Visiting the Holy Land!
By: Head Writer – J.R Tafoya
As one or two or three of you may know, for the past couple weeks (basically since I stopped posting Giga-Journal’s on Mondays) I was vacationing in Japan. That’s right, I went to visit the Motherland, the place from which we receive our anime and (most of) our video games! So, instead of a normal Monday Giga-Journal, I’m gonna talk about my stupid ass taking a trip to Japan. Also, anime and all that. You should really be watching Violet Evergarden, which keeps pulling at my heartstrings and wants to make me cry, and Darling in the Franxx.
Our first impression of Japan was one that took place very late at night, when our plane arrived. I was certainly afraid, to be 100% honest. My Japanese speaking . . . Hell, my ENGLISH speaking isn’t all that good. Probably why I write instead of doing podcasts and stuff. I digress. Once we left the Narita Airport on a bullet train to Tokyo, we had learn how to use the train system in Japan. The most popular line, for the most part, is JR Line (Japan Railway) and it wasn’t exactly easy until I grew a pair and finally asked a station attendant for help. This is when I learned how friendly people in Japan are, especially when you’re in need of help. The attendant took me to the kiosk, helped me buy a ticket and even told us where to go to get to our platform.
Our home, and Air BnB, was in Ootsuka which is a smaller city in Tokyo that has a LOT of pachinko parlors and tons of great places to eat. Do recommend. Anyway, as newbies do, we got lost while looking for our apartment in Ootsuka. After almost getting run over, we finally found the sketchy back-alley in which our home was nestled. A quaint area, very nice and homey. However, for those of us who are OVER 6’ tall, you may want to watch your heads. I hit mine enough to warrant a check-up with the doctor for drain bamage. From there, though, the trip would only get better.
Our first visit was to Akiba . . . rather, we WANTED to go to Akiba first, but we got on the wrong train and ended up in Shibuya. Shibuya is a bustling city that thrives on fashion and up-scale restaurants. Its Building 109 is more than enough proof of this. The second we walked off the train, we found the statue of Hachiko, a good boy who happened to be taking care of some kittens at the time. Luckily, I went back and got some pics of him running solo later. But, we also found a building there that went up a billion and a half floors, all dedicated to womens’ fashion, home decor, fine pottery/tea sets, and the fine arts on the top floors. Though, I didn’t get much of a look since my acrophobia kicked in and I was pretty sure we were all gonna die.
Later we were finally able to make it to Akihabara (Akiba), were we had THE BEST TIME IN THE WORLD EVER. Akiba is as ridiculous as every anime makes it seem. The second you hop off the train, you’re greeted by posters bigger than yourself talking about the latest anime, movie, or Mobile Games to hit the markets. The buildings and malls are built upward instead of outward as well, so one seemingly small building could take you and hour or two to sift through for the golden nuggets. And, yes, I got plenty of Rin (Fate/Stay Night) merch to keep me happy. It’s mind-blowing just how much content there is in only a few blocks of Akiba, so much dedicated to one specific medium. Finally, we ate the Gundam Cafe, because we’re fucking men. Grown ass men, at that! The Gundam Cafe, were if you don’t sing at least one OP, then you’re a faker.
Eventually we went back with a buddy of ours to do what every nerd dreams of doing: going to a Maid Cafe. We visited a chain called “MaiDreamin’” and, to be 100% honest, I had a fantastic time. You will very likely need to throw pride out the window when visiting these places, luckily for me I either have ZERO pride, or pride that isn’t cheap enough to be hurt by this, I haven’t decided which yet. If having to “Nyaa” to get your maid to come by doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. After a quick song and dance, the maids brought our food and proceeded to draw a puppy in ketchup on my omelet. It was amazing and I was almost afraid to eat it.
We went back one last time to Akiba later in our trip to visit the Square Enix cafe which was showcasing Nier/Nier: Automata at the time. I’m glad I caught it while Nier was the main attraction, I can’t imagine how many fujoshi I’d have encountered if it was dedicated to Final Fantasy XV. Take note, though, this cafe was insanely expensive. But, you’re basically paying for the experience.
On another day, we ended up visiting Asakusa, home to an enormous Shinto Shrine. To be honest, it was fairly commercial in that it was extremely busy there, for a Wednesday, and was lined with food/toy/clothing stalls even when there was no holiday. This was my first experience with Shinto for the most part, so it was enlightening and a little fun. Though I enjoy learning about different cultures, so maybe I’m just weird. But, we learned how to pray . . . which involves throwing money at the shrine, and my prayer involved me asking for forgiveness from my God. I AM THE WORST PERSON! I did enjoy seeing how the Japanese approach their religion, and it was a good experience all around.
We also went to Ueno one day as well, to visit Ueno Park. Ueno is enormous, there are a lot of things normies can do there. Parks, museums, mausoleums, shrines, zoos, and parks to visit while you’re there. While the zoo was closed so we couldn’t see the baby pandas, we did visit Kouman Gate, a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu. It was breathtaking how much effort and artistry went into making the entire thing. Every panel of every gate was hand sculpted and each panel featured a different animal. It goes to show how much their culture values perfection in everything it does. Afterwards, we wandered around the park to see people feeding birds with their hand. We also tried to get in to Tokyo U. to visit the campus, but were promptly kicked out for not being students. . . WE TRIED DANG IT!
My favorite experience, by far, was Hakone. From Tokyo, it took about an hour on the bullet train to get to Hakone. A ride that was much shorter than it seemed, but I was enjoying all the scenery change from bustling city to rural countryside. Hakone is an extremely gorgeous mountain area nestled right next to the ocean. It has this insanely fresh scent continually wafting through the air, with just a hint of saltiness that really reminded me of San Diego. While we were there, we decided to hike up the mountain instead of taking a bus, because we’re not normies. Seeing the lush greenery and endless rolling mountains with a few shrines along the way really made the hike seem much shorter than it was. The pay off for all this was the Onsen, Japanese Hot Springs. Something that’s been on my bucket list for years now. Much unlike our anime, we had to go in completely nude – no towels allowed. Before you go in, you need to shower, believe it or not. There’s a small spot for you to shower down, wash your hair and body, and get ready for the Onsen. They don’t want you walking in all greasy and disgusting when it’s a communal bath.
The Onsen was like nothing I’d ever felt before. It was feverishly hot, probably in the hundreds, but the second you steep yourself into the pristine water, all the tension completely fades away. All the aches and pains in my neck, shoulders, knees, and ankles faded away as like magic. The hardest part was getting used to watching a bunch of old naked Japanese dudes swinging their junk around. But, if you find a nice rock/spot to lay back on, and just tilt your head back, you can ignore everything else and just be at peace with the world. I stayed in for WAY too long, about 25 minutes, and overheated. You will seriously get dizzy if you stay in like me, so I don’t recommend doing that. I do, however, recommend going to an Onsen if you ever get the chance. It is by far the most relaxing and peaceful thing I’ve ever done in my life and I would absolutely love to do it again.
We did some other stuff as well, like meeting a Japanese friend of ours in Ikebukuro for dinner. He took us to a “sketchy” bar for yakitori where we ate some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had in my life. Coupled with a buttload of alcohol and enough chicken to feed a village, you have my dinner right there. The food in Japan, for whatever reason, just felt like it was on a different level than ours. Everything was so . . . lovingly crafted. The sushi was insanely fresh, if just a little more expensive than ours. But, for the most part the food there is generally less expensive than America . . . though I’m certain that depends on where you live and/or visit. I did, however, try Kobe beef and it was the best steak I’ve ever had in my life. I almost cried because I wanted a second steak but the restaurant was closing for the night. I did make it known to the chef how much I loved the food before leaving though.
I curtailed a lot of the information since I’m sure I’m gushing and droning on now. But, I really had the time of my life over there. I really can’t tell if it’s because that was my first real vacation outside the country, or if it’s because my excitement at visiting the “anime holy land” overtook all my senses, or if it was just because it was all just that good. But, I loved my trip to Japan and I will remember it for the rest of my life. I highly recommend at least visiting once in your life because Japan has so much to offer: sightseeing, culture, history, food . . . you name it.
This is something that I’m eternally grateful and happy that I did. Something that sparked a love of travel in me and something that has given me a different outlook on life. I will definitely be visiting again Japan. So . . . you know, get prepared for this PoS to come back!