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Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XV: Someone’s Got To Be The Worst [II]
Oct 22nd, 2009 by Dan

How awesome would it be to see this guy outside your window during a flight?

How awesome would it be to see this guy outside your window during a flight?

After a fun few days in Sapporo, it was finally time to head back to Tokyo. We were officially on the home stretch of the trip with only three teams left to see. I was starting to see the end of the trip in my sights and, I’ve got to admit, it was depressing to think that all the fun would be done so soon, but I was also ready to get back home to my own apartment.

The first thing I did that morning when packing was promptly break one of the sake glasses I got as a souvenir. Damn.

Since I had discovered that the walk from Sapporo Station to the hotel was pathetically short, I opted out of a taxi and walked to the station. Along the way I ran into the most evil-looking bird I’d ever seen. I’m sure it could sense how afraid of its evil I was, because it allowed me to get really close with my camera without even budging.

Hes tough to intimidate. Must be from the 9th Ward.

He's tough to intimidate. Must be from the 9th Ward.

The rest of the walk was uneventful as was the trip to the airport. Once I got into the airport, the language barrier became an issue as I had gone up to baggage claim without first checking in and getting a ticket. It’s a bizarre process, but it’s required, so I was sent to the check-in queue and then back to the luggage queue.

I also learned that Sapporo’s airport is way more vigilant than Kansai International. Security pulled me aside to empty out my very full carry on bag. I was confused until the security officer managed to get out the phrase “dining set” and I remembered that I had stuffed some ANA utensils (a knife and spoon) into my bag. He also checked that the water bottle I was carrying on board was sealed and water. What this amounts to is that the staff at Kansai allowed me to travel with a dinner knife and a bottle of water without investigating. That’s some crack security work there guys. Reminds me of Seinfeld’s bit about airport security in the pre-terrorist attack days.

While I hunted for food in the morning, I noticed a model of the Pokemon-themed ANA planes that were in service out here in Japan.

The cutest way to get from A to B.

The cutest way to get from A to B.

I’d heard about this line of ANA planes before, but I’d never seen one in the flesh, much less been on one. tim rogers made references to them being used mostly for domestic flights and, lo and behold, here was a model of one for domestic flights. Boy, wouldn’t it be cool if I got to fly on one of these…

I totally got to fly on one of these.

I totally got to fly on one of these.

So, what’s the difference between a Pokemon ANA plane and a normal ANA plane? Not a whole lot. The seat covers that are used in every ANA plane are now Pokemon themed…

Cuteness overload.

Cuteness overload.

…And the drinks come in Pokemon-themed cups.

Orange Juice! I choose you!

Orange Juice! I choose you!

The flight attendants were all dressed in their normal uniforms and there wasn’t any special Pokemon entertainment on board, so it’s really just an aesthetic thing (and a half-assed one at that). Still, I flew on one of the famous Pokemon planes and I think that’s pretty neat.

I just noticed that the jet turbines have pokeballs on them. Thats awesome.

I just noticed that the jet turbines have pokeballs on them. That's awesome.

Nintendo’s missing out on a huge opportunity here. Could you imagine how much business they could drum up if they offered exclusive Pokemon downloads on these planes? They’d make ANA a racket and have to officially sell their souls, but still…think about it.

We took a taxi to our favorite place to stay, the Tokyo Garden Palace Hotel, and, after putting my stuff down, I rendezvoused with Susan to catch a pre-game dinner before she left for America. Susan and I stopped in a Chinese restaurant and had a nice dinner as we shared our stories about what we’d been doing since the tour split up. I had to run to the game after that, since I was running late, but it was totally worth it and I’ll have to be sure to see Susan and Marc the next time I’m in NYC.

I see what youre doing here Tokyo, but you dont need the New. Youre not New Tokyo...

I see what you're doing here Tokyo, but you don't need the "New." You're not New Tokyo...

By the time I managed to make my way through the Tokyo railway system and get to Yokohama Stadium, it was already the third inning and Yokohama had struck first. The Swallows were down by two, which made me very happy, and the BayStars could very well shut down the Swallows for the entire trip for me (I don’t count the tie as a win, so the Swallows were 0-2-1 in games I’d attended). Things were looking up, even though I was late!

An outside scoreboard had me jumping for joy as I entered the ballpark. Surely this last place team couldnt botch a small lead...

An outside scoreboard had me jumping for joy as I entered the ballpark. Surely this last place team couldn't botch a small lead...

The outside of Yokohama Stadium is pretty plain and it’s nestled within a city block, like most of the stadiums in Tokyo. Perhaps it’s because I was late to the game, but it was also pretty empty outside the ballpark, a major contrast with most other stadiums that feature food stalls and merchandise outside the gates. The interior hallways were pretty bare and empty, kind of like the ones at Meiji Jingu, where the Swallows play.

I spotted the BayStars mascot taking pictures with kids in the hallways.

I spotted the BayStars mascot taking pictures with kids in the hallways.

Since I was already late, I decided that I would look around for a jersey before I took a seat. It was proving to be pretty difficult, since the stands all seemed to only offer a polo shirt-type thing that wasn’t the full button down. What kind of bush league stadium doesn’t sell their team’s official jerseys? I thought to myself as I wandered around the various stalls. Then I noticed something in one of the publicity photographs/posters on the wall and the full horror of the situation began to become clear: those abominations were the jerseys.

Now, there will be a post about the jerseys coming soon, but I won’t be giving much away to say that this one was the worst of the pack. I almost considered not buying it.

The interior is probably as nice as your typical AAA American stadium. For some reason, all of the seats within the stadium are orange or blue, but the uniforms are blue and white and all of the seats are that molded, rough, hard plastic that you might expect to see in an outdoor setting, but haven’t seen in a baseball stadium in ages.

The seats were pretty uncomfortable. The row we sat in even moreso.

The seats were pretty uncomfortable. The row we sat in even moreso.

Worse still, the row we sat in was right at the front of the second bank of seats. Instead of having a bar or something to separate us from the walkway, we had nothing. If I stretched my legs at the wrong time, I was liable to kick a poor beer girl right in the face. Standing up to cheer for big plays was almost impossible thanks to the diminished leg room and lack of forward stability. The endless torrent of beer girls and fans made it almost impossible to see the plate or concentrate on the field. On the plus side, our increased visibility got us on the jumbotron (Did I remember to mention that I was on the jumbotron at Koshien too? I’m pretty sure I forgot).

Thats right, I was on that very screen, but not at the moment of this photograph.

That's right, I was on that very screen, but not at the moment of this photograph.

If I had to go and give the BayStars just one compliment, I’d say that their cheerleading squad stands out as the most attractive of the bunch I’d seen and the only one that had similar cheering maneuvers to American squads. Then again, I drank more beer this game than any other because the stadium, game, and team were so atrocious, so take my opinions with a grain of salt.

Bieru Goggorus?

Bieru Goggorus?

They also had this weird black bear with “TBS” written across a t-shirt he was wearing. I have no idea what he was there for, but I like him a lot more than their usual mascots. He’s the one who should be going on the road.

My assessment seems to be right about some of these cheerleaders...I mean, what a strange bear thing, huh?

My assessment seems to be right about some of these cheerleaders...I mean, what a strange bear thing, huh?

There was a ballgame that night too, wasn’t there? The BayStars put two up, and then checked out for the rest of the game. Not able to let me be happy with their failure, the Swallows went and scored six, which, for those of you keeping score, means they won. Since the Tigers were knocked out of the Climax Series by the Swallows by one game, I’m going to blame Yokohama for screwing this up for them. Way to go, chuckleheads.

He probably struck out...man this team sucks.

He probably struck out...man this team sucks.

Really, how much this team sucks makes a lot of sense when you stop to think about it. Starting with the name, the BayStars, you start to get the feeling that they have no idea what a good team name might be. It turns out that the former name for the team was the Yokohama Whales, but whaling restrictions and a believed curse put upon the team by dead whales (their parent company makes a lot of money from whale products) caused them to change the name…to the BayStars. It’s bad enough that the team name makes no sense, but then they go and make their mascot a couple of human bodies with star-shaped heads. It’s dumb.

They really are the dumbest mascots Ive ever seen.

They really are the dumbest mascots I've ever seen.

Feeling dejected by the loss, I headed home to sleep and re-energize after the early morning I had in Sapporo. As I drifted off to sleep, only one thought crossed my mind: What in the world was that black bear?

You cant go wrong with dreams about strange bears and cheerleaders. Too bad the Stars were there too.

You can't go wrong with dreams about strange bears and cheerleaders. Too bad the Stars were there too.

ONE SECOND! Totally forgot about this awesome Engrish:

It makes sense as a sentence in English, but it mostly doesnt.

It makes sense as a sentence in English, but it mostly doesn't.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part II: Journey to the East [II]
Sep 3rd, 2009 by Dan

A reenactment of me starting to write this entry in emacs

A reenactment of me starting to write this entry in emacs

I begin this entry sitting at the gate for my ANA flight…1 (No joke, my flight number is NH0001), listening to Japanese ska to get into the mood as I await my 1220 flight out of America. As per usual, I got here a good three hours before my flight even was ready to think about starting to take off thanks to something I like to call hyper-punctuality, but I’m sure most would call insanity. In fact, I was so early this morning when I arrived at 0900 that ANA hadn’t even opened up their check-in terminal (don’t worry, I’m sure to repeat this detail later)

To be totally fair, my early arrival was due to a change in plans, for the better. I originally intended to take the Metro into Dulles after parking my car at the lovely Duffy house, but The Legendary John Duffy, as he is known in these parts, volunteered to haul my annoying self and my bags over to the airport after he got his hands on some coffee. After about 40 or so minutes of always riveting conversation with TLJD I found myself once again at Dulles, an airport I mistakenly thought I’d never been to before.

The best way to describe Dulles is slightly confused. At some point, big, modern airports realized that people were getting confused with where to go, since they had multiple buildings housing different terminals. They began to label their terminals numerically or by color. Not wanting to be left in the dust, Dulles seems to have enthusiastically took up this practice for a single terminal. No joke, the one terminal is as long as the terminal devoted solely to Southwest at BWI, but they felt the need to divide it into not just two zones, but four.

So I arrived at zone 3, profusely thanked TLJD for the ride, and boldly stepped up to the ANA terminal…to find that it doesn’t even open until 0920. Before you all laugh at my insanity, consider that there were two families who had arrived before me and another passenger showed up at around 0915. If that doesn’t convince you of my sanity, I don’t know what will.

Seriously dude, dont you have anything better to do with your time?

Seriously dude, don't you have anything better to do with your time?

I will continue to be undeterred by the fact that I’ve written hundreds of words covering the mundane and I have yet to even leave American soil (Hey, I’m *really* early for my flight and I’ve gotta do /something/, cut me some slack!) and continue to regale you all with stories about how my carry-on bag was too heavy by five kilograms. Now, as a man of science, I almost exclusively prefer the metric system for any and all calculations. That being said, I have absolutely zero concept of what a kilogram is. Faced with the threat of having to check my bag, I decided to try and pull out my toiletries and pray that they weighed five kilos. It brought me down to 21.5 kilos, which was good enough for my Japanese travel agent (what’s the job title for those people?) and good enough for me, especially because I was secure in the knowledge that I’d be able to just move my toiletries right back into my carry-on once I was safely seated in the terminal.

Security, miles of walking along people movers to get to the midfield terminal, and here I am. Country music begins to play over my headphones and I rather like the reverse framing going on here. More to come when something actually happens…

I return to this travelogue at 1927 local time on 3 September. In about three minutes, I’ll have been up for 24 hours thanks to the difficulty that I have sleeping on planes. A lot has happened since I was sitting bored in the terminal, so we continue from there.

The staff at ANA seems to be rather small, because when the plane arrives and boarding is being handled, I begin to see all the folks from the ticket counter that I saw in the morning show up and help with boarding. My flight is also eerily empty for some reason. I have an entire row, nine seats, to myself and this is the case for most of the people on the plane, but I guess since I’m on a rather long flight I can deal with the stress of having so much space it’s ridiculous. I can only pray for such a windfall on the way home.

A small moment of panic sets in rather early as I try to discreetly snap a shot of one of the better looking flight attendants for Eric and one of them tells me that I need to put my camera and phone away, there are no electronics. Figuring that she meant while on the runway, I put them away and quickly began searching through the documentation to see what I could find about whether or not I’d be able to use my electronics on this long, 14-hour flight.

These guys came around so often I nearly burst from all the food.

These guys came around so often I nearly burst from all the food.

Since I was flying on a Japanese carrier, I thought I’d point out some of the differences between it and the American one. The seats are a bit closer feeling, to me, all of the information is primarily given in Japanese, then in sometimes difficult-to-understand English, the food is distinctly eastern in style, and the magazines have a small bilingual section if you open them western-style and a large Japanese section if you read it right-to-left. Most everything else is pretty much par for the course, American carrier or not, for an international flight. The warnings and safety measures are in Japanese first and the pictures are of Japanese folk instead of drawings, but all the information appears to be the same.

The other constant among international flights is the food. I was nearly drowning in food as they brought meal after meal after snack, despite undergoing no effort to work up an appetite. The food was all of pretty good quality, for airplane food, and garnered no complaints from me.

Ice cream and green tea were to follow

Ice cream and green tea were to follow

That’s about all there is to say about international flights. They are disappointingly mundane, even when on a Japanese carrier. I’ll leave the topic with some video (sadly without the original audio) of a game show that I was watching on the in-flight entertainment television. The point here was to name the countries of Europe while pounding on beat to a song. You’ll see very quickly what a wrong answer leads to. There’s also one guy there who they liked to pick on for some random reason.

Trust me, it’s even funnier with the sound.

Arrival and customs are not all that special, so I’ll refrain from mentioning them, but I was surprised at how far out of Tokyo the airport seems to be. There are trains leading into the city itself, but they all seem to take quite some time to get to the heart of the city. My plane arrived about an hour early, which is always awesome, unless you’ve been asked by your brother to wait in the airport for him before heading to the hotel. The time I had to myself allowed me to take a look around Narita International Airport and get a feel for what a Japanese airport was yet again. One thing worth noting for people landing in September is that they seem to keep the a/c at a rather toasty 80°F, which is totally understandable, I guess, but feels a bit toasty to those of us used to a lot more climate control. Another thing worth noting is that the fear of communicable disease has yet to clear Japan, especially after the very recent H1N1 troubles that they were having. Notices about sanitation are posted throughout the airport and there are many, staff and patrons alike, wearing masks to shield their face from germs.

When you deal with thousands a day, sometimes a little protection from germs is nice.

When you deal with thousands a day, sometimes a little protection from germs is nice.

There was also a rather funny graphic on one of the video screens showing how bird flu, I think, started to spread. There was a silhouette of a chicken and what looked like a duck that eventually turned red with “disease” of some sort. From their reddened bodies emanated more evil germs and arrows that infected a standing silhouette man and caused him to drop to all fours and turn red. The man eventually began to shoot out red circles of death to other groups of silhouette men. It was riveting stuff, but I didn’t manage to capture any of it on video before Dave got there.

After an hour and a half of waiting, guess who decides to show up.

After an hour and a half of waiting, guess who decides to show up.

Dave finally landed and Bob lead us down to get our passports checked for the rail passes that we were to make use of throughout the country. We got our tickets and made our way onto the platform where the train was and Dave began enthusiastically getting onto the train only to have the doors begin to close behind him. After a valiant effort to hold the doors open, he was trapped on the train while we looked on from the outside. Except, if he had read the sign that we only saw after he was trapped, he would know that they were just cleaning the train.

Dont get on or youll be trapped Dave!

Don't get on or you'll be trapped Dave!

After he was asked to get off the train, they began cleaning and the train seats actually turned around. They’re on a mechanism that turns them, I guess so that you’re facing the direction the train is headed so you don’t get that disoriented. And so began the ~1 hour long train ride into Tokyo.

Skyliner! It hungers for Americans...

Skyliner! It hungers for Americans...

It randomly featured a windmill.

Am I in The Netherlands?

Am I in The Netherlands?

Our hotel in Tokyo is pretty nice, it’s got two singles that are surprisingly long so I’m not hanging off the edge. We dropped off our stuff, sent word that we were alive and well, and headed right back out into Tokyo to do some first night exploring and grab a bite to eat. Dave spotted a CoCo Curry on the way over from the train station, so that was our ultimate goal for dinner. At first we headed across a nearby bridge through a Dental University and wound up in a slightly urban area surprisingly filled with tons of instrument stores. There typical classical instrument shops intermixed with way more awesome guitar shops, one of which featured the most Japanese bad ass, hardcore, punk rock guitar I’ve ever seen.

Youve never rocked until youve rocked with Hello Kitty!

You've never rocked until you've rocked with Hello Kitty!

There was also the most awesomely named shop ever, at least for a fan of Metal Gear Solid like me.

This is Big Boss. Im done here.

This is Big Boss. I'm done here.

Dave’s impeccable sense of direction did finally get us to CoCo Curry House without too much stress at all. If you’ve known me for a while, chances are you’ve heard that I have something of an obsession with Japanese curry. Getting back to CoCo curry was definitely high on my list of priorities, but it was thanks to Dave’s sharp eyes that I even knew that there was one nearby.

CoCo Curry House Ichibanya: Heaven on Earth

CoCo Curry House Ichibanya: Heaven on Earth

I’ve seen CoCo Curry compared to Burger King in other places, mainly because you can “Have it your way” there, but they really put Burger King to shame with how completely customizable they are. Their (thankfully) English menu offers directions on how to order. First, select a curry base, then how many grams of rice you want, how spicy, and finally, toppings.

The procedure is simple, really, so long as its in English

The procedure is simple, really, so long as it's in English

I went with the staple curry dish, tonkatsu curry (breaded pork cutlets), while Dave opted for the more interesting crab croquette curry. It was delicious.

Finally! Great Japanese Curry!

Finally! Great Japanese Curry!

It did not last long on my plate.

Not a grain of rice left.

Not a grain of rice left.

The urge to explore continued after dinner, so Dave and I decided to walk around the town and see what we could find. Not far from the curry, we began seeing girls dressed in maid outfits, no doubt advertising a maid café of some sort. Dave decided not to take a flyer, but I couldn’t resist.

Maids!

Maids!

We saw a tall Sofmap building and I remembered that they tend to sell new games. I dragged Dave along and we coincidentally ended up in an elevator with one of the maid café girls. Shenanigans promptly ensued.

Neither Dave nor I really knew where we were going in this building nor what floor we were headed to and I was unsure whether or not Japan did that ground floor thing, so I pushed 1. The maid girl laughed at us and asked if that’s really where we were going, since that’s the ground floor (I think, I speak no Japanese). The elevator soon made its way up to the top floor of the building and it opened to the maid café advertised, much to our surprise. The place was bright pink and filled with people and maids, but Dave and I very quickly decided it was not the place for us. We tried going to the third floor instead, but we were greeted with a corrugated steel door. The maids in the tiny elevator had a great laugh at our expense. We exited the elevator and asked to take a picture of one of the maids who was now quarter-carding, but she politely told us no.

There’s not much else adventure that went on that night. We made our way to an anime store filled to the brim with goods. They had no picture signs up that I didn’t notice until after I’d snapped two shots.

Tons of manga

Tons of manga

We also found an arcade and wandered around the first two floors a bit.

One of the famous Japanese arcades

One of the famous Japanese arcades

That’s all for the first night, off to explore more of Tokyo!

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