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We are what we think & my blog entries reflect how I think. Have a sip of the poison of my mind.. It's not always lethal.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Final Day In Tokyo

The lobby of Hotel Metropolitan

Today is our final day in Tokyo. So how am I feeling? I feel torn. That's because on one hand, the thought of going home back to my loved ones & my guitars pleases me but on the flip side of the coin, the thought of leaving Tokyo & the cold weather here to face the fucking humid and hot tropical weather again back home depresses me.

My final wish before I go home is to visit again the place I found yesterday evening where me & my Lioness hung out the last time we were in Tokyo. One final bite of the memories and it will make it easier for me to tear myself away. Or perhaps harder. I can't decide. Painful as it may well be, I've just got to feed again.

I've told the girls last night about the area and Tokyu Hands. They are interested in visiting Tokyu Hands because they wish to check out the handy & quirky gadgets there. When I told them about the Sanrio shop, some of them didn't seem too interested though. Hhmm. So we made arrangements last night to go over there today.

And speaking of the previous night, Clarissa came knocking on our doors dressed up in this black maid costume with white apron and presented cups of tea on a tray for us as a funny nice surprise. My door closed by itself when I stepped outside and Lily asked me: "You do have your keycard with you, yes?"
"Oh shit!" I exclaimed and hauled ass down to the lobby and a hotel staff came up with me to open my door with their keycard while my colleagues laughed at me. I'm glad to be of entertainment value.

Ikebukuro in the day
So we are walking through the streets of Ikebukuro again as I lead the ladies to Tokyu Hands. Ikebukuro looks as handsome during the day as it looks pretty during the night.

As I'm walking, I commit to memory the features of the place and the route to Tokyu Hands because I know I will surely be retracing my steps back from the opposite direction should me & my Lioness come back to Tokyo and stay in Prince Hotel again so that I can show her what I've seen, tell her my story of the previous night and bring her to enjoy the famous Ramen along the way. I hope that will happen someday.

Back to the Tokyu Hands area
Reaching the area of Tokyu Hands, I started to give the ladies a bit of my history lesson as I tell them about my experiences the last time when I was here, showing them the sights and the Sanrio shop as we passed by it. It's still very cold and I remind myself to savor every bit of it because come tonight, I will be submerged in shitty humid weather again.

Some of the merchandise in Tokyu Hands
Inside Tokyu Hands, it's inevitable that as we shop, we separate ourselves into little shopping groups eventually as we get distracted by the merchandise. I'm with Lily and she decides to buy a haversack while for me, a made-in-Japan Porter sling bag which will cost me more than SGD$250.

Giving each other pointers & suggestions regarding our intended purchase, we chat up a lady speaking fluent English. Asking if she's from Hong Kong, she replies me that she's Japanese. Kinda rare to come across by chance a Japanese who can speak excellent English.

My tax rebate form
Because we are tourists, we can ask for tax rebates for every single receipt that amounts to ¥10,000 or more. Lugging the goods we have just paid for, Lily & me proceed to the tax rebate counter. We didn't have to lump our purchases together in a single receipt because our separate purchases amount to more than ¥10,000 each. Besides that Porter bag, I also bought an iPhone 4 cover & a phone accessory for a customer of mine.

Me outside Tokyu Hands
When we are done with our shopping at Tokyu Hands, we went outside to camwhore before heading over to the Sanrio shop. Upon reaching the shop, Clarissa & Angela say that they are not very interested in Sanrio and so they split to go shopping elsewhere while me, Lily & Jace go check out the shop. During the previous night, I bought a Melody soft toy here for my Lioness. I can't wait to show it to her.

Outside 無敵家 Ramen
My Ramen - An upgraded Déjà Vu

Everyone is supposed to gather at '無敵家' Ramen which is the most famous Ramen eatery in the area just a short walking distance away from our hotel. '無敵家' within the context of the Ramen industry means 'the best Ramen store without rivals.' The Ramen I'm having here is indeed a far cry from the Ramen I've had during the day we touched down in Tokyo.

Lending a shoulder to Ken in the Ramen eatery

After our Ramen lunch, we did some more last-minute shopping before going back to our hotel where a coach will take us to Narita airport for our flight home. While waiting in the hotel lobby, I took off my coat and went outside to enjoy the cold again in just jeans & t-shirt. Better drink in every last drop of the cold since I hate humidity so much.

Nakau and the area around it
Once we have loaded ourselves in the coach, it brings us around the vicinity on the way to the airport and looking out my window, Nakau suddenly pops into view and so I whipped out my phone quickly and took a picture of it which includes the area around it since it's a distance away. Memories about last night come flooding back and I start to picture myself walking through the area as I did yesterday evening. I think I'll become drunk soon if I continue to indulge further in my memories.

Outside Prince Hotel

I'm pleasantly surprised when the coach reaches Prince Hotel and just like Nakau, I took a snapshot of it. I feel like I'm going through a final recap of the places in Tokyo which have an impact on me and which have taken permanent residence in my memory as I head towards the airport to go home. I feel like bawling and there is this lump in my throat. I swallowed it hard.

At Narita Airport
Later, we reached Narita airport. Hopping down from the coach, I whipped out my phone and took a final snapshot outside Narita Airport where the cold still envelopes me. As we started moving towards the entrance of the airport, I took one long & deep breath of the cold air. The door then shuts behind me, leaving me with my memories to take home with.

Inside the plane, this air stewardess flirted with me and really paid attention to my needs. When we reached Changi Airport and alighted from the plane, I saw her with a guy and they seemed to be arguing.

Anyway, I went outside the airport cursing the humidity and Jace came out later to join me and we chatted awhile before going home after I helped her to load up her luggage into the boot of her cab.

My new Porter sling bag

Here are the bits I haven't mentioned about this Tokyo trip:

1) After the iterinaries of the day were completed, nights were spent roaming the streets either with my female colleagues or all by myself. My male colleagues slept early.

2) I drank lots of Sapporo beer. I'm also grateful to my Lioness for packing for me packets of my favourite 3-in-1 coffee to bring over with me.

3) There was this particular night when Jace & me got lost as we were roaming about the streets. Needless to say, the both of us enjoyed the experience. Jace is an inquisitive thrill-seeker as much as I am. Telling her it was better to be lost around the vicinity near the hotel rather than venturing into even more unfamiliar new areas in an attempt to locate the hotel, we soon found the Ramen shop after lots of wandering around. From there, we knew our way back.

So both of us treated ourselves to the Ramen there before the rest of our colleagues had the chance to >:) We even asked somebody to take a picture for us in the street. The sky can come tumbling down and me & my colleague-sister will still find ways to enjoy ourselves.

In conclusion, this Tokyo trip was a bitter-sweet experience for me but despite the painful ordeal of missing someone really terribly, I had a really impactful and eye-opening trip. This trip has made me aware about certain things regarding myself and that is an invaluable thing.

Sayonara, Tokyo. Till I come haunting your streets again..

- De Lion Speaks

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lost In Tokyo

Never imagined I'd have another chance to be sitting here at Ovfeum Cafe and Cocktail Bar in Tokyo again. The time on my phone says it's 18:53 right now. Dusk falls early in Japan. The same bartender is still here. He looked puzzled when I told him I wanted the same outside seat I sat last time which is out in the freezing cold.

I was here almost a year ago. I'm staying in another hotel some distance away and it took me almost half a day to find this place. My previous attempts all failed. I became hopelessly lost. A roadside tourist map directory saved me. Would have given up if it hadn't been for it. Funny thing is, according to the map, this place is just around the vicinity like 3 minutes walk away from where I found the directory.

The Streets of Ikebukuro, Tokyo
Since we will be flying back tomorrow, I told myself I must find back this place by hook or by crook. For my memories sake as well as getting a Melody soft toy for my Lioness at the Sanrio shop here.

I'm missing someone terribly & it hurts.

So I chose to split with my colleagues to be alone today. Scoured the city looking for this place as well as hunting for souvenirs for the people I care about. My heart is heavy and every step of the way was a sigh from the core of my being.

Inside Nakau

I'm glad I found back Nakau where I had my first dinner in Tokyo during my virgin trip here almost a year ago. The place still looks exactly the same and their Nakau song that plays intermittently in the background is still the same cheery catchy tune.

After my dinner here, I went in search of Prince Hotel where I stayed the last time I was here and I found it. All the memories just came flooding back. Today has become a pilgrimage journey.

And Tokyu Hands.. never imagined I could have the chance to visit it again. Tokyu Hands sells everything about everything. Coming back here is like going back in time, only big difference is that I am back here all alone by myself. It's strange how I can feel wonderful & nostalgic about it while suffering a heartache at the same time.

I really feel like crying my heart out to ease the pain inside me but I won't. All I will do is to cheers myself, my memories and the girl haunting my mind every second of the entire trip, swallow hard that lump in my throat and wash it down with Heineken.

- De Lion Speaks

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tokyo Trotting - Day 3

My hotel room

The day that I've been waiting for is finally here. Today, we will be going to Akihabara. Making my hair & donning the clothes that I've pre-planned for visiting the local Otaku town and wearing my nose ring to bring out the Otaku in me, I'm delighted how Tokyo, along with places like Taipei, allow me to dress up according to my taste which might probably draw scorn in my own frogs-in-a-well country. The fact that the shitty humid tropical weather back home limits the extent one can play with clothes doesn't help either.

Meeting up with my colleagues downstairs at the hotel lobby, I find myself drawing inquisitive stares from them. I love to shock. Bite me.

Making our way towards Akihabara, our first stop of the day is Asakusa Kannon Temple (Senso-Ji), the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. The weather today is really cold and the clothes I'm wearing can't keep me warm enough. But hey, the locals who love dressing up do sacrifice fashion for warmth too, just look at the short skirts & stockings some of their girls wear which are as good as offering them no protection from the cold. Just trying to have some empathy with the locals here >:)

Ken, Angela & Clarissa
Anyway, this place is one of the best places to buy handcrafted souvenirs from the stalls here and I bought some. The good thing about packaged tour groups, no matter how small, is that you can dump the stuff you bought in the tour coach or van, proceed to another area to shop again without the encumbrance of having to haul with you the things you've bought before, then dump everything you've bought again in the ride. Rinse, dump & repeat.

When we are done with this place and the souvenir-buying, we proceed to Akihabara while my eyes are peeled & my heart anticipates with glee. Finally, I'm about to step foot in person on Japan's Otaku town that has always made me wonder with wonderful wonder.

At Akihabara

Strolling the streets of Otaku Town
The funny thing is, I didn't realize we are now already in Akihabara until our tour guide announces that we are right smack at the place. Hopping out of the van, I begin to scan the surroundings in a 360 degrees sweep while inhaling Otaku air. According to the guide's heads-up about where Otaku town begins and where it ends, the place isn't big at all, much to my honest surprise. Therefore, I tell myself to hold on to the 'Quality Over Quantity' notion and see what I can discover for myself here.

Angela, me, Jace & Lily

I'm expecting to see cosplayers here but according to our guide again, most of them gather at Harajuku instead. Surprise number 2. Hhmm. This fact is the biggest surprise of the day for me which is something I've been expecting otherwise all along for years. One more eye opened for the frog in the well.

That's the good thing about traveling; you discover if the conceptions you've had all along about a certain place turn out to be misconceptions upon being there in person.

The kinky costumes even have male versions

Going into the malls, we see lots of curiosities. There are things like cosplay costumes galore, sex toys, pornography, figurines & stuff. Along the streets are also maid cafes. I wanted to try out one of these maid cafes where kawaii waitresses dressed in maid costumes play masters & servants with their customers. But probably because I'm with the girls and we don't have too much time, we decide not to in the end.

Angela & Jace posing with the locals

My take on Akihabara is that this Otaku haven is not a big area. I'm glad I've had the opportunity to experience it. That's one wish of mine I can now place a checked mark on. As I dwell on that with a sense of satisfaction, I made a mental note to bring my Lioness here to partake in the experience should we come to Tokyo together again someday.

Outside Meiji Shinto Shrine

Next, we arrived at the Meiji Shinto Shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperor & his consort, Empress Shoken over at Harajuku. We didn't go into the shrine. Our objective in coming here is to check out the branded boutiques outside the shrine area instead. I'm not sure we can be allowed to enter the shrine anyway.

Upon reaching the area outside the shrine after traversing a serene road lined with tall trees, our guide says: "Now this area just outside the shrine is where the cosplayers hang around. But you won't see many cosplayers nowadays. I don't see any of them right now," he continues, "maybe later if we are lucky. We'll check out the boutiques first, let's go." I hope we get to see them later as they are supposed to be one of the highlights of the day for me.

At Harajuku

The branded boutiques are what everyone else is looking forward to and here I am looking forward to the local cosplayers instead. Jace, my colleague-sister is the only one who can understand why this is so for me. She told me before she appreciates my weird tastes. The Capricorn is supposed to be the Scorpio's best mate anyway. Jace herself is into manga & anime.

Outside along the stretch of boutiques

We went into lots of boutiques and on this particular stretch, we went into all of the boutiques along that stretch where there are both high-end, mid-range & lower-end range of boutiques like Uniqlo, among others. It's basically a mishmash of boutiques across the luxury to street spectrum. That's what I call 'contained, complete abundant choice'.

At Burberry's Black Label

Hanging around outside the boutiques with Lily, our guide & Clarissa, I can see well-dressed people wearing clothes from classy & elegant to funky cool. Some of the ladies strutting the street do cause me to take second glances at them.

I begin to imagine how it would be like to live and work in such a place. I think that would please me as I could have a heck lot more room to play with clothes than back home because of the better weather for most part of the year here.

By now, everybody is split into seperate shopping groups and since it's near the appointed time when everybody should gather back outside the shrine area and I'm with Lily, she & me started to walk back to the rendezvous point.

Look at the picture on the right. See the picture of the girl under the word 'Condomania' at the shop across the street? That's Mihiro Taniguchi, one of Japan's most famous porn actress, I tell Lily as we cross the street.

View of the protest march from Jingu Bridge
Crossing the overhead bridge (Jingu Bridge) leading back to the shrine area, I can see a mass of protestors below. I was half expecting a riot but I reminded myself that the Japanese people (Nihonjins) are disciplined folks who have societal values. So nah, there shouldn't be any riot out of this.

On our way here to Harajuku earlier, there was this car with loudspeakers outside the Korean embassy blaring speeches in Japanese with serious, aggressive tones and our guide interpreted the speech and told us that they were protesting against Korea over some island ownership dispute.

There was another quirky sight we saw: this old Japanese man marching back & forth along the streets dressed in nothing but a white t-shirt, white shorts and a helmet, with a Japanese flag tucked in his shouldered backpack with a sign that says "日本军" (The Japanese Army). The weather is so freaking cold & it makes me wonder if he would freeze in his tracks before long.

The crazy fucker. I've read stories about how Japanese women from the older generation adore the idea of marrying a Japanese soldier from World War 2, so perhaps Mr Cold-Defiant Crazy Muthafucker is using this method to find himself a wife. Too bad I didn't have the chance to snap a picture of him because he was moving so damn fast despite his age.

Coming back to the rendezvous point across Jingu bridge, I can see buskers and finally, the elusive cosplayers I've been hunting for. But there are like only 2 or 3 small groups of them and one group is holding up a sign that says 'No Photography'. So I have to use stealth to take a picture of that group with my iPhone and I did (which explains why the pic on the left is kinda blurred because I had to hide my phone quickly after snapping). No way I'm gonna come all the way here and not at least take a picture of the cosplayers.

I took a picture of myself with a cosplayer from another small group that is more obliging but I won't put the pic up here because I think I don't look nice in it. What a waste.

The ice-cool mysterious girl
Arriving at the tour van, there is this girl hanging around outside our ride whom I'm thinking is a cosplayer. Looking at her closely again, I don't think so. Here she is in front of me, standing there with a cigarette in her hand all dressed so uniquely and she seems to be lost in her own world, ignoring & not looking at everyone else (except this split instance when I saw her looking at me. It was just a split second).

There is something mysterious about her and she seems to have an ice-cool personality. She piqued my interest and so I took a picture of her. She does seem troubled and she resembles 舒琪. I really wonder what's the story behind this girl. Hope she will be ok.

Along the way to the place where we are going to have dinner, we stopped by this Hard Rock souvenir shop outside Hard Rock Cafe. There are only 2 Hard Rock in Tokyo and I know that one of them has the Washburn N3 electric guitar of my Guitar Hero Nuno Bettencourt displayed. Wanting to know if I'm lucky enough to be at the right Hard Rock and see Nuno's N3 with my own eyes, I quickly let our guide know where I'm going and I started to dash into that Hard Rock Cafe while everyone else remains in the souvenir shop shopping.

I'm inside in the blink of an eye. I have to hurry because we are about to leave this place for dinner. I do not care if the waiters try to stop me, I begin immediately going through every inch of the premise looking at every single guitar hanging on the walls.

Some of the waiters are looking at me inquisitively but I just ignore them and continue my search for that N3 in a hustle. I think I'm getting almost to the point of controlled desperation. Now there's a guitar belonging to Bon Jovi hanging over there and other guitars of other stars here & there, but I'm here solely for that N3.

I know the N3 isn't here after I've gone through every inch of that place and looked at every single guitar in there. Leaving the place in disappointment, I suddenly miss my N4 back home.

Dinner time

Freaking awesome BBQ
Dinner tonight is barbecue assorted meat in this restaurant run by Taiwanese folks and I'll let my tastebuds do the talking here: "WE ARE HAVING AN ORGASM, YO!!"

Seriously, this dinner is one of the best, if not the best BBQ I've ever feasted on. No exaggeration. It's in the way they marinate the meat, I believe. Top notch & thumbs erect. Curious about the Taiwanese here, I asked our guide about them and he told me the staffs here are students studying in Japan.

Tokyo Tower
After dinner, we came over to look at Tokyo Tower which has lighting on it that changes colour slowly and subtlety if you observe patiently. Hanging around the tower and chit-chatting with our guide who has a Japanese wife, I asked him how one says 'I Love You' in Japanese. He taught me how to say it in the formal and traditional way which no modern Japanese uses anymore as well as the less formal modern day way of saying it.

The traditional formal way translates to literally mean 'I Love You' while the modern way simply means 'I really like you a lot.' Seems like the expression of affection has degenerated in Japan. That's sad. I prefer the traditional way which sounds better to my ears and memorized it.

The final event of the night is a one-hour karaoke session before going back to the hotel. The KTV session seems a bit rushed for us and the room we are singing in is a little too small for us.

Affirmation of 'The Alliance'

The last time when I was here in Tokyo, me & my Lioness stayed in the Prince Hotel vicinity of Ikebukuro where a Sanrio shop is located. The guide told me that area is within walking distance from our hotel and he gave me rough directions how to go back to that vicinity on foot.

I have to find my way back to that place. By hook or by crook. And I mean it. I want to go back in time.

I will start the hunt for the memories tonight.

- De Lion Speaks

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Going Places Around Mount Fuji

The backyard of my hotel room

My hotel room

I'm glad I could wake up in time today & spare myself the agony of rushing through packing my luggage & not having enough time to dress up properly. I surprised myself actually, since during my previous trips, my Lioness had to literally drag me out of bed. I had to wake myself up on time & I succeeded. Guess I'm a big boy now.

So after breakfast, we loaded our luggage up the tour van and posed for a group photo outside our hotel which we will not be coming back to. We will be going places and head towards another hotel in Ikebukuro, Tokyo City. On this day, we would freeze our butts right off. And what better way to start freezing our butts than to head for a ski resort.

After a short ride, we arrived at Fujiten ski resort. The Japs call it 'Snow Resort'. Upon entering the place, I was utterly put off by the weekend crowd. I wrote on FaceBook once that I'm allergic to a throng of people (barring Rock concerts & clubs). And this place is Freezing. The only way to escape the cold is to head inside the building but you'll run right smack into the irritating as hell mass of people.

And there is no way I'm gonna ski with such a crowd since even going into the changing room to don on skiing gear is like wading through molasses. I've never waded through molasses before but who gives a flying shit, I'm completely pissed here. So while everybody goes skiing, I've settled for just wandering around the place aimlessly, retracing my steps here & there like a stuck wandering ghost.

That's Mount Fuji in the distance
A couple of hours later, it seems to me that my colleagues are taking forever & my patience is starting to wear out. Wandering to the second level of the building, I suddenly see Angela &
Lily sitting among the crowd outside the cafeteria in the cold sipping beer. I guess they have no choice but to sit outside since it amazes me that the masses in the cafeteria have not caused the building to collapse yet.

Lily & Angela
Me: "Hey, aren't you two supposed to be skiing with the rest?"
Angela: "Nah, we didn't and have decided to hole up here and drink beer instead. Where were you all along?"

So I wasn't the only one who refrained from skiing. I went into the cafeteria to buy myself a beer & had to give up because of communication problems with the staffs in there. Even finger-pointing failed to make a point. Well, that did add to the misery of the situation.

At the 4th station on Mt Fuji. You can see the peak
After an eternity, the rest of my colleagues came back from the skiing and we proceeded to the 4th station on Mount Fuji where it's even colder. I mean cold as in fuckin' COLD. No exaggeration. I love the cold more than most people I know but it got a bit too much even for me.

Anyone can go right up to the 5th station (which is closed today, bummer) but only climbers doing serious scaling and climbing of the mountain can proceed past the 5th station.

The strange thing about this journey to Mount Fuji is that our van actually was traveling on the lower heights of the mountain itself before I even knew I was already on Fuji itself. And the eyes can really deceive here at the 4th station because we can see the peak of Fuji from where we are and it seems such a near distance away vertically which it actually isn't. There is a total of 10 stations.

Lake Kawaguchi

Since we are freezing and hungry, lunch is a very much welcomed thought as we make our way to Lake Kawaguchi for chow. Reaching the lake, memories come flooding back to me as I stand before the majestic lake remembering the last time me & my Lioness were here. I begin to scan the surrounding to find the hotel we last stayed at but no dice. Then it hit me just how big the lake actually is..

Right after lunch, I came out from the building and tried again to look for the hotel and its surrounding landscape but no dice again. If I could freeze time, I would walk around the lake until I find that hotel.

Memories are worth revisiting. I can really be attached to places I've been to since they are stages where I've played out portions of my life story. Put them all together & they form your complete life story thus far. I leave pieces of me all over the place.

Night has fallen by the time we reached our hotel (Metropolitan Tokyo) at Ikebukuro, Tokyo. So here we are at the hotel lobby and Jason is voicing out his concern about how much we should tip the bell hops should they help us with our luggage. So based on my experience with Hokkaido & Tokyo, I reassure everyone that the Japanese do not accept tips. Our tour guide reaffirms this.

Luke then says: "Ok guys, see you all back here at this lobby in 20 minutes and then we'll go sight-seeing around the vicinity."
Making my way up to my room via the lift, I tell myself: "20 minutes? No freaking way. This is Tokyo city, one has to wash up & dress up before hitting the streets. 20 minutes is not enough."

Hustling into my hotel room, I dropped everything & dashed into the shower, then blow & style my hair & put on the clothes I've planned for tonight. I know I will take more than 20 minutes but I'm doing my best to rush.

Helping myself to snap myself
in the mall

Reaching the lobby a little late, I'm not surprised to see that some of the girls have not arrived yet, ha. When everyone has gathered, we hit the streets and the cold weather makes me smile. I can't help myself. If the cold becomes too much, all I'll need to do is to remind myself of the blasted tropical humidity back home.

I'll rather face the cold any day even though the cold did sometimes become a bit too much throughout this trip.

Jace being a nuisance to the pedestrians. My idea.

After visiting a shopping mall, we begin to check out the street shops. While the rest are checking out the wares, me & Jace entertain ourselves by taking snapshots of each other in the middle of the busy street. Whenever the traffic light turns green, one of us will dash out to the middle of the street to pose there while the other one snaps the pic from the pavement. Then we'll change over and repeat the same process. She & me are always finding useful things to do for kicks.

I can't wait for tomorrow.. We'll be going to Akihabara; Japan's Otaku town where there are maid cafes, games, costumes, electronic gadgets, anime, manga, sex toys & porn galore. I've always wanted to visit that place. I've caught glimpses of that place in one of my favourite J drama series 'Densha Otoko' (Train Man).

Something tells me I'll feel right at home there since I consider myself an Otaku. We shall see on the morrow.

The streets of Ikebukuro at night

- De Lion Speaks