You can’t film while wearing a mask in a train station

Posted on Jul 1, 2012 in Travel

The Police woman came running up to Eoin and I making the famous criss-cross symbol with her hands and saying something in Japanese while pointing to her face and then down to my camera which I was holding.  The criss-cross symbol with her hands meant “no”, the pointing to her face meant “mask” and the pointing to my camera meant “video”. We quickly surmised her mime to mean “No making a video of someone wearing a mask in the train station you dumb Americans.”

In any other situation Eoin and I would have no idea what she meant but in this case we were positive she was booting us out of the train station for trying to make a video of Eoin walking through the busy train station in his new Japanese character costume.  We left the station educated once again on yet another unwritten Japanese rule.  There are many of them here and everyday we find out the hard way when someone comes running up to us criss crossing their arms and saying, “no, no, no”.  We joke that we really are not pushing the boundaries if we don’t get it at least 3 times a day.

In any case, Eoin has a new costume that took us a whole week to find out what it was.  The costume was sitting in an Anime and Toy Shop in Shibuku and we bought it a week ago and lugged it around Japan until today.  Eoin was trying to work up the nerve to go out on the streets and wear it.  He was not sure what would happen but take a look at this super hero and let us know what you think. I think he did a great job.

Well today was our last day in Japan and we spent it just relaxing and getting prepared for the long trip back.  We didn’t do too much since it was pouring rain and every time we walked outside we got poured on.  Shibuya was a river of umbrellas, in some places you could not even see the ground from above because it was umbrellas all around you.

Tomorrow we head back to the US.  Back to Lolita’s, In and Out Burger and where, “people speak fluent American” as Eoin puts it.  Eoin was a bit worried that Danny and Camille might make him eat Japanese for her first meal back.  I am not sure he will want a Japanese meal for a long time.

Goodbye Japan. We would say Sayonara but Eoin thinks that sounds super cheesy.

Akihibara, Asakusa and Katsu

Posted on Jun 30, 2012 in Travel

What does Ashai Flames, Electronic Stores and Pork Cutlets have to do with each other.  If you answered, “What Eoin and Frank did today”, you would have answered correctly.  Today started out in the area of Tokyo known as Asakusa which is the oldest hot spot in Tokyo and ended up at the best Katsu restaurant in Tokyo.  It was another great day and marked almost our last full day in Tokyo. Boy have we had a great time and really have seen a lot.

We actually forgot to do Eoin’s daily update video until we got back to the hotel tonight.  Before he turned on the Ipod to catch more of Season 3 of Breaking Bad (his new favorite series), he gives his fans an update on his whereabouts and doings.

Today I believe we truly mastered the Subway system and traveled on almost every major line that you can on the system – and this is probably one of the most complex and efficient systems in the world.  Eoin took a shot of the map that we have used this week.  He really has a knack for being able to navigate the railways and always gets us to our destination no matter how small or off the beaten path it is.  Eoin posed for a picture holding hands with this little mascot. We’re not sure who or what it is but they are everywhere in Tokyo.

We had sushi for lunch. First time we had sushi since we came to Japan.  Eoin doesn’t like it so much but we did it so we could say we did it. We did it.  Check please.

One of the most beautiful and strange buildings in Tokyo is the Asahi Flame building.  It was designed by a French guy and the flame on the top is supposed to remind people of the foam on the top of a beer so they will remember to drink more Asahi beer whenever they see it.  I think today was the first day in Tokyo we actually saw Sun which made it pretty nice to take pictures.

After visiting the Asakusa area we made another stop to one of the craziest areas of Tokyo – the Akihambara District which is basically the world-wide headquarters for electronic stores.  It is like no place on earth that you have never seen.  There must have been close to 250,000 people crammed into a a mile or so of stores on this stretch.  Eoin played some video games there and we also caught some of the local life here in Tokyo

Picture every building in this area with shops at every level 7 or 8 stories high.  Each building has massive amounts of electronics and games inside.

Eoin has a little fun about 7 stories down this really cool staircase that we found in the district.  He hoped a barrier to get this picture so this was a bit of an illegal shot but he wasn’t arrested so it’s all good.

The place is full of people trying to market and sell things.  Everyone is trying to hand you pamplets everywhere.

Eoin hanging out in the electronic district looking like a cool cat.

Eoin and his videographer/photographer catching every moment.

We even caught Eoin in action playing a war game of some sort.  It required that you wear official 3D googles to protect you from the shrapnel and such that was flying off the screen as he obliterated the enemy

The final bit of the day we headed over to the Roppongi District which quite a wealthy district.  It was very westernized and there were Japanese driving expensive Ferrari’s and other cars up and down the streets.  This was definitely the money capital of Tokyo and probably where most of the very rich people lived. The area appeared almost entirely modern. Eoin even thought he smelled In and Out Hamburgers close by but that was just a phantom.

In Tokyo restaurants typically specialize in one type of food.  Zagat guide recommends one place that specialized in Pork Cutlets called “Katsu”  The funny thing is that when we were trying to get to the restaurant we took 2 subways and a taxi and ended up about 3 blocks down from where we started in Roppongi. We made one huge circle across several neighborhoods trying to find it, only to find that it was right under our noses to begin with.  Well, it was an experience and we learned the subway and city better.  The restaurant was great and it was definitely the best pork that we had.

The place was really cozy and looked like someone’s house.  When we left the lady went to the door and stood outside waving goodbye.  I think it might have been her house – it looked like it.

The pork was excellently fried.  I got the pork with more fat that was supposedly the best tasting and Eoin got the Filet with no fat.  I actually liked his better.

 Well day 10 has come to an end. To be honest we are both pretty tired since we are out exploring at least 10-12 hours each day but we are doing it right.  Just one more day to explore and then we are back on the very long plane ride back to Los Angeles.  It will be good to get home but also a little sad to have to leave after having such a great time.

Donuts, Books and Sleep Train

Posted on Jun 29, 2012 in Travel

Friday here in Japan and we made the very very long haul to the mountain town of Nikko located about 2 1/2 hours north of Tokyo. It was day that began like many other days – at Starbucks to get a coffee for me and a Peanut Butter donut for Eoin who thinks that they are pretty good even though they don’t really taste like donuts. You see the donuts here taste more like a soft bread than an actual deep fried donut that we are used to.  The peanut butter donuts appear to be a Starbucks Japan exclusive as we have not seen them sold anywhere else.

Nikko is a very small town that is beautiful and quaint and filled with old Buddhist and Shinto Temples.  The train ride out there involved a 35 minute subway ride to the outskirts of Tokyo followed by a 2.5 hour very slow and long train ride up to the mountains.  Eoin is actually a championship sleeper and can sleep seemingly anywhere and today was no exception.  He dozed off as soon as the train left the station.

and sleeping..

and sleeping

We actually only had a few hours after getting to Nikko since we needed to catch the last train which left before 6pm.  We visited a few temples there and Eoin added to the collection of signatures in his book.  In Japan, people buy these books and have the monks in the temples stamp and sign them with very ornate writing.  Eoin has visited so many monuments and temples that he has almost filled his in.  The book is called Nokyo-cho and it is very popular among Japanese making trips to temples as memoirs.

The pages of the book are very beautiful after they get stamped and Eoin says that he is going to keep it as a memoir of the trip for many years.

The temples in Nikko were very beautiful and we saw more Shinto Torii Arches here.  They are all over the place in the sacred areas of Japan.

Eoin provides his much followed daily update in the train, eating chips.  Watch him eat a chip backwards in this extraordinary show of magic.

When we got back to the hotel tonight we saw something cool.  They were playing a professional soccer match on the roof of one of the buildings below us.  What made it even more amazing is that it was far above the rest of the action on the streets of Tokyo below.

Shinkansen, Shibuya and Chicken

Posted on Jun 28, 2012 in Travel

Back on the Shinkansen line, Japan’s famed bullet train for an extremely rapid trip back to Tokyo.  Eoin and I traveled so furiously hard through the Kyoto area of Japan that we exhausted pretty much every city and village of interest to travelers.  Sure we could have probably found more villages but we figured we would head back to Tokyo to see a few places that we had missed and some areas north of Tokyo as well.

We arrived in Tokyo and decided to change hotels and picked a hotel right above the Shibuya Station.  Shibuya is like the Times Square of Tokyo with a ton of great shops and restaurants.  We checked in the hotel and then went over to a Starbucks Coffee Shop located about 3 floors above the super busy Shibuya cross walk. This has got to be one of the most active and  busy intersections on the planet.  We tried making a stop motion video by taking a single shot every 3 seconds for 2 hours.  It turned out pretty interesting and gives you an idea of just how many people pass through this location.

Eoin provides his insightful daily update where he tells us about Shibuya and all of the days activities.   Eoin had a pretty remarkeable day and won a pretty expensive action figurine out of one of those boxes where you have to try to grab the toy with the robotic arm.  The machine was very difficult but he managed to win the toy in spite of the fact that it seemed impossible at first.

In our quest for good food, we ended up finding the best fried chicken strips on the planet.  They are awesome and they are located in the heart of the Shibuya district in a tiny little street vendor.  I am not even sure of the name of this place because the sign was in Japanese and no one there spoke english.  The only thing that  they sold was chicken strips and you buy either 5 or 8 strips and then you can put 1 of 10 different sauces on each one.   They even have a chocolate sauce that you can put on your chicken strip.  Eoin tried that and gave it the traditional Japanese “no no no” while making a striking mark with both hands.

These little chicken bits were so good, we ended up buying a couple of bags and just having plain chicken strips for dinner.

The Shibuya district is like the Times Square of Japan – tons of people walking around brightly colored and lit buildings. There are in-your-face advertisements everywhere here.

And in another Japan wierdity, Eoin bought Danny a fresh new pair of underwear out of a vending machine.  We were looking for the perfect gift for Danny and didn’t expect it to come out of a vending machine.

Hikes, Bad Tempura and Ducks

Posted on Jun 28, 2012 in Travel

So Wednesday began with day something or other of our Japan adventure.  We have begun to lose count of the days spent here and I think that is because we have been so busy that we can barely remember what day it is. Well I imagine it is that and the fact that we crossed the dateline and time is confusing us.  Today was a day of hiking, some very bad tempura and the weirdest duck ceremony you can ever imagine.

The hike we took was amazing but hard.  A very steep climb up stairways to a hill far above Kyoto was how we started the day.  We went to the top of the Inari Shrine which is very unusual because it is completely under vermillion arches which are religious and very important to the Japanese.  These arches are beautiful and Eoin even re-enacted a scene from Memoirs of the Geisha when he ran through the arches located at the bottom of the climb.

The arches are beautiful and make for a very beautiful climb to the top of the mountain.  Everyone is taking pictures along the way so the hike can take quite a bit of time.

The Inari Shrine has both local Japanese people and people from the across the world.  Everyone comes here to make the pilgrimage to the top of the shrine.

When we finally arrived at the top of the hill there was a very nice traditional style Japanese restaurant.  It was a very serene setting but also home to the worst tempura that Eoin and I ever had in our life. There was a tiny piece of shrimp caked in a coating which made it about 10 times it’s original size.  The only problem is that it was barely cooked and the tempura batter was dripping off it.  It looked good at first and then it quickly became the worst meal of the trip.  Later that night Eoin slipped back to his American ways and ate a Big Mac and an Apple Pie again.  The food here is unpredictable and ranges from amazing to very very bad depending on where you end up.

While at Inari Shrine I put up another good luck charm for Tu and I. This is what they call Torii arches in Japan.  There are thousands of these that line the pathway to the top of the shrine.

While coming back from the Inari shrine we witnessed a very sad event.  All of sudden fire trucks and firemen came out of everywhere.  It was a 5 alarm fire in the heart of the city and it was what they call a 5 Alarm fire because there were 5 fire trucks and lots of fireman.  It appeared that someone was badly injured in the fire because they came out in a stretcher. We really hoped the person was ok

While we were there, of course Eoin made some local friends.  Everyone loves Eoin here.

And more friends.

He is really like a rock star here.  Everyone comes up to him and wants to take his picture with them.  The girl on in the picture below closest to Eoin was jumping up and down when Eoin said he was 14.  She yelled, ” I am 14 too!!!”.  She was so happy.

The final part of our days journey involved heading to the city of Uji to watch one of the strangest and weirdest duck ceremonies on the planet. If you are searching for entertainment involving boats, fire and ducks then this would be the type of ceremony that you would want to attend.   We were the only non Japanese people at this place and it was all in Japanese which made it even weirder.

By the way, can you spot Eoin in this picture?  Eoin likes to pretend he is Waldo and hide in pictures.  If you find him you can win 1 trillion dollars or yen.

Well this morning we are back on the bullet train to Tokyo.  We don’t have a hotel or a train yet so we need to get hopping.  Over and out from the big Japan.

Beef, Ferris Wheels and Sake

Posted on Jun 26, 2012 in Travel

Today was a good day. Another great day in Japan.  Eoin and I continued our blaze through Japan by scooting down to Kobe Japan by rapid train.  The train system here is one of the best in the world so we decided to take advantage of it.  We are currently keeping our Japanese Style Hotel in Kyoto and taking day trips to all of the important cities in the area.  It is amazing how much ground you can cover while keeping your bags in one place.  No checking in and out of hotels and lugging your bags.  We simply leave the bags in the hotel, pick a city or village and then get there by the quickest transportation possible.  Today we visited Kobe, the city that is renowned world-wide for two things, the major earthquake that killed 5000 people in 1995 and their beef.  You see Kobe Beef cattle are treated like royalty and massaged each day with Sake and given bottles of Sapporo to drink to keep them lazy and fat.   The fatter the better since it makes the beef taste delicious.  When we entered Kobe city Eoin began his quest to find this elusive beef.  He looked high and low and left no corner unturned.

The restaurant that we located was called Steak Land and it came highly recommended as the best Kobe Beef Steak House in the city of Kobe.  Imagine eating Kobe Beef in Kobe City?  That is like eating Buffalo Wings in Buffalo New York (not).

After feasting on some of the finest steak in the world we were off the HarborLand, the huge and expensive shopping and entertainment mall located on the harbor in the city of Kobe. Kobe is not a city that is frequented by Western Travelers but it is very much a destination spot for Japanese and HarborLand caters to to them.  We did not see a single Non-Japanese in the city all day.

The HarborLand to be honest was a bit of disappointment although it was quite grand and modern.  The attractions did not seem historical by any means rather like a theme park.  Eoin took some time to relax in front of the big Ferris Wheel that dominates the skyline in this district.

Kobe is actually quite nice.  It is a seaport town – a lot like San Diego so it was one of the reasons that we wanted to go and visit there.  We got a chance to ride up to the top of the sky-tower for about $3 each and it was well worth.  We got a 360 degree view of the entire city from 150 meters or so above ground.

To put the icing on the cake of the day we decided to go to a Sake Museum, one of the oldest and still running Sake Breweries in the region and Kobe is known for producing great Sake.  We ventured back on the train to a very small area of Kobe and then got a chance to tour and absolutely beautiful old brewery.  Eoin learned all about the fermentation and filtering process.  He is an expert at Sake without ever having drinking a drop of the stuff.  It was interesting to see the process of making Sake in action at the Harakatsu Sake Brewery.

Workers strain to haul rice to floors above them so the Rice can be treated and cleaned for the fermentation process.

Kegs of freshly filtered Sake are lined up in wooden kegs ready to be shipped to destinations far and wide across the world.

Another great day in Japan.  What new adventures await us tomorrow.  We don’t even know yet.  We are going to wake up and see where the world takes us.  Should be interesting. It always is.

Buses, Green Tea, and Apple Pie

Posted on Jun 25, 2012 in Travel

What a day in Kyoto.  Since Eoin and I didn’t really get a chance to explore the city of Kyoto as we have been taking side trips to small towns and villages in the area – we decided to dedicate the day to exploring this city and all of the temples and monuments.  The only catch is that we decided to do it all with the local city bus system.  We bought a bus pass, a bus map and then went to work.  Eoin as usual was a master at navigating complex maps written in Japanese.  There are literally many hundreds of busses operating in this city with many thousands riding them at any given time.

Eoin, master navigator, shows off his bus pass as he prepares to conquer one of the most complex puzzles you can imagine.

By the end of the day we had managed to see about 6 different temples and monuments spread out over the whole city and and pretty much made a loop through all of Kyoto.  The bus system was remarkably efficient and we actually saved about $50 in cab fares that we would have spent trying to get around the city and probably $100 or more on the expensive tours that we would have had to take to accomplish the same thing. We could become taxi drivers in this city if we wanted to now that we know it so well.

As is becoming the norm, Eoin was approached by school kids of all ages (primarily girls) to chat with them.  Eoin always takes the time to talk to them and tell them about what he does in the US.

One of the highlights of the day occurred when we came upon a completely golden building.  The building is called the Golden Pavilion and it is one of the most photographed monuments in the world – and most definitely in Japan.  The building is covered in solid gold foil and has stood for hundreds of years.  It is a beautiful place surrounded by a serene lake with Banzai Trees.

After this breathtaking view of the Golden Pavilion, we decided to go to a nearby Japanese Tea Garden to experience the serene and peaceful practice of enjoying Green Tea.  Now this Green Tea is served in a bowl and it is green – very green and looks like it has been tepid for a couple of hours because it is so thick.  They serve it the traditional way with a small very sugary bean cake that you need to eat before you sip the tea.I am not sure Eoin is a big fan of Green Tea. I think I like the stuff we get at Chinese Restaurants better myself. Well we gave it a shot anyway.

One of the oldest Soy Sauce factories in the world is located right here in Kyoto.  It has been around for a few hundred years and they still make the soy sauce by hand just the way that they have always made it since they began in business.  We purchased a jar while we visited the shop and managed to convince the lady at the counter to let us look in the back and take some pictures of the room where they store and make the soy sauce.  She told us that the soy sauce sits in these containers and ferments for over 1 year before they bottle it up.  Now that is craftsmanship.  I will be writing up and posting a whole blog on this place at a later date but wanted to share just how cool this place is and how historic it looks.  These containers have been holding and producing soy sauce for hundreds of years.

One of the hardest parts of the trip is always deciding where to eat.  In Japan it is not always easy to find a good restaurant.  The menus are often written in entirely Japanese and oftentimes you cannot really tell what type of restaurant it is when you look inside.  When you see a restaurant on the other hand that goes out of their way to print menus in English and cater to tourist, well that is almost as bad if not worse because you know that the food is not authentic.  I guess that is why today – Eoin and I again returned to McDonald’s for lunch.  Eoin was thoroughly impressed with the way that the Japanese prepare their hot apple pies and decided to run for President on the bring back the deep fried apple pie platform.   Eoin provided his daily update along with his bid for the presidency today.

So that wraps up our blog update today.  By the way Eoin was not hungry so he decided to eat Ice Cream for dinner.  A couple of kids Tokyo shanghied our place in line at Baskin Robbins.  First they stepped on my foot and then they said sorry in Japanese and cut to the front of the line.  Well we let them take our place in line but eventually got Eoin his Ice Cream dinner.

Another great day in Kyoto – over and out.

Our Deer Friends in Nara Japan

Posted on Jun 24, 2012 in Travel

One of the prettiest small towns in Japan is not located too far from Kyoto.  It is the town of Nara and it has one of the most interesting parks in the world.  What makes it so interesting is that the park is home to hundreds of very tame deer that you can feed by hand and often times pet.  The town is small but it used to be the culture epicenter of Japan (much as Kyoto is today) and it is home to hundreds of temples.

Eoin had a chance to visit some of his deerest friends today.  In many circles in Japan he is known as the deer whisperer because he can seemingly speak to deer and inform them of the best course of action.  If they get frisky or startled he can quickly calm them with a few words.  No one really knows what he is telling them but it works.

The deer were very cute.  Most of them looked like Bambi and were so friendly.  We could not believe that you could actually walk right up to them and pet them.  Eoin bought about 5 packages of crackers and fed the deer.   He was careful to avoid walking in their poop too, or sit in it for that matter.

Apparently the deer in Nara have been being fed by the locals for hundreds of years.  The deer really keep this city flooded in tourist.  As a matter of fact there were thousands and thousands of school kids that were on the train with us headed to the Deer Park. What was most interesting is the fascination that all of the girls had with Eoin.  Eoin was basically the Beatles today and had girls coming up left and right asking to take photos with him.  I am sure that Eoin’s face is probably on many of their Facebook’s tonight.

The park had many interesting parts including the temples where people could get their books signed by monks and other people.  We bought Eoin a book and started to fill it up.  It is a tradition for people in Japan to fill these books up with stamps and memorabilia from places they had visited.

One of the temples had these post all around it with thousands of hearts around it.  The hearts all were written by people to other people that they loved.  I found one heart in particular that was most interesting.

Another long day for us.  We must have walked about 7 miles which gets tough when you are lugging your 25 pound backpack around all day in the hot sun.  I looked at the weather forecast and the rest of the week is forecasted to be cloudy here.  Talk about June Gloom – this place has it worse than San Diego.