It was the most touristy trip I’ve taken to Japan in many years. Warning: Lots of words.
Our original itinerary: Fly Sunday, arrive Monday, meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, factory tour Thursday, meetings Friday, nothing Saturday or Sunday, meetings Monday and Tuesday, fly home late Wednesday afternoon (because there’s not an earlier flight). But, the group we needed to meet with for Tuesday bailed, and it was cheaper to stay in Japan for the day than to change our travel arrangements. Consequently, we had all day Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday with no plans, and half of Wednesday before we needed to get to the airport.
My colleague was Mr. I. He’s young, from a small town, and this was the first time he’s left the country (not counting Canada). He seemed to really enjoy the trip.
The meeting days were pretty much routine (aside from the excitement generated by massive upper management changes). Food and hosts were excellent, meetings were generally good, although occasionally baffling. We did have one unexpected interesting experience: After dinner on Friday night, we got to meet several of our colleagues at a bar for I-san’s “welcome home party” (he recently got back from a six-month trip to the cubical next to mine). It was… *ahem* …very evident that we were at a post-party gathering.
The factory tour was a little more interesting. We got to take the Shinkansen out to Utsunomiya. It’s surprising how smooth 240kph felt. Also, I was surprised that at 9:30 in the morning, the Shinkansen is apparently the place for retirees to hang out, chat, eat snacks, and drink beer and sake.
The factories themselves were very cool. We saw where a most of the calipers are made, starting from cutting the pieces out raw sheets of steel with laser cutting machines. They use my Vision measurement machines in some of the QA/QC steps. We saw where all the CMMs and any large Vision measurement machine [i.e. more than 600x600mm stage] is built. They were in the process of assembling a CMM with a measurement volume of 6m x 3m x 1.5m. I wish I knew what customer or type of parts that was for. That’s gigantic for a measurement machine. We also saw where all the scales are produced and most of the small tools’ electronic modules are assembled — the primary line is completely automated. Super cool to watch.
Saturday, I actually got to meet up with P-Dubs. He’s in Japan for three months or something near that duration, staying in Yokosuka. We had a busy itinerary of beer locations to visit. As always, I struggled to find things to do in between or before beer places I wanted to visit. So, we struggled through the train system to get to Yamashita Park in the morning, followed by Yokohama’s Chinatown, then found lunch at a food truck (doner kebab) near Yokohama Station before going to Thrash Zone.
Thrash Zone is a little local Yokohama craft beer brewery/bar. Their motto is “Extreme Beer Only”, and they’re reputed to cater primarily to locals and be somewhat cold (or flat out rude) to foreigners like us. They’re also (I think) thrash metal themed (at the very least, they’re metal). We got there only a bit after noon, so they weren’t very busy, and a live video of Bad Brains was playing at a surprisingly subdued volume. They were out of the two beers I was most interested in, but everything else I tried was either good or interesting. One IPA I would say was very good. Primarily, they serve their own beer, but they also had I think four American craft beers on tap. I was used as a prop in a selfie taken by what appeared to be a local metal band.
Then we went to the Baird Bashamichi Taproom, where we met with a friend of P-Dubs’ who has been living in the area for about a year and a half. We moved on to Charcoal Green for dinner, where my memory starts getting a little fuzzy. I do remember that dinner was very tasty and that the apple pie dessert was excellent. Then we went to Yokohama Bay Brewery, where I remember having an exceedingly bitter IPA — and if my palate, at that fatigue level, thought it was exceedingly bitter, it was super fucking bitter.
The next day, Mr. I and I got up early to go to Shibuya and visit Ichiran for a ramen breakfast. This is an excellent breakfast. I think Mr. I fell in love with it. The we met up with our Japanese friends, S-san and I-san, who took us out for exposure to “deep Japanese culture.” It was very generous of them to spend their Sunday with us, and pay for a lot of our food and drinks.
- First, I-san and S-san guided me through the steps to get a Suica pass. It’s awesome — no more staring blankly at walls of Japanese text trying to figure out how much the fare is to my destination!
- Train to Omote-Sando (one stop past Shibuya from the hotel), and walked through trendy downtown area and saw weird shops and weird stuff at normal shops.
- Yoyogi Park, a huge beautiful semi-wilderness area in the heart of Tokyo that also contains the Meiji-Jingu shrine. Monks there were soliciting donations to re-roof the shrine. S-san paid ~¥3000 (~$30) for a copper shingle, onto which the four of us wrote our names.
- Ueno Park (which I’ve visited before). It’s a large, beautiful park — but it was pouring. Mr. I and I looked crazy for not having or caring about umbrellas. I was impressed — people still were having picnics in the downpour, with varying degrees of success (one group put a tarp on the ground, and then stood in the puddles that formed on the tarp; another group hung their umbrellas upside down in trees and sat under them, which is temporary at best; others successfully contrived tent-like structures). We also ate street food (okonomiyaki, which I would describe as “pancake sandwich salad”) in a really ghetto tent area.
- Ikebukuro to see cosplay people. This was mostly a parenting move on S-san’s part — his daughter was there as a participant, and he delivered money and a spare battery for her phone. Walking back to the train, we ran across this restaurant, and it was a little awkward trying to explain why Mr. I and I thought it was so funny.
- Noborito, where we went to Craft Beer Moonlight. This was a tiny local brewery, with few or no concessions made for foreigners. Everything was in Japanese. They had a large selection of beers in the menu, but most of them were not currently available. They had a nice chart-menu on the wall, plotting the available beers on a darkness axis and a strength axis. After a couple beers there, we had to leave to make room for a group with a reservation.
- So, we went for dinner at Kirin City in Noborito (it’s a Kirin-owned franchise, I think, but I can’t find it). Beer was bland to mediocre, but food was good and we had a good time. The “mega” sized beer seems ridiculous when in front of S-san.
- The ride back to our stop was notable. Mr. I is a rock climber, and a random dude on the train was wearing a chalk bag on his pants. Mr. I and I were talking about it, and I-san decided to ask the random dude about it. No, he’s not a climber. He’s a sushi chef. I joked about him having sushi in his chalk bag, at which he acted surprised and pulled out a couple packages of sushi and gave them to us. Mr. I and I went to a convenience store to pick up chu-hi, and then went back to his hotel room to drink and eat the stranger-on-a-train sushi.
Monday was another day of meetings. Tuesday, we mostly chilled out. We had waffles for breakfast. Mr. I did some souvenir shopping. I got junk for the kids, and went to CoCo Curry for lunch. Later in the day, we headed out for what I really wanted to do. We went out to Ryogokyu station, wandered around and found some random Soba shop and had a cheap, delicious early dinner, and then went to Popeye.
I visited Popeye two years ago. It’s a world famous beer stop, which I visited two years ago (see previous post, which includes some pictures). I had a really good time then, and I had a really good time again. In fact, I met one of the same people this time that I met last time:
We also ran into a person we’d met previously at Thrash Zone. Apparently, this is the place for me to go to run into random Japan beer acquaintances. I’ll be back if I get a chance. Mr. I got to try Cantillon (I’m very impressed it was available), we had “Japanese soba-style spaghetti” (almost no resemblance to spaghetti). We made it home.
The next day, we went back to Ichiran for breakfast again (I told you Mr. I fell in love with it) and shopped a little at Shibuya before heading to the airport, where we shopped some more, had a simple lunch, and got on a plane to go home.
The end. Remember kids, it’s kind of cool to get free sushi from a stranger on a train in a foreign country!