Journey to the West

Not to be confused with the Chinese literature classic from the Ming Dynasty, an account of the journey of Xuanzang and his three disciples from China to India in search of the roots of Buddhism, this is my no less epic tale of traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto over eleven days with my (then four, almost five-year-old) daughter Mei in 2016 February. This is our second extended trip as a pair of travelers, now recorded as my second I don’t write travelogues travelogue. Our visit one year prior had us going up through Tōhoku to Sapporo for the annual snow festival. We liked it so much we considered a return trip, but ultimately decided we’d go in a different direction, as well as build in more time for relaxing and meeting with friends. We also prioritized anime pilgrimages to locations from a few of our favorite series we have watched together, so these were the primary activities on several days of the trip. We left Mei’s new baby brother at home with mom and grandparents, knowing that the real period of adjustment to our new family member would begin once we returned from Japan, when he would be out of his sleepy newborn phase. It was important that we choose experiences that mattered to us, and savor them while there, but also take the opportunity to decompress, recharge and prepare for the road ahead. Enlightenment would be too lofty a goal for us, but if a monk, monkey, pig and ogre can improve their lot through learning to cooperate in the face of challenges on a long journey, surely we can too.

Day 1

Journey to the West

As before, it’s an early morning start for us. This time we decide to pay a little more to take the Hongqiao-Haneda flight as opposed to Pudong-Narita. Flying between the smaller, more centrally located airports saves us almost three hours.

Journey to the West

With an early afternoon arrival we hit the ground running, dropping our bags at our hotel before heading out for a trip to Nakano. From Ikebukuro, we have to transfer from the Yamanote Line to the Tozai Line at Takadanobaba Station, which is a great opportunity to stop for a moment and admire the Tezuka Osamu mural under the rail viaduct. Tezuka was a pioneering and prolific cartoonist, most well-known for Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy).

Journey to the West

Mei actually knows more than I do about Tetsuwan Atom. She watches the animated series via internet streaming, usually dubbed in Chinese. When we get out of the train at Takadanobaba, she recognizes the platform jingle as the theme music, JR East’s homage to the neighborhood where Tezuka operated his studio, as well as the main setting of Tetsuwan Atom.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

The eponymous robot boy is here under the rails, but so is the entire stable of the many characters Tezuka created over his career.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Our first shopping trip to Nakano Broadway the previous year was a learning experience for both of us. Having so many choices of manga and anime paraphernalia can be an overwhelming experience even for seasoned otaku. As before, I’m using this to help Mei learn about setting a budget, shopping around, comparing prices and making decisions. While these can’t be learned in a day, I can see that as she gets older, she’s learning to control her impulses a little more and begins to think through prioritization of what she wants.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

I’ve walked the Nakano Sun Mall Shōtengai at all times of day. I think I like its festive night mode the best.

Journey to the West

I had read about the legendary Aoba in Nakano from each of my ramen blogging gurus, but this is my first time trying it for myself. It’s just outside Sun Mall in the middle of a dense cluster of izakaya on the east side of the arcade.

Journey to the West

A year prior, the way we usually did a ramen shop that didn’t serve half portions was to order a bowl of noodles and a side of gyoza or rice, then share everything. Now we get two regular bowls and I help her with the last third of her noodles. It’s like a built in ōmori for dad.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We like that the Figma Ritsu comes with not one, but two kinds of bumps, for reenacting all of the scenarios in which Mio might beat her over the head.

Day 2

Journey to the West

We have a very cosmopolitan train station coffee shop breakfast, as commuters from Saitama pour into Ikebukuro and transfer to other parts of Tokyo. I hope that in twenty or thirty years, when Mei is busy with her own life, we’ll still be able to find moments like this to catch up as we pass each other in our travels.

Journey to the West

Today is a rest day. We head to our favorite local onsen in Shimura-Sakaue. There’s aren’t too many onsen in Tokyo, and only a handful have nice outdoor baths like this.

Journey to the West

In the evening, we meet our friend Brian at the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku for some pre-dinner drinks and dessert. Mei is a little unsure of the cafe staff, who are really into their costuming and roleplaying—

Journey to the West

—but warms up once Brian shows her that we’re all friends here. He insists he recommended this stop for our sake, but I think he secretly really wanted to come himself.

Journey to the West

Fully acclimated to the environment, Mei is now in charge of Brian.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We accompany Brian on one of his ramen adventures, which turns out not to go according to plan. Kintoki, near Ekoda Station in Nerima Ward, often runs out before its posted closing time. This is fairly common for ramen shops and we had even warned Mei that this kind of problem can happen, but she is nonetheless upset to arrive to a closed shutter.

Journey to the West

With this sad customer we have to act quickly before tears begin.

Journey to the West

We hunt around the station, where Brian is trying to find a shop he vaguely remembered. He isn’t able to find it and we eventually settle on Kazuya, which turns out to be—excellent. We especially like the tender chashu. Brian doesn’t typically visit a ramen shop without preliminary research, but sometimes you get lucky.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We’re the only customers in the shop. The tenchō folds an origami flower for Mei as he passes the time. From experiences like this, I hope my daughter learns that one way to respond to disappointment is to jump into problem solving mode. You may not be able to get what you wanted, this time, but you may be pleasantly surprised by something unexpected instead.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

(Brian liked Kazuya enough he gave it an entry on Ramen Adventures. He also returned for a successful visit to Kintoki on his own, and I’m happy to report that we joined him there for dinner on a subsequent trip, arriving with plenty of time and soup to spare.)

Day 3

Journey to the West

We seek out the Good Smile x animate Cafe in Akihabara not for its current collaboration featuring The Idolmaster Cinderella Girls, but because I had heard mentions that the cafes at one point sold replacement joints for Good Smile’s Nendoroid figures, which are notoriously easy to break. I’ve become fairly proficient with a pen vise, wire and superglue as Mei snaps off figure heads, though the repair never works the same as the original. There are no joints to be found, but the cream sodas are good.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We head over to the restaurant floor on top of Yodobashi Camera thinking we’ll return to the Chabutan ramen branch there, only to find that the shop had moved out in the year since we last went. Another ramen bust, but thankfully there were pancakes to the rescue. If you’ve never had pancakes for lunch, you should.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We chase a pigeon through Akihabara Station.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We admire a figures in consignment displays as we walk around, but our main plan for the afternoon is a walk around the electronics markets, which grow smaller each year.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

With our children, we try hard to avoid gender stereotyping. We would never suggest something is a “girl’s toy” or “boy’s toy”. I have no idea if a career in mechanical or electrical engineering will be part of her path in life, but the only way to find out if you have a budding tinkerer in your home is to give him or her the chance to find out.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

After we linger over one vendor’s stall for a few minutes, he gives her an LED as a gift.

Journey to the West

I don’t tell her anything, other than to say thank you, but I can see the wheels are turning.

Journey to the West

Day 4

We had planned a visit to Sanrio Puroland in Tama for this day. We were late waking and slow with breakfast, missing the train we meant to take. At the time of our visit, Mei still needed afternoon naps, and we had evening plans, so with our morning slot shortened we decided to do something not so far away. She says she wants to get materials for lighting up her LED, so we agree to return to Akihabara for lunch and a shopping trip.

Journey to the West

We have lunch with the Chūō Line at the N3331 cafe atop old Manseibashi Station, now the mAAch ecute Kanda Manseibashi. ecute is JR East’s branded in-station retail operation, but this complex is rather unique, combining historic preservation and more upscale offerings than you’ll find in most operating stations.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Next to the information kiosk in the middle of the building there is a detailed model of what the area would have looked like in the early 20th century. The station building preceded and shares many characteristic with the Tokyo Station Marunouchi building, both designed by Tatsuno Kingo.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Back at Akihabara electric town, we get to work finding switches, batteries and other bits and pieces for our science project. This is fun for me too.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

After an afternoon nap, we meet our friends at their home in Sakurashinmachi for dinner. On the return to the train station, we walk into an unplanned anime pilgrimage. Sazae-san was a four cell manga written and illustrated by Hasegawa Machiko, running from 1946 to 1974. An anime adaptation began in 1969 and continues to this day. At over 7,500 episodes, it is the Guinness World Record holder for longest running television anime series. Though now considered a classic institution, the progressive and feminist views put forth by the comic made it controversial during its original newspaper run.

When Hasegawa moved from Kyūshū to Tokyo, so did the Fuguta family in the comic. Their new neighborhood was modeled on Sakurashinmachi, where Hasegawa lived. Bronze statues of the cast outside the train station pay homage to the pioneering mangaka and her work.

Day 5

Journey to the West

On a Saturday morning, we head down to Kamakura to meet a few of my anime tourism friends, and join a couple of them for a pilgrimage to locations used in Musaigen no Phantom World, Kyoto Animation’s currently airing series at the time of our visit. I’ve written a detailed account of this day in a separate post, but here are the highlights.

Journey to the West

We meet Konasan and Gromit for an okonomiyaki lunch near Kamakura Station. The two had been out early that morning finding scenes in Yokohama that had appeared in the most recent episode. This activity, seeking out real locations that appear in anime, without existing reference material or guides, is referred to as butaitanbou (scene hunting) by its practitioners. The broader spectrum of travel and exploratory behavior induced by manga and anime is called seichijunrei (holy land pilgrimage).

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

My second attempt to take Mei to see the large buddha at Kōtoku-in (which she thinks looks like her maternal grandfather) also ends short of the goal. Maybe next time?

Journey to the West

Tachikichi and Kobaya lead us on a search through Kamakura and parts of Fujisawa, for scenes from the first few episodes of Phantom.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We ride the Shōnan Monorail all the way back to the Ōfuna Station terminus, where we find some ramen near the station before we all head home for the night.

Journey to the West

Day 6

Journey to the West

We’re off to Kyoto. Mei has taken trips on high-speed rail in China many times, and we rode the Tōhoku Shinkansen previously, but this is her first trip on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, the highest volume high-speed rail corridor in the world.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Mei has no time for my stop and take a photo of the train routine. She’s ready to grab our luggage and head into the city without me.

Journey to the West

We’ve only just arrived, but we have a big night ahead of us. We’re meeting Moriwaki Kiyotaka and his wife Motoko for a walk around Demachi and dinner up in the ramen battleground of Ichijōji. The Moriwakis have done much to help me think through what I need to be working on the past few years. Motoko is one of the few people I chat with in Japanese about things other than anime. My writing and speaking ability is still rudimentary and unsteady, but it’s much better than it was thanks to her. Kiyotaka teaches me many things about the anime and film industries, and is my bridge to the production side of some of the anime I use most often to illustrate pop culture tourism.

(In order not to cause confusion, I’ll use their given names here. But I would not be so impolite in person!)

We meet at the Demachi Masugata Shōtengai, a vibrant urban commons in its own right, which was also used as the model for the Usagiyama Shōtengai in Tamako Market. Kiyotaka supervises researchers at The Museum of Kyoto who work together with Kyoto Animation staff during the location hunting phase of works that have settings based on places in Kyoto Prefecture. He’s been involved with several Kyoto Animation series, but in conversations with him I’ve always had the impression that Tamako Market was the one in which he was the most emotionally invested. Kiyotaka was a liaison between the studio and shōtengai management, helping the two parties understand each other’s needs and interests.

Journey to the West

Mei has seen all of Tamako Market and is ready to get to work as soon as we step into the arcade. Our first stop is florist Hana no Harukaze, where she makes a beeline for the shelf where she remembers Dera jumps out in the first episode (and where, in real life, there are also many porcelain planters that would probably shatter to pieces if knocked over). We kind of make a scene, Mei barging in, me running after her, then Kiyotaka apologizing to everyone in our wake.

Journey to the West

The Moriwakis’ other family member, Kokoro, is also with us. After Kiyotaka’s involvement with Tamako Market, they have made a habit of coming around to visit Masugata from time to time. It was on such a walk that I first met them, unplanned, in person.

Journey to the West

Mei and I add an entry to the pilgrimage exchange notebook for Tamako Market at Masugata. It’s common to find these volumes installed at seichijunrei destinations, where visitors log records of their presence and flip through the pages to see who has come before them.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

I can’t recall who created the Tamako tobidashibōya, the second of this kind of fan art installation at Masugata. It’s beginning to show some weather wear, which is normal, but it doesn’t appear that it’s being maintained.

Journey to the West

My friend and butaitanbou practitioner Tesra created the Choi, the first one to appear at the shōtengai, and he returns periodically to retrieve her for paint touchups.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Masugata started with one, and now has several public chalkboards. Anyone is welcome to add what they wish, such as notes, announcements, drawings, etc., though the boards seem to end up covered with anime characters a disproportionate amount of the time.

Journey to the West

We all get in line for Demachi Futaba’s famous mame-mochi. Futaba is one of two traditional confectioners in Kyoto used as the basis for both visuals and story elements in Tamako Market.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Our last stop in the neighborhood is the delta where the Kamo and Takano rivers meet. Mei has been waiting for this chance to cross the river stones that appear in the opening credits to K-On!, another Kyoto Animation series. We hadn’t deliberately planned this trip around pilgrimages exclusively for Kyoto Animation works, but as the studio tends to emphasize settings in Kyoto and neighboring prefectures, it’s easy to string several together if staying in the area.

The previous typhoon season had deposited a large amount of extra sediment in the delta, especially on the west side, so things start out not so scary. When we reach the water she realizes the stones are much farther apart than she expected. Her stride is too short to step across, and she isn’t confident about jumping over the gaps. We have a few false starts, and consider abandoning it for the day, but I give her one final pep talk as the Moriwakis go to retrieve their car and head up to Ichijōji to wait for us.

Journey to the West

I have to grab both of her hands and lift her across some of the wider spaces, but we eventually make it across. You can only glean so much information from a picture (or a cartoon). Part of the experience of going out into the world for a closer look is discovering what things are not as you expected.

Journey to the West

I love blue hour in Kyoto.

Journey to the West

Mei and I take the Eizan Railway a few stops and meet up again with the Moriwakis outside Gokkei, a highly rated ramen shop with an unusually thick soup. But we have to abandon that plan when we discover that the line is down the street, an estimated two hour wait for dinner. But there are more ramen shops per block in Ichijōji than anywhere else in Kyoto, so the setback has an easy remedy. We end up at Tentenyu instead, an exemplar of the old school ramen particular to this neighborhood—lots of chicken bones get into the stock, it’s denser than a standard shio or shoyu, but not quite a paitan.

Journey to the West

After dinner, we retrieve Kokoro from the car and on Motoko’s recommendation make a stop at Keibunsha Ichijōji, a one-of-a-kind independent bookseller that includes an art gallery and carries many works and goods made by local artists.

Journey to the West

We say goodnight and part ways at the Eizan station. The grade level railroad crossing in the background is also a well-known K-On! pilgrimage location, appearing in the opening credits of the second season.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We had snuck one of the mochi before dinner, but finishing off the rest of the package is our final task of the day. It’s a bit indulgent, but Futaba’s products are made fresh each morning and aren’t meant to be kept around. It would be a crime to let these sit until morning!

Day 7

Journey to the West

Though the business hotel I usually use when we travel has free breakfast, when we sleep in too late or just need a change, it’s nice to go out for something different. We’re staying in downtown Kyoto on Shijō-dōri, right next to [Basic.] a joint venture between chain coffee shop Pronto and local music shop JEUGIA. The first floor kitchen and seating area is large, but the layout and textures make it feel cozy. The morning sun shines through the south facing windows, which give a wide view of the main commercial street. It has only been here a couple of years, but has become my default third place when I need to do a little emailing, meet someone or just take a break and get something to eat.

Journey to the West

We retrace our route from the previous evening, taking the Keihan Line to the Demachiyanagi terminus, then continuing north on the Eiden. This time we get off a stop later, at Shūgakuin.

Journey to the West

The grade level railroad crossing, train station and the surrounding commercial cluster appear in opening credits and throughout the entire K-On! series. The anime combines many locations around the city to create a composite setting, but the node of activity at Shūgakuin is a frequently used anchor. Other than the school building itself, which is in a different city, Shūgakuin is the image most strongly associated with seichijunrei activity for the series.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We cross the Takano River into the Matsugasaki area, from which the series draws the residential neighborhood where the Hirasawa family lives, passing many familiar scenes and buildings as we go.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We even bring Yui to her home.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We return to Demachi via Eiden for a second walk around the Masugata Shōtengai.

Journey to the West

This garage just outside the arcade was used as the haunted house in Episode 6 of Tamako Market. The space is the base of operation of DeMachi (Deまち), a very compact shared work space and frequent host of presentations and community engagement events.

Journey to the West

On the same street but opposite side of the arcade, we stand in front of where protagonist Kitashirakawa Tamako would have lived, if the house actually existed.

Journey to the West

The Jizō is here, though.

Journey to the West

Inside the arcade, we bump into my friend Terada Aki, who invites us upstairs to see the renovation work just beginning on the former Hananami cafe/bar. Hananami has a special distinction among butaitanbou-seichijunrei visitors. It was used as the model for the cafe Hoshi to Piero in Tamako Market, but it was also the final stop for visitors on pilgrimage, who would convene here at the end of the evening when few other shops and restaurants were open. The manager at Hananami was highly engaged with fans of the series and was the custodian of the second exchange notebook at Masugata.

Journey to the West

A few months prior to our visit, the owner of Hananami had decided it was time to move on to other things. Terada and a partner took over the space, with plans to remodel it as a new cafe. Though fans were disappointed to lose a well-loved meeting place, Terada is an active member of the Demachi community and understands the significance the space held for them. (I haven’t seen it myself, but I’ve since been told the exchange notebooks are still kept at the new cafe.)

Journey to the West

While we chat, several people are disassembling light fixtures and pulling up floor boards. This is probably the last day that any remnants of Hananami will remain here.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We stop to say hello to Inoue Atsushi, the proprietor of fish seller Sagaki and the shōtengai president.

Journey to the West

He’s also the custodian of the main set of exchange notebooks. Sagaki became fish seller Sashimi in the series.

Journey to the West

If you stop at Sagaki for more than just a quick pickup, you’re likely to be offered a cup of hot tea. During the Tamako Market broadcast and height of the seichijunrei boom, Inoue extended this hospitality until late at night, long past his regular shop hours, to welcome pilgrims who had come for an evening stroll.

Journey to the West

Further down the arcade, we find Dera in his usual spot at the front of Ikawa Toy and say hello to owner Ikawa Kikuko. This was Tokiwa-dō in the anime.

Journey to the West

Mei finds a rattle for baby brother and a pretty nifty set of beads for herself.

Journey to the West

(Subsequent to our visit, Ikawa decided to wind down the business, which had been in operation for about 90 years. She had contemplated the decision several years prior, due primarily to declining sales and her age, but postponed closing in light of the sudden interest induced by Tamako Market. While we’re sad that we won’t be able to make any return visits to Ikawa Toy, I’m glad that I was able to see her one last time and that we were able to bring home a few mementos.)

Journey to the West

Mei decides the main board, Demachi Kokuban, is not finished. Rikka needs more stars.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

On the way out, we pay a surprise visit to my friend Takahashi Tomoe. Her family runs an incense store in Masugata and we stop to ask if she’s hiding in the back. Takahashi and Terada are both part of a group of young professionals highly engaged in the Demachi community and are frequently involved in efforts to rekindle discussions on machizukuri—community building through dialog among residents, and between residents and the government.

Journey to the West

At one point in Tamako Market, Dera has become overweight from eating too many mochi. He puts himself on an exercise regimen, which includes stair climbing on the river delta. After our mochi party in the hotel room the previous night, we also feel we have a few extra calories to burn.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We head back downtown for a late lunch at Miyoshi in Kiyamachi. Unfortunately, all of the main bar seats are occupied so we are shuffled over to the antechamber on the side of the shop. I didn’t even realize this was here! The soup is the same, but the best part of the Miyoshi experience is sitting around the kitchen in the cramped, greasy open front shop with the street behind you.

Journey to the West

Is papercraft for kids a ramen shop thing now?

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We enjoy the afternoon sun and watch our shadows on the Takase River from Sanjōkobashi.

Day 8

Journey to the West

Today we are clicking and clacking on the Ohmi Railway out to Toyasato, Shiga Prefecture. We’re visiting the former Toyosato Elementary School, known to anime seichijunrei fans as the school from K-On! and now preserved as a free museum open to the public. This was a full day of exploration with lots of photos. I’ll break this out into a separate post a little later, but here are some highlights. (Also in the queue, I plan to write up my first visit to Toyosato, which preceded this one.)

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Of all the menu options I had given Mei, going to Yui’s school was the thing she said we had to do above all else.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We make sure to check in.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Back at Kyoto Station, we’re treated to another pink and blue sunset.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

One of my little traditions, when coming into Kyoto from out of town or at the end of a day out, is to stop at one of the two neighboring shoyu ramen shops near the station. Tonight we go with Daiichi Asahi.

Journey to the West

We share a table with a woman and her college-aged daughter. The woman tells us about living as a Japanese expatriate in the United Arab Emirates. She’s back for her once-a-year visit and the two of them are taking a vacation together. We tell them where we had been during the day. The mother doesn’t quite know what what we’re talking about, but the daughter does and explains it to her. This is cross cultural exchange on many levels.

Day 9

Journey to the West

On the way out this morning, we make a detour through the Sanjō Meitengai Shōtengai to stop at the JEUGIA main branch, our last K-On! pilgrimage location of this trip. I hadn’t realized how comprehensive the JEUGIA group is until I began to look deeper as part of my pop culture tourism research. It combines recorded music retail with instrument sales, recording studios and performance spaces, and most recently added the cafe joint venture with Pronto.

Journey to the West

We find Yui’s Gibson Les Paul.

Journey to the West

I think Mio’s Fender Jazz Bass is in there somewhere.

Journey to the West

We continue on along Sanjō-dōri, over the river, and back up north again.

Journey to the West

If you squint and look closely depictions of Sanjō Ōhashi in ukiyo-e, Edo period woodblock prints, you might find the world’s oldest Starbucks at the west end of the bridge.

Journey to the West

This time we take Eiden all the way up into the mountains to the Kurama terminus.

Journey to the West

I think I might be one of the few people who can spend a week in Kyoto without visiting even one shrine or temple, but we all succumb to its charms at one point or another. Today we’re climbing to Kurama-dera. The cable car that carries visitors about halfway up is offline for maintenance, so we’re making the entire ascent with our legs. I tell Mei that we don’t have to push ourselves to go all the way, we can stop if she feels tired, which she takes as a challenge.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

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Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Apparently this small person, who complains about walking five minutes from our apartment to the subway to go to kindergarten everyday, is capable of many things when the motivation is there.

Journey to the West

It’s becoming colder as we get higher on the mountain, but we find breaks in the tree canopy are good places to stop and turn your face to the sun for a quick warm up.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Our climb takes about an hour, but we eventually make it to the temple.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Back down in the town, a hot soba lunch at Abura-ya

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

The rotenburo at Kurama Onsen is one medium sized bath. I have to help Mei resist the urge to swim across it, but there aren’t too many people there and fortunately no one seems to mind that we’re kind of making too much noise. The mountain view is pretty great too.

On the walk back through the town to the Eiden station, we come across a mobile grocery store. A small truck with a refrigerator case built into the back drives up to Kurama during the day, selling produce and foodstuffs on the side of the road. We chat with the sellers for a little bit and buy strawberries to take with us.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

There’s something strangely calming about a local train standing at a platform at night, with few or no passengers on board, surrounded only by woods or fields. This happens on suburban and rural lines, at the ends and sometimes at transfer stops, while trains wait for connections from busier trunk lines. Sometimes the only sound is the low rumble of the compressor, or popping and whining from the heating system in winter. It feels as if the light emanating from the train is keeping the surrounding darkness from swallowing up the station and anyone in it.

Journey to the West

We hop off Eiden at Ichijōji for a second attempt at Gokkei. Though a weeknight, there is still an hour or so wait for dinner.

Journey to the West

Good thing we have strawberries.

Journey to the West

This face says this ramen better be really good after waiting outside this long in the cold. Fortunately, once you’re close to the end of the queue, there is space for a few people to wait inside and thaw out just before being seated.

Journey to the West

Complete decadence. Worth the wait—and the cold.

Journey to the West

(On a subsequent visit to Gokkei by myself, about nine months later, the tenchō recognized me when I went to pay for my lunch and asked why my daughter wasn’t with me. I couldn’t believe it.)

Journey to the West

This will be the last time we use Eiden on this trip, so time for a little rail-fanning at the Demachiyanagi terminus before we exit.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

On the Keihan Main Line, a conductor spots us and gives Mei a special children’s ticket. It’s actually a simple papercraft that you can take home and turn into a Keihan 13000 series train.

Journey to the West

I tell Mei she showed great perseverance with her climbing and waiting for dinner, so she can pick any treat she likes on the walk back to the hotel. Ice cream it is.

Day 10

Journey to the West

On the last full day, we take the JR Nara Line down to Kohata Station for a quick visit to the Kyoto Animation headquarters in Uji.

Journey to the West

At the time of our visit, currently broadcasting Musaigen no Phantom World and the upcoming film version of Hibike! Euphonium are being promoted. (The second season of Eupho had not yet been announced.)

Journey to the West

If you read the breakout post about our Phantom pilgrimage, you’ll remember Mei was disappointed we did not find the small fairy Ruru while in Kamakura. But I have one last trick up my sleeve—

Journey to the West

—the KyoAni Shop.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

There are no Ruru goods on the shelf displays, but there is a Ruru pin among the items in the gashapon machine. With some luck, after only two pulls, we get our Ruru. Phantom creator Hatano Sōichirō, with whom we had been communicating over Twitter, is happy to hear that all had ended well.

We stop for lunch at the McDonald’s Kohata shop, a Hibike! Euphonium pilgrimage location. But our day is just getting started. We leave from the Keihan station instead of the JR one so that we can make one last run along the Keihan Main Line.

Journey to the West

We stop first at Fujinomori. The pedestrian bridge over the canal is the very first cut to appear in Tamako Market. Elements from this neighborhood are incorporated in the setting, but I have mostly focused on the shōtengai in my research. I had been to Fujinomori once to meet friends for dinner, but this is my first time exploring away from the station.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Seibo Jogakuin became Tamako’s school.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We retrace paths the characters have used between the school and the shōtengai.

Journey to the West

We’re also looking for the footbridge where Dera drops the red paint on a pedestrian. Was it here?

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

No, here! The paint was definitely here!

Journey to the West

There won’t be blossoms for at least another month, but the cherry trees that line the canal are a popular flower watching spot in the spring, recreated in great detail in Episode 3 of the series.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

We make one last stop in Demachi. We need some Futaba mochi for the trip home.

Journey to the West

The Masugata blackboard has changed again. I think this is a recently created shōtengai mascot. Masugata has gone through several in the past decade. Tamako’s arrival added a bit of conflict over arcade branding, but there appears to be a strong current of reasserting its intrinsic characteristics now that the buzz from the series has faded. Less Tamako and mochi, more mackerel.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

All of our errands done, I take a seat on the delta and enjoy the afternoon sun while Mei chases the wildlife.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

After a nap and some pre-packing, we try Takamatsu a few blocks from our hotel.

Journey to the West

The toppings on the tokusei tsukemen look almost too attractive to eat.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Day 11

Journey to the West

The day to return home has finally arrived. We’re trying something new this time, taking a shinkansen back to Tokyo on the same day as our departing flight. (While we could fly out of Kansai, the flight is more expensive and we would have to go back through Pudong instead of Hongqiao. It ends up being a wash cost-wise, but saves us time once back in Shanghai.)

Journey to the West

We go up to our platform early to watch other trains pass through.

Journey to the West

I get roped into buying one last toy, from the platform kiosk.

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

Time to go

Journey to the West

After a change to the Yamanote Line at Shinagawa, we wait on the platform at Hamamatsuchō Station to watch a few more shinkansen before we take the monorail to Haneda Airport.

On this trip we’ve seen many things, met many people—and eaten a lot of ramen. I’m glad to have had the chance to bring Mei to places where we have shared interest, and to meet people who made our experiences of those places richer. As she gets older, she will have stronger opinions on where we ought to go and what we should do on our outings. As a family, we’ll make sure that she continues to participate in that process. I hope I’ve helped her understand that, in travel and in life, options expand when you throw aside the tour guide and create your own adventure.

Journey to the West