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Posts Tagged ‘shinkansen’

For the last month or so, one group of friends  have been telling me of the wonders of a particular restaurant in Nara (not so far from Kyoto). This restaurant was said to have served very authentic and delicious Indian food the like of which I have not seen for over 4 months. Ever since they got back they have been talking about making a return trip, and on a complete whim (and also out of boredom) I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about.

My oh my. I was not disappointed! Proper Indian food, tasty, hot, flavoursome, authentic AND all you can eat (cooked to order) for only 2500yen! We all ate until we could barely move!

Whilst we were in Nara we also got to see the giant Buddha that sits in the middle of the main park in the worlds largest wooden structure. The Buddha is absolutely vast; one really does have to wonder how they made it all those years ago.

We also got to feed the deer which were a little too hungry/friendly for my comfort. They are “technically” wild, and they roam around the markets and parks like cattle in India, although I don’t know if they would be able to survive on their own without all the tourists feeding them deer cakes. Far too much time was spent trying not to get  nibbled or headbutted, or indeed running away like a little girl from these cute critters which are only a bit bigger than dogs! Luckily the males have their antlers removed or else I would probably be in a world of pain right now…

Argh! Deer!

Oh I almost forgot to write how we had a nice little adventure getting home too. We arrived and planned to return via JR local trains which is a pretty cheap route if you have the time and don’t mind a couple of changes. Unfortunately we forgot to check how late the various lines ran and we missed the last connecting train. Luckily we checked before we left because if we had got stuck at Kameyama then that would have meant Actual Death, by which I mean spending the night in the middle of absolutely nowhere, with no hotel or place to stay, no place to eat and no food in temperatures which have recently been barely above zero.

So we took a very long winded route home via Kyoto from where we caught the shinkansen home. Saying it like that makes it sound like a rather casual affair, but in all honesty we caught it by the skin of our teeth! I’ve always admired how punctual Japanese trains are. They are Never, Ever EVER late. Especially not the bullet trains. Their reputation depends on it. However, for some reason (*cough* MIRACLE *cough*) this particular train was 4 minutes and 30 seconds late. Buying the tickets for shinkansen always takes a bit of time so you can imagine what it was like trying to get six tickets in only 5 minutes! If it had not been for those extra 270 seconds… Even one of the guys agreed it was the most compelling evidence for the existence of God that he had ever seen!

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For me, New Years Eve is never really a big deal. There’s usually a house party or something going on somewhere, but I tend to avoid the clubs and bars because of the hiked up prices and unnecessary drunkenness. This year however, seeing that I was in a different country I figured I’d give something new a try, which meant going to the biggest club in Japan – AgeHa, Tokyo.

I took the night bus there which seems like a really really good idea on paper; its about half the price of the bullet trains and sure it takes a while but you can sleep on the way right? Wrong! After leaving Nagoya at 11pm I arrived 6 1/2 hours later in Shinjuku after barely more than an hours sleep! (c.f. the shinkansen takes a mere 1 hour 40 mins. Guess which way I went home!)

After a shower and quick breakfast at my friend Chiyonos house (which could be more appropriately described as a palace) we all headed off to Akihabara. Akihabara, or Akiba as it is know to the locals, is the electronics centre of Japan, the world and possibly the universe. It has everything technology can think up, all the latest video games, cameras, robots, you name it. It is the stereotypical “futuristic japan” that is bursting with flashing lights, sounds, and short acne-ridden unmarried men wearing glasses.

We got kaitenzushi for lunch (that’s conveyor belt sushi for the uninitiated) before shopping and heading off to a maid cafe for an afternoon cup of tea. Even though I had heard a fair bit about Maid Cafes, I was so unprepared for what I saw! The maids welcome you with the most ridiculous language, and call you “My most honoured master/mistress”and serve you almost like they are your slaves! But its all good natured and fun, and the key point is that it is unbelievably CUTE. There should be a word in English to describe this kind of cutesy overload that makes you feel as if you have eaten too much candyfloss. All I can say is, if you get the chance GO, simply because there is nowhere else in the world that you can have an experience like this. I got a Polaroid taken with one of the maids as a souvenir and they drew on it and made it all cute!

萌え萌え!

After that we checked out the fashions down Harajuku way, before going on to Shibuya. Disappointingly I never seem to see many “harajuku girls”, such as those seen in Shoichi Aoki’s street magazine Fruits which has been documenting trends since 1996. But I always keep my eye out for this iconic style of haphazard fashion. I have a special interest in it because it really bucks the trend against social conformity:

Fruits

AgeHa for NYE was amazing. I was expecting it to be good but it totally blew us all away. The music was perfect (Osawa Shinichi/Dexpistols/Emma) , the crowd was fun and up for a good time, there were performances from a crazy MC and Diva (apparently both famous) pole dancers dressed as geisha, rope dancers and I got to fulfil one personal lifetime ambition which was to dance around in gold and silver confetti to electro music. I couldn’t have wanted anything more except perhaps a new pair of feet for the morning after – we danced non-stop from 9.30 till 4.30am!

The next day we paid a visit to the shrine as is customary on New Years Day, but we didn’t bargain for quite how busy the Meiji-jingu shrine was going to get! We had to wait over an hour and a half to get in because of the several thousand other people who went to pay their respects, make a wish and get their fortune told!

All in all it was a jam-packed 48hrs but I have just about caught up on sleep again!

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This weekend was a blur. A very overwhelming blur! Even though I’d been told countless times that Tokyo is a very hectic place, nothing could have really prepared me for quite how crazy it is! Its like London on acid; so much bigger, buildings which touch the sky as far as the eye can see in every direction; adverts on every spare inch; people everywhere; flashing lights, television, music and sounds surrounding you wherever you walk…  Its multi-sensory overload. I’ve never felt more like a country bumpkin!

I apologise in advance that this is going to be a long entry!

We left straight after classes ended on Wednesday and took a Nozomi shinkansen which arrived a hour and 20 minutes later in Tokyo. It was my first time on a bullet train and I was incredibly impressed. They run every 10 minutes and are so fast – the same trip by coach takes over 6 hours! (They are also very comfortable; it is little wonder that they have such a good reputation.) Ironically, because we took a while to figure out where we were going on the metro, it took us almost the same amount of time from the JR Shin-Yokohama station to get to Joy’s cousins house! Luckily we got there just in time for delicious homemade Japanese curry and rice. As Noriko had had a cold, Joys aunt came over to help. It was really nice to get a glimpse of Japanese family life! Later on Joys long-time friend Chris came over and he took us for a drive around central Tokyo. I will not easily forget my first impressions of Shibuya at night – it was a Wednesday night and the streets were packed! Cruising around in a rather fast car with spoilers and listening to techno was a bit like being in the Fast and the Furious or something! Definitely the best way to see the city.

On Thursday we went shopping in Shibuya with Cynthia’s aunt, and I was really glad to have someone who knew the area show us around as the department stores are like mazes, and there seem to be amazing shops in the oddest corners where you would least expect them to be! We went for a slap up lunch – I had tempura oysters which were delicious! – and hit the shops really hard! Managed to find a really nice super long knitted wool cardigan with a real silver fox fur collar for only £30! I also got some glass gems to pimp my keitai phone, and a few gifts for people. That evening after a feast of temaki sushi we wandered around shibuya, took some purikura (sticker photos) and quite randomly got handed sweets by a salaryman.

We got one of the last trains home – the most crowded train I have ever been on! Between 6pm-12pm all the trains are packed to the brim. The marks on the platform tell you where to line up, but any sense of order ends here; once you are inside it is every man for himself! This is a photo of people being pushed onto the train by one of the white gloved conductors, something unique to Japan.

I can’t really express how squashed we were! We couldn’t move at all, backs twisted like a pretzels and feet trodden on! I don’t know how people can do this everyday. For those who miss the last train the sorry fate is a night spent on the platform, at karaoke, or sleeping in a manga cafe (a kind of Internet cafe) so most people get on these trains at all costs.

Along came Friday and a visit to Harajuku. Disappointingly didn’t see a whole lot of bizarrely clad individuals, but had a nice wander around some of the boutiques and interesting shops. As it was Halloween, the later it got, the more we saw people in costume wandering around. Before we came, about 10 of us had planned to meet up and go to AgeHa – a superclub on the industrial outskirts of Tokyo, but after we got off the bus and saw the queues of about 2000 people we realised that there was no way we were going to get in. A few of our friends had already queued for 2 hours and were still 40 minutes from the entrance! Luckily a friend from SOAS told us about another event we could go to in Shibuya which turned out to be the most amazing party! It was an invitation only club night with performances by a dozen different artists for about 200 people, on the top floor of a 12 storey building, complete with swimming pool outside, so it felt very exclusive. People dressed up in the most amazing Halloween outfits, so although it was quite surreal it was definitely one of the best nights out in Japan so far!

After the party ended at 4.30 am we headed out into Roppongi to another club. Anyone will tell you that Roppongi is Gaijin Central (foreigners = yuk) but at that time in the morning we couldn’t really be picky. We got the first train in the morning there and by the time we arrived it was light outside! Unfortunately the club we went to was of the very worst kind, and it was even worse that I had anticipated, sticky floors, perverts and vomit. So we didn’t stay long, and decided to go for breakfast ramen (noodles) instead. By the time we got home it was 9.30 am! As you might expect we slept till 3pm!

Later that evening Joys cousins family took the three of us to the Tokyo Tower where we got some fantastic views of the city at night. As far as you can see in every direction there are skyscrapers and bright lights. It makes London look like a hamlet!

After that we went to Onsen, which are like hot springs which you bathe in. The particular one they took us to is an Edo Period themed one where you can choose your favourite colour yukata, enjoy some dinner at the food court and play some old fashioned arcade games before going bathing. Its always a little embarrassing bathing with all the other naked with other people but its so relaxing that all of it slips away after the first few minutes. Obviously the main baths are single sex, but after you get out and dry off you can enjoy the outside foot baths with everyone.

So thats the general idea of my weekend! (I had to leave out most of the details otherwise it would have been ridiculously long!) I had such a fun time, and I will definitely be going back at some point because as a city it has so much to offer and I only really scratched the surface. I was really expecting to love Tokyo, as I love living in London and I’m fairly used to city life. But despite having an amazing time, I was so relieved to get back to Nagoya! The air and streets are cleaner here, people walk half a heartbeat slower, they apologise when they bump into you, there’s hardly any foreigners, the trains seem almost empty, and obviously its a lot cheaper. Nagoya is by no means perfect, but as a place to live it is everything I need in a city.

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After being held a Sing Star* hostage for an hour by two of my rather drunk friends, I decided to escape and pack for Tokyo. I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon for a 5 day mini-break with 2 of my girlfriends over the University Festival weekend. Its going to be my first time on Shinkansen and in Tokyo so I am rather like a kid a Christmas, still wide awake at 3am, except with last minute homework, and revision for a test on causative-passive verb conjugation and transitive/intransitive verbs. Obviously writing my blog is preferable to that!

The only slight problem is that all of my shoes are broken! Well not ALL of them, but all my favourite everyday ones. A rather sorry state of affairs! One might call me thrifty, skint, creative or my new favourite word: a Recessionista, but whatever word you want to use, I just saved a lot of money by repairing not one, not two but FOUR pairs of shoes with a tube of superglue. Flats, heels, boots and flip-flops. One of my pairs of trainers is being held together with yellow electrical tape and one other pair of heels is beyond repair even by the most skilled cheap-skate. Its rather pitiful but it can’t be helped.

Shoes can be very cheap in Japan, but they are also made for the doll sized feet of wannabe geisha and barbie-like Harajuku princesses. As I have feet the size of Russia, I am yet to find anything other than 100yen (50p) beige plastic unisex “massager” slipper-shoes which are even worse than they sound, and more painful than you could ever expect; if by massage they mean “cause severe numbness and de-sensitization in feet” then objective achieved!

Enough about shoes anyway.

I will write about Tokyo when I get some free time, but until then I will leave you with my (slightly blurry) photo of the day:

Mmm… Platinum Aroma…

*Karaoke style game for the PlayStation.

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