So I went to Japan for about 12 days in early March. You might be interested in some of the things I did?
What happened on the trip was that my phone wen kaput. This caused all kind of problems, such as not having much pictures or videos from the first 5 days, or much more subsequently. I ended up using the tablet I always packrat with me as a replacement. There were a lot of logistical problems when your smartphone dies, and in my case it was probably worse both because I was out of the country, and I rely on my smartphone a lot for all kinds of things, like getting around, storing all my key info, and being my only real means of communicating with anyone.
If you are going to Japan, try to go with a group, because that really helped me out when I didn’t have my phone. In reality I was able to resolve the situation pretty fast because the AirBnB I stayed in had the usual hotspot thing, but it was kind of rough at any rate. Good experience to have in retrospect, since my phone was covered by warranty anyway and I already have the replacement up and running, but it could easily have been worse.
OK with that out of the way, this time I did a lot of events back-to-back on weekends (which…is too much in retrospect), but also went to Oarai for the first time. I also returned to Sendai with two pilgrims and showed them around a bit.
Unfortunately, my phone died while I was on a bus from the Ibaraki aquarium in Oarai to the Oarai train station, as we were on our way back out to Tokyo. I lost all the video and most of the photos I took there. That included the trip from Tokyo out into Mito, a few Koroazu pilgrimage spots in Mito, and the trip to the boonies that is Girl und Panzer land.
Popular anime pilgrimage spots usually have a corner at the train station of the town where the stuff is populated. Oarai station doesn’t even have electronic gates, but the info office is basically a giant GuP display. You really cannot escape the GuP in the town. It’s literally everywhere, although in a kind of stealth sort of way. I guess Oarai is one of the most extreme examples of this, but it was quite impressive seeing GuP stuff plastered everywhere.
I think the day we visited, 3/6-3/7, there was a birthday celebration for one of the minor Russian school cast members. Some of the ryokans were actually booked out for that Tuesday so we went on Monday instead. We stayed at Oarai Hotel, which offers booking on Japanican and other EN sites, and takes credit cards. They also have a few EN staff to help, which is always welcomed. It’s not THE Girl und Panzer ryokan but that place was booked out.
On that note, the hotel is fairly large, and offers ryokan-style rooms. For meals they typically serve them in the cafeteria and they offer a variety of room types. There are the standard Japanese style rooms with public baths, there are western and Japanese style rooms with in-room bath (that has an open view towards the sea; the hotel is next to the beach), and there are a few baller suites that we didn’t see. Food-wise, they offer a half buffet and serve their main dishes on a per-table basis. You can also order some stuff ala cart, such as grilled whelk, ankimo, and grilled hitachi beef. Their specialty for the time was the anko nabe served with local veggies, so we had that, plus ankimo sashimi on the side.
Anko is monkfish or the anglerfish, which is eaten across the northeastern pacific but only Japan and Korea make a big deal out of it. If you know GuP you know how this sea creature symbolizes the lead tank in the Oarai Girls High senshado team. In reality the monkfish is this ugly and big thing that is a bottom feeder, and at the Oarai Hotel they do a fish carving demo every day so you can check it out?
As we were going to Oarai, we didn’t really have a plan besides to walk around the main town area and maybe go to the aquarium. When we got to the station we walked into the info center, and the baachans there just told us to do the stamp rally, so we used that as a sightsee guide.
Japan loves stamp rallies I guess, but this was the first one I’ve ever completed with any real dedication. We walked around town, starting from the tower and the shopping center, through the narrow main street, across the coast up into Oarai Hotel, past the mentaiko factory, and finally ending up at the temple on the hill. We called it a day and picked up the aquarium the next day, and then headed back out.
The tower and the shopping center is another must-stop for the GuP pilgrim, since it has the Girls und Panzer gallery and shop. The observation tower cafe also is decked out with GuP things, and you can get your English tea on there.
The other spots in town are sort of either shopping spots or just places to see. Shopping places can either be the generic kind like a grocery store, or a little restaurant. I guess depends on the time, there are small or large events taking place there at any given time too. I also just linked to the main Oarai GuP tourist site, so hit that up for the last info. Too bad ML4th conflicted with Oarai Spring Festival!
We did walk a bit around Mito on the day going home from Oarai. It’s a nice busy place in Ibaraki. The week we were there, the plums were in blossom, so we visited the large park there. It was pretty nice, but we didn’t really strut out there because the weather was not great, being chilly and rainy. We had plum ice cream? There was this nice curry place we had a late lunch in Mito, and it was pretty good. No comparison shots with Koroazu blog posts, unfortunately.
My return trip to Sendai (third time) costed more financial pain because we overstayed at Luvya. It’s worth it though, because I paid for someone’s oshi song. For the most part, though, refer to my last post. There are a few key updates.
They sell a Loople+subway day pass now, for 950 yen. The sendai subway is pretty handy way of getting around town, so I recommend it if you plan to do the WUG sites inside the downtown area. Sentabi site also expanded the list of areas as well, including many of the eateries and shops in the downtown area.
Since my last visit, they have fully repaired and fixed up Date Castle so the whole area looks nice and new. It also happened to be sunny, finally, on the day we went, so the view up there was very nice. We also rode with this very verbose Loople driver who is taking his tour bus job seriously, giving us running commentary on nearly everything we drove past. It was an interesting experience.
What else did we do this time? I visited the airport, because we had JR East passes. Why not? Because it gets super crowded during rush hour, if you happen to be on a train full of air travelers. The airport itself is actually a nice sight, and I got to go up to the observation deck. It was also the only place I found an open zunda shake stand, I guess it was still kind of chilly (it flurried earlier in the day).
We just missed out on gyutons, because we had to catch the last express train back. Getting takeout at the JR is the way to go IMO.
When you do visit Sendai and want some free WUG stuff, hit the info office (now located in a nice corner away from the main lobby area) and ask for the WUG pamphlet and the Sendai holo card.
I did a lot of dying on this trip. Aside from my phone, at least. I say this obviously in jest, but it’s been more than a week since my return and I’m still recovering from a cold I caught on the flight back. OK, surely I exaggerate. What struck me (repeatedly) this trip is not just the physical fatigue from doing so many events in such a short time, but the emotional fatigue from the type of events. Angela Budokan was an emotional one since they did a bit of retrospective even there. Sphere Yoyogi announced their hiatus and I got to go the day after to suffer the splash damage. And you might know about how much of a cry-fest ML4th was. Tourism between all this dying was not terrible, but it didn’t help me recover much between things. I even doubled up the dying with mini events like seeing WUG at Koshigaya Lake Town on 3/4, or the Sakura Quest event on 3/11 and Trinity 7 event on 3/12.
It’s not just an old age thing, even if obviously it plays a part, but I think it’s prudent to not schedule aggressively, especially on long trips. It’s just harder to recover during the week while you’re in Japan. I can recover much faster at home, so the tendency to go nuts on weekend and scale back during the week is one I need to resist, because it doesn’t work as well as I would like.
We went bowling. Let me detail a bit. This joint in Shibuya is not far from the main crossing and it was a nice place, if a tad on the pricy side. We had a 3-game plus shoes rental set and that was 1500 a person. They had day and night bowling, and the cafe where the bowling was taking place is the same place where the ML 3rd Makuhari BD bonus footage was taken from. That was obviously the key inspiration for the activity but bowling with a group like this ought to be fun anyway.
Bowling was tons of fun, so it all worked out. I’m not sure if I’ll ever do this again in Japan but at least I know where to go and how it works. The place has other sports like billiards, ping pong, and darts too. You go through from the basement level and take your order up the elevators after telling them what you want. While bowling you can use the tablet to control the usual in-game stuff, but also order drinks and foods.
Tokyo is running out of tourist housing. Well, they are building more in light of the Olympics in a few years, but the truth is with every peak tourist number each year, fewer hotels are available in the good Tokyo locations. Normal hotels have already been priced out of my reach for several years. Business hotels are still OK for short stays, but using AirBnB has been the main way to go for budget conscious travelers who wants the autonomy and privacy of their own place but at a reasonable price. This time I stayed at a converted office unit near Kodemmacho station. It is very spacious and ran for about $97 a night after everything. Splitting that 4 ways was not a problem and that reduces the cost mightily. We ended up only splitting it three ways though.
It’s safe to say I think some of us rec the place for its good price and space performance. It’s never a sure thing to tell ahead of time how big a unit is on Airbnb, especially in Tokyo, but this one was big enough for 4-5 people comfortably, which is a rare find. Staying off the Hibiya line is not the best ideas, but I think it’s a good compromise.
Shopping & Miscellany
Just some notes on where money is spent. (Or not spent, in some cases.)
I didn’t know Pasela ran a lunch special. An hour of karaoke, in-room food service food set (drink + lunch) and all that comes with Pasela’s system for as low as a sen? That’s a great deal given that it’s much easier to kick back and relax in that setting.
The Wugmaga shop in Sendai is still dangerous to my wallet. At the time the cafe was running a Joker Game thing.
The Loople stopped at the light by MACANA so I was able to see it from the bus. Now I know where it is?
I wasn’t able to go to the Anion cafe ML collab because timing didn’t work out and by Monday there was a long line of people waiting to get in for lunch. I guess nothing important was missed, as they displayed the signed pop display inside the lobby.
The taiyaki/takoyaki place outside of Akiba Yodobashi is worth its long lines. I wish I can say the same about some of the other shops. On that note, I didn’t know the SQEX cafe is running a Nier collab…
The main problem of buppan at Budokan is that the area for sales is small. They can’t fit a lot of registers there, so everything takes a while to process.
Harajuku JR station on a Sunday afternoon that isn’t freezing or raining mean huge crowds. I didn’t know it was that popular of a place… On that note I think I’ve visited every venue inside of the Yoyogi complex with the trip to the Gymnasium!
Actually ate at Kabukicho this time. It’s really not that bad!
PS. Time to load up all these iOS photos and videos into Google photo… which managed to recover some unuploaded images from my malfunctioning phone. It bricked and just wouldn’t turn on anymore?