Haruhi and Kyon Take Tokyo 
       I think it’s painfully clear to many that I love Japan. No matter what happens throughout the rest of my life, I will cherish my time in the land of the Rising Sun. One part of that love affair has been my trips to Tokyo. It has to be the coolest place I have ever been and doubt it could be topped. No matter how many times I go, I always find something new and fall in love all over again. The experience also changes with the company you keep. Experiencing the city through other people’s eyes, or just on my own, revels new secrets and brings forth new adventures. Never was this truer than a trip for New Years and to reunite with one of my closest friends. It was finally time to unleash the power of Haruhi and Kyon on the city of Tokyo.
    I have known Sarah for many years at this point. We met at work when she moved to Eugene for school. We became good friends right off the bat. She hooked me up with her roommate (Yeah, I made a mess out of that one. Sorry Sami). Sarah was the one who talked me into going to my first anime convention and trying cosplay. Once you share a hotel with 10 to 13 people at a con, you are bonded for life. She even got me to apply for a teaching job in Japan for the first time. That interview went so bad, I didn’t apply again for several years. That said, Sarah got the job and moved to Sapporo for a few years. She returned and a year or so later, I started my life in Minami-Alps.
    Sarah’s experience in Japan has been a great resource for me. She is very honest about things. Very, very honest. While everyone was super positive about me going, she offered the down to earth counterpoint to many situations. It helped me be more prepared for life in Japan. She wanted to prepare me for the culture shock as much as possible. There was no way to be completely prepared. In many ways, I’m glad I wasn’t. That said, her insight was truly helpful and I will be forever grateful for that. One thing she brought to my attention was home sickness over the holidays. She was 100% correct, it was worse during that time of year. To counteract this, she suggested that she come and visit. I had a few weeks off during the winter and was more than happy to have an adventure.
    Once time rolled around for Sarah to arrive, I was in need of some cheer. Sarah flew in on Thursday, I would catch the bus into Tokyo the next day. The trip had a bit of an auspicious start when the airline forgot to transfer Sarah’s luggage. It wouldn’t arrive until late the next day. But everything was still set for us to meet on Friday. The plan was to meet in Harajuku after I arrived, as I still had to wait to check into my hotel. I got off the bus, grabbed a train and exited the station by the entrance to Yoyogi Park. What I failed to realize was that there was a second exit to the station, right at Takeshita Street. So I walked a couple blocks down and finally found the famous street. Now it was time to find my friend on one of the worlds most crowded streets. All the more fun, I get to make my way through this mass of humanity with luggage. I gently made my way down the street, until I emerged at the other end 15 minutes later. It’s only a few blocks long. It’s at this point I find out that Sarah is back at the beginning of the street. So once more into the breech I went until finally seeing my friend. She had no problems seeing me, my Portland Timbers hat raising well above the rest of the crowd.
    Deciding that we had enough of Takeshita Street for today (we’ll be back), we set off in search of a dish Haruhi had been telling me about for years, soup curry. A product of Indian cuisine, soup curry is just as it sounds, curry flavored soup. We couldn’t find the restaurant she had been to in Harajuku, so we walked to Shibuya and found a restaurant there. I will say, soup curry is fairly good. Not exactly my favorite food of the trip, but still tasty. Sarah said the other restaurant was better. I questioned if it ever existed. After dropping off my stuff at my hotel, we decided to hit up Ikebukuro. This sentence was said often during the week. Come to find out, Ikebukuro is amazing. I hadn’t explored the ward all that much before. On that night, we decided to hit up J-World (an amusement park in a mall based on Shonen Jump manga). It was the evening, so prices were reduced and there weren’t many people there. J-World mainly focuses on their big three properties: One Piece, Naruto and Dragon Ball. The One Piece and Naruto stuff is fun, but I have been a huge Dragon Ball fan for over 20 years. Getting to ride the Flying Nimbus and throw Kamehamehas with Goku never gets old. Nick and I had checked this place out in March, but it was still a hoot. Also, in the café there, I got a roast beef and potato salad sundae. It’s about the most grotesque thing you will see, but damn it was good.
    The next day brought us to the Promised Land, Akihabara. I have visited Akiba several times over the year and it never gets old. And with Haruhi as my guide, the epicenes of visit was even greater. We started with brunch at the Square Enix Café, Sarah seeking anything Kingdom Hearts related. Unfortunately for her, the promotions at the time were focusing on the latest Dragon Quest game. Of the three theme cafes we hit in 36 hours, it was easily the least impressive. Then again, the only Square Enix game I ever finished was Final Fantasy XV. From there, it was off to the nerd equivalent to the casino, arcade crane games. You don’t play thinking you’re going to win, you only play with what you’re willing to lose, you’re ecstatic when you win and rules one and two are easily thrown out the window when you get hooked. I came into the trip on a bit of a hot streak. I had won two prizes on only three plays back in Minami Alps the week prior, taking home a set of Dragon Balls and a stuffed animal for my niece. The trip continued to go well thanks to one of the Sega employees flirting with Sarah. He basically gave us two wins. Our luck would start to subside as the week went along, but we still made out like bandits during our trip.   
     As we started to get toward lunch time, Haruhi decided we should follow her intuition and see where it would lead us. Little did we know, it would lead us to finding out that they had reopened the Cowboy Bebop Café for a second session. To say I was ecstatic is a complete understatement.  I had visited the café during its original run back in May. Cowboy Bebop is my favorite piece of media (Movies, TV Shows, Plays, Albums, and Books) ever created. I started a blog post about it, but realized I would need years and hundreds of pages to get all of my points across. As for this trip, some Rocket Noodles, a couple Cuba libres called Vicious and a full set of pilsner glasses later, I felt like life couldn’t be better. How wrong I was.
     After a few more hours enjoying our pilgrimage, we decided to cap off the day in Shibuya. It was this ever popular part of the city that housed a restaurant Sarah had frequented during her time in Sapporo. She ranted and raved about how cool this place was. I was not disappointed. And as I sit here, I find myself with the unconscionable task to explain the greatness of Hanbey. Hakuri Tabai Hanbey is a restaurant esthetically built to mimic the early Showa Era (mainly the 1940’s and 1950’s). Toys and advertisements adorn the walls, as do old movie posters. The air is filled with music of the era, the punctuation of a radio announcer calling a home run and a performance by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra drawing you further down the rabbit hole. We were escorted to the party giant back rooms, full of large groups and friends partying. You had to remove your shoes, as the seats were ground level. Thank goodness they have space dug out under the tables for your feet. The food ranges from simple and traditional to outright novelty. I was hooked on the yakitori for 50¥ a pop and the various types of gyoza. The ability to get a beer the size of my head is a nice touch as well. As should be expected in such a situation, Haruhi took to ordering things, making sure not to let me know what was coming until after. Luckily, most of this came as veggies and tofu. Next came the corned beef, still in the tin. This is like an initiation ceremony to those uninitiated to the ways of Hanbey. I picked up the tin of meat, figuring this should be easy enough to open. Japan does a great job humbling ones ego. That said, I honestly think I could have gotten into the can my way, but the “correct way” was probably less messy. Also, why did it take me 35 years to try this stuff? That is one damn tasty treat. The lively, fun atmosphere only added to the experience. We thought about trying to join one of the groups, mainly after we polished off that fish bowl, but we alas had found ourselves at last call at that point.
     The next day was a bit lower key. We delved more into Ikebukuro, focusing on the whims of Sarah. We hit up a pop up café for a game that she likes before searching for a couple of stores that cater to her specific fashion taste. We then hit up a tabehodai for some yakiniku. An unending stream of pork, beef and vegetables that you cook on the grill in the middle of your table. You have complete control on seasoning and cooking time. The brilliant experience was made epic upon finding fatty pork and the marbled beef with spicy miso sauce. The flavor was so good, I started putting the sauce on the grilled onions and squash as well (mainly because we burnt the squash).
     From there, we found a different amusement park inside of Sunshine City called Namja Town. I think my family would love this place, its mascots are cats. We had four main events here. Sarah took the first event, based around a spooky quiz in a haunted town. It was a really fun and the atmosphere was really well done. That said, everything was in Japanese and Sarah can read far more kanji then I can. I rallied in the next two events. First, I was able to raise my egg containing a spirit bird far better than she could. Watching all the Yu Yu Hakusho payed off. Next, I somehow caught one more ghost then Haruhi, proving that I was the superior buster. I explained to her that busting, indeed, makes me feel good. That left us with one event and I had this one in the bag. It was a multiplayer virtual fishing game. The guy running the game was way too eager to use every last bit of English he knew in the introduction. The game commenced and I indeed was dominating the friendly rivalry. I was calm and patient, trying my best not to reel in too fast. Yeah, don’t bring logic to an over the top video game. As the game reached its zenith, the massive legendaries appeared. I hooked four high level sharks, every time breaking the line as they lay on my net. Sarah caught two legendary behemoths, catapulting her to being grand champion (we will not discuss where I ended up).
     After taking a minute to rack my brain on the events that just occurred, I realized I needed a drink. With Haruhi in agreement, we decided it was time for nomihodai. And what better place to drink all that you want then at karaoke. We found a brilliant place nearby with the all you can drink option and rocked out like it was a road trip to Seattle. I found two things that night I now must have at karaoke: kalua milk and Golden Bomber with English lyrics. The translated lyrics to めめしくて are hilarious and only made me a bigger fan of this “band”. I caught the last train back to my hotel, the day rolling over to New Year’s Eve. The next four days would bring some amazing experiences and some unexpected meetings. The epic adventure of Haruhi and Kyon in Tokyo had just begun.

To Be Continued

​   It was finally time to unleash the power of Haruhi and Kyon on the city of Tokyo.

Jeff Maack