Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tokyo Station 100th Anniversary, Kitte Marunouchi Building, and GranRoof

2014 was a big year for the iconic Tokyo Station, as it completed a 5 year renovation project to restore the original red brick station building for its 100th birthday.  Not only has it been restored, it has been earthquake proofed and it lights up at night now too!  During WWII the third floor of the station and the domes to the north and south of the building were destroyed. The building was repaired afterwards without the domes or the third floor.  The station has survived the great Kanto Quake, had a prime minister assassinated within, and been repaired after war.
Tokyo Station Brick Building (photo via Creative Commons license from T.Kiya)

Today, Tokyo station has obviously been expanded too, as it now has platforms for many Shinkansen bullet trains, underground metro lines. Many mile zeros for the rail lines crisscrossing Japan start at this station and you might even see a zero marker on the track.  It is the busiest train station in Japan for rail traffic, with over 3000 trains a day passing through, but it is not as busy as Shinjuku Station as only a quarter of a million people pass through each day.  With all these people passing through the station, it is also a major shopping hub and place to pick up souvenirs.

Amazing Tokyo Station Hikari Vision Projection Mapping Birthday Celebration

Tokyo Station is the center of attention here for the redevelopment, but the redevelopment of didn't stop there.  On the west side, is Marunouchi, one of the main business districts for Tokyo, and on the east side are additional business areas.  Both sides have seen a revitalization.  The Kitte Marunouchi building (the old Japan Post building) was redeveloped into a fancy mall with some very interesting shops and a great looking atrium and rooftop.  On the east side (Yaesu exit), Tokyo First Avenue is now a great shopping hub and the GranRoof was put in to modernize and link the GrandTokyo north and south towers.  A place like Tokyo Station or the Tokyo Skytree Solomachi malls are like little commercial microcosms of Tokyo that you can easily spend a day in.  If you had one of these at home you'd have a nice little piece of Japan.

Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station is a maze and many of the shops are actually inside the paid transit area for the trains (even if just for the Yamanote Line).  The food shopping and dining here is pretty intense too.  Ekibenya, one of the best ekiben shops for the train bentos is here.   The main concourse runs east-west below the platforms and it is easy to get lost.  You'll have to look at a map and then look again --- I know I had to.
Bullet trains and you can see the GranRoof sail behind them (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
Shinkansen lines are on the Yaesu or east side of the station for a couple of the rail lines (each has different models of bullet trains), along with the big Daimaru department store.

Wall of Ekiben at Ekiben Matsuri
Tokyo Station's big shopping and dining area is called Gransta and it is divided into North Court and South Court.  Central Street Shops is another major shopping area with Japan themed and travel shops, and Keiyo Street for some classy personal shopping are also focuses inside the station.

First Avenue Tokyo Station on the Yaesu side is an additional great shopping area for food items (from traditional to modern day snacks from Glico or Calbee), anime goods (Hello Kitty, Ultraman, Precure, Ghibli, etc), delicious ramen on Ramen Street, and there is much more.  Not to be missed if you have time.

Kitte Marunouchi Building
This building is just east (literally across the big wide street on a corner) from the restored red brick station building.  Kitte means postage stamp in Japanese.  Japan Post runs this department store as it is located at the site of their old Central Post Office building.

Kitte Building (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
Kitte Atrium (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
Kitte Atrium (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
The exterior looks like the old building, but the interior is now a big wide atrium with a great little rooftop garden where you can view the trains coming and going across the street.  Shops line the sides of the beautiful atrium and a 38 story glass and steel office tower, the JP Tower, is now the core of the building.  Again, many interesting shops and restaurants here (as usual on the upper floors), and there is a tourist information kiosk on the main floor.  One interesting shop in the basement shops, Amano Freeze Dried Foods, sells high quality freeze dried soups and mix and match ingredients.

GranRoof links the north and south towers of the GrandTokyo towers together.  It put a beautiful sail-like canopy over the long connective strip and is multiple stories high with many shop levels.  It brings an open and lively pedestrian zone to the old area that also adds many dining options.  I've never visited but I'll easily take a walk through this nice looking urban spot.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Toranomon Hills Tower Opens

Toranomon Hills (photo via Creative Commons License for 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia)
Toranomon Hills is the latest big building development project by the Mori development company that opened on June 11, 2014.  Toranomon Hills will be the tallest skyscraper in Tokyo with a height of 256 metres (taller than Tokyo Midtown), but isn't a large as Roppongi Hills megaplex which was also built by the same company.  The building and the Andaz hotel at the top look pretty gorgeous.  The building takes its name from the Toranomon district that it is in, and "tora" means tiger, while "nomon" means gate.  The neigbourhood used to be at the long demolished south gate to Edo Castle.  Right now, the neigbourhood is sandwiched between the Imperial Palace to the north and the Tokyo Tower to the south.  Great views of both places from the building.

Toranomon Hills is part of a series of redevelopment project in the heart of Tokyo and the building sits at one end of a new road that connects Toranomon to the Shimbashi district to the east.  This road will be extended two more kilometres northwest for the 2020 Olympics.  The building towers about the low to mid-rise buildings around it  and it is a boost for the area which was hit by the economic turmoil of the 1990s.  The closest train station on the Yamanote Line to the building is  Shinbashi to the east, and the nearest metro station on the Ginza Line is Toranomon to the north.

The building is 52 stories high with fantastic views all around.  Hyatt has opened the Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills on the 47-52 floors of the tower.  Andaz is a boutique type hotel  with 164 rooms which offers a locally inspired theme to make have you leave feeling like a local.  The 51st floor has the main dining restaurant, the Andaz Tavern with great city views, and the 52nd floor has the Rooftop Bar which is designed with Japanese Teahouses in mind.  Much of the rest of the building is occupied by business and residential.  There is some shopping on the lower levels, but it is not a major mall.

The building also has an interesting mascot that looks much like the beloved Doreamon, but is a white tiger named Toranomon.  Nice touch with the cute character mascot from Fujiko F. Fujio.  Doraemon is also the official ambassador for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.


1 Chome-23 Toranomon
Minato, Tokyo

Lots of great pics here.
Toranomon Official Site with Guides.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Free Observation Decks to View Tokyo From

You've been all over Tokyo at street level.  You've been under the city in the depths of the subway.  Now is the time to claim the high ground and get the bird's eye view of the city.  There are usual suspects to get a great view from such as the Tokyo Tower, the Tokyo Skytree, the observation deck at Sunshine 60, and the Mori Tower in Roppongi.  All of these observation decks charge a small to a more hefty fee view for their views, but there are also places to view the city that are free.  Now having said that, I do have to say that it was worth the price for me to get the views from the Skytree and also the Mori Tower.  Plan according to your budget.  I blogged about the Skytree here, and the Mori Tower here.
View from Mori Tower
Some of the free observation decks are at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices, the Bunkyo Civic Center, and Tower Hall Funabori.  There are also many lounges / restaurants offering great views from tall buildings as the restaurant floors are sometimes placed really high up in the buildings. You can get great views from the restaurant floors at the Caretta Shiodome Tower (46 and 47th floors), and the Ebisu Garden Place Tower (38 and 39th floors).  One of the neatest buildings, the Shinjuku NS Building, also in west Shinjuku, has a restaurants on the 29th floor and a way cool atrium with a skywalk inside the building.

 Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observation Deck
This is the most popular of the free observations decks and it is the most accessible as most visitors end up in Shinjuku at some point.  Head west from Shinjuku Station into the business area.  On the way to this building you can enjoy some wonderful public sculptures and the many skyscrapers in the area.
Metropolitan Building

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is an incredibly large building too that is well worth viewing, I also hear there is a good cafeteria here for bargain eats that is open to the public.  There is an excellent tourist information center in the building too!  There is one observation deck in each of the two towers on the 45th floor and they offer some great views.  The view from Tower 1 is slightly better.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, 2-8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Bunkyo Civic Center Observation Deck
This observation deck is more off the beaten track. It isn't the tallest of observation decks but there are not that many tall buildings nearby to obstruct your view so you can see toward Shinjuku, the Metropolitan Government Building and even Mount Fuji in one photo frame.  The building is unique too with the observation deck looking like a saucer embedded in a building on the 25th floor.  Nearby is the Tokyo Dome and one of the prettiest Japanese Gardens, Koishikawa Korakuen (fall is pretty).  The nearest train station to here is the Korakuen station on the Marunouchi and Nanboku lines.

Bunkyo-ku, Kasuga 1-16-21, Bunkyo Civic Center Bldg 25F.

Tower Hall Funabori
Definitely not on the beaten track, this small observation deck is in a tower that is only 115 meters tall, but that is still about 28 stories. You can see the Skytree to the north and Tokyo Disney to the south. It is near Funafori Station, on the north side, and it is on the Toei Shinjuku Line.

Tower Hall Funabori 4-1-1 Funabori Edogawa, Tokyo 134-0091 Japan

More Tokyo Highlights Posts, Shibuya Crossing, Skytree Information, etc.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Popular Japanese Fast Food Chains To Try On A Tokyo Visit

Plenty has been written about restaurants you must try when you are in Tokyo.  Michelin stars are great, but sometimes you just want to eat.  So what are some of the chain restaurants that Japanese people frequent?  Here are six fast food chains (often the food is cooked while you wait) that you could try and they are great if you are on a budget.  You can often find outlets near train stations so you don't even have to look far, but you won't always find them on every street corner.  Some of these food chains have even expanded overseas in other Asian countries and you'll even find them in America now.

Teriyaki chicken burger
MOS Burger
This is an awesome burger chain that is famous for their buns made out of compressed disks of rice.  They often grill your food up fresh and I also like their teriyaki chicken burger!  Lotteria and Freshness Burger are other burger chain you could also try.

Yoshinoya / Sukiya / Matsuya
Great for beef bowl or gyudon.  This is a bowl of rice covered in tender simmered beef, onions, and a tasty sauce.  These restaurants have expanded their offerings so it isn't just beef bowl anymore.  Beef bowl is a very cheap meal and a meal set is often a great way to go.  Everyone also has a chain they like more than the others.
Extra large beef bowl at Sukiya with miso soup.

Great for tendon (tempura with rice).  Also very affordable and they have some great tempura for the price you pay.  They often have some seasonal specials and it always looks so tasty.

This is more of a full restaurant, but you can get a meal at a very reasonable price and it is more like traditional Japanese cooking.  There is plenty of variety to choose from.

Great soba noodle chain, but again, more than just soba noodles.  Plenty of variety on offer.

Coco Curry
This is a popular curry shop chain. with a hard to miss sign.  It wouldn't be a visit to Japan without having one of the nation's favourite dishes.  It is Japanese style curry with rice.  There are many curry outlets and they are all pretty tasty.

Here are a few photos from another curry shop, Homemade Curry Time, I tried in Shinagawa Station.  It was good there!  Again, you need to order from a vending machine, but there were pictures.

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