Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

The Safety of Air Travel

Just now, the news is reporting that there’s been another big plane crash this year. As in the previous incidents, they don’t know for sure what happened, but it looks like the plane went down over Mali, in the Sahara Desert of West Africa. For many of you reading this, Mali might sound vaguely familiar as a place on a map. For me, having spent a summer there, I picture this when I think of Mali:

Kids in Mali

My heart goes out to the people of Mali and to the people of many countries who are suffering right now because of this terrible situation. Just last week, another plane crashed in Ukraine, affecting many people from all different nations. When I hear the word Ukraine, I don’t picture a story on the news. I remember this:

IMG_5513That’s the power of travel.

On PlaneAnd it wouldn’t be possible without airplanes. It’s easy to be afraid of flying when you hear stories like these ones. But don’t be fooled!  Some estimates say that the chances of dying in a plane crash are at about 1 in 4.7 million. Others measure it at about 1 in 20,000 throughout your lifetime. Either way, it’s WAY safer than driving, with estimates that your chances of dying in a car accident in your lifetime at closer to 1 in 100.  So, instead of living your life in fear, just be smart, like making sure to wear your seatbelt.

I leave on Saturday evening for Iceland. This trip will be a family vacation, and a much shorter flight than Japan. I’ll be heading up north, and closer to the North Pole, the days will be very long up there!

Boston to Iceland

We’ll be exploring this unique island, taking a bus and even a short plane ride from one part of the island to another. We’ll be seeing lots of hot springs, volcanoes, and interesting landscapes, for sure:


So, please don’t worry about me, but do check back for a few last posts about Japan, and then some first posts from Iceland. I’ll do my absolute best to stay safe, and the odds are certainly in my favor.

Note: The news can be pretty graphic to watch or even read. Before you do any online research, make sure to check with your parents and think about how this information might affect you. Statistics for this post about the safety of air and car travel were found here and here.

Japanese Fast Food

LawsonsWhile I loved the fine dining of Japan, it was also fun to try out the simple stuff from the corner store or little hole in the wall. Sometimes, I just walked by something that looked interesting, and figured, “why not try this?” It was fun to go into the little 7 Elevens and try out new treats. Here’s our group in the parking lot of a convenience store sampling the packaged ice cream. I didn’t check out the McDonalds, Baskin’ Robbins, or other American chain restaurants, because these ones were much better treats from the street:


Japanese people love ramen shops. They are set up in a really interesting way. Even though they are full restaurants, you start by ordering from a machine on the street, putting your money into a little slot.

Ordering Ramen

Ramen ShopIt was cheap (less than $10 for a plate of dumplings, huge bowl of soup, and rice) — but still a bit strange to order from a machine. There was no robot making the food. The machine printed out a little receipt, and then you brought that inside, sat down, and gave it to the waiter. A few minutes later, he brought your food over, and you could eat and leave whenever (because you already paid at the machine).  Yum! The soup was gigantic and delicious.

Ramen and Dumplings

Chunky Beverages

In addition to the food from machines, it was fun to try new beverages in cans and bottles. Sometimes, I could tell what I was getting, and sometimes I couldn’t. I decided not to try the Salt and Fruit drink here.

Salt and Fruit

I did try a bunch of new juices. It was common for juices to have chunks in them! Sometimes, they seemed like pieces of fruit, but other times they were like little pieces of jello in your drink. Kind of strange to the unaccustomed taste buds, but I liked it.

Some sort of sweet (I have no idea what it’s called)

I got to see these cookie type things being made, but I don’t know the name:

Fried Foods

I saw lots of deep fried foods. How can you go wrong, really? Except that fried chicken for breakfast is a little bizarre.


Food Courts

In Kushiro, we had dinner in a place called Moo, which was sort of like a food court. There were lots of little restaurants, and you ordered up there, and then sat anywhere. There was also a place like this 6 floors under a department store in Tokyo. Both were quick and yummy.


At the one in Kushiro, they had a machine where you could put in a dollar and get a fortune. Here’s our group crowded around our translator, Hatagami San, finding out what it said.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 7.54.52 AM

I’m sorry that you can’t eat this from the screen:


Weird Flavored Caramels

My personal favorite snack was caramel. Since Hokkaido has a lot of dairy cows, milk caramel was very common. And so good. And so many flavors.


They even had lamb flavored caramels! Gross! I bought some and brought some home if you want to try it. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

Lamb Flavored Caramel

Personally, I liked the local caramels better than the green tea Kit Kats.

Green Tea Kit KatsPlastic Food

Doesn’t this look good?

Plastic Food Close Up

Don’t get too excited. It’s plastic! It was common on the street to see these in restaurant windows. They show off what the food would look like if you ordered it, and are VERY helpful if you don’t read Japanese. But you probably wouldn’t want to eat the displays.

Plastic Food

Want to see more? 

I’ve already written about green tea / sweet potato ice cream swirl and conveyor belt sushi, which would both fit into the fast food category. And look out for a post on school lunches coming soon. I’ve got to get all of these Japan posts up, because my second trip of the summer is coming up. I leave for Iceland on Saturday!

Hacking Travel and Education

#llhack14This weekend, I participated in my first hackathon, where adults get to do their own project-based learning. A hackathon is an event where web developers and designers compete to create new products in a limited amount of time. Since I’m not a computer programmer, I normally wouldn’t participate in an event like this, but this hackathon was focused on my two favorite topics: travel and education! The organizer, LearnLaunch, invited teachers to join teams to help them make apps or websites that are most useful in real world classrooms. I was one of the only teachers, but I enjoyed getting a sneak peek into a different kind of learning environment.

hackathonI didn’t know what to expect. When I arrived Friday night, we had a BINGO mixer activity in order to meet new people. It was just like an activity we often use on the first day of school, where we had to find someone in the room who could initial each fact. I found myself asking around to see who had been to Mexico, or who could sing a U2 song. It was a good way to break the ice, and I met some new people. After playing that game and eating some pizza, people were invited up to give a one minute pitch if they had an idea for a travel / education app. After the speeches, we could approach people and form our teams. I partnered with two talented developers, Devin Dreszer and Diarmuid McGann, who seemed to have lots of good ideas about ways for classrooms around the world to collaborate.

CoThen, we started to brainstorm! We were a good team, because they knew about the technical stuff, and I knew about what’s already happening in classrooms. We eventually came up with a really solid idea, and I started getting excited. Basically, we wanted to make a Kickstarter type site where classes of students can pledge time instead of money. Classrooms would propose service ideas, and other classes around the world could pledge to take action along with them. I used some of the ideas that I had come up with in Japan, including the name “CollaborAction.” Since I know about making videos, I made a little demo video that we didn’t end up using:

ArtbeatI left Friday night and had no idea what the developers would end up being able to create. Since I don’t know how to code, it was really in their hands. On Saturday morning, I wrote up some content for them to use, and then I went to ArtBeat, a big festival in my neighborhood. When I arrived back at the office, I was amazed. My jaw really dropped. Devin and Diarmuid had created a beautiful working site! The homepage looked like this:

I loved the way it looked! I had given them all the photos and project titles from various service projects I’ve done or seen others do. For some of them, I made up details, trying to make examples that looked global, but they were all based on real projects. It looked great, but they needed more text to go into each page. I quickly added more to each write up, so that it fit into their structure:

Some of the sites on CollaboractionThe site was functional! You could click on each project and see more detail about it. Teachers could even make an account and join a project. How neat is that?

Trash Pick UpView the demo website here:


TwitterIt was really exciting to create something like this, all in less than 24 hours! It made me want to learn how to code. I knew then that even if we didn’t win, the weekend had been a success. The feeling in the room was really supportive, and all the teams were rooting each other on. After dinner, teams presented their projects. Other groups also came up with impressive results. These new “companies” were created:

  • TexChangeCurigo — When you’re traveling, this is an iPhone app that will help you meet locals or other travelers who want to meet up for language practice or socializing.
  • teXchange — A collaborative language learning program that allows students to learn new words from native speakers and make their own flashcards
  • CultureQuest — Students can upload photos that show aspects of their own culture. Then, they can play games with their own or classmates’ photos.
  • Trade RoutesTradeRoutes — Learn about important trade routes in history, and find out about what’s happening in those places today.
  • ResearchR — A web plug-in for travelers who are doing academic research. It allows you to save websites for offline use later, when you are abroad with no wi-fi access. It also helps you organize your photos with notes so that you can use them later to share about your experience.
  • IntrigueGeoSolve — A map puzzle app with a lot of interesting features, including an option to send a text to mom and dad when the student completes the puzzle.
  • Intrigue International — A spy game to help kids learn geography facts in the context of a fun adventure.
  • Road Trips — Using images from Google Street View, this website allows you to experience what it would be like to drive through another city.

Map PuzzlesWe didn’t win, but it was amazing to see what’s possible in such a short period of time. Lots of teams made apps and websites that really worked and would be really useful to different types of learners. It was also a great reminder about the power of this kind of learning. The model is simple:

  • Step 1: Get people together.
  • Step 2: Give them a goal to work towards.
  • Step 3: Give them a deadline.

And then watch the magic happen. More often than not, people can inspire each other and create wonderful things together. What do you think? Where else could we have a hackathon?

Could Obama have a hackathon? What about the Ukrainians and Russians? Or the Israelis and Palestinians? Maybe this is the answer to lots of problems that need solving… or at least a way to have fun while learning and innovating.


Buddhas and Purple Sweet Potatoes of Kamakura

KamakuraWe had one free day in Japan. Otherwise, we were busy studying Education for Sustainable Development, visiting schools, and planning collaborative projects to do next year with our students. After getting some recommendations from local friends, I decided to escape the bustle of Tokyo and head to a small beach town called Kamakura. It seemed like a good idea to dip my feet into the Pacific Ocean and see a town that had been the seat of the Japanese government for over a century. MapI had heard that there were lots of temples in Kamakura, but I didn’t really know what to expect. As it turned out, it wasn’t quite as small a town as I expected. Here you can see some teachers and I trying to figure out the map. I even took a photo so that I could look at it later if we got lost! You might notice a familiar fast food joint in the background too. We decided to head out of town towards some of the temples, but took a wrong turn and ended up on a busy shopping street. We couldn’t resist! We stayed there a bit and explored.

We stopped to get a bite to eat too, trying out some fried patties from a tiny side of the road stall.  We tried two flavors: chocolate and purple sweet potato!

Eventually, we made our way to the beach, and it really was quite peaceful to be on the outskirts of town. The water was surprisingly warm and reminded me that this was NOT the Atlantic Ocean. At the beach Eventually, we made our way to our first temple, Daibutsu, the Giant Buddha of Kamakura. It was truly worth the trip. We got to see it from outside, go inside (he was hollow!), and even check out the size of his sandals.

MonkI filmed a little video to give you a sense of the scene. Outside, you can see:

  • A monk with some sort of round head piece, ringing a bell and chanting, holding a singing bowl to collect money
  • Tourists taking pictures
  • People lighting incense and using their hands to bring the smell closer to their noses

Inside, you can see that it was tight quarters and pretty dark, but you probably can’t tell how hot it was. The sun heated up the metal, making the inside of the Buddha quite toasty. Here’s the little video I filmed:

From there, we wandered over to another temple, which we saw labeled on the map, but knew nothing about. It turned out to be a gorgeous site! There were more hydrangea flowers and statues of Buddha than I’ve ever seen in one place. I’m so glad that we didn’t miss out on seeing the Hasedera Temple! I’ll let the photos speak for themselves (click on a photo to see it bigger and scroll through the others):

After a beautiful day, we left the temple and stopped to get some ice cream. I decided to stay on the purple and green theme and I chose a swirl of those two colors — green tea and sweet potato soft serve!

As we walked the streets of Kamakura, we continued to see plenty of Buddhas. They even sold Buddha candy cigarettes. How strange!

Buddha Candy Cigarettes

Buddha Candy Cigarettes

Finally, we boarded the train to head back to Tokyo. Sure enough, there was Buddha to keep us company on our journey. What a great day!

Buddha on the Train

Buddha on the Train

Guest Post: the Brazilian Beach

Diego hasn’t even started 6th grade yet, but he’s already a master blogger. Check out his third post from Brazil. If you missed his other posts, he wrote about visiting Rio and even some interesting history lessons.

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Last week I went to my grandparent’s beach house in Buzios, Brazil.  Buzios is a peninsula in Brazil.  It is located 120 km from Rio de Janeiro where I am currently staying with my grandmother.  Also, Buzios is surrounded by beautiful beaches.

PaddleBoardTo start off I would like to talk about what I did at the beach and what I learned.  My favorite activity was paddleboarding.  I liked it the most because paddleboarding was a lot like canoeing, but standing up.  Also, you could sit or kneel instead.  When paddleboarding, it is easier to stand in the middle of the board.

While I was at the beach there were holes in the ground.  They look like ant hills but they are little worm holes that you can dig out to get the worms.  Then, you can use the worms as bait when fishing.

Another activity I did was boogie boarding.  I liked this so much because you jump on a big wave, you kick like crazy, and the wave will bring you back to shore if you timed it perfectly. Most likely you will get sand in the places you don’t want sand.

Playing SoccerWhile at Buzios, I played soccer with a couple of girls that were my grandfather`s friends.  It was fun but hard to play because we couldn’t communicate.  This was because they spoke Portuguese and my brother and I spoke English.  Playing with them was both fun and comical because whenever they scored they would scream “goooooooooooool” and when the younger one fell down she made a comment about Neymar, the best player in Brazil, who broke a vertebrae when he was kneed in the back against Colombia.  I feel that in Brazil they would play soccer anywhere because we played with two park benches as goals.

The next time I write a blog it will be about going to the Sugar Loaf, a big mountain in Brazil that gives a beautiful view of Rio de Janeiro.


Guest Post from Quebec!

canada_mapToday’s guest post comes from Lovinia, who will be in 8th grade next year. She’s been reading this blog since 5th grade, but this is her first guest post! Lovinia wrote about her recent trip to Quebec. This is a beautiful city that isn’t too far from Boston, but a very unique place with a European feel. Read on to hear about Lovinia’s experience there.     * * * * * * * * 

Hi Guys! I was in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada recently, so here are some things I learned and did.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 9.44.13 PMQuebec originally started as one house. It was owned by a man, who wanted to trade with the Natives in the area. The man’s name was Samuel de Champlain, and he was a French explorer. He built a single house near the water, and he lived there. He had traveled there mostly for the fur that the Natives had. He traded glass beads to the Natives, because they liked the colors and look of the beads, and had no way of making them. When this man died, more people came, and eventually the single house was a city, the city of Quebec.  Quebec was founded in 1763, and so it is a little older than the United States.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 9.43.45 PMThe house burnt down at one point, and the people took the foundation, and built a church. I visited the church there, and got a tour of the basement, where the original foundation was. The church is one of many beautiful buildings in Old Quebec. Old Quebec is part of the city that is inside the fortress walls. I can’t tell you much about the wall though, because I didn’t get to take a tour of it. Old Quebec is the oldest part of the city, hence the name, Old Quebec. There was a lot of beautiful roads and colors, and the houses were part of the scenery as well. The part of the city I spent quite a lot of time in, had cobblestone roads and was blocked from street vehicles which made it a great place for tourism and shopping.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 9.43.53 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-14 at 9.44.06 PMI mentioned earlier that Champlain was a French explorer, so the people who colonized it were also from France, so everyone spoke French. Most people spoke good English, because they learn it in school. Usually people could tell you spoke English straight away, but a few times someone addressed me with French which caused me to give a look like, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I knew how to say I don’t speak French, “Je ne parle pas Français,” but I was so confused that my mom would cover for me, or someone nearby would tell me what they said. Another thing that people mistook me for, was being over 18! I am 13, there is a pretty big gap, and I don’t know how to say I am 13, so that was confusing.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 9.43.37 PMThe food in Quebec is pretty much the same, except there are more pastry places, and the pastries taste better, but other than that, the portions were just as big. They also had a junk food they call Poutine, which is basically french fries covered in gravy. When my family went on a carriage ride/tour, the tour guide made fun of it, saying it was way over priced. The one thing that was different was the crepes. They are like flat pancakes that people fold stuff into. There are dessert crepes, and dinner crepes, depending what you put in them. I hadn’t heard of them until I went there. Speaking of dessert, the menus usually listed fruit as being dessert, which was surprising, since in America, fruit isn’t dessert unless it is covered in sugar or on a cake or something like that.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 9.44.00 PMI was also in Quebec for the Festival d’été de Québec, the summer music festival. I did not see any performances, but my family did come upon Billy Joel practicing on stage, and unlike in  America, the security guards let everyone stay and watch the rehearsal. The summer music festival has many famous singers come and perform, a couple days before we came, Lady Gaga had sung at the festival. There were also a lot of singers my parents like, but I had never heard of before, so I can’t remember their names.

I stayed in the Chateau Frontenac. It is a luxury hotel built to look like a castle. It is built on top of a hill, so you can look out over part of Quebec. Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 9.43.29 PMThe hotel had a pool, a gym, stores, a ballroom, spas, and many other attractions. I spent three nights there. Most people don’t stay in the hotel during the day, because there are lots of sights to see. One I haven’t mentioned yet is a waterfall I visited. It had a winding stairwell that went down along a cliff side, and at the bottom was a platform that you could stand and get misted on. The waterfall is called Montmorency Falls, and it runs into the river through Quebec. The river was used to power many factories in Quebec, and was its main source of energy. The falls were huge, and there were a lot of people from multiple countries like Japan, and other parts of Canada, as well as plenty of Americans.

That’s what I did in Quebec, I also shopped A LOT but that wasn’t the theme. Sorry I couldn’t choose one topic to talk about, but I really wanted to get it all in there.


On the Water: Photo Trivia

This blog post is a photo trivia game! There are 15 photos below. Four of them were taken in Massachusetts this past weekend, as I was lucky enough to visit a beautiful lake, a river, and the Atlantic ocean. The rest of the photos were taken in Japan — in Tokyo, Kamakura, and Kushiro. Can you guess which ones are the American ones? Make your guesses in the comments section below, where it says “leave a reply.” If you are under 18, remember to use just your first name and last initial so that you are being careful about internet safety. I’ll post a comment with the answers on Friday 7/18.

Which photos were taken in the United States and which were taken in Japan?

Photo 1

Photo 1

Picture 2

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 5

Photo 6

Photo 6

Photo 7

Photo 7

Photo 8

Photo 8

Photo 9

Photo 9

Photo 10

Photo 10

Photo 11

Photo 11

Photo 12

Photo 12

Photo 13

Photo 13

Photo 14

Photo 14

Photo 15

Photo 15

Could you tell which ones were American and which were Japanese? If not, here’s a little hint. It’s a sign taken at the beach in Kamakura. Notice the different rules — tattoos in Japan are not allowed on the beach. Does this help you figure out which photos are Japanese?


As you can see, there are many similarities between water in Japan and the United States. However, we are lucky that we don’t have to worry about tsunamis like they do. Japan is made up of all islands, and it’s on a fault line, so there’s a big risk of earthquakes. When the ground shakes, the waves can be monstrous. If you live in the United States, be thankful that you can enjoy your coastline without this risk!

Japanese Cute Machines

The word for “cute” in Japanese is kawaii, and they sure love cute things! In Japan, cuteness is not just for kids. You could easily see a business man with a little Hello Kitty charm hanging off his briefcase.  Even the cars are cute sometimes!


When shopping in Japan, you don’t have to look too hard to find something cute.

In addition to loving cute things, Japanese people love machines. Of course, you can buy beverages, but you can get all sorts of other things too — even cigarettes and beer.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are LOTS of machines in Japan that sell cute things. Ever put a quarter into a machine to get a toy? The Japanese take this to a whole new level. The average cost of a toy is 200-300 yen, or about 2-3 US dollars.

Of course I tried them out! And got a few goodies:

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 10.45.25 AM

I was very curious about one machine that looked like it sold underwear! I didn’t need any, but I was very interested to see what it was all about, so I put in my two 100 yen coins, and got… a cell phone accessory. I don’t think I’ll be using this, but it’s a good story, right?

I also found this absurd machine, which printed a little figure with my face! It was only $2 to use the machine, but it turned out that this was just to make the face part, and then I needed to pay more for the figure. Still, I think it was worth the $6 for a lot of laughs:

There were even giant arcade-like places with what appeared to be giant rooms of only claw machines! Of course, other places had different types of games, even one that featured Taiko drumming. The movie Ted appeared to be very popular in Japan, as I saw claw machines full of only Ted bears on more than one occasion.

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 3.34.02 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 3.48.37 PM

I even met a guy on the street who was wearing a sign asking people to exchange things. He had a tray of random items, and if you had something cute or interesting, he’d trade you for whatever you wanted on his tray. I made him a balloon flower and got a little Sesame Street mirror.

Exchange Guy

Would you have anything cute in your pocket, ready to trade? Most Japanese people probably would! If not, just visit a nearby machine, throw in your coins, and grab something fun.

Underground in Tokyo: The Subway

Riding the subway in Tokyo was a real adventure. The most intimidating part was the sheer number of people (though I found the crowds much less oppressive than the ones in Beijing).

The system was hard to figure out at first, but eventually we figured out how to buy a ticket. Depending on how far you were riding, the price varied. A short ride was about 190 yen (about $1.90) and a longer ride (going about an hour away) was about $10.

The hotel gave us a map in Romanji, or English letters spelling out how to pronounce the Japanese words. That made it a little easier to figure out which stop was ours. But it was still pretty complicated!


In large part, the crowds on the subway were manageable because Japanese people are very respectful of each other. For example, when people are trying to get off the train, it is customary for others to get off in order to make it easier for those around them to exit. I noticed that not only did people get off as a favor to others, but then they got in the back of the line that was waiting to get on. I don’t think people in America would do this! You can see people doing this nice thing in this little video which I filmed:

Actually, once we got on the train, it felt very relaxed. Riding the train was fun when it wasn’t super crowded. I even made some balloons on the train on a rainy day, when there were some kids sitting across from me.

There were other days when it was hard to move around at all because there were so many people. On these days, I certainly wasn’t able to take out balloons!

The hardest part to navigate were the stations themselves. Shinjuku Station was like a big underground mall, with many levels deep underground. There were plenty of chain stores that I recognized, lots of tunnels, and all sorts of foods that you can’t even imagine. Yum!

Even though riding the subway was sometimes confusing, overall, it felt very safe. Many stations had these protective doors to keep people away from the moving trains:


And there were special seats for people who needed to sit, like the elderly or pregnant women. I sat in one once when the rest of the train was packed and nobody else seemed to need it. I got some glares, but it seemed silly to stand when nobody needed the priority seats!


Japanese people tend to be short, so that meant that there were low handles for short people like me! I liked that a lot. In fact, they had lots of different handles for people of different heights! One of our tall teachers, Brad, towered over the Japanese people on the train, and there wasn’t really enough space for him.

Overall, I found the subway system to be organized, clean, and well maintained. I think the people of Tokyo are lucky to have such a great system!


Lost in 3D Tokyo

Shinjuku: My neighborhood for my stay in Tokyo

Shinjuku: my neighborhood during my stay in Tokyo


The never ending tunnel

It was easy to get lost in Tokyo. One time I went out for a walk and ended up in a tunnel that seemed never ending. I figured it would eventually take me to the subway, but after what seemed like endless walking, I emerged and saw that I was back in front of my hotel. Somehow I got all turned around. Another group of my American friends got so lost that they ended up hailing a taxi to drive them just a few minutes.

Shibuya People

A crowded intersection in Shibuya

Asakusa Neighborhood

Asakusa Neighborhood

Why did I find Tokyo so confusing? It wasn’t just because it is the biggest city in the world, with about 36 million people living in the Tokyo Metropolitan area.  It wasn’t just because our hotel was in the Shinjuku neighborhood, which is right downtown among lots of businesses, government buildings, and shopping. I can’t even say that it was because we were steps away from the busiest train station in the world, or because of the the flashy colors and language differences.

A park on the roof of a trendy shop

A park on the roof of a trendy shop

Tokyo is so hard to navigate because it is a 3D city in a way that I’ve never experienced in any other city. It’s literally built so that things are happening on many levels above and below ground.  There are skyscrapers which go way up high, but also deep into the earth, with stairs going level after level underground. After a while of walking around trying to read unclear maps, I finally figured it out — there are multiple “street levels” in Tokyo. I tried to capture it in a video:

Takeshita Street in the Harajuku Neighborhood

Takeshita Street in the Harajuku Neighborhood

A lot of times, what was happening underground was just as interesting as what was happening above ground. For example, I really enjoyed exploring Takeshita Street, known for its fashionable teenage trendiness. At one point, I saw a random staircase leading underground, so I went to check it out. In a dark hallway under the street, Japanese girls had a whole mecca of photo booth type machines, where they could get dolled up and take instant photos of themselves, with photoshop-type features to make them look ultra-glamorous.

A group of us did try out one of these photo machines, but we didn’t know how to use all the special features, like making our eyes big and skin blemish free. It still came out pretty well!

From a photo machine

From a photo machine

Another time, I was checking out an Anime shop, with 5 floors of cartoony fun. On the bottom floor, there were a ton of young guys playing Pokemon or Magic style card games (but something else I didn’t recognize).

As you can see, exploring Tokyo was a multi-storied experience. Our hotel, the Keio Plaza, went up to the 47th floor, and the lobby was the 3rd floor. At first, I was confused about why the lobby wasn’t on the first floor, until I realized that there were ways to get outside from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd floors! It was especially fun to go up high and check out the scene from up above.

It’s amazing that I didn’t get lost more often, especially when I was trying to navigate the Tokyo subway system, which is like a whole underground world. But I think I’ll save that for another post. Stay tuned — some things are just too complex for maps.

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