Joined September 2017 Message
  • Day13

    Narita and Taoyuan

    November 26, 2019 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 8 °C

    We woke up to another cloudy day. We bade goodbye to Tokyo Skytree desu for the last time. It stood quietly as the rest of the city went on about its daily business. And then we started finalising our luggage preparations.

    We managed to pack as much as we could before sleeping last night, but there were a few more items to be stored away this morning. We ate as much of the leftovers as we could to limit the waste.

    After we've tidied the place up, we took selfies with the Pikachu stuff toy that they had. We also took a photo of their smiling sponge. We also bade goodbye to Roomba, the trusty robot vacuum.

    It felt like it was a faster process to get to the airport this time as we knew exactly how to obtain our train passes. As we zoomed past the familiar terrain, we thoroughly enjoyed more of the taro puffs that we've put on our hand carry bag. When we got to the airport, we still used a cart but since there was not a queue in the elevator, we opted to use that instead.

    After finding the aisle where our check-in counter was situated, a lady directed us to utilise the self check-in machines, however it did not accept my sister's passport for some reason. The team were very accommodating and soon we were being attended to by their personnel. They ensured that my sister and I were seated together and that our luggage were directed accordingly to our final destinations.

    After we completed the security checks, we were then welcomed by the duty free section. There were plenty of delicacies. Some free samples being handed out to try. Before we knew it, we had Butter Butler goodies in our hands. And lo and behold, in the next section, my eyes gleamed as there stood a shelf filled with Le Tao cheesecakes.

    Le Tao cheesecakes are double layered: one is baked and fluffy, and the other is unbaked, slightly more dense and creamier. Together, the textures combine and create a serving of heaven in your mouth. But to our surprise, they were offering a new flavour this time - melon. There was no hesitation, we bought one and we were determined to enjoy it later tonight during our layover in Taiwan. It was heartbreaking that their packaging only allows four hours of travel time, otherwise we would also have brought some to take to our final destinations. The lady who assisted us was delighted at our enthusiasm and excitement.

    Narita airport Terminal 1 gate lounges featured high ceiling with large infinity glass windows and we enjoyed watching passing planes and resting on the super comfortable lounge chairs.

    Soon enough we were all boarded and ready to go. My sister and I chose a film to watch together, but because we have separate screen panels in front of us, to our amusement, we had to make sure we press the play button in sync.

    We chose the film Shazam - a film that had been more of a time-filler rather than a true source of enjoyment, but not regrettable. Thankfully our in-flight meals were delightful.

    We had about four hours of layover in Taoyuan airport. Our first agenda was to get our free massage on automated chairs. Thankfully where our gate exit was, there were plenty of empty massage chairs amidst an artificial bamboo grove. We got two tokens each from the nearby tourist counter inside a shop. Each token worth 15 mins of bliss. As we utilised our second token, we were joined by another pair of travellers, but because they were seated far away, I still managed to continue quietly whimpering in delight as my knots were worked on.

    The relaxing half-an-hour went by in a flash. Afterwards, my sister was planning to get more of the cloth sunglasses cases that she had bought from there once before as gifts to some of her friends. This shop was close to where a renowned braised beef noodle restaurant was located.

    The braised beef broth was absolutely divine, so much so that I must have closed my eyes on my first sip. It was rich yet delicate at the same time. Unfortunately we had to ensure we had enough room for dessert as the melon flavoured double fromage cheesecake is almost fully defrosted and ready for consumption and so we only shared a bowl. We also tried their Mango jelly dessert which was not worth writing home about. We noticed there were a few fellow Filipinos eating there as well and enjoying their bowlful of goodness prior to their own flights.

    We then decided to burn off the noodle snack with more walking around. By this time we already had a picture with Hello Kitty in her shop, and then we found some more Sanrio characters all set-up and ready for having their photos taken with travellers posing for selfies.

    We then made our way close to our boarding gates. We saw a lounge, filled with orchids, devoid of people, so we took the opportunity to set ourselves up there and prepare for the ultimate experience of this trip - to envelope our taste buds in a sensation that only LeTAO cheesecakes can offer, and this time, with a hint of melon.

    There was a thrill of anticipation as we unboxed the cake. Finally, there laid bare in front of our eyes a familiar golden yellow, circular piece of beauty that came all the way from Otaru.

    After a few selfies with the cake, as an act of ultimate kindness to ourselves, we have allowed our plastic forks to deliver a tantalising morsel of the cheesecake into our mouths. My eyeballs rolled and my eyelids slowly shut and I released a whimper of ecstasy. The base which is baked, lighter part of the cheesecake hits the tongue first, and as you push it up against the hard palate, the moist, non-baked part suddenly fills the whole mouth with flavours of light creaminess and delicate cheese and then the hint of melon ties it all wondrously, leaving you wanting more.

    And we did have more. Until there was none left to be had.

    Of course, in between each mouthful, my sister and I would attempt conversation while marveling at the flavours. We were evaluating our time in Japan and patting ourselves at the back and thanking Our Good Lord for the opportunity. We also spoke about the young entrepreneur whose passion for Patisserie and wanting to make something big out of his hometown in Otaru has led to the creation of LeTAO and maybe someday we could visit it.

    My boarding time was about an hour earlier than my sister's. After the memorable time in the orchid lounge, my heart was full of gratitude but at the same time, ached--it was parting time again.

    And so, within a hug and a kiss we captured the breadth of our childhood dreams along with our recent memories of Japan and drew them all close to our heart. We looked to the future full of hope as we made our farewell. Until next time.
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  • Day12

    Bentos, Cheesecakes & Edge of Tomorrow

    November 25, 2019 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 16 °C

    When we got to Akihabara, my sister stopped by Pablo's for a treat (it is a tart shop).

    For a moment we thought maybe, just maybe, "Weathering with You," the sensational new movie from Makoto Shinkai might still be showing in some cinemas, but after scouring the internet for movie sessions, unfortunately, no cinema was exhibiting English subtitles.

    We moved on from our disappointment from our brilliant idea and decided to drop by Don Qiujote and replenish my sister's stock of cheesecake biscuits that Mom took.

    The sky started spitting once more as we walked back to our accommodation. But lo and behold, Tante Marie Patisserie stood like a lighthouse and the wet bitumen glistened - brightly lit display glass cabinets that beckoned us to come in.

    They had a selection of dainty fruit and sponge cakes, however we were after serious business. We have already read about their highly recommended cheesecakes. We purchased a slice of Camembert as well as a slice of walnut, honey and Gorgonzola. We could not hide the twinkle in our eyes full of anticipation.

    We throughly enjoyed our bento and cheesecakes while watching Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt's 'Edge of Tomorrow'. We were amused at how many times Tom Cruise perished in that film. But all in all it was a nice adaptation of a Japanese light novel called 'All You Need is Kill'. A great way to end our short cultural immersion.

    After packing our luggages, my sister and I took some long exposure shots of the Tokyo Skytree before turning in for the night.
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  • Day12

    Yanaka Ginza

    November 25, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    When my sister and I got our bearings back, we deliberated on whether we should try the famous Totoro Cream Puffs or head directly to Yanaka Ginza where cats are purportedly roaming freely and are part of their community. We decided that to fully enjoy what's left of the daylight, we go straight to Neko town.

    Unfortunately the train we boarded stops on all stations. At first, we enjoyed the views as it passed by the countryside residential areas different from the route of the express service we took on the way to the airport. We noticed the sun was actually out and the clouds have parted. We saw multiple houses with some persimmons in their backyard, Mom enjoyed their slight piquancy and juicy sweetness that she coveted a persimmon picking photo-op. Perhaps next time. Over time, we realised how the train stations looked too similar.

    Good thing we bought along the mobile Wi-Fi that our AirBnB host has provided so we were able to look up in the internet how we could switch to a faster train back to the city. We were very elated when we finally arrived at Nippori station.

    Yanaka Ginza had a relaxed vibe set amidst a preserved old part of Tokyo. It most certainly did not have the feel of a heavily burdened tourist attraction. There was a small Cafe with locals catching up with the latest gossip. There were boutique shops of snacks and delicacies, and we also passed by one that sold jewellery and my sister got a pair of cherry blossom inspired earrings which looked quite unique. Nearby was a seafood shop and there was an elderly woman attending to what appears to be a patron as they shared an extended chat. Thankfully the scant amount of tourists did not hamper the local life to unfold.

    Further down the street we saw a little establishment with a queue. We got intrigued, and on closer look we were enthralled by the smells of barbecued chicken and liver in skewers. Apparently they were using an original recipe that are decades old and hails from their hometown. And it was delicious! Moist meat and the marinade was flavoursome - with balanced sweetness and saltiness.

    We still haven't seen any cats. Internet posts said we should keep an eye out for them as locals offer them food and water. We reached the end of the alley and it opened to a street. We decided to start walking back to Nippori station. Just across the barbecue shop we noticed trays of bento with a variety of options with chicken or fish or beef or pork and sides. The meticulousness of how they've arranged the items was quite exquisite. The price was also very affordable. A perfect solution for our dinner tonight.

    Before leaving Yanaka Ginza, we passed by a shop that sold Marron (chestnut) biscuits, a flavour which is sweet and nutty at the same time. We also passed by a shop that sold Taro puffs - it was dangerously scrumptious and we could not stop eating it!

    We saw a few more cat statues, but no real neko. At this stage, it was well and truly dusk. We checked out the cemetery and we only saw tombstones and tree lined avenues full of shadows. We departed immediately and headed back to the station.
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  • Day12

    Send-Off

    November 25, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Morning came and there was a light shower surrounding Tokyo. It was as if the heavens were empathising. It is that time of our journey again when goodbyes must be said.

    Mom and Dad have completed their packing last night. It was just a few more things to be stored away, so it was a smooth sailing morning.

    We had our final breakfast together for this trip. We had some of the left overs of the bread and eggs we accumulated over the past few days. We talked about the trip and Dad was very grateful for the opportunity to have his cardio rehab in Osaka and Tokyo. We all had a laugh.

    When we were ready, we booked our Uber ride. My sister and I assisted Mom and Dad with their luggage. Our ride arrived just as we exited the lobby. Our driver greeted us and gave us a smile before assisting with the luggage.

    It was a quick trip to Ueno station where we will catch the train to the airport.

    There was a queue in the ticketing counters. We bought tickets from the machine booths instead, but found out that we still had to line up in the manned counter to obtain seating reservation. Later on, my sister and I found out that we could have requested a Tokyo day trip pass that you can avail once you purchased a Keisei Skyliner fare. Something to remember for the future.

    The train was comfortable, with blue upholstery. The view outside transitioned from the densely populated central Tokyo, full of multi-story buildings and large billboards, to the suburbs, where modern and traditional houses line the train tracks, to the countryside, where there were rice farms and tree groves with some autumn trees.

    On our way up to the terminal we saw these luggage carts, and near the escalators there was a huge sign that said "Cart OK!" We were skeptical at first, but then looking at the cart design we understood that it did look like it was going to be alright. We put Mom and Dad's luggage in the cart and instead of taking the elevators, with a queue of passengers, we headed to the escalators with a sense of adventure. As they said, taking the cart along WAS ok.

    After finding out what counter Philippine Airline flights were checking people in, we made our way there. There was a long queue and we noticed they were checking in two different flights, one for Manila, the other bound for Cebu. My sister and I then sat down in one corner, waiting for Mom and Dad to call us so we can help them hoist their luggage up into the weighing scale /conveyor belt.

    After checking-in, we went to the next floor to select a quick bite for a light lunch. We saw a food stall serving packed sushi. We purchased a packet, and then looking around, we couldn't find anywhere to sit and enjoy it. We decided to go back near their check-in counters again as it was quiet there.

    As we shared our final meal together in this trip, we noticed it was no longer raining outside, but still cloudy. Finally, when the last morsel was had and we had our sips of fluid, we stood up and said our goodbyes. We parted full of hope for our next adventure and took comfort from the wonderful new memories we have just made.
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  • Day11

    Akihabara UDX and Don Quijote

    November 24, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    Back to Akihabara UDX, we went to the food court, where once more we were faced with the electronic ordering counters. Our training earlier with Ichiran Ramen was still fresh in our minds. Unfortunately the meals were merely food to fill the tummy and relieve hunger, nothing exciting to write home about.

    We then made our way to the nearby Don Quijote. It's a multi story discount shop where one can find just about anything. My Mom and sister purchased some luggage bags, I got mom a perfume, my sister and I got some vintage ume wine. Naturally our shopping cart were full of Kitkat chocolates with unique Japanese flavours that are different from the last time we visited Tokyo. We also found some cheesecake flavoured baked biscuits.

    When we got back to our accommodation, we immediately tried some of the baked cheesecake biscuit and we were delighted at how moreish it was! Mom begged for a whole box that she can pack away and for my sister and I to just return to Don Quijote tomorrow to get another one. We all laughed and of course agreed to.

    After Mom and Dad finished their packing, we opened a bottle of vintage ume wine. We toasted our trip, acknowledging our blessing that we got to enjoy each other's company. We remembered our dear Lola who recently passed, but we knew how much she enjoyed hearing about our stories of previous trips. We hoped for another opportunity someday soon.

    Quietly, the Tokyo Skytree bore witness to the Family of Four's final night together, flashing its myriad of colours.
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  • Day11

    Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

    November 24, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    The gardens were next to a baseball field. We saw high school kids practising and we could hear plenty of enthusiastic cheers. We also saw tourist buses parked along the street and we hoped that the gardens wouldn't be as full as Ninenzaka Path in Kyoto.

    When it was time to purchase entry tickets, Mom and Dad availed senior discount rates. Already we could see some tourists by the entrance. When we walked inside and got to the clearing, we breathed a sigh of relief as it was spacious and the amount of people were nowhere near what we experienced in Kyoto.

    There were a plenty of trees exhibiting autumn hues. There was a huge, man-made lake in the middle with big fish bobbing their heads up. They also had a 'Japanese traditional' Café that overlooked a smaller pond but this was full of guests at the time of our visit. There were families, groups of tourists, enjoying the scenery and spending time with each other. There were lovers too in some less trodden areas.

    After our groupfies, Mom and Dad made their way to an area where they can take more photos by the lake, whereas my sister and I made our way to the stream with pebbles and boulders, closer to the red bridge. We tried to capture the mood and looked pensive as we took turns taking photos of ourselves amidst this overcast setting. At the top of the hill there was a couple politely chatting to each other and from there we saw Mom and Dad enjoying their scenery by the lake.

    It was dark when we finally left the gardens. The baseball practice across the road was still ongoing. We wondered what time they would finish as it was a school day again tomorrow.

    We took the train back to Akihabara. We noticed that this train line (Toei) goes deeper underground than the other train lines. You need to go down about 4 sets of lengthy escalators. Amazingly, there were bright LED lights on the subway platform that made it seem like there was daylight, helping anyone with claustrophobia or any related anxieties.
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  • Day11

    Franciscan Chapel and Ichiran

    November 24, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Today marks my Mom and Dad's last full day with us. The thought hung heavy over us as we looked at Tokyo Skytree. We realised it was not raining anymore. Even though the sun was hiding behind the clouds, we were determined to make the most of the overcast day.

    Over breakfast we planned our church visit to the Franciscan Chapel Center, Japan’s only English-language Roman Catholic parish. I had proposed that we have some Ichiran Ramen right after mass and then visit Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens. It did not take a lot of convincing.

    Despite being cloudy, the forecast said no rain. My sister and I decided not to bring umbrella as we trusted the Japanese meteorologists implicitly. One evening while we were in Osaka, the Weather Bureau had forecast rain, even adding a countdown that read "slight showers in __ minutes." And their timing was spot on. Just another reason to be amazed with Japan.

    The Mass was already starting when we arrived at the Franciscan Chapel Center. It was filled with Filipinos. The priest was of advanced age, and endearing. He was sharing his life experiences with good humour. We marveled at the stained glass windows as well as the wooden floor boards.

    When the mass ended we saw two Pinays looking for something on the ground. Apparently one of them lost a pearl earring that was gifted by their boss and they were worried that the boss would be upset. They further revealed that this had already happened once but luckily the earring was found that time. Unfortunately their luck ran out this time.

    Out on the church grounds there was a group of Pinoys discussing where they will have lunch. Good thing they did not mention Ichiran, otherwise the restaurant would have been too packed.

    At Ichiran we shared the lift with one of the staff members. She directed us to the machine where we are to order prior to entering the restaurant. There was no one there and so we were able to comfortably select our choices.

    The menu was foreigner friendly, it had pictures and English counterparts to the Japanese text. We ordered the classic Tonkotsu ramen and then some special house made vinegar sauce. Afterwards you have to slot in the cash and coin payments and out comes ticket stubs to be redeemed inside.

    Once settled, the attending staff member received our ticket stubs and then gave us a form to fully customise our ramen experience--from the noodle texture, to the richness of the broth and how spicy you would like it to be.

    While waiting we then took notice of the set up of the restaurant. We are in our own cubicles, we are seated next to each other but there is a wooden divider on our sides. There was a signage there that encourages people to focus and enjoy the food and to remember that another serving of noodles is free.

    When the food arrived, the attendant drew down the bamboo blinds, facilitating intimacy with your bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen. We took a groupfie and then we delved into our food, enjoying the broth and the noodles and the perfect, thin slices of pork. My sister and I also thoroughly enjoyed the house-made vinegar sauce. We both thought it went well with the pork flavour of the ramen.

    When we exited, we noted the long queue outside the establishment. We noticed the same thing happening at the Takoyaki place in Osaka, as well as in the cáfe just the other day. We joked that perhaps we were a money cat phenomenon--attracting customers and money for others but not for ourselves.

    The sun continued to hide behind thick clouds. On our way to Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens, we passed a pedestrian overpass that required a groupfie due to its unique structure. It was like four separate overpasses that had been interconnected.
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  • Day10

    Into the Unknown

    November 23, 2019 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 11 °C

    Another rainy day as per forecast. Tokyo Skytree remained covered by a light veil of white. Over breakfast we planned what time we were going to catch Frozen 2, otherwise known in Japan as "Anna and the Snow Queen 2." There was a local cinema nearby in Parco Ya Shopping Mall.

    From last night's news we knew that today was Labor Thanksgiving Day. I secretly wished we could run into some kids giving gratitude cards to a policeman so I could capture it on camera, but unfortunately it was just a rainy day.

    My sister and I checked to see if Tante Marie Patisserie was open for her belated birthday cake but alas, its opening hours have been affected by the public holiday. We left our host's clear umbrella by the door to let it drip while we quickly went upstairs to fetch Mom and Dad. When we got back down, the umbrella was gone. Granted we have been too complacent, but we never thought such thievery exists here. Later on our host said not to worry about the umbrella and he did not make us pay for it.

    Unfortunately the cinema had no online booking facility. So the 3pm session was already fully booked when we got there just after lunch time. We selected the 6:30pm session instead.

    We decided to just relax in this mall and not get wet anymore. My sister thought of a great way to ensure that she can get her hands on some Morozoff cheesecake before it sells out--to buy some now! And so off she went, and since the store was just downstairs she returned with the sweet bounty in a jiffy.

    There were some restaurants just a floor below. After conducting an visual survey, my sister and I decided to replicate our "cook your own beef patty" experience three years ago. We settled in Hokkaido Kuro Maru, while Mom and Dad had lunch in Toriryouri Teppanyaki Kashiwa. Our restaurant must be good as people queue up for it. Soon, my sister and I thoroughly enjoyed our flavourful beef patty and a side of chicken in cream sauce and with rice and salad.

    After being filled, we checked the department store downstairs to pass the time. Dad and I saw fashionable and functional warm jackets that cost a fortune and we just smiled at the price tags. Mom had excitedly found a bag that she can use for her upcoming high school reunion. It had the perfect colour to match their motif. It was lightweight too despite looking quite sturdy. My sister found a very warm infinity shawl that will definitely prove its worth on her return to the Great White North.

    Uniqlo Ueno was close by, but we still had to use the umbrellas to get there. The store was packed. Here we found more warmers.

    We took a shortcut across a seafood shop to avoid going through the rain and were surprised by the variety of their offerings, from fish to molluscs.

    We came back in plenty of time for the movie. We were still full from our big late lunch so we skipped the snacks bar.

    The cinema was impressive and super comfortable. The screen size was almost like an IMAX theatre. Also, the spaces between the rows of seats were strategically planned - even if you slouched, you would not see the heads of the people in front of you. And we even noticed umbrella holders behind the seats.

    It was delightful to see the character growth in Elsa and Anna and the rest of the gang. The songs were memorable too.

    After the film, we opted to pass by 7-Eleven to get dinner. My sister got herself Neapolitan pasta, whereas I had Yakisoba, Dad had some pork with soup and noodles and Mom had a rice and fish dish. Finally, we completed our meal with some cheesecake that survived all the traveling.

    Outside, the Skytree continued to beam transcendent light, each flash momentary, but beautiful. Like our trip, almost coming to an end.
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  • Day9

    Dinner in Venusfort

    November 22, 2019 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 9 °C

    We were ready to look for a place to have early dinner. We made our way back to the Megaweb Toyota City Showcase. There we were amazed with the future of vehicles. A passionate lady showcased what they have planned. Toyota has developed the technology to use hydrogen as a power source. Once ready, there will be a drastic cut to carbon emissions. However this technology will not be rolled out until around 2027.

    Back in VenusFort, we once more enjoyed the Venetian style interior. Up in the food court, we could still remember where we had sat to eat three years ago. When our food arrived, we also remembered just how lacklustre it had been three years ago. Moving on for dessert, I had some soy soft serve ice cream (I had the red bean, Dad had black sesame seed) whilst my sister went to another shop for bubble tea. As we ate, we enjoyed the spectacle of tourists posing for pics in front of a nearby fountain, light and music show that played on loop.

    There was less rain and wind on our way back to our accommodation and we were grateful for it. We were hoping to buy the cheesecake from a shop just a stone's throw away from our accommodation but unfortunately it was closed.

    We said our usual "tadaima," when we got home and changed to our slippers prior to entering the house. We watched a news program dubbed in English and saw the reports on preparations for The Pope's visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then to Tokyo. Also they reported that tomorrow would be Labor Thanksgiving Public Holiday. Apparently kids will be giving gratitude cards to firemen, policemen and the likes. The program also highlighted the ongoing ceremonies that Japan's new Emperor has completed and those that were still to come.
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  • Day9

    Inside teamLab Borderless

    November 22, 2019 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 8 °C

    Friday early afternoon and there was a long queue. One line for purchasing tickets and then another for admission.The purchasing was very efficient, it was all done through a touch screen panel operable in a multitude of languages. Before admittance, you have the option of leaving your items in the locker room. We left our umbrellas there and we thought we locked it the wrong way, but we will seek help upon exiting.

    The holding room was orderly despite being packed. On a couple of TV screens they played a video of what to expect inside and the do's and dont's. It advised that it will be dark, but a fun, sensorial experience.

    When the time came, we were ushered into a dark corridor and then we were faced with three options. We turned right towards Butterfly Garden. And then a butterfly made entirely of light passed us by. Soon there were three of them, and then more, and then they led us to this field of flowers produced by dozens and dozens of projectors in the ceiling. There was ethereal music playing in the background (possibly a glockenspiel) that enhanced the sense of wonder.

    The visitors busily enjoyed posing for selfies/groupfies. Every room offered a different vista: there was one with waterfalls, whales, geckos, kids on a slide with light trails, and even a room giving visitors a chance to manipulate projected flowing water by touching it. There were also some giant lamps, a room of mirrors and poles with crystals and a room with a laser light show, thick mist and house music.

    For the room filled with lanterns, there was almost a half an hour queue. Good thing it was close to a resting area. We were able to let Mom and Dad rest while we lined up. It was interesting how efficiently the TeamLab crew handled the crowd. After all that waiting, we only had four minutes inside the art installation but it was a good photographic experience.
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