September 16 Monday
Air Canada 8109 Denver to Vancouver
ANA 115 Vancouver to Haneda
September 17 Tuesday
Arrived in Tokyo crossing the international dateline
Uber’d to Hilton Tokyo
Great food and service. Toto toilets. Ramen for breakfast. Eggs cooked to order using only chopsticks. Like Europe, eggs were brighter. Lychee fruit looks like dinosaur egg. UK couple told us how you peel it to eat it. Has a pit in it.
First night we tried to stay up a few hours, there was a roof top bar set up for a rugby zone. We shared a bucket of Heinekens while watching rugby highlights, got talking to some guys from India.
Never left the hotel to adjust to travel jet lag
Russian Rugby team was staying at our hotel
September 19 Thursday
JL 519 Haneda to Sapporo (New Chitose Airport)
JR Train to Sapporo Station
Walked the two blocks to Crowne Plaza (IHG). Room was tiny.
Before leaving for Japan, David and I watched an AB episode of his time in Japan. At the end of the episode he was seeking out an egg sandwich from a convince store. In the US, you never eat any kind of egg sandwich from a convenience or gas station because of freshness concerns. There was a 7/11 (no relation we think to the 7/11 chains in the US but similar concept)on the street level of our hotel. Once we checked into our room and headed out for dinner, David and I challenged ourselves to try one (in our continued effort to travel and be adventurous like AB). We’d split one as a snack as we ventured further out to a beer bar nearby. And it was fantastic! Not even egg salad with mayo and dill, or whatever goes in it. Just a smashed up hard boiled egg on white bread with the crust cut off. Not even sure if there was any salt and pepper. Again I think it feeds into how chickens and their eggs are treated differently international versus in the US, as the eggs seem larger and the yolks more colorful, thus more tasty. Pringles flavors were a little of this world. Found some that were soy sauce and sea scallops. Yuck! However, I did find a new snack that I fell in love with. Corn puffs that tasted like buttered corn on the cob. I had absolutely no self control! Open bag, open mouth and poured it right down my throat! Delicious!
We stumbled into a beer bar about two blocks from our place. The map on my phone wasn’t exact but were able to find it in the basement level of a building nearby. Beer and drinks were spot on. Found an ice cream made of Yuzu. If an orange and a lime had a baby…it’s called yuzu. Add a splash of gin for a cocktail.
September 20 Friday
Australia vs Fiji RWC match
There were two RWC Fan Zones in Sapporo: one at the train station that we walked by and the other at Odori Park. This one was a little further away but within walking distance. We hung out here a few times just casually, watching highlights and other matches on this screen. We drank Heineken to our hearts content, snacked on the food vendors with a variety of international fair, and checked out the small stores selling gear. David would find a Japan jersey in his size and with much happiness as we were surprised at how well the host country did in this tournament considering it’s never been a major contender in the sport at other tournaments, or historically for that matter. Getting to the stadium also was very easy. Literally right outside our door was a metro stop that would take us directly to the stop we would need for the stadium. It was a short walk from there, but we didn’t have to deal with transfers or going to the train station. With the volume of the crowd size and being in a completely foreign country, we made plans along the way. Once we exited the metro stop and walked towards the stadium, we made plans to meet at our seats if we got separated. If we got separated when we left the game, we pointed at a bar just before the metro stop we would meet at. Our cell phones were spotty at times on a good day while traveling abroad, would be worse because of the crowd. Worst case scenario was meeting back at the hotel.
Once inside the stadium, we scouted out where are seats were. Then taking turns heading to the bathrooms, getting food and drinks. However, Japan wasn’t ready for the western world to descend on their concession stands. Not just in Sapporo but we discovered at other stadiums. Could be a cultural thing on how people eat at sporting events versus how Japanese culture views eating in public. We heard stories about running out of food and allowing customers to bring in their own food. Great pre-game entertainment on the Jumbotron and guys beating the large drums.
When the game was over, the crowds were a bit overwhelming and we did get separated. I managed to get ahead and met him at the designated bar just before the metro stop where we had a few more Heinekens. When we disembarked the metro stop we ended up at the Fan Zone by the train station to watch a little bit of the 2nd game that day in another part of Japan.
September 21, 2019
From our hotel we walked to Odori Park with the TV Tour was our starting point. Figured we’d stumble around near there to find lunch and then head down Odori Park for the Fan Zone and the Autumn Festival. In the shadow of the TV Tour, we found the small Oktoberfest and was good for our soul: German beer and smattering of street vendor food including fried food and hotdogs. I was surprised about the first considering it’s a German/European/Western holiday and not something I would associate with Asian culture. No offense. Maybe it was going on because of the volume of westerners and beer drinks visiting the country for RWC in 2019 and the Olympics coming in 2020.
We ended up at the fan zone early, and watched one of the matches. There were also entertainers here, a very talented drummer put on a performance for us. We made friends from England and joined them at their table up front. We did some shopping and I found my spirit animal REN-G.
September 23 Monday
JL 514 Sapporo to Haneda
Ubered to Yokohama Grand Intercontinental (IHG)
We ended up spending an entire week here. Originally we were going to split our time here and Mt Fuji but I was fighting off sickness. At the grocery store nearby, we found the most delicious purple grapes. Easily 2-3 times the size, and more firm, than the grapes we’d find in the US. And they literally tasted like grape soda. No need to add sugar, you could squeeze these grapes into a glass and it would be grape soda. Even with needing sick time, I did my best to have a good attitude and get out, or send David off to do his thing.
For the US vs England game we found a nearby British pub called Fully Monty in Yokohama. It was coming up on RWC lists for good rugby bars to watch matches. That night we started at a different bar that was dead and really didn’t seem excited to watch rugby. We walked around the neighborhood and finally found Fully Monty, with cash in had. Granted they were going to cheer for England at a British pub, but it was a place to watch rugby and they spoke English. There was a small, polite group of Americans sitting in the back. After the a big loss, no surprise, we were still able to drink several rounds of beer and we actually had fun talking with the propietor who was from the UK and a few Americans there working at the navel base. One guy was just driving me nuts and was annoying. At one point, I had gotten tired of being interrupted to join the conversation and actually told him to shut his fucking pie hole so I could be part of the conversation.
Tuna Fish experience: As under the weather as I had been feeling, I knew it was good for my health to get out of the hotel room for fresh air. We walked across the bridge from our hotel in Yokohama to a shopping food court type of experience that was becoming common to our Japan experience. There’s a variety of places to stop at for different food options. With our indecisive relationship we picked a sushi place. I’d make the best of it for veggie, or no fish options. As we stepped up to the front of this food court restaurant, there was a large tuna as we walked in. I initially thought it was plastic or fake. There wasn’t enough ice to keep food safety to code I thought was we sat down to the conveyor belt buffet style sushi food. Boy, were we in for a treat! The fake plastic tuna was legit and put into a theatrical display of being cut up. David and I had no idea what the chef and his sidekick were yelling in Japanese but they were definitely putting this fish on showcase. Very Hollywood! Everybody had their phones out.
Theatrically, and with great simplicity, they cut this tuna up in very few cuts. The pretty steaks/pieces were cut and sold sushi style on the conveyor belt. The sad slushy bits were handed out as free samples. As David said, it was the best, most fresh pieces of tuna he ever ate whether it was the nicer slices cut from the body or the loose bits handed out for free. Language barrier aside and the fact that I didn’t eat any of the fish, the fun of the show was all I needed. The receipt at the end of the meal was the best part. The bill was calculated on the color/design of the plates. As much as we ate and drank for that specific meal in the motherland of fresh fish and sushi, we had the best value of that meal compared to any other including alcohol.
David and I easily had a dozen small dishes for them to calculate our tab that day for one meal. And that a few were literally straight from the Tuna fish, we spent less than $100 US dollars including a little bit of Japanese Beer and alcohol.
From this food court, we moved on to beer places and rugby bars. I ended heading back to the hotel before David.
JL 665 Haneda to Oita
October 2 Oita/Beppu
Suginoi Hotel: First experience with a Japanese hot spring. Naked by gender in public, must leave clothes at door before walking out to pools, no piling it up on a bench or rock.
There were amazing views from our room. Lush green trees and foliage on the mountain side as steam came out of the springs. At night, there were rainbow light displays up the hill through canopies and Cinderella like carriage.
New Zealand vs Canada RWC game. Took hotel shuttle to Oita train station. Train to Beppu. Watched some games and drank at the fan zone before taking a bus to the stadium, about a 1 KM walk from bus to stadium. David tripped and sprained his wrist. Got back in time for last hotel shuttle. Great day, minus the wrist.
Unofficial fan zone near Oita station. Official station near Beppu station. We hung out here twice. They continued to have entertainment in between matches, one was dressed up in a fancy kimono with a samurai head dress and changing mask. We also found a couple of restaurants and beer bars near Oita that we explored for food and drinks.
I was still sick waiting for meds to work.
Oita to Haneda JL 670
1 night at the Conrad
Wonderful property, comfy bed. We had an executive lounge with this Hilton property which was a big help. We had drinks and food like we had in Europe, and the concierge helped put together a train schedule for our trip to the Onsen tomorrow. We were struggling to navigate it online because needed to arrive at the train station at the destination by a certain time and needed to back track from there. And they came through! We went back down to the lobby to watch a rugby match and shared some appetizers, still hungry even though we ate at the lounge. Had some wine and beer. Felt like Bill Murray would show up, like Lost in Translation.
October 5 – 8
Took 3 JR Trains to Minobu
Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, Yujima, Japan
Train went by Mt Fuji. The first connection was incredibly tight, and we might have pushed our way through a turnstile but we made it. During the 2nd leg we had amazing views on Mt Fuji.
Oldest Onsen in Japan (705 AD) and owned by 1 family (until recently). We went in the pools twice. Water wasn’t very sulfury. Walked across wire bridge. Made rock stacks along the river while we watched somebody try to rock climb across the river without rigging. Gourmet meals. Cooking meals over hot rocks/stones/leaves, almost like fondue but Japanese style. Lots of Wagu beef. I think I ate horse. Fresh fruits and veggies I’d never seen or heard of. So colorful and vibrant. JI tried the fish even though I don’t like it. Drank a bottle of sake at each meal, so delicious and goes down so easy. New favorite.
So quiet, few people compared to Tokyo. Private naked spas. Vending machine Suntary mixed cocktails. Still shaking my cold but had a great time. Listening to the creek water outside our window. Slept on traditional beds: large pillow wrapped in a sheet on the floor with a duvet and a few pillows. Table was on the floor, sit on the floor with your legs Indian style curled under you.
Hilton Tokyo Odaiba
We took the hotel shuttle back to the train station. Got tickets to take us to Tokyo with 1 transfer, no stress and no rush. We were able to figure out all trains to the Hilton. Another beautiful rainbow Ferris wheel nearby and could walk from the metro stop to our hotel. There was a mini Statue of Liberty and LOVE signs right nearby. There was a great Executive Lounge with the happy hour and breakfast included that we really liked.
One night we walked over to the mega mall and had burgers, how American of us. Another night we sat at a nicer restaurant and shared wine and a Tomahawk steak. Took awhile to cook even on the rare side that we prefer. We, of course, had leftovers. Which worked out great with the Typhoon. We would end up mixing our leftovers into cups of ramen to jazz the meals as we rode out the storm.
Typhoon Hagibis and 5.3 Earthquake: When we realized that we were scheduled to be in Tokyo when the Typhoon rolled through, we looked into what options we had to fly out to the US before hand. Flights were booked and we worried about being stranded at Narita. We decided to ride out the storm from the comforts of our Hilton than at the airport. And I’m glad we did. We stocked up on water, food, booze, etc. to ride out the storm. Hotel assured us they had backup generators and the Tokyo infrastructure was built to withstand strong storms and earthquakes. Lights/Electric never went out, never lost WiFi. David took some amazing time lapse photos and videos. Some of the reading we did about big storms like this is to keep your blinds closed so that in the event the windows shatter, the glass shards don’t fly all over the room. The drapes help catch/buffer. Glass never broke. We could hear the wind and were adventurous enough to step out onto the patio on occasion. With the buildup we didn’t get far from the hotel property and felt a little restless. We went downstairs to one of the hotel restaurants for snacks and food. I didn’t feel it at the time, but David did. There was an earthquake offshore not far from Tokyo. David got chatting with some of the other Westerners who were also in Japan for RWC while hanging out downstairs.
We could tell when the eye of the storm came through as the winds picked up a little more for a few hours. By morning, blue skies but still windy. When we first opened the patio door that morning, there had been a vacuum seal created and the room had a really loud whistle. David opened the opposite door into the hallway to cancel things out. Even though it was windy, there were clear skies. And after being cooped up for a few days, we adventured out to a RWC fan zone. We also needed to get our train tickets to Narita airport. David and I had a blast. Rather than waiting in line for the official space to watch a match, we crammed into the little pub right next door and watched rugby. We had a little bit too much fun, and the details of getting back to our hotel are still a bit fuzzy. Being able to say we survived a Typhoon as part of our greater travel schemes and story telling, we were happy to cut loose.
The transition from the hotel, public transit, and through Narita was very easy. We had time to sit at the airport lounge before boarding our flight to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines. It was our compromise in that David and I both had a respiratory infection. We didn’t want to fly all the way home to Colorado to derail our travels before Antarctica, but felt we needed some comforts and health care of home to recover.
My Facebook post sitting at the airport lounge on the way to Honolulu: Well it’s time to say good bye to Japan. During the last month we’ve attended 2 RWC matches, hung out at several fan zones watching other matches on the big screen with thousands of our new international friends, ate way too much ramen & udon (sorry, not sorry), watched a tuna be ceremoniously cut while eating sushi from a carousel, went soaking at 2 Onsen, and rode out Typhoon Hagibis. And we both got sick with ENT issues. Our experiences couldn’t have been more unique in getting us out of our comfort zones. We ran through a turnstile or two to catch a train. We took a couple of wrong turns, had late starts and early evenings. And even with the most well laid plans that ended in disaster, it made us both laugh and smile in those happy little accidents that we deep down realized we were supposed to end up there for a reason. David and I are getting pretty good at making the best of everything, whether we planned it or not, with a smile and a laugh.