Saturday, 15 November 2008

The Long Weekend

Ohayo! Welcome to Gifu.

We were exhausted from all the travelling in Tokyo and so took a back seat over the next few days of adventuring. Mostly deciding to hang around Austin’s place whilst the two humans went out and had fun. Because they were out having fun and we weren’t there – we won’t go into great detail – who really wants to know what the humans were up to??

We had to try Pepsi Yoghurt (yes, that’s Yoghurt flavoured Pepsi) which was crazy weird!

The human was meeting Austin’s girlfriend in Nagoya and so before they left, she had to learn an introduction in Japanese. Austin translated it himself so we don’t if what she was saying is what she thought she was saying or not. In Nagoya, she tells us they looked at awesome shops with awesome things, Austin looked at some shoes he liked (Monopoly shoes!) but they only did the best ones as girls shoes and they were very expensive! Then they checked out the arcades and went to Mister Donut for a donut before dinner. A bit more walking, a look at the Apple Store, some good signs and some good stores and then it was time for the restaurant and meeting Kaori. According to Freyja the self introduction went okay, as did her list of questions. They had what sounds like Japanese tapas with lots of yummy things (lots of which were vegetarian) and then went to an Irish Pub. Back to Gifu for some Karaoke and then bed time.

The next day they went for a drive around Gifu and checked out Austin’s school. Then they stopped at a little fair where some guy (possibly Australian) was playing didgeridoo. There were a lot of children who kept calling out to Austin. We don’t know if that means he is a celebrity there or if they are just all his students. One asked if Freyja was Austin’s girlfriend (ewwww!). Then they went to a big arcade place. We’ve seen the video of the human playing some baseball game – hilarious – but she did hit a couple (she looked as shocked as the rest of us). A few more alien catcher games and some sticker photos (which looked cool) and it was time for home, a movie and some mashed potato.

Mashed potato and tofu seemed an odd combination but it tasted okay.

We actually got to play with Kaori. She kept patting our heads and took some nice photos with us. We didn't need to learn a self introduction - we were cute enough to get away with no language skills.

Next day was another day of rest for us, and for the human this time. Sat round the house, slept for a very long time and caught up with things. In the evening she and Austin did go out for dinner again in an Italian restaurant (where Austin met someone he’d known at uni in Australia – crazy!). Austin turned into the Japanese master – it turned out the plain tomato pasta had bacon in it but he was able to check out what else was vegetarian and saved the day. A few more goes on some alien catcher games (the human may be addicted) and then Eagle Eye at the movies. They also checked out this awesome second hand store, which had a crazy mixture of clothes, games, toys and gaming merchandise.

Then on the last day, the human and us went on a big walk around Gifu and checked it out whilst Austin was at school. We had a nosey around the big supermarket and walked around the residential areas. There was a really interesting mix of traditional houses and new(ish) apartment blocks. Then time to pack :( and off to the plane.

The Final FriDay (Jason goes to hell)

So the human woke us at 5.40am!!!! She was apparently planning on us all waking up at 7.00am but woke up early and thought it was a mistake to go back to sleep for an hour. If she had to be up so did we! Think about poor Sleepy Hippo!

Another all you can eat breakfast and a man comes up and calls Freyja beautiful (suspicious again!) he then asked to take her photo which he would email her.

A very nice human lady Kumi suggested we go to Asakusa. She said it is “an old part of Tokyo. It has Sensoji temple and lots of stalls there with traditional food and gifts”. We went and it was very exciting! We enjoyed the traditional buildings, the market (which was selling a lot of fun touristy traditional gifts and presents, mixed with lots of Doraemon), a stall selling Octopus, which had a big banner of an Octopus cooking it (does that mean he’s a cannibal?), seeing a fair ground and having lots and lots of people smile at us!

Then the human was having lunch with the other human again and we went to Ginza, which had lots of pretty shops and funny looking buildings. There was a Krispy Kreme which the human’s friend explained often has queues so long it goes up and down the street! Talking about queues, apparently H&M is very popular here and new in Tokyo. We saw one that was opening for the first time soon - there were people camping out!

Then quickly back to Harajuku for some money spending and present buying. The human got into trouble for not taking her shoes off in the changing room (she’s always getting us in trouble, very embarrassing). We’d wanted to go to Yoyogi (Park) but we ran out of time so we’ll just have to come back again!

Back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and then to the train station. Freyja’s suitcase was very full (mostly with magazines for Austin). She was dragging it down the stairs at the train station and just as she was saying to us that “if this was America someone would have stopped (her) and offered to carry her bag down the…” – an American man stopped her and offered to carry her bag down the stairs.

Time for some Shinkasen action and then Austin!!! Another train and a car drive tour and we’re at Austin’s! We had a snooze in the tatami mat room whilst they went and checked out the supermarket. The loaves of bread here are available in eight, four slices or even three slices! We spent quite a while working out why you could possibly want just three slices of bread (it’s not even two sandwiches!) We’re going with three people who each want one sausage each. Or for a really small sausage sizzle!

The human tells me they went out to dinner at a restaurant which Austin takes everyone. So much so, the waiter exclaimed (in Japanese) it had been a long time since Austin had been in and asked if he wanted the usual. They had yummy tempura (Austin had the shrimp) with rice and soup.

Then they came home and played Mario Kart and we kept sleeping.


Monday, 10 November 2008

The Day After Tomorrow


We are dictating this to Freyja on some grass near the Imperial Palace in the sun (it's not been incredibly sunny whilst we've been here but it's been nice and warm).

So breakfast time! Breakfast time! [scroll down to the bottom for the breakfast menu] For 320 Yen (down from 370!) you get unlimited serve yourself tea (and they had at least 20 kinds of tea!), coffee, soup (corn cream instant soup), and toast (which you toasted yourself!). We didn’t eat very much as we were about to go out for lunch.

The second part of the bank money story is coming up now! The human asked the reception human where the Citibank was and he gave her a map and we realised we were right next to the place the night before when we were hanging outside the Metropolitan Art thingy, because it was in the Metropolitan plaza next door on the 9th floor. It didn’t work.

After getting the Marunouchi Line to Korakun and the Ginza Line to Hibya (with a brief stop somewhere that turned out to be a mistake and we had to get back on the Marunouchi Line) we were to get out of Hibya at B7 (or the station next to Hibya at Exit 1 as they were right next to each other). Only on the Hibya Station map there was only A0-9. I said to the human that there must be a B if there was an A (plus we’d been told to go to B) but it definitely wasn’t on the map.

So we left at A7 and found a street map that indicated that the other station was straight up the long road. Just as we were about to set off up the street a very nice Japanese man stopped to help. He was apparently not from around here and was able to read out loud the human’s notes but not understand them. We remembered the word for station and he looked excited. He took us to a police lady who pointed us back to where we just were for Hibya (it’s awkward when people start to help when you already know what to do!) but managed to understand we wanted the next station.

The human found the other human to have lunch with and they had bagels. Then a walk around the area (it seemed like a financially/Bond streety district) and up to the Imperial Palace.

Freyja says that outside the Imperial Palace some guy took a photo of her taking a photo of us, but blatantly he was taking a photo of us having our photo taken. Another nice lady patted us on the head and called us “Moomi” which we hope doesn’t mean she was calling us a Moomin because they scare us. She said no to a photo of us, but then offered to hold Bernard up in a photo so we sneakily took one of her too (hehehe). Then a policeman took a photo of the human (the only photo the human has of herself in Tokyo).

After a walk around the gardens, we decided to move on. Standing in front of a map, considering where to go next (Shibuya or Shinjuku first?) and the human was just saying to us “If we stay here any longer someone is going to be super nice and offer to help, even though we know where we are” and got cut off by a super nice lady offering to help. We acted out that we were just thinking and she went on her way.

So to Shibuya (how can it be bad if it’s called Booya?) where we found an amazing Disney store (the human was a little embarrassing at this point). Then lots of walking and wandering around and lots of lights!

Whilst walking around aimlessly, we found the Shibuya crossing (featured in movies! Such as Lost in Translation and Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift) which the human made us cross even though we were right next to the station entrance. We took the train to Akihabara again (as we hadn’t stayed very long the time before).

We played games machines (UFO Catcha), sweet winning machines, looked at bright lights, saw all the awesome things in the awesome shops, won a big mouse guy who is a chef (he has a chef hat, an apron and is holding pancakes), more lights, more games, lots of excitement and pain to our retinas.

Time for the train to Shinjuku, where we decided that Tabata sounds like Tabitha and so Tabitha must go there and get a photo with the sign. Shinjuku was more walking, more lights, more shops, and more feet pain! Lots of fun.

On the way home, a man called Freyja beautiful (which we found suspicious) and then asked for 500 yen (see!). We are always suspicious when people call her beautiful (follow up on this in the next blog!)

Dinner in the café downstairs again, pack our bags because we’re leaving tomorrow (boo hoo) and then bed (you know I was excited about that part!).


Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still

(stood still for about three minutes before we walked everywhere again!)

So it all started off with a misunderstanding at Starbucks. Yes, we know what people think about Starbucks, but the human wanted english breakfast tea (it was breakfast) and they do it! First off, she was a little embarrassed about not being able to get it (whilst the doors are automatic, on some of them you have to press a big grey blocky thing so it'll open) she ordered it, was given a little tub to put the tea bag in (a splendid idea!) and then the lady behind the counter started talking in very fast Japanese and pointing at a Christmas menu. In hindsight, I explained to Freyja that I think they were doing samples and asking if she wanted any, but I was in the bag at the time and couldn't help.

Breakfast today consisted of a chunky chocolate chip bread thing from the Family Mart down the road. We all decided that they surely wouldn't put meat in with chocolate so we should be safe. It turned out to have its own surprise - filled with yummy chocolate goo! N'yum N'yum N'yum!

A few trains later, Harajuku! I cannot decide if it is a good thing or not no such place is in Sheffield. If it was, the human would be very happy, but very poor and would stop buying things for me and SH. I shall ponder this.

Anyways, ups and downs many many many streets of excitement and wonderment and awesomeness. I think, apart from the lack of hippos, there was anything the human could ever want! She wouldn't be able to eat, but she'd have a very exciting house! She also seemed overly excited by the sock stores. Who knew someone could love socks so much? Sadly for her, but luckily for us and her bank account, it turns out her bank card doesn't work here (more on that later) so she could not buy very much at all. We walked all around with no real plan and saw a big store with King Kong on it.

We stopped at another Starbucks (sorry - there are millions of them!) as the human had arranged the possibility of meeting with the other human again today so needed to check emails and had been told that Starbucks always had wifi in Tokyo. This turned out not to be true, but it did mean we got to make a nice temporary friend who was sat next to us also trying to get wifi. After that more walking and looking at fancy things and places selling lots of exciting clothes (although not Austin's Beatles tshirt), Gumby, Carebear, Doraemon, Powerpuff girls, Nintendo, socks, presents, shoes, excitement!

Now a quick trip to Akihabara (Electric Town). It was verrryyyy preettty. And I mean that in the way those little insects get caught into those bright light insect killing machines. So many lights! So much excitement! We watched some people play some exciting games. There were lots of those games where you try to grab the prize, only in so many varieties with much more exciting prizes. Instead of trying to get something in one go, the aim seemed to be to pick something up and nudge it ever so slightly until it falls off the edge. We had to pull the human away because she gets very addicted to those types of machines and we could see something bad happening.

We went upstairs in one of the arcades to see all the exciting games and fun, only to find we couldn't get down again! We used the fire escape stairs to the second floor when the fire escape stairs had a big sign up saying no good (or something to that effect) - good thing there wasn't a fire! Then we found more stairs in the middle of the shop. I'm not sure our brains could have survived all the flashing lights had we been stuck in there forever (even if our brains are just fluffy fluff).

Then the 7-11 (this is the first part of the sad non-use of bank part of the story). We finally spotted a 7-11 which we had been told would take our bank card. It did not. Oops! We then walked around a lot of Akihabara looking at the pretty lights and for another 7-11 (just in case the first one was just moody!)

I started to get tired and Sleepy Hippo was already done for, so we took a nice train home to Ikebukuro. The human was exhausted and must have looked it, because another nice man gave up his seat for her and us and all our bags.

Back at the hotel, a discussion with the human's mother and brother formulated the plan to find a Citibank which apparently accepts all cards ever known to man kind. There is one in Ikebukuro but we didn't know where. We decided, after a nice rest, to go vaguely look for it but really explore Ikebukuro.

We mostly found restaurants and restaurants and restaurants and restaurants. Freyja says she also saw a couple of "naughty adult" stores, but why any one would want to buy a naughty human, I have no idea! We also found lots more bright lights! Then we stumbled upon what we later found out was the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Centre (a funny looking building) and we sat outside it in what seemed to be a general outdoor sitting area, and watched some teenagers make up dances. They were scarily good at all doing the same thing.

By then it was getting ready late, so we came back to the hotel and had pizza at the restaurant downstairs (Margherita pizza is hopefully vegetarian, right?) and then bed time.

Sleepy Hippo and I were worried that posting every day/every other day was too often, but we're already having complaints for being too slow! We did want to say thanks for all the comments and emails - its nice to know people are out there, reading this.


These paws are made for walking

And that's mostly what we've done!

The human seems mostly to have forgotten that we have very small feet and no shoes [suggestion for a christmas present if ever I saw one! - SH] and has taken it open herself to walk EVERYWHERE!

On the first night after a nice long shower, in the world's deepest but shortest bath, we travelled the trains again. The system here is kind of fun. There's a big board (usually with English translation) that tells you how much to pay to get to wherever it is you want to go, you put the money in and you get a little ticket. When you get to the other end there are Fare Adjustment Machines that you can use if you didn't pay enough or weren't sure how much the trip was and so only put in the bear *wink* minimum and you can just top up your ticket. There are lots of lines and colours. The stations are mostly huge but there are lots of sign posting and it seems if you just keep walking you'll find something you need eventually.

We've been travelling a lot on the JR Line which is an overground loopy line [Hello to my loopy friends - Freyja]. Our friend Berrie Penguin told us : "If you got chance to take JR line at Tokyo station, there is a poster ad (on the train) of Suica penguins taking JR and doing all sorts of human activities like shopping, fishing, eating, reading newspaper, using mobile phone... It would be great if you could take a picture of the poster for me. I missed it last time Sad" Whilst we've not seen the ad on the actual train (there is a television that shows ads on the train and it had a video of the penguin doing such things but we didn't get a chance to photo it before it finished) last night we saw some at the station and took some photos with them. Freyja said that for once people looked less confused about the fact we were having our photos taken and more about the fact we were taking many photos of the penguin advert.

Anyways, back to the first evening, the trains took us to meet the human's friend Anse, and we went to a vegetarian restaurant. To be honest, Sleepy Hippo and I were exhausted and flagrantly disregarded the rules of jetlag that you need to stay up as late as possible and feel asleep in the human's bag. From what we heard, it was just boring human talk. Freyja informs us that whilst we were asleep we went on a big walk around several areas on Tokyo including an area that was famous for its abundance of non-Japanese men and Japanese ladies who would be interested in non-Japanese men. Very odd. Apparently, Anse promised he'd only heard stories and wasn't at it first hand, but we don't know.

The restaurant was in Azabu-juban and they walked to Roppongi. There were apparently lots of very tall buildings and bright lights and interesting things to look at. The only part Sleepy Hippo and I were a little sad to miss out on was a giant Doraemon in what Freyja suspected was a television studio (they didn't go inside, she spotted him through the big glass windows). She said she had considered waking us up for it - but will try and find him again before we go. After that there was a lot more walking around and looking at things (including many Starbucks and two Tiffany stores as pointed out by Anse - possibly to woo the Japanese ladies with?) there was a cup of tea stop at about 1030pm (why can't we buy tea in Sheffield at 1030??) and then a train ride to Harajuku (which was mostly closed but interesting to look at and get the general bearings *wink* of.

Then the train home. Ni Zero San O Kudasai to the man with the keys (who then very quickly asked our names as we stared at him blankly) and off to bed.

The human says that if we eat any more of this all you can eat breakfast we're going to become very rotund so time to be offski.


Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Getting to Japan!

Ever wondered how a hippo gets to Japan?

Well, I cannot speak for the whole species but here is how Bernard, I and the human made it.

First off was a train from Sheffield to Manchester at 3.45am. We had to stand outside the station waiting to be let in, there was a few scary people just hanging around and a few people also waiting for the train and a nice city centre ambassador type person (do they never sleep?? What is wrong with them??) came and chatted with us about the weather (and how we were lucky we weren't there the night before, apparently there had been torrential rain!) and then came and let us know when the station human had opened the doors so we could get in.

Three other humans got on the train and we all sat in the same carriage (which I think the very tired-looking conductor appreciated). Time for a snooze for me - it was very late for a sleepy hippo! The train got into Manchester at about 4.40ish and we were told that the connecting train was in fact a connecting bus. We arrived, on the connecting bus, at the airport at about 5.20am. The flight was at 8.35am and many airports now want you to arrive 3 hours early for international flights.

Not KLM. Their desk didn't open until 6.30!!! Still, a quick vending machine cup of tea, a couple of learn japanese podcasts later and we were checked in and then through the bag checking things. The first time I was put through an xray machine I thought I was dying! Now, I quite enjoy it.

When we were in America and went through two baggage checking ladies grabbed Bernard and myself (terrifying Freyja, perhaps they thought we were full of drugs and tried to rip us open!) but it turned out they just wanted to give us a cuddle and talk about how cute we were. Although, they did say that Bernard needed a new name - they obviously didn't know Bernard! And a friend of ours, Harry Mantle, was being put through the same thing in Paris and got felt up by a strange man "with a very cliched French moustache" who declared that there was no bomb inside him! (Lucky thing too, I'd be rather upset if Harry was s'ploded up!)

Anyways, no such excitement for us this time, just through and out. We went and looked around the shops, got some money changed, bought a couple of magazines for Austin (the human's brother), a present for Kaori (the human's brother's girlfriend) and a present for Kaori's family (the human's brother's girlfriend's family). We also went to the little Hamleys store where the store woman was watching the movie Penelope and we sneakily chatted with the toys and had a ride on the giant horse (no photos sorry!)

Then onto the KLM plane to Amsterdam (don't be naughty). It was very much like an Easyjet plane (three on each side and all squished in like sardines) only much less orange. No television screens. They did come through with a breakfast snack but it was egg sandwiches so we all said no thank you. Another quick snooze for me on the plane and we were in Amsterdam!

We had a four hour wait in Amsterdam so again, a quick look around the shops, another snooze for me and a very rude lady at the noodle store who avoided serving the human for ages until she finally served someone else. Then it turned out the vegetarian noodles weren't vegetarian because they were cooked in pork. Still, every one says we'll find it difficult to eat in Japan, so we might as well get used to it!

On to the next plane. A big jumbo jet from Amsterdam to Osaka. Freyja says some of you will want to know what movies were on the plane - there was loads! I slept for most of the flight, but from what Bernard and the human tell me, there was Get Smart, Meet Dave, What Happens in Vegas, Sex and the City, Ironman, Indie 4, Baby Mama, An American Girl, 21, 27 Dresses, 300 and loads and loads more. Far too many to watch in a 10 hour flight, I think. There was also television shows and games and things. The food was quite nice. There was a vegetarian curry type thing, a cup noodle, some yummy chocolatey desserts things, some snacks and a scary looking breakfast that not even Bernard would try!

Osaka!!! From Osaka we had to get to shin-osaka. We were looking at all the funny ticket machines and were just about to take the plunge and have a go on one when a very nice Japanese man asked where we were going, "Surely you take the plane to Tokyo?!" when the human said we were definitely getting a train he pointed us to the ticket office. No funny machines for us yet :(

Then when we put the wrong ticket in the machine to get into the train station, another very nice Japanese man came to help. Then, whilst we were looking at the train map trying to work out how many stops, the same very nice Japanese man came and tried to help. He wasn't sure if we could get on the train we were about to try so called over the station man who said it was fine and that we had three stops.

At shin-osaka station we bought some m&ms and got on the shinkansen. Luckily for us, Frannie had explained that it is much cheaper to get non-reserved tickets, so we had and Austin had sent information on getting the trains and told us to get either the Nozumi or Hikari bullet train, not the Kodama. We got on the Nozumi and after a bit more snoozing from me, arrived in Tokyo at about 4.30.

It then turned out our train ticket from the airport actually took us further than just getting to Tokyo and would get us out to Ikebukuro (which is where the hotel is). We managed to get on the right train and a very nice television screen told us what each stop was in Japanese and English. So we knew when to get off!

Another very nice, very old looking Japanese man was on the train. He looked like he was going home after a loooong day at work. In England, whenever we've travelled on the tube in London or on the bus in other places, we've noticed that younger human's get up for older humans. Here the old tired looking business man (Bernard said he felt like he had a lot in common with him!) stood up and tried to give us his seat!!! We thanked him kindly but refused. We'd been sat down all day and had so much to look at out the window!

The out of the station, follow the easy map to the hotel (past the KFC, past the Family Mart, up the big street, past the other Family Mart, turn at the drug store) and we arrived at the hotel! Hooray!

For those of you interested we are staying at the Sakura Hotel Ikebukuro.

We'd all been practising the greeting and how to check-in from our Japanese podcasts, but sadly she was on the phone and just handed us a form to fill in and then when she was off the phone spoke to us in English. Maybe next time.

And so, with a lot of thanks to the very nice Japanese men who helped us out, that is how these two hippos got to Japan!