Japan, Tattoo, and Other Shenanigans

So I think it has been maybe two years since I have been consistently writing. Writing on a touch screen just been so frustratingly slow that I give up a paragraph into most update attempts. I bartered with one of my team mates and now have an actual laptop – so here goes!

Catching Up:
img_5496In my last update, I was getting ready to leave for the UAEJJF Tokyo Grand Slam in July. I did end up with ladies in the 62 kg purple belt division and brought home a silver medal and some cash. I used the cash prize to book airfare and register for the Los Angeles Grand Slam.

I stuck loosely with my planned itinerary. I did end up making a day trip to Mt. Takkao and very much enjoyed exploring all the trails! I went up and down it twice using different routes each time. I left a couple of trails to enjoy on my next visit.

img_5598Instead of climbing Mt. Fuji, I ended up getting my tattoo done by an artist in Ueno named Horien (check out her Instagram!). I have watched her work for several years now and my confidence was high enough that I was not even worried about seeing the design before she put it on me. The result was better than I would have been able to imagine on my own! We just did the outline but will add on to it my next visit – it will be a half sleeve.

There was a lot of other details for this trip, I met a bunch of awesome people and ate a bunch of great food! But alas, for the sake of not being too long winded and boring (because seriously, who reads anything anymore anyways?), I’ve prepared a gallery containing some of my favorite photos of people, food, and sights!

Currently

My team is now prepping for the IBJJF Nashville Open coming up on November 17. Oh, and coach just gave me a new stripe on my belt – so there’s that as well!

On To The Photos!

July Japan Itinerary

It has been a very busy last few weeks! I am getting ready to compete at the IBJJF Nashville Open, and then leaving the week after that for the UAEJJF Tokyo Grand Slam event.

As of right now, I am registered for the master division at the Nashville Open. However, I have a team mate who may take over my spot and I’ll move to the adult division (I prefer it there anyhow!)

I am starting to stress a little bit over the lack of opponents signed up for the Tokyo Grand Slam. There are a good number of ladies signed up for the next weight class down, but I don’t think I could make 55 kg (121 lbs) without ending up in a hospital. A lot of jobs in Japan pay monthly at the end of the month, so I’m sure after payday there will be more people signing up! Worst case scenario, according to their guidebook purple belt ladies can be combined with the brown/black division; which would be a great opportunity for me to get a preview of things to come!

At any rate, this is my planned itinerary for the Japan trip.

July 22: Leave straight from work for the airport and catch the last flight of the day to L.A.

July 23: Depart from L.A. for Manila

July 24: Arriving in Manila in the evening, check into hotel and wander around for a few hours before passing out.

July 25: Depart Manila in the morning and arrive in Tokyo early afternoon. Check into hotel, shower, and walk around at an easy pace. Goal is to stay awake until at least 8 pm.

July 26: Take train to Kamakura, enjoy the beach and the local sights. Goal is to get enough sun to help reset my internal clock, without getting burnt.

July 27: Hike Mt. Takkao and just wander around in the mountains. Might get some Onsen action.

July 28: Weigh ins are this evening. Activity levels leading up to weigh ins will depend on how my weight is after the hiking adventure the previous day. After weigh ins, I will eat Okonomiyaki and rest.

July 29: Competition day – gonna kick some butt! After competing I will go get a Waygu beef bowl and then visit Monster Ice for some shaved ice desert.

July 30: Take train to Kawaguchiko area and check into new hostel. Explore the five lakes area and take in the scenery.

July 31: Get up early to catch the first bus to the Mt. Fuji 5th Station. Ascend at a leisurely pace and reach the summit mid-afternoon. Spend at least an hour at the summit before descending. Onsen time that evening.

August 1: Early afternoon departure flight from Tokyo to Manila. 4 hour layover before continuing on to L.A. – arriving late evening.

August 2: Flight back home to Nashville

August 3: Morning training, then back to work at my job in the afternoon. Caffeine may be required.

 

A few weeks after returning from this trip, I will be making an exciting career change. I have reactivated my Massage Therapy license and will be working out of my YMCA. I currently work at the front desk there and can’t be an employee and contractor at the same time – so I’ll be hitting the new gig full steam out the gate! My oldest nephew is planning to be visiting me around this time as well – so it will be an awesome month! So far I am planning to compete at the Master World Championships as well, but I will have to wait and see how business and finances are panning out around then.

Tokyo: Temples, Maids, and Studio Ghibli

Well I got pretty distracted and ended up not writing every evening like I had planned. Since I have several hours to kill at the airport while I wait for my flight to Taiwan, I’m going to play catch up now!

 

Wednesday: 
I scheduled a tour of the Asakusa area with someone I found on the Meetrip.to website (I highly recommend them if you are traveling in the East Asia area!) 

I managed to make a doofus of myself by messing up my directions. I got off of the train station at exit #9 when I was supposed to meet her at exit 1. Of course, I just kept plodding along. A few mishaps later, I found her and we went to Senso-ji temple which is riot outside of the train station.

 

Touching the lantern gives you luck! I also got to draw a fortune, and I got “the best fortune” – so I am saving that!

Had some fresh made melon bread (amazing!) and then walked around a few smaller (and less crowded) temples and streets. We settled on a lunch of ramen.

 This was a broth based ramen, which means I have tried all three of the base ramen varieties. Broth, miso, and tonkotsu. My favorite has been the tonkotsu!

  
After lunch, we went to a place for karaoke. It was quite different from karaoke in the states! You rent out your own soundproof room by the hour. Ours had a killer sound system and flashing lights. You can also order food and drinks delivered to your room via your control pads. We had the room for two hours and it was a blast!

I was going to meet someone in Shibuya after this, but she ended up getting stuck at work, so I just went back to my room to sleep.

Thursday:

This was my geek out day! I finally got to go to the Studio Ghibli museum!!! Studio Ghibli could be considered the Walt Disney of Japanese animation… But I think they are better! Most well known films are Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro.

You have to purchase tickets a month in advance, and I was extremely thrilled to get mine when they went on sale last month! (They were sold out in half an hour!)

I traded my sticker for this amazing film strip entrance ticket upon arrival!

  
They don’t allow photos to be taken inside of the museum… But take how amazing that ticket is, and maybe you could get an inkling as to how magical the experience was!

  
I was unable to resist sneaking a selfie from one of the special exhibits… I know, I’m terrible… But it was a LIFE SIZED CAT BUS! Yes, the inside was super soft and squishy! If you haven’t watched “My Neighbor Totoro”, I’m sorry, you just won’t understand.

After spending about 5 hours at the museum, I went to the train station to meet my evening guide.

She took me around the Meiji shrine and I learned a lot of new things from her about the history of the area! She also took me through one of the older, pre-WWII era, neighborhoods. Seriously my favorite tour! I didn’t get too many photos because I was too enthralled with listening!

Friday:

Maid cafe!

  
I can guarantee that my lunch was cuter than yours!

 

It was great fun! I thought I might feel awkward, but I decided to just go with the flow and  enjoy the experience!
On guy was there by himself and was apparently embarrassed. When it was his time to get his photo taken with his maid, he looked like he wanted to run! I thought it was great fun and would definitely do it again!

Afterwards I met up with a fellow BJJ junkie to explore Akihabara. We ended up heading to Harajuku for shaved ice cream, and he approved!

He headed off to go get in line for the new Shoyoroll Gi release, and I headed off to the airport on the last train of the evening, arriving a little bit before midnight.

It turned out, I couldn’t check in to my 6 am flight until 2 1/2 hrs before departure. All of the outer lobby seats were taken, so I curled up on the tile floor behind a big plant and managed to sleep for a few hours until I was able to get checked in.

Now, I am wrapping this up because they are about to start boarding my flight! In just a few hours I will be in Taiwan for the first time! Apparently there is a typhoon going on so they are recommending we use the bathroom before boarding since we may not be able to move around on the flight. Sounds exciting!
   

Tokyo: Robots and Other Tall Tales

Yesterday was quite an interesting experience to say the least!

First order of business was to meet up with Frank. A mutual friend got us hooked up with one another and we decided to meet up at the life sized Gundam robot that guards the Diver City Tokyo Plaza in Odaiba.

  

Food was, of course, a necessity. I went with Takoyaki topped with egg (among other things)

  

Afterwards we wandered around for a little bit. This place was a huge, man made island with these wide open spaces that I had yet to experience anywhere in Tokyo!

  

The debate was then on as to where the next stop would be. I was wanting to go to Akihabara and nerd out until show time at the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. However we ended up heading directly toward Shinjuku instead.

At a train transfer point, something caught the eye and we headed for it. This. Was. Amazing.

  

If the style looks familiar to some of my fellow nerds, it is because this clock was designed by Studio Ghibli star producer, Miyazaki. The clock does a 4 minute show with the changing of the hour and we had just missed it. So we went in search of nearby nerdness to occupy time while waiting for the show. The show was worth the wait, AND I found this…


So! Much! Happy!

Sad I couldn’t get it! But it wouldn’t fit in my luggage allowance for the rest of my trip.

After that side trip, we arrived in Shinjuku with an extra hour to spare before we needed to check in for the show. So we wandered around a bit more…

 

So many Nicholles!

 

So finally it was time to check in for the show! This was something I had wanted to do last year, but I ran out of money and had to choose between the show, and my train ticket to the airport. It was a close call… But I had to do the responsible thing. This time, I made it! And man was it worth it!

This is what greeted us at the entrance! 

 
I would say that the show itself would be best described as: “Lisa Frank on LSD at Carnival in Rio.” I took some pictures… But mainly sat there the whole time with a cheesy grin on my face.  

 

We were on the front row in the center. It was really too close to take any good photos anyhow. Good problem!

Seriously an absolute MUST DO when in Tokyo! The show is campy and cheesy. They know it and work that angle to perfection!

  

After the show, we zoomed out for a quick bowl of Ramen before popping into an arcade. I’m not much for arcades so after about 10 minutes I said my goodbyes to Frank and headed off to wander up and down the streets of Kabukicho on my own.

  

Kabukicho is the closest thing Tokyo has to a red light district (that I know of), but it still felt way less sketchy than walking through my own neighborhood at night. (A sign I should maybe reevaluate a few things?)

  
I didn’t wander for too long since I was getting sleepy… so after about an hour I made my way back toward to my room and passed out.

My next adventure will begin in just a few hours as I make my way to meet a new friend in Asakusa! So ends this update as I need to go get ready! Make sure to follow my Instagram as I will be uploading photos in live time while exploring!

Tokyo – Shrines, Crepes, Pandas, and More

This trip has been so long in the making! I am trying to slow time down and enjoy myself – a strategy that seems to be working so far. I know that when I get back home it will seem to have just been a blink, and all I will have are memories. So I’m making sure they are memorable memories! This post is going to be a long one since I am playing catch up for a few days… I am making up for the length by including awesome photos!
I usually do formatting on the computer at home… so please forgive me if the layout isn’t on par with my norm!

Day 1: The Transit

   
Transit day was loooooooong and rough. I woke up at 6 am in Los Angeles, walked 1.5 miles to the bus stop, waited about 30 minutes past the scheduled bus arrival (expected in LA), and got to the airport a little after 8 am. 
I was unable to check in for my flight online or at the kiosk because apparently they had added my dog, Dante, to my reservation. That requires a check in at the special services counter. That line is usually slower than the regular check in line. Thankfully there was a staff member at the head of the line who got me taken care of so I was able to get checked in and to my gate on time.
My flight left at 10:30 am, was scheduled for 11 hrs, landing at 2:20 pm the same day. Gotta love time zone jumps! I had a window seat next to a couple who spoke about as much English as I speak Japanese (not much). I could pick out general words and slowly got better over the course of the trip. They believe I am a Judoka and I choked on the words to explain Jiu Jitsu… So we settled on Judo. I have some basic knowledge… Very basic knowledge…
  

The first half of the flight was uneventful beyond that. The second half however… Not so good since I managed to develop a terrible migraine. My newly adopted Japanese Auntie was concerned and I had to keep reassuring her “daijōbu desu”. She wasn’t convinced, especially when I had to zoom to the bathroom to puke. Mercifully I fell asleep and was woken up by an airline staff member to receive my breakfast meal. I couldn’t stomach any of it except the crackers and some sprite. Auntie of course noticed and kept offering me her food options (I had ordered a low sodium meal). It was nice to have someone taking care of me!
Upon departure, I thanked her profusely for her help, and then made my way through customs, picked up my mobile wifi unit, and then headed for my airbnb location in Tokyo. My head was most unpleasant and I had to lie down and try to sleep as soon as I arrived around 6 pm.

Day 2: The Great Explore
First order of business: coffee. My head was feeling much better after a solid 12 hours of shut eye.

  I climbed up a small hill near the train station to wait out morning rush hour. I thought it was a park, but it ended up being a neighborhood cemetary. I snapped a quick photo from the edge so as not to disturb anyone visiting.

  I consulted with my brother and determined to first visit the Meiji Shrine, followed by a crepe in Harajuku.

  

Thankfully the shrine wasn’t too busy, although I think I got there before the bulk of the tour groups. The main entrance gate was closed for what looked like some restoration work, but everything else was just as I had remembered it!  

Afterwards, I walked the length of Takeshita Dori to my favorite crepe shop, hidden in a corner on the outskirts of Harajuku.  

Fresh made crepe, macha (green tea) ice cream, a slice of macha cheesecake, whipped cream, white chocolate shavings, macha powder… yea, it was as good as it looks! 

After my crepe, I strolled down to Shibuya. It was relatively non-crowded at the crossing as I made my way to the Starbucks. I had my mind set on a macha frappe (notice a theme here?) but was distracted by their mango passionfruit offering and I just HAD to try it. it was fabulous!

My plan was to go to Akihabara next, but plans change! I made my way back up to Ueno Park and visited the zoo. They have two giant Pandas there and apparently it was feeding time because they were just sitting in their feeding rooms, chewing on bamboo sticks like bosses.

So ended my first full day in Tokyo. I rocked the mad hatter hairdo all day like a boss!

Day 2: Competition Venue

I spent most of the day at the competition venue. Had to get the lay of the land and watch the black belt ladies represent!

In Japan, everyone takes their shoes off at the entrance to the venue. Handy bathroom slippers are provided for use in the restroom – and you be nasty if you try to skip using them!


I have craved this treat since my visit last year! Coffee jelly (jello) in an espresso cream sauce! Oishii!


I like carbs on my carbs. It looks weird, but it is fresh and fabulous!


After leaving the venue, I thought a nice stroll in the Imperial Palace Gardens would be nice. unfortunately, it was closed when I arrived. So I settled for a walk around part of the perimeter before I decided to head back to get some rest for competing the next day.

Day 3: Competition Day!
Stay tuned! Follow my Instagram for my results as they happen! 5 hours from publishing this I will be warmed up and ready to rumble!

The Countdown is On

 

I have been pacing a lot today.

My packing and planning skills have left me with nothing to do today since everything is packed, everything is planned and printed off, I’m checked in for my flight tomorrow morning… So now I am making up things to do.

Currently I am letting a fresh batch of henna soak into my hair. It was just done a week ago, but I’ll take all the extra shininess I can get right now! Dante has been bathed and I am waiting for him to get picked up by the family watching him while I am gone. Hopefully after he gets picked up I will be heading over to a team mates house for a funky hairdo special just for this trip – I have no idea how it will look, but she has skills so I am going to trust her!

Tomorrow is going to be quite full! Flying to L.A., stopping by a shop to hopefully find a specific Gi, then heading over to train at New Breed Academy before checking into my airbnb place for the night. Flying to Tokyo Wednesday morning!

I will share the outcome tomorrow evening of all these pending events. For now, here is an applicable awesome song!

Planning for Japan

I know that I still have a while to wait (141 days!), but I like to plan ahead for my international trips. I will be leaving on September 6th for Tokyo, Japan and will be arriving in the afternoon of the 8th. So far, I have only booked the plane tickets but I have a lot of plans that I just haven’t solidified quite yet.

I hit a fare sale back in January and got my round trip airfare for about 2/3 the cost of my ticket last year. Granted, last year instead of paying out the cash for the ticket, one of my regular massage clients bartered with me for the airmiles. He and his wife are covered for the next years worth of massages, and I got a ticket to Japan – fare trade!

I will be staying overnight in Los Angeles on the 6th and will likely find a place to train that evening. If any bjj people have a spare couch or tatami, give me a holler!

Settling In:

IMG_5361I will most likely stay at the same guesthouse as I did last visit. The location was extremely convenient, good wifi connection, free tea/coffee/miso soup, and an on site onsen (bath house) – all for just about $20 per night.

I will arrive the day before the competition begins, so I will likely just collapse as soon as I arrive and wake up early the next morning. The 14 hour time difference is killer, but I adjusted pretty easily last visit with just a solid 12 hour sleep right off of the plane.

The Competition:

Last year, I competed on the second day of the event, but I popped by the venue in order to get my bearings, check my weight, and make sure I wouldn’t get lost. It was a little confusing making sure I got to the proper place since if you look it up online, it can lead you to the Nihon Budokan in Chiyoda, about a 30-45 minute train ride from the actual venue location. What you need to get to is the Tokyo Budokan in Ayase as shown below.

The venue is about a 8-10 minute walk from the Ayase train stop and is really quite easy to recognize.

Japan Budokan
Front Entrance
IMG_5641
Bathroom Slippers

One really nice thing about this venue, is that you don’t have to worry about people running into the bathroom without shoes on – since everyone takes their shoes off at the entrance. There are special slippers in the bathrooms that you will put on at the door before you go in to take care of your nervous pees and colon purges.
You can also

IMG_5731
Bathroom Noise Machine

press a button in each stall to play sound effects to cover the noise you would otherwise be making.

 

This is a Martial Arts specific venue. Expect to see people in Aikido and Japanese Jiu Jitsu uniform wandering around to check out what we are doing. There are vending machines with all kind of drinks – although I was desperate for just regular water and couldn’t seem to find it. There are no concessions stands, although there are many places to grab a bite to eat in the surrounding neighborhood. I opted for a bento meal from a convenience store.

IMG_5722
Podium Photo

Most of the announcements were done in English, although plenty of Portuguese was spoken as well as Japanese. I did discover upon checking in that they DO require females to wear a rash guard – which I understand based on what I know of the Japanese culture. It did put me into a minor panic since I was close on my weight (thank you bento box), but I was able to quickly purchase the smallest, lightest rashguard I could find, and I made weight.

 

Those are the only real differences in the competition that I could note as compared with the other events I have been to. I found, as a whole, the Japanese approach to Jiu Jitsu to be very precise and methodical.

Climbing Fujisama:

After I compete, I am planning an overnight climb of Mt. Fuji. The climbing season has not yet been set, but last year it extended for a few days after the competition.

I have not yet decided if I will do this on my own, or do it with a group. It would be more convenient with a group since all my expenses would be included and the entire thing would already be organized. However, it would cost a lot less to do it on my own. Still working on that.

If I go with a group, the first day we would go from Tokyo by coach to the base of the Mountian and then climb to the 7th station where we would then sleep for a few hours and adjust to the altitude. We would then start off late at night for the summit and reach the top in time for sunrise. After the hike back down, we would relax at the hot springs for a few hours before catching the coach back to Tokyo.

Korea?:

I realized recently, that Korea is only a couple hours from Tokyo by plane. Since I’m already that close, I figure I might as well hop a quick flight and see a whole new culture for a few days! I haven’t researched much so far since this is a new idea in my head, but I definitely want to make it happen. I want to eat some good food and train with some new BJJ people!

Kyoto:

I was extremely saddened last year that I wasn’t able to budget for a trip to Kyoto during my time in Japan. This time, I am for sure going to make it down – at least for a day trip! The Inari Shrine has been on my bucket list since before my trip last year!

Sumo:

IMG_5927
Opening Ceremony

Last year, I was able to attend a Sumo National Championship tournament. It was absolutely thrilling! It will be going on once again during this visit and I am trying to figure out how to get some really good seats. Last year I went with a tour group and we had bleacher seats, but
this time I want to be up close to the action! As far as I can find though, it looks like I need a Japanese address in order to buy tickets. I’ll buy from the tour again if I need to, but I would much rather pay for a good seat. If anyone in Japan happens to be reading this and wants to help me order, I would buy your ticket as well!

 

Exploration:

All that I have listed already would most likely be in my first week there. Then I will have a whole week left in order to explore, eat, and visit every Jiu Jitsu school I can find! I will also remember to bring a white Gi this time so I can train at the Kodokan.

I end this with a bunch of random photos from last years trip. Enjoy!