1. Weekend with dds and Ben

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dds and his friend Ben came up to Tokyo last weekend, and I had tons of fun hanging out with them. We met at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogaku at 10:00 last Saturday morning. There was a bit of a mixup; I thought I was supposed to meet Sebastian Duval then as well, but it turned out that was supposed to be Sunday. Whoops.

The Edo-Tokyo Museum was a fascinating glimpse of Tokyo before it was Tokyo. I particularly liked the intricately carved minatures showing the architecture of Japanese houses. The splendid portable shrines were also remarkable, as was the elaborate kabuki display. Pity I'd forgotten my camera then! I hope Ben will post pictures soon.

After the museum, we headed over to Akihabara, a must-see spot for all electronics geeks. We had lunch at a little noodle shop near the station. It took me a while to slurp down my hot tanuki udon ( dds teased me about having a cat's tongue), so Ben went off to browse through the bewildering array of electronic devices. Splitting up is normally a Very Bad Idea because Akihabara's just so big, but dds reassured him that we'd be able to find him.

Yeah, right.

Hours later and still no sight of Ben. I started panicking. Poor guy didn't know Japanese. He knew Ben's cellphone number, but I wasn't sure if he knew how to use the phones. We waited by the noodle shop just in case he decided to retrace his steps; no Ben. We made a number of circuits of Akihabara; no Ben. We finally found him near a telephone booth on the far side of a wide street, looking very lost and rather tired.

He didn't get much sleep on the night train, and he really needed to take a nap. We took the train to Shinjuku and started looking for the capsule hotel dds found on the Net. We trudged through a red light / love hotel district, which was a rather strange experience. (Fortunately, it was still early afternoon.) Not a capsule hotel in sight. Eventually we gave up and decided to look for an Internet cafe or a karaoke box we could leave Ben in; those places have relatively cheap hourly rates and a karaoke box is soundproof as well. After a lot of backtracking, we found a reasonable karaoke place that had a promo until 7:00. We left Ben there and started looking for that capsule hotel.

dds was well-prepared. He had a GPS phone with a map that tracked his current position _and_ a watch with a built-in compass, so we confidently set off to find the capsule hotel that was top on his list. We crossed to the other side of Shinjuku station... wandered through a winding alley of little restaurants... wandered around some more... and realized we were well and truly lost, although we knew exactly where we were.

So I popped into a store and asked for directions. (It's fun being a girl.)

... and asked another store for directions...

... and then looked at a map near an underground walkway--they always have maps of the vicinity, which are very handy...

... and then found the capsule hotel...

... right beside the karaoke place.

At least we didn't have to walk very far to get back.

Ben was still sleeping, so dds and I chatted in the cafe first. Had my first hot chocolate of the weekend.

After that, we picked up Ben, showed him the capsule hotel next door, and had a good laugh about the exercise. Heh.

I wasn't quite sure what to do in Tokyo at night--I'm not a nightlife person, you know--but I took them to Harajuku anyway to show them some costume shops and other weird things. That was okay, although not particularly impressive.

After that, we had a somewhat unsatisfying dinner at a small Japanese restaurant. There's a first time for everything, I guess, so that was more of a learning experience than dinner. Not that I was hungry afterwards, but anyway... =)

We walked around a little bit, then they decided to turn in; they were tired from the trip and they wanted to get a good start tomorrow. So I went back to the dorm, looked up nice places to go on the Net, and e-mailed dds an itinerary that included some of the architectural stuff he wanted to see.

After a good night's sleep, I met them at the corner in front of their capsule hotel. We ate breakfast at Matsuya, a 24h store that offers (among other things) a natto combo set. 'Natto' is a dish of fermented soybeans, which most people find a little odd. dds is addicted to the thing. I was thinking of trying it out again, but between my ham and egg meal and the salad Ben passed to me, I got quite full.

We went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office after breakfast. The building complex is majestic and the view from the twin observatories is not only spectacular but also free, so it's a must-stop for Tokyo visitors. Mt. Fuji rose above the mass of buildings glinting in the clear, sunny day; great view.

We picked up a few pamphlets from the tourist information office on the first floor. I needed a map of Odaiba, the artificial island we were going to visit next. Thus prepared, we took the train to Shinbashi and transferred to the monorail, squeezing into the front of the car so that we could see the view.

The Fuji TV building was first on our list, as it boasted a spherical observatory. It would've been cooler if the observatory was mostly glass, but the view was still good. A few old machines were being exhibited--a telegraph machine, some elaborate mechanical dolls--and I was completely fascinated by them. I love looking at minature automata. I am intrigued by the gears and other mechanisms that combine in strange ways to make the models move...

After the observatory, we headed for lunch in Little Hongkong. A delicious ramen meal later, we went to the science museum. That was so, so, so cool. There was an Asimo demonstration, a hands-on model of the Internet using marble drops, lots of information on various technologies, and a really cool spherical display several meters in diameter. The display showed the Earth. It had several modes: satellite images, temperature, prediction, time-lapse... You could also get it to display other bodies in the solar system. What fun! That was really, really cool. Check out the Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) if you ever find yourself in Odaiba.

We also went to Venus Fort, a shopping mall whose interiors resemble a grand 18th century Italian city. A painted sky with changing lights made us feel like we were outside. Columns and drapes stretched from floor to ceiling. An elaborate fountain with marble nymphs and gold decor completed the look. Beautiful place.

We capped our trip by speculating about the techniques used in the color-changing Ferris wheel in Odaiba (must be some kind of LED thing). It was hypnotic. =) After that, we took the boat back to Tokyo.

We had curry at a nearby 24-hour shop and then went to an Internet cafe to relax. Ben needed to transfer photos off his camera and dds needed to do some online banking. After they were done, we walked around. dds remembered a beautiful temple near the Daimon station and he showed me the neat little rows of Jizo statues. (I have a soft spot for Jizo statues; they're so cute...) We also walked through a graveyard and a park before heading in the direction of the next train station, frequently stopping at cafes for a quick coffee / hot chocolate fix.

We still had time to spare when we reached the next train station, so we signed up for 30 minutes of karaoke. That was fun. It was Ben's first time, and he did quite well--particularly when, ummm, he did "Barbie Girl" in this deep voice. I have video. MWAHAHAHA! We did two songs each, then headed to Tokyo station. I kept them company until the train was about to leave. <grin>

I had tons of fun this weekend, and definitely look forward to meeting other geeks. =)

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