Japan 2010 Chronicle - December 22
Up in the morning to check out a bridge. No, this wasn't a survey to find the weak points in the bridge, but there is a bridge used for a number of backgrounds in Fate/stay night. In the game, it is Fuyuki Bridge, I believe. In real life, it's Kobe Bridge. It isn't the most spectacular bridge in the city (we didn't check out "that other one") but as a pilgrimage it had to be visited. Checking it out had been on the schedule since the plans first fell together.
[TODO Figure: Bridge pic from game] [TODO Figure: Bridge pic from real life]
Finding the Port Liner was a bit of an ordeal at first. As our hotel was nearest the West exit of Sannomiya Station, we naturally entered the station from that end, and the amount of signage in the area is dismal. Instructions I had read simply said to follow the signs to the Port Liner, but there were none. On thinking, "what would another tourist do?", we ended up concluding that they may have been staying in another area and taken the train to Sannomiya Station themselves - in which case they would probably have been exiting the central gates when they arrived - and indeed, the signs to the Port Liner were in that area.
The Port Liner is one of those fancy automated guideway transit systems. I didn't realise this at the time, but I discovered it while looking up the Yurikamome after the trip. The primary job of the Port Liner is to take people from the centre of the city to the domestic airport, but we were getting off just a few stops down the line at Naka Kōen.
At Naka Kōen (which you can take to mean Central Park), you take the bridge down into Port Island Central Park, and follow the signs to Port Island North Park (Kita Kōen), which involves a bit of walking on a walkway near the roads heading in and out of the bridge, so it is a bit noisy, as well as smelly. We still don't know what that smell was.
The globe that appears in the pic was found, and we took some slots from closer, as people seem to do when they follow this pilgrimage. :)
[TODO Figure: Globe]
The walking around was also captured on video camera, but I don't know if I will post any of it as it isn't really all that interesting. It took less than an hour to get to the bridge and get the shots, and very little time to get back. This was enough to nearly drain the video camera of its first battery, which I replaced on the way back to the station.
On the way back to the station, we saw some locals playing a curious game which looked like a cross between croquet (because of the hoops on the field) and golf (because of the putter-like equipment being used instead of a wooden mallet.) We were not sure what it was but which subsequent research would suggest that we were watching people play Gateball. The Wikipedia article suggests that it is a fast-paced game, but those guys were taking it pretty easy, so I figure they were just doing what you do on a weekend, killing time playing with their balls.
The Port Liner took us back to Sannomiya Station, at which point we headed out for the first day at the breweries. First stop was Uozaki Station. At this point we were following the standard tourist map to the brewing district. This is all fairly generic touristy stuff, so I will sum up the places and what I picked up, without going into a lot of detail.
Sakuramasamune Memorial Museum "Sakuraen" - had a nice display of various tools and enormous sake bottles. Bought a small bottle of namazake for Y353.
Hamafukutsuru Ginjo Kobo (brewery and souvenir shop) - had some interesting views into the brewing process, but ultimately ended up buying nothing here.
Kikumasamune Sake Museum - this place was very interesting. A huge array of equipment to look at, and a proper informational video (English version was available!) Bought a three-pack of small bottles of genshu, namazake and nigorizake, the whole set setting me back about Y1400.
Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum - I don't remember a lot about this one, except that it had a couple of levels and a lot of tools on display. This is where I ended up picking up some of the larger bottles of sake, their genshu, nigorizake and a 4-pack of amazake (OK, so this doesn't really count as sake - there is barely any alcohol in it. It was bought for new year drinking. :))
Lunch was skipped purely by accident, as it turned out to be pretty late by the time we got back to the hotel.
Dinner was at A-1, the main branch of which was just across from the hotel. 6500円 got us enough Kobe beef to fill us, plus a side of garlic rice and some sake to wash everything down with.
Service was perfect. Not sure if it's always like this or if it was because there were so few people there. The beef was the best I've ever tasted. The chefs cook the beef with flames so high you can feel the heat from across the room, and it's still sizzling when it arrives at the table. Best steakhouse ever.
A curious side-note here, that A-1 had a curious digestive aid called EBIOS at the table made by Asahi Breweries. It caught our attention early on in the meal, but one of the chefs urged us to take it after dinner. Well, OK. No problem. Later research showed that it was the product of some kind of perfect recycling program, utilising the yeast leftover from the brewing process.
I told sensei about the place too, and he had heard of it. It turns out that it has been around for a very long time, A-1, and is very famous in the area.
Somewhere in here we managed to do some rounds of the local Don Quixote (it was literally next door to the hotel) and also Tokyu Hands. We did have to find a power adapter in Donqui, but aside from that, both places were scoured mainly to try and find some random shit. Donqui had a surprisingly large number of sex toys, not necessarily logically arranged in the store - often we found them on the way into normal floors. At Tokyu Hands, Retro ended up buying this hideously hilarious horse mask.
After this there was a bit of time still, so we went looking for a figure shop someone on Twitter had told me was called Volks (making it an official branch of Volks' shops, I assume. Unless they were mistaken about the name.) It was marked on the map in one of the plazas just south of Sannomiya Station. After a bit of fidgeting trying to hone in on the GPS marker, we walked into an entire floor of otaku heaven.
On finding a used PC game shop, I wound up buying so many eroge that the store clerk offered to help me unload my armful of stuff. He then proceeded to help me find a bunch of other titles on my list. He was a really helpful guy! :) Prices were below what my budget was predicting (it was a second hand shop, after all.) Some of the items had some damage but the price paid was worth it and I can always pirate a working copy if the disk isn't readable since I own a legitimate licence. Maybe better copies will appear somewhere else in the future.
There were other stores on the floor but some of them were already closed, so we figured we would hit it again the next day. Funnily enough the one store that we didn't find was that Volks store...
At some point after this we hit a random Lawson convenience store, planning to buy Ghibli tickets. The (extremely Japanese) ticket machine got the better of us. It said to swipe a credit card, but our cards didn't work. The Visa debit card not working was within my predictions, but my Travelex didn't work either. That was completely ridiculous, as the entire point of that card is to be travel funds anywhere in the world. But commonsense never applies in Japan.
The other worrying thing is that everything was booked out until about January 4 (the last day of the trip!) So we were shitting bricks, thinking we might lose our chance to go.
Later in the night I read a hint online that suggests that there is a printed slip of paper you're supposed to receive after the ticketing process. It turns out that what happened is, Lawson's instructions were out of date, and were from an era before the ticketing machine supported credit cards. So there are actually two paths through the ordering process!
For the next poor suckers who need to buy a ticket for the Ghibli Museum, this is how to do it:
- Follow steps 1-6 on the official Lawson instructions. This should take you up to choosing the number of tickets. However, at this point, an application form will not be printed!
- The next screen asks you something like, "do you have a supported payment card?" Even if you think the answer to this might be "yes", I will almost guarantee you that it is "no". So hit the 「いいえ」 button here. This takes you into the slow ordering process.
- Enter your name in Katakana. If you can't do this on the spot, figure it out before the trip to speed up the time it takes to order. Thankfully, only one name is needed on the order, even if there are multiple people.
- Enter a phone number. The system accepted 090-0000-0000 when I tried it. If you have a Japanese phone number, then enter that. The number of the hotel you are staying at is probably a wiser choice, I just didn't have it on me at the time.
- Finally, the system will ask you to confirm and will print your ticket. You take this to the counter and pay the clerk in cash, which will get you the tickets.
We picked up other snacks at about the same time. Midnight fare was coffee and a shady 105円 cheeseburger. I'm fairly sure this is where I bought the giant bag of Umaibō which lasted half of the trip. It was salami flavoured. Every time I ate some, Retro commented about actually being able to smell the salami, which must mean the flavour is pretty authentic.
The coffee was chugged and the snack was scarfed down, and followed by a mostly successful attempt to sleep for the next day.