Tokyo, Japan 2017 – Day 4

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I woke up extremely early and decided to finally go for a morning walk – it was quiet but cold however I wanted to chase that morning light. Once everyone was awake and fully packed, we split up once again with Mike, Manwai & myself dropping off our bags at Tokyo station – East Maouranchi Line. We wanted to go back to Chidori-ga-fuchi however, it was a late start (we left around 830-9AM) we wouldn’t have enough time to go back and also make it out to Mitaka for our Ghibli Museum reservation for noon.

We had to take 2 JR rails to get out to Mitaka, which took around an hour. We decided to walk from the station and it was such a nice walk over. We lined up once we got there and were let in earlier than our 12 reservation. Purchasing the ticket a month prior was one of the most stressful things to do as every 10th at 10am (Japan time) the tickets for the following month are released and they sell out like hotcakes for 1000y (if you use tour agencies – it costs a lot more but guarantees tickets). Our actual ticket was a 3 piece film strip of different clips from different movies under the Studio Ghibli banner – mine was from Howl’s moving Castle. You are however, NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE PHOTOS INSIDE THE MUSEUM. They have a permanent collection which is filled in a room showing the different techniques they had done with the drawing and filming or movies as well as claymation. It was absolutely my favourite room of the museum especially the spinning cylinder with the robot and the birds.

The only place in the building you are allowed to take photos is when you are going to the rooftop where the giant robot statue is after you walk up the spiral staircase. The museum also features a gift shop which is always packed but filled with tempting items exclusive to the museum visit. I ended up purchasing a postcard with one of my favourite scenes from my favourite movie – Whisper of the Heart, a wooden keychain with a bell inside the bunny, a postcard that pops up to become a 3D card of the actual museum in a mario bros gameboy type of style and a mini toy of the entrance of the museum. There is also a cafe below but the line up was long so we opted to cross the street to Lawson and pick up a few items to bring back to the park behind the museum and have a little picnic – be warned – there are no garbage cans. The weather was rather nice but a little on the chillier side.

We took the Studio Ghibli bus back to the Mitaka station however it feels like its taking the long route.

We proceeded to make our way to Shinagawa and got there a little early and decided to find a little cafe called Zakkat Cafe nearby to warm up before Maricar. I ordered the peach and apricot tea (450y).

Perfect little place to warm up before heading over to the Shinagawa location for Maricar. Our guide was Ike and once we got there, we paid upfront (course A at Shinagawa – 5PM (to get sunlight to sunset to night time driving) 6000y with a trip advisor or Facebook review, showed our international drivers license and then proceeded to choose our costume for the ride. There are Mario bros characters and non-Mario cart characters or you can opt to bring your own. I dressed as Usavich ウサビッチ Usabitchi, from Usagi. Make sure to carry your international and normal drivers license with you as your drive around. There is a little pouch on the cart that can fit these licenses and as well as your cellphone and extra batteries. *NOTE* I suggest you bring extra go pro batteries if you can and also don’t start it up right away. Get use to driving the first 10 minutes and save your precious battery for the better sights along the way like the landmarks – Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing, Roppongi etc considering it is about 2-3 hours of driving around.

Cameras are allowed (strap around your neck) but not allowed to shoot when driving as instructed by the guide. You can have a max of 12 per session with a guide in the back and one in the front as you will be driving with normal Tokyo traffic. Be warned now that you will be inhaling exhaust from all the carts for 2-3 hours so be prepared. They give you a quick lesson on how to operate the go kart and off you go. Turn key on, take step on brake (left foot), release handbrake, put car into Forward, press the yellow ignition lever, apply pressure to gas (right foot) and ready to go. The brake needs a little more pressure to stop more accurately. There are hazard lights for when you pull over and signal lights that you need to press the middle to cancel the signal. There is no throwing bananas allowed nor bumper cars.

The lead guide will signal to you when you will be driving in single file and when we will be driving double side-by-side. Anytime you are stopping at a red light, you will go double lines and there will be a few turns where its double turning in the same lane. The carts are rather safe for not having seatbelt or helmets and can average speeds of 60-70KM/HR. If you are doing night driving remember to dress warm. The experience is completely worth the price.

Once we finished our 2 hour adventure around town, we ordered a Uber and went to our next destination which also doubled as our accommodations for the night – Ooedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba. Once you arrive, you take off your shoes and place them in a shoe locker before going to the front desk and checking in. You receive a wristlet with your locker number and key and it acts as your credit card during your duration at the onsen. Next step, you go over to the yukata rentals and choose what design you want and your colour sash – you need to know how tall you are in CM to get a proper fitting yukata. Once you have your yukata you proceed to the change rooms and change out of your street clothes but leave on your underwear (for women, bras are optional but keep your panties on underneath). The yukata goes on with left folding under right which is shown in the signs around the locker room. Once you have gotten the yukata on, you wrap once the sash around and make a nice bow in the front then turn it around so the bow is facing the back.

Once that is completed, you can then proceed to the main area where it is somewhat themed to look like the olden days with all the dark wood paneling and lanterns everywhere. There are game stalls, arcades and food options everywhere that you pay for with your wristlet. I ordered a cold soba noodle dish.

The onsen has 2 main areas for those who plan on staying overnight to sleep – the relaxation room not he second floor with reclining couches with televisions – similar to first class seats on airplanes – this is a first come, first serve basis. There is a mixed relaxation room but also a women only one. The other sleeping area is located downstairs where they repurpose a room where they would eat into a laying down sleeping area.

Now onto the onsen itself. Once we digested our food after playing a few games, you get separated by gender and go into the spa. Once in the room, you choose a locker, grab a small and big towel and strip down. You take everything off and place it into the locker and take only the small towel with you. You enter the onsen and rinse off. If you prefer, you can do a full rinse off at the shower stalls before entering. Hair if possible should not be in the water. There are multiple baths all different temperatures. In the far left corner once you enter, there is an area with 4 laying down jets, 3-4 soaking tubs then 3 giant soaking areas. There is a mist and a dry sauna and of course a cold bath. There are also 2 big soaking areas outside and 4 are individual tubs.

My favourite part was actually the slightly colder pools as I saw myself falling asleep in them but also the whole going from hot sauna to cold bath was the best. Once we finished, we went into the shower stalls (2 westernized standing showers near the main door or the sitting stalls with mirrors) shampoo, conditioner and body wash are provided for you. Once you are clean, head back into the main onsen change room and dry off and get dressed. There are also face lotions, hairbands, shower caps, toothbrushes with toothpaste already on them.

Tokyo, Japan 2017 – Day 3

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Woke up at 6AM. The original plan was to wake up and do a day trip to Endoshima, Yokohama & Kawasaki area to visit the Endoshima sea candle, beach, Ramen museum, Japan’s largest Chinatown, the Cup Noodle Museum and Kawasaki Warehouse (giant arcade that is designed to look like the Forbidden City of Kowloon) however the prior day exceeded the groups energy threshold (we walked 29KM). Instead we decided to turn the day into a shopping – stay in Tokyo kind of day.

It was indeed a rainy day but luckily majority of the day was light rain. Now with John and Glenn with us, we all woke up rather early all starving. We walked over to Sushi Zanmai (Japan, 〒104-0045 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Tsukiji, 4 Chome−4−11−9) and ate our breakfast around 8AM (meal was more like lunch or dinner options) very early. I got the deluxe chirashi-don (1480y) and it was amazing and fresh. An assortment of 13 freshly selected types of seafood that covered a bed of rice.

After breakfast, our group split up with different intentions of what to do for the day. Stores don’t open until roughly 11AM so we wandered around. We passed by one temple where people were setting up their own booths for what looked like a flea market. I ended up browsing through one tent where this elderly couple had trays of old Japanese wooden toys where the heads bobbled. I restrained myself and only bought 3 for 1500y. We continued walking and made our way to Don Quijote where we spent a large amount of time purchasing items. Don Quijote is what you would say the Wal-mart of Japan would be because it has anything and everything you need whether its electronics, makeup, candy, food to laundry detergent. If you spend over a certain amount, you can present your passport (2nd floor cashier) and receive tax-free savings HOWEVER, if your purchase contained consumables (food) they will seal your purchase and you are not allowed to consume any of it or open the packaging until you have left Japan or potentially face a consumption fee at the customs.

We continued on after our rather large purchase (ok large for me). Stopped by a 100y store, BICQLO (5-7 floors of Uniqlo and Bic Camera), Comme Ca, Muji and a smaller more local Daiso. Cassie met up with us in Shinjuku for lunch and we went to a restaurant in a basement – Sutameshi DonDonTama Merchant building B1, B2, 3-34-14 Shinjuku Ku, Shinjuku – opened 24HR – Shinjuku where you order by a machine (luckily there was english and photos). I ordered the Sutameshi with cheese (780y) and you get an egg on the side to mix in. I had a runaway egg as I cracked it directly onto the my bowl where a bed of melted cheese acted as a ramp to throw it out of the bowl. Apparently, I did it all wrong. They give you a separate little bowl to crack the egg in and then stir it before you try to combine it with your meal. After lunch, we continued walking in the spritz rain to Awake which serves dango – delicious mochi desserts.

With the amount of shopping we did, our baggage was getting heavy so we returned back to you share loft and unpacked and repacked it into our luggages while we waited for our remaining 2 friends to join us. At this point of day, John and Glenn were enroute to Nara/Osaka and Cassie was exploring on her own and meeting up with Atene in Roppongi. We ended up waiting back at the share loft for Karen and Chi’s arrival. Their flight got delayed by an hour and we ended up napping a little too long waiting their arrival.

First thing on the list for the night – Chidori-ga-fuchi park – The park was illuminated to showcase the cherry blossoms but of course that brought out the crowds. It was a big walk around the park where it led to a dead end which you would then need to walk back from. It was a lovely view but I still wish I was able to see it during a nice sunny day.

Since Karen and Chi just landed, they really wanted to see Piss Alley and Golden Gai. We kept getting turned around at Shinjuku Station and went in a circle a few times before re-orienting ourselves in the correct direction to where we were the first day in Tokyo. We ended up eating at Tori-en Izakaya (Japan, 〒160-0023 Tokyo, 新宿区Nishishinjuku, 1 Chome−2−4) in Piss Alley where we sat on the second floor and ate a bit of everything.

We got back to the share loft and all of us started to repack our bags as we needed to create a overnight bag and go store our luggages at train stations since we were planning on staying overnight at the onsen.

Itinerary – Japan – 2017

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This was my second time travelling to Japan. My previous visit was short but sweet staying in Osaka with a day trip to Nara & Kyoto for less than a week. Japan is definitely one of those countries that can and need to be explore multiple times. I travelled to Japan with Mike, Manwai, Cassie, Glenn, John, Karen & Chi with guest appearances along the way. The flight deals were too good to miss out on especially during Hanami (cherry blossom festival). We found our deal on www.nextdeparture.ca for $730CAD roundtrip to Tokyo (1 stopover in Chicago each way). Originally, it was just myself plus Mike & Manwai that booked together. As the next few weeks past and a few meals Mike & Manwai had with friends, our group became 8. During the trip, I mainly travelled with Mike & Manwai. Total of 14 days.

We booked many of our accommodations with Airbnb. If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu

Included in this Itinerary, I have included some helpful information to know in advance before you go.

www.hyperdia.com – This is awesome for figuring out your bus and JR routes but you need to know what stations you are leaving from and arriving to.

-Google Maps works well too. If Google Maps does not load/poor connection, enter the directions into the internet browser.

 

$$$

-100y = $1USD roughly.

-The Japanese use cash over credit for majority of their day to day living and it isn’t unusual to break a 10,000y bill on something small.

-The 2000y bill is actually quite rare in Japan as its been phased out and was started in Okinawa for unknown reasons. When exchanging money outside of Japan, you may receive 2000y bills which a few Japanese collect HOWEVER, not all the machines take 2000y bills.

-For many Japanese, they may or may not accept it at their work establishments but some will keep as a keepsake similar to Canada’s old $2 bill that is now replaced with the toonie.

-You can pay for some meals in coins alone as the largest valued coin is 500y which is roughly $5USD.

-For 14 days, I took out just over $100CAD a day. $1502.45CAD – 123000Yen

 

Book in Advanced

Studio Ghibli Museum tickets can only be purchased 1 month in advanced and sells out quickly. The 10th at 10AM Japan time of every month. Much cheaper to purchase from site than through a tour group (service charges are killer). The actual ticket is only 1000y

-JR Pass must be purchased outside out Japan. Maximum 90 days before your trip. JTB Canada is where I purchased mine. For 14 days of travel, my JR Pass was $539CAD

Sumo Wrestling Tournaments are held 6 times a year. If you have the chance to go see it, tickets will go on sale a month in advanced so be aware they are highly sought after and sell out fast. Another option if you are going during non tournament months is to go visit a Sumo Wrestling Beya (practice) at multiple locations and watch their early morning practice.

Robot Restaurant – a month in advanced.

MariCar – Must have International Drivers License (goto CAA – $25CAD (bring your own photo or take one there) + Countries driver’s license to participate in this activity.

 

WIFI Router & Sim Card

-WIFI Routers are great if you have a large group – You can rent at the airport or various locations. Highly recommend renting or bringing a portable battery pack to keep router and phone charged.

-Sim cards – unlocked phones – You can pick up a visit sim card at Yodobashi or BIC Camera/BICQLO(might be cheaper than Yodobashi). If you can find the B-mobile Visitor Sim – 5GB for 21 days (Y2,970-3,480).

-I highly recommend bringing a portable battery pack to keep your phone charge especially if you are using your phone for directions.

 

Transportation

-JR Pass holders need to go through the manned gate to get through at each station.

-You need to make reservations on certain trains but if you don’t, there are a few carts where it is first come first serve or you can sit but if the person with the reserved seats shows up, you give them the seats. The reserved seats also swivel to have 2 facing one another if preferred.

-With the JR Pass, if you miss you train, you can easily get the next one without any penalty fees.

-If you plan on reserving seats for trains for peak times, go earlier to reserve them.

-If taking the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka/Kyoto etc – request mountainside view to see Mt Fuji!

-Make sure to purchase ekibens before your ride (bullet train specific meals that differ per region and have have seasonal regional speciality foods – all cold)

-Eating is not permitted on trains besides Shinkansen

-JR Pass does not cover all train lines – only JR lines (minus Nozomi/Mizuho/Hayabusa (Shinkansen)) and a Suica or a Pasmo card (similar to Octopus card of Hong Kong or Toronto’s Presto) are indeed very useful and refillable

Pasmo & Suica cards can also be used to pay for other things such as drink machines and whatnot.

-Pasmo can be used in Tokyo, Osaka & Kyoto (from my experience)

-There are women’s only carts depending on time of day

-Trains end around midnight-1AM. There are taxi queues.

-The Japanese are large in numbers but when walking, they don’t necessarily have a sense of urgency and the pace to my standard is slow

-The Japanese do stay in shape by the amount of stairs they need to climb each day while commuting. The train stations are floors upon floors with limited elevators and some floors have escalators while many are just stairs upon stairs.

-You stand on the left side and pass on the right on the escalators. (Although in Osaka, they did opposite)

-Walking is the same – Walk on the left side

 

Weather (From what I experience this April trip)

-It is normal for Japanese people to stay covered up even it is hot outside as they care about their skin getting dark (similar to Hong Kong) They are more conservative in terms of covering cleavage but will wear short shorts. I wore a tank top because it was hot but got looks.

-April – light jacket/trench coats (Japanese fashion trend) and umbrellas are key.

-Tokyo is humid. April – average temp – high of 20, low of 6 – chances of showers high but muggy.

-Kanazawa – chilly and windy but otherwise warm during the day, can see breathe in the evening

-Takayama – Hot during the day – really hot as in we got slightly burnt but once the sun goes down, cold and chilly.

-Kyoto – Hot! (average 21-26C during the day) but cools down at night.

-Osaka – Just right! Not too hot, not too cold; bearable to walk around in a t-shirt majority of the day.

 

Misc.

-Carry your passport around for many places you go shopping you can get tax free!

-Outlets are the Western 2 prong style instead of the american 3 prong

-There are a lot of people but they tend to move slower than the average if compared to Toronto foot traffic.

-You don’t tip in Japan – the only time you tip are in fancy high end restaurants or when you see fit.

-There are designated areas for people to smoke but the smoke still billows the streets and still litters the streets

-Smoking is not allowed while you are walking

-Smoking is allowed in certain food establishments

-There are rarely any garbage cans on the streets of Japan – 1 reason – you mainly goto establishments to eat or eat at home. 2 – in the past, terrorist attacks with packages left in garbage bins now detour garbage bins

-non combustibles and combustible garbage separation

-some wear masks but others don’t and when they sneeze or cough, they just let it out so be aware of that. Coming for Canada, where its customary to sneer into your elbow or cover your mouth, this might put you off a bit like it did me.

-Sailor moon make up by Beaute Creer – You can pick this up at Its Demo stores.

-In some cities like Takayama at night, they have flashing red lights outside of an establishment to signal that they are still open as other stores or restaurants close early.

 

Now onto my actual Itinerary. My itinerary got very extensive and ambitious with things and places I wanted to see and goto. Everyone else built their own itineraries but we made sure at certain aspects, we would all meet up in a different city for certain events such as the Takayama festival in Takayama and Temple running in Kyoto. In the span of 2 weeks, my goal was to make it through all these cities (Tokyo, Yokohama, Enoshima, Kawasaki, Kanazawa, Takayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya) but of course not all goes to according to plans and we cut out some areas to explore other areas more. This was the itinerary that actually happened. There will always be another time to visit Japan once again to get more accomplished and more land covered.

 

Some places and things I originally had on my itinerary for the surrounding area but wasn’t able to accomplish were the following:

-Baseball – much different than Western Baseball – Hanshin Tigers VS anybody – the atmosphere is completely something to take in

 

Enoshima/Fujisawa/Yokohama/Kawasaki

-Enoshima – fujisawa – cute city – view of Mt Fuji in painting

-Ramen museum (yokohama)
-Cup Noodle Museum (yokohama)

-Chinatown (yokohama)

-Kawasaki Warehouse – arcade games

 

Tokyo

-Tokyu Plaza – escalator & rooftop

-Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan – Tōkyō, Chiyoda, Sotokanda 3-15-5 Gee Store Akiba – 11AM-7PM

 

Nagoya

-Nagoya Dome – Purchase tickets – ticket booth near gate 1 – 10AM-5th inning

-Osu – The Harajuku of Nagoya

-enmusu – Onigiri style w/shrimp tempura – Senju – Nagoya-Famous

-Temmusu (めいぶつ天むす 千寿) – 4-10-82 Osu, Naka-ku, Nagoya-city – 830AM-6PM

-Miso Tonkatsu – Misokatsu Yabaton – Yabacho Restaurant (みそかつ 矢場とん 矢場町本店) – 3-6-18 Osu, Naka-ku, Nagoya-city – 11AM-9PM

-Hitsumabushi (Grilled Eel on Rice) – Atsuta Horaiken – Main Restaurant (あつた蓬莱軒 本店) – 1130AM-2PM; 430-830PM

 

-Ashikaga Flower Park – Wisteria