Category Archives: Tokyo

Golden Week Part II: Komoro

On Saturday May 5th, it was time for Rio and I to head out to Nagano. He had invited me to come along on his trip to the mountainous prefecture and see his hometown. As gigantic and interesting as Tokyo is, I was probably more excited to see a new part of Japan, especially my friend’s childhood home. The day began with morning coffee with Adam at his local Starbucks, where we chatted about life, Japan, life in Japan, and I think I brought up video games at some point. Adam was even kind enough to ride the trains with me most of the way to Tokyo Station just to make sure that I didn’t get lost.

Back at the massive Tokyo Station, I met up with Rio and we purchased tickets for the Shinkansen (新幹線 – bullet train). Nagano isn’t particularly close to Tokyo, but thanks to Japan’s superbly efficient mass transit systems, we could get there quickly and conveniently via high speed rail.

Even through you are traveling over land, the Shinkansen experience struck me as being very much like riding an airplane. First of all, the tickets aren’t cheap. Buying a ticket for the bullet train is reminiscent of purchasing a plane ticket just for the expense alone. Then there’s the diligence and efficiency which with the Shinkansen is operated. Everyone involved is extremely serious about providing rapid transportation in the safest way possible. But the greatest similarity between the bullet train and commercial aircraft is in the physical design of the vehicle itself.

The body of the Shinkansen looks like an airplane without wings. The sleek aerodynamic look of the bullet train, from the rounded nosecone to the streamlined cars, is reminiscent of commercial airliner. If a regional JR train and a Boeing 737 mated, the bullet train would be its offspring. Even the interior of the train reminded me of a plane; although it was more spacious and comfortable than any aircraft I’ve ever ridden on. And the view of the landscape whipping by my window seat was captivating. I’ve always enjoyed watching the world below from an airplane, but in the bullet train, you’re seeing everything from ground level. The unique perspective you get on the train is worth the price of your ticket. For the train enthusiasts out there, it doesn’t get much cooler than the Shinkasen.

After a 90 minute train ride, we arrived at Saku-shi (佐久市), Nagano. Since it was Kodomo no Hi (こどもの日 – Children’s Day), the colorful koi-shaped flags, known as koinobori (鯉のぼり), were out in full force, livening up neighborhood. Rio pointed out to me that Nagano is one of the few places in Japan where people actually eat koi. In fact, we were going to be having koi sashimi, called koi no aria (鯉のあらい) for dinner. We found Rio’s BMW parked at the train station and set out for his hometown of Komoro (小諸).

On the way, we stopped for a bite to eat at a local taiyaki (鯛焼き) place. Rio had been surprised to hear that I liked anko (餡子 – red bean paste) and I had specifically mentioned my love of taiyaki, a fish-shaped red bean paste-filled fried treat. So he brought me to his favorite taiyaki shop, the place he used to go back in his high school days. It was some excellent fish-shaped deliciousness.

We also stopped to see a cute, cartoonish figure, a statue called pin-koro (ぴんころ). Rio introduced it as the “live long and die quickly” statue, which is essentially what pin-koro means. The name comes from pin pin (ぴんぴん), a colloquialism meaning “healthy, lively”, and korori (ころり), meaning “easily, effortlessly, suddenly”. [It’s worth noting that korori is the adverbial form of “korokoro” (ころころ), the Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of a round object rolling. Koro, koro, koro…] As Rio explained, the men in this area of Nagano generally live to ripe old age, with an average lifespan that surpasses even the rest of Japan. This friendly marketable image was apparently made to promote and capitalize on the local population’s longevity.

Next we drove further into the mountains, following the ridge of a beautiful forested river valley. The natural splendor of rural Nagano was rather breathtaking, and I felt a strange twinge of jealousy, like I should have asked my company to place me there. We drove past Rio’s elementary school and a huge dam that that neighbors it. As Rio explained, going to college in Iowa was exciting for him, because he had never seen a place that was so amazingly flat. Clearly his home’s geography was far more varied.

Arriving at Rio’s family’s house in the afternoon, we found that no one was home. The house was very old, about 80 years old or so, and huge! Constructed in the traditional Japanese style by Rio’s grandfather—or was it great grandfather?—it was made of great beams of wood, and had all the Japanese features one would expect; sliding doors, Tanami floors, tiled roof, etc. Before even entering the house, I was immediately impressed by the old-style gate, and the tall wall that runs the border of the property. The gates massive wooden doors were so authentically old-fashioned, to point of being historical artifacts, and to me they felt epic, otherworldly. With no one at the house, we dropped off our bags and set out to see the town.

We ate lunch at a popular soba place called Kusabue (草笛 – grass whistle) that featured a sweet chestnut dipping sauce for their noodles. Chestnuts, called kuri (栗) in Japanese, are a local specialty there. Then we drove into central Komoro to see some of the historical sites in the heart of the town.

Since it was Kodomo no Hi, there were plenty of extra decorations around. There were lots of koi flags and even great big displays of elaborate dolls on display. We also noticed several posters advertising an anime series called “Ano Natsu de Matteru” (あの夏で待ってる – translated as “Waiting in the Summer”). From the posters we deduced that the show must be set in Komoro, as the posters featured identifiable landmarks from around town, like the dam near Rio’s elementary school.  Although I couldn’t tell what the show was about—beyond high school kids with a video camera—I decided to check it out sometime to see what bits of town I could recognize.

Komoro’s main street looked surprisingly low key and underutilized, much like the barren main streets of Middle American towns that have been destroyed by Wal-Mart. Rio explained to me that the place once was a busying thoroughfare. Conveniently located right off the train line, it had received plenty of street traffic from visitors and nearby country folk alike. But then the bigger train station in Saku opened up, along with lots of big retailers to draw customers. With a giant Aeon store next to the high-traffic station in Saku, Komoro’s main street became all but deserted.

In the heart of Komoro, Rio led me to a massive, beautiful park called Kaikoen (懐古園). Built upon the ruins of Komoro Castle, Kaikoen retains the impressive castle gates and several stony fortress foundations. The tree lined paths and grassy picnic areas provide an incredibly peaceful, distinctly Japanese atmosphere for relaxing on a spring day. The park also contains a museum, and—although we didn’t check them out—a zoo and amusement park for the kids.

While wandering about the park, we discovered an archery range where a man was practicing Kyūdō (弓道 – “Way of the Bow”, traditional Japanese archery). Unlike normal recreational archery, Kyūdō is considered a martial art, much like Judo or Aikido, and participating in it is to follow “the way of the warrior”, or budō (武道). This means the purpose of Kyūdō is just as much about spiritual development and the perfection of character as it is about hitting the target with an arrow. Watching the man ritualistically draw back his longbow, take aim, and let arrow fly across the open shooting ground was intensely interesting, almost hypnotic. We lingered there to watch him for several minutes.

While the entrance of Kaikoen is normal ground level, the other side drops off like a cliff. This makes for some breathtaking views of Komoro’s gorgeous mountain-protected river valley. The way the deep canyon of the valley contrasted with the tree covered mountains was really spectacular. I got yet another great view of the dam, and one lookout point in particular seemed to have been used as a model for some of the Waiting in the Summer posters.

After the castle park, we stopped at some small rice fields on the way back to the house. Utilizing the limited space in the mountainous terrain, Komoro residents had created miniature rice fields on the uneven ground. The fields were asymmetrical and tiered, covering as much of the available land as possible. One man was tilling the soil with a diminutive but maneuverable gas-powered machine. This was Rio’s father.

Rio’s family had been growing rice in the mountains of Nagano for generations. For as long as Rio could remember, he father would tend to the field and produce all the rice the family needed. But this wasn’t his father’s profession, Rio’s dad was actually math teacher, this was more of a hobby, or a serious family garden. Rio’s father, Yoichi, took a break from the tilling work to greet us. He had already met my brother in the past and seemed particularly interested to meet me. His warm smile genuinely made me feel welcome. Father and son chatted a bit while I snapped some obligatory photos and then we were on our way.

Back at the homestead, Rio’s mother had prepared a traditional holiday treat for us, called kashiwa-mochi (柏餅). These mochi (餅 – glutinous rice cakes) were filled with anko (that delicious red bean paste again) and presented wrapped in oak leaves. (Kashiwa means “oak” in Japanese.) We sat down and enjoyed the delicious Children’s Day treat with green tea. It was excellent. After the mochi treats, there was some downtime to relax until dinner.

Dinner with Rio’s family was amazing. Not only was his mother’s cooking unbelievably good, but all of the ingredients used were ridiculously fresh. I had been excited to try the local specialty koi sashimi—koi no aria (鯉のあらい)—which was a big part of the meal, but I ended up being blown away by everything else instead. With the exception of the fish, everything we ate was produced by the family themselves. All the vegetables, even the rice we ate, they had grown in their own garden! And all of it was delicious. The rice in particular, was probably the greatest rice I have ever tasted. In terms of food quality, I could not imagine a more impressive meal.

Despite the language barrier, Yoichi and I were able to converse, discussing cultural and even philosophical differences between our respective countries. An ample supply of beer and sake made communication flow even more freely. Eventually Yoichi shared some of his photography with me, showing me some amazing nature shots that he had captured over the years. It made for a truly wonderful evening.

Most of Sunday had to be in transit by necessity, as I had to get all the way back to Sapporo, and then to Shakotan in time for Monday’s classes. But before we skipped town, Rio took me to his favorite coffee purveyor, and we enjoyed some truly excellent espresso drinks. Rio’s family were so kind and generous, and they encouraged me to return again in the future. We took a group photo to commemorate the occasion and then we drove to the train station. It was a truly Golden Week indeed.

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Golden Week Part I: Tokyo

When I first came to Japan in April 2011, I flew into Tokyo a few days earlier than necessary so that I’d have some sightseeing time. I knew a couple guys who lived in Tokyo, both of whom were friends of my brother, Mike. Ryoichi – who often goes by Rio or Leo to make things easier for the English speakers – grew up in Nagano, Japan, but studied aerospace at Iowa State University. Adam grew up in good old Fort Dodge, Iowa, just like my family, and he and Mike have been good friends since their high school days. Fresh off the plane from Seattle, these were the only two people I knew in Japan. Luckily in Tokyo, they were really all I needed for an immensely enjoyable introduction to the country.

Fast-forward 13 months, and having just completed my first year teaching English in Shakotan, I was looking for a good way to use my time off during a string of consecutive national holidays, known in Japan as Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク).  Right on the heels of Shōwa Day (昭和の日 – the birthday of the Shōwa Emperor) on April 29th, the first week in May hosts three back-to-back holidays; Constitution Memorial Day (健保懸念日) on the 3rd, Greenery Day (緑の日) on the 4th, and Children’s Day (こどもの日) on the 5th. The way these holidays were observed on the 2012 calendar gave me Monday off, followed by just two days of working, and then a four-day weekend starting on Thursday. To make this time really count, I decided to fly to Kanto and ‘Tokyo it up’.

Fun fact:  The Children’s Day holiday was originally dedicated to only boys and went by the name Tango no Sekku (端午の節句 – Boy’s Day Celebration). Inversely, Hina-matsuri (雛祭り – Doll Festival) on March 3rdwas the traditional Girl’s Festival. Boy’s Day was changed to Children’s Day in 1948, to include all children. The symbol of holiday remains the carp-shaped windsocks known as koinobori (鯉のぼり – literally meaning “koi flag”). Leading up to the holiday, each household would traditionally fly one koi streamer for each son in the family, and this practice remains relatively unchanged today.

I arrived in Tokyo on Thursday, May 3rd (Constitution Memorial Day) to an unusual sight: rain. Apparently it’s quite unusual for it to rain in Tokyo during Golden Week, as tsuyu (梅雨), the raining season, doesn’t get going until June. Not only was 2012 a rainy Golden Week in Tokyo, but just to the north in Ikariki-ken, a tornado tore a path of destruction through the town of Tsukuba.  (When it comes to natural disasters, Japan just can’t catch a break.) I loaded my Suica Card up with money and jumped into the Tokyo Subway, doing my best to follow the instructions Adam had given me. Moving about Tokyo with my largish backpack, I surely looked like a tourist.

At the huge, busy, intimidating hive that is Tokyo Station, I encountered a small hiccup in the directions I was following. There wasn’t a way to take the subway line that I needed to reach Adam’s neighborhood. This was kind of cool though, because I got to practice my Japanese skills by asking for directions. To my disappointment, I ended up receiving help for a young Tokyoite who had lived in California for five years and spoke absolutely perfect English. With his trusty iPhone, the young man directed where to go, what line to take to which stop, and how I could switch lines at that station to get to my destination. He was a super helpful guy, a lifesaver really, I just wish his English hadn’t have been so good.

After some train hopping, I arrived in Adam’s neighborhood, Asagaya. We met up at the Starbucks, conveniently located inside the train station, and made the short, scenic walk to his house. While I’ve heard of Tokyo houses being cramped or claustrophobic or noisy, Adam and his family have a lovely home. It was a real pleasure to stay with them while I was in town. Since it was lunchtime, we went to a nearby Thai place to eat, and then Adam and I hopped on the train to meet Rio at Shinjuku station (新宿駅). When we found Rio, he was accompanied by his girlfriend, Akiko, but after a brief instruction, Akiko departed and it was just the three of us guys hitting the town.

We first headed to Harajuku (原宿), a district of Tokyo whose name has become synonymous with crazy youth fashion. The main street of Harajuku is more of an alleyway than a street, but it’s lined with countless shops on both sides and is always crowded with high school-age kids, most of them dressed in wacky attire. Despite the unseasonable rainy weather that day, the street was still packed. A moving canopy of umbrellas spanned the width of the walkway from awning to awning. There were plenty of things for the interested to peruse; lots of bows and lace and bright colors; clothing, and fashion accessories ranging from sickeningly cute to outright audacious. We were really just there for the people watching, taking in the spectacle of it all. Although admittedly, I was momentarily distracted by an impressive display of Super Mario Bros merchandise. Once we had run the gauntlet of kawaii (かわいい – cute), we walked on to the next sight.

At Meiji station, we met up with Kana, my old classmate form Iowa Central Community College. Kana and I had become good friends back in the day, singing in all the choirs and performing together in the school’s many stage productions. We hadn’t seen each other in nine years, so it was pretty amazing to finally get a chance to catch up.

We walked over to Meiji Jingū (明治神宮 – Meiji Shrine). Dedicated to the Meiji Emperor, the shrine is one the biggest and most famous Shinto shrines in Japan. It seemed to be intentionally hidden within its own urban forest, as the trail leading to shrine was surprisingly protected from the rain by thick tree cover. Once inside the shine proper, we leisurely looked around. The others had been there many times, it was only new to me, so we quickly paid our respects and were off. All four of our group had attended some college in Iowa and we found ourselves feeling quite nostalgic for the States, so we decided to do something extremely, stereotypically American. We went to Hooters.

There is one Hooters restaurant in Tokyo, the only one in Japan. Just as one would expect, it’s exactly like its North American counterparts; a playfully misogynistic, intentionally classless slice of Americana, transported to the Far East. The interior was their trademark orange, with walls covered in all the tacky minutia that always adorn the interior of chain restaurants trying to look unique. You’ll only notice this collection of random junk if you can avert your eyes from the girls, and of course, that’s what the Hooters experience is all about; the girls. The restaurant did a pretty good job of staffing the restaurant with women that fit the Hooters ideal of feminine beauty—busty, curvaceous, young cheerleader-types that can fill out a tank top and bright orange shorts—despite the fact that Japanese women don’t usually fall into category. The Japanese ideal of feminine beauty is generally considered more slender and waifish. Not only did they look the part, but all the girls talked the talk as well, speaking excellent English—complete with US colloquialisms and Hooters vernacular—to accommodate the surely foreigner-heavy cliental.

To get the full Hooters experience, we ordered a plate of deep-fried pickles, which came with a spicy mayonnaise dipping sauce, and some shakes. At some point, the music changed and the Hooters girls did a little dance for everyone. I had been snapping photos the whole time, but at this point I was told that taking pictures during “dance time” was forbidden—and I’m still not sure why. Eventually we got a photo with our waitress (which I ruined by standing in front and obstructing the view of her body) and we were off to our next spot.

We headed to Roppongi (六本木), the district of Tokyo that’s home to several foreign embassies, including the US embassy. If you are looking for Americans in Tokyo, Roppongi is the place you look. And from what I had heard, the roaring nightlife of the district is extremely gaijin-friendly, to the point of being predatory. Given this reputation, our destination was probably the dorkiest possible. We were headed to a video game-themed bar. Arriving in the neighborhood a bit early, we grabbed some drinks and food at a German pub before taking the nerdy plunge.

At 7:30pm, we entered Luida’s Bar, a standing-room-only establishment, emulating a fictional tavern from the role-playing video game series Dragon Quest (also called “Dragon Warrior” in the US). Rio had made reservations for us a week in advance, which was good because you can’t get into Luida’s Bar without a reservation. Even with your reservation, the Dragon Quest bar only accepts groups of its patrons in shifts, like an amusement park. You are given 90 minutes to immerse yourself in the Dragon Quest experience and then you are shuffled out the door to make room for the next group.

While very small, the interior of Luida’s Bar was impressive. Massive swords and other fantasy relics from the video game world adorned the walls, while the hanging lanterns provided the mood lighting. Flat panel TVs in the corners of the room advertised the upcoming Dragon Quest 10—as well as a crossover party game with Nintendo’s Super Mario and friends—flashing gameplay videos and concept art on a never ending loop. A couple bartender/cooks whipped up orders of game-themed cocktails and novelty foods, while an attractive young lady in medieval garb wielded a microphone and worked the room as the master of ceremonies.

The bar’s menu of Dragon Quest cocktails and food items was quite impressive, if for its ingenuity alone. Everything was shamelessly overpriced, and all hot food items, with the exception of grilled meats, were microwave-prepared junk. But each item was somehow related to the game and all were aesthetically pleasing. Each dessert item we saw was more artistically impressive than the last. Rio ordered a “potion” cocktail that came in the appropriate round glass vessel, like a prop from a medieval play. I decided to try the manjuu (饅頭– steamed buns) filled with anko (餡子 – red bean paste), which were colored blue and shaped like the iconic “slime” characters from the series.

After our time at Luida’s Bar was up, we decided to head to the train station and call it a night. Walking through Roppongi at night was much different than crossing it during the day, as my unmistakable whiteness attracted attention. Every 50 meters or so, a tall African man would approach me, aggressively trying to sell his nightclub and/or hostess bar. Each man came on strong, and their accents were a bit difficult to decipher at first—in fact, I’m pretty sure one guy was alternating between English and French, trying to catch my attention with whichever language my native tongue might be —and it immediately made me feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. Having a large, physically imposing fellow purposely obstruct your path to go for the hard sell is disconcerting, even when he’s showering you with compliments. I didn’t want to be rude to these guys who were surely just trying to get by in an infamously xenophobic foreign country, but I wished they would just leave me alone. After two blocks I had gained a much deeper appreciation for what it must be like for women who endure street harassment. (And they take it all the time!  At least I can just avoid Roppongi at night.)

On Friday May 4th, I met Rio at Shinjuku Station again. Having hit the town the night before, I was running low on cash and growing a bit worried about finding a working ATM. Since I only had a Japan Post Bank account, withdrawing money was usually just a matter of finding a post office. But we were in the middle of a string of holidays, and all the post offices were closed. For some reason, Japan ATMs are generally not open 24 hours; they usually have operating hours much like a bank. The vending machines run 24 hours a day, so I don’t know why ATMs have this restriction.

The previous day’s rain had momentarily cleared up, so when Rio and I set out walking, it was a sunny, gorgeous morning in Tokyo. We first walked to Shinjuku’s gigantic park, Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑). To our surprise, entry into the park was free because it was Greenery Day (みどりの日). An old imperial garden, the park was huge, expansive and impressive. There were forested areas, great wide-open grass fields, ponds with turtles and ducks, even a garden of multicolored hedges. One forested bit in particular struck me as the ideal place to have a samurai duel to the death…or a wedding…whichever one you’re in the market for.

Shinjuku Gyoen reminded me a lot of Central Park in Manhattan, especially with the way scenes of natural splendor were framed by a background of skyscrapers. It’s a bastion of nature hiding among the sprawling urban concrete, an oasis of green amid the desert of grey. Luckily Tokyo has multiple garden parks to provide people with an escape ever once in a while.

After the park it was time for lunch, and Rio and I decided to do fast food, at Mos Burger. It was excellent. I’m probably biased, but I think a teriyaki burger at Mos Burger is far superior to anything that McDonalds of Burger King offers.

After lunch the rain returned and my search for a Japan Post ATM proved fruitless. As I discovered, all Japan Post ATMs were down for the duration Golden Week. What’s worse, all Japan Post accounts were inaccessible! Even third-party ATMs that would usually allow me to withdraw money from my J-Post account couldn’t access it. There was simply no way for me to get to my yen. Luckily, there was no need to panic, as I had my American debit card on me. Using an ATM at a Lawson’s underneath the Tokyo Pokémon center, I was able to withdraw enough yen to get me through the holiday. While there was a sizeable international transaction fee, it really was a lifesaver.

Next we checked out Japan’s capitol building, with its interesting pyramidal stone roof. Rio pointed out that the Prudential Building—the building housing the Hooters restaurant we’d seen the previous day—wasn’t very far away. With the philandering reputation of politicians, this seemed intentional. We walked on, circling the perimeter of the old Imperial Palace to get to the Marunouchi district.

Tokyo Station

Marunouchi (丸の内) is an upscale centrally located neighborhood where all the heavy-hitting financial companies do business. It’s home to Tokyo Station, the massive transportation hub where several metro lines and the Shinkansen (新幹線 – bullet train) connect. Since the station was under renovation, not all of its façade was visible, but one could still see that it has a distinctly western architectural style.

While he wasn’t with us at the time, Adam works for a financial company in Marunouchi, so we decided to check out his building. The outside of the skyscraper looked like an imperial cruiser from Star Wars, but the interior was super posh and classy, with marble floors and gilded accents. We took the escalators up to the 10th or 11th floor, where we found several fine dining establishments. Craving espresso, we found one café to be irresistible, the aptly named “So Tired”. After some delicious cappuccinos and cake, we were on our way.

Mandarin Hotel

Though I’ve only visited Tokyo twice, Rio and I have a started a little tradition. We go to an ultra-fancy hotel—usually one that has their reception on the 40th floor or so—use the restroom, and leave. Yep, that’s all there is to it. We started this tradition when I first arrived in Japan and Rio took me sightseeing all around Tokyo. We headed to the Park Hyatt hotel, specifically because it was featured in the movie Lost in Translation. But since we were only there to loiter, we scoped out the lobby, used the restroom, and left.

The thing is, these hotels usually have a really impressive view of the Tokyo skyline, and you can get a great perspective from the bathroom window. Plus, in keeping with Japanese customer service, the staff is always extremely polite, never failing to thank you when you leave. So we walk in, use the restroom, walk out, and are thanked for our trouble. It’s rather pleasant.

Mandarin Hotel toilet

In keeping with our new tradition, this time Rio and I went to the Mandarin Hotel. It was honestly amazing! From 38 stories up, the bird’s eye perspective on Tokyo is already impressive, but thanks to the newly constructed Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー) towering in the distance, the view from the Mandarin Hotel men’s room is unbelievable! And the hotel has made the view as accessible as possible, constructing the exterior wall completely out of transparent glass. Instead of a wall behind them, the four urinals have only giant windows. It really takes the piss out of every other toilet.

Can you see the 円?

After enjoying the Mandarin’s men’s room, and taking plenty of pictures, Rio and I lounged around the lobby, as if we were actually guests of the hotel. When we got up to leave, I took some time to enjoy the view from the opposite side of the building and spotted something interesting. Rio’s friend had told him that the Bank of Japan was shaped like the kanji for yen (円 – actually pronounced “en” in Japanese), but from the building map at ground level, it looked like that wasn’t the case. However, from our view from above we were able to see that the building’s roof really does have a yen kanji motif! It was a lucky find.

Soon thereafter, we perused a store called Sembikiya which has the most expensive fruit I have ever seen. While I’m sure that not all fruit is equally good, that some specimens are more delicious than others, I don’t know how anyone can justify spending Sembikiya prices, even the super rich. This isn’t like your grocer jacking up the prices of organic fruits, it’s complete madness. For example, one apple will run you ¥2100. Two melons cost ¥33,600, 40 cherries for ¥15,750, or twelve strawberries for a mind-blowing ¥6825. That’s hundreds of dollars for a bag of fruit.

For dinner, we went to an izakaya that Rio had personally selected. Apparently the place was known for its excellent Kyushu-style food and it also had a wide selection of sake, which I was excited to sample. It wasn’t until our drinks arrived that I remembered how Rio doesn’t drink. It wasn’t long before we were joined by Akiko, Rio’s girlfriend. Luckily for me, Akiko enjoys sake, so I could imbibe without being the lone drinker. The three of us enjoyed an evening of traditional Japanese fare and partially Japanese conversation. Rio and Akiko were a ridiculously cute couple, so much so that I felt like they could be used as models in a prescription drug advertising campaign. (You know, the kind where the couple is so active, attractive, and incredibly happy that you wish you could have genital herpes too?)

To Be つづく’ed…

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