Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Brother in Japan!

Hello again!

Next in my series of brother came to Japan! I have two older brothers. My oldest brother James came to visit me for a week and a half in late April. A coworker/friend of his, Mark, had visited Japan many times, so he came along too. That was good because he was able to help James book accommodation and he knew how to get around quite well. James arrived on Friday, so after school on Friday I trained in to Tokyo to meet him and Mark.

We stayed at a hotel in Asakusa that weekend. On Saturday we went to Tokyo Tower, which James really enjoyed. It was my first time going there too. I was really surprised that the line wasn't as long as I had been told, but we did get there only a little while after it opened. We actually walked there from our hotel, which was a really nice walk.

Me and James, and a cat.

An entertaining sign we saw on our walk to the Sky Tree.
The Sky Tree, from a distance!

Breathtaking view from inside the Sky Tree.

James snapped this shot of me with Tokyo in the background. :)
After that, we decided to go for a walk to explore the Emperors palace. Actually you can only walk around the outside of it, but it was a really nice walk. I was wearing a step counter that day, and by the end of the day I had walked the most steps I ever have whilst wearing it! We basically walked all around Tokyo, haha.

That night, we went to a restaurant in Roppongi called "Gonpachi". I've been to this restaurant three times now, and I definitely recommend it, although you will need to make a reservation. We didn't, so we had to eat at the bar, but that was still okay. The restaurant is famous for having inspired a scene in Quentin Tarantino's movie Kill Bill. I haven't seen the movie yet, but the people I've taken who have seen it usually recognise it and remember the scene. It's a great venue to taken photos in, and the food is also really delicious. I recommend their soba and alcoholic drinks. They have a good range of beers which the guys enjoyed trying, and I enjoyed umeshu (plum wine) and black sugar umeshu. The sashimi for me was a bit hit or miss. One time it was good, but another night I tried it they were apparently selling out, and we got stuff that had obviously been frozen and thawed out - and it wasn't thawed enough! This time we all ordered soba and tempura, and it was all very good.

Gonpachi restaurant.
On Sunday we visited Yoyogi Park, Harajuku, and Shibuya. James was happy with a visit to the Tower Records shop in Shibuya, where he bought a few albums which had special Japan-only bonus tracks which he'd been after. Did you know that Shibuya's Tower Records is the largest CD store in the world? I sure didn't! We found out a while after we had visited it. It is a huge store, but I guess since everything in Shibuya is huge, I hadn't really noticed that it was especially big.  I bought the Japanese version of Lorde's album Pure Heroine, and a best of Bobby Darin album while we were there. It was generally a more chilled out day, although we still did loads of walking and we were truly tired by the end.

James and I with some locals in Harajuku.

Visiting the Hachiko statue in Shibuya.
I went home on Sunday night to go back to work that week. James and his friend went south with the help of their Japan Rail Passes. On my recommendation, they visited Hiroshima and Kyoto. It turned out some of James' old coworkers happened to be visiting Japan at the same time, so luckily he got to meet up with them for dinner one night! It sure is a small world - especially for Kiwis. James came back to Tokyo on Thursday night. That night he stayed in a capsule hotel, a dream I've still yet to accomplish myself. Check out this photo of his accommodation!

He said it was pretty comfortable!
Friday was ANZAC Day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps), which is an important day for Kiwis and Aussies to remember those who have been affected by war. All over Australia and New Zealand, people get up early to attend a dawn service in remembrance. There are no dawn services in Japan, but I did get up at about 4:30am to catch the first train from Utsunomiya to Tokyo to meet James. So, as I was biking along the quiet streets of Utsunomiya with the sun rising around me, I took some time to reflect on it myself. It was a good way to spend the morning.

I met James at Shinjuku station, and from there, we went to a place he'd been looking forward to going to for a long time...Fuji Q Highland!

Just some of the roller coaster madness going on at Fuji Q.
For those of you who don't know Fuji Q Highland, it's a theme park near Mount Fuji. You can see Mount Fuji from many places in the park, and there's even a special viewing platform where you can get a really good photo with it in the background. Here's my shot with James:

Fuji Q Highland is famous for its four amazing roller coasters. They're pretty impressive. One held the record for the highest drop for many years, another holds the record for the steepest decline, and another is very high in the records for speed. I had been to Fuji Q once before with three JET friends months ago, which was when I told James about it. He was determined to go ever since! When I went the first time, the lines were so long (3 hours at least *_*) that I was only able to go on two roller coasters. This time, we got to the park about half an hour after opening (hence why I had to get up so early, it's about a 4 hour trip from Utsu), and there were NO lines for most of the day. It was fantastic! We got to go on all four roller coasters, and loads of other rides.

The first roller coaster we tried was the most heart-stopping. I totally shocked James, because I only seemed a little nervous in the line, and when we first got in the ride. That's because I didn't know what was coming! Once we were strapped in, we realised the horrifying truth - the roller coaster started off backwards! We slowly climbed the massive track, with no idea of what was coming up behind us. In the ride's defence, we did get a spectacular view of the town and the rest of the park whilst the roller coaster went slowly up. But I couldn't help it. I was getting more and more nervous, not knowing what was coming up. James couldn't help laughing (a little nervously, too!) as I rambled on about how scared I was. When suddenly - ! The roller coaster went down a drop, staying backwards. But the drop had been tiny! It wasn't scary at all.
"Oh." I said to James. After all the anxiety, I felt relieved, but a bit disappointed. "That wasn't so..."
And then I screamed non-stop for about the next two minutes. The roller coaster went down a HUGE drop, backwards, and then upside down and backwards! The roller coaster was able to rotate forwards and backwards, so at times we were facing the way we were going, then suddenly we would be flipped upside down or backwards again, all at breakneck speed. It was terrifying...and so much fun! I think we both just clung on for dear life, and, like I said, I screamed the whole time and possibly burst the other passenger's ear drums. I'm glad we did this roller coaster first - nothing seemed quite as scary after it. I don't know if I could ever summon up the nerve to do it again though, knowing now how crazy it is!

Like I said, we got to do all the other roller coasters, two of which I had done before. We also visited Thomas Town - a small part of the park dedicated to Thomas the Tank Engine, which James likes (it's very nostalgic). We took Thomas themed purikura (photobooth photos) there, and rode a tiny Thomas train. James got some souveneirs (there's a tank engine called James, so he got one of those of course) from the gift shop. Later on, we also rode a cute Hamtaro ride, a water ride, a tower of terror type ride, and many others. The four hour trip (for me, anyway) was definitely worth it, and we were able to make the most of the whole day. We got back to Utsunomiya very late that night!

Thomas Town purikura!
On Saturday, we decided to see a sports game. James had not only tracked down Tochigi's soccer team, Tochigi SC, but he had also checked out their upcoming games, and found one on that Saturday. From what I could see online it seemed that there was a shuttle bus going from Utsunomiya station to the sports ground, so we decided to head down and try find it. We asked at the Utsunomiya station tourist help desk (they are always lovely by the way, if you're ever in Utsu and a bit lost, give them a shot! The people working there don't always speak a lot of English, but they really try their best and will show you maps and draw a route on it and everything). They told us where the bus was, and we were able to find it. It was a beautiful (see: hot!) day. We got to the sports ground, bought tickets and food, and sat down to enjoy the soccer game. It was such a fun and relaxing outing! I'm really thankful to James for thinking of it. Unfortunately, Tochigi SC lost against the Hollyhocks, but it was still fun to watch, and James and I bought some merchandise and now consider ourselves proper Tochigi SC fans. I haven't managed to make it back to another game yet, but James keeps track of their wins and losses from their website, and updates me haha.

James took this awesome panorama at the Tochigi SC game.
On Sunday, we did some casual souveneir shopping (and arcade-gaming) around Utsunomiya. Then on James' last day, Monday, we just explored Tokyo a little bit for one last time. We had a great lunch at a Hard Rock Cafe, and just walked around a few random places. I think he had a fun time in Japan overall! It was very sad saying goodbye to him.

Bye, James!
Thanks for visiting, James! I hope you can come back sometime :)

- Annabelle


  1. Geez that brother of yours is a total hunk!

    That was so nice to read, brought back memories of bits I'd forgotten and I was laughing out loud at the roller coaster account! I was nervous ... coz I had a huge hangover and for some reason was convinced my heart was going to give out and that would be the end of me haha.

    But how are you meant to know if you have a heart condition if you've never had a heart attack before, huh? Answer me that!!! haha

    1. :P !

      I'm glad you enjoyed reading it :) These posts are one of the best ways to remember all the fun things I do when people come visit! Hahaha, well that's probably the most stressful situation you could have put your heart in to date and you came out alright - so now you can take on anything with no fear!

      Hope you get to return here for another spot on the blog :)


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I've been a high school English language teacher on the JET Programme since August 2013. Read about my experiences, advice on being accepted into the JET Programme, and travel tips around Japan on my blog:


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