost every anatomical part of the chicken, on skewers. I am not too keen on organs, but the other parts of the chicken were delicious, and the restaurant (very upscale) prepared it excellently. It was definitely a new experience. This restaurant was in the Ginza district, which is like Tokyo’s nightlife district.

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It is filled with luxury stores like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Cartier, etc. Expensive cars galore as well. A Rolls Royce spotting is not unusual in this part of town.

As expected, another successful and exciting day in Japan. Tokyo is very cool so far, and I can’t wait for some more new experiences.

-Loren

Day 3

Today consisted mostly of travel to Tokyo via the Shinkansen. It was a 3 hour ride which passed by Mount Fuji, unfortunately it was too cloudy to see the summit.
Fuji is right behind the clouds, you can see the slope up on both sides, but the summit is covered. This was taken from the train while it was traveling around 160 miles per hour. Taking pictures at those kind of speeds is difficult!

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Once we arrived to Tokyo, we wandered around looking for the hotel (we got lost for a while) and put our luggage away. The only sightseeing we did after we arrived was taking the metro to the Tokyo History Museum, which shows the rich heritage of Japan’s capital and how it came to be. There was not much to photograph in here, but being the car guy that I am I took a few pictures of an old Subaru and an old Datsun (Nissan).

Pictured here is the Subaru

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An old Datsun used by Japan in WWII.

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After learning about the heritage of Tokyo, it was time for a rest back at the hotel and then dinner. We went to a small but very famous restaurant for dinner, where many celebrities have eaten (I sat in the same seat as Leonardo DiCaprio). It is unique in the fact that all of the food choices are laid out on a huge table, and about 25 people (that’s all the restaurant can hold) sit around the table and just point at what they want to try, and the chefs will prepare a small portion of it for you.

A whole, fresh fish, alive minutes before being served.

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As you can see, all of the food is laid out to be observed.

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Today was filled with thousands of subway stairs and tired legs, but ended with an amazing meal at an iconic restaurant. Tomorrow I will be attending a sumo match, and will have very good seats. I’m excited!

-Loren

Day 2

Today I visited Nara, walked many miles, and saw many landmarks and temples relating to Buddhism and Shintoism. The thing I find interesting about these two religions in Japan is that they have found a way to live together in peace, even sharing the same temples. This is remarkable considering many religions have not yet figured out how to do this, yet. In between temples, there are hundreds of deer that you can feed and pet, and they are very accustomed to the tourists and very friendly.

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There are hundreds and hundreds of these deer all over the town, they are allowed to roam free in many square miles of open space.

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Large crackers can be bought in packs to feed the deer with. The deer have even learned to bow their heads to ask for food, just as is the custom in Japan. This was very interesting to see.

One of the temples is the largest wooden building in the world, and this building houses the largest Buddha in the world as well. It was awe-inspiring to see this is person.

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Another example of one of the temples was the famous Five Story Pagoda. These temples are hundreds of years old and have been repaired many times from fires and the many earthquakes over the years.

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As far as food goes, for lunch I had some more ramen, with a menu translated so poorly I wasn’t exactly sure what I was consuming, but it was tasty nonetheless.

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I also tried some “ice cream green tea,” which was similar to a root beer float, but replaced with very bitter green tea.

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For dinner we went to one of my most anxiously awaited restaurants. A shabu shabu restuarant. Shabu shabu is the process of taking paper thinly sliced beef and dipping it into various sauces. Vegetables are mixed into the boiling broth for flavor and added variety. We were presented with two sauces, a ponzu sauce and a sesame based sauce. This was by far my favorite meal so far.

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One interesting thing about Japanese restaurants is how they present their food to bring in potential customers. They have a fake version of all of their dishes laid out in their front window, which looks incredibly like the real thing. Almost every restaurant has one of these displays.

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Day two fully introduced me to a different culture, and was very enriching. It’s no wonder Nara has 8 UNESCO World Heritage sights within a few miles of each other. It was a very historically rich town to spend the day in.

Day 1

It has been crazy and tiring so far and I am enjoying every bit of it.

First off, the food. Food is a vital part to the enjoyment of any trip and I am trying to be as open as I can to eating strange and foreign foods. The food so far has been delightful.
My first lunch in Japan was from the medical school cafeteria my grandfather is working at, and it consisted of ramen (much better than the ramen us Americans know from a plastic bag).

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Dinner was at a small restaurant in Kobe that had extremely fresh seafood. We ordered Tekka Maki (tuna sushi), Kani Salad (crab salad), and Kani (crab). It was all very good and by far the freshest seafood I have ever eaten. The crab came with a wonderful sauce of rice vinegar mixed with sugar.

3 Whole Kani

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Tekka Maki

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I also stopped by the local supermarket to find some interesting Japanese snacks. The Japanese have thousands of snack items that Americans have never heard of nor are they sold in America. For example, grilled steak and vegetables flavored Cheetos (they weren’t half bad).

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As far as culture and tourism go, there is plenty of both. I visited the oldest Shinto shrine in the world, located in Kobe. It was very interesting to view a religion I had no experience with. It is open to the public to come and pray, and anyone may come up to the shrine, put in a coin offering, clap twice, say a prayer, and ring a large bell. This is the way that they say a prayer, and it was very cool to watch.

Here you can see the three ropes dangling from the ceiling, with large bells attached to the tops. This is where one can pray and give the coin offering. 

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I also visited the top of Mount Yutsogi, also located in Kobe, which reaches 400m above the rest of the city. Unfortunately it started to rain, so we couldn’t walk down the whole way.

Here you can see a natural waterfall locate on Mt. Yutsogi.

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Mt. Yutsogi is known for its vast herb gardens, seen here is one from an aerial view.

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The vast herb gardens made the walk down smell incredible and made for some good scenery.

Overall, my first full day began with plenty new and exciting experiences, and ended with too much jetlag to stay awake (sorry for the delayed post!). I am visiting Nara today to see the worlds largest wooden building and the worlds largest Buddha statue.

-Loren

Departure

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I am sitting at my gate, waiting for the call to board. I am flying out of Detroit on a direct flight to Nagoya. I am flying on a Boeing 747-400, one of the largest commercial airliners, currently. The flight will be a grand total of around 13 hours. I couldn’t be more excited! I can’t wait to experience such a different culture (especially the food). I’ll be posting updates regularly once I arrive. Be sure to check back then!

Departure for Japan

I leave for Japan on May 18th from the Detroit International Airport. After that date, check back here for pictures and updates about my trip. You can make an account on my website and get emails whenever I post something new. To register, look in the bottom right corner of the website under the Extras tab and click on the Register link. From there, enter your desired username, email, and password, and you will have an account.

A 3 week journey to Japan