Helpful ReplyHot!Big in Japan

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buffetbuster
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2017/04/20 11:37:25 (permalink)

Big in Japan

My girlfriend Mariton and I were invited to a wedding in Japan, as her cousin Maki was getting married on April 1.  As much traveling as I do in the United States, I have done very little overseas.  The last time I had been outside of the US or Canada was when I was 13, as our family took a cruise down the Rhine River.  Mariton made it clear how important this was to her for us to go, so we started making plans.
 
It is prohibitively more costly to fly from Pittsburgh to Tokyo than from Los Angeles to Tokyo, so I booked roundtrip in and out of LAX using Southwest Airlines points.  As for getting to Tokyo Narita airport, I asked my office manager at work to do some searching and with the help of the travel agents we use at American Express, she found attractive flights and fares on All Nippon Airlines (ANA). 
 
We left PIT for LAX on Saturday March 25 and split the next four days between Los Angeles and San Diego.  I may go back and do a trip report later about this time, but that will have to wait.  We arrived at LAX on March 29 for our flight to Narita and as always, we were hours early.  Because we were flying business class, we got passes to the Star Alliance Lounge.  We grabbed a seat near the railing that overlooked the terminal and killed time charging our devices and enjoying snacks from the buffet.  I jokingly said to Mariton that is the type of place where you would spot celebrities.  Not 15 minutes later, I see a tall younger man talking on his phone come over to the railing to see the view.  I recognized him immediately as singer Robin Thicke, son of Growing Pains star Alan Thicke, who recently passed away.
 
Later, while waiting at the gate, we saw half a dozen ANA flight attendants approach.  Before heading down the tunnel into the plane, they all turned to the passenger waiting area and bowed in unison.  That's something I had never seen before. 
 
Once on the plane, they immediately start feeding you and never stop.  Here is the menu we were given

and you can choose between the Japanese or international menus.  Both the steak

and dessert,

were quite good.  The seats were roomy, even for someone my size.  And the way it is designed, you don't see any other passengers, unless you lean out.  Here is Mariton

waiting for the arrival of another meal. 
 
To pass the time, I watched movies, including La La Land, Inferno, War on Everyone and Doctor Strange, all while keeping track of our progress on the map.

14 hours later, we arrived at Narita.  Customs turned out to be a major pain, as the line was so long, it took us over 2 hours to get through. By the time we collected our luggage, we were seriously tired, but it was great to see Mariton's aunt Marivic and her daughter Erika there to greet us.  I was hoping to exchange money at the airport, but the line was 50+ people deep.  We headed outside where Mariton's uncle Hiroshi was waiting for us with the car and somehow we managed to fit all the luggage in.  They drove us to their house in nearby Yotsukaido, where I had to be reminded to take my shoes off before entering the house.  They made a really nice dinner of a mix of Filipino and Japanese dishes.  I am particularly fond of pancit
 
After visiting for a while, we piled back into the car and they drove us to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency in downtown Tokyo.  I can't begin to tell you how much we appreciated them doing this, despite it had been the third trip to the airport that day for Hiroshi and Marivic and we knew they were dead tired, also.  I don't remember much about the rest of that night other than the hotel has beautiful chandeliers

and we immediately collapsed in bed.
 
Sorry this isn't the most exciting start, but I promise it will soon pick up.
 
Much more to come.....
 
I will be calling Mariton's relatives in Japan by name, so it might be a good idea if I explain who everyone is in the first post, just in case anyone gets confused later and can come back and use this as a reference.
 
* Mariton is my girlfriend.  Her name is Maria Antonia, which gets shortened to Mariton.
 
* Marivic is Mariton's aunt.  She is Filipino and Marivic is short for Maria Victoria.  Even though Mariton is her niece, there is only a couple of years age difference.  They grew up together and are best friends.
 
* Hiroshi is Marivic's Japanese husband. 
 
* Maki is Marivic and Hiroshi's older daughter and we came to Japan to attend her wedding.  She visited us in Pittsburgh on two occasions, one of which I wrote about here.
 
* Erika is Marivic and Hiroshi's younger daughter, who is now living in Koreatown of Los Angeles.  We grew close to Erika when she lived with us in Pittsburgh for three months, during which she participated in a Roadfood bus tour.  I previously wrote about her time with us here.
 
* Lourdes is Mariton's mother, who lives here in Pittsburgh.
  
post edited by buffetbuster - 2017/04/21 08:20:34
#1
kozel
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 11:50:33 (permalink)
Great start.  What a great adventure.
 
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 12:33:14 (permalink)
Show me the noodles.

Great to have you and M back, Cliff. See you this weekend.
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buffetbuster
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 12:43:20 (permalink)
JRPfeff
See you this weekend.
Oh? 
 
 
Will that be at Young's Frozen Custard, which is opening for the season tomorrow or at the surprise birthday party at the Mars VFW we are attending on Sunday?


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chickenplucker
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 12:53:10 (permalink)
I followed you guys on IG the whole time and enjoyed it. Cant wait to read about it now.
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 13:07:55 (permalink)
All Nippon Airlines fed you well!
 
So the 14 hours from LA to Japan was actual air time and not clock time?  That's a seriously long flight...I thought 8 hours to Hawaii was bad!
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 13:19:19 (permalink)
This looks like an exciting adventure.Looking forward to this...
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buffetbuster
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 14:04:32 (permalink) ☄ Helpfulby dbldbl 2017/05/09 22:19:36
In case anyone is wondering about the title of the trip report, Big in Japan was a hit for Alphaville in the mid-1980's.  The song is about musical groups who are popular in Japan, but less so at home.  Of course, during this trip I was big in Japan in a completely different way.
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buffetbuster
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 14:05:56 (permalink)
chickenplucker
I followed you guys on IG the whole time and enjoyed it. Cant wait to read about it now.


So I don't think there will be any surprises for you!  And thanks for all the likes and nice comments on Instagram, as they were very much appreciated.
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buffetbuster
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 14:10:01 (permalink)
ScreamingChicken
All Nippon Airlines fed you well!
 
So the 14 hours from LA to Japan was actual air time and not clock time?  That's a seriously long flight...I thought 8 hours to Hawaii was bad!


Honestly, I could have eaten the entire time if I was so inclined.  You wouldn't believe the amount of food that was turned down.  I went through six glasses of oolong iced tea, which wasn't too much of a problem since the bathroom was only a few rows away and probably three times larger than the ones on American planes.
 
It was probably a little less than 14 hours in the air, but not by much.  On the other hand, the flight home from Narita to LAX was barely ten hours.
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rumaki
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 14:48:05 (permalink)
The first time I went to Asia (I was going to Beijing), I ended up "having" to fly business class on the now defunct Canadian Pacific Airways out of Vancouver.  I loved it, and vowed then that I would only fly business class to Asia in the future. I've gone to various Asian countries out of LAX, DTW, MSP, PDX and SFO, on airlines including Air China (Taiwanese airline), Korean Air, United, and Northwest/Delta. The thing I like about flights to Asia, as opposed to flights to Europe, is the fact that they ARE 14 hours. I'm actually able to sleep on them, whereas I rarely can on the shorter East-bound to Europe flights.  And they DO feed you a lot!  I always choose the "oriental" meal. On United going to/from Japan, even in Business Class, you're advised to special order the Japanese meal in advance, as they almost always run out.  The business class lounge in Taipei had fabulous dim sum.
 
The neatest experience I had was a flight to Beijing on Northwest which coincided with one of the comets (Hale-Bopp, perhaps -- I don't recall exactly).  I could see it from my airplane window.
 
Can't wait to hear more about your trip!
 
 
 
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 15:18:45 (permalink)
Friday March 30, 2017
 
We didn't sleep nearly as late as we assumed we would and no doubt this was due to our screwed up internal clocks.  We were the first ones in the door for breakfast at the hotel's Regency Club at 7:00AM.  We had breakfast in the hotel every morning on the trip for the following reasons, 1) it was convenient, 2) it was free, 3) it was really good.  This is Mariton's plate 

the first morning and she always loaded up on the salmon.  My plates

leaned more towards pastries and cheese, both of which were always across the board outstanding, no matter which hotel we were in.  Another great thing about the visits to the Regency Club was there was also a concierge on duty to offer help and advice, both of which we usually needed.
 
We didn't leave the hotel until around 10:00 and caught the shuttle to nearby Shinjuku Station.  This place is massive and is in the Guiness Book of World Records as the busiest train station in the world, with approximately 3.6 million passengers a day passing through.  That total is unbelievable!  It is a city within a city, with multiple department stores, passageways leading to more shops, more restaurants, more train platforms, etc.  It is oh so easy to get lost inside, which we promptly did.  It took asking six different people to help guide us to where we needed to go, including one young lady working at a perfume store counter, who lead us most of the way. 
 
Finally, we arrived at where I wanted to make my first food stop, Tokyo's branch of Los Angeles' best pie shop, The Pie Hole.


My favorite slice at Pie Hole is the Mexican Chocolate,

and I wanted to see how it compared to what I had eaten in Los Angeles previously.  This pie is dense rich with a pudding texture, without being cloyingly sweet and the graham cracker crust is as good as it gets.  Also wanting to try something new, I ordered a slice of Earl Gray tea pie,

something I had only seen once before and that was just a few days earlier at a new pie shop in San Diego.  This pie had a much lighter custardy texture, topped with first-rate made in house cream and a soft, flaky crust.  Excellent stuff!
 
By the time we finished our pies, it was time get going and we used one of the over 200 exits at Shinjuku Station to get to the street.  We quickly flagged down a taxi (they are everywhere in Tokyo!) and told him the name of the our destination.  Our cabbie was an older man, who wore white gloves and unlike all the rest we used during the trip, did not use the GPS.  Half an hour later, he dropped us off at Spain Club restaurant in the Ginza,

as that is where Mariton's family was meeting for lunch.  Arriving 45 minutes early, we explored the nearby area.
 
We came across a restaurant that was filled as it was lunch time, but other places nearby were not nearly as busy.  I love how the restaurants have displays

of what the food looks like along with the prices.  Roadfood poster King T, who does those amazing trip reports here in the forums, pointed out on Instagram that there are businesses that specialize in creating these displays and making sure the food looks as attractive as possible.  Well, they definitely succeeded, as I desperately wanted to eat at this place.  The only thing that was stopping me was that you place your order at a vending machine before entering, which then issues you a ticket.  Since none of it was in English, it looked potentially confusing.   No doubt before the trip is over, we will be dealing with this issue.
 
When we returned to the restaurant, we were still the only ones here.  We went inside and they led us to an upstairs table, where we had a view of what an attractive restaurant this is. 


Slowly, the rest of the family arrived, until there was a total of 16 of us.  What I thought was really cool was that four different languages; Japanese, Vasaya, Cantonese and English were spoken back and forth.
 
Erika is the one who picked out the restaurant and she also ordered the food ahead of time.  This included soup,

an appetizer

and an amazing fish dish, though I never did find out what kind of fish it was.

The only problem was that different people received different dishes.  When I saw paella (one of my favorite dishes in any kind of restaurant) come out, I was very excited.  Instead though, I was given a Spanish pork dish. 

Once over the disappointment, I thoroughly enjoyed this too, and was eventually given a small side of paella.

For dessert, crème brulee.

I was thinking about Cousin Johnny while eating this, as crème brulee is one of his favorites.
 
After the food was done, we sat around and chatted for a good hour over tea. 

This was such an enjoyable meal and everyone complimented Erika on picking out such a good restaurant and menu.  Maybe her time in America around Roadfooders taught her a few things!
 
It was during this lunch that I was asked if I would be in the wedding.  Wait, what?  What could I say, other than I would be honored.  It seems that Mariton's mother Lourdes and her husband Jack had been asked to be in the wedding party as witnesses.  Unfortunately, Jack is having some health issues and did not make the trip.  And Lourdes has fallen a few times recently and she wanted someone big and strong to help her on the walk down the aisle.  Well, I don't know about strong, but I am big.  So I got drafted.
 
We left the restaurant around 4:00PM into a pouring rain.  There wasn't room in Hiroshi's car for everyone, so about a half dozen of us headed for the nearby train station.  Everyone else got off at Shinagawa Station, since that was only a few blocks from where the wedding and reception were the next day and they were staying in the hotel.  We continued on to Shinjuku Station, catching the shuttle back to the hotel.  By the time we got to our room, we both desperately needed sleep and laid down to take a quick nap.  Of course, we didn't wake up until 1:00AM, completely missing out on a chance to explore Tokyo.  No big deal, we will go get 'em tomorrow.
 
Much more to come.....
post edited by buffetbuster - 2017/04/20 15:35:08
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 15:27:19 (permalink)
Awesome start.

But you won't lose any weight with meals like those.
post edited by JRPfeff - 2017/04/20 15:30:49
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ScreamingChicken
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 15:28:41 (permalink)
buffetbuster
We had breakfast in the hotel every morning on the trip  for the following reasons, 1) it was convenient, 2) it was free, 3) it was really good.  This is Mariton's plate 



What are the tubular items on these 2 plates?  They look very similar even though the plates are from different places at different times of the day.  The top one almost looks like an Oscar Mayer wiener but I know that's not possible...
 
Please post more hotel breakfast photos.  I'm staying at a St. Louis hotel quite a bit this year and I'd like to make some breakfast suggestions.
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buffetbuster
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 15:32:25 (permalink)
ScreamingChicken
buffetbuster
We had breakfast in the hotel every morning on the trip  for the following reasons, 1) it was convenient, 2) it was free, 3) it was really good.  This is Mariton's plate 



What are the tubular items on these 2 plates?  They look very similar even though the plates are from different places at different times of the day.  The top one almost looks like an Oscar Mayer wiener but I know that's not possible...
 
Please post more hotel breakfast photos.  I'm staying at a St. Louis hotel quite a bit this year and I'd like to make some breakfast suggestions.


SC-
In the top photo, those are Japanese sausages, which I never took much of a liking to.  In the bottom photo, those are cute little breads.  No doubt the hotel breakfast in St. Louis will look exactly like this. 
#15
kozel
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 15:47:30 (permalink)
buffetbuster
Finally, we arrived at where I wanted to make my first food stop, Tokyo's branch of Los Angeles' best pie shop, The Pie Hole.

Imagine our surprise!
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Michael Hoffman
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 17:57:26 (permalink)
WOW!
And this is just the beginning?
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/20 19:04:56 (permalink)
As a former resident of Japan, I always enjoy seeing folks visit for the first time and experience the place. Hope you got to enjoy the local flavours.
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Foodbme
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 02:03:59 (permalink)
You go half way around the world just to get some American Pie?
Amazing!
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 06:32:03 (permalink)
I got tired just reading about you waiting for the plane at LAX.  A great write.
 
Paul E. Smith
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buffetbuster
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 08:21:26 (permalink)
kozel
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Finally, we arrived at where I wanted to make my first food stop, Tokyo's branch of Los Angeles' best pie shop, The Pie Hole.

Imagine our surprise!


A surprise that big could cure hiccups!
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buffetbuster
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 08:22:57 (permalink)
Root-Beer Man
As a former resident of Japan, I always enjoy seeing folks visit for the first time and experience the place. Hope you got to enjoy the local flavours.


Very cool!  Where did you live in Japan?  Hopefully, we went there.  Did you enjoy your time in Japan?
post edited by buffetbuster - 2017/04/21 08:58:37
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 09:48:47 (permalink)
Saturday April 1, 2017
 
This was wedding day!  Not wanting to take any chances on being late, we planned on taking a taxi.  Since the Catholic Church where the wedding was taking place is small and easy to miss, Maki had the excellent idea of writing down the address for us in Japanese to give to the driver. 

No doubt this was a big help.
 
Since I was now in the wedding, we were required to be there at 8:30AM for a quick rehearsal.   And in our typical fashion, we were there before 8:00, so we killed time in the church lounge.  The first ones to arrive were bridesmaids Miki, Mari and Junko, who squealed with excitement when they saw us.  Lots of hugs all around.  They had previously visited us in Pittsburgh and I was happy they remembered us.
 
During the rehearsal, there was one main woman, who was all business, running the show, with three more ladies helping out.  At first I thought they worked for the church, but later found out they were hired as wedding planners.  They got us in place, and found a way to communicate to Mariton's mother Lourdes and I on what to do.
 
For the actual ceremony, I should have given Mariton my cell phone to take pictures.  Her phone is old and the camera is not very good.  We plan on downloading her pictures this weekend anyway, so if there is anything usable, I will come back and add it. 
 
The first down the aisle was the groom, followed by the groom's parents and then Lourdes and I.  My seat was a little one person box in front of the groom's family, as Lourdes was sitting in a similar box on the bride's side.  There were times that we had to stand up and then sit down again and if we hesitated, one of the wedding planner ladies gave us a quick cue.  Part of my job as a witness is to go up and sign a document that says Maki and Kyohei are now married, but considering the entire ceremony was in Japanese, I had to take their word on it.
 
Once the ceremony was over, similar to what they do in a wedding in the US, the entire wedding party stands outside and all the guests greet them on the way out.  I was positioned between the groom and the groom's father.  As the guests were going by, they were all bowing, obviously offering congratulations to the newly married couple and then trying to figure out, who is this guy?  The entire scene was surreal.  The only thing I could do was laugh and go with it.  Even though I was very much out of place, it was a fun experience and I was truly honored to be in the ceremony.
 
The wedding was what you would expect in the West.  The groom was in a tux, the bride in an elegant, long, white wedding gown.  The only obvious difference was the priest performed the ceremony in Japanese.  Oh, one other difference was the amount of photographers.  I counted two men taking video of the ceremony and four more photographers.  And it took a good half hour afterwards to take all the necessary photos from inside the church. 
 
We were instructed to catch a shuttle to the nearby (maybe a 1/2 mile) hotel, where the reception was being held.  Once the entire wedding party and both families were gathered in the hotel lobby, we were lead down a maze of hallways to a photography studio.  The photographer was very upbeat, but precise in what he wanted in a group shot.  He also had several assistants and they were constantly in motion, moving various people around, sometimes just a matter of a few inches.  When he finally had everyone lined up and was about to take the first photo, he came back from behind the camera and started saying something, as if he was unhappy.  All I was thinking was, please don't let it be me.  Don't let it be me.  He repeated something several times and nobody was reacting.  Uh, oh, I get a bad feeling about this.  Finally one of his assistants came over and motioned for me to button up the jacket of my suit.  Now they were ready for the photos.
 
Next, we were led into a much larger room, where they lined up the two families opposite of each other.  And then they did something I have never seen at a wedding before, but it is a brilliant idea.  The groom's father started by introducing his wife and then his children.  Not just saying their names, but mentioning what they do, where they go to school, etc.  He then introduced his brother, and he then introduced his family.  And then down the line.  Next, Hiroshi, the father of the bride, introduced his side.  Unfortunately for him, the name Cliff Strutz does not exactly roll off the Japanese tongue.   He had difficulty saying my name, which got a big laugh out of the crowd.
 
I thought this was such a great idea.  How many weddings and receptions have you been to where you hardly knew anyone and wondered, who are these people?  And it is also a great way to bring the two families closer together. 
 
Next up, the most lavish reception I have ever seen.
 
Much more to come.....     
post edited by buffetbuster - 2017/04/21 13:10:25
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ScreamingChicken
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 11:27:55 (permalink)
The most important post in this thread will be the one that contains a photo of you in a suit...
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buffetbuster
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 12:35:45 (permalink)
SC-
Oh that's coming....
#25
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 14:20:54 (permalink)
I am loving this report, Cliff. That photography moment is hilarious but awkward at the time,, I bet. I guess maybe no one spoke enough English to tell you what was wrong and, of course, you didn't know enough Japanese. I can just imagine myself in your place, kind of dying for a few long moments. Writing the directions for the driver was very wise. Is Japanese written left to right as in English? I thought Japanese was written top to bottom.
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 14:41:50 (permalink)
BB, I just love reading your posts.
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ann peeples
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 15:49:32 (permalink)
Bob worked in Japan twice-he is 6 foot three and has dragon tattoos on his arms. They loved the tall, dark haired man. But he enjoyed the food as it wasn't typical as he was used to. He did come home thinner...
 
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MetroplexJim
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 16:14:09 (permalink)
ScreamingChicken
The most important post in this thread will be the one that contains a photo of you in a suit...

buffetbuster
SC-
Oh that's coming....

 
 
Did they have one in your size?
 
 
post edited by MetroplexJim - 2017/04/21 16:15:25
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annepr
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Re: Big in Japan 2017/04/21 17:06:55 (permalink)
Wow - this is great! I love all the details you provide. It gives a real feel for what your experience was like. And the food pictures are fantastic, of course. I can't wait to read more. Thanks for spending the time to do this.
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