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Sayonara, Tokyo

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91 days ago, we stepped out of a plane and directly onto the roof of a skyscraper, where a woman clad in a kimono was bowing to greet us. “Welcome to Tokyo! We’re so glad you’re here!” She beckoned us to the edge of the building, so we could gaze out upon the city’s incomprehensible size. “Look at all that awaits you,” she said. Then without warning, she pushed us off. As we plummeted toward the ground, scenes and images of the city flashed in front of our eyes, before the inevitable THUD. We’ve since picked ourselves up and re-adjusted the broken bones, but we’re going to need a long time to fully recover from Tokyo.

Goodbye Tokyo

Never before has one of our 91-day stays passed by so quickly. Tokyo was intense. For three months, we tried to match the city’s pace, rarely taking time off and packing as much into every single day as possible. Tokyo demands it. Tokyo does not have time for your lethargy. By the way, while you were sleeping in, a great new band debuted who everyone’s listening to. That huge line stretching around the block is for gourmet hot dogs. Hot dogs are the trendy new thing, as of this morning. Didn’t you know? Oh, that? That’s a new skyscraper and, no, it wasn’t here yesterday. Get with the program!

Tokyo is tiring but, man, is this city fun. Getting out of bed was a daily struggle, but by the time we boarded the subway, we were fully awake and ready to go, usually assisted by a hot can of coffee from the vending machine. As draining as the city is, it’s equally inspiring. As long as you’re outside of your hotel or apartment, you’ll be consistently (and constantly) entertained. You don’t have time to remember how exhausted you’re supposed to be.

We loved Tokyo. Not everything about it, of course, but almost everything. We loved the architecture and food and bowing and sumo, and the city’s efficiency and cleanliness. We loved our fellow passengers on the subway: the uniformed schoolgirls who just could not stop giggling, the salarymen who were either drunk or asleep (or both), the kids playing Puzzles & Dragons on their phones, and even the gruff older gentlemen who clearly wanted us out of the way. We’re going to miss you guys!

Goodbye Tokyo

But even more than the people, I’ll miss Tokyo itself. It’s a place with a personality all its own. From now on, every other city we visit is going to seem ridiculous. After leaving Tokyo, we flew into Frankfurt and, seeing its skyscraper district from above, I laughed out loud. This is a city? It is, of course, and quite a large one… but look at it. It’s hardly the size of Shinjuku! As far as cities go, Tokyo is an entirely different beast. Comparing it to Frankfurt is like pointing out that a gorilla and a kitten are both mammals.

So, we say sayonara. Usually, upon leaving one of our temporary homes, I find myself getting emotional. But that hasn’t been the case with Tokyo, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was just too big to get to know as intimately as we did places like Savannah or Iceland. Maybe because, as fun as the city was, our over-taxed bodies and minds were ready to escape. Maybe it’s because we know that it’s only a matter of time before we return.

And there’s the distinct possibility that, as Tokyo grows distant in our rear-view mirror, we’ll become more attached. The experiences which we’ve spent three hectic months crushing into little balls and cramming into our minds will be given time to unfold. Although the 91 days we spent here seemed to pass in 91 seconds, the space which Tokyo occupies in our memories will probably come to feel like 91 years.

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Goodbye Tokyo
Goodbye Tokyo
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July 14, 2014 at 4:02 pm Comments (2)

Weird Japanese Candy

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Japanese Popin Cooking

If there’s one thing that Japan does well, it’s making childish things awesome enough for adults. Arcades and video games? I don’t think children even could play the games in Japanese arcades. Much of the Japan’s anime and manga is definitely adult-oriented. Toys, games, Gundam models… Japanese parents are as obsessed with these things as are their children. And that’s why I don’t feel terribly guilty about all the crazy candy we bought. It’s irresistible, and it’s not really just for kids… at least, that’s what I kept telling myself. Here were our favorites:

Popin’ Cookin’ Sushi

Mix the powder with water and then form the resulting goo into perfectly-shaped candy sushi. [Buy it here: Popin’ Cookin’ Sushi]

Shin-Chan Beer Candy

Nothing says “fun for kids” like getting buzzed on candy beer. [Available on Ebay!]

Magic Taffy

Mix the ingredients and slowly pull a taffy-like substance out of the container. Pure and healthy. [Shop Link: Gummy Tsureta Fishing Candy]

Toilet Candy

Modern-day children are disgusted by drinking from toilets. Time to re-educate the stupid brats. [Buy it here: Toilet Candy]

Hamburger Set

Just like real Extra Value Meals, this candy replica is made from powder. But it’s probably healthier. [Buy it here: Kracie Happy Cooking Hamburger Set]

Takoyaki Set

If the idea of eating octopus balls turns your stomach, you can always try this candy version of Japan’s favorite snack. [Buy it here: Octopus Ball Candy]

Crayon Shin Chan Experimental Drink

More wholesome goodness from Shin Chan. Mix the ingredients in a vial and marvel as they change color. And then drink your mad experiment! [Available Here: Shin Chan Experimental Drink]

Popin’ Cookin’ DIY Cake Shop Candy

This one gets a little meta, because you’re asked to make candy replicas of favorite candy classics. [Buy it here: Popin’ Cookin’ DIY Cake Shop Candy]

More Pictures
Japanese Popin Cooking
Japanese Popin Cooking
Japanese Popin Cooking
Japanese Popin Cooking
Japanese Popin Cooking
Japanese Popin Cooking
Japanese Popin Cooking
Japanese Popin Cooking
Japanese Popin Cooking
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July 1, 2014 at 9:07 am Comments (9)

After One Month in Tokyo

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Well, we blinked. We tried our hardest to resist the impulse, but three seconds after stepping off the plane, we blinked… and here we are, a month later. Understand this: Tokyo warps time. This city causes hours, days and weeks to collapse into a blur. A colorful, wild and entertaining blur, but still just a blur.

Most Memorable

Mike: Sakura season in Tokyo is magical. It’s the end of winter, and everyone goes out to celebrate hanami, or flower viewing parties. Our visit to Inokashira Park, where we rowed around a pond with blossoms falling around us, is an experience I’ll always remember.

Jürgen: On our first day, we went up on top of the Tokyo SkyTree. Unfortunately, a snow storm had settled in, completely obscuring our view, but the clouds eventually lifted and we saw for the first time the sheer size of Tokyo. It took my breath away.
Favorite Food

Mike: The food is possibly the best aspect of Tokyo, and I’m sorely tempted to give a cop-out answer like “everything,” but I won’t. So I’m going to go with sushi. That’s really obvious, but the sushi here is unbelievable. Cheap and delicious. And whenever a day goes by that we didn’t eat some, I feel like we’ve wasted time.

Jürgen: I’m obsessed with the noodles. Soba for breakfast, udon for lunch and ramen for dinner. Now that’s a perfect day!
Most Surprising

Mike: It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was on the toilet when I felt my very first earthquake. Just minding my own, tending to business, when everything started to shake. Thank god it wasn’t the “ultra-quake” that’s due to strike Tokyo, because the stall would have been an ignoble place to die.

Jürgen: Normally, if you ask me what I wanted more of, my answer would be “money.” But in Tokyo, “money” only makes it to third place. Here, what I most desire is “time.” I hate how fast days fly by! And second place would go to having more space. More money would be nice, too, but here in Tokyo it’s not all that important! Or rather, not as important as other things.
Most Disappointing

Mike: Even though I don’t read Japanese, and can therefore only appreciate a fraction of it, the entertainment culture here is every geek’s fantasy. Anime and manga and trading card games and Pokemon and Gundam models and weird candy and mind-blowing arcade games. So, I’m disappointed that I didn’t grow up in Japan, because there’s so much I missed out on.

Jürgen: I’m disappointed that I can’t understand Japanese. The city is fun for a foreigner, but if you could speak the language and communicate with people, read the menus and newspapers, you’d be able to appreciate Tokyo on a whole different level.
Funniest/Weirdest

Mike: A difficult category, because Tokyo is the undisputed world capital of weird and funny things! I guess I’ll go with the rockabillies in Yoyogi Park. I’ve never seen such an awesome clash of cultures… actually, I’ve never seen anything like that at all.

Jürgen: The strangest thing is how quiet people are on the morning metro. The trains are crammed with people, but you could hear a pin drop inside! It’s like everyone is trying to escape into themselves. In the evening it’s a whole different story with people in much louder spirits, probably thanks to Happy Hour!
How Expensive? From 1 (cheap) to 10 (expensive)

Mike: 7. Compared to how expensive I expected life to be, Tokyo has been a pleasant surprise. It’s possible to live here without busting the bank. Yes, apartments are small and pricey, but day-to-day expenses are reasonable. Some of our favorite meals have been bargains, and you can even find clothes at decent prices.

Jürgen: I would say a 8. To live comparably to how people in Europe live, you’d need to shell out. But you can live cheaply too. But I’m not even trying to save any money… not with all the great things to buy here!
People from Tokyo Are…

Mike: … usually in a hurry to get somewhere. They’re thin and nicely dressed, although I must say I’ve never seen so many women just absolutely unable to deal with their high-heels. Tokoyites are mostly polite, but can be quite pushy in certain situations, like when claiming a seat on the subway or getting ahead of you in a line.

Jürgen: … very polite and forgiving to foreigners when we make silly cultural mistakes. And I love how organized they are. Everything in its correct place. Very efficient!
Tokyo in Three Words

Mike: Suits, Sushi, Subways

Jürgen: Packed, Cute, Overwhelming
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May 13, 2014 at 9:24 am Comments (4)

Konnichiwa, Tokyo!

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“Tokyo.” The word has always sent shivers down my spine. Tokyo isn’t just any big, exciting city. It’s the biggest and most exciting city in the world. The thought that we were about to spend three months there filled me with both happy anticipation and a sense of dread. 91 days is usually enough time to comprehensively explore our new homes, but this wouldn’t be the case in Tokyo. And we knew it.

A couple months beforehand, while we were lounging in hammocks on another lazy afternoon in the Yucatán Peninsula, Jürgen said, “You know, it’s about time we went to Japan.” I immediately agreed. Neither of us had ever visited the country, and it was long past due. We narrowed our choices to a handful of cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka. Each was given due consideration, but in all honesty, the decision had been made as soon as there was a decision to make. It was always going to be Tokyo.

91 days in Tokyo? Yes, we can do this! I dove into researching the city and soon confirmed the bleeding obvious: no, we can’t do this. Not thoroughly, at least. There’s no way. 35 million people live there. There are 100,000 restaurants, and probably twice that many shops. We might, might, be able to adequately cover a single one of the city’s 23 wards. For example, if we concentrated solely on Koto, where we had rented an apartment, we could possibly do it justice.

And then we arrived, and I understood that even a single ward might be too much. More people live in Koto than in Iceland, an entire country to which we had recently dedicated 91 days. Perhaps it was the jet lag, but on that first night in Tokyo, dragging our suitcases behind us as we walked to our apartment, I started to shiver. The lights, the noise, the people, the indecipherable language, the cuteness, the insane sensory overload, the sheer size of the city. It was too much. “Go to sleep,” I told myself. “It will seem more manageable tomorrow.”

But it didn’t. On our first full day, we visited the Tokyo SkyTree and its shopping mall, and I understood that 91 days wouldn’t be enough to cover just this single complex. Seriously, we could do “For 91 Days in the SkyTree” and still have to leave things out.

How do you explore a city like Tokyo? Where do you even start with the process of adjusting? Usually, we try to become as local as possible, learning a little of the language and trying to fit in. We attempt to truly understand our temporary home, sync with its culture, and thoroughly explore it. This, however, is impossible in Tokyo. Three months isn’t nearly enough time to come to grips with Japanese culture, nor experience even a fraction of what Tokyo has to offer. But as we began this new stage in our travels, we felt good; the upcoming 91 days were going to be stressful, crazy, busy and strange, but it was a safe bet that they’d also be a blast.

Fun Toys From Japan

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March 12, 2014 at 7:04 am Comments (7)
Sayonara, Tokyo 91 days ago, we stepped out of a plane and directly onto the roof of a skyscraper, where a woman clad in a kimono was bowing to greet us. "Welcome to Tokyo! We're so glad you're here!" She beckoned us to the edge of the building, so we could gaze out upon the city's incomprehensible size. "Look at all that awaits you," she said. Then without warning, she pushed us off.
For 91 Days