Quick update on all the Japan plans...
I was trying to find a cool capseru (capsule) hotel to stay in and I found one in the midst of the really busy and crazy "America Town" in Osaka!!
Now I'm trying to find a nice Ryokan around the airport before the flight back. Also, I've dumped the plan to go all the way up to Hokkaido and check out Sapporo. It's too far and inconvenient to get up there on the train and without shinkansen (high speed train) access directly to Hokkaido. It sounded cool but really I am just going for the lamb stew and the Sapporo Beer which (while super awesome) can probably both be purchased in Canada or San Francisco. :) Instead I decided that my time was too limited to fit in the island of Hokkaido (and it's gonna be really cold in the winter anyway)... so I am just going up to Morioke instead, which has direct shinkansen access, and sounds really cool and welcoming. They have a crazy soba "all you can eat" noodle tradition there which sounds funny and I will definitely have to try it.
Instead of now racing all the way from Nagano up to Sapporo in one 16-hr sortof overnight train, I'm instead gonna take a leisurely trip to the snow monkey zoo in Yudanaka and then train up to Morioke instead. Then my extra day that I would have wasted, I can instead spend by checking out Kyushu, specifically checking out Fukuoka/Hakata which also sounds awesome.
It's nice to balance the kinds of things you do when you travel, and get a lot of variety in the styles of cities you visit and activities you do. It seems like Fukuoka/Hakata is a really late night/busy city with lots of bars and nightlife and jazz clubs and late night food. This is definitely going to be fun, but I'm sandwiching it in between a serious trip to Hiroshima to check out the WWII memorial, and a trip to Kyoto where I'm going to stay in a Ryokan (a traditional Japanese hot spring/tatami mat experience - holy craaaaap I can't waaaaaaait), and go to visit a bunch of shrines as Kyoto seems to be a major cultural center. SUPER COOOOOOOOOL.
This trip is really shaping up now and I've got a lot of things (eg accomodation and what cities I want to visit) locked down now, and then I can leave planning of specific details of each day to when I am actually there and what people recommend along the way at all the hostels I am staying at.
MAN I LOVE TRAVELING.