“what’s december without christmas eve?”

Ready. Set. ::BANG:: The アジア観光旅行冒険 series of posts have begun! Sorry for the delay in beginning but all this 観光旅行 has had me so busy that I haven’t even had time to sit down and write anything until now. But that’s a good thing, I think. Anyway, first leg, スタート!

Date: 12/24 – 12/25

Location:  Osaka –> Kyoto –> Tokyo

My larger suitcases being already placed in Marisa and Troy’s apartment, I took my single backpack-sized rolling bag, patted Gen-chan on the head and bid a fond farewell to the Korien neighborhood and the Otsuji household. I stopped by Marisa and Troy’s apartment to pick them up and then we all [+ Julia] started to make our way to our point of departure, Kyoto station.

Travel is always stressful. Worrying about making your bus and whether or not you can find your hostel is troubling enough. I had enough of that when I was euro-tripping by myself last year. When other people are depending on you to know where you’re going, and especially if they verbally ensure that you know that you’re responsible, the stress compounds. So if I were to pick one thing I liked about traveling alone, it’s that I was my only critic. I’m rather easy-going so if I effed up somehow, I could just say “whatever” and find a way around it. If I eff up something now, everyone sighs and judges my quality as unofficial leader of this travel group. I guess I asked for it. There are definitely more positive sides to group travel, I just needed to get this rant out now.

And in any case, here’s a pretty picture of Kyoto tower which stands right in front of the glass and steel monstrosity that is Kyoto station. This would be our last glimpse of the 近畿地方 until we finish up in Tokyo.

The bus got rolling at about 10 and exited the city of Kyoto and entered the mountains surrounding. Once you get out of the city, the buildings get shorter and shorter until they melt into farm houses surrounded by lots and lots of mountains covered by equal amounts of greenery. I mentioned Shiga prefecture in my last entry and we passed through it on our way to Tokyo. The scenery was impressive, even from the bus. I also enjoyed the dusting of snow that covered all the trees. The view from the bus window while passing through Shiga is on the left.

On the right is the scenery passing through Shizuoka prefecture, not far from Tokyo. And yes, that is the majestic 富士山 or Mt. Fuji, wreathed in clouds and crowned with snow. For size comparison, please refer to the minuscule city on its foothills.

The bus ride was about 9 hours long and we were on a fairly swank bus so we got to play arcade sega games and watch movies as if we were on a flight. It was pretty entertaining and made the trip less painful. I actually watched Shrek Forever [or whatever it’s called] in Japanese and understood everything! Yay. Also, you know how in the English version, Shrek’s accent is Scottish? Well. In the Japanese version, Shrek’s accent is from the Kansai area aka Osaka and Kyoto. I found that so hilarious. It was nice to still hear the sounds of “home” even while we were traveling to the land where 標準語 reigns supreme.

And then we arrived. And it was glorious. I wish I could say it was. We arrived and I had a crick in my neck  and my ankle from sleeping in an awkward position. I got off, stretched a little, and then realized that I was in the middle of Shinjuku. If the big sign saying 新宿駅 didn’t tip me off, the gigantic buildings and masses of people sure did. Hello, Tokyo. You are quite enormous.

Luckily train lines in Japan, although run by different companies, operate much the same. So it wasn’t too hard to locate our stop on the Yamanote/Joban line. We got off with our luggage at Minamisenju and suddenly the city looked a lot less glamorous. As I found out later, Minamisenju is SKETCH AS HELL and it sure looked like it. Even so, we found our hostel alright without getting mugged or anything and then decided that we should do something for Christmas. Troy saw a Denny’s and all he wanted was some American food aka a Grand Slam.

ACCESS DENIED. Japan has taken Denny’s and turned it into a mildly above-average sit-down restaurant wherein there are no eggs [except オムライス] no breakfast foods [except french toast] and no bacon [at all]. Troy ordered some tea and it came in this fancy self-straining pitcher. Everyone was mildly to severely disappointed in this perversion of Denny’s. Sad life. Me and Julia ended up splitting a club sandwich which was admittedly very good but also very expensive [hence the splitting].

In correct Japanese form, we also decided to buy Christmas Cake and Christmas Fried Chicken, because nothing says happy birthday Jesus Christ quite like tender Family Mart chicken in a crispy breading.

I mean, it was good nonetheless but for a Christmas Eve dinner, it was pretty sparse. In similar fashion, presents were also quite sparse. Marisa received a tablespoon of corn soup from me and Julia at Denny’s. Troy decided he was giving everyone friendship for Christmas. And I just bought myself a cream-puff from the convenience store. Merry Christmas one and all. -_-;;

We were just sitting in the hostel common area, eating our chicken and cake and listening to a little singing-christmas-card Hello Kitty belt out one Christmas carol after another. The battery was dying so all of Kitty-chan’s songs were out of tune and sounded like a dying robot but it was a good laugh, lol. Troy said that “at least we’re all together for Christmas.” And I mean, he was right.  Troy, Marisa, Julia, and myself. Oh, and questionably-in-tune Kitty. It was nice.

~~ Christmas Day ~~

Christmas Day dawned and there was no snow, unfortunately, but the following things did happen:

– We discovered that the automated English announcer on the Tokyo JR trains is some really sassy [woman]. Her tone when she’s listing the transfer lines  incites a mental “psh, don’t give me that.”

– Someone texted Troy commenting on his age. It read: “21? Oh! You such a fetus!” I’m pretty sure the person meant “baby” but the fact of the matter is that Troy got called a fetus. On Christmas. Whenever Troy complains now, we just tell him not to be such a fetus.

– We walked through Harajuku and Takeshita-dori, aka street-fashion heaven but I didn’t buy anything because 1) I can’t rock anything they’re selling and 2) looking at the price tags makes my eyes bleed. Also, there was this fancy cake-shop which sold cakes covered in fruit sculpted into various things. Those are roses made out of mangos. ._. 上品 yo, 上品.

– Afterwards we passed by Aoyama Gakuin [where two other UF students are currently studying abroad] and raided the United Nations University’s farmer’s market across the street. It was free-sample heaven of the freshest produce and farm products ever. What up, free lunch.

– If you walk down Aoyama-dori far enough you reach Shibuya crossing, one of the busiest intersections in the world [I think] and one of the most photographed [also unconfirmed]. It was definitely in the movie Lost in Translation though. The amount of people moving around in that area is just incredible. But that’s Tokyo for ya.

– Also famous in Shibuya is the statue of Hachiko, a dog that waited for her master at the same spot every day even after his death. When she died 5 years later, they made a statue. [I feel like this was in a Futurama episo… yes. It was. First name “Saddest.” Last name “Ever.” ;_;]

~ ~

And then there was Christmas Dinner. Julia’s friend, Nicola, graciously invited us to come over to her family’s house for Christmas dinner. It was everything I could hope for and more. As you can see from the featured pic, it basically had everything I’ve come to expect and have missed about holiday dinners. Turkey and gravy [SMUGGLED FROM PUBLIX TO JAPAN!], potatoes, stuffing, and everything was delicious. And of course, there had to be a Japanese twist, so we had Pokemon champagne. If I could describe it, the word would be sumptuous. And if the table-setting is any indication, the house was similarly so. They live in a large house [by any standard, but especially Japanese] near the Colombian embassy in Japan.

Because Nicola’s dad is English, we opened things called “Christmas-crackers,” if I remember correctly. They have little gifts in them and corny jokes. And then Nicola’s mom gave us Godiva chocolates as a present. And to top it all off, there was an ice-cream cake. An ice-cream cake. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was a great Christmas. Thank you thank you thank you Nicola and family.

~ ~

Afterwards we tried to go see the Christmas Illuminations in Roppongi, but we were late and then on our way back to sketch-ville, Tokyo, we saw a guy babysick on the train. Happy Minamisenju Christmas, guys.

[Edit: My file hosting site is acting up again, so I’ll post songs on these entries later.]

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