Japan Journal 2001, 1.5

(Photo version, 10.22.MMI)

Hey, I think I'm done. A lot of the phrases that look like links are actually several links in a row. Make sure you don't miss any photos.


Benefits of flying ANA as opposed to, say, United or Thai, became apparent immediately upon my boarding of the aircraft, and continued to present themselves throughout the flight. Each seat has its own ~6" LCD, which one can control with a glorified Super Nintendo controller that comes out of the armrest. Using this controller, one can choose from 8 movies to watch, play SNES, summon the real-time skymap, or do a number of other things. Hot towels were brought around twice. When offered drinks, I took the opportunity to familiarize myself with "Pocari Sweat", a popular drink in Japan. Lunch included noodles, cole slaw, and something i can only describe as "meat slaw". I entertained a bloody nose in the bathroom for about a half an hour. By use of my little LCD and controller, I tried my hand at a few rounds of Street Fighter II and a few hands of mahjongg. The only appealing film available was The Mexican, about which I was wary, but which I decided to give a chance because Brad Pitt, Hollywood pretty-boy or not, has never let me down. It turned out to be a high-quality piece of cinema.

I waited at the airport for a good hour while, unbeknownst to me, Tets was driving across Tokyo faster than he ever had before. When he showed up, I procured some cash from the machine, and we drove to Tets's parents' house. There I met his mom and grandma, both charming ladies who are used to having foreigners around. We had some yakiniku for dinner, which is where you bust out the big grilly thingie and fry up a bunch of stuff on it in the middle of the table and everyone eats from it.

Tets's mom gave me some chili-pepper-and-onion bath stuff, which if you ask me seems like a flavor packet for Bill Soup. I gave her the cookies and cocoa I'd obtained from Marshall Field's. Apparently mint and caramel flavored cocoas are unheard-of concepts here; the idea caused quite a stir. (Get it?)

Tets and I drove to his apartment. Driving in Tokyo is like this: go really fast, stop really quickly, repeat, all the while hoping you don't die. We went out to the supermarket(vertically oriented rather than sprawling), got grapes and yogurt. Tets's apartment is really extremely tiny. You can take maybe three steps one way and two steps the other way. After having lived in Burke hall at SNC together, however, we're fine. The view out his window is a testament to how crowded Tokyo is.


Got up, ate grapes. Would have eaten yogurt, but Tets didn't have any spoons. We went to the mall in Shinjuku and met Tets's mom and grandma for lunch. We ate at a pretty nice Italian place where I confirmed the rumors about the weird stuff Japanese people put on their pizza: eggs, shrimp, squid, ham(like, cold cuts or something). Tokyu Hands is a premier everything-for-the-home store, and we went there. Tets procured a shower curtain; I procured some soap called "Natu Ecolo". At Tower Records I was able to get the Clammbon and Hi-Posi CDs I'd been anticipating, as well as a single from Bjûrk's upcoming album. We went into a game store. See, bringing me to a game/anime/manga store in Japan is bad news. I've got to fight the very strong urge to go up to the counter, slap down a billion yen, and go, "gimme two of everything". I actually managed to escape the store without buying anything for myself. Tets and I did, however, split Final Fantasy X as a gift for Hiroko's birthday.

Seeing that we still had a few hours to kill before meeting Hiroko and Eri, we took the train over to the famous Akihabara, "Electric Town". This was to be the first of many rides on Japan Rail trains. Tets took me to a few Mac shops, including the all-Mac, 5-story Laox building. Laox is a pretty major electronics store, with several buildings in Akiba alone. My first truly surreal Japan experience on this trip was hearing the Aa! Megami-sama! theme in a used computer shop. The second was finding a USB aromatherapy kit. You stick some incense in this little dish, then plug it into your USB port and it works. There's also a USB Hello Kitty, which you patch between your keyboard and computer, that senses your keystrokes and types along with you on her own little keyb. We found some custom-colored replacements for the light-up apple on new iBook lids, but unfortunately, they don't fit in TiBooks.

We returned to Shinjuku to meet up with Hiroko and Eri. This was my first time seeing Hiroko in about two months. She disapproved of my Ruby Twilight hair. Apparently Chocolate Cherry is more tolerable. I showered while Tets and Eri went shopping. We had noodles and assorted sashimi and weird goopy stuff for dinner. Hiroko opened her presents and we had cake. While we were eating, Ryousuke called and we invited him over. The promise of mahjongg lured him. Hiroko went home, while Tets, Eri, and I prepared to relive Freshman year with a ridiculously long mahjongg session. We played until we couldn't stay awake any longer, and meanwhile I made Ryousuke an MD.


Slept in quite a bit. When I got up, I decided to log some solo Japan time. I took a walk to the convenience store near Tets's apartment. Yeah, I can buy pop in Japanese. Tets and I paid another visit to the supermarket. This time we bought a package of spaghetti and a clove of garlic. Next we had dinner at a place called "Dining"(or "Dainingu", as it was written in the Japanese character set). It's kind of a traditional Japanese-style bar, including shoe removal. The tables were set up in depressed areas of the floor, so that you can sit on the floor as if it were a chair. That's really the best I can explain it. Bibimbahb, curry, and sashimi were the selections this time.

Later, a couple of Tets's friends showed up and stuck around til about 0300. I tried to impress them by floating a one-yen coin in a glass of water. They said something that roughly translates to "wow".


Tets and I awoke to a phone call from Ryousuke, who apparently was waiting for us at Akihabara Station. Whoops. Turns out there had been some miscommunication about our plans. Anyway, Tets told me to go ahead and that he would catch up with me later. Thus began my first truly serious solo Japan time. My first attempt to find Shinjuku Station failed, when a rogue subway station intent on confusing me threw me off track. After returning to the apartment(by this time I was thinking of it as "our apartment") to regroup, however, I was able to get to the station by myself. I navigated the rail system alone and made it to Akihabara.

Ryousuke and his friend took me around to some computer shops, including, again, the Mac Laox. I took a few photos of myself in front of it wearing my As the Apple Turns shirt. There, I bought a very nice mouse pad and some very nice CD/DVD-files. "Very nice" is a phrase I find myself using quite often to describe Japanese products, places, and even people. When in Japan I feel like someone has reached into some hidden control panel and turned up the "quality", "attention to detail", and "dedication" knobs a few notches(okay, admittedly, they seem to have spun the "price" knob all the way up as well). I'll get into this again later, as it's one of the most interesting things about Japan for me.

We met up with Tets and searched around for a place to eat. We ended up at a place where you sit on a raised floor thingie with a short little table that has a grilly thingie in the middle. you order bowls of this liquidy stuff with various seafood and vegetables in it, which you pour on the grilly thingie an spread around until it's solidified enough to scrape off with these scraper thingies and eat. It was good. We were right by Asakusa, one of the more touristy areas of Tokyo. They've got some shrines and a huge marketplace and the big red lamp thing you always see pictures of. I got pop with a marble in the bottle, which apparently is such a big deal to make that they make you give the bottle back when you're done. We got our fortunes from inside one of the shrines. Ryousuke bought me a "yo-yo", which was actually a balloon with some water in it, on a string. You had to "fish" for the yo-yos in a little pool, using a little hook. It was weird. I bought some traditional Japanese sandals.

We went to the Yurikamome station and met up with Tets. The Yurikamome is a newfangled type of train that takes one from Tokyo to Odaiba, and possibly somewhere else as well, but I'm not sure. Because fireworks are such a huge deal here(imagine the 3 million person turnout for the Chicago 4th of July deal, except that it happens, like, every week), the line to get on the Yurikamome and subsequently see the fireworks in Odaiba, was very long. They had us walk up and down several long hallways, which afforded me the chance to view lots of neat kimonos(I like adding 's' to Japanese words, which don't use 's' for plurality). About half of all the girls and ladies in attendance wore kimonos, compared to maybe the one in 500 that you would see on any other day or at any other place.

The fireworks started while we were on the train. Everyone watched out the window and made little "nnnnnnn!" noises at the pretty ones. "Nn" is a pretty universal word/noise in Japan. You can almost get by without saying anything else. I sure do. Well, then we walked to the big parking lot that Tets's dad and some other Toyota bigwigs had reserved. They had big bags full of snacks for each of us, free drink coupons, and, uh, little styrofoam trays of squid bits. I met Tets's dad, who is like the most intimidating guy in the world. You see this guy and your brain instantly finds where it has stored the word "IMPORTANT" and sends that down your synapses a couple dozen times. He's pretty nice, anyway. The fireworks were pretty spectacular. They beat anything I'd seen prior. Ryousuke, his friend, and I set off on our own and walked around Odaiba for a bit. I logged some more solo Japan time when I walked home. It's pretty thrilling to walk around a city on a side of the planet opposite that on which you spent the first 20 years of your life, at like 0 o'clock.


- Bill-N-Tets-Sleep-In-Day

Today I went to the Daily Store and got some snacks. We had snacks.


Tets and I made a trip to a computer shop to get Quake 3. Now, at this shop I found another thing that I really like about Japan. See, I'd always known from Hiroko's fashion magazines that Japanese magazines are much bigger, thicker, and more detailed than ours. Cosmo might say "Glittery pink is in this summer". Non-no actually has four pages of nothing but close-up photos of lips exhibiting every tint and shade of glittery pink available. Imagine my delight when I found that computer magazines, specifically Mac magazines, follow the same trend. There's also a magazine called MacFan that never fails to have a cute girl on the cover, posing with a Mac. The funniest thing is that sometimes the Mac is out of focus. And we got Quake 3.

Then it was time for sushi. Driving there was half the fun. I know that US cars can have GPS in them too, but I'd never witnessed it til I was in Tets's dad's car. I guess it makes sense that one of the more important dudes at Toyota would have all the car gadgets available. It was neat to see a little arrow on a map following us around, and to hear the generic Japanese woman's voice telling us "turn right 100 meters ahead". I'd like to take a minute to tell you about the generic Japanese woman's voice. See, everywhere you go, on trains, on buses, in supermarkets, in malls, or generally anywhere there are announcements to be made, those announcements will be made in *exactly* the same voice. It's terribly polite, sweet, and precise. At the last two or three syllables of each announcement, there's always this little bubbling up of joy, like the woman just can't contain her excitement at the fact that "this is the 3rd floor" or that you should "please remain behind the yellow line". According to Tets, there are whole schools dedicated to teaching girls how to sound exactly the same so that they can get jobs recording announcements. I don't know if he was kidding.

We got to the sushi place, which was called "Bikkuri Sushi"(Surprise Sushi). It was pretty, uh, surprising. I felt pretty underdressed as soon as we walked in; It was a serious sushi place. We got a seat at the bar, where you ask one of the chefs for stuff as you think of it. I had some pretty basic sushi, tuna and salmon and that. Tets and his dad ordered a big fish head which they shared. Tets's dad had me order his favorite, kazunoko. I have no idea what it was, but it was yellow and gross. I then discovered that they make crab leg sushi and ate a bunch of that. The chefs were really cool; every time someone walked in they'd all yell "irassssssshaimase~~!!"(welcome) one after another like a wassup commercial, and whenever someone left they'd all yell, "arigatou gozaimashita~~!!"(thank you very much). All right, get ready to not believe what I am about to say. Tets ordered, and ate, some bones. Yeah, bones! What the heck!

We played a lot of Quake 3. Tets is a lot better at that game than I am.


Today we took our rented car out west of Tokyo to where the serious mountains hang out. Motoki is Tets's butterfly-catching friend, fellow traveler to Burma(Myanmar), associate butterfly-catching-documenting-book author, and partner in malaria. The three of us, after a reluctant breakfast of asa-makku (which translates roughly to "morning Mickey-D's"), went up in those mountains to look for butterflies. I found a lot of dragonflies and spiders. Tets found me some huge beetles and taught me how to confuse a bug. I guess since they have those wacky compound eyes, swirling your finger around in their faces can confuse some bugs to the extent that you can then pick them up without a struggle (and if you're a collector, stick them with a little pin and mount them in a box).

That night we visited a bar, a really Japanese one, and stayed for a very long time. Motoki insisted on treating us. See, age is a pretty big deal in Japan. Even the closest of friends will always keep in mind how old the other is and adjust the respect in their speech accordingly. Also, it's normal for the oldest of a group of friends to treat the others, and this is just what Motoki did for us. We had a pretty long series of odd Japanese bar foods like sashimi and jello-like noodly things and little seaweed scraps. When I ordered a Coke, I was brought a bottle and a glass with ice. Everyone was pretty surprised when I simply drank it straight from the bottle. At the end, Tets and Motoki ordered some sake, which has a neat little pouring ritual involved. The server lady produced two glasses and two little lacquered wooden boxes, each about half the height of a glass. She put then glasses in the boxes and poured sake in each until the glass overflowed and the box was filled. Tets explained that this symbolized that even though you are paying for a glass of sake, you are getting quite a bit more. I guess this is to show how special the customers are.


I got up this morning to take the train over to Hiroko's neighborhood. Once there, I was immediately treated to a deluxe haircut by her hairstylist parents. It's especially good to have a free haircut in Japan, because they usually cost around $30. There are actually these little combs that have blades in them so guys can trim up and avoid having to get a haircut for another couple of weeks.

Hiroko asserted that I need some cool new clothes, and I couldn't really disagree. We went down to the local department store, where I tried on and bought a few Japanesely-cool shirts. Later, we visited Hiroko's friend Sekky, who's got a Snow iMac! Yeah!


Hiroko and I took a nice train to Nikkou, which is something of a historical city. My camera's batteries decided that then would be a good time to die, and I had to replace them. Lots of important stuff went down in Nikkou back in the Edo era. We checked it out in the form of "Edo-mura", a theme park set up to resemble a town in that era. There were plenty of displays and lame animatronic samurai set up to illustrate the torture, war, and ritual suicides that went on. It was pretty fun. There was a whole building set up to illustrate the Japanese Buddhist perception of Hell. The coolest part was that after walking through all the scary stuff (which really was quite scary), there's a glimmering gold room with a big Buddha statue and a sign claiming that he had saved you from it all. The Japanese folk passing through put their hands together and bowed to him. We attended a few historical plays: one was a comedy about "The Female Thief", one portrayed the lives of geiko (basically really classy prostitutes), and an outdoor one told the tragic story of the "White Tigers", a group of young warriors who killed themselves when they thought their master had been killed (he hadn't). After that last play, the actors performed a really impressive dance number with fans and swords.

There was a historical movie being filmed there, as well, and we were allowed to check out the really neat sets.

We found our hotel, which was actually just a big, nice house with some extra rooms in it. The guy who owned it made us a very fancy multi-course dinner. Steak in Japan can be cut with a fork; the concept of steak knives is unknown. USAmerican steak is perceived as unreasonably tough by most Japanese who have tried it.

There was a 7-11 nearby, and we paid it a visit. It was truly surreal to hear the Neon Genesis Evangelion theme song in a convenience store. Japanese 7-11s, at least the three I visited, seem all to be built exactly the same way. Some Japanese are surprised to hear that 7-11 exists in the USA, because the ones in Japan carry traditional foods like onigiri. What surprised me was that you can actually buy PlayStation 2 games there as well.

We ate our newly purchased snacks while watching some TV show about glassmaking. Japanese TV seems to be a lot more educational than ours. A lot of the more popular shows manage to be educational and still entertain. I suppose that since being smart is still considered cool, they've mastered the art of teaching neat stuff without coming off like the History Channel.


When Hiroko came to Nikkou eight years ago with her class, she saw a huge waterfall, to which one could walk right up and say hallo. When we got there, however, we found that the path to get down to the base had been closed for seven years due to how dangerous it had become. The only view we could get of the falls was from a faraway ledge. We talked to the gift shop clerk a bit about it, and he told us that if we really want to go down there, and if we would really be careful, that they could let us go check it out. So we went. There were these big stone stairs that had become overgrown in green and that, here and there, had collapsed into very non-stair-like arrangements. It was obvious why the path had been closed. After a while the stairs ended and we were left to climb down huge, steep, sharp rock piles. We ended up having to do such indy-jones-style stuff as swinging on roots sticking out of the side of a little cliff. It took about an hour for both of us to reach the bottom, and one close up look at the falls told us that the trip was worth it. Hiroko took a bunch of pictures while I climbed around and tried to get to parts of the falls where people should probably not go. After sitting around and hanging out with a few of Japan's numerous dragonflies, one of which I successfully confused, we went back.

It only took about 20 minutes to get back to the top. Some people who saw us emerging from behind the "DANGER! PATH CLOSED - DO NOT ENTER" sign seemed a bit concerned for us. We went up to the gift shop/restaurant and had some soft serve ice cream, which is very popular and here goes by the alias "soft cream". We made our way back to the bus, ate some onigiri that we'd bought at 7-11, and got back to the hotel for dinner. 7-11 got some more business when we purchased more tv-watching snacks.


Today we went to see a few of the huge number of temples and shrines around Nikkou. Perhaps these nice these photos will tell the story best. While we were wandering around the historical area, we heard some commotion nearby. As it turned out, there was a national pro kendou tournament going on. We were able to just walk right into the building where they were having it and observe. Those guys really know how to yell. The judges would yell stuff out and wave little flags around at what seemed to be arbitrary times, after which everyone would applaud.

There were some stands selling omochi on a stick and corn on the cob with soy sauce; we bought and ate some of both. When we were done looking around, there were still a couple of hours left before our train back to Tokyo was scheduled to leave. We went to a karaoke joint (yes they exist even in Nikkou), where I sang what few decent English songs they had, badly. After that we proceeded to Gusto, a family restaurant chain that, as I had somehow forgotten from last year, is really awful. We loitered there for a couple of hours, then caught our train back. I was surprised to find that the mysterious music I'd been hearing was actually emanating from inside the headrest, and that it was a piano-only version of the Kiroro CD that Hiroko had bought me.

Back at Hiroko's house, we watched the latest edit of her sister Eiko's newest film. Eiko is something of an amateur movie writer and director. She tends to write the kind of sappy drama that you see on Japanese TV, but her execution is superb.


Hiroko and I went to a shady area of Shinjuku today to get movie tickets. For some reason all the movie theaters are centered around the kinds of areas where homeless build their cardboard towns and where the streets are lined with "massage parlors" and "specialty book shops", all with pink signs. Before getting to that part of town, however, we stopped at a gyuudon shop for lunch at the refreshingly unJapanese price of 250 yen. These shops are pretty impressive; you get in, punch your selection into a machine, get a ticket for it, get served, eat really quickly, and leave. The place seems geared toward super urbanized Japanese on the go and on a budget.

When we got to the theater that was showing our movie, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, there was a line all the way around the block. We consulted the showtimes and decided to come back later. At a clothing shop, I found a bunch of really cool clothes that were way too small for me. At the bookstore, I found that the Xenogears Perfect Works book I've been looking for is pretty much unavailable even here, and that art history books are really expensive but make nice birthday presents for art-major girlfriends. At a discount store called Don Quixote, I found that kids' toys and "adult toys" can coexist on the same shelves, and that for some reason they had the new Bjûrk CD a good two weeks before it was supposed to come out. I bought it, of course.

We came back to the theater, this time 2.5 hours early for the next showing. We waited around in the lobby for a while, then in the hallway outside the theater itself. I was a little regretful of having to go through so much just to see a movie in which I was not too interested.

Hayao Miyazaki is the most famous animator in Japan. When he makes a movie, people go and see it, no questions asked. The remarkable thing is that this devotion is not the result of marketing to kids so that they drag their parents to the theater, or cheap hype to make people think they need to see it, but simply because the guy never goes wrong. Everything Miyazaki makes is just marvelous. I didn't really understand this until I saw the film. I'd heard things described as being able to make one feel like a kid again, but I didn't believe it possible til I saw Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi. The really neat thing is that I understood most of it, despite its being entirely in Japanese.


We had some asa-makku on the train to Hakone. Hiroko's whole family, except for her grandma, went. Hakone is another historical area, and is popular for sightseeing. As soon as we got there we took a cable car into the mountains. We had a really spectacular view of Mt. Fuji, which I'd never seen in person. Appropriately, my camera ran out of batteries again. This time I gave up and put the camera away. There were a bunch of sulphur mines or something on the sides of these mountains, and the air smelled accordingly. Once we got to the vantage point, we tried some local delicacies, these black-stained hard boiled eggs. They were pretty good. I had some quality conversations with Hiroko's little brother Masaki. His English is about as atrocious as my Japanese, so it's a good challenge to try to make ourselves understood to one another. This usually involves lots of charades and references to Magic cards with which we are both familiar.

At the hotel, we all visited the sento. A sento is one of those famous Japanese public baths you always hear about. Added to my list of surreal Japanese experiences was soaking in a hot bath with my girlfriend's dad and brother. It was weird, and my anxiety kept me from achieving the relaxation that Japanese had always enthusiastically claimed to me that the sento brings. Dinner was a full-blown French affair where they bring out a tiny bit of food at a time, and everything is really proper and formal. I held my own in the dinner conversation with the whole family. I found that Hiroko's mom is a lot less intimidating when she's had a glass of wine. It's hard to make that not sound bad.

After dinner, Masaki and I had a long conversation that covered a large number of topics. I think the best teacher I can have is someone like Masaki, whose English is poor enough that I have to learn the Japanese words for what he's trying to say, who is young enough that I'm not self-conscious about my Japanese, and who's geeky enough to be interesting. I wish I'd kept all the ridiculous diagrams we'd drawn one another in attempts to explain difficult concepts. I especially wish I could have scanned in the little frowning dotcom CEO stick figures I'd done when I was trying to describe the US economy.


Breakfast was traditional Japanese style. Fish, eggs, rice, miso soup, all that stuff. We took a really long walk to a castle. It rained, and I got a lot of water and sand in my Japanese sandals, which then broke. The castle was really neat, though. The lady gave me an English pamphlet and we checked out the little museum inside. It turns out that most historical buildings in Japan are actually reconstructions of what used to be there, sometimes being rebuilt two or three times. I guess it all gets blown up or burnt down or shaken apart so often that it's normal to walk into an ancient castle or temple and find that it's got full electric wiring and central air conditioning. Also, the US is so young that most of our stuff is still around, and perhaps we don't understand too well that thousands-of-years-old buildings aren't likely to survive in such a geographically volatile place as Japan. And it didn't help that warring tribes liked to burn stuff down all the time.

Inside the castle they had all sorts of genuine ancient arms and armor. I spent most of my time examining the samurai outfits and swords. What was really neat is that there were little cards by each item explaining not only where and when they were from, but who exactly made them and what significance the name had. Some of the families are still making weapons today, generations later.

Japanese-made western food can be really messed up. Usually their "Western" restaurants serve all sorts of whacked out stuff I can't even identify. If you're in Japan and you want a taste of home, McDonald's is your best bet, but even that is vaguely different(I claim that while a Japanese McD burger can be disassembled and then reassembled from the resulting parts, a USA McD burger has, by the time it is served to you, already been fused into an indivisible mass of bun, grease, cheese, meat, and condiments[that's a good thing]). Uh, the reason I state this is that we went to a Western-style restaurant, and I ordered the least creepy-looking thing I could find, which claimed to be pizza. It had, like, squid and stuff on it.


Hiroko and I went to the local mall to pick up a PlayStation 2 and some games. We got the games first. I'd seen a lot of promotion for the new Capcom gothic survival-horror shoot-em-up/hack-n-slash production Devil May Cry, and it looked particularly cool, so I picked it up, incidentally, one day before it actually was supposed to come out. (note: This is one heck of a game. It seems like Capcom has somehow managed to distill all the things that make an action game fun while filtering out all the annoying bits like running out of ammo or dying because you fell too far off a ledge.) Also, upon Hiroko's request, I got a Japanese historical/mythical RPG in which you have to maintain a good family tree by choosing appropriate mates and then raising kids properly until you die and take on the role of their characters. It's got a long name that I haven't yet been able to memorize, but that is abbreviated as OreShika and roughly translates to "Over My Dead Body". The real reason I wanted a Japanese PS2 is to play Xenoasga when it comes out this winter, as it is the one game I have been most excited about in my life. Xenogears is my favorite video game, by far, and to think that they're making it into a six-part series is more than I could have ever asked for. The guy at the PS2 store said that there was going to be a "1% off sale"(it seems that in Japan, this is somehow not funny; I cracked up anyway), so we'd better come back then. We had some udon in a nice restaurant on the top floor of the mall. Instead of food courts with bad-karma-inducing places like Nacho Fast and 1 Potato 2, Japanese malls have really nice restaurants in them.


Hiroko and I went all around Tokyo trying to find an ATM that would honor my card. It turned out to be a lot more frustrating than I'd expected, and I now know that when I live here I'd better plan ahead for something more convenient. When we finally found a place that would let me get cash, they would only dispense 70000 yen a day. It was bogus. The Citibank guy was really polite and unhelpful. We had to have some ice cream to calm down.

We got the PS2 for 1% off, and went to a little local tonkatsu shop that Hiroko's family frequents. She chatted with the guy there and we had some serious tonkatsu. You should have seen this stuff. Whoo.

Back at Hiroko's house, packing for our return to the USA was a family affair. Everyone got in on it, and Hiroko's room was packed, so to speak. My big charcoal duffel bag was pushed to its limits. It was pretty sad to already be leaving. I mean, I was pretty sad. Not the bag.


We left.