You’re a weeaboo or otaku. I get it. Or, if that term conjures the images of fat, smelly men cuddling with body pillows that reek of semen or equally fat and smelly women heavily breathing over a monthly issue of “It’s not Homo; It’s Yaoi desu!”, you might at least prefer to be called a “Japanophile”. I get the part where proclaiming as one of the three terms above makes you feel unique and special, often to the point where your friends and peers would just shake their heads and mutter “Almighty Chinchin-sama, please grant me the sweet release of death so I can be rid of this fucking cancer”; I was once like that in junior high school. But as I grew up, I realized that I could be what I called a “positive weeb”. I didn’t have to live up to the stereotypical weeaboo/otaku/Japanophile character.I could channel the power into things more closely related to reality.
A reminder before we start. All of this is my anecdotal experience. I’m not saying that if you follow these tips, you can achieve the aforementioned objective. I’m just here to share, not to spew self-help bullshit that I despise.
It’s been over a month since my trip to Japan (yes, I’m still milking that cow) and I still have a lot to think about. After reading an article on RocketNews re halal ramen that, as the article allegedly claims, is “so good anyone will enjoy it”, I remembered a part of my trip when I spotted some small shops offering halal rice crackers at Sensoji Temple. This got me thinking about how halal food has and will influence the future of Japan’s tourism industry. Is it a lucrative opportunity or just another fad?
The Islam Market in Japan
In economics and the art of marketing, religion is just another classy term for “another niche market we capitalists can exploit”. These religious people have needs; the market can supply them. Supply and demand, basic economics. As for the halal food market, it is indeed a lucrative opportunity for people, especially considering the rising influence of Islam globally. However, in Japan alone, Islam is still a teeny-weeny minority; an estimated 100,000 people amidst the 127.3 million residents of Japan. Most of these Muslims are foreigners and only a small percentage are natives.
So why bother with a halal market at all?
While the national Muslim population of Japan is very low, consider the influx of tourists coming into Japan annually. Because of China being a major dick with their assertiveness and territorial claims over the last few years, in around 2012-2013, Japan has seen a decline in Chinese tourists. An unfortunate condition, considering the Chinese are big spenders. So Japan had to look for other people to entice. Thanks to Abe’s monetary policies, Japan has become a ridiculously cheap place to visit (well, speaking in first-world terms). Added with a weakening yen and cheap tour packages, tourists from Southeast Asia came in and filled in the gaping hole left by the Chinese in the tourism industry. In 2014, Japan saw more Indonesians and Malaysians than it has ever seen in years; 200,000 Malaysians and around 160,000 Indonesians entered Japan as tourists (JNTO stats). Surely these people need food, am I right? And… you may have guessed it, a majority of these new tourists are Muslim, meaning that they require their food to be halal, or processed according to Islamic guidelines.
And it’s not just about pork-free and alcohol-free. No, halal goes beyond that. It’s not my area of expertise, but all I know is that for beef, the cow has to be killed in a particular manner.
Since I’m an atheist, I had no qualms on eating in Japan. I ate anything the convenience stores had, could care less how ramen was prepared or what it contained, and drank a lot of alcohol. My only concern was sushi and seafood, because I’m allergic to crab meat, and damn, the Japanese sure love their crab.
But we’re talking about Muslims here, not atheists.
For Muslims, Japan is a rather risky place to visit, mainly because their customs do not mix well with the teachings of Islam, especially dining. Pork, and especially alcohol, are inseparable from the omnivorous Japanese diet and also its culture. Shops have to serve alcohol lest they go bankrupt and everyone loves a bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Indeed, for the devout Muslim, a single bite might mean the difference between heaven and hell.
That aside, it is not like Japanese businesspeople have not noticed this new emerging market. As I have said in the intro, the needs of religious people will be met by people who can supply them. Perhaps the most stellar achievement is the development of the app “Halalminds”. Developed by Agung Pambudi, an Indonesian living in Fukuoka, Halalminds is an app tailored to meet the needs of hungry Muslim tourists. Here’s what the app offers:
The main feature of HalalMinds is a barcode scanner that can be used while grocery shopping. Once an item is scanned, it is matched against the app’s database of approximately 500,000 products to determine if it is halal or not. This is especially useful for those who cannot read Japanese, as food labels often contain complex kanji characters.
The app also provides a halal restaurant locator, a “Qibla compass” that shows the correct direction to face for daily prayers, and daily Quran verses.
HalalMinds has been downloaded more than 1,100 times since launching less than a month ago. At present, the app is only available in English, but additional language support may come at a later date. (Tech in Asia, 21 May 2014)
FUCK YEAH INDONESIAN PRIDE!
Ahem… getting back to topic.
Of course, there have been other measures to tap into the halal market. Thanks to based KAORI, who keeps me updated about halal stuff in Japan, Japanese businesses have been hunting for halal certifications like hungry wolves, all the way to Indonesia. Here are some examples:
Hikari Miso Co., a maker of fermented soybean paste in Iijima, Nagano Prefecture, was certified as a halal plant by the association [Japan Halal Association] in 2012 and began exporting its products to Islamic markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East. (The Japan Times, 26 November 2014)
Tsukasa Yoshimura, president of a seafood-processing company in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, sees halal foods as a possible way to tackle the shrinking domestic market and use nonstandard marine products. “The concept of halal is not irrational,” Yoshimura said. “Although it may be costly (to remain in compliance with Islamic law), we won certification as a new sanitary code.” Yoshimura’s company developed “gyoza” dumplings featuring meat from horse mackerel smaller than the standard. After the dumplings were certified as halal in October 2011, exports were started to Singapore, where Muslims account for some 15 percent of the population. (The Japan Times, 15 May 2013)
Halal food, the only type Muslims are permitted to eat under Islamic law, is in hot demand, say managers at Halal Deli, which delivers boxed lunches to devout Muslims in Tokyo. “In our primary plan, we estimated about 200 orders monthly, but now we receive over 500 per month,” says the staff member at Halal Deli. “We plan to get more contracts and we hope the service will eventually be expanded to other cities.” (The Japan Times, 21 June 2013)
The Halal Abuse
Yeah, of course we’re gonna have problems since we’re trying to accommodate a foreign custom into Japan’s homogenous culture. Introducing halal food in Japan poses several problems, with the most major one being abuse of certificates.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous halal certificate is the “halal stamp”. If something has a halal stamp plastered on it, it’s a sure sign God wants you (and allows you) to eat it.
From another angle, the production of halal stamps and halal certifications are also abused by certification agencies. Preying on the lack of halal knowledge of Japanese companies, these agencies, often foreign, scare companies into buying halal labels, adding to production costs.
This problem stems from the lack of knowledge re halal certification. In the future, it will be the job of the Halal Japan Business Association and other related actors to further educate businesses in Japan when comes to putting halal labels on their food.
Going halal is indeed a lucrative opportunity for Japan, considering the rising Islam population and Japan becoming more open to tourism. It is unlikely to be a passing fad, especially as Japan prepares for the 2020 Olympics. Japan can expect more Muslim tourists to come in the following years, so it goes without saying that Japan has to do whatever it can to make these tourists comfortable.
However, with new customs, new problems also appear. It would be wise for businesses to address these problems swiftly before the entire halal stuff comes back as a painful boomerang which hurts the bridge Japan is building with the global Muslim community.
It’s been three weeks since my trip to Japan and I’m still amazed at the amount of awesome stuff there that’s not exported to other countries. Well, some have been, like KitKat, but still, it’s hard to find them in Indonesia. With their economy also stagnant, I think it’s about time Japan beefed up their exports. Think outside the anime box; you have lots of cool shit the world needs. So, here’s my list of 4 things Japan should consider exporting more.
1. The multi-button toilet
Number one on the list is the first thing I shat in when I arrived at Narita airport. Oh god, those toilet seats do really warm your ass! Taking a shit has never been more comfortable.
The multi-button toilet is the pinnacle of shitting technology. It is an example how technology has come so far to accommodate mankind’s most basic of needs. With a push of a button, you can make flush sounds for those who prefer strangers to not hear their festering shit bombs hit the water, clean your ass with a stream of soothing warm water, and even save you the trouble of inhaling your deadly farts with a powerful deodorizer.
No wonder the Chinese buy them in bulk.
But such hi-tech stuff, when given to Indonesians, is akin to giving diamonds to a pig. Only the luxurious of places will have them installed, and when put in shopping malls or worse, public toilets, these hi-tech sanitation devices will surely meet their untimely demise due to abuse and neglect.
With a limited budget, I vowed to taste all of the snacks in Japan. I barely managed to scrape the surface.
Japan needs to focus their export efforts more on sweet stuff, like the multi-flavored KitKat bars, Oreos, and Pocky. Have you ever tasted matcha-cream Oreo? You should. It’s fucking heavenly. The same goes for almond-crush Pocky. It tastes like unicorn vomit. The demand for these snacks is high in Indonesia, and weebs will certainly dish out money for a taste of what the people in the Holy Land eat.
Of course, I worry about religious-based regulations altering the taste and composition of these snacks…
3. Vending machines
Japanese vending machines are by far, the best vending machines in the world. They stock all sorts of shit, from newspapers to cigars. They stock hot and cold drinks. They’re available almost everywhere and operate 24/7 without toilet breaks. And best of all, they give back exact change!
Ah the Japanese vending machine. The first beverage I bought was a bottle of delicious hot cocoa (160 yen). I put in a 500 yen coin and it gave me 340 yen coins in change! In Indonesia, you need to put in the exact amount of cash because it doesn’t give you change. As a result, not only are the drinks overpriced (to eliminate “odd” numbers), it’s a complete hassle to buy drinks. You’re better off buying them at a street vendor or a convenience store.
There are large risks of placing vending machines on the Indonesian streets, though. One, they’ll get destroyed by primitive fucks on the street. Two, they’ll put the “small people” (street vendors) out of work. Three, no sales, because nobody in Indonesia walks.
Japan’s obsession with science fiction has made it come up with extremely awesome ideas.
I’m telling you, Japan needs to mass-produce the HAL exoskeletons. They’ll become the dominant power on Earth, and we’ll all look like awesome cyborgs. Fuck you, frail human body and hello, augmentations! The HAL suits are also helpful for the disabled and physically challenged.
That’s my list of shit Japan needs to export more. Got any more? I’ll make another list soon.
I had to make this listicle before the idea vanished and while the image of Japan is still etched in my brain.
So, prior to visiting Japan, I did a lot of extensive research (thank you, Google University and YouTube Academy) on Japanese customs and culture. I didn’t want to look and act like a total ass when I was there. I watched numerous YouTube videos, from amateur videos showing me how to buy a Suica card to dark documentaries depicting the lives of depressed salarymen. I was glad I did my research, because I was able to blend in. As for my other companions… eh, not so. They still brought their Indonesian customs to Japan, resulting in minor culture shock and a bunch of problems.
Here we go then. Of course, these are my personal anecdotes.
1. Order and tidiness
The first impression I had of the Japanese was “Holy deity whom I still question its existence, these people are so tidy and orderly!”
As I exited the airport, I saw people actually throw garbage into their respective bins (peels in combustible, PET bottles in PET bottles, cans in recyclable, etc.) Later on, my tour guide said that the “bring your garbage home” movement has been gaining quite the popularity these days. During my days in Japan, I always carried a plastic bag to put my trash in. I’d wait till I found a garbage can to toss in to. In Indonesia, people would just litter or absent-mindedly leave their garbage on benches or tables.
Also, I was amazed that taxis and buses kept to their lanes and didn’t rush to get passengers. In Indonesia, you’d get taxi drivers dropping you off in the middle of the road and bus drivers maneuvering dangerously through traffic just to let one man on.
All in all, I was utterly amazed at how people queued. When I grew up in Canada, I was very accustomed to waiting for my turn on the see-saw. We formed a straight line, no pushing or shoving (except that one fucking bully). In Indonesia, I try real hard to be a good person and queue at the mini-market. But there’s always… ALWAYS that one motherfucker who thinks they’re too cool to queue and rushes to the front because they have an important anal bleaching appointment.
In the subway and the Shinkansen, people queued according to the floor markers. Green lanes were for reserved seats, red lanes for non-reserved. The results? Nice, orderly queues. No rushing, pushing, shoving or roughing (of course, I have yet to witness the 8 AM Ginza Line rush hour). Also, disembarking people always get priority. As far as I’ve seen, the Japanese involuntarily stop and let people disembark first before they themselves embark. In Indonesia, you have to literally fight your way onto or off a bus/train despite signs telling people to give priority to disembarking passengers. I fucking hate taking the TransJakarta bus during rush hour. At the arcade, especially crowded games like Project Diva arcade and MaiMai, people queue nicely and wait for their turns. They don’t pile up near the machine and hoard credits. At the convenience store, there are floor markers indicating where the lines start. People actually line up at these places and the result? No unnecessarily messy stores and quick service!
Those are small examples of how the Japanese value order and tidiness. Indonesians could really learn a thing or two, especially queuing. It’s so fucking hard to find a decent person in Indonesia who knows how to wait in line.
Punctuality is a fucking virtue; I cannot stress enough. I fucking hate it when someone is late for a scheduled appointment. Unless you can provide a reasonable and justifiable excuse for your tardiness, I will be in a very bad mood if a person is late.
It’s a good thing the Japanese share my views. The train is punctual to the minute. While in Japan, I have never been stood up by a train or a bus. The train arrives 2-5 minutes prior to its departure time, and departs on the departure time. I could easily schedule my plans. Even the tour guides are strictly punctual. If the tour starts at 9 AM, it fucking starts at 9 AM. If you’re late, too bad, you just lost your money.
On my flight home to Indonesia, the plane was delayed. The flight crew issued apologies, face-to-face, for the delay. Now that’s service.
You can’t fucking do all that in Indonesia. Only a select few buses run on a schedule; the rest run on a whim. The bus only departs when it’s full of people crammed like sardines in a can. You can throw schedules out the fucking window; no amount of planning can accommodate the inflated time accrued during traffic jams. And group activities tend to start late. If a plane gets delayed, nobody gives a shit about the disgruntled passengers (I’m looking at you, Lion Air).
While in Japan, I got to experience an episode of Japanese honesty. I was at a convenience store in Karuizawa and accidentally left a glove at the cash register. When I came back for it and asked the cashier, she happily returned it. In Indonesia, I would have had a 50-50 chance of losing the glove forever.
In another story, I took a taxi with my group members back to the hotel. In Indonesia, I usually gave a bit above the taxi fare. If my fare was IDR 18K, I would give a 20K bill and tell the guy to keep the change. Apparently, that’s not how it works in Japan. If they owe you change, they sure as hell give you the change. The taxi fare was about 1,000 yen or something. We gave the driver 1,500 yen and told him to keep the change. He didn’t want to and insisted we took the change.
One time, I was at a convenience store buying a sandwich and coffee for breakfast. After I paid and exited, suddenly, the lady at the cash register came running out shouting “Ogyakusan! [something something in Japanese]!” Apparently, she gave me the wrong amount of change. She gave me a few coins followed by several bows. How nice.
The motto of the Japanese seems to be “put other people first”, which ties in nicely with the tidiness virtue.
From anime and comics I learned that people didn’t normally talk while on the train. While my group were in the subway, I remembered what I learned from the anime and comics. While in subway, the Japanese either sat quietly, slept, had earphones on or fiddled with their phones. It was quiet and orderly. As Indonesians, my group loved talking so much, it invited unwelcome glances from the other passengers. I tried shushing them, but it was futile. It’s rude to talk in the subway because it could disturb other people.
Such consideration for other people also shows in restaurants. At restaurants, guests are expected to clean up after themselves. You know, so that the next guy doesn’t have to sit at a gross table with ketchup stains and burger grease. I’ve seen people tidy their food remains and use tissues to clean the table up, and then dumping their remains into a bin and leaving the tray on top. I did that at a hot spring cafeteria too. The Japanese really care about the person after them, not just themselves. Whereas in Indonesia, we think that “If I don’t leave a mess, what’s the busboy for?” When I eat at McDonalds in Indonesia, I always try to tidy up after myself. Once, I even got a sincere “thank you” from the busboy. It’s nice being nice, is it not?
And that concludes my listicle of the four cultural virtues Indonesians should learn from the Japanese. Of course, feel free to add more; I’d love hearing about it. And also, in anticipation to butthurt Indonesian comments: fuck you and your unwillingness to emulate good behavior for the betterment of yourself and possibly the entire country.
Time flies so fast when you’re enjoying yourself. It’s my last day in Japan and it was a free roam day. But since I had to be at the airport at 3 PM, my options of destinations were limited. So, I decided to take a look at Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, which was only a 15-minute walk from my hotel.
I went to the temple at around 9 AM. I expected it would be devoid of people, because it was a work day. I was wrong. The temple was chock full of people, from tourists to locals. Tour rickshaws were ready at the front gates, politely offering their services. Unlike Indonesian rickshaws, these people didn’t annoyingly solicit me. They could get the message that I didn’t want a ride. I considered trying one, but their fares were ridiculously high. I only had a few thousand yen on me, and I needed it for souvenir shopping.
Anyway, at the forefront of Sensoji is the Kaminarimon, or the Thunder God’s Gate. Simply majestic.
Just past the Kaminarimon is the Nakamise Shopping Avenue, a street loaded with stalls like the ones you see in anime. You know, during a festival or a major event at a temple. The shops sold all sorts of traditional knick-knacks, from keychains to replica katanas. I was looking for some Japan-esque T-shirts when an American bought a katana. I asked him “How are you going to get that through customs?” He shrugged and laughed. ‘Murica, I guess.
But I wasn’t only there for the souvenirs. I was there for the food and culture. I hunted for cheap food, like this nori-covered senbei cracker. It was fresh from the frying pan and only cost 100 yen.
I also treated myself to some ice cream. Since it was spring, I thought I would try the sakura flavor. It’s cheap (300 yen) and also has bits of sakura leaves in it!
After I had my fill of both food and souvenirs, I decided to visit the main temple first. Which meant a lot of elbowing through people. But the struggle was worth it, because I could finally see a Japanese temple in the flesh.
Since I wasn’t a religious nutjob, I decided to try praying at the temple. First, I washed by hands and drank the water from the spring. It’s a lot like wudhu as a Muslim, to cleanse yourself before prayer. Then, I bought some incense sticks (a ridiculous 200 yen for a few sticks) and set them on fire. Once they were lit, I cupped my hands in front of the shrine. You don’t have to be inside the shrine; you could do it from the stairs. Once I finished, I put my incense into the smoking vase (see pic). That’s all there is to it, actually. I entered the main shrine (no photography allowed) and saw a money box, just like in anime. So, I put in a few coins and clapped my hands three times while saying a prayer.
That was that. I walked around and enjoyed the atmosphere. If only it was quieter… I gotta say, the Chinese tourists were the ones being really loud and obnoxious.
It was almost lunch time, so I looked around for a place to eat. It was my last day, so it wouldn’t hurt for me to splurge on some good food. I was getting tired of convenience store food, anyway. So, I went into a ramen shop. Surprisingly, they didn’t allow the use of cell phones inside. I couldn’t understand the menu, but luckily, they had English menus, so I was saved. I ordered a value meal set: tonkotsu ramen (hell yeah pork!) and a side of yakitori don. Only 640 yen, quite the bargain. While waiting for my food, I observed how the people ate in the restaurant. They were really devouring their ramen and making raucous noises. They only made me a lot more hungry. After 15 minutes or so, my ramen came. It was a really large portion, much larger than I was accustomed to in Indonesia. I tasted some of the broth and found it rather tasteless, unlike Ikkudo Ichi’s ramen I was used to in Indonesia. Not to worry, nothing a few drops of soy sauce couldn’t fix. Once I added a hefty amount of soy sauce, it became delicious. I ate all the noodles and drank the broth till the very last drop. Then, I finished off the yakitori don side.
It was getting close to 3 PM, so I decided to walk back to the hotel. Along the way though, a small cafe captured my attention. In the showcase was… strawberry shortcake and a lot of assorted cakes! Yeah! Though I was a bit short on cash, I said “Fuck it” and proceeded to purchase a slice of strawberry shortcake (because it appears so often in anime) to take to the hotel and eat at the lobby. It cost me 640 yen.
The cream was mildly sweet and blended perfectly with the sour strawberries and the neutral sponge cake. Once it enters your mouth, you get this mellow sweetness that makes you squeal and shiver. No wonder anime girls go gaga over this cake.
At 3 PM, my pickup arrived and I was off to Narita.
Goodbye Japan, I’m seriously considering coming back! I hope next time I get to visit Kyoto and explore more of Tokyo. Until then, I’ll have to save up more money for a 2-week stay in Japan.
On the 3rd day, I managed to get more sleep than usual. But I still woke up at 5 AM thanks to a barrage of alarms. Fuck you, people. Anyway, the schedule today was a city tour of Tokyo on a bus, the Tokyo Tower, and seeing sakura. And I also had a personal agenda.
So, we got ready and departed for Tokyo Station. Yep, Tokyo Station, one of the largest and oldest stations in Tokyo. Our group was supposed to converge at JP Tower, a big-ass building right in front of Tokyo Station. So, we waited there and had breakfast at a convenience store.
At 9 AM, our tour started. We had to walk a while to get to the bus. Parking lots in Tokyo are rather hard to come by and are expensive as fuck. Seriously, they charge like 400 yen per half hour.
So long story short, we got on the bus and began our journey to Shinjuku National Garden. On the way, we passed the Imperial Palace. I really wanted to get off the bus and take photos, because the surrounding landscape was beautiful. But no can do, so I only took photos from the bus. Also, the Imperial Palace is never open for the public except for two special days a year.
Finally, we arrived at Shinjuku National Garden. At the entrance, there were a lot of security guards at posts. I had to open my bag and bottles for inspection. Apparently, you’re not allowed to bring bring alcohol into the Garden. Oh well, that means I won’t be seeing drunk salarymen party like in anime. But on the bright side, that also meant that everything would be safe.
Okay, so this was the first time I ever saw sakura in the flesh. And I was gawking in awe like a mofo. The sakura trees were BEAUTIFUL AS FUCK! I always thought sakura only came in one shade of pink. It turns out that there’s a lot of sakura colors, from pale pink to deep pink. I only had an hour at the Garden, so I hastened my steps to find a seasonal delicacy: sakura mochi. I found a stall that sold lots of sakura-based food, like manju, jellies, and cookies! But, I was there on a budget, so I bought only the sakura mochi and the jellies. And here’s what sakura mochi looks like:
The leaves are fake, of course, because this is the cheap kind of sakura mochi (750 yen). As for the taste, it tasted very sweet. The mochi itself was sweet, and added with the natural sweetness of red bean paste, this is bite-sized diabetes. I then proceeded to eat the entire box by myself, around 12 pieces of mochi. I regretted my decision later in the bathroom, but it totally worth it!
So, after Shinjuku Garden, we headed to Tokyo Tower, the must-go place for any traveler to Japan. Along the way, my tour guide explained a bit about Japanese culture, including religious beliefs, economy statistics, and a bit of Japanese politics. She really was fun to talk to, despite her funny English.
And then… Tokyo Tower!
To climb to the first observatory, I had to pay 800 yen. It’s located 150 meters above ground. I wanted to go to the special observatory at 250 meters, but I had to pay an additional 900 yen or so. Not this time. You really could see A WHOLE LOT from above the Tower.
Now, at the base of the Tower, I saw this sign. Was this a promotional thing? I climbed to the 3rd floor to find out. Apparently, there was a One Piece theme park inside the Tower! But the admission fee was expensive as fuck (3,000 yen), so I didn’t enter.
We spent an hour at Tokyo Tower. I also got a few souvenirs for my family back home and also my girlfriend. Our next stop was… lunch! So we were taken to Odaiba, the artificial island. We were taken to a posh hotel, where we had a traditional lunch. Rice, sashimi, all kinds of seafood, miso soup, soba, and green tea. The portion was rather small though, but I was allowed to ask for seconds only on rice and tea.
And after my energy had been recharged, we were off to Ueno Park to see more sakura. But sadly, it started to rain. When we got to Ueno Park, there was a light drizzle and everyone just kinda wanted to leave. So I took a chance and dragged a friend back to… the Holy Land!
Day 3-2: The Holy Land Revisited
This time, I had a LOT of time to explore the Holy Land. But since I had no idea where to go, I consulted Danny Choo’s website to get some recommendations. I went to Akiba Culture Zone (five floors of awesomeness), Mandarake (eight floors of holy shit) and a SEGA arcade. I also spent some time walking around the main street and the alleyways to get a feel of the place.
My first stop was Akiba Culture Zone. On the first floor was a tax-free Animate shop. I felt kinda stupid for purchasing stuff at a non tax-free Animate shop the day before. I could have easily saved around 200 yen or so. But this shop had a lot more stuff in it, including Love Live! stuff which I bought to sell again in Indonesia. Easy money, considering LL! weebs will do anything for their waifus. Oh yeah, there’s also a life-size Miku statue on the first floor!
On the second to fourth floors were all sorts of gachapon machines and hobby stores. From figures, airsoft guns, to yo-yos, you could find almost anything related to hobbies. I had to pinch myself to control my impulses when I saw a brand-new Noel Nendoroid on sale.
On the fifth floor was a GSC Cafe and an A-Cos store. Holy hell, you could buy a detailed costume for only 12,000 yen! They also had a lot of character wigs, so you didn’t have to style them again. They also sold lots of cosplay accessories, from laces and ties to breast pads. Truly the Holy Land blesses us all. I didn’t try the GSC cafe though; their prices were deterrence enough.
After dishing out a good 8,000 yen or so on shit and gachapons, I decided it was enough and exited the store to explore more.
My second destination was Mandarake, a used goods shop according to Danny Choo and other bloggers on the net. I was told I could find almost anything there. And it did not betray my expectations.
The shop was rather cramped due to the sheer amount of stuff they had. There were 8 floors, and I started my exploration from the 8th floor, which housed toys and figures. And sweet Jesus on a velociraptor, there were a TON of figures, from SHF Figuarts to cheap JAMMA figures, all relatively cheaper than their new counterparts. I had to control myself when I saw a Hatsune Miku Apppend figma on sale for only 3,000 yen.
I don’t quite remember the exact details of all the floors, but on the 4th and 5th floors, there were all sorts of pornographic materials from yaoi to goddamn furries. They are separated by floor, so female-oriented porn was on the 4th (I can’t remember) and the male-oriented wickedness on the 5th. I thought about purchasing a Cosplay JAV DVD (it was only 2,000 yen), but I thought about how I would smuggle it past customs back home.
On the 3rd floor or something, there were tons of dollfies. Creepy as fuck shit. Oh, and also secondhand cosplay costumes. 5,000 yen for a full-set Gintoki costume? Get outta here!
I didn’t buy anything though, because I was rather conscious of my budget. But when I exited the store, I felt a bit parched. So, I went into a Lawson and look what I found…
Instant buy! It was only 200 yen, too. It’s basically a thirst quencher that tastes like lemon-lime Gatorade. But the bottle, the fucking bottle!
So, after a good drink, my friend and I decided to head back. We had to save our energy because the next day, we were going to Mount Fuji. So, we hopped on the train and grabbed dinner at 7-11.
Day 4: Holy Mount Fuji and Hot Springs
I was reaching the end of my stay in Japan, and I saved the best for last. On Day 4, I went to Mount Fuji and bathed in a hot spring. Yeah!
I’m just gonna skip the waking up and getting ready part and dive straight into the action. At 9 AM, we departed from the meeting place at Keio Plaza Hotel to Mount Fuji. I had a different guide this time: it was a lady from Osaka who liked talking a lot. She was rather funny though.
And so, I was stuck on a bus for 1.5 hours. Luckily the view was great. I passed through the suburbs. The suburbs really do resemble anime though. Houses, riversides, and even the bridges. And after a long bus ride…
We still had a long way to go to the Fourth Station. Oh let me explain. There are 11 stations on the road to the top of the mountain. Stations 6 – 10 are usually open in summer, when people climb Mount Fuji. Since it was spring, only Stations 0 – 5 are allowed to be opened. Since it rained yesterday, meaning that it was snowing on Mount Fuji, only Station 4 was open. I wasn’t so lucky.
On the way up, our bus was trapped in a traffic jam. There were a buttload of tourists at the Fourth Station. But they did not stop me from taking in the beauty of the sacred mountaintop.
So I spent an hour at Fourth Station, taking in the fresh air and throwing snowballs at people. Ah, how I miss winters in Canada…
Next stop, lunch! We headed down the mountain to a traditional restaurant. I could finally experience having a meal in a tatami room! The menu was the usual lunch: rice, miso soup, seafood, sashimi, and soba. A thing about wasabi in Japan. In Indonesia, we only have packaged wasabi. It lacks that “oomph” flavor. But in Japan, they give you fresh wasabi. Just a TINY pinch is all you need to get your eyes watering and nose running and your body begging for more.
After the stomach has been satiated… on to the hot springs! I was rather uncomfortable at first about the idea of getting nude with a bunch of strangers. But hey, fuck that. I’m in Japan. I have to try everything! So, once I arrived, I headed straight to the hot springs, stripped, and it was straight into the hot water! Since taking pictures was prohibited, I’ll describe it.
First, you had get nude in the changing room. ALL must go. You could only bring in a small towel to hide your dick if you’re insecure about your penis size. If you’re like me, go straight balls a-dangling inside; there’s no need to cover anything! Then, before diving into the hot water, you had to wash yourself thoroughly at the shower. Once that’s done, into the drink you go! Oh yeah, put your towel on your head before immersing yourself. Or if you want it easier, just put it on the side. The water was a hot 43 degrees Celsius. There were indoor and outdoor baths. I chose the outdoor bath, because it had a stunning view of Mount Fuji. Seriously, a half-hour dip in a hot spring will melt all your problems and fatigue away…
So after a half-hour, I got out and got dressed again. But since I was at a hot spring, I looked for a milk vending machine. In anime, you had to have milk after a hot spring bath. And, here’s the milk! It’s only 130 yen. Sadly they were out of strawberry milk…
After guzzling down the white stuff, I headed to the cafeteria. It was those automatic cashier types, where you put money into a machine and press the button and out comes the slip with your food ticket. Then, you go to the counter and give it to the guy. I ordered a staple anime food, curry bread! It took about 10 minutes to cook and it’s piping hot! I scalded my tongue, but it was totally worth it!
And so, after the hot springs, we headed back to Tokyo. But sadly, I was caught in a serious traffic jam, causing our trip to be extended by 2 hours or so.
As soon as I reached the hotel, I had to pack up, since tomorrow will be my last day in Japan…
So that concludes Days 3 and 4 of my trip to Japan! On the final day, I visit Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, and sample some more food around Asakusa.
Hey there people! Yeah, I know I haven’t been active very much on the blog. I’ve a lot going on in real life, from scholarship applications to family matters. So I decided to say “Fuck all that” and go on vacation to Japan to escape reality for around 5 days. Now that I’m back home, I think I’ll share some of my experiences while in Japan.
This was my first trip to Japan and also my first time travelling abroad. The last time I’ve been abroad was when I lived in Canada for 4 years (which was more than a decade ago). So, I tagged along with a tour group, which obviously limited my exploration options. In a nutshell, in five days, I only got to visit Tokyo and the essential tourist spots, such as Tokyo Tower and of course, Mount Fuji. I also got to see the sakura, though my time was limited.
Without further ado, here’s the story of my trip, conveniently summarized in three parts.
Day 1: Japan-bound
From Bali, I headed on a night flight to Jakarta. Direct flights to Japan from Bali are quite rare and also expensive. So, with my group, I headed to Jakarta. Since my flight was at six in the morning, we spent the night at an airport hotel.
I headed to the airport at 3 AM the next day. Of course I was sleep-deprived; I only managed to get 3 hours of sleep at the hotel, and there were three people including me packed in the same room. After checking in, I waited for my flight at a premium lounge. That’s why you should at least have one rich friend you can suck up to. While waiting, I stuffed myself with all the food I could manage at the buffet.
At 6 AM, I boarded my flight, JAL 720. My first impression of the Japanese airline was “Holy shit, the Economy class was quite fancy”. I was used to Indonesian Economy class, which sucked. All of the seats had personal TV screens and the in-flight movies were awesome too. They had Interstellar and even the live-action Parasyte movie! I was sure that the 7-hour flight would feel short.
I spent most of the flight watching movies and snacking. The flight attendants were all amicable and understanding. I get dehydrated easily, and they happily brought me drinks every hour or so. And because I wasn’t on an Indonesian airline, I had all the wine I could drink. Yeah, fuck you Indonesian airlines for not serving alcohol.
Before I knew it, I was at Narita airport. And what was I greeted with? A bunch of schoolgirls. I haven’t been in Japan for an hour and I already got a glimpse of real-life schoolgirls. Oh you thought I was going to post a photo? No chance, I’ve read on Sankaku Complex of what happens to people who approach schoolgirls.
But after disembarking, I had to poop. So I went to the toilet and… behold, the legendary Japanese toilet! It has buttons to control the strength of the water stream (so those with sensitive asses can also enjoy a stream of warm water), make sounds for those embarrassed by the noise of your nukes, a deodorizer, and control how hot your seat is. Japan should not be exporting anime, they should export more of this shit!
I got through customs without problems and without any hassle. Once I got through customs, my luggage had already arrived. The Japanese sure are punctual and efficient. I then proceeded to get a limited 3-day JR Pass. Unlike the usual unlimited JR Pass which costs around 30,000 yen but can be used at all JR lines across Japan, I got the limited 3-day JR Kanto Area Pass for 8,300 yen. It was a lot cheaper than the unlimited pass (I only had around 50,000 yen on me) and I was only going to be in Tokyo for 4 days.
Since I was a part of a tour group, we waited for our pickup to the hotel.
As soon as I stepped out of the airport, I inhaled the crisp spring air. The temperature was a nice 13 degrees Celsius. I felt like it was spring in Canada. But most importantly, I instantly noticed how orderly things were. Unlike Indonesian airports where people fucking solicit you everywhere and everything is out of place, everything was in order. Buses stopped at their designated lanes, taxis were parked in their spots, and there were no assholes soliciting me to get on cabs or buses. It was really nice and tranquil.
Even the trash is handled neatly.
Our pickup arrived shortly after and I was on my way to Tokyo. It took me about 1.5 hours to get to my hotel at Asakusa from Narita. Along the way, I was busy gawking at all the sights we passed by. There was Tokyo Disneyland, the Skytree, and a lot more. I even got to see my first sunset in Tokyo.
Once I arrived at the hotel, everyone else was shivering since at night, the temperature dropped significantly. I was accustomed to cold weather and my jacket provided more than enough insulation. We checked in. I was slightly surprised at the size of the hotel room. It was even smaller than my dorm room at university, and there were 3 people staying in it! I unpacked with great difficulty.
Since it was already 8 PM, I felt a bit hungry, so I considered walking outside to find a convenience store. From what I’ve been reading on travel blogs, convenience stores in Japan are the go-to place for hungry travelers on a budget. On my way, I passed the Sumida river and saw the majestic Skytree glowing in the night. There were also restaurant boats on the Sumida river. But the best part was there was a blooming sakura tree just five minutes from my hotel! It was so beautiful…
Anyway, I spotted a 7-11 and headed straight for the bento section. There were a lot of bentos on display. But, I couldn’t read their descriptions. I could only read a few Kanji, you see. So, I just took one with meat in it and took it to the counter. The cashier was the first time I ever conversed with a Japanese. Thanks to my Japanese classes in high school, sign language, and a few years of watching anime, I could almost understand everything the clerk said.
It was getting late, so I returned to my hotel room and ate my bento. It tasted alright too, unlike the ones at Indonesian convenience stores. I also grabbed a soda from a vending machine (I passed by like ten of them on my way to 7-11). After I was satiated, I began rummaging through the brochures in my hotel room. It seemed that I could get AVs on demand. Ah Japan, you really do understand men. But VOD was expensive, so I decided to take a bath. The bathroom was incredibly small. I sometimes regret being 1.8 meters tall. The bathtub was only 70-90 cm in length! I could barely stretch my legs.
So after a troublesome bath, I went to sleep at past midnight. I had to wake up at 4 AM the next day, since we were going to Karuizawa.
Day 2-1: Karuizawa, Land of the Posh
The next day, I woke up at 4 AM thanks to a barrage of alarms and my stiff legs. It was cold, and since I wasn’t in tropical Indonesia, I didn’t have to take my morning shower, so I just washed my face. I was scheduled to take the Shinkansen bullet train at 7 AM to Karuizawa.
We were ready to depart to the train station at around 6 AM. We had to go to the Ueno Station to take the Shinkansen to Karuizawa. Unlike the others, I came prepared. I asked for a map of the Tokyo metro from the hotel’s front desk and also for directions to the Ginza Line subway. It was only a 15-minute walk from the hotel. But since it was our first time in Japan, it took us 30 minutes to get to the station because we had to stop every 100 meters or so because someone had to stop to take pictures.
Morning in Tokyo was rather quiet. It was an early Saturday morning and there weren’t a lot of people on the streets. There was one thing I noticed on the streets: people drove very safely. Nobody ran red lights and always gave priority to pedestrians. When turning left, if there was a pedestrian in the way, the car would stop and wait patiently until everyone was across. In Indonesia, you would be subjected to obnoxious honking and yelling.
We arrived at the Ginza Line Asakusa Station thanks to a helpful local. Again, you can talk to locals with limited Japanese and sign language. He pointed the way to the Asakusa Station.
At Asakusa Station, we encountered a few problems. It was my first time riding the Tokyo Metro. But before coming to Japan, I did a lot of research. Watching anime and people on YouTube really does help, you know. The moment I saw a Pasmo/Suica machine, I went and bought myself a Pasmo card for 2,000 yen. Now, my group did not understand how to go through the subway gates. They bought only three Pasmo cards (there were 7 of us), thinking that one Pasmo could be used collectively. Apparently, it doesn’t work like that. Thus, we got in trouble when one of us tried to jump the gate. Thankfully, the gate attendant was reasonable. She helped them buy additional Pasmo cards while I waited patiently behind the gates. I then explained to them how the gates worked.
And then, we waited for our train to come.
The Tokyo subway, like most of Tokyo, was clean and orderly. People queued at the correct spots. There was no trash in sight. The people also kept quiet. We were the only boisterous ones, despite me pleading them to shut the fuck up. The train came right on schedule. Punctuality is something which I highly regard, and it feels nice knowing that the Japanese share my views. If something is scheduled to come at a given time, it better fucking come at the given time. Indonesians apparently have a hard time understanding that.
The ride to Ueno Station took exactly 15 minutes. The inside of the train was comfortable, quiet, and again, orderly. I’ve been using the word “orderly” quite a lot because that’s my lasting impression of Japan. When we got off at Ueno Station, I was welcomed with the weekend rush hour. Ueno Station was one of the bigger stations in Tokyo and there were a fucking lot of people. But despite the chaos, people kept their sanity. They queued patiently at the gates. You can’t find that in Indonesia!
Since we had JR Passes, we had to go through the manned gate. I took a minute and studied the Yamanote Line. From Ueno, it was only 4 minutes to Akihabara. I’ll get to that later. Then, after an obligatory group prayer, we were off to the Shinkansen platform.
Our train was scheduled to arrive at 6.58 AM, so I explored the platform a bit. I didn’t get a chance to buy breakfast on the way, so I looked for that nice old lady in the stall that sells food like what they show in anime. Of course, I found one. But the bento prices were ridiculously expensive by Indonesian standards. A normal bento cost around 1,000 yen. Since it was only my first day in Japan, I decided to get a sandwich (450 yen). Then, I got some hot cocoa at a vending machine (160 yen). Food in Japan really is expensive.
Then, our train arrived. It was my first time aboard the Shinkansen and it was beyond my expectations. Thanks to my JR Pass, I got a seat in the reserved section. The inside was sophisticated and resembled seats on an airplane with more leg space. You could even turn the seats around for groups. There were a few people inside, most of them dressed in winter gear and carrying skis. I sat beside a couple on a date. Thanks to them, I thought about my girlfriend. Fuck you, romantic couple. The journey to Karuizawa took about an hour or so. I expected it to be a bumpy journey, but the train didn’t make a sound or even sudden bumps. It was a really smooth journey. My hot cocoa didn’t even spill!
Then, we arrived at Karuizawa. It was only 8 AM. It was frigid outside. I haven’t been exposed to cold temperatures for a long while, so I was thankful that I chose to wear a warm jacket and gloves. But it was still cold as fuck. Our group was supposed to go to Shiraito Waterfall, but there weren’t any buses ready yet. We had to wait until 11 AM. So, we spent three hours exploring near the station. It was very close to Prince Hotel Ski Resort and also a high-end shopping area. The shops weren’t open yet, so we hung out at a nearby 7-11 and got hot drinks.
At around 10 AM, a Hoshino Resort shuttle bus started operating. Since it was free and we still had an hour to spend, we decided to get on the bus. It took us on a 25-minute ride to Hoshino Resorts, where there was a hot spring and other nature-related activities. It was really nice to get crisp, fresh mountain air.
We returned to the station at around 11 AM. The bus headed to Shiraito waterfall was already operating, so we got on. It took us on an hour-long drive through the hills of Karuizawa, where there was snow and beautiful cottages owned by rich people. We got off at the Shiraito stop and hiked an additional 300 meters to the waterfall. The natural scenery was breathtaking and refreshing. I also got a chance to play in the snow. Ah, how I miss winters in Canada… Also, enjoy some Miku playing in the snow.
After viewing the waterfall, we headed to the bus stop. We also visited the nearby shops. There was this one guy selling roasted iwana fish. It cost around 700 yen per fish, but the price was really worth it. I had 2 sticks of fish. The person was also really nice. At around 4 PM, we returned to the train station.
Finally, the shops were open. The ladies in my group went like crazy and dashed to the shops. I’m not an avid shopper; I came to Japan to sample the food and culture. Also, the shops at that particular location were the kind of high-end premium retails which were frequented by the posh. So, I explored the area for food. I found some anime staple foods, such as custard pudding and yakisoba bread. They are quite delicious, but not very satiating. I also found this “For the Glory of Satan”-flavored Pocky. The food at the food courts were rather pricey, ranging from 600 yen for a simple hamburger to 1,000 yen for a plate of curry rice. Oh yeah, let me tell you something: Pocky in Japan is way more delicious than Indonesian Pocky. That’s because Indonesian Pocky uses different ingredients to comply with halal standards. You know what I’m talking about.
I walked to the Prince Ski Resort, a good 20-minute walk from the station. At first I thought it was real snow, but after a bit Googling, I found out that the Prince Ski Resort uses snow machines. Oh well, gotta keep the business running, since Karuizawa rarely gets natural snow in abundance.
Then, at 6 PM, we headed back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen.
Day 2-2: Akihabara, the Holy Land (Night)
Here’s where I finally got to travel on my own.
I thought we were all getting off at Ueno Station. So, when we reached Ueno, I got off the train and frantically looked for a bathroom. When I looked for my group, they told me they were headed to Tokyo Station for Ginza to do some sightseeing and shopping. I was left alone at the station. Finally some solo travel time! I’m guessing you guys already know my next destination… Akihabara!
So I hopped on the Yamanote Line and 4 minutes later, got off at Akihabara Station. It took me a while to get on the Line, because I was confused and got lost at Ueno Station. Thankfully, the JR staff were helpful.
Let me describe my feelings when I first exited the station with this pic below:
AKB48 Cafe! Gundam Cafe! Sofmap! Akiba! Mandarake! Tora no Ana! I have set foot on the Holy Land!
But seriously, as a first-timer in the Holy Land, I was utterly confused and disoriented. Everything was so bright, so flashy, and there so many people walking to and fro. I even bumped into a lot of people. I headed to the main street and decided to get to know the main street first before venturing into the alleys. And I ended up in an Animate shop, loaded with anime goodies.
But it was getting late. I knew that trains stopped at midnight, and it was 10 PM. So I decided to head back to the hotel and made plans to visit Akihabara the next day with a friend. But I ran into a bit of trouble.
From Ueno Station, I wanted to get on the Ginza Line. I was stopped by a ticket gate. Feeling confident, I tapped my Pasmo, but the gate rejected me. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The attendant then called me, and I thought “Shit, I’m in trouble…” I tried explaining in broken Japanese that I was trying to get to the Ginza Line, but my Pasmo wouldn’t open the gate. He checked it on the computer and asked me to show my ticket. I said I didn’t buy a ticket (because I didn’t need one; the JR Pass covers the Yamanote Line). He asked me which station I came from, and I answered Akihabara. I told him that I used a JR Pass to get to Akihabara. He told me show my JR Pass. Then, he let me pass the gates.
Then, after a bit of processing and brainstorming, I then figured out how the Pasmo ticketing system worked. When I scan my Pasmo at an entrance, it records the location. When I exit my destination station, the machine records where I entered from and then automatically deducts the correct fare from my balance when I scan the card at the exit. Such a brilliant system. Since I entered Akihabara with a JR Pass, the Pasmo didn’t have my entrance location, resulting in an error at the exit gate.
That taught me to always look for manned gates when carrying a JR Pass.
I got back to my hotel safely, despite walking in the middle of the night. In Jakarta, I would have been robbed, raped, or even killed. But in Japan, I felt really safe on the streets at night.
And that concludes this first part! In part 2, I describe my journey around Tokyo and Mount Fuji. It was a blast!