Sunday, May 31, 2015

Escape from Tokyo: Karuizawa

We had the chance to get out to the woods over the weekend by heading to Karuizawa for a wedding.  Karuizawa is an hour and twenty-minute bullet train ride from Tokyo.  This place is beautiful, set with a mountain backdrop and surrounded by forests.  To be honest, I've been here at least three times for my law firm's annual firm trip and not had the greatest times.  Of course, on those trips, lots of drinking the night with colleagues ends up with hung-over mornings where I try to escape on an early bullet train back to Tokyo.   Being here with the family is a bit different and much more fun.  Here are some selected pictures from our time out there over the weekend.
We took the 9:10 Asama bullet train out from Ueno.
All aboard!!!
Nothing wrong about starting at 9:30am...
Welcome to Karuizawa.
Wedding cake anyone?
Master chef preparing our fancy wedding meal.
Our beautiful salad.
Foie gras.
Cream of cabbage soup.
Wagyu beef.
A delicious dessert.
That was the wedding.  You need a car to get around where we stayed.  It was about 35 minutes from Karuizawa station.  Let's get some shots of our lodging.
Almost there...
Our second-floor cabin.
A little friend I rescued from the cabin.
Driving to the cabin and staying there reminded me of a childhood trip to Holland, Michigan with our family friends, the Murdoch's.  The cabin we went to in Karuizawa was much newer though.

We stayed at one cabin and rented another for a BBQ.
Full-sized gas grill... Oh yeah!!!
Watch out for bears!
No bears here...
Or here...
Wonderful little breakfast place.
Best pizza toast I've ever had.
I love Karuizawa!!!
 That's it for now guys.  Have a good weekend!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Star Wars Visions Exhibition/Gallery; Roppongi Hills; Disney Choco Eggs; Tokyo

We finally made it to the Star Wars Exhibition/Gallery that I talked about here.  I got really lucky on this one.  By chance, people who work at Roppongi Hills got free admission to the Star Wars Exhibition/Gallery on the top of the building, the 52nd Floor.  This special was only for a period of 4 consecutive days and ended today.  We could bring guests too, so I brought my family with me.  Usual admission to the gallery is 1800 yen (15 dollars) for adults and slightly less for kids.  We saved about 60 bucks with this special.  I went on Friday night too with a coworker on my team, being the Star Wars geek that I am.

Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed in the gallery.  They strongly enforced this rule and would approach anyone they suspected of taking a picture.  I was able to snap a few shots in the area before entering the actual gallery.  Here are some shots from the area where we were allowed to take pictures. 

Lord Vader himself.
Close up of Darth Vader.
More Vader.
Lots of stormtroopers.
The kids asked me what the Death Star was when they saw this above their heads.
Those pictures were from Friday night.  Here are the ones from today.  We went up top to the Sky Deck.  Make sure to take a picture fighting the life-sized Darth Vader (you can hold a light saber) if you go up to the Sky Deck.  We got one, but wifey would kill me if I posted it here.  Got this nice shot of Tokyo from the top of my building.
Here's what Mothra destroyed in Godzilla vs. the Thing, the Tokyo Tower.
Important reminder before entering the gallery.  Strangely, it was in slightly incorrect English.  You would think LFL would have approval rights over signs.
As stated earlier, we couldn't take pictures.  If we could, I'd post a million here.  In sum, if you are a Star Wars fan, you must visit the Star Wars Visions Exhibition.  It's until the end of June.  Inside the gallery there was a museum of Star Wars props and costumes including light sabers, blasters, Ewoks, droids and Jawas.  They had actual costumes from all six movies.  The gallery also had new Star Wars artwork specially created for the exhibition, even a nude Aayla Secura painting which I ashamedly thought was hot.  They also had models from various battles in the films, a mini showdown between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan and Qui Gon Jin and a 1/4 scale Jabba the Hutt.  There were T.V. screens throughout the gallery showcasing great scenes from the movies.  Finally there was a large souvenir shop which we had to wait 20 minutes to get in.  After visiting the exhibition, I can't wait to see Episode 7 in December.  Even my little one wants to watch all of the movies now.

They added a Baymax stormtrooper helmet to the stormtrooper showcase on the first floor.  Here it is:
In other news, we got a few Disney Choco Eggs last night.  They are identical to Kinder Eggs.  Even the chocolate is the same.  This series is the best of all time though.  The only sucky figure in this series is Ursula.  So that's only like a 1 in 12 chance of being disappointed.  Here are some pictures of the eggs below.
You can find these at all convenience and grocery stores in Tokyo it seems.  They are about 200 yen or 2 bucks each.

Here's the egg.
The same waxy chocolate I remember from our Kinder Egg expeditions to Canada as a kid.
Tsum Tsum Mickey!!! Yeah!!!
Four winners out of four eggs: Tsum Tsum Minnie, Elsa, Hiro and Tsum Tsum Mickey.
Well that's it guys.  Have a good Sunday.  Make it out to the Star Wars Visions Exhibition and buy some Disney Choco Eggs if you can!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Odds and Ends; Aquatic Pets in Tokyo and the U.S.

The wife and the small one were a bit under the weather this week, so we didn't do much.  My mom is busy getting the house ready for the market, so I decided to blog on the past, decided to blog about the U.S. 

I'm a big tropical fish enthusiast and would love to have a large tank here.  Unfortunately, space is quite limited in my small apartment.  Further, somewhat frequent earthquakes complicate the situation.  Truth be said, the best indicator of an earthquake (especially if small) is to look at the fish tank.  If the water is moving back and forth, an earthquake occurred.  When the big 3/11 quake hit in 2011, our apartment was pretty much spared of damage.  However, the area around the tank was drenched.  With that in mind, a large tank could potentially be a huge mess in the case of a quake.  That doesn't stop me from dreaming of having a big tank though... I long for the days of traveling from tropical fish store to tropical fish store with my Uncle Jim when I was in the States. 

Anyhoo, here is my small Japanese fish tank. It's about five gallons.  The two inhabitants, Shiny and Flower, were obtained here in 2013.

Hi Shiny and Flower
Alright. Here was my tank in Chicago circa late 2007.
My buddies in the tank are in the next picture.
That's a beautiful 55 gallon tank.  I miss it so.  We couldn't even fit a tank this large here in the apartment.
The inhabitants of my tank? The kings of tropical fish, discus.
Somethings don't change though.  Here's my turtle in Japan.
Let's see... There's a dojo down the street... I can get katanas downtown. We just need some mutagen.
Here was my turtle in the States I donated to Uncle Jim before I left.
They are the same breed of stinkpot or musk turtles.  Luckily they only grow to four to five inches long, perfect for Japan.

Thanks for the read.  Next weekend we should be doing something more interesting!!! Have a good week.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Kura Sushi Revisted; Dragonball Z Prizes!; Tokyo

I've never understood the appeal of Dragon Ball, but I can't deny its popularity across the world.  My first experience with Dragon Ball was in college in the 90's.  One of my few college friends, Gambling Buddy Wu, was a huge fan and had Dragon Ball figures and comic books.  I had no idea what the heck Dragon Ball was other than being some funny Japanese thing.  Note that this was pre-Manga/Anime/Cosplay explosion.  When my days at U of I began, eBay and the internet were seemingly still in their infancies so Japanese stuff wasn't as popular or known.  Wu had been in Taiwan and Japan many times as a child and teen, so perhaps that's how he knew about Dragon Ball.

Well, to my girls' dismay, the prize in the Kura Sushi gatcha machine game was a Dragon Ball Z series of capsule prizes.  For a refresher about Kura Sushi, check here.    It took us about 25 plates of sushi to win one Dragon Ball Z prize.

Pick a plate or two.
Eat sushi, insert in slot, repeat four more times.
Upon every fifth plate, watch random Las Vegas type slot machine animation screen.  "Atari", which is above, means you win.  "Hazure" means you lose, which occurs like 80 percent of the time.
Look up at the gatcha machine dispenser if you get "Atari".
Watch capsule roll down (the orange ball).
Take capsule and pop it open like it's a coconut.
Look at prize and wonder WTF it is.
There you have it.  We got a magnet.  The figures looked cooler.  Neither of my girls cared though.  We ate 35 plates of sushi and got one prize.  Not so good odds.  The sushi was really good and affordable though.  I was able to treat my in-laws, and the total for the 6 of us was only 5,500 yen, which is about 50 bucks.  Try doing that in the States where some Korean or Chinese sushi shop owners (real Japanese sushi shops are not very common in the U.S.; if you want to find a real Japanese one, look for Japanese writing on the menu next to the English, and avoid sushi shops with the words Tokyo, samurai or Dragon Ball Z in the name of the shop) will charge you 4 times the amount for likely lower quality sushi (the above being said, I still highly recommend House of Kobe in Merrillville, Indiana; huge portions and the owners are absolutely wonderful). 

On a final note, Kura Sushi has the coolest self-serve tap beer machine, one of those only in Japan treasures.

Have a good one!!!