Today, I did not miss my train! I got to ride the Shinkansen Hayabusa Bullet Train! It was incredible. 200 mph and it barely felt like I was moving. It was so comfortable and quiet that there were even signs advising you be respectful with even your computer keyboard sounds; while going 200 mph! The train is very high technology. If an earthquake is detected, the train will stop automatically before the shaking arrives. Amazing. I then got to board a tiny local train which gave me pretty views of the countryside. About 3 hours later, I was at my destination for the day; Fukushima. I have wanted to visit The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum but was not fully prepared for what I would see. Besides the memorial, there were videos, artifacts, and all the details about the response, cleanup, and the ongoing recovery. The museum is beautifully laid out and they gave me a tablet and ear piece that translated everything that wasn’t printed to English for me. Most of the exhibits have English translations as well. I learned more about the disaster than I previously knew. The 9.0 earthquake was followed about a half hour later by a tsunami that was almost 30 feet high. The videos of both the earthquake and the tsunami were graphic and there were many warnings about what I was about to see. They left the elementary school as it was after the disaster to remind people the power that the water has. You can tour it as well but I didn’t have time. A really powerful experience and what struck me as powerful was the impact it had in the prefecture (the State) of Fukushima. Imagine that an accident happened in Connecticut that wiped out a town; there are 168 other towns in Connecticut that are now forever labeled as home to that disaster. Tourism, manufacturing, and trade was a big part of Fukushima and that all stopped after the disaster. The entire State needs to find the new path forward so the impacts of this disaster were certainly felt far and wide. They have invested heavily in technology and are working on new projects like flying car/drones! The field in the back was also all being mowed by lawn mower drones. Very interesting. Was also heartwarming to see all the support they received from around the world. From elementary school cards to crowdfunding to international aide.
Time to take the train home. I have to go north to Sendai before I can go back south to Tokyo. Long travel day. When I get back to the hotel tonight I will have spent 12 hours traveling or waiting to travel. That has been an interesting experience though as well :)
Wow. Things just keep getting better and better. After dinner last night, I visited where some of my new friends work and was surprised to be introduced to the actual world’s greatest bartender who was visiting the restaurant. He won the International Bartenders Competition and is known all over the world. Super nice guy who was very humble.
About those trains though…
I ended up missing my bullet train to Mount Fuji this morning (I’ll go later in the trip now), so I made the most of the day after getting a suggestion to check out a northern area of Tokyo. I got so lost. I got on 5 trains, it was hot, and I couldn’t understand how to get where I needed to go. I was about to just sit down and put my head in my hands when I met the nicest guy. After asking a dozen ticket offices and them sending me to other places, I met a nice guy who worked with me through the translation app and told me how to get to where I was going without switching train companies. He showed me on a train map and explained how to get to where I was going and helped me to finally understand the train system. I was so appreciative, I gave him one of our shop coins. If he is reading this, THANK YOU! I was at my end. Ended up making it to a very cool area with tiny, handmade gift shops, delicious food, and a Buddhist Temple from 1629!! The Taishakuten Daikyo-ji Temple is absolutely breathtaking. I felt like I was in a Samurai movie. They invited me to take off my shoes and see the inside of the temple but I was not allowed to take pictures. It was stunning with hand carved wood and gold everything. I was invited to walk around the gardens and meditate which was a humbling experience. Very relaxing and a lot of history to take in. I bought a small journal and they signed it for me using a long long brush and a small bowl of ink, beautiful to watch. Stumbled upon a small noodle shop and had some lunch and a refreshing dessert.
Let’s see what the rest of the day brings!
Started the day with an amazing restaurant that picks a country in the world and then only offers the breakfast of that country for two months then changes the entire theme of the restaurant! This month it was Malaysia and I had a traditional Malaysian breakfast which was delicious and nothing like ours.
Next, I walked to the train station and attempted to buy a 7-day pass and book some trips… buuuuuut of course I left my passport at the hotel and you need it to buy the ticket as a foreigner. So I had to go back for my passport, dummy. Bought my ticket and then had to figure out which subway to get on to meet my teacher friend for dinner. This would be hard enough on its own without a translator but Tokyo has 1/3 more people than NYC and people are all heading home for a holiday weekend. Monday is “Marine Day” where they open all the beaches from what I was told. It was wild! So much energy! So many people! All elbow to elbow moving. It was extremely challenging but I finally figured out which train to get on except I got on the one going the opposite direction ha. I didn’t understand that I had done that for a few stops and by then it was worth it to just stay on the train because this particular line does a giant loop.
Dinner was wild! I tried shark cartilage, cooked horse, intestines, and some other more normal stuff. Very very good!
Reserved some seats on the bullet train for the weekend North on Saturday and South on Sunday! Very excited. Saturday, I’m going to try to visit the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster site and Sunday I’m going to try to visit the Mt. Fuji volcano! So cool! I also stumbled on a live TV weather report. Apparently the stuffed animal mascots run onto the screen if it’s sunny or if it’s raining. Can you imagine that in the US? :)
Had dinner tonight at a very highly rated restaurant located in the showroom of a Porsche dealership! It was an 11-course meal that was absolutely incredible. I was able to meet the chef too which was awesome. In other food-related news.. a coffee shop here sells hot dogs covered in guacamole and tarter sauce. I didn’t try that one ha.
Thanks to CJPS graduate Erin following this blog, I found out that there is much more to the robot cafe I went to than I thought; all the robots are controlled remotely by disabled individuals such as quadriplegics that have difficulty getting jobs (dawn2021.orylab.com/en/pilots/)! This is a way for those with work-impacting handicaps to work and interact with people. Such a fantastic concept, so cool!! I want to go back now because I didn’t talk to the robots much.. I didn’t know! There were at least 20 and you could chat with any of them.
Early night for me tonight after the last few late ones. A little nervous for tomorrow because I am meeting a teacher friend I made for dinner which will require me to learn the subway system to get there. Excited to experience it! I’ve learned that I enjoy the feeling of being nervous because it almost always means there is a memory coming from it! Also getting excited to explore the rest of the Country. Over the next week I plan to ride the bullet train all over and visit multiple areas. Can’t wait!
Wow what a crazy night! Went on a foodie adventure to a new part of Tokyo and had the most amazing night. Met so many amazing people and made some lifelong friends. Hung out with two police officers from Australia and it was fascinating to learn the similarities and differences of the job and how hitting a kangaroo with your car there is as common as hitting a deer here. Met an awesome couple from NYC where we bonded over space travel, astrophysics, and living on the moon (clearly I was in heaven ha). Ended up spending hours with two awesome kids studying abroad from Texas (and making sure they got home safe). Even became Instagram friends with an animator here who did 8 episodes of Rick and Morty! Kanye West and his GF randomly appeared at a sumo match here, saw Godzilla, and ate with no shoes on. Some of the food was truly wild. I had deadly blowfish tea where you can’t eat the skin floating inside, raw horse sushi, and the hottest fried chicken I’ve ever had ha. Super fun! Wonder what today will bring!
Very late start to the day today after being out until after 2am with some new friends last night. The translator app is amazing and conversation has been so interesting. Last night I chatted with an engine engineer from Germany who spoke 4 languages, a business facilitator from Mumbai who actually gave me some great business advice, and got to know some new friends better. Gifted them our shop coins! Today is supposed to be the hottest day while I’m here, almost 100 degrees, but then cool off to the high 80’s for the next few days. I’m going to take the heat as an opportunity to relax a bit inside today before going on a food adventure tonight! I booked a tour guide for a foodie tour of a very famous Tokyo district. We are going to go to several places famous for their food and try different things. Should be fun! Such a fun City. I still can’t believe how clean it is. The picture below is of the street to show how there isn’t even old gum! No trash and super clean. I have noticed that the City also doesn’t smell bad like many other cities I’ve been to. With no trash cans or litter and so many restaurants, the air smells… delicious! Very cool!
Took an Uber to a new part of the City I haven’t explored yet and saw some really cool stuff. Tiny coffee shops, tiny restaurants where it is just a chef and two chairs, some really cool shops, and… a Robot Cafe! Was pretty funny. There are humans controlling the robots from somewhere so they respond and interact like a real server. They follow lines painted on the floor that have QR codes at different tables. Pretty neat and definitely funny. I then decided to explore the famous Tsukiji Nippon Fish Market. Wow, what an experience! So many alleys, really weird foods, fish I have never seen or heard of before, some amazing smells and some not so amazing smells, and a ton of people doing business. I decided to try some of the weird foods I saw even though I certainly didn’t want to. First up was sea urchin which I did not like at all. I tried a few bites but it definitely didn’t grow on me. Next, I saw a line of people getting what looked like some type of custard on a stick so I got in line and got one. I’m still not sure what it was but it was cold and a cross between a fried egg and a popsicle? I still was unhappy about my choice trying the sea urchin so I got myself a little ice cream cone to end the Fish Market :) Fun day so far! Soooo hot! Can’t help but take a break in the hotel room mid-day because it’s just too hot outside.
Prior to coming here, a few people told me that more people go out after work before they go home than in the States. They have tiny spots called izakayas that are basically tiny bars with no more than a few chairs if any at all that don’t serve food. People hop to a few all night long and there are an unlimited number of them if you walk down most streets. I decided to give it a shot and met the best people! It was my first time really needing the translator app because no one spoke English and when you are rubbing elbows with the only other person or two in a place the size of a bathroom, you start talking! It was very fun and I learned that translator apps are pretty awesome because no one ever says anything dumb! You always have time to fix what it translates before it does so you can always make it say what you want. I also learned that American politics are pretty important to the rest of the world. Perhaps it was just a natural starting point to talk about when they would find out I’m from the United States, but several people asked me about what was happening in American politics like it was a reality show. I don’t think many of us realize the influence our country has on the rest of the world. The leaders we pick represent us on the global stage and I heard a lot of unflattering candid opinions from people about our former President and current President. People were respectful though and I tried to change the subject as fast as possible in each scenario! I got a great recommendation for a ramen place that was so good I think I have to go back if I can find it again. It was so spicy I must have looked pretty embarrassing with my face sweating! Another nice thing I’ve learned is that most places have an English version of their menu they will give you as soon as they see you don’t speak Japanese. Then you can just point to what you’d like and it’s done. Super helpful. I’m also fascinated that every toilet, even in tiny places, are smart toilets. They warm the seat, pull air in so no smell gets out, and even wash and dry your bum for you. I need one at home! Learning a lot, meeting great people, and am having a much easier time understanding and communicating than I thought I would. Turns out all that 93% non-verbal communication stuff we talk about in class is pretty universal. Who needs that 7% spoken language stuff anyway ;) Let’s see what today brings!
Wow is it hot here. It was warm but still enjoyable outside up until today. The forecast for the rest of the trip looks like 95+ degrees during the day and about 78-80 degrees at night. I’d love to say it is a dry heat but it is not. Just like NYC on a hot summer day. Had breakfast over looking the city then walked a few miles to a department store today and it was super interesting. It was 13 floors and each floor was a different section. Had a nice hibachi lunch today and am starting to notice the little differences.
So there I was… excited to try the highest rated fish restaurant in the area. Having brought only shorts because it is 93 degrees today, I mistakenly thought that if I wore very nice golf shorts and a button down shirt I would look nice enough. Never assume a dress code and don’t be as dumb as me! Haha. I never was great at dressing myself (as all my friends will gladly tell you) having worn mainly uniforms since I was 18. You guessed it.. pants dress code. As I was apologizing and turning to leave, the host stopped me. He went in the back and came back with a pair of pants to wear! I was blown away by his kindness in such an embarrassing moment. I then had the most amazing dinner I may have ever had. Afterwards, I used my google translate to express my gratitude and embarrassment and they were all smiles and invited me back.. with pants. Lifelong memory. Also, didn’t know you could turn lobster into CREAM and use a whipped cream gun to put spray it into a cup of broth, wow!