Thursday, December 13, 2012

8/12/12 – 11/12/12 Rabbits, Autumn Leaves and Goodbye to Asia

Wow! Look at this! I actually finished my blog for a trip! I’m as amazed as you are!


After the disappointment yesterday of not being able to visit a rabbit café, I decided to take the initiative to get our hotel to call up in advance and make a reservation at Ra. a. gf., or “Rabbit and Grow Fat”. Our hotel staff happily obliged and booked us in to spend an entire hour with adorable bunnies hopping around us.

Before we headed to the café though, we needed to stop in and eat some breakfast. On the way to the train station, I saw a chain restaurant called “Yoshinoya”, a restaurant that specialises in making fairly decent Japanese food for remarkably cheap prices. For example, I had a bowl of chicken and rice for a measly 390 JPY. I wish that we had food of that quality for that cheap in Australia… Anyway, we noticed that Emma was the only women inside the restaurant, and that most of the diners were in their 20’s to 30’s. From that, we deduced that we were in fact eating at restaurant that specialises in making “sad bachelor food”. Still, the sad bachelor food was really tasty, we didn’t care.

We then got on the Yamanote loop train, and headed for Harajuku, where we then headed straight for Ra. a. gf. To say that we were excited was an understatement. What followed was an amazing hour of our lives. We spent the whole time surrounded by bunnies. Tiny, floppy-eared bunnies, pointy eared bunnies, bunnies so small that they could fit inside a teacup, and one rabbit that was literally the size of a medium-sized cat. What’s more, they had covers of the theme songs from Studio Ghibli movies playing in the background. This made an already super-cute experience even more magical. I definitely left any shred of manliness I held at the door, but it was so worthwhile.

Moreso, it was remarkably cheap. Most animal cafes in Tokyo, such as Cat cafes, are famous for how ridiculously expensive they are, some of which costing up to $1AUD per minute, as well as a table charge, and an expensive drinks list. However, this café, was unbelievably cheap. At only 1000JPY ($12.50 AUD) for a full hour, it was well worth the money.

Afterwards, riding our bunny-driven highs, Emma went to a few other vintage clothing stores in the Harajuku district. One had a huge neon sign with the shop’s name, “Chicago” emblazoned upon it, complete with palm trees and other tropical scenery. Not exactly very fitting of the cold, windy city that is the real Chicago, but irrespective of this, the clothes inside were, according to Emma, excellent.

Our next destination was Hamamatsucho, a place we visited on our last trip. Last time we came here to go to the Pokemon centre, which unfortunately, at that time, was closed. Instead, we visited a nearby park, which was a nice surprise. This time, we headed here for both the park *and* the Pokemon centre.

The day was getting late now, due to the shortness of the winter days in Tokyo, so the light was fading fast. As Japanese gardens are fairly unenjoyable in the dark, we decided to head to the garden first to experience in as best light as we could. It was just as beautiful as we remembered, and it was such a pleasant slice of serenity in such a busy city. I took plenty of photos once again, and tried to capture the sunset contrasting with the buildings and greenery the best I could.

Afterwards, we went into the Pokemon Centre. It was ridiculously packed – more packed than any other store I had been in in Japan. What was good to see was that it was packed with people young and old, male and female, Japanese and foreign. It was great to see how all-encompassing Pokemon is. Regardless of if you’re a hardcore player, or a kid who just likes the fluffy little monsters, it doesn’t matter, we all wanted to go to the Pokemon store. To top it all off, they had the Pokemon Centre music from the videogames playing inside. It really made you feel like a kid again, experiencing the wonder of Pokemon for the first time. It was so very amazing. I bought quite a few little figurines, and even some Eevee cookies. But, compared to the shoppers around me, who were each ringing up bills in the tens of thousands of yen range, I spent very little. My cashier lady threw in several Pokemon centre-themed plastic bags as gifts as well. A good memento to remember the store by.

Then, we had to head back to the hotel. We got ourselves ready to go out for dinner, and set out to explore the ever confusing Shinjuku area. The blazing neon lights and crowds of people walking through the streets was an overload of the senses, but it was heaps of fun to look around. After being unable to find a restaurant that both Emma could eat at and also had an English menu, we ended up eating at one of the many restaurants on top of a department store. The food was alright, but it was hardly the best meal of the trip.

One final note that I’ve forgotten to mention thus far in my blog - The traffic lights have health bars! As a way of letting pedestrians know how long it is until they are able to cross, there are little red “pips” next to each light, which slowly count down until the lights change. It’s a great, simple way of showing some very convenient information. It’s also very JRPG-like, and very cool.


Today we checked off the last couple of things left on our list of things to do in Tokyo. We started by going to Shinjuku Gyoen, a local park. As a welcome surprise, the autumn leaves were absolutely spectacular. They were really breathtaking, and made me really happy to see them in their full colours. From the bright yellows, to the deepest reds, and everything in between they were easily the best autumn leaves we had seen on the whole trip. Additionally, the park itself had plenty of stunning views of intricately manicured Japanese gardens. We strolled around for a good hour, admiring the countless breathtaking views.

We then headed to Shibuya, to experience the craziness that is Shibuya crossing. I managed to get a good photo of the Hachiko statue, the dog that loyally waited for his dead master for many years until Hachiko himself passed away. We then braved Shibuya crossing – the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. Every two minutes, several hundred people surge across this four way intersection. It was just as scary as last time – god help you if you try and cut across the street without following the crossing marks. The people crossing will NOT stop for you, so expect to be knocked down.

Afterwards, we then had a look around the countless name brand stores in Shibuya, and I even bought a few nifty shirts from UNI QLO – a store that specialises in fashionable warm clothing. Yes, that’s right, you read correctly. I bought clothing. I’m as scared as you are, don’t worry.

Next on our to do list was to see the Roppongi area, another high-end area of Tokyo. It really is amazing just how many upscale areas there are in this sprawling city. Just when you think you’ve seen all of the classy districts of Tokyo, there’s another one right around the corner, each classier than the last. It feels like Louis Vutton stores are almost as common as McDonalds outlets, and Chanel or Zara stores as common as Seven-Eleven’s.

We went to Roppongi to try and find the Konami store – a videogames company that makes the Metal Gear Solid series of games that were a fairly large part of my adolescence. However, it was freezing cold outside, so before we tackled this store, we decided to stop in at a Starbucksfor a quick coffee to warm us up. I had the most manly white chocolate caramel mocha in existence. It was super manly. So manly in fact that I instantly grew a beard from drinking it. Grr. And stuff.

We then walked across the plaza actually found Konami’s headquarters, like where they make the games. Unfortunately it was closed, so I didn’t get to `see Hideo Kojima or other famous game-y types.

Found the Konami store in the lower levels of the Midtown complex. It was flashy, but didn’t have as much Metal Gear merchandise that I would have liked. Still, I picked up a few MGS-themed badges, and had a go at the demo of the new “Metal Gear Rising”, which was fairly fun.

As we headed back to the train station, we finally found a proper Japanese supermarket. We looked through it with glee – enjoying all of the crazy foods on offer, and marvelled at the price differences between Australia and Japan – most of their vegetables were much cheaper, especially stuff like mushrooms, but their fruit and some of their processed products like biscuits were much much dearer than Australia.

Then headed back home to get ready for the evening. Got all dressed up as we wanted to have a drink up somewhere high, with a nice view of Tokyo. Doing research online was quite intimidating. Most of the hotel bars had dress codes like “casual elegance” and “black tie only”. Moreover, there was no price list next to the drinks, which is a clear indication that the drinks would definitely be out of our price range.

Eventually we settled on a rooftop bar in the Shibuya district called “Navi”. After a quick stop for dinner at a Maragume Udon we stumbled across, we headed up to the bar. When we got there, we told them we wanted to go up to the roof, to which they paused, and then a few minutes later came back and showed us up. It turns out we were the only people up there. I suppose it makes sense as it was a Sunday night and it was fairly cold. Still, we enjoyed the drinks, the view, and especially the company. A great way to end a fantastic trip.


Today we spent the morning performing the arduous task of packing our bags. It turns out that there was a lot of shuffling and re-packing required after a three and half week trip in Asia, especially with the amount of shopping that we had done. As such, it took much longer than expected. We woke up at about 9am, and were packing until about 12:15pm. As we checked out, we weighed our bags. Mine came in at a staggering 22.8kg – a mere 200 grams short of Qantas’ weight limit. A very close call! Eventually when we left, we went to spend the early afternoon in Akihabara.

While I have visited Tokyo’s infamous Akihabara district before, it was first time visiting Akihabara in daylight. The area did actually seem slightly less seedy in sunlight, but it is still easy to walk into a store, unknowing what is inside, and then immediately do an about-face and leave due to the bizarre creepiness inside.

We did actually look in a few of the more tame “creepy” stores, just to see what was in there. Unlike our last visit to Akihabara, where we found that most buildings tended to get seedier the higher the levels go, but this time, we discovered one building where the stores alternated between quite gross and very tame each level. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find the same building we looked through last time, which had a fantastic Studio Ghibli memorabilia section, but we still did manage to find many stores full of copious amounts of pillow girlfriends, mangas about very questionable content, and figurines of scantily clad anime-women. It’s amazing how much all of these things cost, too – most statues were 6,000 – 7,000 JPY, and some of the pillow girlfriend cases cost up to 10,000JPY! While I thought that these were extortionately expensive, the stores were packed, so clearly there was a booming market for them!

We then headed back to the room, got our bags, and with a heavy heart made our way to the airport. The Keisei skyliner speedily took us to Narita airport, and we were treated to a spectacular sunset on the way. It was a very nice send off from an amazing country. At Narita, we had a meal (Emma had Korean whereas I stuck with Japanese), bought some Tokyo Bananas, copious amounts of kit kats, and then headed for our gate.

Qantas Airways Flight QF22 NRT – SYD
Boeing 747-400ER VH-OEI “Ceduna”
Captain Gavin McLeod
Scheduled Pushback: 1950
Actual Pushback:1952
Scheduled Arrival: 0725
Actual Arrival: 0723
Seat: 63A

While I was hoping for another magical international flight from Qantas, much like my previous flight with them to Hong Kong, the flight was unfortunately fairly uneventful. For the first time this trip, we were seated towards the rear of the aircraft, and as anybody who travels frequently would know, sitting towards the rear of any aircraft is much noisier than sitting in front of the wing. Being a 747, which is a fairly old aircraft technology-wise, it was really noisy. Headache-inducingly so. As a plus though, our aircraft was one of the retrofitted ones up to Qantas’ A380 standard, so this made the journey much more pleasant. The awesome in-flight entertainment coupled with my excellent noise cancelling headphones made the engine noise not too much of an issue. However, I had a guy in front of me who decided to recline his seat from the time we reached cruise until we reached descent, putting his chair up only for meal times. This was quite annoying, but I was still fairly comfortable, and having someone recline into you is a fact of economy class – everybody has a reclinable seat and it is theirs to use when they want to.

I only watched one movie, “Ted”, which wasn’t all that funny. The rest of the time I spent sleeping or staring out the window into the dark. While I generally prefer day flights so I can look down at the land below, I do enjoy overnight flights as they give you an opportunity to look up at the cosmos, away from any other light sources. It was fantastic to watch, and I spent probably a good hour or so staring out the window. I even saw a shooting star at one point! Aside from stargazing, I mainly slept on the flight. I managed to get about 4 hours sleep, waking up intermittently to look at the flight map to see where we were. It was sad to see us get gradually further away from “Tokyo”, a destination that I truly adore. I will miss it very much.

Before long, breakfast was served, and I chose the Japanese option. It was actually fairly decent, and quite authentically Japanese. While the words “rice” and “porridge” put together don’t sound all that appetizing for a westerner, it was actually quite tasty. We were soon descending into Sydney, and the combination of our approach path and fine weather conditions allowed for some spectacular views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. I couldn’t help but think about what it must be like for the Japanese tourists on the plane, coming to Australia for the first time - it must be a nice introduction for them. Our touchdown in Sydney was very smooth, as was the immigration and customs process. For once customs was pretty much effortless. They asked me a few questions about what I was carrying, and I didn’t even need to open my bags. We then transferred across to domestic terminal, where we had to re-check our baggage. There was one lady at the baggage check area who seemed to be in quite an unpleasant mood – she was barking orders at foreigners and treating them with a lot less respect than the western customers. I was quite disappointed by this, as she is probably the third or fourth Australian person these people would have contact with, it certainly doesn’t make a good impression as to what our country is like. The bus ride across to the domestic terminal was fun as always, and I took lots of pictures of various aircraft movements.

When we got to the terminal, Emma and I had Red Rooster for breakfast/lunch, much like we did when we left on this trip. It added a nice symmetry to the trip, even if it were with fast food. I led Emma to our gate, and then had a walk through the Qantas museum. It has a great view of one of Sydney’s runways, so once again I had loads of good photo opportunities.

Soon it was time to board, and the plane had only just arrived. Clearly we wouldn’t be an on-time departure. The time did fly by fairly quickly though, and soon we were on our last part of this amazing trip around Asia.

Qantas Airways Flight QF516 SYD-BNE
Boeing 737-800 VH-VXN “Fremantle”
Captain Phil Handen
Scheduled Pushback: 1005
Actual Pushback: 1016
Scheduled Arrival: 1035
Actual Arrival: 1058
Seat: 18A

Despite the fairly late arrival of the aircraft, we managed to push back only 11 minutes behind schedule. What followed was a fairly lengthy taxi, during which I barely stayed awake. It’s probably because I was tired, but I didn’t actually realise we were taking off until the engines frightened me awake. We were soon roaring down the runway, Brisbane-bound.

There isn’t much to talk about on this flight. It was just another bog-standard domestic hop. It was entirely uneventful, and as it was one of Qantas’ older 737-800’s, it only had the overhead screens. I made use of them and watched the morning news, to catch up on what had happened in Australia while we had been away. Because we fell outside of the breakfast or lunch time frames, the only food we were given was a Byron Bay cookie, which I gleefully enjoyed. As we approached Brisbane, we were informed by the captain that due to Brisbane’s lack of second runway, we were being forced into a 21 minute holding pattern, until a landing slot became available. This was very tiring, and a little bit nauseating as well, due to the frequent banking of the aircraft. Why couldn’t this have happened when I was in business class? I wouldn’t have minded at all! Finally, after what seemed like forever, we began our final descent. One fairly rough touchdown later, and we were back in Brisbane once more. Our bags were quite early to the baggage collection carousel, and then Emma’s mum met us and took us home, our adventure officially ended. I don’t really like the drive from the airport back to reality – the combination of jet lag and post-holiday blues is unpleasant, but at the same time, it is always nice to see our families again after a long trip.

Thoughts on Hong Kong, Seoul and Japan:

Hong Kong

Maybe because I stayed in an “old” district of Hong Kong, I felt that I saw a city that is struggling to retain its once rich culture. It feels like the last remnants of the city are being dragged, much to the locals’ disdain, kicking and screaming into the modern era. It is rapidly being gentrified, forcing out the locals for incoming rich businessmen. It is a very glitzy place to visit for a holiday, great for shopping and urban views, but don’t go here and expect a relaxing time. Spending time with Harry was awesome – he was an absolute legend and showed us some brilliant and unique sights around an otherwise very touristy city. It’s a frenetic, crazy city that is loads of fun, especially if you have a local to show you around.


This was the surprise star of this trip. I went in with no expectations, but I got to experience a fantastic slice of a highly modernised, yet barely westernly-influenced city. Meeting with Yunna was fantastic – she really gave us a look into a local’s perspective on Seoul, and we really had a great time with her. The city seemed to showcase the epitome of Asian culture –they were still very respectful towards us, much like Japan, but they definitely felt a little bit more relaxed. It was like the whole country had loosened their belt a notch or two compared to Japan.


What can I say about this fantastic country that I haven’t already? Japan is a beautiful place. It is so different to any other country I have visited. It has staggering beauty, both in its regional and urban areas. The people are kind and genuine, and will go out of their way to help you. Don’t feel afraid to talk to them, even if they only speak a handful of English words, they will do their best to make you feel as comfortable as possible. All you have to do is be kind and smile, and they will return the favour. It’s a magical country, one that cannot be missed. Go there, now. Buy yourself a plane ticket, start planning, and enjoy this sublime country. If not for yourself, do it for me, as I wish I could be back there right now.

Where to next?

To be honest, I’m not sure. I’d love to go and see Vietnam, Cambodia and a little bit more of Thailand, or I may head back to the USA to do some more networking career-wise. At the same time, I’m trying to save money - trying to become a more responsible adult. I don’t know if I can keep doing both this travel thing and move on with the rest of my life, but goddamn I’m going to try! Stay tuned, as I’m sure there will be more posts to follow in the future!

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