Summer Travel Roundup: 2014


Approximately 70% of Kyoto consists of temples, shrines, castles, and souvenir shops. They’re pretty cool, but if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.

I didn’t go to the Geisha district. They’re too family-friendly in this day and age. I didn’t go to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, which is basically a glorified manga library.


Osaka Castle is exactly what it sounds like.

Spa World is a sort of bath house theme park with various themed baths from around the world. It’s also half-price during the summer for some reason. If bathing for hours sounds like your idea of a good time (it does to me), you’ll love this place.

Takoyaki and okonomiyaki are hit or miss. Okonomiyaki is not “Japanese pizza”, and anyone who says otherwise should be forced to eat actual Japanese pizza.

Dotonbori is as ghetto a place as you’ll ever see in Japan, and it’s still safer than neighborhoods half a mile from my house back in New York.


The deer in Nara will molest you the moment they see/smell food in your hands/pockets/bags. I don’t mean to sounds racist or anything, but Japanese deer are really short. I’ve illustrated this by photographing a random girl having to bend down to take a picture of a fully grown male deer.

The Giant Buddha is impressively gigantic. I’ve illustrated this by photographing a random girl standing next to the statue; otherwise it’s hard to get a sense of its scale. I am a master photographer.


Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its Gassho-style thatched-roof cottages. Somehow this is an enormous tourist draw.

The more culturally significant reason to visit Shirakawa-go is that it’s the village that inspired Higurashi’s Hinamizawa. Oddly enough, the only place in Shirakawa that embraces Higurashi is the shrine.


Takayama is the closest city to Shirakawa. It’s home to the only Mexican restaurant in Japan, which was closed at noon on a Wednesday. I would kill for Taco Bell right now.

Takayama’s claim to fame is having “one of the three most beautiful festivals” in Japan. From my vast knowledge of bragging, that means they have the third most beautiful festival in Japan.

If you’re not in town during the festival (I wasn’t), Takayama is one of those cities that has no major attractions but does have enough minor attractions to keep you occupied for a day or two. There are enough shrines and temples per square foot to rival Kyoto.


Matsumoto is the exact opposite of Takayama: one major attraction and nothing else to do. No wonder this place was packed. With every parking lot in the area charging by the half hour, I opted not to bankrupt myself by getting on line to go inside the castle.


Golden Gai (Shinjuku): Home to tons of crappy bars that all have cover charges.

Roppongi: Great place to go if you enjoy being solicited by Japanese prostitutes and Nigerian club owners.

17 Replies to “Summer Travel Roundup: 2014”

  1. That’s pretty cool. I sure hope I’ll be able to squeeze my way into an international program in my university this year and see at least some of those places. I’d expect you to visit more anime related places thought, Akihabara and the Shigeru Mizuki Museum at the least, so why didn’t you?

    • I’m living relatively close to Tokyo, so I’ll have plenty of chances to check out the otaku hotspots therein. That particular trip to Tokyo was with a few other English teachers who wanted to explore the nightlife. Poverty ensued. Fucking cover charges.

  2. I would rather watch them milk cows, or slaughter pigs, or make cheese, or train and ride horses like they do in Gin No Saji for 100 minutes than stand in line to get into a castle.

    My word! I didn’t even have to stand in line anywhere near that long to get into Blarney Castle to kiss the fookin’ Blarney Stone ((which I didn’t do btw because I already AM Irish)).

    • Every time I read Kyoto I’m reminded of my school’s kyoto-sensei (vice principal), who actually did visit Kyoto over the summer break.

  3. That giant Buddha reminded me of Gantz. I half expect it to rise up and start slaughtering the masses. Also, “The only place in Shirakawa that embraces Higurashi is the shrine”…. Hmm I wonder why? You didn’t happen to wander in during cotton drifting did you? Are you trapped in a death loop? Would you know? I also agree with your assessment of okonomiyaki. I had some once. Not pizza. Open face Japanese burrito, maybe? A bit difficult to classify in terms of American equivalents, if it can even be done. What is Japanese pizza like? I’ve heard tales of mayo and corn.

    • The two guardian statues had Gantz written all over them, but I took pictures without random bystanders to indicate scale, so I figured they weren’t worth uploading.

      Shirakawa seems content with the amount of tourism they’re already getting for the fluffy roofs. The last thing they want is noisy, obnoxious otaku running around. I think the shrine is down with Higurashi because it doesn’t get much traffic on that edge of town. Most tour buses going to Shirakawa only stick around for 2-3 hours, so many tourists don’t get around the whole village.

      The river was muddy that day due to heavy rain the day before, so Watanagashi must’ve been canceled. If I am trapped in a death loop, I’m neither the character who remembers everything nor one of the characters who subconsciously learns from past mistakes.

      Japanese pizza is small, expensive, lacking in cheese, and heavy in weird toppings, including corn and mayo (although Japanese mayo is a bit different/better than American mayo). Basically nothing at all like real pizza. Maybe that’s why Japanese people think it’s like okonomiyaki?

  4. Nice Sabatic Year Baka! Was it enough to learn japanese ? Are you taking advantage to watch any anime live from National TV Channels ? Or are you still waiting 24h for someone else to sub it and download it?

    • My reading and listening comprehension have improved noticeably so far (my speaking and writing are still terrible), but I still don’t have the vocabulary to understand anime without subs. Even when I watch anime on TV, I usually follow it up with subs the next day. There’s also the problem of not getting the right channels. A lot of channels are regional, and the ones I get around here don’t broadcast much anime, or at least the anime I’m interested in.

      • I never thought about anime not showing up in some parts of the Japan due to regional channels. I assumed that it’d be on a national channel on some “TGIF” or “Must See TV” type block or the like. I guess this means that 85% of Japan broadcasts terrible, moe-blob, audience-pandering BS. Sorry. I had to say it. I will get off of my Elitist “Otaku Ruined Anime” Soapbox. Can you speak more to me of this Japanese mayo and its superiority to the Murican Mayo counterpart?

        • 85% of Japanese TV is crappy celebrity talk/variety shows. I’ll leave the rest to Gaijin Smash.

          The kiddie stuff comes on the national channels. Plenty of shounen, magical girl, and idol shows to go around, but the good stuff tends to come on regional or cable-only channels. I don’t have cable, and I live far enough from Tokyo that I don’t get some key regional channels.

          Unlike American filler mayo, Japanese mayo actually tastes like something. After trying it for the first time, I suddenly found plausible the existence of all those anime characters who dump mayo on everything.

          “Compared to standard American supermarket mayos, Kewpie has a smoother and thinner consistency, tangier character, and depth of spices that clearly distinguishes it from its more subtle cousins. It’s also got a touch of MSG, one of the triggers for the taste we call umami, which further distinguishes its flavor.”

  5. […] had just arrived in Japan and quickly left for the countryside without having done much exploring. The second time I was in Tokyo, I went to some crappy, overpriced bars in Shinjuku and Roppongi. This time I went to Tokyo with […]

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