Reminder: Read from bottom up

Just a quick reminder that the newest posts are at the top, so when we do a big update you will want to start reading further down the page where the first new posts have been pushed to.

If you are new to the site you can start reading at our 1st post, and use the next buttons above and below it. Joel’s second trip, in 2017, starts at this post, while our trip in April 2018 starts at this post.

You can also view photos in the Galleries by clicking on either Photos heading or a location.

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Day 17–Kawasaki, the River Cape

One of the things that never fails to make me have to stop and think things through in Japan is disposing of rubbish. Bins are usually divided into recyclables (usually PET bottles, glass bottles and cans, though it varies by municipality), burnable rubbish, and non-burnable rubbish, but precisely what’s burnable is what gets me. In my mind, burnable rubbish is paper and wood and maybe food scraps, while non-recyclable plastic – bags and food packaging and such – should go in non-burnable, but that’s not the case in Japan, where non-recyclable plastic goes in the burnable bin. Fortunately, if you’re standing by a bin with a handful of rubbish looking confused, there’s generally someone nearby who’ll come over and point out the right bin.

Decided to have breakfast today.

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After breakfast, it was time to pack, because today I’d be leaving Japan (oh, woe!). And… I may have bought too many books and assorted souvenirs, because I needed to partially kneel on my suitcase to get it shut, even with the expansion unzipped. That said, as per my standard practice, I booked a flight leaving in the evening, so I still had all day to sightsee. In fact, the plane would be taking off at 10pm, so I really did have all day.

(Side note, the Toyoko Inns in both Ichinoseki and here in Kamata used card-keys, but they didn’t use my member card as the key like they had in other hotels. My guess is it’s because I arrived prior to checkin time – they couldn’t make my member card a key, because then they’d have to retain it until the time I could enter my room. I know at least Ichinoseki had the member-cards-as-key-cards system because I saw one woman use hers on the elevator scanner.)

So, I headed out, leaving my suitcase in the care of the hotel. First stop, the Todoroki Ravine. Located in Setagaya Ward at the southern edge of Tokyo, and billed in various places as Tokyo’s only ravine (which I find a little suspect, given how much of Tokyo there is), it’s a ravine cut by the Yazawa (river), and it’s filled with original wilderness forest, but head up to the lip of the ravine and you’re right back in full-on Tokyo residential and commercial areas, including some major roads. Stand one block away from the ravine, and you can’t see it at all. It’s quite similar to Fred Hollows Reserve in Sydney in its… ravine-ness, but also in its completely hidden wilderness…ness. And luckily (because I sure didn’t plan it), it’s a half-hour train ride from my hotel. Well, two trains.

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Instead of taking JR today, I caught the Tokyu Railway – the Tokyu Kamata station is in the same building as the JR Kamata station, but at right angles. I’ve gotta say, though, for some reason I quite like these little terminal stations, with the concourse across the end, and two platforms per set of tracks, so that terminating trains can empty on one side, and then refill on the other. Two lines terminate here, the Ikegami line and the Tamagawa line, and while both headed in pretty much the same direction, Google told me I’d be better off taking the Ikegami line, so I carefully checked which platform I needed to be on… and in a haze of photo-taking, I somehow managed to board the other train.

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No biggie, though. The Tokyo Tamagawa line is a mere six stations long, and I realised my error at the fifth station. However, all it meant was I needed to change trains one more time than I was originally going to need to, and on the plus side, it gave me another station I could admire. So at Tamagawa Station, I changed to the Toyoko Line (yes, that’s the same one that goes to Shibuya) rode two stops to Jiyugaoka Station, where I could change to the Oimachi Line to Todoroki Station. Much up and down of stairs – many of these stations have the tracks intersecting at near-right angles, so it makes for some interesting station geometry.

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Hopped off at Todoroki Station, and I must say this is the kind of tiny suburban station I really quite enjoy – almost as much as the tinier rural stations. The entire station is between the train lines – one island platform with the ticket gates and station office at once end – and all at ground level, so if you stand at the station entrance, you’re standing between two level crossings, with the up-line trains on one side, and the down-line trains on the other. And if you’re lucky enough with timing, you get trains passing on both sides simultaneously.

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Anyway, I left the station and headed for the gorge. I walked down the nearest street, but it turned out to be just a residential street – the green “park” area on Google Maps actually extends a block further north than the real thing (I should have checked Pokémon Go instead). A guy popped out of his house to set me straight, in English, which was quite nice (though I confess I’d already worked out where I’d gone wrong).

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A block further south, I came to the correct park entrance, alongside a bridge rather incongruously named “Golf Bridge” (one information sign implied it’s named such because there used to be a golf course in the area, if I understood it correctly). Headed down the stairs and into the ravine, and… boy was it lovely and serene. More than a few people wandering around, but still nice. A small groups of boy (and girl) scouts that I ran into a number of times.

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The path is apparently an old towpath, and it crosses the river here and there on little bridges – some of them very little. Surprisingly not much evidence of flooding, though I guess it’s been two weeks… and I guess perhaps Tokyo’s flood mitigation infrastructure is better than Utsunomiya’s. There’s also some historical ruins nearby – signage pointed the way to three ancient cave tombs, though I could only actually spot one of them.

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There’s supposedly more than 30 springs within the ravine, and the water quality in the river leaving the ravine is actually better than it is when entering – by the time it reaches Golf Bridge, the Yazawa has already flown through about five kilometres of residential streets. In 2003, the Tokyo Metropolitain Government declared the Todoroki Ravine one of “Tokyo’s 57 Best Waters”, though I honestly have no idea how they decided there should be 57 of them.

Near the downstream end of the ravine, at the top of the cliff, is a temple, Myo-o-ji (aka Todoroki Fudoson – either way, it enshrines Fudo). At the bottom of the stairs to the temple was a little structure that looked a bit like a Shinto shrine, but which Google assures me is a hall of the temple enshrining a bosatsu (= one who has reached enlightenment but vows to save others before becoming a Buddha), next to a very nice-looking pool with two little water falls flowing through stone dragon heads.

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Clambered up the stairs to the temple, and it was clear I was coming in the back door – the front door faces the street. It was quite a nice little temple, with a big platform from which you could gaze down over the forest – though while I could juuuust make out a red wooden bridge through the trees, mostly all I could see was trees. There were also a few people here celebrating Shichi-Go-San (I was amused to see one girl, dressed in full ceremonial kimono, taking a photo of her parents, rather than them of her). And, slightly incongruously, a little café. And also a little display of chrysanthemum, same as Choson-ji back in Hiraizumi, including a few bonsai… same as Choson-ji.

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I headed back down the stairs into the ravine, because at the bottom of the stairs was a more traditional tea house that I’d decided before climbing that I would eat at upon my return. It’s named Setsugekka, which literally means “Snow, Moon, and Flowers”, but figuratively means “the beauty of the four seasons”. It’s got a few benches to sit on out side, quite like an old Edo-period roadside teahouse, but also benches and a tatami-mat room inside too. I was a little torn on whether to sit outside or inside, but eventually decided on inside, and fortunately entered just as a couple sitting by the window left.

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I had kuzumochi, with kinako (roast soybean flour) and brown sugar syrup, which I also had back in 2018, but which I failed to mention at the time is made from the starchy root of the kudzu vine. I find it kind of interesting how kudzu is respected in Japan, but overseas it’s so invasive that most places have an “eradicate on sight” order. (Side note, it’s “kuzu” in Japanese – not entirely sure where the extra D came from in the English version. There is a sound that’s similar “dzu” in Japanese (depending on dialect) – the word meaning “scrap” used to be pronounced “kudzu”, for example, though not any more – but this is not it. “Adzuki beans” get the same treatment – it’s “azuki” in Japanese.)

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After finishing my mochi (fortunately without inhaling a lungful of kinako) and sipping my tea while contemplating the view, I headed on. First I followed the river past the end of the ravine park just to see what was there, then I came back and strolled through a Japanese garden which ran up one side of the ravine. It was quite nice, and at the top was a grassy area with a number of picnicking families, and a fairly nice view over the Tamagawa (river) into Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture (the Tamagawa marks the border between Tokyo and Kangawa).

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I pondered walking back to the station through the ravine, but signs had pointed to a nearby park which contains a big burial mound called a kofun. In the same way as Japan’s oldest historical period is called the Jomon from all the cord-marked pottery that archaeologists found, Japan’s third-oldest historical period is called Kofun, from all the kofun that were found. (The period in between, Yayoi, is named after the neighbourhood of Tokyo where artefacts from the period were first discovered.) It was… well, it was a big mound. There were stairs to climb to the top, but it was a little tricky to capture the essence of it in photographs.

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Also, it was in a park – kids were playing on play equipment to one side, and on the other was a baseball field with a baseball match in progress. A little bit incongruous.

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I decided to stay on the streets for the walk back to the train station. It was time to head for my next destination – and possibly people have already guessed where from the title of this post. On the way to the station, I was astonishing to spot a rice polishing booth sitting by the side of the road, in front of an apartment building – I honestly thought you only encounter those in the more rural areas.

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Google suggested I should backtrack to Jiyugaoka and change back to the Toyoko Line, but I kinda wanted to visit more stations, so I hopped back on the Oimachi Line in the direction I’d been travelling, and rode all the way to the terminus at Mizonokuchi Station, over the other side of the Tamagawa in Kanagawa Prefecture. There, I transferred to the JR Nambu Line. Pop quiz: remembering from day two that “Seibu” means “West Musashi” and “Tobu” means “East Musashi”, and knowing that the JR Nambu line runs to the south of Tokyo, who wants to guess what “Nambu” means? It’s just the one line in this case, though, not a whole company.

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At the end of the Nambu line was my next destination: Kawasaki Station. Who woulda guessed? This was my second visit here, though my first in daylight, but the primary purpose of my visit here was the Kawasaki Halloween Parade, Tokyo’s biggest Halloween festival. Literally thousands of people dressed in extremely intricate costumes parade the streets in front of Kawasaki Station, and tens of thousands of people come to watch – last year’s parade had 2200 participants and 120,000 spectators – a big increase on the first festival in 1996, which saw 150 participants and 500 spectators. Even people working in the shopping centres around the station were in costume.

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It runs from 2:30pm to 4pm – hoping to get a good spot, I’d aimed to arrive at Kawasaki Station at 1:30 and get some lunch in the underground shopping mall, then head up to the parade route. Aha, now naïve. I had some lunch at Lotteria, because I never had so far (it’s a Japanese McDonalds-like burger chain – they were having a special on double and triple burgers on the 29th of every month (and also apparently the 27th and 28th) because 29 can be read as “niku”, which means “meat” – though it was a lot more peppery than I would have liked… and I made an absolute hash of conveying my order to the guy) then emerged from the appropriate exit to find the street already completely solid with people.

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I snagged a spot in a garden bed (others were already standing there, so it’s not like I spontaneously decided to jump on some plants – actually, I took great care not to) from which I could get a good view by holding my camera over my head (trying not to be like the guy in the front row who kept putting his phone into my view). Basically, the participants are divided into three groups. First, group A lined up in front of us, then the MCs would do a whole “welcome, it’s good to see such great costumes” speech, then DJs seated on trucks started playing, and the group kinda shuffle-danced past us. This was repeated with group B fifteen minutes later, and then group C fifteen minutes after that, at which point group A showed up again, so I figured it was just three groups twice over, and decided to extricate myself from the crowd so that someone else could have my spot. Actually, spectators were originally only allowed to stand on the kerb, but while group B was lining up, they moved the barriers so that we could stand on the road, in the outside lane. I managed to hold my place in the crowd, but… honestly, I kinda preferred being far away, because I could see the costumes all the way from head to foot from back there, but up close, the front rows of spectators blocked my view.

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Anyway, they really were some very good costumes. Plenty of zombies and assorted undead. Beastmen, vampires, dragons. A platoon of assorted Power Rangers (though they’re known in Japan as Super Sentai). A group of Avengers. Even a couple of Maleficents. A few costumes I’d seen last night as well. Surprisingly few anime characters. Even a Mr Bean, who I only noticed just now while going through my photos (he’s in the bunch above).

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At one point, a very priest-like person got up on the stage-truck, invited a man and a woman up, and spoke something that sounded very much like a wedding ceremony (though my knowledge of ecclesiastical Japanese is lacking, so I didn’t really understand what he was actually saying). Really not sure if that was an actual wedding ceremony or just play-acting, but I honestly suspect the former.

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In any case, though it was not even 4pm yet (and thus still over six hours until my flight) I decided to beat the crowd and head back to Kamata – making sure to stop by the tiny escalator for a quick joyride… but completely forgetting in the process to visit the Kawasaki Information Centre about 200 metres away for a manhole card. Avast!

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At Kamata, I popped into a snack food shop for some snacks to take home, and unable to get that chocolate-block-in-bread from the other day out of my mind, I went to go find it again – but unable to remember the precise location of the shop, I wound up going up a flight of stairs, down another, up a third, only to find it right at the top of the first flight of stairs I’d originally climbed. Tasty, though.

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Returning to the hotel, I redistributed the contents of my day bag into my backpack or suitcase as needed, then tried to stuff it into my suitcase… but it wouldn’t fit at all. So, plan B: fill the day bag with the snacks I’d just bought, take it as carry-on, and hope noone made a fuss. I also decided to bring my lovely transparent umbrella home as well – my last two trips, I’d just handed it to the hotel staff rather than go through the hassle of taking it home, but this time I guess it had been such a faithful companion that I couldn’t bear to leave it. Plus, transparent umbrellas are real nice – you can hold them in front of your face and still see where you’re going. (Though, I wonder if I bought too big an umbrella this time – when it was hanging from my bag, I kept knocking it off with my feet, or bumping it on the ground.) Changed my t-shirt, jumper and socks while I was at it.

Then, though it was still barely 5:30, and it’d take me about twenty minutes to get to the airport (the main reason I stayed at Kamata for this part of the trip), I decided to head out. Meant I could stroll gently to the Keikyu-Kamata station, check in before the crowds, and then linger over some dinner. And also have a video chat with the family. (So, the fun thing about Keikyu-Kamata Station is that trains leave for the airport on two different platforms – trains coming from the direction of Yokohama stop on the second level and reverse out, trains coming from the direction of Tokyo stop on the third level and continue moving forward.)

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(On the subject of ambling gently, I wonder a bit if my usual practice of hectic activity for the last few days of my Japan trips is a mistake. Basically every trip so far, I’ve spent the last few days visiting the busiest parts of Tokyo, and/or scrambling from place to place on a limited schedule. Point is, I wonder if they give me a sort of… last impression of Japan being crowded, and busy, and noisy. I know I want to get every last bit of sightseeing in that I can, but sometimes I wonder if maybe I’d be better off staying in whatever remote place I’m staying until the last day of my trip, then return to Tokyo and head for the airport in one go. Or something.)

Buuut, I arrived at the station without a hitch. Actually, one tiny hitch: having never arrived at Haneda via the Keikyu Line before, I was a tiny bit perplexed as to precisely where in the terminal I’d arrived, but fortunately managed to find the main concourse without too much trouble. The Haneda International departure concourse is as grant as I remember, except now there’s a big reproduction of an Edo-period wooden bridge on the third floor that I don’t remember there being. I dropped my suitcase off, and then went to explore, while showing the family all the sights on our regular weekly video call.

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There was a TV in the middle of the concourse on the second level showing the rugby, and a roped-off area for people to sit in – and it was so full that people were spilling out the sides. I showed the family the Edo-period bridge, and the big toyshop, and the outside viewing deck, and when it was time to end the call, I went to grab some dinner – I went to ease myself back into Western-style food by having a Japanese-style pizza: teriyaki chicken, with mayonnaise and nori. Very yum. (Molto oishii? Totemo deliziosa?)

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Ambled over to my gate, having a go in a massage chair en route – use up a few coins. Then at long last it was time to board. I booked an exit-row seat for this flight – being an overnight flight, it’d be good for stretching out. And still noone questioned my second carry-on bag. Though I had to go a couple of rows back for an overhead compartment wide enough for the umbrella to go in.

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Second dinner (which I really wasn’t expecting at 10pm) was penne with pangrattato (… which just means “breadcrumbs”. Dunno why they didn’t just say that.) and… some kind of pudding for dessert. Not entirely sure what I’ve done with the menu which would give me the specifics. Perhaps I’ll update this when I find it.

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Watched Yesterday while eating – during a very brief global “The Day the Earth Stood Still” style complete blackout, failing musician Jack Malik gets hit by a bus… and wakes up in a world where the Beatles never existed, so he proceeds to become famous by reproducing their songs from memory. And it’s like… I grant that the Beatles were absolute trailblazers in their time, but I’m not sure I quite buy the screaming hysteria that characters display at Jack re-introducing the Beatles into modern rock and roll. Also thought the blackout aspect of the premise was a bit weird, and was never brought up again – just have him get hit by the bus, and skip the blackout. I was amused by Ed Sheeran playing himself, and not just as a cameo – as a fairly important second-tier character.

Settled down afterwards to get some sleep. And… well, I had my eyes closed for about four hours, and I was certainly unconscious for some of it, but I’m not sure I got any actual sleep. Aside from anything else, I was in the middle seat, but both of my neighbours slept with their elbows on the armrests, meaning I had to sleep with arms folded or in my lap. And the guy on my right jabbed me in the ribs with said elbow every time he shifted position. I did manage to doze off a bit during takeoff, mind, which amused the flight attendants sitting in the jump seat opposite.

Well, by the end of my attempted sleep, they started bringing up the lights and serving breakfast ready for our descent into Sydney. Breakfast was fruit salad and a danish. My feeling on this was “we took off at bed time and landed after breakfast time, yet you serve a big dinner and a small breakfast?”

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Got a few nice photos of country Australia from the air, but soon it was time to sit down and buckle up. We actually managed to arrive half an hour earlier than scheduled… which meant there was another plane in our assigned gate that hadn’t departed yet, so we had to park by the fence and get bussed to the terminal. But honestly, that took so long that by the time we were all there, it probably would have been faster to wait for the gate to become available.

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I grabbed my suitcase from the baggage claim (relieved that it had not burst from the internal pressure) and headed for customs. Decided I’d better declare my shoes, considering I’d been hiking in the forest and squelching through flood-affected Utsunomiya, but she barely gave them a cursory glance and waved me through. Finished off my box of tic tacs for the nice little bit of closure, then headed for the train station. Did a little test on the platform of how accurate Australian trains can stop by standing by a “mind the step” marker and measuring where the door landed – it was about half the door’s width away. Or, I guess, just about as accurate as my most successful attempt on the simulator at the Railway Museum in Omiya (cough, cough).

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The trip home today was a great deal less traumatic than the same trip in 2017, probably because today I did it on a weekday during business hours, whereas last time it was on the weekend… and also it was summer, and I was wearing thermals. The exit from Green Square station on the south side of Botany Road is all fancy and new – and enclosed in a building – as part of the new development, which was very shiny and new – gonna have to go back for another look some time. Managed to get a seat on the bus easily.

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… And then left my umbrella hooked onto the luggage rack when I got off. At least, I’m pretty sure I did – I think I remember hanging it there, and I can’t locate it now, sooo… yep. Quite annoyed with myself that I managed to haul it almost eight thousand kilometres over the Pacific Ocean, only to lose it less than a hundred metres from my front door. I realised what I’d done on Tuesday evening (in the future, wooo), and went to the lost property office on Wednesday morning, but it hadn’t been turned in… and honestly, I’m not expecting that it will be. Humbug, I say! Humbug!

Fortunately, my paper umbrella from Chichibu survived the trip mildly squashed, but otherwise pretty much intact.

Well, home sweet home, in any case. Discovered upon unzipping my suitcase that one of the hooks holding the pull tab onto the slider of the zipper had bent, by enough that the slider just fell off – a mite concerning, as the suitcase could have been opened while still locked. Think it’s just bent from the internal pressure of the suitcase, though.

(Side anecdote, I bought a new pair of sandals to wear at the Ryusei Matsuri if I had occasion to take my shoes off, but wound up never wearing them. This afternoon, after settling in for a bit, I put them on for a quick stroll to the post office and back… and they stripped a big patch of skin off the insteps of both of my feet. Probably a good thing I never wore them in Japan. Think I’m gonna have wear them with socks on at least a few times to get them properly worn in. Once my feet heal.)

Today’s photo count: One thousand and thirteen (includes photos taken on Monday).

Today’s pedometer count: 18,893 steps – 13.3 kilometres – 31 flights of stairs (does not include steps taken on Monday).

Today’s goshuin count: One – Myo-o-ji / Todoroki Fudoson

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Today’s stamp count: Two – Kawasaki Station, because I couldn’t remember if I got it in 2017 (in my blog I seem to be quite confused with station names, at one point calling Kawasaki “Kanazawa”, though I do list the Kawasaki stamp in the footnotes), and after not seeing the stamp in 2017, then not having anything to stamp on in 2018, I finally got the Haneda Airport stamp… except I pressed far too hard and wound up with a blobby mess that soaked through the page. Noooo.

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Previously, on J³

Currently it’s far too late tonight to even start thinking of writing a blog post, and tomorrow evening I’ll be flying home (noooo), so won’t be posting tomorrow either. And then I’ll need some time to recover from the flight, and then I’ve got a few things on in the evenings… point is, it may be a fair while until I can finish this blog.

To keep people entertained in the meantime, here’s some short videos I’ve taken during my trip.

A rocket launch at the Ryusei Festival waaay back in Chichibu:

A festival float in action at the Kawagoe Festival last week:

The flying dango basket in action at Genbikei (it ends a little abruptly because I somehow forgot I was taking a video, and put the phone in my pocket as I reached for the dango):

A time-lapse at the seven-way intersection in Kamata:

And a time-lapse of the famous Shibuya Scramble crossing (uh, spoiler alert):

Well, I’d better make I can still fit everything in my suitcase…

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Day 16–Shibuya, the Astringent Valley

Kamata is actually the location of the headquarters of Toyoko Inn. While wandering the streets yesterday looking for dinner, I happened to spot the other Toyoko Inn branch in Kamata, and noticed the signage looked kinda… old fashioned, so I wondered if maybe it was the first Toyoko Inn – it’s easy to confirm, as all Toyoko Inns are numbered in order of founding. Back at my hotel that night, I checked the Toyoko Inn hotel directory, and yep, it’s hotel number one (mine is number twenty). Kamata Station is almost precisely midway between Tokyo Station and Yokohama Station, which is why they called it Toyoko Inn.

And actually, when I took this photo, which I posted two days ago:

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I was standing less than half a kilometre straight down the road from the Toyoko Inn Headquarters – I just needed to turn left instead of going straight, and I would have been there. Would I have visited had I known it was there? No idea. On the one hand, it’s just an office building, which I can see perfectly well on Google Street View. On the other hand, it’s not like I had any particular place I needed to be…

I’ve still got no idea what Toyoko Inn’s 4&5 logo is supposed to mean, though…

So, anyway, I had breakfast.

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Started off the day by going up to the top floor of the hotel and seeing if I could get out onto the emergency staircase for a view. Once again a typhoon had passed, and once again it was bright and sunny. I was quite surprised to discover that the top floor had rooms on only one side, and the hallway was actually a balcony, open to the air. Couldn’t get out onto the emergency stairs, though there was a nice view towards the station from the front of the building. Couldn’t get out on the two floors below either. So I wound up just going back to my floor – the sixth floor – where I’d tested the door previously and found it open.

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Then I decided to take a roundabout walk to the train station, along the nearby Nomi River. As I passed Kamata Elementary School, they appeared to be hosting their annual Sports Day (i.e. what we’d call an athletics carnival in Australia)… but it’s Saturday. Also saw a volunteer force doing garden work by the side of the road.

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Today’s plan was big city sightseeing and souvenir buying – complete my once-per-trip pilgrimage to Akihabara, visit a couple other of the big centres around the Yamanote line, that sort of thing. So I hopped on the Keihin-Tohoku train, and hopped off at Akihabara Station. Fairly sure this is my first time arriving at Akihabara on the second-level north-south platforms since 2010 – on my last two visits, I (and we) arrived on the east-west Chuo-Sobu line platforms on the fourth level, and it was… weirdly different being on the lower level. I went for a quick wander, got lost, took an exit I found that lead directly from the station into the Atre shopping centre, got even more lost, and eventually found myself standing on the street opposite the Labi building, the one with the escalators on the building facade which I’d photographed every visit, but have thus far never entered.

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So I entered. It was all shiny inside, filled with all manner of computers and computer peripherals – including half a floor of USB hard drives, which would have been nice to have in Ichinoseki when I was looking for one. I rode the escalators all the way to the top, browsing just enough en route to make it look to the shop assistants like I wasn’t just there to ride the escalators to the top, then rode the lift back down to street level. (Oddly, at the top floor of the shop, there was a closed-off staircase where the escalator should have been, and it was… rather decrepit and decayed looking. You’d have thought they’d either maintain it or hide it out of sight.)

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I popped into a few shops trying to find the figurine I’d been trying to find on my last visit (though, I said at the time that I realised it wouldn’t come out until October, but closer inspection of the listing on the website today revealed that it had actually come out this October). I was finally able to find it in the third shop I entered (actually, the very same shop that pointed out I was looking too early last visit)… only to discover that it cost 100,000 yen, or about twice the posted price on the manufacturer’s website. Guess it’s in pretty high demand. I did find the figurine of another character from the same series, but she’s not really my favourite, so instead I made an impulse buy of a different character from a different series… honestly not entirely sure why.

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I had a go at couple of crane game machines – because so far, I never had – but then I decided to pop into the Gachapon shop and see if I could find any machines with prizes I was interested in. I found one with Spider-Man (and also Night Monkey and Mysterio as other possibilities, though I got Spider-Man), and one which was completely blind lucky dip, but it cost only 200 yen (the rest were 300-500) so I went for it… and got a rubber keychain thing. Honestly, not too sure what I was expecting, considering that rubber keyring things or badges seem to be quite common.

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I’d planned to meet someone for lunch in Ikebukuro, who’s a member of the online forum of the website where I study kanji, but I still had about half an hour until I needed to go, so I thought I’d drop by one more place: a location colloquially dubbed the “Akihabara Creepy Vending Machine Corner”. On the ground floor of a slightly decaying corrugated-iron-clad building on the corner of a street just south of the Kanda River is an open space, which is entirely crammed full of a haphazard collection of vending machines. Some of them normal – drinks, nuts, popcorn – some odd – plastic beetles, Himalayan rock salt, tinned bear meat, cannisters full of bells, or train tickets from the Showa era – and some downright mystifying – whole machines filled with mystery boxes wrapped in white paper, with odd… um… stories on the front (in Japanese). Like, I don’t get what’s going on here. Who put these machines here? Who stocks these machines?

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I walked within a block of this place back in 2017 – at one point, I crossed a bridge and turned left, but if I’d turned right, I would have seen it, and so somehow I completely missed it. I decided to buy one of the mystery boxes, for the fun of it – the story on mine starts “I went to my friend Tanaka-kun’s house for insurance sales, and his mother received me, and I was able to give lots of information about insurance.” It continues from there with the mother… uh… asking for more information on insurance, wink wink, so I don’t think I’ll continue translating. There was a second story hidden on the bottom of the box, which I’ve not started attempting to read yet. The actual contents of the package was Choco Bats – basically, those sponge finger biscuits covered in a layer of chocolate (so they look kinda like baseball bats, I guess), though I confess I’m not entirely sure they cost what I paid for it. Good for an occasional snack, though.

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(Just watched a video on YouTube (opens in a new window) where they buy ten boxes and open them all to see what’s in them. All snack foods – crackers, animal crackers, occasionally Kit Kats. Also, in the same vlogger’s earlier video filmed here, she found tinned bread in one of the machines, which I really wish I’d seen, because I’d like to try it. Next time, I guess…)

Headed from there to a fun t-shirt shop I’d visited on prior stops in Akihabara, at which point I suddenly realised it was already very nearly time for me to be in Ikebukuro, so I scrambled off to catch the Yamanote line train, and by the time I’d boarded and found a seat, it was already the time we were supposed to meet. What happened to all the extra time I had?

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I hurried to our planned meeting spot – the lobby of the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre – a mere half-hour late, taking the wrong exit from Ikebukuro Station as I did so. As I stood in the lobby trying to spot my friend, fortunately he spotted me – I made a point of wearing my red jumper today, and I’d sent him a photo of what I look like in it the night before. We were meeting here for lunch, and a restaurant specialising in rice balls – I had one with negi-miso, and one with salmon-mayo. Very yum.

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Then we headed out for him to show me some of the local sites – first, there was a woman painting a picture in front of a seated audience on the floor below the theatre lobby, and outside was a choir singing (not at all what for).

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But more to the point, today was Ikeharo – the Ikebukuro Halloween party (“haro” being short for “harowin” = Halloween). Japan’s really taken to Halloween (having imported it from America) mostly because it’s an excuse to get dressed up and eat lots of sugar. But mostly the dressing up – Japan really knows how to do costumes. But because Halloween itself is on a school night more often than not, it hosts the main celebrations the weekend previous. Which is this weekend.

Point is, Ikebukuro is hosting a big cosplay (short for “costume play” = dressing up in costumes, often of characters from anime or games or manga, though not always) party today. So we headed over to the other side of the railway lines via a pedestrian underpass, which is in the middle of having its walls painted in a lovely pastel pattern (and passing en route the exit to the station I’d taken way back on day 1, except today I completely failed to recognise it in the slightest).

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Our first destination was Naka-Ikebukuro Park, in the shadow of the Ikebukuro Animate Building (“Animate” being the name of the company which is Japan’s largest retailer of anime, games and manga, rather than a verb) where the Ikeharo Main Stage was located, featuring costume judging and corporate booths and a face-painting tent and so forth. I wandered around there for a bit taking photos of cosplayers. It’s polite to ask them first before photographing, so that they can display for your photo how they want to appear – striking a pose, not picking their noses, that sort of thing – but I found it difficult to approach people in the crowd, especially with everyone watching the stage, so I only took a couple of photos.

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When I arrived, though, I noticed a girl on the stage dressed as Elizabeth, a character from a manga and anime named The Seven Deadly Sins (the one in pink) – I discovered after returning to Australia, that the girl is Enako, known as Japan’s number one cosplayer, who earns more than a million yen per month from her cosplay. My little… not-quite brush with fame. And also, a guy holding a rabbit.

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We extricated ourselves from there, and headed for the next location marked on the event map, South Ikebukuro Park, but… nothing seemed to be happening there. I guess perhaps everyone was just at the main stage? We headed from there back towards the station, spotting on the way this ridiculous bus. I’m not sure it’s quite got enough wheels.

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Back near the station, my host graciously shouted me a hot chocolate from Starbucks so we could sit and chat for a bit, but soon he had to head home to watch England play in the rugby semi-finals. He pointed me towards his favourite bookshop on the way, so I popped in there to see if I could find a few books I’d been looking for but thus far hadn’t found – and was completely successful. (Also saw a movie poster for “Sora no Aosa wo Shiru Hito yo” aka “To Those Who Know of the Blueness of the Sky” aka “Her Blue Sky”, the film I mentioned a while ago by the writer of Anohana and Kokosake, and discovered that it’s already out in cinemas in Japan – actually, it was released the day I arrived. Sorely tempted to go see it.)

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With the sun setting, I decided to return to the station and head for my next destination, Shibuya. Except I’d hoped to visit the Kinokuniya Main Store which I’d thought was in Shibuya, but as we pulled into Shinjuku Station, I suddenly realised that I’d mixed up Shinjuku and Shibuya again. In a sudden impulse decision, I scrambled off the train and went to visit Kinokuniya anyway. It was… fairly large, but it was nine storeys tall, rather than one floor the size of an airplane hanger (mmm, hyperbole) as is rather typical for Japan, I guess, so it was a little tricky to get the true scale of it. There were uniformed elevator attendants, which I’ve not seen in a long while.

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Back on the train, I soon arrived at Shibuya for real. For in Shibuya there was to be another Halloween party – the Shibuya Pride Shibuya Halloween party. Several roads are closed to traffic, and people walk all around them in costume. And please note the “Pride” part doesn’t mean it’s a gay pride parade, but rather that they’re trying to insert an element of “let’s take pride in how lovely Shibuya is” – last year’s party got a bit rowdy, and a truck was overturned, among other things, so this year alcohol on the street is banned.

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First thing’s first, though: I headed up to the top of the Magnet building, just to the right of the station, where I’d heard there was an observation deck overlooking the Shibuya Scramble. It costs 300 yen to enter (as a crowd management measure), but it’s a pretty good view over the Scramble. You can also pay extra for selfies taken by a camera further up on the building, which are magically sent to your phone.

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Then I went to have an early dinner before the event started. And because I hadn’t had sushi yet this trip, I headed for Genki Sushi, a sort-of sushi train restaurant chain where you order what you want off an iPad, and it comes out to you fresh right to your seat by the train. Or, I guess maybe it’s a sushi monorail? Though, after placing my first order, I was sitting already with the camera to take a photo of the food coming out, and I happened to glance behind me, and saw a waitress coming out with the food in her hands – I must have looked disappointed, because she faltered, turned around, and disappeared back into the kitchen with the food, which soon came out on the train. I’m… really not sure why she was bringing it by hand.

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It was… well, it tasted like sushi. But yeah, the place is a gimmick rather than a Michelin-starred restaurant. I had some regular stuff – tuna and salmon nigiri, corn genkan, inarizushi, some burdock root rolls – then decided to try the hamburg sushi, tiny hamburger patties on rice. Finished off with some apple jelly. And over dinner, my external phone battery ran flat, for the first time on this trip. The horror! Had to change to my backup (the one that had been my primary before I bought this battery here in Japan in 2018). Actually, I noticed the phone had been running quite hot today, which is not very conducive to charge speed or battery capacity.

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Lots of foreigners in the place – I had to help my neighbour read the cocktail menu, which wasn’t in English for some reason. I found a gachapon machine by the registers with tiny trains in it – I got a model of the E231, which is the same model of train as the simulator I’d been trained on way back at the Railway Museum in Omiya – then left to find a much longer queue waiting than when I’d gone in.

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By which point, the Shibuya party was kicking off in earnest, except… it was really just a huge crowd filing past each other up and down the street, where a few of them happened to be in costume. Saw a few people in costumes that I’d seen back at Ikebukuro, though.

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A page I found on Google suggested that costumed people might be more approachable if I were also in costume, and suggested that Don Quixote (a Japanese discount store chain known colloquially as Donki, since “Don Quixote” in Japanese is “Don Kihōte”) would be a good place to buy one – and there was one right there, so I popped inside to maybe buy some devil horns to go with the red jacket I was already wearing… and found it packed full of people doing the same thing.

One fun little thing about the party, though, was the local Burger King getting in on the act turning itself into a world-first Ghost Store, filled with zombies, and selling only Ghost Whoppers (basically, whoppers with a white bun). I didn’t actually go inside, though.

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I was a little bit over the crowd, so I decided to head back towards the station. When I got there, I decided to walk around behind the station building to see if the new Shibuya Scramble Square building was open – it’s got an observation deck on the roof too, but a much grander deck and a much higher roof. It would be having its grand opening on November 1st, but I thought just maybe it’d be open for business prior to the grand opening – I’d seen a press tour of the place on the news, and they’d sure looked open for business – but no.

Once I was there, though, I spotted a side overpass that intrigued me, so I wandered in that direction… and found myself in a new shopping centre built in the former Tokyu Toyoko line Shibuya Station (and yeah, that Toyoko is the same name as Toyoko Inn – Tokyo plus Yokohama). A video did the rounds of the internet a few years ago of engineers converting a surface train station into a subway station in a single night in 2013 – you may have seen it, but here it is if you didn’t (that’ll open in a new window; turn the subtitles on for English) – that was this station. (Well, actually, it was Daikanyama Station, the next one in line, but you get the point.) By connecting the Toyoko Line to Tokyo Metro’s comparatively-new and completely underground Fukutoshin Line, it also allowed traffic from Tobu, Seibu, Tokyu, the Tokyo Metro and the Yokohama Minatomirai Railway to cross the entire city without stopping. Plus, it allowed them to demolish the raised Toyoko line Shibuya Station and connecting tracks. And I dunno why, but I kinda like this track-sharing between companies – it makes me feel warm and fuzzy. (Actually, one of my trains during the Underground Mysteries game yesterday was a Tokyu train, which had started on the Tobu Skytree line, was currently on the Metro Hanzomon line, and would be finishing on the Tokyu Den-en-toshi line. But I digress.)

The former station platforms had now become a new shopping centre named Shibuya Stream… and that name reminded me of a place I’d wanted to see near here – the Shibuya River. The river has always run through this valley, but in modern-day Shibuya, it had become a bit hemmed in by buildings and concrete, and a but neglected. But it turned out the Toyoko line tracks used to run alongside the river, and they’d now been turned into a very nice linear park, lined by lanterns with paper shades designed by kids. So I strolled gently along the park until I hit another new shopping centre named Shibuya Bridge, located where the former tracks turned away from the river heading for the next station, so at that point I decided to turn back to Shibuya Station. And even though I left the party early for an early night, I wound up leaving Shibuya quite late after all.

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Back at the station, I decided to see why there were signs pointing the way to the JR Station up the escalator (even though the station entrance should have been at ground level) and encountered an entrance to the Metro station which I’m certain I took back in 2017… except at the time, it was just a dark staircase in the middle of a construction site. I mean, it’s possible it was a different entrance – I had been pretty lost at the time – but it’s an amazing change in just a couple of years.

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Changing at Shinagawa Station to the Keihin-Tohoku Line for my hotel, I decided to buy a bottle of iyokan drink (it’s a Japanese citrus fruit) which mentioned “1% fruit juice” on the label, and… I’m pretty sure it was 1% fruit juice and 99% water. A homeopath’s idea of fruit cordial. Water that had once been in the same room as an iyokan. One star, do not recommend. Bleh.

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Back at Kamata, I happened to come across a roast sweet potato truck just outside the back door of my hotel. I kinda regretted not getting a roast potato from the truck I’d seen in Kyoto back in 2017, so I went to go see if I could buy one now… except he’d just finished for the night, and was only packing up. Very sad face.

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Plus, it suddenly occurred to me that I’d clean forgotten to visit the third – and largest – event location for Ikeharo: the Sunshine Plaza. Whoops.

Welp, here’s my little toy collection from today, in any case:

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Today’s photo count: six hundred and fourteen.

Today’s pedometer count: 22,695 steps – 16.6 kilometres – 19 flights of stairs.

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Day 15–Ginza, the Silver Mint

Sometimes it seems to me like every single place I’ve been to in Japan offers exactly the same type of paper serviette – and it’s basically a plastic sheet that doesn’t absorb a thing. Always the same size, always folded the same way. Is it at all possible that there’s a single company which makes serviettes in Japan that’s somehow cornered the market? It makes me rather grateful for those places which also give me a moist towelette, whether disposable or reusable.

Well, in any case, I started with breakfast. First breakfast at the new hotel.

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Then it was time to head out-… well, actually, I discovered I’d forgotten to charge my flat camera battery from yesterday. See, today’s planned activity was the Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries – if you recall, I last did this during my visit in December 2017, and enjoyed it greatly, so I wanted to do it again. (I’d actually intended to name this post after the event, except I’ve already got a post named “The Underground Mysteries”.) Anyway, point is, I expected it to be a long day – one of my regrets in 2017 was that I started so late (just before noon, actually, from the time on my photos) that I finished after sunset (or shortly after 7pm), so I wanted to get started early this time… but I also expected I’d need all three camera batteries, sooo… I decided to delay my departure by about an hour or so, and get it as charged as I could.

So, an hour or so later, I headed out. As a recap, the Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries, branded as a “Real Escape Game”, run in partnership by SCRAP and the Tokyo Metro railway company, is a puzzle-solving game that involves players riding the Tokyo Metro from station to station solving puzzles. For 2400 yen, you receive a pack including a booklet with the puzzles in them, a pegcil (=combination peg and pencil), a bunch of different extra bits for use in puzzle solutions, a plastic wallet to carry everything in, and a 24-hour Metro ticket. It’s run each year from October to January, and this year is the sixth edition – though, for some reason, this year it’s actually from October 15th to February 15th; not sure why the delay. This year for the first time, it’s also available in Chinese.

To give an example of how the puzzles generally work, the puzzle book will have some kind of diagram or image which represents an item of public artwork that exists somewhere near a Metro station – the solution involves actually going to that artwork, and matching elements of the artwork to elements in the book.

Today’s the only day I’m spending in Tokyo which is not a weekend, so I decided I had to do it today, even though I expected I’d have to contend with the “TGIF” crowd coming out of work around the time I was finishing. Since it’s only been running a couple of weeks at this point, I actually paid for my pack in advance, to be picked up at Tokyo Station (the Metro station, that is), and fortunately it (or rather, the JR station) is one train from my hotel. Well, so’s Ueno Station, where I’d been originally intending to start.

Downside of booking ahead, though, is that I was locked in to do it today regardless of the weather. And, thanks to Bualoi scraping past the coastline today, as I’ve mentioned before, it was forecast to bucket down all day long. Until about sunset. But I guess, considering my other options for Tokyo, I probably would have gone ahead with the Underground Mysteries anyway.

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So, I arrived at Tokyo Station, found my way to the Metro Station (fortunately without having to pass through the rain – though it certainly made a serious attempt to come into the train carriage en route), and picked up my puzzle pack, just over an hour earlier than my start last time. I asked the woman giving out the packs if there was any danger of the trains being suspended today, and she quite emphatically said no, which was a relief.

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And I headed off… which means that now is the point at which I stop describing my actions in great detail, for fear of spoilers. The puzzles change each year, but it’s always the same puzzles for everyone within a single year, and we’ve barely started the game period, sooo…

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For a few highlights, though, I was astonished to discover that this is a Buddhist temple. Very different to every other temple I’ve seen in Japan – though apparently it’s heavily influenced by temple architecture from India.

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At one point, my energy levels were starting to flag a bit, so I ate half the Calorie Mate that I’d bought for my hike in Oku-Nikko but never ate. Then at the next station, I came across an entire food court inside the station’s ticket gates – I can’t even imagine the logistics of getting all the food supplies into the restaurants through the ticket gates – so I stopped at a place specialising in curry for lunch. I had hayashi rice (hashed beef with rice). Yum.

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I must say, though, despite all the train rides being underground, I’d quite forgotten how much above-ground wandering around was involved. Which is fair – one of the major reasons for the game is to demonstrate to people how much there is to see in Tokyo by riding on the Metro trains, and you can’t see all of that from inside the station. One thing that frustrated me a little bit was how often the book would direct you to leave the station via a specific exit, turn left, walk down the street, cross at the lights, fashion a hang glider from coconuts and chewing gum, trade the banana to the monkey for a can of corn, then turn right, and the puzzle you need to solve is in front of you… except as you do that final right turn, there’s another exit from the same station sitting right there. Might have been more entertaining if there wasn’t rain. And increasing levels of wind.

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One plus point, though: when you solve a puzzle, which tells you the name of the next station, the puzzle book explicitly confirms that you were correct – and then there’s a couple of pages of the sights you can find around that station, before it gives you the next puzzle. 2017’s book did not, which had me heading off to Shinjuku when I misunderstood a clue. Downside, last time I ran into piles of other people doing the puzzle, and occasionally we’d work together, and the camaraderie was very nice. This time, I only saw a few other people, and the ones that I did see tended to ignore me, not even returning my greetings, which was a bit sad. I guess the rain kept people away, perhaps.

And then… I was finished. At 3pm. A full four hours earlier than last time. I enjoyed myself a great deal, but I actually felt a little bit let down at how little time it had taken me, compared to last time. I mean, I guess last time I also saw a lot of side attractions, like the Bunko Ward Office tower, and spent a while heading in the wrong direction. Also, I distinctly remember crossing from one side of the city to the other so many times that my head was starting to get turned around, but this year, I rarely rode more than a few stops on any one train before changing trains or going outside. Also, thanks to the rain, whenever I did go outside, I tended to scrunch down and walk at full speed (and even then, my shoes and trousers got soaked and dried out more than few times) rather than strolling gently.

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Well, to be completely accurate, I still had one final puzzle to solve, but the book said I could solve it anywhere – I could even do it at home. I found myself in Ginza, so I decided to stop for afternoon tea at a place nearby named Tsubaki Salon Ginza, which specialises in those thick, fluffy Japanese-style soufflé pancakes, using ingredients from Hokkaido – as a reward for doing well in an optional puzzle, I’d been given a coupon for a free drink with any pancake order, otherwise I wouldn’t have thought to visit this place.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought to visit this place even if I’d been wandering down the street specifically looking for any place that sells pancakes, because after following the Google Maps directions to the place’s doorstep, I still couldn’t spot it. The salon was on the third floor of a building, and though the building had the usual column of signage outside saying what was on each floor, the sign for this place was just “Tsubaki” in kanji, and in a fairly archaic kanji style. “Tsubaki” means “camellia”, incidentally. This is the building in question:

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(Side note: This optional puzzle involved watching the display screens for safety messages and such, and working out which word in the message was missing in the book… except thanks to all the notifications about line closures and stoppages mostly holding over from Hagibis, some of the safety messages never came up, so I had to guess.)

But in any case, once I’d found the place, it was really very pretty inside. There was a big stone (or stone-looking) table in the middle, which had a hole carved in one side that exactly fit a grand piano, and tables around the windows and walls (and mirrors at each end of the windows which took me half my visit to realise were mirrors and not more tables). I had pancakes with chocolate sauce, with sides of a choco-banana in fruit salad and yoghurt, and Hokkaido-milk gelato with cream. And a warm mug of Hokkaido milk to drink. (The other options on the menu seemed to be savoury, including one which was pancakes with bolognaise sauce.) Most tasty. And I was right back in Kawagoe when I said the choco-banana needed to be cold – with a crisp chocolate shell, it was quite scrumptious. The very artistic cutlery looked concerningly like gardening utensils. Though, until a married couple walked in towards the end of my visit, I was the only man in the entire place.

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By the time I’d finished there and left, the rain had stopped. Oh, it tried to start again once or twice, but otherwise it was so refreshing to breathe the free air again, unrestrained by the umbrella. I walked a few blocks to the south to visit something on my To Do list: the Hakuhinkan Toy Park, a massive toy shop with all sorts of toys and games to look at – and even try out. Actually, I’d already visited their branch store at Haneda Airport in 2017 without realising it – its the shop with the big toy car racetrack – and they had an even bigger racetrack here. I admit I didn’t stay there too long, and didn’t buy anything – though, I did get something from a gachapon machine featuring Koupenchan, and managed to get the one toy in the machine that’s not a penguin. Pondered having another go, but I decided not to. I was amused to see one thing there was a book promising a way to save 100,000 yen… which turned out to be made from thick cardboard pages with enough slots to hold exactly two hundred 500-yen coins.

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Once I emerged from there, it was night, and not at all raining, and… even though I still had a ticket in my pocket that’d let me ride anywhere in Tokyo for free, I didn’t really have any specific places in mind that I felt like visiting. Well, I mean, there was still the general feeling of “I’m in Japan! I want to visit ALL THE THINGS!” but even I’d admit that’s slightly pushing the definition of “specific”. My only thought was to visit Roppongi Station, the the station with the deepest platforms in Tokyo, but the actual deepest platforms are on the Toei-company line. So since I was just outside Shinbashi Station at this point, and the Keihin-Tohoku Line stops there, I decided to just head back to Kamata for dinner. And I just now realised that the big ol’ steam train sitting in a square which I’d spotted from the Keihin-Tohoku train a few times is actually right on the west side of Shinbashi Station. Bah. (Fun fact: It’s actually possible to walk from the Ginza Metro station all the way back to Tokyo Station completely underground, a distance of about two kilometres. Since you can take the train in much less time, most people don’t do that. Meanwhile, I had to make some same-station transfers today by going aboveground. Hah.)

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Back at Kamata, I went for a wander through the shopping streets on the west side of the station (after first being tempted by a bread shop selling a “chocolate baton” with a literal block of chocolate running down the middle), eventually deciding to eat at a place specialising in ten-don. And that’s not tendon, the things that hold your muscles on your bones – it’s ten-don, tempura-don. Tempura on rice, is what I’m saying. I had their “all-star ten-don”, which includes one each of tempura’d prawn, squid, scallop, octopus tentacle, maitake, green bean, and… a sheet of nori, which must have been at least ninety-five percent tempura batter. Tasty, though. On rice.

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Heading back to the hotel through the train station, I was handed a packet of tissues as I emerged from the station building. Basically, people stand at stations handing out small packets of tissues with advertising on the packet – I’d seen this all the time in anime, but never so far in real life. Actually, the girl seemed quite happy to hand them to me – everyone else was ignoring her (which is fair, because if you always take the tissues, you’ll wind up with more tissues than you ever need).

In my room, I finally managed to solve the final puzzle of the Underground Mysteries. I’d given it a stab at Tsubaki, but I hadn’t really been getting anywhere, and all my bits and pieces were starting to get everywhere, so I just packed them away and had my pancakes. But now I’d completed it. Success!

Today’s photo count: four hundred and twenty-six

Today’s pedometer count: 15,950 steps – 11.2 kilometres – 31 flights of stairs. I was kinda expecting more stairs, actually, considering how many Metro stations lack escalators.

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Day 14–Kamata, the Field of Cattails

(First, a little note from the future. I mean, the present: I survived Bualoi. A little damp, but no particular issues otherwise. But on with the show – as anyone I’ve sent an e-mail to in the past knows, I always like to do things in chronological order; it’s less confusing that way.)

One thing I’ve noticed about Toyoko Inn is that they invariably seem to make the beds such that the bottom edge of the sheet is in line with the edge of the mattress, rather than being tucked underneath. It always means that my feet stick out from the sheet (though are still under the cover) if I stretch out. It’s… a little annoying.

Opened with breakfast.

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After which, it was sadly time to check out. While I was in no particular rush to get going, I realised that if I could get to the station by 9:48, I could catch the fewer-stops Hayabusa train – all the trains afterwards, for the next seven hours, would be the slower Yamabiko (because the Hayabusa trains skip Ichinoseki outside of peak hours). Curiously, Ichinoseki’s sole ticket office (that I came across anyway – maybe there’s another one somewhere else?) is inside the station concourse, so I used the final day on my JR East Pass (and it’s also the final day in the fourteen-day validity period) and then went to book my final Shinkansen for this trip (aww). Sadly, an aisle seat again.

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This trip, I’d be heading all the way back to Tokyo for the first time since I left early the morning after I arrived – the trip takes about two hours on the Hayabusa, but two and a half on the Yamabiko. I was seated next to a little old lady, but she got off at Sendai… and was immediately replaced by a salaryman. So instead, I went to take photos from the vestibule. I’d planned to take a photo of my hotel and surrounds in Toda-Koen, and a photo of the Railway Museum as we pulled into Omiya, but at the critical moments, I wasn’t paying attention. I also saw a cute little rice polishing hut sitting in the middle of fields and nothing else, but was too slow to get a photo of it…

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Soon, we were back in the Big Smoke. The biggest smoke. At Tokyo Station, I pondered heading out to sightsee a bit, but decided that there wasn’t much adjacent to Tokyo Station that I hadn’t seen before, and I didn’t want to be dragging my luggage around, so I hopped onto the Keihin-Tohoku Line instead. (Despite the name, the line doesn’t go to Tohoku – it just connects Tokyo and Yokohama with the Tohoku Main Line. The “kyo” in “Tokyo” can also be read as “kei”, while the “hama” in “Yokohama” can also be read as “hin”, so Keihin-Tohoku.) I was quite pleased that I’d managed to grab a rapid express… except that it only skipped the next two stations, and then promptly turned into a local train. Bah.

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Anyway, my next hotel is in Kamata. Just as Toda-Koen Station was as far south as I could get along the train line without being in Tokyo, Kamata Station is as far south along the train line as I could get while remaining in Tokyo – the next station along the line is Kawasaki, which is in Kanagawa Prefecture.

I stood outside the station trying to figure out why I couldn’t remember having practiced the walk on Google Street View like I had for my other hotels, when I leaned slightly to the left and spotted it right there, about a block away. Easy peasy. This is a slightly smaller city hotel, squeezed between two adjacent buildings – it’s actually got a hair dresser’s underneath, and back door leading out to the street behind. Possibly the tiniest lobby/dining room I’ve seen at a Toyoko Inn, though. Perhaps – I might have to check my photos.

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Anyway, it was still a few hours before I could enter my room, so I checked in, deposited my luggage, and then went out to sightsee. There was one fairly minor location I’d been wanting to visit near here… but first, lunch. Took a brief detour into a bookshop to buy some books for Japanese reading practice. Well… brief-ish – it was ten past one when I arrived at my hotel, but ten to three before I found somewhere for lunch. I had tsukemen (= ramen noodles with separate dipping sauce) at a place specialising in Hokkaido-style ramen. Tasty. Not sure the soup was hot enough, though, because it was almost cold by the time I was done.

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Then it was time to go stroll. First, passing Keikyu-Kamata Station. This is where I’ll be catching my train to Haneda Airport when it’s tragically time to leave – it’s the primary reason that I’m staying here in Kamata for this part of the trip; Haneda Airport is about three stops away. It’s an interestingly-shaped station, though – trains going one way stop on the second level above the ground, while trains going the other way stop at the third.

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Wandered through tiny tiny back streets, two-way roads barely wide enough for a single car, people on bikes everywhere, and soon reached my target: Nanatsuji Kousaten, the seven-way intersection. Supposedly one of only two seven-way intersections in Japan, this one is heavily trafficked… but completely unregulated. Just stop signs, no traffic lights, no “you can turn left into that street but not this street” signs, and yet… it works.

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There’s a sign up saying “Japan’s best give-and-take model intersection”, and a whole bunch of writing on the back which I’m going to need to sit down and decipher, but which I think is a bit about the history of the area. I first learnt about this place from a documentary about it on NHK World, and it’s quite a nice place to sit and people-watch. There’s a greengrocer on one corner. Fun fact about Japanese greengrocers: apples cost 200 to 400 yen each, but you can get a four kilo bag of bean sprouts for 100 yen. Meanwhile, at Coles, apples cost about ninety cents each, while bean sprouts are eight dollars a kilo…

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I decided to satisfy a sudden craving for chocolate with a bag of Kit Kat bites from the 7-Eleven a few metres down one of the streets, and started wandering back to my hotel, munching on them. After they disappeared all too soon, I stopped at a vending machine for a bottle of Strawberry/Raspberry/Cassis/Cranberry/Blueberry drink (containing 0% fruit juice). One thing I noticed was kids out playing everywhere – riding their bikes, using the playground equipment, playing keep-away in their… well, I don’t know if I’d go as far as “dozens”, but there were at least a few severals. Not sure the last time I saw kids in Australia out playing together in such numbers. Arriving at the train station, I decided to buy an apple-filled taiyaki (fish-shaped cakes usually filled with red bean paste).

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Back at my hotel, I was handed my room key – level six, back corner. The door opens outwards, because just inside it is the bathroom door. And coming properly into my room, I was quite surprised to discover it’s actually got a view over the street behind – I was expecting to only be able to see the side wall of the adjacent builing, but here at the back of the hotel, the adjacent building is only a few storeys tall. I do, however, have a nice view in to the building that’s adjacent to the front half of the hotel, and I can see in the windows of some kind of small bar or club – they’ve got a neon Budweiser sign and a pool table and everything.

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And then I was even more surprised to discover the window actually opens. Most Toyoko Inns I’ve been in, the window just hinges at the bottom by a few centimetres. At Ichinoseki, it actually pivots horizontally around the middle of the window, enough to get my camera outside – and there’s actually a latch on both sides, which took me a while to notice. Here, it actually slides all the way open – I can lean right out, if I so desired. So, I took some photos.

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Watched VS Arashi on TV – finally remembered it was on – and after that a show featuring a panel of celebrities reacting to cute animal videos. I decided with the fairly late (and fairly large) lunch, and the near-incessant snacking, I didn’t really need dinner.

Tomorrow’s weather is forecast to be rainy and windy all day, only to clear up after sunset. That’s just lovely. Thanks, Hagibis. I mean, Bualoi.

Today’s photo count: Three hundred and ninety three

Today’s pedometer count: 10,659 steps – 8 kilometres exactly – 7 flights of stairs

Today’s stamp count: One – Kamata Station.

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