First Things First
Crooked Head has been found! He meowed up to some girls in the neighborhood, presumably saying, "Helloooo, ladies! Come over here and pet me. Now FEED ME." They called Tiff, who collected him and brought him for a vet checkup and gave us a call to let us know he's okay. He was gone two days shy of a month and has lost some weight, but otherwise he's doing well.
Sigh of relief!
In Japan, there are things called love hotels. They offer rates for a few hours or overnight; it sounds very seedy and un-classy, but consider that young people don't typically get their own place after school (high school OR university), they live with their parents until they get married. The intent behind this style of lodging is for couples to enjoy some privacy that they aren't able to get at home (in their 800-square-foot 4-bedroom house that they share with their siblings, parents, and grandparents). Most offer hot tubs, big screen televisions with gaming systems, and room service. Some have crazy themes but most are geared toward being a quiet place to hang out.
My understanding is that it's not completely uncommon for tourists and traveling students also frequent these places because they are often less expensive than a hotel chain with better amenities and you don't necessarily need to speak the language to make a reservation. This site has a pretty good overview.
We decided this would be an interesting Japanese experience and went to check out the area where most of them can be found. This was almost a complete waste of time - most of the places we found, when anything was available, looked a lot like the hotel room we're already staying in. In addition, we were asked to leave from a few places because we aren't Japanese. It was hard not to take that personally. The Mew had "be discriminated against" on his To Do list, but I just got my feelings hurt. We gave up and got some mojitos at an outdoor cafe and the day improved from there. This is when I discovered that some restaurants will offer blankets to their patrons if it's getting chilly.
We also saw our first vending machine featuring a TV screen, showing an endless loop of Coca-Cola commercials.
Not to disappoint, I found some bizarre new drinks to try. This brand, Calpis, was changed to Calpico for sale in the States (Say it out loud to find out why. If you don't get it, say it to someone else and ask them to repeat what you said slowly or post a comment and I'll explain.)
This particular beverage...I have no idea what it is. It could be coffee, it could be tea, it could be tea made from coffee beans, I haven't the foggiest.
THIS drink, on the other hand, is strange but in a pleasant way. It's aloe and white grape flavored, and it's near the top of my list of Interesting Drinks that I Will Definitely Get Again. It has chunks of aloe floating in it, which are not as disturbing as you'd expect.
New and interesting soda flavor found on the way to Yokohama. It's labeled "Sakura" which means "Cherry Blossom" and my best characterization is that it tastes like pink Runts. You know, the candy that has bananas, oranges, strawberries and unidentified round pink blobs.
My favorite part of this could be that I can actually read "sakura" on the label. Progress!
Yokohama is a happy place. We started with the theme park. It's small by American standards, but they have a lot of things, well designed use of space, and it's an all-around good time. One of the most intriguing things we did was go through the cheesy haunted house and the "scary" track ride and note the differences between American and Japanese versions of the same concepts. There was also a mirror maze that was kind of cool.
We took a ride on the ferris wheel, which is a pretty big local landmark.
This pink roller coaster is called something like "Vanishing Coaster." This is why. (More photos of this later.)
You'd think that such an enormous wheel would feel unstable because of the winds at this height. It's not. It's so stable you could put a wine glass on the floor and it would still be full at the end of the ride. It never stops, it just moves slowly enough for people to get on and off, so there's no jerking to a halt every ten feet. The car is spacious and completely enclosed by glass (and air conditioned).
Check it out - mini golf on the roof of the next building over!
Looking down at the roller coasters and the flume ride.
Here you can see some of the office buildings and some other rides.
The top view of the Vanishing Coaster. The pool is also the end point for the flume ride.
Looking down at the other cars on the Wheel.
Me playing something like the drum set from Rock Band in the arcade. I couldn't read any of the screens, so I accidentally went from Ultra Easy to Not Quite as Easy as I Would Have Liked with a couple errant drum taps, but it was still fun.
We crossed the street and found a wine event with street vendors, and got some Sakura ice cream, which in this case, is vanilla ice cream with bits of cherry mixed in.
Then we found Chinatown!
The official name for this type of food, fluffy dough around filling, usually purchased fresh out of the oven or steamer or whatever they use to cook with, is anpanman (filled with sweetened bean paste) or nikuman (filled with meat), depending on what is inside. I refer to this in particular as Sad Panda Food. It was the bean stuff inside, and in the name of all that is good and pure, it has no right to be that delicious. Something that has THAT expression on its FACE (it has a face for Pete's sake) shouldn't make me so happy.
Amusing billboard just above the booth selling Sad Panda Food. I have no idea what it says.
If there's one thing I took away from Chinatown, it's that they're obsessed with pandas. Seriously. We saw a store literally named Panda-ya (panda store) and in the window was, among other things, a stuffed panda wearing a panda hat.
If there are two things I took away from Chinatown, it's panda obsession and cheongsams. I ended up ordering a short sleeved dress in black with subdued-hue chrysanthemums for a great deal. The woman spoke excellent English and even taught me how to pin up my hair with a single hair pin. I'm no good at it yet, but I get the concept. I'll go back next weekend to pick up the dress after tailoring, photos to follow.
Then it was off to the other major landmark, Yokohama Tower.
The viewing rooms were on the 29th and 30th floor.
They provided a map showing what you can see from wherever you're looking from the tower, which I thought was a pretty neat way to make a map.
They also have the scary window in the floor. Gives me the willies.
After dinner, we walked along the waterfront back to the train station, and at dusk everything starts to light up.
This is the last picture my camera took before the battery died.
We stopped at the Ox again for half price sushi (have I mentioned yet how much I love late-night half-price sushi?), and an apple.
For scale, (after I changed the camera battery) I put it next to our hotel coffee pot, but it's both a small coffee pot and a big apple, so it's comical but not terribly helpful.
Conclusion: Yokohama is one of my new favorite spots.
I've babbled enough for now, next installation will likely be an update on our living situation. Stay tuned!