Friday, December 7, 2012

6/12/12 – 7/12/12 A Plastic Plane to Tokyo, Earthquakes, and Eel Flavoured Ice Cream


Today we headed back to Tokyo, the last destination of our epic trip around Asia. But before we did that, we had a few hours in Kurashiki before our flight. We spent them having another look around the canal area, and we also went to a store called the “Kimono Café” to purchase some Tabi boots for my friend Peter, back in Australia. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any in his size, so after much deliberation, I decided not to get them for him as there’s nothing worse than having shoes too big or small for you.

I spent far too much time trying to decide on the boots, and suddenly we were pressed for time. We hurried back to our hotel, got our bags, and then made our way to the bus station. A short bus ride later, and we were soon at Okayama airport, where we would catch our flight to Tokyo.

We got there quite early, so we grabbed a bento box each from the convenience shop, and then went up to the observation deck to eat them. I did my usual plane spotting thing, which was pretty uneventful, as the only plane at the airport was our ride that would take us to Tokyo an hour or so later.

This wasn’t really your ordinary aircraft though – it was a Boeing 787. The type has only been in service for just over a year, and ANA, our airline today, was the first to fly them. It is the most technologically advanced civil aviation aircraft currently flying. Its body is almost completely made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic, and has many high tech features in it designed to reduce weight and maximise efficiency. All of these features add up to approximately a 20% fuel saving when compared to other aircraft of a similar capacity. While this may not sound like much, when you think that about 85% of the costs of the airline industry is fuel, and that fuel prices are only going up, you’ll soon realise why this is such a big deal. Some airlines (United Airlines in the USA, for example) spend $10,000 on fuel each second of each day. If they could be spending 20% less than that, they’d stand to save an amazing amount of money.

Anyways, we headed back down through security, and awaited boarding. It wasn’t long, and we were soon on board this brand new plane.

ANA Flight NH656 OKJ-HND
Boeing 787-8 JA808A
Captain Hideo Azuma
Scheduled Pushback: 1210
Actual Pushback: 1208
Scheduled Arrival: 1325
Actual Arrival: 1325
Seat: 11A

First impressions of the interior were good. It was very clean, and the “new plane” smell was still there. The seats were roomy enough, but the recline on them slid the bottom of your seat forwards, and the rear did not move backwards. Essentially for me, this meant that I had no recline on my chair, as my knees touched the seat in front of me when my seat was in the fully upright position.

One other really cool feature about the aircraft was the window shades, or rather, lack thereof. Instead of having the “pull down” shades of other aircraft, there are two buttons at the base of each window. Press them, and the window itself actually changes its level of shade. It can cycle through from completely clear to almost completely dark. Very impressive stuff. I’m sure it is more expensive to install than a traditional window shade, but this system weighs a lot less, so in the long run it would mean more money saving for the airline.

Unlike the A380, there wasn’t any noticeable quietness to the cabin, so I’m not sure if it was actually quieter than its older brothers like Boeing claims. The cabin did have a nice open feel to it though, and the lavatory that I visited actually had a window in it – the first I’ve seen on an aircraft.

The flight was a very short one – it took us over Honshu as we flew Tokyo-bound. There were some fantastic views of Mt. Fuji as we zig zagged towards Tokyo. I had no idea why we flew like that – possibly because of turbulence, or because we had to kill time before our landing slot opened up. Either way, I found it quite puzzling why we didn’t just fly in a straight line to Tokyo. We could have probably been there about 30 minutes earlier!

Before I knew it, my first flight on this futuristic aircraft was over. I look forward to taking many more on them when Qantas/Jetstar eventually incorporate them into their fleet.

When we reached Tokyo Haneda Airport, I had one goal – to find the Pokemon Jet. ANA has several 747’s painted in a very colourful Pokemon-themed livery, and I had always wanted to see one in person. Sadly, even after searching from one end of the observation deck to the other, I was unable to find them anywhere. I did however find loads of ANA aircraft to snap photos of, so it wasn’t a complete disappointment.

Then, we caught the Haneda Monorail into Tokyo. We then had to once again switch to the Yamanote line, which was once again packed (even though we weren’t in rush hour), and we were soon back at Shinjuku, at our hotel.

That night, we had MOS Burger for dinner. They recently opened up a store in Brisbane, so I was keen to try it from its origins. I’m not going to lie – I didn’t really enjoy the Japanese version. It was just really texture-less and bland. I’m hoping the Australian version of it is better. We’ll see.


Wow. Today was a weird one. I wish that I could say that the earthquake, or even eating eel flavoured ice cream was the weirdest thing that happened to me, but no. Read on to find out.

Our first part of the day was a trip to the Studio Ghibli Museum – something that Emma and I tried to visit on our last trip, but due to the natural disaster, were unable to as it was closed. Thankfully though, nothing was going to stop us visiting it today. We had our tickets, we had our passports for ID check, and we were all set to go.

For those of you reading who don’t know who Studio Ghibli are, a quick rundown – Hayao Miyazaki, the studio’s leader, is considered one of the best animators in the world, and he is widely considered to be Japan’s “Walt Disney”. Studio Ghibli’s films are heart-warming, entertaining, and uniquely Japanese. If you haven’t seen any of their films, do yourself a favour and go and rent out “My Neighbour Totoro”, “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke” right now. I’ll wait here until you’ve seen them.

Ok, are we good now? Cool. Now you know why we were excited to go to this museum.

After arriving at Mitaka Station, we caught the appropriately Ghibli-themed bus to the museum. Looking at the building from the outside, it was difficult to tell that it was for Studio Ghibli – its outside was strange, yes, but nothing that screamed of Ghibli’s unique style.

Once we were inside however, that all soon changed. It is such a labyrinth of a building – small rooms branching off through tiny corridors and around every corner some form of fascinating Ghibli-related exhibit. The theme of the museum is “let’s get lost together”. That is, there is no set order to explore anything, you just go about as you please, absorbing as much of the fantastic wonderment that the building contains. Unfortunately, all of the exhibits are in Japanese – there is a tiny amount of information on the English pamphlet they give you, but nothing to explain the actual exhibits. Still, I felt like this just added to the sense of discovery you get when walking around the museum.

In one of the rooms, it had big books full of the storyboarding of some of the films. The ones on display today were “Porco Rosso” and “Princess Mononoke”. Having watched the latter film only a few days earlier, it was fascinating to flick through the book, and notice the screen directions for the shots that were still fresh in my mind.

We then headed down to the Saturn Theatre – one of the main attractions of the Ghibli Museum. Here, they show exclusive short films that they have made – ones that you cannot see anywhere else in the world. They aren’t available on DVD, or on the internet. Needless to say, I was excited. I couldn’t tell you the name of the film we saw, as it was written in Japanese and flashed on screen too quickly for me to read it.

What I will tell you about it though is that it was absolutely adorable. Essentially, it was a film about mice sumo wrestling with each other. The animation was fantastic, and it really engaged the audience watching it, even those that couldn’t understand the dialogue, such as Emma and I.

We then headed up through a spiral staircase to the gift shop. While I wouldn’t normally talk about something as tacky as a gift shop, this one was –amazing-. All matter of Ghibli merchandise, all silently begging you to buy them. It was all so cute, and between Emma and I, we spent a shameful amount of money in there.

Sadly, it was then time for us to leave this magical place – we had many other things to do with our day, and it was already about 2pm in the afternoon. I could probably write several more paragraphs on this museum, but I’ve chosen not to as I’d rather not spoil it for you. When you come to Japan, come to this museum, it’s as simple as that.

Next on our list of things to do was to head back to Harajuku and to the humourosly-named “Takeshita Street”. Our eventual goal was to visit a rabbit café – a place where you could have food or drinks surrounded by cute fluffy bunnies. Unfortunately in Brisbane, rabbits are banned as pets, and seeing as how cute they are, Emma and I were very keen to try this out.

Anyways, before this, we had a look down Takeshita Street, which was just as crazy and frenetic as we remembered. We had another look into Emma’s favourite “random crap” store, where I bought a Coca-Cola glass, and a hilariously creepy set of playing cards to use at the next poker night.

We then headed to another used clothing store from the same chain as Emma’s favourite in Osaka. It was quite disappointing compared to the Osaka branch, but we reasoned that this was probably because we were shopping in the ultra-hip Harajuku district, where “used” clothes probably meant “two months old” and not necessarily “vintage” like the one in Osaka tended to be. Still, there’s another couple of outlets of this chain in Tokyo that we will visit sometime over the next few days.

Unfortunately, when we made it to the bunny café, it was inexplicably closed. We were very disappointed, but when we got back to the room, I found out through some research that it is closed every Friday. I suppose bunnies need some downtime, I guess. Never mind, we would return tomorrow for some bunny love.

As I sat there researching rabbit cafes in Tokyo, the strangest thing began to happen. The walls began to shake. Not just the walls, but the floor, the ceiling, the bed. Everything. The whole room began rocking quite violently side to side, so much so that Emma sat up, and gripped my hand tightly. We instinctively knew what was happening – an earthquake. Being in Japan, this is an everyday fact that they have to deal with, but us, being from Australia, had no idea what to do in this situation. While I wouldn’t exactly call it frightening, it sure was unpleasant. I was just about to get up and evacuate when the shaking stopped. Suddenly, all of the TV channels changed from their usual bizarre content to earthquake and Tsunami warnings.

It turns out that there was a magnitude 7.3 earthquake off the coast of Sendai, very close to where the March 11th, 2011 earthquake struck. Today’s quake was much weaker though, as the tsunami warnings were for waves only 1 metre in height. I sent a quick text to our parents to let us know that we were fine.

The news stations showed looped footage of marinas expecting to be hit by tsunami’s, and footage of offices shaking during the quake. But, about an hour after the event, things were calming down and the TV stations soon returned to their regular broadcasting. Emma and I took this as an “all clear” indicator, and headed out to explore Tokyo by night.

Tonight, we were going to “Sunshine City”, and to the ice cream parlour within it. Why travel all the way to Ikebukuro for ice cream? Because of the strange ice cream flavours on offer. Remember how at the start of this entry I mentioned “eel flavoured ice cream”? Yeah, that weird.

To get to this ice cream parlour, we had to first enter an indoor theme park by the name of “Namjatown”. Earlier in the trip, when we were in Seoul, I talked about “Lotte World”, the big corporate theme park. This was the same, but much, much creepier.

Designed by Namco, a videogames company that has produced many classic games such as Pac Man and Dig-Dug, this place was just wrong. It was very poorly lit, and filled with strange cat-like statues that looked a little bit like Hitler. All they were missing was the moustache. The ice cream parlour level was even worse – upon getting off the escalator, there is a large stone statue of a very Nazi-flag-esque eagle, wearing a military cap and smoking a pipe. Emma summed it up perfectly:

“What’s up with the Hitler bird?”

This caused me to burst out in laughter, unable to contain my amusement at the sheer strangeness of the situation. This place could have probably been excused for its less-than-subtle Nazi references if it were from the time period, but no. This amusement park was built in 2003!

We then headed to the ice cream city (which is pronounced over the PA speakers as “ice cream shitty”), a magical land full of bizarre ice cream flavours. They had the regular flavours such as chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and the like, but then they also had really weird ones. Flavours such as soy sauce, ox tongue, indian curry and snake were on the menu. Let’s get one thing straight - we didn’t come to this bizarre theme park to eat tasty ice cream – we came here to eat the most disgusting ice creams we could find!

I’m not sure if we actually did that, though. Emma and I chose flavours for each other, and we were each allowed to veto one if we thought it were far too disgusting to eat. I ended up with four flavours – eggplant, garlic and mint, chicken, and worst of all, eel. Emma had wasabi, cheese risotto and “pearl” flavours.

I’ll do these up in a quick review format to make it easier to read. Taste is out of 10, 10 being “normal”, 1 being vomit-inducingly disgusting.

1.       Eggplant Ice Cream

Very unpleasant. I loves me some eggplant, in fact, I had tempura eggplant with my dinner just prior to this meal. But this was just plain wrong. It definitely had the “eggplant” taste, but this was mixed with this awful burnt vegetable flavour, and then the sickly sweetness of the ice cream. 5/10

2.       Wasabi Ice Cream

Surprisingly alright. It didn’t really have the spice that the wasabi you get with your sushi has, but it definitely had a little bit of a kick to it. Compared to the eggplant ice cream, this was quite pleasant. 7/10

3.       Garlic and Mint Ice Cream

This one was actually really good. There was only the slightest taste of garlic to it, so it was really just like eating mint flavoured ice cream. This one holds the honour of being the only tub of ice cream finished that night. 9/10

4.       Cheese Risotto Ice Cream

Not bad at all. Once again, it didn’t really have the “cheese” flavour that we were expecting. We were expecting something sharp and pungent like parmesan, but instead there was almost a “cheesecake” taste to it. Perhaps it was incorrectly labelled on the package, although there were definitely pieces of rice in it. 8/10

5.       Chicken Ice Cream

Horrifying. Terrible. Awful. The ice cream itself didn’t taste of chicken – it tasted of bad. It tasted of drowning puppies, burning orphanages. It tasted like sour milk mixed with chicken salt mixed with way too much sugar. What’s worse, there were lumps of chicken meat in it. It wasn’t good chicken either – it’s like when you get little bits of chicken stuck in your teeth after eating a roast. Imagine if they put that into an ice cream. I shudder at the thought of it. 2/10

6.       “Pearl” Ice Cream

No idea what this one tasted like. It was sweet, with no awful flavour to it. It almost had an aftertaste of sultanas, but in a more artificial way. Not disgusting, but not really something that I would willingly eat in a hurry. 7/10

7.       Eel Ice Cream

Oh god, WHY DID I PICK THE EEL? Some avid readers of my blog might remember my previous encounter with eel – our first night in Tokyo on our first trip to Japan. It made me feel incredibly ill then, and the ice cream was a hundred times worse. Words cannot describe the awfulness that I felt in my mouth. They really can’t. It was like somebody had taken really bad eel sushi, blended it up, and then mixed it with ice cream. Then, they leave that out in the sun to sour for a few days, before steaming it over a vat of boiling shit. I mean, who the hell looks at a tub of ice cream and goes “y’know what? NEEDS MOAR EEL!” Seriously Japan, that was messed up. 1/10

And yet, funnily enough, the disgustingness of the ice creams that we ate still wasn’t as weird as the rest of the theme park. Alien themed shooter rides, houses of horror, and some form of indoor rollercoaster/cart thing. All of which had eerily family friendly Nazi-like statues around them. Not enough to get them shut down, but enough to make it rather unsettling. AND THEN A MASSIVE ICE CREAM PARLOUR IN THE MIDDLE OF IT. This was by far the weirdest place I’ve been to in Japan.

Tomorrow: Bunnies! Loads and loads of bunnies!

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