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Photo by Mark Newton, Mexican camping

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Mark Newton,
Camping in the Mexican desert



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  #1936  
Old 10 Jul 2018
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Today is errand day. Our first stop is Akihabara - the shopping district

Akihabara is the place to go to in Tokyo for all electronics. And the reason we are here is because my DSLR camera is not working anymore...

It started acting up in Thailand, and I've been suffering from shutter withdrawal symptoms ever since. But now we are in NikonLand where the cameras are less expensive, and tourists pay no sales tax... That in conjuction with a rebate if you use your credit card add up to about a 15% discount from what we'd normally pay overseas. Not bad!

I look into repairing my old D3000, but it will take six weeks to fix. So I end up getting a brand spankin' new D7200. Bigger megapixel and it does video too. Sweet!!!

Also picked up a couple of SIM chips for our phones so we can have Internet as we travel through Japan. Although Tokyo is very good for English-speaking foreigners, I think we are going to be using Google Translate once we're out of the big city!

Walking through the streets of Tokyo, I was struck by how clean everything is! No trash on the ground! Coming from SE Asia, this was quite a change. We're both very impressed! Loving Japan so far!


The Uniqlo robot welcomes us to the flagship Tokyo store.
Japanese love their robots!


We are not prepared for the cold weather! We came straight from Thailand and all our cold weather clothes are in Croatia inside the panniers of our BMWs.

Uniqlo is one of the most well-known Japanese clothing brands and they have a hi-tech line of base layers called HEATTECH. We stock up on the long underwear and long-sleeve undershirts. Because no sales tax for tourists!

Although we are kind of splurging on this last stop on our journey, we're still mindful of costs and we contemplated camping while we are in Japan. Surprisingly, there is a big camp culture in the country! We downloaded a guide showing camping spots all over the islands. But after some debate, we decided it's still too early in the season in Japan to camp. Still snow on the ground in some areas! So hopefuly we'll manage to find cheap AirBnBs just like here in Tokyo.

Neda's favorite kind of stores are outdoor equipment shops. We found another well-known Japanese chain called Montbell and picked up some fleece sweaters and gloves there.

I am feeling more like a local shopping at all these Japanese stores! Us and a million other Gaijin tourists!


We decided to walk back from Akihabara to Sumida. Some stuff we saw along the way
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  #1937  
Old 10 Jul 2018
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¥100 (100 Yen) stores are very popular. ¥100 is around 1 US Dollar

¥100 stores are not one specific chain, they are a type of store that sell everything for a dollar or less. The most common ¥100 stores are convenience stores like this Lawson's above, but there are other stores that sell little kitchen knick-knacks, stationary stores, etc. They are popular in Japan not only because the products are cheap, but because the quality of the merchandise is very high as well. Good value for your ¥100!

I've become addicted to Chinese moon cakes at the Lawson Stores. One thing I quickly noticed: there are no trash cans anywhere in Tokyo! The only ones I could find are outside the convenience stores, so you see a lot of people standing around, eating and drinking their goodies right outside the store so they can get rid of their wrappers and packaging immediately. Like what I'm doing above. I feel so Japanese!

I did some research and I found out that after the Sarin Gas terrorist attacks on the Tokyo subway back in 1995, the government banned trash cans so terrorists can't hide their bombs in them anymore. I guess this now makes convenience stores *the* most dangerous places in Japan...

Ever since the ban, everybody stuffs their used candy bar wrappers and empty pop cans in their pocket and disposes of them when they get home.

You would think such a system would never work and everyone would just litter everywhere in response to not having any trash cans around. But the ultra-clean streets are a testament to that Japanese be-considerate-to-everyone mentality.

It's these little things I'm discovering that make me admire this culture so much.


Also we found so many different flavoured Pocky in the convenience stores!!! I couldn't resist getting the blueberry flavour

Pocky is a really popular snack, I think they can be found world-wide. They're these cookie biscuit sticks with one end that's dipped in chocolate. However in Japan, where they originated from, there are so many other flavours besides chocolate. I've never seen some of them, like almond crush and blueberry! Have to try all of them!

Also, need to go back to Uniqlo to buy larger-sized clothes...

It totally reminded me of when we went to Dijon in France and there were all these different flavoured Dijon mustards that we've never seen, like strawberry mustard, blue-cheese and white wine mustard...

French people are weird!


This is our neighbour. He's rich. GT-R in Japan. Classic!

One thing I'm looking forward to seeing are all the cool Japanese cars and bikes that were never imported outside of the country.
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  #1938  
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Can't go to Japan and not eat sushi

We love our Yoshinoya and natto and everything, but sometimes you gotta splurge!

This was one of the more recommended sushi places, right underneath the Tokyo Skytree around the corner from us. We had to line up 45 minutes before the restaurant opened for lunch to get a seat! Well worth it! The fish was so fresh, and we finally ticked off one of our long-standing bucket list items: "Eat sushi in Japan"!

Very touristy though. We were handed English menus the moment we sat down.


Vending Machines everywhere!

Everywhere you go, vending machines line the streets of Tokyo. It's rumoured that there are more vending machines than there are people in Japan. And there are a lot of people in Japan!

What's strange is that there are vending machines outside restaurants and convenience stores. The restaurant vending machines make sense: you order your food and pay for it at the machine, it spits out a coupon and you redeem it for food inside. That way the workers inside never have to handle money.

However the machines outside convenience stores are strange. They sell the exact same product as inside the store. It seems that people would rather buy a soda or snacks from a vending machine (and pay a bit of a premium) than walk into the store and have to talk to the clerk. I saw many people doing exactly this and the store wasn't even closed!

Japanese people are weird!


So we promised ourselves not to do any touristy things. We failed. Takeshita Street is where all the young people go.
But it's also where all the tourists go to see youth culture


We wanted to do some people watching and Takeshita Street in Harajuki is supposed to be filled with young people wearing crazy costumes: Japanese Goths, Anime characters, and Harajuku Girls (the ones you would see in a Gwen Stefani music video). The street is lined with fashion stores selling those clothes, as well as brightly-coloured crepe and ice-cream stores.

However, when we were there, all we saw were wall-to-wall tourists, who were perhaps also looking to catch a glimpse of some Harajuku Girls. So crowded! We had to get out of there!
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  #1939  
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Shinjuku Gyoen Park is the perfect place for us

It's Tokyo's largest park right in the heart of the city. It kind of reminds me of Central Park in New York City. Since it's the weekend, there are tons of people enjoying the beginnings of warm weather after a cold winter. Lots of locals too! We like that.


Every Sunday in nearby Yoyogi Park, there is an Elvis Dance-a-thon

Greasers in leather and denim jackets gather around in a circle and swagger, sneer, swing and sway their hips to songs from Elvis and other Rock'n Rollers from the 50s. Nearby, a group of women in poodle skirts cheer them on.

The dance-a-thon goes on for hours, and you can tell they do this every week because all of their leather boots are all falling apart and held together with duct tape! Very entertaining!


A bit more mellow music being played in the park

It's a hammered dulcimer. I checked to see if it was Japanese in origin. Nope. Everywhere but, actually...
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  #1940  
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Everyone enjoying the park in their own way

Guy groovin' on the bass alone under the trees with a face mask on was a bit weird... but cool.


No RideDOT.com blog post would be complete without pictures of doggies


Dog owners taking their pups out for a walk in the park. Hey... the Japanese are just like us.
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  #1941  
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and then... squirrel on a leash. LOL... whut!? Japanese people are weird again.


We end the day with a cold Asahi at our local neighbourhood Izakaya, which is kind of a Japanese pub. So thankful for the English menus!

After dinner, we retire back to our awesome Tokyo apartment.

I get the courage to try out some of the other buttons on our SuperTechToilet. When I press one of the pink buttons, a little melody starts playing!

So I go on the Internet and I discover that this function is for shy women who don't want others to hear them go tinkle or doo-doo, as the melody masks the un-lady-like splash-downs. LOL! Japanese people are weird!

On another note, I can't believe I just wrote "tinkle" and "doo-doo".

Because I'm easily amused, I press the tinkle-doo-doo-cloaking-soundtrack button again. And then faintly in the background, as if in harmony, I also hear: PRM-PRM-PRM-PRM-PRM...

What a welcome to Japan!
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  #1942  
Old 29 Jul 2018
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/392.html



PRM-PRM-PRM-PRM-PRM

The trains have started running for the day. Despite our daily 6AM wake-up call, we are still enjoying life in Tokyo.

We don't venture into the busy downtown too often, but instead walk around our quiet neighbourhood of Sumida. We go to the ¥100 store for supplies, also hit up some of the Izakayas in the evening for dinner and . We really like where we're staying.

Not that our daily Yoshinoya breakfasts are getting boring, but we decide to venture out and try out some other restaurants that are popular with the locals.


We present to you our secondary go-to fast food chain in Japan: Coco Curryhouse! Of course, Neda has eggplant with her curry.
I opt for the much more healthier pork sausages with mine...


Just like everywhere else in the world, curry has been adopted as one of the national dishes of Japan. Curry was first imported onto the island from Britain back in the 1850s, so it's twice removed from its Indian origins. The Japanese have changed and refined it to their own tastes ever since. Today Japanese curry is sweeter and more sauce-like than Indian curry. The way it's served, with the curry on one half of the plate and the rice on the other is so quintessentially Japanese.

Lay a piece of breaded chicken cutlet (Chicken Donkatsu) on top of everything and you have one of the most popular and instantly recognizable dishes in the country. But yet, virtually unknown outside of Japan!
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  #1943  
Old 29 Jul 2018
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Walking off the curry back to our apartment, we spy a motorcycle. Hmm. That wouldn't be a bad way to see Japan...

Our apartment is on top of a four-storey building, which is one of the taller buildings in the neighbourhood. We discovered that there's a lot of flex in the structure. Every time a large truck passes by on the road in front of us, the building shakes quite a bit and since we're on the top floor, we feel it the most.

The first time it happened, I thought it was an earthquake! But that's exactly the reason why the structure flexes so much - to absorb an earthquake's shaking. A more rigid structure would just snap and topple.

Eventually, we got used to the shake and sway of passing trucks. But late one night (I'm a bit of a night owl), the building shook and rumbled. It was 5AM, there were no trucks, let alone any traffic, outside on the streets. I waited for the shaking to subside, but instead, it got worse! Plates clinked in the cupboards. The chair beneath me felt like it wanted to move across the floor. This went on for over 2 minutes. That's a LONG TIME! This was a real earthquake!!!

Finally, the building stops shaking and my chair doesn't want to creep out the front door anymore.

You know after something exciting happens, you just want to turn to the person next to you and exclaim, "Holy Shit!" But Neda was fast asleep, so I PMed her instead. I said exactly that in the PM...

Then I looked it up on the Internet just to confirm it: https://www.earthquaketrack.com/quakes/2017-03-11-19-57-46-utc-5-4-40

5.4 Magnitude! In Fukushima.

Fukushima... Fukushima... why does that name sound so familiar...?

Oh well. Back to eating...


These guys were hyping up the Annual Tokyo Gyoza Festival. The girl in the back looks like she is wearing a gyoza on her head!

Since we like gyozas (Japanese dumplings), we decide to go. Its held at the old Olympic Stadium at Komazawa Park.


Ate so many gyozas! Some of them weren't very good and it was very expensive. Not worth it.

About 20 restaurants set up booths in the park outside the stadium. You bought coupons at the entrance of the park and then lined up at each booth to sample that establishment's gyozas. There were different types of dumplings: some fried, some boiled, some with seafood, others with meat, so many different sauces.

It reminded me of this food festival held in downtown Toronto every summer. Restaurants would set up stalls in the square in front of the civic centre and charge a lot of money for you to sample a little bit of their food. Overpriced and very small portions. The gyoza festival was exactly the same.

Our neighbourhood izakaya in Sumida had cheaper and better gyozas!

Still, it was nice to get out and experience what local Tokyoans do...
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  #1944  
Old 29 Jul 2018
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On a particularly clear spring day, we walked across Sumida River over to the next neighbourhood of Asakusa.
The Tokyo Skytree dominates the Sumida skyline



Another Japanese tradition: Buying fresh melonpan at the store

Melonpan is a popular sweet bun that you can find everywhere: convenience stores, grocery stores. I think it's named because it's shaped like a melon, but there's no melon in there. And Pan is the Spanish word for bread. In some places, they'll sprinkle some green sugar powder on top to make it look even more like a melon. It's delicious but mucho calories!

I can't believe the amount of food we're eating here in Japan. Everything is soooo tasty and we want to try *everything*!!!


Of course the best melonpan is bought fresh from a storefront that actually makes it. We eat it straight out of the oven.

As if the sugar bun didn't have enough calories, a popular thing to do is to make a macha (green tea) ice cream sandwich out of melonpan. OMG, I can feel my waist blowing up just by inhaling the sweet aroma emanating from the kitchen!

*GAAAAH* sooo goood!
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  #1945  
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Asakusa is a well known district because of the magnificent Sensō-ji Buddhist temple

The original temple was built in 645AD, but was destroyed by bombs in WWII. It was rebuilt and today stands as a symbol of rebirth and peace for the Japanese people.


Again, we see women in the traditional kimonos walking around everywhere


I was taking a picture of these cherry blossoms when Neda taps me on the shoulder and says, "You know those are fake, right?"
Uh, of course.." I reply


Still too early in the season to see cherry blossoms! I knew that!

All around the temple, there are shrines, prayer candles and bundles of incense adorned with the Buddhist swastika symbol.
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  #1946  
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Prayers inside the temple


A gathering of kimonos in the courtyard


Consulting the oracle at one of the o-mikuji stalls inside the temple

We watched some people do this, so we quickly learned how this works. For a small donation, you get to shake a metal box containing 100 sticks. Then you pull one out by random and look at the number on the top of the stick. Again, I was surprised to realize I knew how to read the numbers because I know them from Chinese. "Hey, that's number 93", I exclaimed excitedly!

Then you find the drawer marked with the number on your stick and pull out a sheet of paper. Good thing there are many foreign tourists that visit the temple, because the back of the paper is written in English.

Many generic fortunes are written down on the piece of paper, but one stuck out: "It is good to make a trip"

You don't say...
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  #1947  
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Sensō-ji temple is a very popular place to visit in Tokyo


Trying out my new camera! So happy with it!

One of the streets leading up to the temple is Nakamise-dōri. It is tradition for shops to set up there to sell trinkets, food and snacks to the pilgrims walking to Sensō-ji.


So, like the many pilgrims before us, we buy some Japanese Manjū cakes. They're made by pouring buckwheat pancake mix over red bean paste

I don't know why, but I feel like I'm gaining weight with every single step we take here.

Maybe we should just stop walking then? Perhaps there's a better way to see the rest of Japan...
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  #1948  
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But walk we do. I notice that there are some differences in some of the kimonos that the women wear around town

Then it hit me. Most of the women at the temple wearing kimonos weren't Japanese! They were other Asian tourists - Chinese, Korean, etc. and they had rented kimonos to walk around town for the day.

I realized this when I saw the real Japanese women wearing kimonos with understated colours and patterns. Most of the tourists rented loud and flashy patterns. In the picture above, who do you think the real Japanese woman is? Exactly!

Good thing Japan doesn't care about silly Politically Correct notions like cultural appropriation...

We head back to our apartment. Too much excitement for one day. And by excitement, I mean walking...


Here's a different kind of excitement on the news today...

North Korea is testing its long-range ICBMs in its bid to get a nuclear-tipped warhead to reach the continental United States. Unfortunately for us here in Japan, we are right in its flight path... For the past few days, Kim Jong-un has been lobbing missiles into the Sea of Japan, some dangerously close to land.

All the news programs are broadcasting emergency procedures for what to do in the event of a nuclear strike. They inform everyone that a loud siren will sound outside. However, recommendations like: "Find shelter, hide under a table" are laughable. It's a nuclear bomb... Ain't no table going to save you from that...

Still, I guess if the public has specific instructions and a set plan to follow, it will stop them from panicking in the streets?

Crazy stuff happening in the world today.

I just hope the emergency sirens that warn of a missile attack don't sound like this: PRM-PRM-PRM-PRM-PRM...

August 2017 edit: No more joking around anymore. The siren actually sounds like this. OMG. How terrifying that must have been!
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  #1949  
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Another evening, we decide to head to Shinjuku for more sight-seeing

Shinjuku district is the site of the famous all-way pedestrian crossing that's in all the TV shows, movies and documentaries set in Tokyo. All the traffic lights flash red for all vehicles and pedestrians are allowed to walk straight or diagonally across the intersection. A cool sight to watch, but to actually do it - it's about as fun as... um, walking across the street...


Pedestrians doing the "Shinjuku Shuffle", as it's known

We make our way back to Shinjuku station. But we're not going home yet. In the yokocho (alleyways) surrounding the train station, there are the famous sake and yakitori bars frequented by salarymen after work. The alleyways are tight and narrow, and the establishments are tiny - some only able to fit four or five people at a time.

I can just picture the Japanese businessmen getting drunk here and missing the last train home. Then having to rent one of the capsule hotels downtown so they can go back to work again the next morning in the same clothes as the day before.


Finding a nice sake bar in Nonbei Yokocho. Another gaijin couple just left the bar, which made just enough room for us to squeeze in!

Some of the names of the alleyways are quite funny, but are probably very apt. Nonbei Yokocho means "Drunkard Alley". We were actually trying to find Omoide Yokocho, which means "Piss Alley". LOL! It's one of the more ramshackle ones in the area with a lot of character. With a name like "Piss Alley", how can it not have character?

But the alleyways here are like a maze, so we settle into a nice-looking sake bar in "Drunken Alley". I've tried sake many times and I'm not a big fan. I just don't like the taste of it. But this bar had a fruity sake, bubbly - like champagne. It was delicious!
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Our sake bar experience. Very expensive... With only seating for four people at a time, they have to make their money somehow, I guess!


We spill out onto the streets of Shinjuku

The Drunken Alley is still empty when we leave. We're here so early, the locals don't really hit the bars until much later, but we're not really night people. Time to head home for the evening.


On the way back to the train station, we see Mario Karts racing by us! What?!

Apparently you can rent these go-karts and the Mario Brothers costumes to go with it. Then they take you on a Mario Kart tour around the streets of Tokyo. OMG! How cool!!! I want to try that!


A Ninja on the streets of Tokyo! Not very silent though...

Mario Karts and Not-So-Stealthy Ninja bikes! Oh, it's getting our touring juices flowing once again...

So.... we pick up our own motorcycles tomorrow.

So excited!
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