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My trip to Japan 2023: Days 1 to 3

At last, I was able to fulfill my long awaited dream of going to Japan. I had been planning it for quite a while. I went with my close friend Raxki for Xmas season.

This post covers my first week of the trip, from December 19th to 25th.

Day 0: Travel shenanigans!

Before starting, I must make a small disclaimer: All of the pictures I’m showing were not taken with my good camera.

The reason for this is because simply put, I misplaced it while making my connection flight in Paris. Luckily, I was able to retrieve it on my way back, but because of this the quality of my pictures were not as good as I wanted. Sorry about that!

Other than that, for my first intercontinental flight, the process went very smoothly, although I did arrive about an hour later than scheduled.

I’ve met with my friend at the Nihonbashi bridge that welcomes people to the country at the airport, and went straight to our AirBnb that would become our base for the next 3 weeks. Despite the somewhat convoluted directions, we eventually found the place. That, and given the keycode to the locker with the key, which was in a neat little tin box, truly made it feel like a treasure quest.

Day 1: Ueno

Ueno Park
Lakeside in Ueno Park

The first day was a relaxed one, to settle in for the upcoming days. But we also had to go to Ueno to activate our JR Passes, as the office was closed when I arrived at Japan the day before.

We were very lucky to be at the very end of the time window to purchase our JR Passes before the price increase, which made the whole trip much more affordable.

Since we were already in Ueno, we took a calm stroll around the park next to the station, and visited a couple commercial areas there.

Sonic mini sanctuary
I found this Sonic stand in a toy store very charming for some reason.

One of the more notable things about this trip was Raxki’s main interest: Gundam. You’ll see it a bunch of times because it was the main reason he wanted to come here.

Gundam in Ueno


Yessss, I love Gundam! I’m wearing Kira’s outfit from Gundam SEED!

We didn’t do much this day, mostly because we spent a lot more time than we expected here, apart from the fact that we also needed time to get used to the complicated train system.

Apart from that, we also needed to keep it slow since the next two days would definitely drain our energy, so there was a need to conserve and recharge the little we had from the trip. Although jet lag was definitely not much of an issue.

Day 2: Fukuoka

We took two bullet trains all the way to the southernmost of the greater islands of Japan. We could have just gotten into just one directly, but our JR Pass didn’t cover the fastest trains.

A town close to the Shinkansen rails
As we got closer to the south, clouds would start showing up

As we got closer to the south, clouds would start showing up. By the time we reached Kyūshū island, it was snowing!

Outside of Fukuoka Station
The outside of Fukuoka Station. The snow was very light, so it was never caught on camera.

Who would’ve thought it could snow in a city with a latitude similar to the southernmost cities in Spain! It never snows there!


We didn’t have much of an opportunity to explore the city this day, however, because we arrived relatively late, and it started to get pretty dark after check-in.

Buses in Japan are certainly no-brainer once you get on one, but the faring system works just like any regular train there: The longer the distance, the more you have to pay, which can give one a bit of a headache when having to pay the exact amount. At least the buses here allow using an IC card.

After checking in our hotel, we went straight to The Gundam Base Side-F, where we’ve been for way more time than I planned. I didn’t mind much, however, because we didn’t have much to do this day anyway.

Fukuoka's Gundam Statue
The life size Gundam statue in the entrance to the LaLaPort shopping center. Raxki is in front of the promotional sign, to give you a sense of scale.

This is one of the 3 life-sized Gundam statues around in Japan —and we visited all of them. In all honesty, I originally didn’t plan to visit this one in particular, but it was rather a coincidence that it turned out to be in Fukuoka, and planned to go after the fact. I also bought my first (and only) Gunpla —or rather, Haropla— here.

Our next stop was Momochi Seaside Park, but it was already very late when we arrived, so we only had time to check the Fukuoka Tower. In photos such as this one is where the effects of my crappy phone’s camera start to really show.

Fukuoka Tower
The Fukuoka Tower with Xmas-themed lights

This tower was in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla!

Really? I had no idea! Not that I’m a big Godzilla fan, though.



When taking the bus back to the hotel, I noticed a couple things:

  1. There were a lot of Korean people, which made me think I was suddenly teleported to Seoul for a minute. But when I checked the world map, it made complete sense to me: South Korea is closest to Fukuoka than any other Japanese city, they’re relatively like right next to each other.

  2. The bus driver was extremely exhausted and his intonation made it seem like he was so sick of life that he basically was a soulless driver. I couldn’t help but giggle a bit because it sounded funny, but in all honesty, while I was expecting to see Japanese people deeply affected in the extremely exploiting work environment that is commonplace throughout the country, it still left me distraught and sad. This really contrasted with the previous bus driver we’d met, who was way more enthusiastic.

Back at the hotel, I specifically booked a special room which included an outdoor hot bath. Unfortunately, I set the water temperature so high that even when I acclimated my body in the shower’s hot water it burned my leg when I dipped in.

Hot bath
The hot tub in our hotel.

Next time, I think I will put cold and hot water in equal amounts…


Day 3: CyberConnect2

My main reason to go to Fukuoka was to visit a small-medium Japanese game studio which I’ve been following for a while. Despite being close to the New Year holidays, the company was able to schedule a company visit with an interpreter.

But before our appointment, we had some time to explore a bit more of the city. We first took a train to the Canal City, one of the most visually impressive malls I’ve ever been to, with a rather unique modern architecture.

Canal City
One of the inside public areas in the Canal City. Sometimes, the fountains may turn on and give out a spectacular light show at night.

There was a Gundam Base store here!


Next to the Canal City was one of the rivers that passed through Fukuoka, which we crossed to wander around aimlessly on the other side, though I had a few places to go in mind.

One of the rivers passing through Fukuoka
The side from the Canal City of the Naka River
A rundown street in Fukuoka
Not far from the river, I found this rundown street. I really like how they mix in with more developed areas of the city.
Ramen shop
春吉(haruyoshi)ラーメン(rāmen) , a ramen shop in the same street. Given its looks and how out of place it looks compared to the rest of the buildings, it must be a very popular place. But it wasn’t open when we arrived.
Santa invasion!!!
There was a plaza that had been overrun by Santas!

Is this the epitome of the Uhmerican influence in the culture of the land of the rising sun…?


Eventually, we reached the Arcos Fukuoka building, one that caught my attention because of the stairwell garden that had, but it turned out to be really underwhelming. At least it’s a slightly more maintainable and less hazardous example of green skyscrapers, but it still has some noteworthy issues.

ARCOS Building in Fukuoka

From here, we went our way back to where CyberConnect2 was located. Although I was amazed to find this before taking the train:

Metro underground
An underground shopping area connected to the metro, in a somewhat renaissance-style architecture

The halls even had medieval stained glass! Hwhat!?

Gundam in Ueno

I knew that Christianism was imported in the Kyūshū region in the 15th century, but I thought that was only in Nagasaki!


Since it was close by, we also took a slight detour to the Old Town, to be more precise, the Sen-nen No Mon Buddhist temple, or temple of the thousand-year gates.

Sen-nen No Mon gate

That’s weird… In the maps I’ve seen, it’s clearly named (haka)(ta)(sen)(nen) . But the gate to the temple reads (nen)(sen)(ta)(haka) . Why is it backwards?


After this, we took the train back to Hakata Station and walked our way to the building where the CC2 studio was.

CC2 Reception
The sign next to the flower box says: “Please pickup the phone for inquiries”… This reminds me of something.

We were greeted by the receptionist, who told us to wait in a conference room. Then, someone who worked as the lead marketing assistant and an interpreter (whose names I will not reveal for privacy’s sake) came in and gave us an overview of the company.

On my part, I really didn’t need the interpreter that much. I was able to understand with quite detail when they spoke in Japanese, and I even made a bunch of questions in Japanese. I was even able to make out things that the interpreter relayed to the other person that had nothing to do with what I said, mostly to provide some context to him.

Still, the interpreter did a fairly good job at communicating in both English and Japanese. I still asked most of my questions in English to make sure that Raxki would also understand me.

The main thing I cared for during the visit is, knowing how overly tyrannic the Japanese working culture can be (particularly the ブラック(burakku)企業(kigyō) , or black companies), and that the company didn’t seem to have very favorable reviews by non-Japanese standards (and rather average by Japanese standards), I wanted to figure out if the studio could truly have such an abusive working environment, and what merit would a game designer like myself have in the company —i.e. if I would have any chance to propose concepts for either games or gameplay systems, for example— although I never stated this explicitly. I mean, why would anyone make such an accusation in the middle of a company visit?

After the Q&A session, we were given a short tour to one of the studios while they were at work. It was pretty short-lived and I barely got a glimpse of the workplace. We were also shown a bunch of amenities like a game and manga library for reference, which was quite extensive, a lounge room, and that was pretty much it.

Of course, we have to follow the confidentiality terms we’ve agreed on before scheduling the visit, so I didn’t bother taking pictures of the inner workings.

But still, accounting from only what I’ve seen and experienced, it left me with more doubts than answers about the veracity of their claims.

Like, I understand the fact of keeping things confidential, and maintaining a good image are both important. But the way they were talking about the company did seem truthful, but the “typical Japanese façade-esque hospitality” that we received and the contrast of how they talked to each other, it just left me with… An inconclusive outlook of the company.

I still haven’t seen in this way any concrete company that could be a handbook example of a ブラック企業, so I might as well be just making very blind guesses. I did consult with a Japanese friend of mine, but they couldn’t tell anything either.


At any rate, we took the bullet trains back to Tokyo right after the visit, arriving pretty late at night.

Day 3: Ikebukuro and Shibuya

Ikebukuro Station, Yamanote line

Next up on the list were Ikebukuro and Shibuya. They were pretty much on the other side of Tokyo from where we stayed, so we decided to go to these places first.

Ikebukuro underbridge

Ikebukuro was first, but it wasn’t particularly that interesting for me. It certainly has an otaku vibe to it, especially Otome Road I’ve heard that it does have an underground-ish area much like Kabuki-chōme, but we didn’t invest much to find the place.

For avid Durarara!! fans, this place must hold a lot of very notable places to them. Too bad we weren’t well informed on the places where we could have gone to.

We still went to some important places though. Like the iconic Animate building in Otome Road and Sunshine City! And they are very accurate to the anime.



Seibu Department Store in real life
Seibu Department Store in real life
Seibu Department Store in Durarara
Seibu Department Store as seen in Durarara!!

Soon after, we went to the “must absolutely go place in Japan”: Shibuya. I was expecting to find the extremely well known Scramble Crossing pretty quickly, but I was astonished by how much twists and turns we took to eventually find it. I think it could’ve been because part of the crossing was under construction, but beats me.

Scramble crossing
The famous scramble crossing

For a place that seems to be worldwide known, and has appeared in countless pieces of media (too many doomsday films, The World Ends With You, predominantly; Godzilla films, Alice in Borderland, among others…), it’s a very mundane shopping location. Save for the tourists.

Don’t forget Kingdom Hearts III! With the DLC of Re:Mind.

…Yeah. That too. Either way, nothing screams " 資本(shihon)主義(shuhi)消費(shōhi)社会(shakai) " more than this place.

What’s that mean?

Consumerist capitalist society. The worst for Earth, according to many scholars.



We also saw the Hachikō Statue next to the station. I know there is also a Moai statue somewhere close, but we didn’t get a glimpse of it.

Spain Hill
The nearby Spanish Hill was our next destination, a Western European-style street. Despite the name, there are also French and Italian restaurants. Sadly, we didn’t have much time to wander here.

The Parco Building that was located across the Spain Hill contained the Nintendo and Pokémon Center merchandising stores on the same floor, and I immediately noticed the queues stretching across the store and the crowd control working in action, as expected from one of the most popular stores in the area. I didn’t bother buying anything here, as I was going to visit other locations anyway.

Nintendo Store
Admitedly, even when its latest game released 6 months prior to this picture, I was not expecting Pikmin to be so popular in Japan. I even saw several commercials in the local trains.
Pokémon Center storefront
A Mewtwo in his pod greets you at the storefront from the Pokémon Center.

It should be worth noting that most of these merch stores we’ve been to throughout our trip have implemented remarkable measures to counter scalping, like having a limited time in the shop or being only able to checkout once per day.

And Gundam Bases only let you buy a limited amount of Gunpla a day!



But I didn’t go to Shibuya just to buy geek merchandise or do the “mainstream Japan tourism”. I also went to look for something that I have been looking forward to see for years: The street art of Shibuya and other less heard of places in the ward.

Japan is very notorious for its anti-vandalization of public property laws (more specifically, graffiti), so you will barely see anything, even in some of the most underground places you can think of.

However, some areas of Shibuya are well known to have areas where street art has been able to survive, especially a dugout slope featuring a very large wall full of street art: The Cosmic Slope.

Cosmic Slope Mural

…Or it used to be. Sadly, it was wiped clean in 2021. However, I did check there seemed to be some pieces of art that haven’t been removed in the surrounding areas. I hoped that maybe it would get repainted again, so I went to check it out, and…

Cosmic Slope is now a blank wall
A wall of white. Too bad!

Honestly, it was too much of a wishful thinking.


But as it turns out, there were other pieces of art scattered through this place. These are the ones I took pictures from, but I’m pretty sure there are more of them that we just couldn’t find.

Godzilla street art
A bit before arriving to the Cosmic Slope, there is a Godzilla graffiti that looks like if it was taken straight out of an oscilloscope.

Which Godzilla is this?

I don’t really know, but… It resembles Ghost Godzilla. An unused monster, never made into movies.



Furby graffiti
Funnily enough, a Furby graffiti.

Next one is an interesting one, because it’s one that changes constantly. The wall usually has art from a seemingly popular Japanese street artist and rapper TABOO1. They even have a digital shop!

TABOO1 graffiti
This is the one that I took, which I assume was from November or early December, according to the November 23rd timestamp. Apparently, they’re promoting the release of their 2nd volume of the manga イルブロス(ILL BROS) .

Now this is original advertising!


Mewtwo graffiti at Pokémon Center
There was also this Mewtwo graffiti at the aforementioned Pokémon Center, matching with the street art througout Shibuya.

Followed by this, we visited to Tower Records, which surprisingly survived the closedown of the main firm because it became an independent company. Just as last decade, Japanese culture still buys a lot of physical CDs, and streaming is not as popular compared to other countries.

Tower Records
Funny phone booth
A British-styled phone booth in the middle of Shibuya. The perspective seems a bit weird on this picture.

Just after sundown, we hurriedly went north to arrive at a very large path of Zelkova trees. I wanted to check this place because of something that would happen at nightfall.

It’s should be happening in a bit.

But just what’s going to happ-



Zelkova trees lit up in blue
For Christmas season, these trees were lit in blue lights. Pictures like these is when my phone camera starts to show its crappy quality.

The conversation between Raxki and me was exactly as you’ve read. The lights suddenly turned on, revealing a spectacular scene in blue. Apparently, a market would be set at the end of the path, called “The Blue Cave”. We checked the place, which reminded me of the times a fair would be set in the outskirts of my home city, but without any big attractions. As we continued, we actually ended up in the next station, Shinagawa.

After that, we went briefly to Shinjuku to meet up who happened to be in the area with a friend and have dinner together at a Sushi-Ro, but we had to wait for our turn, so we went to check out a few parts of the ward while we were at it, such as Nichōme, an gay neighborhood of Tokyo, and the iconic Toho Cinemas from the area.

Godzilla peeking through the cinemas
Godzilla likes to peek from behind the Toho Cinemas.

Now that’s a Godzilla I recognize! That’s the Heisei era Godzilla, right?

That’s correct! It’s the best one!



We didn’t have much time to check Shinjuku, but we still had a lot of fun! And this concludes this part of my journey! I know this is a very lengthy post; so long that I had to split it from a 7-day per post series to a 3-day per post ones because I’m expecting the next posts to be as long as this one, at the very least.

Stay tuned for more!