The dream began a little over ten years ago for me. That's when I told myself that I would go to Japan... Eventually. When I had enough money.
Well, then came my Ford Exploder payments, my first house, a shit ton of trips to Vegas, Florida, Hawai'i, New England, California, England, France, and Vegas again, and I found to my utter surprise that my savings took a swan dive almost to negative numbers. It took about four years after all that to get myself healthily back in the black, and then save up enough cold hard cash to make an international trek to the Land of the Rising Sun economically viable... But by then all my friends were hitting hard times or had changed their minds about joining me. So I waited. Then I waited some more. Then, just last year, Team Greenwood's Mehve and I talked and decided "Fuck this shit. If we can't get anybody else to go to with us for the sakura blooming festivals in April of 2011, then we'll just go ourselves. We've waited long enough!"
Then on March 11, 2011, just a day or two before we planned to buy our plane tickets and make 2 weeks worth of hotel reservations, the great 9.0 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami raped the central Pacific coastline of Japan like a Japanese soldier holding down a Chinese woman in 1937 Nanking (... there was
cum and blood nuclear meltdown everywhere).
Mehve and I quickly scrapped our plans for a Spring attack and instead decided to wait a few months to see if Godzilla would rise up from the sea and destroy Tokyo (again) after the nuclear disaster caused by the Fukushima power plant's destruction disturbed his underwater slumber. We also wanted to find out if all the sushi was then contaminated, the citizens were all super-powered superheroes covered in tentacles, or if hotel and tour prices would come down because the world was too scared to visit. That last part was the most important.
So with that, planning for OPERATION: DOWNFALL (The Invasion of Japan for Otaku Purposes) officially (and tentatively) began... Well, by that I mean Mehve began looking up hotel and plane prices, local festival dates for the summer or fall, travel arrangements for different towns and cities while in Japan, tour options, and ways to smuggle shit tons of anime and manga memorabilia out of the country without raising the suspicion of wily US Customs officials. I just kept looking up pr0n.
By early summer the rolling blackouts caused by the destroyed nuclear facility stopped, and life in the rest of Japan (outside the Fukushima area) settled down... And then the Yen hit all-time record highs... Mehve and I just said "Fuck it. It'll be expensive, but we've got to do it." Then we yelled out "Go, Team Venture!" and got to work booking shit. Well, by that I mean Mehve booked everything and I just watched old episodes of Moonlighting on DVD.
Then came October 11th, 2011...
Day 1: Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
I got out of work on time that day (an extreme rarity) and made a bee-line for Mehve's place. Psycho Weasel and Megu-chan (formally known as "Foxfur") were already there — Psycho Weasel to wish us luck on our endeavor and Megu-chan to drive us to the airport so that we wouldn't have to leave our cars in a pay lot for two weeks. Mehve immediately sat me down and asked, "So, Rossman, I have to know... Just how much about Japan do you already know? REALLY know?"
"Well," I said.
"Outside of any crap you may have picked up in either anime or manga," he quickly added.
"Hmmmm...................The teenage girls there have like the highest rate of STDs on the goddamn planet, and they're all whores. So condoms will be needed."
"........................Really? Is that all?"
"...Konnichiwa?.. Gainax?...... Shey shey?"
"So after watching anime and studying the culture for about 20 years all you know is how to say 'good afternoon,' the name of an animation studio, and the Chinese way of saying 'thank you'?"
He then dropped an ass-ton of books on my lap. "Start reading," he commanded. "Don't stop until your brain explodes or you can tell me how to get to Shin Osaka station from Harajuku Station in the least amount of transfers. Our plane isn't until 6AM. You have 12 hours. Go!"
There was TONS of interesting and useful information in those guidebooks! The one on Tokyo alone covered each of the main city districts (like Shinjuku, Roppongi, Akihabara, Shibuya, and Harajuku), and told the reader about everything that could be seen or done in them. Most of those will probably sound familiar to you if you've ever seen any modern day anime series, but the guide delved into what each is famous for and what popular sites and activities one can do while there (I'll get into all this in this article, do not fear)... Except for one.
Shinagawa: Best known for.... Ummmm, well, there's some kind of famous ramen shops underneath the train tracks... you could always do that... I guess. They're not great, but they're there.
"Hey, Mehve! This is funny!" I yelled out. "Every district of Tokyo is like awesome, except for this pathetic one named 'Shinagawa.' The guide book says they at least have ramen shacks under the train tracks though! Ha! We'll have to go there and make fun of them..... Hey, by the way, where's our first Tokyo hotel located?"
".............................................I'll be staying in Roppongi and Shinjuku if you don't mind. Beer and whores for me, please."
So I read and read while Mehve and Megu-chan watched Nichijou and talked of Meg's previous encounter with the island nation known as Japan. That's when I realized I'd need some specialized help with my research assignment, so I got in touch with a special
school individual: I texted The MegaPlayboy to ask him about his working trip to Japan that he took 5 years previous. He got right back to me.
TheRossman9999: So. Any travel advice fo Japan for me and Mehve? Mehve and I, whatever
MegaPlayboy: bring lots to do for the plane. ride also, in the city, the subway stops on the map will have stops written in english. Outside the city, it's kanji only
TheRossman9999: Good to know. Are the signs in English or EngRish? Oh, how many people in restaurants and the like can speak some Engrish?
MegaPlayboy: depends... in the city someone there will usually speak some basic english... outside of that, probably not. hotel employees usually will be able to speak english, though
MegaPlayboy: well... waiters/desk people. I ended up speaking basic Japanese to quite a few restaurant folk, though, but pointing will work... lots of places have picture menus
TheRossman9999: Even the small Japanese-style inn we're staying at has a full-english speaker on staff (or at least a reader and writer to answer questiosn I had)
MegaPlayboy: I did go to a few places where there was no English
TheRossman9999: How often do the tentacle monsters come out?
MegaPlayboy: what? oh. only in akihabara at night. also... japan has really low crime rate, so everywhere is pretty safe, even if it doesn't look it ;-)
MegaPlayboy: oh, and be prepared to be stared at... there are very few foreigners, so, you will get stares
TheRossman9999: Low crime?! But I've seen all the gangs of roving juvenile delinquents who dress and act tough and steal boys' girlfriends on every street corner! I will TOWER over them all! They will stare.... with AWE and envy! My penis very big. Their penis very small...
MegaPlayboy: you probably won't go anywhere where you have to take off your shoes. I think most everywhere in Japan I went had western style toilets, too
TheRossman9999: THANK CHRIST!!!!!!!!!!!1! I'm not a squatter
MegaPlayboy: oh... there are very few trash cans out in public... so don't carry something with you expecting to be able to throw it away
Don't worry, I got to watch all the Nichijou I wanted when I got back home (Oops! That's a big spoiler right there! Dammit, now you know I survived!)
TheRossman9999: Will teenage girls run up to me to get a picture with "Tom Cruise"? If not, what can I do to make that happen?
MegaPlayboy: no. the only time I ever interacted with strangers was in a pub. nobody talked to me on the street
TheRossman9999: I should have suspected that. Whole country of xenophobes
MegaPlayboy: though, someone did ask me if I was ok after I nearly slid down a mountain
MegaPlayboy: there was ice on the trail
TheRossman9999: Oh, I'm guessing (like my translator uncle) I'll have lots of giggles and snickers about "gaijin" this and "gaijin" that behind my back on the train...
MegaPlayboy: and I didn't really have hiking shoes to start with...
TheRossman9999: I didn't say nothing about your inability to climb a mountain inebriated! LET IT GO! Can you teach me to say "Excuse me, but I speak FLUENT Japanese!" in Japanese? I want to scare some people
MegaPlayboy: sumimasen, demo watashi wa nihongo o hanashimasu
TheRossman9999: AWESOME! And "I'm sorry, but I don't speak any of your fine, beautiful, sexy, sexy language"
MegaPlayboy: change hanashimasu to hanashimasen I left out some of your adjectives
TheRossman9999: Thanks! I'll just make up some new ones.
MegaPlayboy: also.. eigo onagaishimasu. In English, please
TheRossman9999: Very useful. Domo
MegaPlayboy: there are also no forks, though, I'm assuming you can eat everything with chopsticks. rice was the worst... you're expected not to waste any, but it's hart to get it all with chopsticks
TheRossman9999: I'm champ of rice-chop-sticking! Do we get to eat many meals off of naked women? Or do I have to go to Shinjuku's famous alley for that?
MegaPlayboy: as for cash, you can use your debit card to get Yen out of an ATM... that works well, assuming your bank isn't going to rape you
TheRossman9999: Still, safer in my opinion to only withdraw when I need it than to have tons of cash on me in the streets with a large sign that says "Caution, stupid gaijin here has lots of money in wallet." Better to get raped when you expect it, than pickpocketed or worse when you don't
MegaPlayboy: ?? You're going to japan, not france. you won't be pickpocketed
TheRossman9999: That was a really bad experience. I'm jaded to traveling around ANY city now. Trains really only bad in the morning? Crowded, I mean, to the point of sardine-packing
MegaPlayboy: I don't think I ever went anywhere during rush hour... I never had any problems
TheRossman9999: Muy bien. So, most funnest places to hang out? Bars, local restaurants, parks, clubs? Oh, and this is my biggest question (for packing): What's the dress code like in the cities? I planned to bring a lot of golf shirts. Temps set to be in mid to low 70s.
MegaPlayboy: dress code?
TheRossman9999: Yeah, would t-shirt be too out of place? Are they slobbish like Americans, or pretty like French?
MegaPlayboy: you're going to be out of place no matter what you wear
TheRossman9999: but don't want to look like a slob if I can help it
MegaPlayboy: depends... younger people who aren't working are dressed pretty crazily... business guys will be in suits. I don't really remember anything distinctive about clothing... the only thing I do remember, is that if I was going back for business, I would pack suits
TheRossman9999: Heh, yeah. That show I just watched, Usagi Drop, when the guy demotes himself to the warehouse he still dresses up in a suit, and then changes to jeans and work shirt when he gets there, then changes back for leaving. They're fucking crazy.
MegaPlayboy: also, don't know what you plan on doing, but big stores in asia are a little different. basically, buildings are tall and narrow, so usually, you go in the bottom floor, and you have to walk through the whole store, by riding escalators, to the top. then at the top, you find a stair well which takes you back to the bottom
TheRossman9999: Ah, like big London stores
MegaPlayboy: yeah.... there were some amazing toy stores like that... each level was a different type of toy
TheRossman9999: Sweeeet! Hey, what about people wearing those surgical masks when they're sick? You see a lot of that. They scare me. I think of SARS
MegaPlayboy: what are you talking about? surgical masks?
TheRossman9999: You know, you see it in anime all the time. They wear them when they're sick or with huge sunglasses when trying to disguise themselves. Takahashi draws that shit all the time. KOR had it too I'm positive
MegaPlayboy: no idea what you mean. oh, be sure to eat at Mos Burger. get the thing on the menu with a big red sticker that says 'do not feed to children' and laugh
TheRossman9999: What's Mos Burger? Is it really beef? Is it soy burgers? Fuck soy!
MegaPlayboy: umm... sure. just eat there. Ok... My japanese coworker says Mos Burger is the best fast food in Japan. so, eat there
TheRossman9999: So, train and subway travel mostly?
MegaPlayboy: yep. the train goes nearly everywhere you would want
TheRossman9999: Yup.Except to Funky Town
MegaPlayboy: just remember to memorize the kanji to important stops/junctions if you leave town. Keisuke (my japanese coworker) says you should also go to Mandarake
TheRossman9999: Mandrake? Wha?
MegaPlayboy: no. MandArake : http://ekizo.mandarake.co.jp/shop/en/
TheRossman9999: I have seen Heaven, and it is good. Oh! Teach me to say "Where are your Gojira shelters? He is coming, and his radiation burns my soul!"
This went on for a while longer, but soon The MegaPlayboy had to go to sleep, and I was able to report to Mehve all that I had learned. He seemed pleased enough, but I think he was confused by the fact that I was eating a Pop-Tart while relaying everything to him (Mehve doesn't keep anything so unhealthy and delicious within 100 yards of his house, and he was unaware that I always carry at least an 8-pack with me wherever I go).
So a Pop-Tart and a promise to tell a baby deer at Nara Park that "Megu-chan says 'hi'" were all it took to get a free ride to and from the airport. I feel so gypped after I gave my neighbor a lap dance, a puppy, and 6 kegs of Killian's Amber Ale for driving me to the pharmacy to pick up my "stop dying" pills last month.
It was then around midnight and Mehve (thinking he was seeing scrumptious S'mores-flavored pastries due to overtiredness) decided he'd go down for a little nap before the flight. Since all my homework was done, and since Megu-chan was staying up the whole night too (and also also since I was planning to sleep a shit-ton on the flight myself in order to kill time and to try and get my internal clock on Japanese Standard Time) I stayed up with her and we talked all about all the awesome things Mehve and I would do in Japan when we finally got there, she gave me a few more warnings about kooky local customs that anime just didn't cover, and we watched some more Nichijou and some Aqua Teen Hunger Force (or whatever the hell they're calling it now).
Soon we found that it was 3AM, and I ran to take a quick shower (feeling it wouldn't be fair to Mehve if I sat next to him on a plane or in layover airports for 18 hours without a good cleansing and funk removal for two days by the end of it all). Then we woke up Mehve by putting my iPod earplugs in his ears and blasting Van Halen. I didn't have a chance to do that whole "I am Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan" thing on him before alarm clocks and lamps went flying, but after he washed up (to save me his potential ota-funk) we packed our two huge suitcases (and various carry-on items) in Megu-chan's hatchback and hit the road for Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport, and our 6AM flight of destiny!