After growing up collecting Die Cast cars in spurts and playing any car video game I could get my hands on (Ridge Racer, Gran Turismo, Need for Speed), my love for the Dodge Viper evolved into a love for iconic Japanese cars. This was in part due to The Fast and the Furious craze that blitzed me (and every other pimple faced high school car aficionado kid) as a teenager along with my sister's boyfriend (now husband) incessant talk about Nissan's. Gran Turismo opened my eyes a little to the Silvia/Skyline lore, but TFatF kicked the door in. Around that time in 2004 the 350z/G35 platforms were clawing Nissan out of the dumps, I was graduating high school and Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park was my idol (kind of still is). For those that aren't familiar with Mike, he is half Japanese and heavily infuses that culture into his art and music. Three Japanese cars later in 2008, I met my future wife. Once I came to terms with the mountain of cats and clothes that greeted me up front in the relationship, I discovered she was a closet super nerd with deep ties to comics and anime (video games, reading and drawing). We always dreamed of going to Japan and thanks to her Grandfather (also a fan of Japan) were able to make the trip possible.
Now that you've got the background, I'm going to hold you in suspense while I tease you with some non-automotive aspects of the trip (that comes later)
...and here, we, go. (click on pictures for larger pop-outs)
View from our spacious 250 sq ft room in Shibuya after landing. In a few hours I will experience JDM vending machines and their sweet, sweet jet lag curing Dr Pepper.
Spent the second half of day two in Enoshima. It had an odd similarity to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Southern California with it's massive heavily wooded hill featuring shops and attractions, except with an Amazon forest worth of spiders.
Takeshita Street provided Hollywood Blvd type attractions. Now that I think of it, that's probably a more fitting name for Hollywood Blvd
Condomania off in the distance (use your imagination). Unfortunately our rooftop breakfast went long so we had to bump that from the travel plans from the day.
My guy Domo-kun. My favorite poop themed character! Apparently he's not very big in Japan (I was beside myself). He's actually one of the mascots for a large TV Station in Japan. So basically neck and neck with that Fox Football Transformer guy...
Gotoku-ji Temple. You'll see why we were here in 3 seconds. No, it's not for the amazing temple....
WE CAME FOR THE ARMY OF CATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I did a little research on the temple beforehand. Along with being what some to believe the origin of Maneki Neko (lucky cat), they have these prayer boards where you can write wishes to loved ones, etc. I surprised my wife by printing out some pictures ahead of time and laminating them so we could give future visitors a "face to a name" with our boards. Needless to say, you can see our now FIVE cats are our pride and joy.
Every hour, on the hour a 30' Godzilla head roars above the Shinjuku skyline. at the Toho Building
On our final night in Tokyo we capped it off with a visit to Roppongi Hills observation deck in the very upscale business district. Our visit was somewhat impacted by a very odd infomercial-like exercise exhibition on the helipad. Something we did not expect 54 stories up.. The Tokyo Tower made it tolerable.
My homage to "Gladiator" while on a pit stop for what was probably a top 10 day so far in my life. (that post coming soon)
After passing through Mount Fuji for the day we experienced our first Shinkansen (Bullet-train) which was somewhat of a letdown. Not because it was dirty or noisy, but because it was seemingly perfectly executed in every way. There was plenty of storage for baggage, the seats had tons of legroom, power outlets everywhere, dead silent (both people and mechanical) and absolutely no sensation that you were hurling towards your end destination at 320kph (200mph).
Enter Kyoto. After summoning our bicycles from the pits of robotic bicycle hell (it was seriously an underground labyrinth which this mechanical arm from "The Matrix" then retrieves and spits it out of a refrigerator sized retracting doorway), we took a four mile bike ride to the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. We managed to find gaps in the crowds at the top Kyoto tourist attraction for some clean pictures.
This unsuspecting street vendor selling dried fruits, turned out to be the food highlight of the entire trip. At the base of the shrine we picked up some dried cantaloupe and apples.. They were so life altering I've stalked people I follow on Instagram to see if they'd buy and ship me some. Day 157, still have not found a victim to scratch that itch.
Quick, massively uphill bike ride to Ryozen Kannon Temple
Strolled through Nishiki Market on the way back to the Air BnB (a massive 600 sq ft this time!)
Jam packed quite a bit into the day in Kyoto. The one thing I somewhat regret is we planned so many stops into this vacation, it felt like an episode of "24" with multiple plot lines running around in my head. simultaneously Thankfully GoogleMaps got us through the 4 different connecting trains then we hiked our ramen filled stomachs up this mountain to play with...
OH IT'S A MONKEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hopped back over the Katsura River in hopes we could squeeze in one more spot before we were in the dark.
Sagano Bamboo Forest did not disappoint. It wasn't far from the monkey park, but being so close to the densely populated city, my wife and I we're a bit perplexed when the maps had us take a turn down an alley.
Onto the final day in Japan. We head down to Osaka for another full day to check out the Osaka Castle, which similar to the Bamboo Forest, is positioned right in the middle of downtown surrounded by sky scrapers.
To continue the theme of, hard to believe free animal experiences, there's Nara Park. This was a surprise I had planned for my wife and while the deer were playful, there was a certain "The Walking Dead" zombie feel to them when they sensed you had deer CRACKers. My wife's mind was blown when I told her to bow to the deer and they graciously returned the favor. This neat little area had a row of deer themed shops and I couldn't help but think that we had to get my mom there to complete her Snow White evolution!
Yes, in Japan, you can relive your wildest Harry Potter fantasy and play with some owls to hone your owlery skills. They came in varying sizes. Some were able to be handled with a fancy leather glove on, some preferred sitting on your head and some were so massive we were warned they could rip through your wrist like., uh, a giant owl's razor sharp talon through your wrist
At our last stop in Dotonbori, Osaka I FINALLY got to take that trip to flavor town and enjoy some beef from a neighboring town called Kobe. It came in silver dollar sized slices, but I can tell you it lived up to the hype. After collecting another travel mug from Starbucks we explored more of the local eats. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I wasn't brave enough to try the candied-baby-octopus-on-a-stick.
Sad to say we're at the last image we took in Japan with the Glico Running Man battling the Asahi sign on the river..
Overall this was a trip we will never forget. Hell of a place to explore after never leaving the US. Even without the car adventures I intentionally am saving for (near) future posts, Japan will be on the short list as a destination to visit again