JAPAN: Tokyo to Okinawa

omg! omg! omg! omg! JAPAN IS EVERYTHING…

we took the redeye from bangkok, landed about 630a, and dove right into the deep end of the japanese swimming pool. jumped the JR bullet train from the airport, put our bags down at an awesome hotel chain in shimbashi, grabbed some brekkie and hit town. we went to the royal palace and gardens, be sure and research for tour hours and availability bc it’s maybe once a month, then over to ginza for some moskow mules and to see how the 1% lives. ended the day checking out roppongi with an early dinner and a closer look at the tokyo tower. it’s been a long day, time to rack out.

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royal palace and gardens from the outside, tokyo, jan 2015

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the first old looking japanese sign we saw, tokyo, january 2015

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ginza shopping, tokyo, january, 2015

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sony building in ginza, tokyo, january 2015

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first taste of japanese whiskey, tokyo, january, 2015

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tokyo tower in roppongi, tokyo, january 2015

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japan has characters, tokyo, january 2015

next day we went to asakusa to see the senso-ji (asakusa kannon temples) to get a little culture on. at this first temple we learned the proper wish/prayer steps which is basically to toss a coin into a designated area, take a bow, clap twice, take another bow and bounce. we walked around the shrine markets, which even in low season is anxiety-inducing busy, to get a taste of the street food. noshed on a couple different seafood stick-hosted and sipped their version of mule wine – which was gross and tastes like porridge. we saw a cat being walked on a leash – no s#it, f’n amazing! – and passed up on buying some incense burner thing caroline has been complaining about since and I’m using as my first excuse to go back. also picked up a present for our first unborn and unplanned child (no, sorry fam, this isn’t an announcement). as night began to fall we hit akihabara which is best known for anime, electronic shops and the big arcade houses like club sega and hung out with the techies and played a crazy amount of mario kart. later in the eve we hit up shibuya to see what the young and hip kids were up to and to check out the times square of tokyo. i picked up an amazing hat and we found an awesome bar with cider and made some friends, which happens often in japan, and we finished the night off with some amazing sushi at a random dive spot, also happens quite often.

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squid balls and “mule wine”, tokyo, january 2015

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drum stick, tokyo, january 2015

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senso-ji shrine, tokyo, january 2015

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entrance to the shrine markets, tokyo, january 2015

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a present for some future spoiled hogan, tokyo, january 2015

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just having fun in the markets, tokyo, january 2015

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the most secure display of masculinity ever, tokyo, january 2015

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club sega in akihabra, tokyo, january 2015

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gamers, tokyo, january 2015

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about to geek out on some mario kart, tokyo, january 2015

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no.1 kart game strong, tokyo, january 2015

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big bear finally found a big hat, tokyo, january 2015

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sushi dive, tokyo, january 2015

our third day we went to the controversial yasukuni shrine and WW2 museum then got led by some random dude to a second floor restaurant for hot pot and mizutaki, which is this awesome japanese soup. we took it a little easy rest of the day with some tea/coffee breaks and window shopping in order to prep for a late night robot dinner and show in shinjuku (also the red light district). a robot dinner isn’t exactly what it sounds like, but it’s close…its basically medieval times. you start the evening in this over the top robot themed lounge for drinks before your ushered down to an arena style area where you’re served bento boxes, beer and popcorn sold carnival style. then the lights dim and the action starts. the story is a-typical with japanese drama – a clear battle between good versus evil, good loses many close companions along the way and looks to be close to loss, then good prevails and celebrates in flashy fashion. take this basic plot line and mix in a few robots, choreograph dancing dressed as robots or “natives”, those weird single wheel motorcycles things and a lot of american pop music and there you have it. we met a few aussie kids behind us that night getting trashed and they said to come back next year and head to the north – claim it has the best snowboarding in the world. lots of fresh pow-pow.

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yasukuni shrine, tokyo, january 2015

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yasukuni shrine, tokyo, january 2015

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yasukuni war muesem, tokyo, january 2015

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yasukuni war muesem, tokyo, january 2015

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robot show, tokyo, january 2015

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robot show and dinner, tokyo, january 2015

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robot show and dinner, tokyo, january 2015

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robot show and dinner, tokyo, january 2015

:15 seconds of the show…

woke up early and booked an extra night in our hotel then found another equally awesome spot in akasaka (awesome neighborhood) to add on a few extra days in tokyo. we then took off for the kitasando area to visit probably the most famous of the shrines in japan, the meiji-jingu inside yoyogi park where we also stumbled upon a wedding photo shoot and i “accidentally” tripped a 6yr old girl. we then walked thru the shibuya area, which came to be one of my favorite hoods in japan, then up to the TMGO building and observation deck in the shinjuku neighborhood (long walks). we had planned to go up to the park hyatt, which is most famous for it’s role in Lost in Translation, but decided to save the money and head back early and try what looked like a secret sushi spot but turned out to be a yakatori-style restaurant. basically this means everything is cooked and served on sticks that are disregarded into a cup and later counted for your overall bill. these are usually a fairly cheap means to eat and are always very awesome. this one ended up being on the higher-end (so much for saving money) and the staff wore these formal ninja-like outfits. the head cook and servers were teaching us japanese, everyone will if they speak any english and you try and speak japanese, while the business men around us are blowing off steam getting crunk. next thing we knew we were knee deep in the biz-man game and had a great time.

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meiji selfie, tokyo, january 2015

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oh…hello, yoyogi park, tokyo, january 2015

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wedding photo shoot we snuck up on, yoyogi park, january 2015

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meiji shrine, tokyo, january 2015

a spin around the meiji shrine…

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TMGO building, tokyo, january 2015

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can’t pass up photo opp, tokyo, january 2015

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inside the TMGO, tokyo, january 2015

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yakatori noms, tokyo, january 2015

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ninja pouring sake, tokyo, january 2015

next day, day 5, was basically a day-off (like we don’t have enough of those). we did nothing cultural. shopped here and there and visited some of the bigger malls, stopped for the modest lunch and tea when hungry or thirsty. split a sushi dinner realizing that tokyo is getting us way off budget.

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day 6 was one neither of us will forget for a long time to come bc it rained like crazy and couldn’t have been better timing for…the grand sumo tournament!!! there’s 6 grand sumo tournaments a year and we happened to be in tokyo for one of them. we sat in box seats, which in japan is literally a box you sit on the ground in, but still better view and more private – ballin’ out! these grand tournaments are an all day event and is more of a theatrical social event and celebration of history and tradition than it is actual fighting…that said we were quick to learn the scoring system then start eating local fare (edamame and hard boiled eggs) and drinking sake. by end of the day we had made friends with the box in front of us, business men who showed up with clients around 2p, and the older couple in the box next to ours. all in all we were given a few beers, some more hard boiled eggs, and took lots of pictures for and of one another then headed back to the city. a little bit not sober i asked in very slow english if a guy could help us find our train bc we were on the JR line (not a metro train) which we weren’t used to. conversation went something like this:

  • Hogan: Hi. Hello. *in an “outside voice”*
  • Man: Hello?
  • Hogan: We are looking *two-fingers to eyes then map* for a metro train station *flat “train-hand” slowly moving right to left*
  • Man: Ok, are you looking for someone who speaks english? *perfect english*
  • Hogan: *palm to face*
  • Caroline: *laughing*

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these are the big boys, tokyo, january 2015

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traditional sumo entry, tokyo, january 2015

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one of the early fights, tokyo, january 2015

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one of the premier bouts, tokyo, january 2015

some action from the tournament….

more action and a view of the “BOX” seats…

the next day we woke up early and headed to the tsjukiji fish market to basically aquarium shop and debate breakfast sushi. unfortunately we couldn’t get into the tuna auctions because they are closed to the public for about a month every year which was a huge bummer and a big miss on our part. after a walk thru the markets we decided to skip morning sushi, lines were too long, and i bought a ridiculous tourist hat that has the japanese character for salmon on it. since we were in the area we also went to miraikan (tech museum) to see how far ahead the japanese really are but unfortunately most of the exhibits were youth based and all we saw were a bunch of super creepy robots. went back to rest up before going to what is and will be for a long time the best meal we have ever had at sushi yuu (thank you allan ziegler for the reco). this is a ridiculous 11-course sushi meal/experience hosted in a private home (the first floor is a functioning restaurant) by a 3rd generation sushi chef. more or less, jiro, but not as main stream and i would argue better bc they have bathrooms and the head sushi chef speaks 4 languages (english, italian, japanese and russian). the food is unbelievable, fresh and the preperation, not just for the meal but for the atmosphere, is something unique to america. chef Shimazaki Daisuke finished dinner by serving us 2 yr old plum wine that his mother makes quarterly and ages in the same home. coming out of our 3hr dinner we met up with an old friend of mine from high school, Taka. in a typical japanese night out, we went to a few bars, ate some more food, sang karaoke and wandered the streets respectfully drunk (this is a thing).

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tuna chop, tokyo, january 2015

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octopi? tokyo, january 2015

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pretty sure that’s a tuna tail, tokyo, january, 2015

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our itinerary, tokyo, january 2015

ENJOY YOUR NIGHTMARE…

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not nearly as creepy, tokyo, january 2015

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post yuu plum wine, tokyo, january 2015

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our night out with taka, tokyo, january 2015

in no shock at all, we over-slept the next day and more or less woke-up in time to run out the door and make it to Tokyo station in time to jump the train for kyoto. kyoto is a very cultural city in japan. tons of temples and pavilions. we arrived early eve via high speed rail, dropped our bags and ate dinner at a conveyer belt sushi restaurant. these are basically the equivalent of fast food sushi and is still better than most sushi restaurants in the states, nom. point of pride here, we were handed fork and knife and asked for chopsticks in response. we filled up and got familiar with our new hood (kyoto station) then headed to gion to see what the geisha’s were up to and check out the yasakasa shrine. we wondered for a while, ate some street food and bought our unborn child another present which ill probably keep for myself. next day we got deep in the cultural game with visits to the red gates (fushimi inari), arguably the most famous in japan, and both the ginkakuji and kinkakuji which are known more commonly as the silver and gold temples. on our 3rd day, our last day in kyoto, we took a few trains to get way out into the burbs to watch a taping of a ninja show at toei kyoto studios, but as an idiot i didn’t notice on their site that they were closed for renovations. caroline also left her hat on a train and we had to wait at the station for an hour plus before the train conductor could pass it off and get it back to us…nice and frustrated we high-tailed it to the ryoanji temple and rock gardens to do some meditating and get back on track. ended the afternoon wondering the nishiki market to window shop, drink sake and eat ramen. i also ate a baby octopus head pop thing which was actually pretty tasty.

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yakasaka shrine, kyoto, january 2015

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yakasaka shrine, kyoto, january 2015

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fushimi inari, kyoto, january 2015

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high trail in fushimi inari, kyoto, january 2015

HERE COME THE GATES…

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fushimi inari, kyoto, january 2015

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gold pavilion, kyoto, january 2015

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silver pavilion, kyoto, january 2015

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silver pavilion from above, kyoto, january 2015

ROCK GARDEN ZEN….

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ryoanji temple and rock garden, kyoto, january 2015

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nishiki market, kyoto, january 2015

NOT BAD ACTUALLY…

another high-speed night train a few hours later and were in osaka. osaka is basically chicago to nyc – it’s another major city with all the same amenities but the people are noticeably friendlier. on our first full day we went to the osaka castle which has been turned into a museum about the palace grounds and is totally worth the trip because there are awesome views of the city and one can get dressed up as a samurai or a geisha for $5USD (pics below). post castle we found the wicker park or east village of osaka and went to an empty bowling alley and both bowled 10th frame turkeys, seriously no joke. we stuck around the hood and found a restaurant with $2.50 you-call-it drinks and only appetizers on the menu and while caroline was in the bathroom i started up with a japanese couple at a nearby table. fast forward a few hours later and we’re all out together throwing darts at some club-like version of a billiards hall. turns out kaishu and nina are only 19 and 20 and i am immediately impressed by my ability to traverse generational gaps like some sort of modern day sam beckett. kaishu had recently dropped out of college to pursue something he wasn’t really sure of and nina was a “pole dancer”. pretty sure we were all lost in translation bc as the night went on our understanding of one another’s language worsened and we spent the last few hours literally dependent on translation apps on our cell phones to communicate. for example, when i asked why people walk up escalators on the left in osaka and on the right in tokyo kaishu told me it was bc his parents got divorced when he was little. next day, nice and hungover, we went up to the umeda sky building and floating garden tower observatory which basically looks like a cgi tower designed for a robocop reboot and yes is very awesome!

unfortunately this is basically our entire osaka experience. we only had about a day and a half before heading to okinawa and chose mostly to hang out and walk around their smaller/younger neighborhoods. osaka has a lot of youth and style (i bought a pair of custom nikes) but also a lot of other more cultural experiences…until next time, i guess.

the most informative fountain ever…

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walking into the osaka castle, osaka, january 2015

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beautiful osaka castle, osaka, january 2015

boring panoramic video of osaka…

im a samurai and i have the sword (and north face pullover) to prove it

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mogans get cultural, osaka, january 2015

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costumes are big in japan, even bowling alleys, osaka, january 2015

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hogs 10th frame turkey, osaka, january 2015

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number one 10th frame turkey, osaka, january 2015

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one of several awesome neighborhoods in osaka, january 2015

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kaishu and nina with the mogans, osaka, january 2015

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umeda sky building, osaka, january 2015

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floating gardens from below, osaka, january 2015

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escalators up to the floating gardens, osaka, january 2015

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from on top of the tower, osaka, january 2015

 

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lovers locks, umeda floating gardens, january 2015

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custom NIKE mt.fuji international mids, osaka, january 2015

okinawa is different from most of mainland japan for a few reasons but the most obvious is the large american military population which, to be blunt, kind of sucks. add to that that buses are the most efficient means of public transportation and you have to have an international license to rent a car, while small differences, it makes okinawa almost feel like a different country altogether. our first night there we wondered our neighborhood and ended up having 2 dinners – sashimi and apps at a mom and pop bar and an awesome sushi dive spot (we went back) that stayed open until 2 or 4 am – looks like we’ve booked a room in the party/red light district. our first full day we stayed down in Naha, southern part of the island, to check out the former navy HQ and underground tunnels, shurijo castle and eat ramen. we then grabbed a bus to okinawa world which is more or less a cultural theme park featuring dancing, caves, snake booze, etc. the next day we took a 2hr bus north to the okinawa aquarium, which is amazing and would highly recommend everyone go. coming away from the fish we grabbed a cab over to the world heritage nakijin castle to check out the very first cherry blossoms of the season and a bunch of fat americans yelling at their children in public, which is arguably more of an american past time than baseball. another 2 hr bus ride home and we packed up and racked out to catch a 6a flight to taiwan.

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navy dining hall, okinawa, january 2015

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down in the navy HQ tunnels, okinawa, january 2015

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shurijo castle entrance ups, okinaway, january 2015

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shurijo castle exit selfie, okinawa, january 2015

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shurijo castle courtyard and main building, okinawa, january 2015

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the pimp chair, okinawa, january 2015

 

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okinawa world snake venom display, okinawa, january 2015

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okinawa world caves, okinawa, january 2015

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our favorite lost in translation sign, okinawa world, january 2015

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waiting for the bus at okinawa world, january 2015

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caroline having fun at the okinawa aquarium, okinawa, january 2015

 

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selfie shark eat, okinawa aquarium, january 2015

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long and creepy, okinawa aquarium, january 2015

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the biggest single aquarium we’ve ever seen, okinawa, january 2015

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cherry blossoms starting to bloom, okinawa, january 2015

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more cherry at nikijin castle, okinawa, january 2015

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cherry blossom selfie at nikijin castle, okinawa, january 2015

so long japan. you were and are (up to this point) the most amazing place we have ever been and we will be back. love, the mogans…

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please.do.enjoy.


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