The mountain climbing trips did wear us our because we passed out watching TV at 9:30 and didn’t get up until 5:30am. Hong got up and watched another hour of TV around 3, but she also got up slightly later.
We took a brief morning walk to Higashi (East) Honganji, a Buddhist temple around the corner. That and Nishi (West) Honganji took up significant space on the map and were set symmetrically in central Kyoto, a feature reflective of Kyoto’s design basing off an ancient Chinese capital. I love grid systems that have a logical pattern.
Shortly afterwards, we boarded Hikari 510 toward Tokyo. The ticket office clerk, ticket gate lady, vending cart lady on the train, and the ticket officer on the train were all extremely polite. They bowed to everyone, kept a constant smile on their faces, handled transactions with both hands, and repeated foreign words that I assumed were “please”, “thank you”, etc. Not only the Shinkansen crew, of course, but just about every service person we saw so far followed these principals. I thought about the NJ Transit staff who’d shout “tickets out” loud enough to make babies cry, and the NYC McDonald’s employees who’d hand over your order without looking at you and then let go right before you could reach. It’ll be hard to go home after this!
Precisely 2 hours and 41 minutes later, we returned to Tokyo Station. The timely reputation of Japan’s transportation systems was no joke. We spent the afternoon in Akihabara, the bigger and more intense equivalent of Taipei’s Guang Hua Market. Being the electronics, anime/manga, gaming, and hentai capital, this place attracts geeks and weirdos from all over. Didn’t we just see a Gundam Cafe by the train station? Totally awesome.
But Gundam Cafe wasn’t the popular attraction in Akihabara compared to maid cafes, where girls dressed in French maid costumes did cute things while serving food that probably wasn’t that tasty. A whole bunch of these girls were passing out fliers on the streets, dressing and sounding cute but could use some help on the face part. Both of us had enough interest to repeatedly talk about checking out one of these cafes, but conveyor belt sushi and Mr. Donut were just slightly more convincing.
We weren’t really in the market for anything geeky or anime geeky, so the visit was mostly of cultural interest. Porno manga, for example, was nothing new or fascinating as gay porn manga. The vast selection of the latter was comparable to the entire shelf of travel books at Borders.
A trip into a big arcade, however, enlightened us. We tried out the new and glamorous photo machines, and had a blast creating our first set of fobby picture collage. Guys in the US would be so ashamed even to be seen near these machines, but this is Asia where male and female have equal rights to enjoy fun stuff.
Afterwards, we took a train to Shinjuku and checked into our third hotel. It wasn’t that far from the station, but we got slightly lost due to the complex street system. Apparently not everything was on the same x-y plane so it was impossible to locate certain cross streets as seen on the map. In retrospect, that design made a lot of sense for a busy city’s downtown as it reduced the number of intersections and therefore potential for congestion. But for two foreigners dragging heavy luggage, heck it was confusing as hell.
Shinjuku Washington was the most “American” among the hotels that we stayed at. The room was huge compared to what we had seen (you could open both suitcases and still walk to the other side) and the service staff were more “professional” than “nice”. The room came with an awesome massage chair that took up 1/2 the space that an equivalent thing from Brookstone would. Unfortunately the layout of the building was super lame and the guy who programmed the elevators needs to be fired.
The evening was spent at Kabukicho, the heart and soul of Shinjuku – at least for tourists who don’t work in the forest of office skyscrapers. Restaurants, shops, pachinkos, arcades, and the “more fun” entertainment establishments filled this district. Unlike Ginza, it was freaking hard to distinguish one street from another, and there was no obvious path of exploration to abide by.
Dinner was at a restaurant that appeared like a hole in the wall but actually had five stories complete with an elevator. Finally for once we got to sit on an entirely nonsmoking floor, instead of the very border of a small nonsmoking section where people had a tendency of seating us. Hong had a platter of tempura and I enjoyed the best udon dish ever in a firey pot. I wasn’t too crazy about the concept of mixing miso with hot sauce, but the dish overall was excellent.
Later at night we had dessert at this place called Miami Garden. Holy f*** it was terrible! We were impressed to find out such lameness could survive as a business in Tokyo!