Monday, July 27, 2015

Weekend (7.17 - 7.20): Japanland: Yokohama and Kamakura

4 1/2 months into living here, we finally got out of the world's biggest city for a couple of days.

We left after Hannes finished with work on the Friday going into a 3-day weekend (4-day for me, because I also had Friday off) to stay at a random stranger's place in Yokohama. 
Japan seems like one of the safest and best possible places to finally try Airbnb, and since everything was booked up way (in some cases years) in advance in anticipation of the annual summer festival and fireworks show over the bay, it was our only option.

I'm glad I went on there and found the cheapest places available, too, because the first one turned out to be a real winner. No irony, totally ceral.
It was a few stops from Yokohama Station, not hard to find following the photo directions with drawn arrows, and when we got there, I called the guy. He reminded me that the key was in the postbox, and to just go on in and get comfy. We assumed this was his own apartment and were pretty taken aback when he said he'd be home in like an hour or whatever, so you know, Internet strangers, just go on in and be cool.

Originally I'd wanted to meet a friend who lives there for drinks in Sakuragicho - especially once she told me that she'd gotten a job as a nanny and was moving to New York - but she worked late that night (fucking Japanese companies, having people work until 9 or 10 on Fridays, really) and then never got back to me for the rest of the weekend.

We walked around a little and ended up at a tiny back-alley Hawaiian-themed bar called Sammy's before deciding to just load up on convenience store drinks and go back to our spacious rental apartment.

We got back and met the 28 year-old guy whose family owned the building we were in, found out that he actually lived in the (much newer, nicer) one next door, that he and his family have a number of properties and interesting businesses, and that he was spending his last officially unmarried night with us of all people. The next morning he and his fiance went and handed in their marriage license papers and made it official a ways ahead of the ceremony in November, and before heading to a luxurious hotel suite with a view of the bay that the guy - Takuya - managed, by some miracle, to get.

It was super interesting, and Takuya was so nice. When we found out he was technically getting married the next day, we were of course like, "Congratulations! Let's get drunk!" and he was like, "Yeaaaah!", but then he was like, "I need to go to bed". We sat and talked about all kinds of interesting stuff for a couple of rounds, including the "travel cafe" he has in Tokyo, before his eyes started rolling around in all directions and he just couldn't anymore.

I couldn't find a quick camera setting to deal with the apparently weird lighting, but we ended up having not only this huge master bedroom with a copy of The Goldfinch sitting on the oversized tea table and a balcony the size of our whole apartment to ourselves, but the entire apartment and therefore the whole building. Takuya was like, "Oh, and there's no one staying here tomorrow, so you can just leave all your stuff and come back and get it by like 8 or 9 tonight or whatever".
And the air conditioner was properly chilly.

$36. Awesome.

So, the next day, we set out to Yamashita Park and planned on going to Chinatown from there, because it was the only thing in Yokohama Hannes was especially interested in seeing.

My collection of these is coming along very nicely, in case anyone (-cough-mom-cough-)
who hasn't seen the Facebook album I dedicated to them is wondering.


Because it was the weekend of the summer festival, vendors were just setting up their stalls all along the park, and Hannes got himself a nice beer. I thought about buying some goma dango (deep-fried red bean-filled rice balls with sesame seeds) but decided to wait until we got to Chinatown.

And I included this one because it was the only picture either of us took of any of the thousands and thousands of girls and ladies wearing their lovely colourful yukata that weekend.

Then Hannes spotted the area where the boat tours are and was like, 
"Boat tour! Let's do one!"

The cormorants were also doing the, "Mine?" thing

Cigarette disposal unit is displeased by your shenanigans

We chose this boat partly because it was tall and had a "roof", but it turned out that the roof was enclosed, thereby mostly defeating the purpose of it, and turning it into a greenhouse instead.

Serious kitty thoughts

I'm proud of this one, it was extremely windy and hard to hold my camera

Did I mention that I started this morning and the weekend by realising that I'd managed to forget my ENTIRE makeup bag? That's right, I removed it to shove something else into my bag and then never replaced it. Whole weekend, absolutely 0 makeup. Not even lip balm. Ugh.

All in all I'm glad we went ahead and plowed though all the main touristy things in Yokohama, but guys, do not go on one of these boat tours unless you know for a fact that it's really nice. 

This 60-minute one was about 30 bucks for the both of us, and about 70% of it was whatever the opposite of scenic is, cruising past refineries, cargo freighters, and all of the other unattractive, commercial-industrial bits of this busy port. Not only that, but just after painstakingly backing out from the dock, we re-docked to pick up more people, who must have paid less, because they didn't spend 15 extra minutes backing out and re-parking. That's some bullshit right there. Just make it a 45-minute tour that leaves from one place. Dicks.

Anyway, walking back into the city from Yamashita Park, you hit Chinatown.

I really like this one, it looks like a scene from a movie where they had to make the setting 
 as obvious as possible.

Though the panda merch is plentiful here, I bought nary a pencil, pouch, or sticker.

There was lots of cool stuff ON THE GROUND

Waiting way too damn long for delicious fresh goma dango

Still felt bad about taking this even though I was very polite and thanked her..

It looks just like Taiwan.

I, for one, embrace our new panda comrade overlords.

After spending too long walking around in the hot muggy rain trying to find a Taiwanese restaurant I'd left a couple of maps open for that got fucked up by Starbucks' non-wifi (didn't elaborate because remembering that made me too angry), we got into an argument and decided to go to one of the other places I'd found on Happy Cow, in Sakuragicho.

It's a Hawaiian restaurant called Manoa Aloha Table.

Looks delicious and fresh, right? IT WAS TERRIBLE. 

If we hadn't spent so long in the disgusting sauna-like weather trying to find something I could have we would've sent it all back, but we were really hungry and desperate. It was so bad that, the very afternoon we got home, I finally got my own Happy Cow account and wrote a comically scathing review of it.

At this point we were hot, sweaty, tired, pissed off, and so on. This trip marked our one-year anniversary, and I was really down because almost everything about Japan has been total shit so far, and I'd wanted this to be novel, fun, and relaxing. I felt like it'd just been a huge waste of money by the time we left that Kitchen Nightmares-level restaurant.

We absentmindedly walked toward the gravitational pull of the iconic ferris wheel, and soon found that there are also a number of other amusement park rides and attractions around it, including a Hard Rock cafe that had some kind of outdoor event going on.


I figured (especially in my despondent, cynical mood) that the ferris wheel would be $18 - $22 per person, based on previous experience, but it was more like $7. At its base were also the other, more intense attractions on the dock: a roller coaster and flume ride. They were even cheaper. I perked up and told the girl in the ticket booth that we wanted to ride all 3, not sure what kind of a combination discount that would entail, and it ended up being as if we'd gotten one of the six tickets for free. Not bad!

A mighty wheel she be


The roller coaster is pretty great, even if it did nearly scalp Hannes. It's called "Vanish!" because it plunges under a large pool that's part of the flume ride and takes you through a seizure-inducing tunnel back to the 1980's for about a half second, making it look from outside the ride as if it had plunged into deep water.
Definitely recommend the flume ride, too. They don't jerk you around for very long before dropping you from a pretty respectable height, and we barely even got wet.

There's also a giant multi-story arcade on the dock. As much as I wanted an Alpacasso pouchette, I didn't bother trying for one...

But we did finally find the table-flipping game! Ah-ha!

Intense, fancy prizes everywhere

Initially we considered trying to wait until it got dark to ride the ferris wheel, but we were way too tired to kill another two or three hours in the arcade. So, after some refreshing fries and ginger ale in the rain, we got on.
Hilariously enough, when I first said something about going ahead and riding it after our arms had tired out from holding up the large guns for the Terminator Salvation game, Hannes bellowed,
"Nope! Not interested!"
I was like, "But.. We bought tickets for that too."
"Oh, what? We did?"
"Oh, great! Sounds fun."

That brown boxy building on the left is the Cup Noodles museum, full of interactive exhibits, 
and where you can make and eat your own noodle creation. 
Thanks, informative ferris wheel touch screen!

See Fuji there, between those two skyscrapers? We didn't even know it was there at first.
It's all like, "Soon".

We headed back to the apartment, took glorious, glorious showers, and chilled out with some snacks in the air conditioning for a bit, because the next Airbnb guy had messaged and told me that he wouldn't be home until about 8. 

Bye, cats

That next guy was techically in Yokohama too, but only one stop (after a 15-minute bus ride to the station) away from the first station in Kamakura, near the first of a number of things I'd decided I wanted to see.                                                         We followed his instructions and the bus ended up dropping us off down the road from the actual stop, because there was an elementary school summer festival going on literally, exactly, right on the little stretch of dark, quiet, suburban road we were on. We weren't sure at first if there was a marked bus stop down the road, so we parked it and waited after calling the guy. It was also after 9 by this time and we were pretty tired. The guy said he was on his way, but he never came. I tried to call him, but he didn't answer his phone. When he finally did, he said he was there, and I said we were waiting where the bus dropped us off. After a while, I finally went down the road and found him. He was a tall, doofy guy, and he said his phone didn't really work, so we were like, "Cool. Let's go."
Luckily, he lived right up the hill from the elementary school with his Chinese wife and one year-old son. They were clearly renting out their tiny extra bedroom on Airbnb because they needed the money.
Despite how annoying trying to contact and find the guy had been, the festival wasn't anyone's fault, and they were really nice. Their son was cute and entertaining like the reviews on the site said. Their futon bedding was smelly, and I wrapped myself in the comforter like a pita because I didn't want to touch the mattress part. The next morning I found out that Hannes had sniffed it inquisitively like he does with lots of things (umbrellas, coworkers, etc.) and seriously regretted it. 

There was no air conditioning or screen on the window, but thankfully, we were high up enough that it was windy and there weren't any mosquitoes.

It looked like this the next morning when I woke up. 
We'd set the alarm for 8:30, and I figured I'd conveniently woken up just before it went off. 6:01. This is what 6:01 in the damn morning looks like.

My being awake woke Hannes up soon afterward, and we pretty much grabbed our stuff, sunscreened ourselves, and left as quickly as we could.

The free baby included with our stay had only cried and woken everyone up a couple of times that night, so it wasn't too bad, but also wasn't great, even for only $18 for the two of us. Whatever. We found the gem that is Takuya's aging rental apartment and plan on staying there again.

After taking the bus and the first train we transfered to the Enoden, the cute little vintage electric train that goes to Enoshima via the scenic shoreline. And this greeted us:

Kamakura: "As long as you don't do any of the things people having fun at the beach normally do, we'll get along great."

So of course the first thing we did was stop at the 7-11 on our way down to the beach to buy drinks.

We walked for quite a ways along the shore, because we saw immediately that the beach I thought we might go to at Inamuragasaki point was a mostly-deserted surfing beach. Actually, it took a little while before we found a stretch with enough sand to accommodate people, and when we did, it was not in a spot conducive to swimming. The waves were big and very sucky-outy, only good for surfing.

The view of Fuji along the way was pretty nice, though. I guess we basically are on a subtropical island, but it's easy to forget. Even when you've spotted passion flowers and a parrot on your way to the train station in the morning.

This awesome-looking breakfast spot was crowded with young couples and older folks who are obviously very financially secure, and their little dogs, too. You can order pancakes, eggs, toast, coffee, and other stuff from the window, because waiting for a table inside would take ages. 
I wish I could have breakfast! We'd just grabbed stuff from the convenience store, so maybe we'll try to go another time.

We settled on the first sandy spot we came to, maybe a couple of miles from the station, once I realised that Enoshima didn't seem to be getting any closer. I looked at my worthless prepaid flip phone that had run out of money (over $20) just because of the very brief Airbnb-related calls I'd made that weekend. It was only about 9:30 A.M.

Tried to take a hotdog legs picture, failed, tiny surfer attacked Hannes' knee instead, 
it was a mess

This right here is a winning beach snack combination

At 11-something when the sun had gotten too intense and I'd given up any hope that Hannes might get into the water at all, we set off back toward the station, because I wanted to take pictures of Inamuragasaki and wasn't exactly sure where the next Enoden stop was.

The black sand looks like velvet. I'd hoped to find a small black volcanic rock, but there aren't even bits of shell on these beaches. I did burn the fuck out of my feet, though, by accidentally walking barefoot through a large deep dry spot on the sand. Be forewarned, beachgoers.

We headed a couple of stations over to Hase so that we could at least try another restaurant I'd bookmarked, and in the hopes that Hannes wasn't too hot and cranky to see the famous Buddha statue there.
The restaurant is an organic, largely-vegan but fish-serving hemp cafe with an awesome view over a large, sandy beach generously dappled with colourful umbrellas. I think we'll go there next time.
It also has no air conditioning and they hadn't even turned on a small fan (Japanese people are crazy), so we were dying a little bit at first after our long walk in the sun, but then it got better. We were also able to move to the bar facing the beach after we ordered.

Most of these were even more laughably overpriced than the average patron of a stylish organic beachside hemp cafe in a resort town would expect, but the artist was nice enough. Her name's Oukubo Akiko and the whole cafe was full of her pieces.

I really liked these little (affordable) ones, and ended up getting a postcard.

We ordered the curry plus a wheat gluten cutlet, and the taco rice. Both come with little sides and there was homemade "tabasco" on the table. Hannes had a beer, and I had a glass of sweet potato shochu. It was all really nice, especially the little cups of hemp vichyssoise.

It took quite a bit of convincing because of how sweaty and oily and sandy and hot and tired we were, but when I asked a helpful guy and found out that the famous Great Buddha of Kamakura was only 900 metres up the road, Hannes had to give in and agree to see it. I mean, we were right there! It would've been crazy not to go.

Kotoku-in was crowded, but it wasn't bad at all for a summer holiday weekend.

Now I've seen the two best-known Daibutsu in Japan, hooray

But, there are actually quite a few of them, so I've still got a long list devoid of checkmarks

You can also go inside the statue, which I'll file under mildly interesting and just as hot and oven-like as you'd expect a huge metal statue full of people to be on a hot summer day.

As we left, Hannes gave us the gift of one final sexy pose before the tropical foliage.

Definitely, definitely going back to Kamakura to find an actual beach soon. Definitely.