Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 14

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Monday was Wifey’s day on the trip, though to be honest it was a pretty amazing day for me too! We had the day singled out for a trip to Disneyland, a short monorail trip from the hotel, and the day was awesome. The weather held up well, and the whole experience was amazing, especially for my other half.

We started off by calming down from the overwhelming awesome of the whole thing and tucking into amazing chocolate churos, and from there we hit the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

After the ride, which hosted all sorts of cool animatronics and voice samples from the movies (well, the first three – still haven’t seen the fourth entry), we had worked up an appetite by… standing in a line for 15 minutes and then sitting down for another 5-10 minutes while on the ride. Thus to celebrate, we headed next door-ish to eat more food, this time sharing a Mickey Mouse waffle head.

Next up we headed over to the Stitch show, passing a show in the amphitheater with colourful dancers and Mickey and Minnie playing to an army of parents and kids. Probably the most impressive part was the wall of prams just sitting unsupervised near the entrance, valuables and all hanging off everything. Gotta love Japan – back home I suspect this wouldn’t happen for fear of theft, or the gear would be under constant supervision. Mind, we noticed that around the traps as well – when we hit the Universal City Walk in Osaka we saw plenty of instances where prams were left outside store entrances with purses and shopping bags hanging off them unattended while the parent(s) shopped in the store. Maybe it’s a bit sad I found this so surprising. Go Japan 🙂

Anywho, we continued to check out the Stitch show, which was an animatronic thingo with parrots trying to coax Stitch out to sing a song… or something. It was good fun (I’m a big fan of the original Lilo and Stitch movie), and it was nice that the guide also provided a pair of screens that had subtitles of the show in English for us.

Once again, we needed to take a stop on the way to our next destination to get more food. This time we opted for a yummy steamed pork bun, which looks entirely unappetising in this photo but was actually full of yum porky goodness.

From there it was off to see the greatest movie ever dedicated to celluloid, Captain EO (starring Michael Jackson as the titular Captain), and for all my childhood 80s dreams come true in a single movie experience. I think for anyone else in the world (including Wifey) it was a glorified music video with elaborate costumes and a daft storyline courtesy of the creative team behind the tech-demo experiment (George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Jackson), including 3D visuals (as in, the kind where you wear silly glasses and are a waste of time and effort outside kitschy stuff like this) and other dimension-breaking tidbits (the chairs vibrated and blew air at you during key scenes in the movie for the sake of immersion). For me, this was 80s gold wrapped up in a delightful package of equal parts cheese and awesome.

My life complete, off we went to line up for over an hour to check out Splash Mountain (impressive for me since I usually wuss out when it comes to rides), and happened to be on the same cart as a group of high school boys who reminded me of my brother Tank and his mates Jyasutin-kun and Buu Adam if they were Japanese and still in high school (as opposed to being Australian and now in their mid-late 20s :P).

After Splash Mountain we manoeuvred through the crowd enjoying the end of the day parade to the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall for a Japanese take on Western food – a heart-shaped burger patty with a heart-shaped slice of salami on top, some steamed veggies and a tomato-based sauce, along with some layered cheesecake for desert. Oh, and some yummy Kirin Apple-based soft drink thingie too. Kirin makes everything tasty. I miss Kirin beer on tap. It was not only cheap, but delicious.

Beer aside, with bellies sorted, we headed off to the Nightmare Before Christmas-themed haunted house which was all kinds of awesome (only a 45 minute wait for that one), which was actually a lot of fun (not sure I used “actually” in there, as the whole theme park was absolutely brilliant). You walked along through a haunted house which I had a bit of trouble following since it was all in Japanese (I was trying to translate what I could as we went along to Wifey, but probably did an arse job of it), but after that you hopped onto these cool seats on a monorail that swiveled and zoomed around this awesome representation of scenes from Nightmare Before Christmas, and being a big fan of anything Tim Burton does, this was great fun, especially for Wifey as she absolutely adores that movie!

After finishing up we strolled across to the Tea Cup ride, where we only had a 15-minute wait! We found a cup for the two of us and found out when we jumped on that you twist the wheel in the center of the cup to make it spin faster or slower. I started off being sensible, but then I got carried away and made it spin fast enough to make Wifey feel a bit blergy. Go me.

After taking a moment to let Wifey’s stomach settle, we picked up some popcorn and headed over to Toon Town! Aside from wandering around we headed over to the Who Framed Roger Rabbit ride (which was all sorts of awesome after an hour wait). The line for this ride was really great, as you wound through all these set pieces from the movie, and everything was in English which was handy for us, but probably not as much for everyone else!

After we finished up we wandered around Toon Town a bit more (by this point it was getting really dark), including stopping at Minnie’s House, hanging out in Goofy’s car and walked around to try and work out what to do next as the night parade was starting to get closer, so lining up for an hour, jumping on a ride, then scrambling madly to find somewhere to check out the parade was far from an ideal scenario as we really wanted a good spot to enjoy the night festivities.

I’m pretty sure we grabbed some popcorn after enjoying a little bucket of fries and decided to take in Cinderella’s castle and take a moment to enjoy the views from up high of the park rolling into the evening. After that I proceeded to drag us around the park for at least 15 minutes trying to work out search for something for dinner, eventually settling on some pizza from the Galactic Pizza joint, themed after Buzz Lightyear. Despite the dodgy photo, it was actually really nice!

We took our dinner back to the main strip to find a seat in the middle of the route and right at the front to enjoy the parade which was going to start in about 45 minutes, then the night spectacular hit in full swing. Lots of shinies everywhere, it was really awesome. I ended up giving our point and shoot a bit of a workout and loaded up the SD card with some 1080p footage which was pretty fun, as the show was absolutely spectacular.

After the parade it was time to grab something else to eat and drink and take a seat to enjoy the fireworks in one of the eateries close to the main entrance, then we were off to do some souvenir shopping to help out Uncle Walt’s legacy before taking a short monorail and shuttle bus back to the hotel.

Overall, the day was amazing and spectacular. The only issue is that there’s just too much to see and do for one day, so if we were to do things again, we’d definitely allocate two days to check the place out and get a chance to go on all the rides and eat more theme park food. All in all, it was a spectacular way to finish up the trip!

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 13

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We intended to start Sunday’s shopping finale by getting away at 9am. Sadly, an amazingly comfy bed encouraged us to take it a bit easier and by the time we found our way to Harajuku it was closer to midday 😛

The Harajuku run started with a trip to the bargain store Daiso. We had been making a habit of dropping into ¥100 stores during the trip for bargain hunting/amusement, so a multi-story Daiso packed into Harajuku was, not surprisingly, amazingly good fun! We grabbed a few more goodies for ourselves and friends and family back home while we were there for a ridiculously cheap cost, including stacks of Japanese lollies and chocolates to enjoy when we got home!

From there we wandered to the tip of Otomesando-dori to grab a crepe and go cosplay hunting. Sadly we only found one pair of cosplayers (not sure if we were in the wrong spot in Harajuku or maybe we were too early in the day), so we headed over to Yoyogi Park to watch the locals relaxing on a Sunday and the rockers showing off their amazing pompadours.

It was really cool to spend a little bit of time chilling out and watching what the locals were up to on a Sunday – a guy was playing a guitar on a bench under some shade, groups of teens were playing badminton and soccer, and in the distance we saw a group of people dancing it up. Young families were out with their kids and dogs, but everyone was just relaxed and enjoying the sunshine and awesome weather.

After polishing off a bite to eat, it was time to jump back on the Yamanote Line to visit Shibuya. While there Wifey did some much-needed shopping and we also hopped down to the Bingo second hand clothing store located in the basement of the Shibuya Book Off we visited when we were in Tokyo previously to see if anything interesting had found their way to the shelves in our absence.

After dodging the hordes of gaijin and the impressive cache of locals (and getting some photos of some street art down one of the side alleys, JSR-style!), we were back on the Yamanote line for our last portion of the shopping day – Akihabara Mk. 2!

For this run I dropped Wifey off at the Caffe Excelsior opposite the UDX building (passing what looked like a group of protestors bearing cosplay outfits and someone who was wearing a Gundam mask) and started the final hunt.

First stop was Gamers, a place I’d wanted to visit since getting on the DiGi Charat train back in 2000. Sadly, the multi-floor building was a disappointment, catering to the creepy otaku with long pillows with arrays of moe (including selected pillows with squishy bits for the characters’ breasts), porn, DVDs and BRDs, more porn, cosplay, and a bit more porn. Bummer.

With a hasty exit I figured I’d visit Kotobukiya (we stumbled across it when running the maid gauntlet during our last trip – it’s close to Super Potato!) and then check out the Hard Off I missed next to Mandarake during the previous visit. Because I’m special, I promptly got lost for 15 minutes before finding my way back to Hard Off/Mandarake (should have listened to my initial instincts and walked where I thought I needed to go).

Kotobukiya proved to be great fun for this second round of shopping (picked up some anime stuff), but the trip to Hard Off wasn’t worth it, as it specialised in audio equipment and little else. While this wouldn’t be a bad thing in ordinary circumstances (while I don’t know a lot, I enjoy looking and learning about amplifiers and what-not), I was trying to go as fast as possible because I was conscious of not being too much of a pain in the rear since Wifey was at this stage getting to the end of the coffee/cake set at Excelsior.

So I jumped next door to Mandarake, this time appreciating the slight price increase in Akiba vs Nipponbashi. That being said, there was also plenty there I couldn’t find in Akihabara, and Mandarake is generally a very easy to use store for nerdy stuff. I ended up grabbing a handful of gear for the PSone, Saturn (including Street Fighter Zero 3!), Mega Drive, Mega CD and Super Famicom; SFZ3 was the most expensive at around ¥7,000, the rest of the gear was pretty reasonably priced, especially the PSone games. I managed to nab Keio Yugekitai for the Mega CD in great condition complete for around ¥1,300, so that was pretty cool too!

After finishing up there I texted Wifey and picked her up, then dropped past the Tokyo Anime Centre just up the escalators on the second level of the UDX building to see if we missed anything (picked up an awesome Macross t-shirt!), then off we went to have a look at Liberty and Traders 1, 3 and 4, all of which came up blanks for anything other than current gen systems of PS2/PSone, and at this stage I had crossed both of them off my to-get list owing to a lot of success grabbing titles for them in the wild.

This then led us back to Super Potato for some more nerding – I grabbed a couple of Dreamcast, Saturn and possibly also some Super Famicom gear (memory is a bit hazy!). With Super Potato sorted, we then went to the Sofmap wedged between the two Club Sega arcades on the main strip. The reason for the extra trek was to nab a cheap DS Lite (¥2000) as they were getting rid of them nice and cheaply (this one was in great shape physically, it just needs the fuses replaced which is pretty easy to do).

We finished up by heading into Club Sega where I played a round of Virtual On Oratario Tangram on a dedicated cab, then a couple of rounds of Super SF2: Hyper Anniversary Edition, where I got owned by someone using an M. Bison/Vega exploit by timing the psycho crusher to hit when I got up without the chance of blocking.

Normally this kind of play would piss me off, but I managed to get a few hits in before I got taken out in a succession of cheap shots, and playing against someone in an arcade in Japan was still a thrill at this stage so it didn’t really bother me 🙂 We left via the bottom floor where I failed to win a plushie from one of the crane games (got close though!) but took a couple of the Sega plushie bags as a souvenir from the trip 🙂

So with the shopping out of the way, we hit the subway and braved the rush to head back to Maihama and grabbed some delicious home-style pork and fried rice from one of the vendors before heading home.

The early night didn’t really happen, but it still made for an entertaining day 🙂

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 12

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We were up early and rearing to go in order to catch an early train to start our commute back to Tokyo, with the added challenge of an extra full sized piece of luggage in addition to our two existing pieces. With the help of a generous baggage strap I hauled two of the luggage cases (each weighing a fair bit a this point!), with Wifey carrying the other. We ended up walking from the hotel to catch the train from the Universal City Station to Osaka Station, transferring from there to catch another train to Shin-Osaka, then from there we boarded the Shinkansen to go to Tokyo Station.

Once we arrived we found our way to the Keio Line and hauled are arses down to catch the rapid train that dropped us off at Maihama, with some signage confirming that we were walking a kilometer or two in the train station as we made our way to where we needed to go. We exited the train to the trill of Disney-themes on the PA, then wandered down to the Bayside Station to jump on the monorail (giving our Pasmo IC cards a wake-up run), then walked from the stop to our final destination, the Hilton Tokyo Bay. If we used our brains a little bit more by this stage we could have waited a couple of minutes to catch the shuttle bus, but we saw the pearly lights of the hotel and walked over to it without thinking.

Since we arrived prior to the room being available we left our extensive pile of stuff and headed back out into the city to do some more shopping. The original plan was to finish up the souvenir shopping in Harajuku with a combination visit of the Oriental Bazaar and Daiso, but with culture day happening on this day, we ended up only getting to the Oriental Bazaar. After a thrilling/exhausting fight through the human sea that was choking up everywhere from the train station to well past the bridge, we crossed to hit up the Bazaar.

The Oriental Bazaar made for an awesome stop to grab some souvenirs for ourselves and friends/family back home. Prices were pretty reasonable and we picked up some fantastic goodies. It was a bit embarrassing seeing some of the other gaijin mulling about being loud and obnoxious (there were at least a couple who were getting antsy that not all the store staff could speak English), so we did our best to get what we were after and tried our best Japanese wherever possible – one of the ladies who helped track down a happy coat for Wifey said she thought it was very nice of me to use Japanese to practice while shopping in there. Gotta love those nice touches 🙂

By the time we were done the sun was beginning to set, so the combo of human sea and an early start encouraged us to head home since the train ride combinations were going to take 30-60 minutes before we made it to the hotel.

By the time we arrived at the Maihama Station our bellies were ready for some love, so we ducked into the food court in the shopping complex next to the monorail station to fill up on some delicious udon before heading back to our hotel. This time we were entirely sensible and waited at the bus stop at the bottom of the escalator to grab the shuttle bus back to the hotel.

The shuttle buses are an amazing homage to the classic chrome beasts of many years ago, although once you step on board they seem to behave like any modern bus, so nice and clean with air conditioning! Once the door closes Mickey greets you in Japanese which was hilarious because it just came out of nowhere, and it was only a few moments until we arrived at the hotel.

Things got a little interesting here, as the room arranged for us was a smoking room (even though we had stipulated a non-smoking room in our booking). After some discussion with the staff (a little tricky as my Japanese + English combination was fraught with incoherency), they were able to secure us a room at no extra charge that was in the non-smoking section. The catch was that it was on the same floor as all the family rooms, but that didn’t bother us at all. We got the access card and the porters arranged for our luggage to be brought up (very fancy by our standards!!), and lo-and-behold if we didn’t manage to get an awesome/amazing themed bedroom!!

Wifey was absolutely thrilled as she was secretly hoping the room was going to be themed, so it was a really nice way to finish up our first day on the final leg of the trip.

While the day wasn’t as productive as we hoped (it presented the challenge of adding in a trip to Daiso the next day, but we’re always up for a challenge :)), it was still good fun and the hotel made for an amazing way to rest and relax after a big day of travel.

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 10

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The first full day in Osaka was set as a half nerd/half not-nerd shopping day. Osaka houses the west-coast equivalent of Akihabara, Nipponbashi or Den Den Town, so we had planned to head over there in the morning and then jump over to the Dotonburi shopping district in the afternoon. To make things more time-efficient, I used Sebaattori’s excellent blog entry on retrogaming in Osaka as a base and headed to the Ebisucho Station via the Sakaisuji line, exit 1-B, and found Super Potato two meters to the right of the exit once we got out onto the street. We ended up crossing over the other side to check out the Sofmap over there only to realise the Sofmap on the same side of the street as Super Potato (and our other destination, Game Tanteidan) was where we needed to go.

Before going on, I have to say that Nipponbashi is a completely different beast than Akiba. Where Akiba is gaudy but full of life, Nipponbashi is gritty, grimy and dark; Wifey commented the same, and where in Akiba she felt pretty comfortable and found the spectacle entertaining, she felt a bit uncomfortable in comparison in Nipponbashi. We started off hunting for LDs in a store on the corner before starting the nerd run, and once again inadvertently walked into the porn section on the second floor (which felt a little more seedy than the other accidental walk-ins). Exiting, we headed to Sofmap and found their retro collection was located across 6 bins (3 x 3 – so two rows), where the whole thing was a bit of a mess. Games in there were certainly cheap enough (I grabbed Virtua Cop 2 for only ¥50), but it was a lot of effort for comparably little return time-wise, so we left after grabbing the above and headed to Game Tanteidan (or to use Sebaattori’s translation, Game Detectives).

The store isn’t massive, but the selection is fantastic and pricing wasn’t too shabby either considering we were shopping in an urban area – on the whole, it was probably 10% to 20% cheaper than Akiba, though in some instances it was also more expensive (consistently inconsistent then!). The bottom floor is where the hardware is (they had a set of boxed Virtual On Twin Sicks for the Saturn for only ¥960!!), as well as most of the software. The Famicom selection is extensive, but being conscious of time I wasn’t in a position to go through everything individually, and instead prioritised the Saturn and DC, and checked out a couple of Super Famicom games and some Mega CD titles. Upstairs is dedicated to MSX, collectible cards, game music and art books (and probably guide books as well). Up here I was fortunate enough to find a copy of the Phantasy Star Compendium art book for around ¥3500 and snapped it up, then grabbed some titles from downstairs on the way out, with my amazing and patient wife helping by holding onto games while I shopped (and by now I’m sure you’ve noticed that Wifey being amazing and patient has been a continuing motif throughout this entire trip!).

I was debating whether to go to Super Potato as I heard the prices there were really expensive, but Wifey said I should still go in, and as always she was right 🙂 We skipped the bottom floor as per Sebaattori’s advice and went straight to the second floor where the retro love is. Since the shelves weren’t quite as packed as Game Detectives, more games were facing with the label-side visible rather than the spine, so it made it faster than relying on my not-so-speedy ability to read Japanese to trawl though carts 🙂 I ended up buying some more gear from there, as price-wide they were often similar to Game Detectives, with some titles more expensive and some gear cheaper (they had piles of Model 1 Mega Drives for around ¥1500 a pop which was pretty cool, and Saturns for ¥3500), but of course the selection was a bit different which was great. We passed a couple of other gaijin in the shop taking turns playing Super Mario Kart which was pretty awesome too.

Where this Super Potato really came into its own were some readily accessible premium titles I was after – I snapped up Radiant Silvergun for a shade under ¥8000, Asuka 120% Final Burning Fest. for under ¥5000 (closer to ¥4500 I think) and a few other titles I hadn’t seen elsewhere (like Dead of Alive on the PSone for a cheap price too). Wifey, again being amazing, pointed me in the direction of the bargain bins towards the back where I snapped up a whole heap of goodies for ¥50-¥200, including a boxed Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon and some loose Sonic carts for the Game Gear, Godzilla Generations and a few other DC games and a DC lightgun as well.

After exiting Super Potato, we headed back to Ebisucho Station and took the Sakaisuji Line up to the next stop (Nipponbashi) and jammed the nerd stuff into a coin locker (note to all tourists – coin lockers are amazing and should be utilised to reduce shopping fatigue!), then walked out and passed a couple of dodgy looking pachinko parlours (pachinko is huge in Osaka) before arriving at the start of Dotonburi, which signalled the end of nerd shopping and the start of food and Wifey-friendly shopping!

The general perception is that in Osaka you eat and drink your fill when you’re out, and the proliferation of so many places to grab a bite down this street was impressive and set your belly rumbling. We passed all manner of cuisine, but being Osaka we knew we had one destination – takoyaki.

We ended up stopping off at a place with an impressive line-up considering the time of day (close to 3pm if memory serves), so I jumped in and managed to order a small selection of takoyaki to share with Wifey. As much as I enjoyed the goodies from the night before, I’m pretty confident that these topped them and were mouth-burningly delicious. With our belated lunch sorted out, it was time to work off all that yummy batter with more shopping.

Doutonburi is a long and densely-packed open-air mall, with shops initially sitting along the main street when you enter it from where we came from. As we progressed though, the foodie haunts gave way to all manner of shops and amusement centres, and these eventually gave way to labyrinths of other enclosed strip malls spidering off the main street. The scale really was impressive and we barely scratched the surface, instead prioritising a visit to H&M across a bridge that showed off some amazing views of the concrete jungle that is Osaka (no H&M locally and the EU sizes meant it wasn’t too tricky to work out what to buy).

As the afternoon wore on, the middle and high school students hit the pavement and Doutonburi became alive with a sea of people. Apart from catching up and going shopping they were also checking out some live performances on one of the bridges that lead over to H&M and all manner of other gear was happening in the area. We ended up doing some shopping and purchasing around this part of Doutonburi, and I have to take this spot to give huge credit to the incredible pride the Japanese guys put into looking the part when they head out. I felt comparatively under-dressed sporting jeans and a t-shirt (the humidity meant I couldn’t layer stuff otherwise I would have become a sweaty gaijin, which isn’t a good look!), but it was great to see pride in appearance and passion in the stores with guys out shopping in force. There was also an abundance of headwear that I picked up while we were over there (one of the catches with being a ranga with a thinning hairline means hats are a bit of a necessity these days!), and they’ve certainly been put to use as the Australian summer kicked in locally.

After finishing up there we wandered our way to the nearby Tokyu Hands department store at Wifey’s very sensible insistence (passing a Konami fitness club on the way!).

I didn’t know much at all about Tokyu Hands before we visited, but I cam away really impressed with it! It’s a multi-story department store with a tip towards the more affordable end of the spectrum, and while we were there we bought a couple of souvenirs and a lightweight piece of luggage to accommodate all the crap we had bought to date (I can’t recall the cost, but it was incredibly lightweight and strong, with four wheels on the base for easy movement and was extremely good value). The only trick with purchasing the luggage was that I got my Japanese mixed up, but between my command of the language and a touch of English, everything got sorted out and after 5-10 minutes a staff member brought out a fresh, new piece of luggage from the storage area out the back. With the new luggage in hand, we headed back via the train station to grab the nerd haul from the coin locker to take home with us. Turns out it all fit quite nicely inside the new piece of baggage too and made it very easy to take all our shopping back to our hotel!

We dropped our collective haul off at the hotel before hitting the Universal City Walk again for dinner (yes, we were being a bit lazy by relying on going somewhere so close to the hotel rather than exploring more of Osaka at night!), settling for Mos Burger as Wifey was interested in more comfort food as she continued to fight off her cold, and then picked up a banana and strawberry crepe from the crepe stand and more drinks from Starbucks (being the manly-man I am, I continued my addiction to their mango passion iced tea, while Wifey grabbed a mocha espresso to warm up) to finish off at our hotel.

Osaka continued to gel with us after a day of shopping – while not as clean as the other cities we visited, the place was full of life and everyone seemed to be milling about with purpose. The nerd run to Nipponbashi blew a reasonable wad of cash, but it was so much fun and while you’re paying a bit extra for the convenience, when you’re strapped for time it’s a pretty good compromise in my opinion. Time’s the central key point here I guess – there was so much more to explore in Osaka and we only touched on Nipponbashi, Doutonburi and the immediate surrounds of our hotel during the day. We also needed bigger gaijin appetites to take advantage of all the amazing street food, and that’s not even counting the copious flow of cheap and tasty beer on offer either!! I have a feeling we’d have trouble keeping up with the locals, but I’m sure if Wifey and I get back to Osaka in the future we’ll be ready to give it another crack!

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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