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The Omiya Chronicles

After a week in the city of Ogaki, the entire OIA (Oregon Intercultural Association) spent two hours en route to our final destination, Tokyo. I would be staying in the city of Omiya. Here I would remain for my final week in Japan…

These Omiya Chronicles are my personal accounts of my stay in Omiya, Japan. They follow my journey from the Shinkansen to the memorable city of Omiya to my departure from Japan at Narita airport. All accounts are accurate and nothing has been fabricated.

Entry 1 – June 28th Saitama City (Omiya) Living room

Sakoto is very nice. Her condo is equally nice.

While in Ogaki, I stayed in two fairly traditional Japanese houses; however, while in Omiya, I stayed in a more western-style condo. I didn’t mind the change, because even though it was of “western design” there was still a definite Japanese feel to it. The rest room was still separate from the shower, and the hallways were still narrow.

Japanese showers are a lot different than western showers. They are usually in rectangular rooms and separated by a door from the sink area (also, it isn’t uncommon for the washer and dryer to be in the same room as the sink). The shower itself usually includes a bath tub and shower area. Japanese shower heads are not fixed like most western ones, but are attached to hoses for more maneuverable cleaning.

Japanese baths are very hot and very relaxing. They are a lot like the onsen, just in a more confined and private area. If you can withstand the heat (probably upwards of 40 degrees Celsius), you are in for a real treat.

Entry 2 – June 29th Saitama City (Omiya) Living room

Today, we all (42) went on a wonderful “tour” of several famous spots in Tokyo. I say “tour” because it was more of Dr. Ozawa and Mr. Kora dropping us all off at a site and telling us when to return from wandering.
Ginza and Shibuya were all quick “look, see, say goodbye” stops.
Akiba (Akihabara) was overwhelming. Nathan and I wandered around (with “Pansy” and Andrew on our tails) up and down streets and alleys. We visited some very interesting shops. Gamers‘ first floor was open, but the other floors opened after 11AM (when we left). Nathan and I found a vending machine with Dr. Pepper–it was like a blessing from above.
Asakusa was a nice little (not really “little” in the true sense of the word) shopping area. I was on the hunt for an airsoft gun but failed to find anything better than 25MPS (about 75 FPS). I found a really nice (and cheap) Luck Cat change purse (with Kanji that Dr. Ozawa explained meant “have good fortune”).
Nathan, Andrew and I ate lunch at a nice small ramen shop. It was really nice and peaceful.
The densha (train) ride back was an experience. I am convinced that nothing is like riding a Tokyo densha. So many people in such a small area. Kat (Karin) and I shared several interesting conversations amass the dozens of people we were crammed between.

If you are short on time and want to see the famous spots of Tokyo, this isn’t a bad way to go about it. Using the Yamanote JR (Japanese Rail) line, you can hit all of Tokyo’s hotspots in one train line. Spending an hour or two in each location should give you enough time to experience why each place is special. However, don’t start an excursion like this until after 10:30AM. That way most shops will be open when you arrive at a location.

Japanese trains (“densha”) during rush hour are crowded…very crowded. You will probably be squished between dozen of strangers, but don’t worry about getting trapped in the train by hoards of your fellow passengers. The crowd will usually part away from the doors to let off-going and on-coming passengers on.

Traveling Tip #4: When traveling in Japan, don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path to find lunch. You might just find a nice (and cheap) family owned restaurant stuck in the middle of nowhere between a print shop and a toy store.

Entry 3 – August 1st Saitama City (Omiya) Bedroom 12:04AM

Just got back from a long day. I spent all day in Akiba with Andrew, Nathan, Teasha and Cynthia. It was really fun.
I purchased a Gun Shell model, a manga anthology, the second Fullmetal Alchemist art book and a KSC Glock17C semi-automatic gas blowback hand gun (airsoft of course).
I’m glad I finally made my big purchase… but I am probably going to have to buy a second suitcase, which will give me double the space and double the trouble on the way home.
Maid cafés are a waste of money.
Went to see Death Note (the movie, part 1) with my host mom and sister. It was pretty good, but the director took creative liberties with certain contents of Death Note.
Japanese movie theaters are pretty (dare I say it) amazing. Huge viewing rooms and everything is super clean. Their previews and their before-previews are pretty dull…with the exception of the Movix hippos acting out all the “do not…” rules.
Met my host father for the first time tonight (last night technically). He is cool, speaks lil’ English.

Akihabara, the modern Otaku Mecca, the “Electric City” inside Tokyo, one of the coolest locations in all of Japan. I’m glad I spent the majority of the day here, because that was the perfect time needed to see it all (or almost all). Tips to Akiba:
1. Arrive in Akihabara after 11AM. I’ve mentioned this before: most shops in Japan don’t open up until 10:30AM. Also, the Gamers’ upper levels don’t open until 11AM. While the first floor of Gamers is perfect for catching up on the most up-to-date manga anthologies, the upper floors are a must see.
2. Travel with a friend (if available). Akihabara is a fun place to hang out, but if you don’t have anyone to discus the cool model you just found or that rare manga volume you snagged, it loses its appeal fast.
3. Don’t be afraid to explore. There are a lot of cool stores on the main streets of Akiba, but you’ll be missing out if you don’t explore their higher floors or the alley ways between each tall building. To find the special item I was after, I ended up almost leaving the Akihabara area entirely.
4. Remember where the main streets are. When you explore, make sure you know how to get back to at least one of the main streets. If you have to be back somewhere at a certain time, you will only waste time if you don’t know where you are in relation with the main drag.
5. When in a special store (those for adults), remember this: The higher you go up, the worse it gets. On that note, don’t be surprised if you walk into one of these shops on accident, most aren’t marked with giant disclaimer signs. Also, the basement floor of most anime-related shops are special levels.
6. Eat at Mr. Donut. Located on one of the main streets (I don’t recall which), Mr. Donut is a nice two-story donut shop. Their donuts are really good, and it is a nice place to catch breakfast before you start to shop.

That night, after I returned from Akiba, my host mother, sister and I went to go see the first Death Note movie. The movie itself was pretty good, but what really caught my attention was the movie theater itself. The theater was huge, and I’ve been to “huge” theaters in the past, but this theater was much larger. The screening room made me feel like I was sitting in a giant amphitheater, and the screen was proportionate with the grandeur.

Entry 4 – August 1st Saitama City (Omiya) Bedroom

I spent all of today out with the Inoues. We went to Harajuku. The fashion was amazing, a lot better than what you see in America.
We ate at an “all you can eat in 90 minutes” place. It was a cool “Japanese Pizza” restaurant. There seems to be trends in Japanese restaurants to have the patrons cook their own food.
After that, Aya and Yukapa went home while Satoko and I went to meet a friend of Satoko’s. We went to Karaoke and I sung some Bon Jovi, Linkin Park, ELO and Elvis. I even sang Sinatra’s original “Fly Me to the Moon”.
From there we went to Satako’s friend’s house for a sushi party. Satoko, her friend, her friend’s husband and two other guys have all been friends for over 30 years. They all went to the same Japanese school in Singapore.
They were a cool bunch, really funny and they all spoke really good English.
The train ride home was interesting. It is funny to see all the drunk Japanese men and Gaijin (“foreigners”) on the trains late at night.

Harajuku fits perfectly on the list of “must-sees”. Even if you aren’t a patron of fashion (which I’m really not) you will enjoy the sights of the tiny fashion shops and the fashionably dressed Japanese teenagers. If you are a fan of fashion, your mind will explode at the sight of any Harajuku street.

Karaoke in Japan is not like karaoke in the States. You and your party have a private room to sing in (different from most stage-oriented karaoke bars in America). Some, like the one I visited in Saitama, have a food and drink ordering service. As for the karaoke machine itself, expect the top of the line control and mic set up. Catalogs of thousands of songs await you, and all it takes is a code punch-in to access your desired song. Don’t be embarrassed to sing, just do it (same principle applies here as was with the onsen, everyone does it).

The late night train ride isn’t as crowded as a rush hour ride, but the percentage of drunken passengers sure increases. You will even see some drunken Gaijin (“foreigners”) making their way home from the local bars. It is best to not interact with these folk and just mind your own business. Oh, watching 3 subordinates carry their drunk boss home is a hilarious sight.

Entry 5 – August 2nd Saitama City (Omiya) Bedroom

Today was another free day with the Inoues. However, Aya was studying all day, so she didn’t join us.
We went to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. This was another amazing place. The exhibits were all very interesting. The museum itself was colossus. 7 stores high and elevated off the foundation.
For dinner tonight we had Singapore Chicken. It was really good, I am going to miss Satoko’s cooking.
I am going to miss Japan…
I still have to pack…

The Edo-Tokyo Museum is an optional sight on the “must-see” list. It is a really cool museum, but it would probably only interest the history buffs among us (needless to say, I enjoyed it).

I miss Japan. It really isn’t anymore simple than that. I miss Japan like an alcoholic misses alcohol. I long to return; I long to see all the people and friends I met there again. Japan really left its impression on me, an impression that will probably never leave me. The experiences I had there were one of a kind, and I made some irreplaceable memories.

If you wish to travel to Japan, do it. Do it now. The sooner the better, I say.

Written by: Kurier

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