Our Last Days in Japan

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We made it to the airport, excited to see what a completely different part of Japan would be like. We made it through security and, after a bit of a delay, we boarded our flight. From there we sat on the runway for another hour plus as we waited for the back up of flights to leave ahead of us. Finally we were in the air and headed to Hokkaido. Two hours later, I woke up expecting to hear the landing procedures sounding over the intercom. Instead, in garbled english, it sounded like they said the runway was closed. Figuring that couldn't be possible, we asked a flight attendant who confirmed that they had closed the runway due to snow and that our flight was turning back to Tokyo. Two more hours later, we landed back at the airport we had left four hours previously. They gave us a paper explaining our two options which were to be refunded (but just for that flight. Not our return flight or lodging that we missed out on) or wait until the exact same flight the next afternoon. Luckily we were in front of the line and got good seats for the flight the next day. Thinking about the $10+ per person it would take to get out of the airport and then another to get back and then new lodging on top of the place we had already paid for in Hokkaido, we decided to camp out in the airport. Luckily, they had a waiting area for people like us and we found a large bench big enough for two. We spent the next morning watching the planes land and take off before making our way back to the gate to try again. We all boarded, just like the previous day, and my nerves grew as, again, we were delayed on the runway. Another hour and a half later we took off. I was sure we would get stuck in the same situation as the sun went down and ice was forming on the runway.  I didn't think we would make it until we walked off the plane and into Hokkaido.

Photo by Moose

Photo by Moose

Relieved, we jumped on a bus and headed into downtown Sapporo where we would stay at an Airbnb we had booked for the previous night. The streets were covered in ice and snow but it didn't seem to phase anyone. We walked down the sidewalk which was elevated about 18 inches higher with packed ice and a thin layer of snow. We wore everything we had to stay warm. It didn't surprise me with how close we were to Russia but the air bit at any exposed skin. We got to the place an met our host who offered us cheap beers and turned up the heater. He asked if we were hungry and said he could take us to his friends yakitori restaurant down the street so we bundled up and headed out. He was clearly a regular and knew everyone there. Right away they brought us beers and a small bowl of what looked like ground meat and some green vegetable. It was delicious but as our host pointed to his stomach and said "chicken inside" our guts turned. Moose began stashing the rest in his napkin but I ate it all, not wanting to offend. I do have to say, if I didn't know what it was, I would eat it again. After that he brought us some chorizo sausages and chicken skewers while filling our cups with sake. It was some of the best chicken I've ever eaten. We capped off the meal with the most delicious ramen and another cup of sake before getting the bill. Unfortunately it was then that we realized we had been duped. The restaurant and our host had totally ripped us off. The next morning we left without a word and headed into downtown Sapporo.

Photo by Moose  

Photo by Moose  

We walked around for a long time before stumbling into a cool building and finding out it was the Sapporo beer factory which included a large mall. We grabbed lunch there before heading over to the Sapporo beer museum which told the story of its beginnings.

We had some beers before grabbing dinner and heading back to our hotel for the night. The next day we headed back into the city for the afternoon and saw as they started setting up for the fire and ice festival. There were already some ice sculptures cut out and igloos made into small galleries for local artists. We found a hole in the wall place that was modeled after a California bar and went in. Finally there were beers that didn't taste like water and we even found a Pliny the Elder for the reasonable price of $22.

Photo by Moose

Photo by Moose

The owner came in and chatted with us for a bit. He had traveled over here 40 years ago and decided to stay, opening the bar about 36 years prior. Two more gentlemen entered who we found out owned a brewery on an island off the very southern tip of Japan. The owner began loudly boasting to the two men about how easy it was to sell a beer for 4 times the price. The men were put off, as we're we, so we left and got back on the subway to our hotel.

Photo by Moose

Photo by Moose

We giggled with the couple across from us as a drunk guy fell asleep on Moose's shoulder and then another man kept falling into the other couple as the train moved, crotch first. Before we knew it there were less and less people on the train so we checked our GPS and realized we were headed in a different direction. We got off as soon as we could at a completely empty station and realized there would be no train to take us back. There was one woman in the parking lot and we quickly ran to ask her if she could call a cab for us. Luckily she was very kind and made sure the driver knew where we wanted to go. So she left and we waited in the cold for half an hour without seeing a soul before the cab lights turned down the road. My stomach began to twist as the meter shot up and up. Fifty dollars, and only 16km, later we were back where we needed to be. We went to bed frustrated by our mistakes. I realized we had spent too much money on American beers and a cab ride mishap to go skiing the next day so we took it easy, ate good food, and caught up on sleep. Our flight was early the next morning back to Tokyo so we got up and took the shuttle back to the airport. Luckily there was no mishaps with our flight and we made it to Tokyo with an afternoon to spend. We explored more of the city and grabbed some delicious sushi before calling it quits for the day. We woke up the next morning for what would be our last day in Tokyo and headed to the fish market.

You could smell it long before you were there and we walked down the isles of fresh fish being chopped and sold for hours. When we walked through the wholesale market the auctions were over and everyone was cleaning up. Washing the blood off the ground, picking up guts and skins to throw in the large trolley that came around each stall.

Photo by Moose  

Photo by Moose  

It was fascinating to see it all. Even the man cutting the eyeballs out of the giant tuna heads.

Photo by Moose  

Photo by Moose  

 After eating the freshest sushi, we headed over to Shibuya where we entered our first cat cafe. There were more people than cats and it seemed as if the cats had been drugged to not cause a ruckus, only looking lively when a handler brought out a cat lollipop.

Photo by Moose  

Photo by Moose  

They did not want human affection, they did not purr, and I'm sure they were all declawed (meaning they cut the tips of their "fingers" off). It all just made me sad and think of all of the ways they could make this a better experience for everyone.

Photo by Moose  

Photo by Moose  

We left there and headed for the airport where we would stay the night before taking an early flight the next day. We were headed to Hong Kong to meet up with Moose's brother and add another country to our list! Stay tuned for Moose and Goose on the Loose: in Hong Kong!

Bamboo and Baboons, I Mean Macaques.

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We made it down to Takamatsu (on Shikoku) after dark and stopped in to a random restaurant to grab some dinner. It was a yakitori restaurant and we soon realized that we had been in one of these before a couple weeks early. It was apparent when the English menu came and chicken gizzard was first on the menu. We ordered what we thought would be the safest bet but I'm not really sure which part of the chicken was on top of my rice bowl. We left there and started hiking up a nearby mountain to a view spot. From the top we could see the entire city lit up for the night. I was surprised by how big it was. I was expecting a more rural island for the 88 temple pilgrimage that circumnavigate the place. We found a flat spot and started to set up our tent just as snow flurries began to swirl around us. Once we got in, the snow came down harder but we were warm and cozy inside. The next morning we woke up to birds checking out our tent and a gorgeous view of the city in the day time.

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Unfortunately, my cold had gotten much worse and I was puffing my inhaler every few minutes between coughs to keep breathing. We hiked down from the mountain and went to a Starbucks to get wifi and figure out our next plan. The area of Shikoku we were in was highly developed and the pilgrimage in this area was mostly road walking. After the Te Araroa and the CDT, pavement road walking is extremely unappealing. We looked into getting to the more rural areas but our only possibility would be to rent a car. After going to 4 different places that had no cars available, a woman told us that we couldn't drive in the country anyways without an international license. Slightly defeated, we found the closest wifi to figure out a new plan. The place happened to be the lobby of a really nice hotel but they let us sit and gave us the wifi password without question. Feeling worse, we decided not to camp that night. My parents found an amazing place nearby that would have a great view of the city and would keep us warm enough to recover.

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Now we just had to get there. We picked up some medicine and jumped on the JR train to get closer. When we got to the station there was no way to get up to the hotel on top of the hill. The station master, who was one of the most jolly people I've ever met and spoke no english, tried everything he could to help us. We were hopeful the whole time because he laughed at almost anything. Finally he found a taxi that would come out if we waited about 20 minutes. So we did and the taxi showed up to take us to the top of the hill where we could check in and get a good night's sleep. The next morning we woke up and went down for breakfast at the hotel. It was a traditional Japanese breakfast complete with tiny grilled Fish with eyes, the back half of some other fish, and something that looked like a banana but was NOT a banana.

Photo by Moose

Photo by Moose

We tried almost everything but I agreed with Moose when he said it was hard to be daring so early in the morning.

Photo by Moose

Photo by Moose

We spent the rest of the day relaxing and trying to fight this cold. I sat in the bathroom with the shower on trying to steam out the sickness while pounding on my chest like I was the wolf of wallstreet. It seemed to help. The next morning we woke up and, slightly reluctantly, went down for breakfast. This day it was delicious salmon and a few other mysterious plates. We packed our stuff and headed for the shuttle down the mountain. As we walked to the stop, a small orange cat whose tail had been mangled by something came out into the walkway meowing up a storm. I couldn't help but reach down and pet him. We were running late so I said goodbye and started to walk away as he lunged forward and wrapped his paws around my leg.

I wanted to cry or stuff him in my backpack but I had to walk away to catch the shuttle. We ran into the jolly station master again who helped us with our tickets and we boarded the train back into town. That evening we took a bus to Kyoto and watched the sun set over the island. We also got to see some amazing whirlpools as we crossed the ocean back onto the mainland and Japan. As we drove into town, temples popped up everywhere. It seemed you couldn't go 5 minutes without seeing another one.

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We woke up the next morning and walked through the city to an area with tons of shrines connected by pathways. The pathways were tunneled with pillars covered in japanese characters and we spent the afternoon navigating through them and the hundreds of other people. We tried tirelessly to get a picture without all of the tourists but it was impossible.

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When we left the area we were spit out to an alleyway filled with food vendors yelling at the passersby. The food smelled amazing and we tried to guess what everything was as we walked down the lane. The next morning we woke up and headed to the bamboo grove on the edge of town. Again it was swarming with tourists but we managed to get a shot or two.

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After that we grabbed some food in town and headed for the monkey park. After a steep climb up we came to the summit that was covered in Macaque monkeys.

Photo by Moose

Photo by Moose

It was one of the coolest things I've gotten to experience. They ran free all around the people and sometimes would hiss if you stared at them too long. (See video below)

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We stayed for a long time before heading back into town for the night. The next day we took a bus back to Takamatsu and caught a flight back to Tokyo. Now we head to Hokkaido where we will do some skiing as it borders northern Russia and attend the fire and ice festival.

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Photo by Moose

Photo by Moose

Video by Moose

Mt. Fuji and a Change of Plans

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We left Tokyo late and caught a train to Fuji instead of hitching. As we rode further out of the city, snow started to pop up in larger areas. My nerves spiked as I thought of the Continental Divide trail and how tough it had been to hike through that snow. I tried to soak in all of the heat from our heated seats on the train before it stopped and we had to get out. It was already dark by then but we hiked out of town and up a snow covered ridge. Once we got to the top and huge gondola station was settled there for those who couldn't make the 1km trek up. We found an elevated viewing platform and spread out our sleeping bags to cowboy camp under the stars. Even in my bag, I was cold. I started putting on every layer I had in my pack but I couldn't warm up. We drank some hot soup and then layed down for the night. I maybe slept for a total of ten minutes until about 1 am when I had to go to the bathroom. I struggled, not wanting to get out of my sleeping bag. Did I really have to go that bad? I did. I jumped out of my bag and half threw on my shoes and stumbled to the stairs. Mid stream, I noticed a red light on the building beside me.  A camera. Great. I waved, pulled up my pants and ran back up to the platform. We were woken up again at 3am to snow starting to fall on us. We grabbed all of our gear and ran for the nearest cover which happened to be at the top of the gondola. We set up the tent and crawled in. It was slightly warmer inside the tent but not by much. I tried to take a sip of water but my bottle had frozen. The next time I opened my eyes the sun was out. The sound of gears moving began and we realized that the gondola was starting to move. We jumped out and started throwing things in our bags. Flashes of us getting arrested for trespassing in a foreign country crossed my mind. Just as the first tram reached the top, we got the last bits into our bags.

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Luckily, the first one was empty so we relaxed a bit and enjoyed the view of Mt. Fuji. We started to head down the slope which had iced over overnight. My feet came out from underneath me and my face went straight for a bush.  A felt a stick jab into my eyelid and settle underneath my eye. I quickly pulled away but the damage was done in the form of an inch long scratch just under my pupil. Moose kept saying how lucky I was that it hadn't hit me higher but I didn't feel that way. A few falls later, we were down the mountain and back into town where I nursed my injury with coffee and chocolate cake. (it wasn't that bad, I just wanted cake). I didn't know then that those wouldn't be the last stairs I'd fall down that day. This place is icy! We decided we'd stay inside that night and booked a tiny cabin on a lake at the base of Mt. Fuji. To get there we'd try our hand at hitch hiking for the first time in Japan. After a few stern looks and about 20 cars, a tiny woman in a van pulled over and let us in. We told her where we were headed and she seemed to know the place well. We couldn't communicate but she took us right to the spot, even stopping and going in with us to grab a cup of tea. We found out she knew the owners well and they laughed about us trying to hitch hike. That night we warmed up our frozen extremities and watched night fall on the lake in front of us. It finally felt like a vacation. The next day we woke up and hopped on a pair of bikes to ride to an ancient city with one of the best views of fuji we'd seen yet.

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We had a blast walking through the thatched roof city and taking tons of pictures. Outside people were selling a bunch of traditional food including whole fish on a stick. We decided to pass but it did smell delicious. We stayed another night with the wonderful couple at the hotel before heading back to the train station. We hopped on a bus to get back to Tokyo and what was a 2 hour ride turned into 4 hours. Exhausted, we got off the bus into a crazy part of Tokyo. It was overwhelming, overcrowded, and loud. We found the cheapest place we could to sleep and headed over there. We opened a green door to a tiny staircase and had to take our packs off in order to enter. There were two Korean boys there and they told us our bed was on the third floor. Packed into the tiny apartment were two bunk beds and you had to crawl to get to them. There was trash all over the floors and most of the beds had already been slept in. We found one that looked the cleanest, pulled out our sleeping bags and climbed into one bunk. There was no mattress and you could feel the metal bars keeping the bed up. A few hours after falling asleep, 4 men came in saying they had 4 beds in the place that night. We pretended to be asleep and they eventually left talking about how bad the place was. We'd see them again the next morning so they could tell us that we were in the wrong spot and take pictures of the place.

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Unfortunately, we were right where we were supposed to be. We left early, claustrophobic and tired. We walked around the city a bit more before catching a train to the airport and flying down to the island of Shikoku. There we would check out the 1400km pilgrimage that had been on my mind for a while. We hoped for better days.

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Getting to Know Tokyo

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We arrived in Tokyo mid-day after traveling for almost 24 hours. It was an overwhelming experience navigating out of the airport and through customs. We sat down to get our bearings and realized, we could do whatever we wanted. At the time, all I could think of was sleep so we jumped on the subway and headed to a cheap hostel for the night. Walking through town, I couldn't help notice the similarities to any big city I'd ever been to. Besides the signs with Japanese characters, I could have been walking through downtown San Francisco. The air was chilly but the sun was warm on our faces and we lavished the feeling of starting a new adventure. The hostel owner greeted us then showed us to our room. He opened the door to an 8x6 room with two bed rolls in the corner and left us there. We rolled out the beds immediately and crashed, exhausted from the trip. We woke up a bit later and left the hostel to find a place to eat. The owner had recommended a place nearby but Google maps couldn't find it and neither could we. We stopped in a tiny restaurant and sat down. The cook promptly brought us the English menu which included grilled chicken liver, grilled chicken thigh, grilled chicken tongue, etc. Only grilled parts of chicken. We decided to grab a drink instead and ordered a whiskey highball or lots of whiskey and a tiny splash of club soda. A man who had been at the bar for a seemingly long time turned around and greeted us. He did not speak one word of English. After our first drinks were gone, he quickly had two more brought out to us. We tried to have a conversation but struggled with the language barrier. He compensated by ordering us more drinks. Then the cook brought us two plates of, you guessed it, grilled chicken. We said we hadn't ordered it but the friendly gentleman are the bar had ordered for us. Not wanting to be rude and trying to follow our rule to try everything, we dug in. Much to my surprise, it was delicious! We gobbled it down (no pun intended) and thanked the man for his recommendation.  We continued to struggle through conversation before he payed and left. We went to pay ourselves but found the man had already bought our meal and drinks. Still a bit hungry, we found another restaurant down the street and sat down. They did not have an English so we pointed at pictures of the food we wanted. About halfway through the meal, we realized we were at the restaurant that the hostel owner had recommended. We gorged on tuna with rice and miso soup before heading back to the hostel and passing out. The next morning we woke up early, not used to the time change, and left the hostel. We walked down a beautiful path next to the river that cut through Tokyo. We were on our way to the famous Sumo Hall where we were hoping to catch a bit of the tournament that was going on. The place was huge and adorned with tons of bright flags surrounding the outside. There was a big sign that said English and immediately a guy came over to help us. Apparently tickets had sold out 5 minutes before we got there. So we turned around and walked back into the city, hoping for better luck the next day. We checked into our next hostel and left our stuff to go explore the city. We picked a direction and started walking. Not all of Tokyo is covered with big buildings and flashy lights.  We were in a much more mellow part of town. We decided to pick one word a day to learn and use and on our second day in Japan, we decided on excuse me or sumimasen. We got really good at that one! We walked into a toy store that was exploding with noise and movement. They had everything you could possible think of; Harry Potter wands, a $10,000 batman mask, and, what we were looking for, real Japanese pokemon cards. Slightly overwhelmed, we stumbled out into a bustling alleyway with tons of shops and restaurants. We stayed in the alley system for a while before coming to a park. It was a nice break from all of the concrete and tons of people were enjoying the quiet calmness of the area. The pigeons were sleeping in the middle of the park, unconcerned with the thought of a child running through and terrorizing them. In the middle of the park was our first Japanese temple, colorfully adorned with lanterns and surrounded by water. Starving, we walked into a sushi restaurant and say down. Again, we were thankful for the pictures on the menu. They had a big aquarium behind the sushi bar that was over filled with large fish, including a huge red snapper. A man came by to feed them and the snapper went wild. Spraying water out of the tank and knocking into the other fish wildly. He was angry and aggressive which I would be too, stuck in a small cage waiting to become the grilled red snapper head that I wished they didn't have a picture of on the menu. I looked down at my raw tuna roll and felt incredible guilty. Unfortunately, not guilty enough not to eat it. We left with a bad feeling in our guts and kept walking around. We found a small amusement park right in the middle of the city complete with a roller coaster that went through buildings. We passed on the roller coaster but found an English pub as we left that had Moose's favorite beer on tap so we stopped in to figure out our next plan. Not long after we were joined by two British guys (how fitting) who had been traveling all over the world with their girlfriends. Once we got to talking, we didn't stop. After hours together we walked with them through the city and back to our hostels, drinking $2 beers on the street because we could. It was tough the next morning when our alarm went off at 5:30am so we could get to the Sumo Hall for tickets. There was already a line but we were assured we would get a ticket if we waited. It was way colder than I expected without the sun beating down and we struggled to stay warm while keeping our spots. After an hour, the ticket box opened and then everything was a rush. We got our tickets and got inside where everyone was sprinting for the best seats. Unfortunately, the general admission tickets only included the very back nosebleed seats but we found a good spot and settled in. Everyone else saved their seats and left, planning to come back for the more popular matches. We watched a few of the preliminary matches before leaving to get some food. We didn't realize that most places don't open until 11 so we wandered around in the cold, zombie like, until we could get something to eat. Frozen to the bone and dead tired, we headed back to the hostel for a nap before returning to the tournament. When I woke up, I felt a film around my throat showing the first signs of a cold. We went back to the hall and watched as the more experienced sumos entered and began to wrestle. It was like being at an American football game. People were yelling out their favorites and cheering loudly. I didn't expect it from such a traditional sport. It was hard not to get in the spirit and cheer with them as these huge men tip toed on the edge of the ring, trying not to lose. It was an experience I'll never forget. We grabbed some ramen, ordered from a machine, and then walked home in the cold night air. That night I felt much worse and whatever we had eaten was not agreeing with me. It may have been the worst stomach ache I've had in my entire life. Eventually I fell asleep but woke up feeling very sick. We traveled to our next room but were unable to check in until 3. I felt like death and just wanted to sleep but the rude desk boy said we'd have to pay extra even though our room was ready. Thoroughly frustrated and tired, we kept walking around in the cold. For those few hours, I hated japan and wanted to go home. Finally they let us up but we had no time to relax before trying to catch the sunset at the top of the Tokyo government building. It was crowded and the windows had tons of smudges from people pressing their hands and faces against them. Personal space really isn't a thing here. You'll find out quickly as soon as you hop on an elevator or the metro during rush hour. I found a good way to get some space is to cough a lot. We got some amazing pictures and watched the incredible sun set behind Mt Fuji in the distance. That night we went to our first Sushi-go-round. The plates pass by and you grab what you'd like. At the end, they count your plates and charge you accordingly. The sushi wasn't the best quality we've had in japan but the experience was fun. I went back to get some sleep while Moose walked around getting pictures of the city at night. We woke up, still sick, and headed for the Shibuya crossing which is similar to a mini Times Square. We were standing on the street figuring out where to go next when a man came by and asked us if we had some time. I was skeptical at first but he told us he was an english teacher at the local photography college and shot for National Geographic Japan. He had seen our tripods and figured we'd be good candidates to help in his english class. We followed him to the school and he gave us some material to check for errors. Half an hour later, we were full on teaching an english class. We worked on pronunciation, animal noises, and camera talk before dipping a little into American politics. After the two hour class, the students came up to thank us and talk more about our trip. A few of the students even took time to walk us to the metro station. It wasn't what we had expected to do that day but it was so fulfilling and unique. Definitely worthwhile. Feeling pretty sick after talking for two hours, we headed to our airbnb for the night. We slept in the next morning to try to kick the sickness and then headed to the Tokyo tower. It's very similar to the eiffel tower but bright red.

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We went up and got a great view of the city. We jumped on the metro to get down to the skytree for sunset and went 350 meters up to have one of the most spectacular views of all of Tokyo. We stayed until the sun was completely gone and the city lights were bright. We headed down to Roppongi for a uniquely italian/japanese fusion dinner before turning in for the night. We got another late start the next day and headed to an outdoor store so we could pick up some things for camping. We ran a bunch of errands, getting ready to head to fuji to backpack, which took us all day and left no time for hitching out of the city. We booked an airbnb and headed for it. For almost two hours we tried to get in the apartment while running a quarter of a mile back and forth to get wifi to ask the owner what wasn't working. On my 4th run, I realized we were not at the right apartment building. An extremely kind man offered to help and found the correct address and even offered to walk us there. At 10:30 we made it inside and crawled onto the incredibly thin futon to sleep. The place didn't have wifi so we had to push off all of our planning until the next day where we found a Starbucks and planned out the next few weeks. Now we try to hitch hike out of town to Mt Fuji where we hope to spend a week in the mountains.

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