Monday, November 28, 2011

Tokyo Sky Tree and Return of the Odaiba Gundam

2012 is a year for some nifty things to happen in Tokyo.

The first big event is grand opening of the the Tokyo Sky Tree to the general public.  I hear that small group tours are already being booked to go up.  The second big event is the return of the 1:1 scale Gundam RX-78 Gundam to Odaiba.  You get to go up the tallest tower in the world and see the world's biggest Gundam model.  The Sky Tree is a whopping 634 metres high, while the 1:1 Gundam robot statue is about 18 metres (not too bad for an anime only manifestation in reality). In 2009, the Gundam was only up for a month, which I missed, but this time it is supposed to be up for a whole year from the spring of 2012 till March 2013.

Tokyo Sky Tree opens on May 22, 2012 and is located in the Narihirabashi/Oshiage area of Sumida Ward (near Asakasa - across the river) of Tokyo.  It is the tallest man-made structure in Japan and will be acting a powerful digital TV broadcasting tower, replacing much of the functionality of the shorter Tokyo Tower.  The views from it should be pretty spectacular.  I wonder which of the new anime will feature the Sky Tree and when the next Godzilla movie will knock it down.

Also, to give you an idea of the size of the Sky Tree, here is a comparison chart.
Wikimedia Commons

So until the Sky Tree opens, and even after it does, here are some other nice sky high viewpoints to see the Tokyo Skyline.

The number one famous landmark for views would be the Tokyo Tower.  Featured in numerous anime, including Cardcaptor Sakura.  This tower is a big favorite with the Japanese too.  It is still very pretty and lights up nicely at night.
My favourite sky high view is the Mori Tower City View located in Roppongi Hills.  Wonderful Panoramas and huge viewing windows.
Sunshine 60 in Ikebukuro is also another place with a nice high observation deck.  This place is near Otome Road, the ladies Akihabara.
Address: 3-1-1 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku

There are also numerous hotels and bars with fantastic skyline views of Tokyo. Just Google it!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tokyo Craze - Part 06 (Travelogue / Tips)

Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 13 - Shiodome, Ghibli-ish Glockenspiel

Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 14 - Odaiba, Miraikan, Asimo Robot

Day 6: Monday - Shiodome To Odaiba We Go!
October 31, 2009
Took the Yamamote Line to Shimbashi Station from the home base of Shinagawa Station.  Here you transfer to the monorail line to get out to Odaiba.  When you hit the train station right everything just lines up.  Getting to the Shiodome, which is basically Shimbashi station + a few blocks of distance, you should walk it if possible.  The monorail goes from one to the other for 3 blocks for 100 yen and you have to walk anyhow for a bit.  It was a much more pleasant experience this time than the walk the other night on the quest for the Pokemon Store.

At the Shiodome, which is a high-tech district of raised sidewalks the size of streets and ultramodern skyscrapers, it is sci-fi land.  There is a very cool giant glockenspiel (animated mechanical clock) here at the Nihon TV (NTV) Station here.  The copper clock looks like something out of Howl's Moving Castle and has a great mechanical sequence that goes every hour.  I didn’t know about this and it was a wonderful surprise.  Inside, is the Anpanman Terrace (a food court with Anpanman theme and Taiyaki (red bean filled pastries).

I took the monorail from here to Odaiba, the massive man-made island out in Tokyo bay.  This island was supposed to have been a new high-tech city, but the real estate bust in the 1990’s pretty much stopped it.  There are plenty of people living here in apartments, but it seems somewhat deserted for Tokyo and sparcely built-up in many places.    The monorail runs on a pretty interesting track to get over to the island.  There are numerous stops at smaller stations and then it runs up in a giant spiral to run underneath the massive Rainbow Bridge to cross over to the island.  Here, you pass by the Fuji TV building, Aqua City and Pallet Town malls and behind the Miraikan Science Centre.  In the distance you can see the massive convention center on its 4 supporting pillars and the Odaiba Ferris Wheel.

Got off the train at the stop closest to the Miraikan, a very nice technology and science museum.  There are some big outdoor sculptures here and there were some performing groups practicing some type of dance here the day I visited.  Inside the Miraikan, the interior is nicely architected and just as interesting as the exhibits.  From the massive staircase to the top and an entire gallery between two floors with a giant spiral walkway around an animated 3 metre wide globe of the earth.  The globe is covered in color LEDs that shows displays of a rotating earth with different modes to show normal views with weather and alternate views showing global temperature.

There were numerous exhibits, including:

  • Actual wall mounted with real detectors from the Super Kamiokande solar neutrino detector.  The sensors look like giant lightbulbs a couple of feet across that are very photo sensitive.  The actual detector array in located at the bottom of an old coal mine in a massive circular chamber that is covered with these sensors.  It is half-full of heavy water that will emit light when a neutrino hits a water molecule.  Men in rubber rafts boat around on it to inspect the sensors.
  • A mockup of the living section of the ISS Space Station.  The inside of a space station is always interesting and I took note of the instant space ramen that the JSA developed for their astronaut when they went up to the station.
  • Asimo, the Honda Robot.  There is a fifteen minute demo that happens several times a day when the robot performs.  It runs, kicks a ball, bows, waves, and even speaks to an enthusiastic Japanese audience.  From what I could tell, the Japanese love their robots and applaud after every successful trick.
  • Rocket engines from their own Japanese Space Agency (JSA) boosters.  The engines are modified shuttle engines.
  • Thermal displays showing your own body temperature.
  • Space probe mockups including the Hayabasai Space Probe and the Venus Orbiter.
  • Actual deep sea mini-submarine you can enter. 
  • There was also a large gallery on the life sciences and such here.
I also did a quick visit of a science fair that was on at the time and saw a few things about Catalysts.

After the Miraikan, I walked over to the Maritime Museum that looks like a big concrete ship on the shore.  It is a modeller's dream inside.  There are so many scale ship models, some of which are pretty large, with a mix of commercial and military vessels.  There are also scale sections of entire ships and a mockups of sections of other ships inside.  This includes the conning tower and control room of a JSDF attack submarine with periscope you can use.  Actual engines and giant propellers finish the exhibits.  There was a dance troupe competition there in the area in front of the museum too.

I had a break outside here next to 3 moored ships you can tour and looked out across Tokyo Bay.  These ships are part of the exhibits at the museum and include an arctic science ship and a few others.  Had a rice ball and some juice I bought earlier at one of the many konbini you pass on the way here. Always stock up before you get to the museums as they may sell drinks, but no food, or expensive food.

Walked over to the Fuji TV building afterwards.  It is actually a fairly long walk over, but I cut over through some overgrown grassy fields via a hole in a fence to get there on a diagonal instead of taking a long way.  Probably not recommended, but I managed to get to an overpass that gave direct access this way.  On the overpass, there were more dance troupes performing as part of some festival or competition.  It was quite a colourful and musical spectacle with drums and such.  It looked like a cross between traditional dance and something more modern.

I then went under the Fuji TV building, up these massive flights of stairs and admired the erector set type metal framework construction of the building.  There is a large revolving observation deck inside this suspended sphere at the top of the building. Neat building, but you have to pay to see lots of it.  Went to the big gift shop there with lots of Fuji TV merchandise via logos and many different mascots and anime characters.  They own Dragonball, One Piece, and have a big blue dog as the official mascot.  Went through the Aqua City Mall and took a look at the Toys R Us there.  Toys R Us is pretty much the same except for themed sections on Gundam, Pretty Cure (a very popular magical girl series for kids), and other Japanese anime characters.  At the food court in the mall, I had Soba Noodles and Tempura for lunch.  There is a mini-Statue of Liberty here too – kind of like the one in Paris I saw years ago.  At the Steps Mall I went to see this re-creation of  Hong Kong they have on the top floor.  It is a simulated Hong Kong street with the cacophony of street signs and various shops and restaurants.

The day wasn’t nearly over and I took the monorail to Shinbashi and transferred over to the subway to get over to Roppongi in the late afternoon.  I spent some time at Tokyo Midtown to see some of the free parts of  Design Fest (more line ups for the non-free stuff).  Saw an exhibit of the best design award winner for various products and concepts.  Finally went back to Shibuya in the early evening just so I could have a coffee at the Starbucks overlooking the crossing.  This was a very efficient Starbucks.  I ordered a latte, paid for it, walked ten feet and pretty much had it handed to me.  It was quick and I walked up the stairs to grab a bit of counterspace looking out over the intersection.  This is also a crowded Starbucks but watching scramble crossing where pedestrians dash across the intersection from five directions simultaneously, then taper off to be replaced by cars going through was fun.

This was the only evening where it started to have a light drizzle.  I worked my way over to the south side of Shibuya Station to get up to a second floor mall that connects the station to some other buildings, but you can see north to the crossing and take some more pictures.  Had a quick look at Tower Records here and then went back to Shinegawa Station.

At the station I had a late dinner of pork curry and rice at a curry restaurant that was really tasty.  Japanese curry is yummy and is different from Indian curries as they have their own take on it.  This was another of those fast food restaurants where you order at a machine and just hand a ticket to a server behind a counter.

Cleaned my blisters again.  Need to take it easy on the feet at Disney tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tokyo Craze - Part 05 (Travelogue / Tips)

Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 11 - Asakusa, Sensoji Temple, Kappenbashi

Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 12 - Tokyo Edo Museum

Day 5: Saturday - Asakusa, Tokyo Edo Museum

October 31, 2009

Went to Asakusa and took in the main shopping street of Nakamise here at the Sensoji Temple.  Lots of shops and tourists.  This is the first place I have seen lots of tourists.  I have seen a few in Roppongi, Shibuya, and Shinjuku there have been a few people too.  The gates are impressive and the main temple must be under restoration or protection for a long time as the scaffolding looked semi-permanent.

Place is packed full of Japanese and foreign tourists shopping for souvenirs.  There are keychains, kimonos, candy, roasted rice crackers (sembei), and other traditional treats for sale.  You visit, you brings stuff back for the friends and relatives.  Saw Takoyaki (octopus bits in battered balls) stalls and yakitori (chicken skewers) stalls too but no Japanese takers at the time so I skipped it.  Shopped for a few things on the street myself.  Bought a key chains, ornaments, lucky cat and some t-shirts.  Many Doraemon, Sgt. Frog, and Hello Kitty items to buy.  Busy shopping street that opens before 10, but most of the shops open later.  After wandering through the temple grounds looking at buddhas and shrines I walked through the streets around it.  Found a Taiyaki shop and had one right out of the pan.  YUMMY red bean filling and nice pastry! 

Ended up walking slowly to Kappenbashi, shooting photos along the way.  Found the street really easy and the internet tip map I found worked well except for the food models shop location. It looked like the shop was further north on the east side of the street than I expected.  Bought some hanging, paper (actually vinyl now) shop lanterns that hang outside the doors and door hangings you often find in Japanese restaurants.  Bought a 1:1 scale set of sushi in a little bento box too.  All types of restaurant supply stores here.

Walked back to the nearest train station then transferred over to the Yamamote line to Akihabara. Stopped for ramen in the station.  It was more filling at the place I went, but I don’t think it was quite as tasty as some (but better than what you get back home!).

Went to the Anime Center again to see the Kaiyodo Revoltech one day exhibit.  It was pretty cool and on a smaller scale, but it was still nice to actually see a hobby exhibit as I’d like to go to Wonderfest or something like that but the lines kind of throw me off.  The Anime Center is small, but it is packed full of merchandise and some life-size statues of anime characters such as Rei Ayanami and person sized models of a Zaku.  Could buy collectible, canned bread here in Fullmetal Alchemist and Macross Cans when I was there.  There was also an art show on in the building but I wanted to skip a fairly long line.  Went to Gamers and Radio Kaikan Building where the Kotobukiya store is.  There is a massive amount of Anime merchandise here.  The spaces are compact, but they are full of goods.  Almost bought another figure that was 10% off and a MSI Gundam that was on for 500Yen, but decided not to.  Got enough stuff.  I am waiting for the Revoltech ARX-7 Arbalest to come out.  It is anime heaven in the Radio Kaikan building.  It is a maze of stores with a cool staircase in the center that is kind of typical building staircase, but the design is cool as it kind of winds back and forth.  There are many shops and many are big like Kotobukiya, Volks, Revoltech/Kaiyodo, etc.  There is even a person-sized Evangelion Unit 01 on one of the floors.  Gashapon machines scattered throughout.  The building was hot and full of people on the Saturday so it was a little unpleasant to be in.

After this I wandered down to the Tokyo Edo Museum.  BIG! It is BIG.  Came of the wrong end of the platform again and had to walk all the way around to get into the museum.  Some very nice exhibits of old Tokyo.  I liked going through the traditional houses (take of your shoes), and seeing the recreated theaters and buildings.  Many dioramas, a full scale bridge replica, and there are many signs in English so you will have lots to read.

Tried an Ekiben at Shinagawa that night.  Fairly tasty, but I think I’ll go for something meatier next time, as I had one with more traditional vegetables and pickles. Also picked up beer, fruits and snacks at the supermarket.  Ekiben are a neat concept.  They are a chilled bento in a foam container that looks like real wood and can be pretty deluxe looking.  A real nice bonus for long distance train travel to have a nice lunch or dinner.

My suitcase is getting pretty full.

NOTE: I love the metropolitan train stations.  There are so many amenities in them and connected to them.  The stations are almost big malls with almost anything you want as long as it isn't an auto garage, or a Home Depot.  The department stores with their basement food floors and supermarkets are very convenient.  Fruit is expensive, but an apple a day keeps the doctor away... 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Information on Japanese Pop Culture, Anime, Manga for Visitors

Internet search is a fantastic resource to find information on just about anything, but this information is often scattered to the four winds and it is pretty much a treasure hunt.

Today, I'm going to put down some links to some accessible sources of high-quality information for the traveler to Japan about anime, Akihabara, manga, and Japanese pop culture. Hopefully, the treasure hunt becomes a little easier.

Web Information About Japanese Pop Culture

Cut and paste the text into your browser for the Japanese characters if you have to.
  • The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider's Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan [Paperback]
    Patrick W. Galbraith
  • TOKYO The Greatest Travel Tips 英語で歩く東京 [単行本]. Must order this on
  • 旅の指さし会話帳〈21〉JAPAN (ここ以外のどこかへ!) [ペーパーバック]  This is a point and look Japanese phrasebook with lots of images.  Must order this on
These books, pdfs, and links gave a pretty good intro for traveling to Japan for modern pop culture.  Just don't forget about the wonderful food and historical culture over there too.   I had a great time when I was there and probably had a big goofy grin much of the time I was there.  I've traveled to number of other countries and even lived in Greece for awhile, but I had a lot of fun on my trip there.  Some places have changed in Akihabara since this information was published; a big one being the demolition of the Radio Kaikan Building (where Stein's Gate is set), but the businesses will temporarily relocate and move to another "permanent" home at some point - maybe even back into the rebuilt replacement building.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tokyo Craze - Part 04 (Travelogue / Tips)

Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 08 - Hei Jinja, Ghibli Museum

Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 09 - Mori Tower, Mori Museum, Skyview


Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 10 - Akihabara

Day 4: Friday - Ghibli and Akihabara In Tokyo

October 30, 2009
Breakfast at McDee’s again.  I have had perfectly cooked sausage and egg McMuffins, good coffee, and non-soggy hash-browns so it is very good.  The breakfast at the hotel is expensive and I have heard some “interesting comments” about the buffet both online and first hand.  As I said earlier, there is a good pastry shop right across the hall from McDees too if this doesn’t suit your style, but with my schedule – a breakfast that lasts is very important.  I often get something like this when I hike as it will last until lunch.  
See "Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia, Second Edition"

You wouldn’t think it, but McDonald’s also fascinates me in Asia as it has it’s own culture.  There are North American and an Asian cultural aspects to the burger chain.  Hong Kong people and Japanese (possibly other asian groups that I haven’t experienced either)  people both think that McDonald’s as normal and part of their home cultural landscape.   The chain has localized very nicely.  Other chains that have localized are Denny’s, KFC, and 7-11.  Seven-Eleven is another story altogether as it was so successful they bought out their American parent in 2008.

Seven-Eleven is one of a number of convenience store chains or konbini in Japan. These stores have done very well as they provide food that are both cheap and good (especially compared to what you get in a North American convenience store).  Onigiri and many other meals are made fresh and can be shipped out to the stores multiple times in a day. The selection of candy and snacks is also awesome along with the large varieties of drinks.  There are limited edition items and such too.  There maybe a lot of marketing at work, but I like it. 

Actually woke up at 6 AM and went back to sleep until 7.  Down at 7:30 and saw a very crowded platform.  I witnessed the conductors actually shoving in the last few people trying to get onto a commuter train and went right back upstairs for a couple of minutes to get into the next train.  I could skip the seriously packed, sardine-can like situation.  Got onto a later train and went a little further in from the door where crowding isn’t as bad.  I was lucky that lots of people were getting off at various stations before I had to get off.  I transferred to the subway and went to see the Hei Jinja temple that is on top of a hill.  Walked up the back way where there is a narrow stone stairway that runs up between what seems like a hundred red tori gates.  Very atmospheric.  There is a large, prosperous temple complex up top.  There are also many offertory Sake barrels lining the outside of the temple by the front gate.  These are very picturesque. 

Saw cat café and cute JPOP singing commercials.  All Japanese girls are turning brunette. Narrowest vending machine and elevator garage at the street.  Went to my first Japanese Starbucks. Great service, good latte, nice napkins.
Back to the subway to Shinjuku.  Saw that there were 3 or 4 trains on the Chuo line and figured I needed to take the local train to Mitaka as I was heading off to see the Ghibli museum today.  The trains were not very crowded by this time of the morning (9 AMish). 

This same train I took also takes you by Nakano Broadway, but I decided to pass on it.  Nakano is supposed to be the latest Otaku hangout and it is more “hard core” geek than Akihabara that has gentrified.  Mandarake has it’s largest stores here for example and there are many serious collectors stores in the mall.  Another trip, I’ll pop in, but not this time as I already have so much to see. 

Walked down to the Ghibli museum instead of taking the “Cat Bus” shuttle.  It is about a 20 minute walk there and you get to see what some residential neighbourhoods look like.  There is an amazing number of cables strung on power poles for cable, electricity, and phone here.  A lot of the infrastructure is above ground and not buried.   Something they want to change, but it will be awhile as it is pretty costly.  When there is an earthquake, this would take some time to fix. 
This is another time that Google maps gives you a slightly mistaken impression of the area.  I’ve figured that the maps – even with Streetview – don’t show  urban density or multi-level terrain very well.

Ghibli museum is very well done, but it is small.  Lots of displays on how animation is done.  Has interactive machines that show you how compositing, and overlays are done.  Autotropes to show you stop motion / frame by frame animation.  Many design sketches and the key animation process.  There are many storyboards, animation flip books.  A small, but informative Ponyo exhibition with a big Ponyo as a fish/human and Ponyo as a girl and Ponyo in a bucket were there at the time.  Shows animators desk and office.

Kids will like the museum (should probably be at least 4 years old to enjoy it fully) as there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore, a big cast iron spiral staircase.  There are many nice details in the building that integrate Ghibli films into the building.  It is Disney light.  Best of all – only for the kids unfortunately, is a giant Catbus stuffy they can climb and play in.  That is something that most kids will get a huge kick out of if they have seen the classic My Neighbour Totoro – one of my favourite films of all time.

 The theatre was nice with a bug movie.  You don’t know which movie you will see.  Tickets to Ghibli must be purchased in advance at a Lawsons or from a JTB travel agency.  The museum website has details on ticket purchase and on how to get to the museum. 
There is a nice garden on the roof and the grounds are immaculately maintained.  On the roof is a giant robot from Castle in the Sky along with some other artifacts. 
The gift shop is very nice with some unique merchandise.  I bought a soundtrack to Ponyo and some stuffies along with picture books.  There is a book shop and a gift shop here.  Bring cash.  Places like Kiddyland also have a nice Ghibli section, and prices are comparable – I didn’t notice a premium.

Caught the Cat Bus back to the train station and took the train back into Shinjuku and transferred to a subway that took me to Tokyo Midtown. Midtown is big and cool.  Design Fest is on too.  Wasted time trying to find box Dog shop.  Saw Roppongi with the Mori Tower in the distance, walked over.  Passed famous ramen shop. Mori Tower with the mall at ground level is pretty darn big.  Bigger than Mid-Town.  It is more built-up.  Love the Spider, the Mori Museum with the exhibit by Chinese Birds Nest Designer at the Olympics. 

It seems like people wear masks when they are sick and such, but the rail station public bathrooms do not have soap.  It is also hard to find public trash cans except around vending machines.

The Mori Museum has a very large temporary exhibit by leading Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who designed the "Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium”. Had many large sculptures on exhibit, like bikes forming a geodesic kind of dome and large wooden sculptures. 

Sky View was awesome.  You could see the Tokyo Tower and pretty much all of Tokyo.  I think the Sky View is actually higher than the Tokyo Tower and on good days you can pay extra and even go up on the roof for a truly high viewpoint.

Went to Akihabara again, transferred from subway to train and it was a long 700 meters in a tunnel (very long).  The Anime Center was closed when I went, but it turned out they were setting up for a Revoltech exhibition the next day so I got to see that and the center later. 

View Akihabara Highlights in a larger map

Went to the COSPA store and it was a so so experience.  Was kind of disorganized looking when I went, but I did hit the gashapon machines in the hall on the main floor. Got lucky and actually got two of the ones I wanted on my first tries. It is kind of funny that they have so many machines here and at Yodobashi, but there isn’t as much variety as you think.  Kiddyland had some more unique stuff.  I wonder if there are other gashapon halls around too. 

Tooks lots of photos of Akiba and saw a fair number of maids.  Some were handing out flyers.  I took one once and the lady really tried to convince me to go.  Went to Animate and bought CS, books, t-shirts and character goods.  Blistered on all feet from too much walking and by the end of the day I was really hurting.  Gamers was pretty neat too, but I liked Animate just a little more.  The staff were really helpful at the Animate.  I had actually printed off a few product pages at and that made their life really easy to help find some stuff for me.  But also look around as there are lots of exclusive or more limited distribution goodies to be found at these places. 

There is activity at all hours of the day.  Have rush hour traffic at 5:30 on a Saturday and the trains can be packed wall to wall.  Counted my cash and bills to make sure the money is there.  For Canadians and Americans, buying in yen isn’t too hard as it was roughly 100 Yen to 1 Dollar American or a little more in Canadian Dollars. 

Went for ramen again from the first shop I went to and  the Shoyu Ramen is darn tasty.  Showered off afterwards and bandaged myself up as I got a couple of blisters despite wearing comfortable shoes.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tokyo Craze - Part 03 (Travelogue / Tips)

Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 06 - Ueno Park, National Museum, Museum of Natural History


Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 07 - Ginza, Toho Studios Godzilla

Day 3: Thursday - Museum Day In Tokyo

October 29, 2009

Egg McMuffin breakfast at the McDonalds as it was really good.
Took the Yamomote Line to Ueno.  It was a coolish morning, but not cold.  The air was soft and you could tell if was humid, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.  Here was the first place I saw some of the Tokyo Homeless.  They were hanging out in the park near the National Science Museum and sleeping in the shrubs near the lake there.  They didn’t occupy the benches, but stayed in the background.  Smell of urine in the park in the odd place. 

Went walking in the park.  They were setting up for some craft show.  Visited 2 shrines.  Kiomizu Kannon Do and Bensen Do on the Lake.  Went to the Shitamachi Museum.  Very nice little museum.  Do explore the original house that has been moved inside the museum with its under floor storage.

Went to the science museum.  Lots of School kids.  The new hall is great, the old hall is kind of hit and miss and with old fashioned displays.  Excellent exhibits overall.  The 360 degree theater was very cool and I watched a show about the earth.  The sea exhibit with sharks and sunfish was also very interesting.  Dinosaur exhibit was good.  There were exhibits on computers with old mainframes and everything (as my career is computer related this was pretty cool stuff to me).

Went to the National Museum and skipped the Emperor's Exhibit of Art which was on.  This temporary exhibit showing treasures of the royal family had HUGE lines and you also had to pay more.  There was lots to see without a visit to the exhibit.

The museum is mammoth.  Just saw the Japanese Arts and the bronze age archeology section with the famous dancing Haniwa.  Should have brought more of a lunch from a convenience store as there is no food on the premises except for some very crowded and lined up restaurants and cafes.  BRING Food.  There are drink vending machines in the museum near the gift shop and on the grounds though.  All I had was a rice ball which helped.

Love the Jomon clay pottery, especially the dancing Haniwa figures that used to be guardians around burial mounds.  Saw a nice mix of samurai swords and stone age pottery. Some of the bronze age pottery of the time is fascinating as they look absolutely alien.

Down to Ginza.  Wandered around the International Forum.  Very cool building.  Lots and lots of glass and it is in this neat narrow leaf shape from an overhead view.

Went down along the west side of the Yamamote line tracks, paralleling Ginza, to get toToho Studios where there is this bronze statue of Godzilla.  There are all these little stall and yakitori places under the tracks.

Crossed over to Ginza near the Fujiya Building there. Found a Yotsunoya for beef rice bowl.  Was a Japanese homeless guy eating in there too with blue eyes.  I was eating a late lunch and quite hungry.

Saw lots of Ginza, the Mitsukosi, Seibu, Fujiya building, Sony Building, Sanrio Giftgate.  Lots of staff in these stores, there seems to be staff everywhere by North American standards.  Even had the Hello Kitty store pushing souvenir photos of you with a Hello Kitty statue.  The Hello Kitty store was fairly big, had lots of stuff, but nothing too unusual.

Went to Ito-ya for pens and got set of these Frixion pens where a friction eraser will completely fade the ink due to the heat generated.  Paper staplers were not so good.  One of them I had seen for sale over here.  Many beautiful origami papers to buy.

Saw lights come on at Dusk.  Very pretty with lots of neon, especially near the tops of buildings. Lots of animated signs, and buildings that even change color.

Took subway to Shimbashi from Ginza.  Really long walk underground.  Turns out that Shimbasi connects underground to Shiodome.  Walked to the center after getting lost and I swear it is faster to walk south from Ginza to get there instead of training it.

Shiodome is a neat place.  Massive office towers.  Very sci-fi-ish.  Saw the cool modular apartment building.  Got wrong directions from a guard who was very helpful, but he had the old location of the Pokemon Center.  I actually made a mistake coming to Shiodome, and should have taken the Yamamote Line down to Hamamatsucho where the center can be seen from the train platform.  However, seeing the Shiodome was good as I knew I would want to visit again.  I followed the directions I had downloaded from the internet instead and went for a 40 minute walk south in the dark to the center.  Never was really lost as I was paralleling the track again.  It was an ordeal as I had blisters on my feet from walking around.  My walking shoes which were not new just were not up to it.  Went with a compass.  Saw lots of more normal streets and it was nice.  Grabbed some riceballs and a drink from a konbini on the way down.

Pokemon Center was fun.  Lots of goods.  There were items for kids and adults.  If you have lots of children to buy things for, this is a good place.  You can buy Pokemon gashapon, t-shirts, fridge magnets, socks, hats, stuffed animals – some of which are not available or hard to find elsewhere, video games, keychains, jewelry, games, plastic figures, candy, even themed instant noodles.  I was glad I made the trip anyhow and bought a fair bit of stuff here.  They play the pokemon tune over and over again until you go mad. Dum da da dum da da dee dum (repeat until closing).

Headed back to the hotel with lots of stuff to drop off and a brief rest.  Went back out to take night photos of Shinjuku.  Like many districts in Tokyo, it looks different between night and day as all of the buildings light up.  There are also many, many people on the street until 10 PM at the earliest.  The concentration of people increases the closer you get to the major spots or the train station. 

It was a pretty late dinner at about 9 PM.  I stopped out for conveyor belt sushi at a really cheap place (started at 100 yen) that was in my Tokyo Guidebook.  The stuff wasn’t the best, but it was decent and filling and I was off again pretty quick.  I will try a better one next time.  These restaurants are pretty neat as you get as seat and the sushi is plated on small dishes that pass right by you on a conveyor belt that runs around the restaurant.  There are usually two levels to the conveyor belt and the types are sushi are priced based on the color of the dish.  You have a little guide by your seat and pour your own green tea.  There are cups and cutlery (chopsticks) right by your seat.  You put powdered tea in your cup and there is a hot water spigot right next to you to fill the cup. 

I’m on a pretty grueling schedule, but having a great time as I have read and seen so much about Tokyo and am getting a chance to experience it on the surface.  Digging deeper, the city has got to have great nuances and many more cultural aspects to explore, especially if you’re with people who live there.  As it was, a week was very short just to explore the surface.  I love architecture and dense urban spaces to explore, so it was just wonderful when you mix this with Japanese pop culture and wonderful food.  I didn’t have Kaiseki or anything like that, but I wanted to just see what more regular food was like from convenience food to low key restaurant meals.  Fancy dining is something that is best with companionship anyhow.

I wandered around Shinjuku Station and down to the Golden Gai and the main drag with all of the street signs that was featured in “Lost in Translation” when Bill Murray first arrives in Tokyo.  Very colorful locations.  The biggest concentrations of colorful buildings are around Studio Alta (with the big TV on the building) and on the main street.  The cities are not quiet around here and there is music and announcements being broadcast into the street.

After photos I was pretty beat, but stopped at a magazine vendor in Shinjuku Station to buy a Hello Kitty limited edition magazine with a collectable purse for my sister.  Magazines in Japan have lots of “freebies” bundled with them.  Sometimes you do pay a little more for the magazine, but I really like this concept as it isn’t just something you read.  The value-add is fun!

Crashed at the hotel after cleaning up. 

Tokyo Craze - Part 02 (Travelogue / Tips)

Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 03 - Shinjuku, Tokyo Metropolitan City Hall Building

Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 04 - Harajuku, Omotesando

 Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 05 - Yodobashi Camera Akiba

Day 2: Wednesday - First Full Day In Tokyo

October 28, 2009
Bad start to the day.  I lost the SUICA card I just bought yesterday, but I had already used 800 of the 1500 bonus yen left on it, so it wasn’t that bad.  I received a bonus 1500 yen to spend when I bought it at the airport  along with the train ticket in on the NEX Express and I had used up a bunch of it on the train last night.  I ended up miming that I had lost the SUICA in a few places, but no luck finding it.  The clerks in one convenience store were very helpful, and not so helpful in another – but polite.  I ended up buying a new one and charging it up at the train station.  

Found Goota noodles and Gundam Cup of Noodles at the convenience stores.  Goota is a deluxe noodle brand and the Gundam Cup was a special limited time offer that included a small scale model kit with the noodles.  

Shinjuku is a huge train station and you can get lost in all the passages and different exits.  There are tons of buildings connected to it along with attached department stores.
Saw the Gakuen Cocoon Tower, a cool looking building that is a bit like the Pickle building in London, but has white stripes crisscrossing it.  A school is in the building which is even cooler. Went walking over to the Tokyo Metropolitan City Hall building.  It is hard to tell where ground level is supposed to be here as there are 2 or 3 levels of build-up.  Roads go over / under each other. The Metropolitan Building is huge.  South tower’s observation deck was open for viewing so I went up in the morning and took in the vista even though it was a little smoggy today.
Walked through the east side of Shinjuku.

View Shibuya Shinjuku in a larger map

Takeshima Times Square – went to the restaurant level and had a tonkotsu cutlet lunch. I have never had a good tonkotsu cutlet before and it was a very tasty breaded and deep-fried piece of pork that was juicy but not overly greasy.  I like how you grind up the sesames seeds yourself and can dip the cutlet in sauce and sesame yourself.  Saw the Tokyu Hands and HMV.

 Don Quixote again – and walked down Center Gai to see the red light district during the day.  The district looks different during day and night. Two sets of photo opportunities.

Took train over to Harajuku in the afternoon.  Very hip.  Lots of photographers signing girls up.  Saw Daiso, bought a bunch of stuff, and Kiddyland and Omotesando.

Went back to the hotel rest.  Went out for more ramen for dinner at the strip of ramen shops at Shinagawa.  Tried a different char sui and Tokyo shoyu with lots of diced green onion.  Different broth but still very tasty.  

Went back at night to Akihabara.  Was pretty late and many of the shops such as Kotobukiya were only open for about 15 minutes.  Arrived at 8:45.  Some shops were still open, but many do close at 9.  Went walking around and enjoyed the sights and went into the Yodobashi Camera store.  This place is big.  It is like having 7 or 8 Best Buys stacked on top of each other.   There is a lot of merchandise in this building.  For example, you are looking for a microphone or a computer mouse.  Over in North America you can choose from a dozen if you’re lucky.  Over there, there is at least  20 or 30 to choose from.  Crazy.  Buying electronics can be pretty cool, but you have to watch what you want to buy.  There are some cutting edge electronics, but you might need to read Japanese.  For cameras and such, the big models tend to be international.  The only advantage would be that the model might not be released at home yet, but you might not be getting a better price as you could pay more.  Neat things would be smaller gadgets such as pico projectors, headphones, USB keys, peripherals, tiny photoprinters (but you better have a place to source refills and such).  One floor of the Yodobashi has restaurants and cafes and one floor is pretty much toys and books.  The toys are pretty extensive ranging from kids toys to collectables for adults.  There is a large Gundam model section and many many figures.  Also here is a famously photographed set of gashapon machines.  There are hundreds of gashapon machines in banks of machines that are 3 high.  There are many duplicates, but it is still a lot of machines and very cool.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tokyo Craze - Part 01 (Travelogue / Tips)

This Tokyo travelogue takes place in the fall of 2009, but most of it is still very relevant.  Unlike most travelogues, it provides a series of comics that describe the travels to give you my perspective on it.  After the webcomics are a series of text descriptions giving you more information about each day of the trip.

 Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 01 - Shinagawa Station, Shinagowa Prince Hotel


 Tokyo Craze Webcomic Guide 02 - Shibuya Crossing, Shibuya Station

Day 1: Tuesday - Arrival in Tokyo

October 27, 2009

Tokyo arrival at Narita Airport was uneventful with a really long walk to immigration and a long immigration line that took 20 minutes to get through.  There was another 5 minute wait for luggage, then I underwent a hand search of my luggage by a friendly, but slightly suspicious customs guy as I was traveling alone on holiday without my family.  My large suitcase was pretty much empty as it only had 7 days worth of clothes in it (one shirt and undergarments for each day).  I was going to fill the case for the return trip. There was also a thermal scanner in arrivals looking for fevers associated with H1N1 viral outbreak at the time.
After walking out of the security area, I was finally in Japan!  I was pretty excited and wanted to hit the ground running for my first evening as I got out of customs around 6 PM.  I had planned an intensely packed itinerary for the trip and had to cut things, but it was better than not having things to do.  There wasn’t a lot of nervousness or anything on arrival, more of a feeling of anticipation.

The first thing was to get the SUICA tourist pass at the JR office in the airport terminal to take the NEX Express train into the city.  The SUICA is a smartcard with a chip that acts like a debit card in some stores and vending machines, but more importantly, it lets you ride any metropolitan train or subway without having to manually calculate the fare to pay on exit.  All train trips are calculated based on distance traveled between your starting point and your departure point.  If you transfer from the train to subway or vice-versa the distance is computed from origin to the transfer point when you exit the original line.  The cards are also pretty good as you don’t have to collect your ticket from the automated turnstiles.  You just swipe the card on the reader and pass through.  When you run out of money, just go to a SUICA machine in the train station and load it up with more credit – but the machines only take CASH!  Just keep the card in your wallet.  I kept my wallet (thinned out of unnecessary cards of course) on me, as it is convenient to store cash in – and you use a lot of cash in Japan still.  I wasn’t as afraid of pickpockets and small crime in Tokyo like some other cities. 
There were two JR Offices on two different floors on the way to the NEX Express train at the Narita airport.  At the bottom of the escalators I stopped at the first one to buy both the pass and the ticket to Shinagawa Station. It was no problem to get speaking English.  The arrivals area is relatively small.  To get to the hotel from the airport is dead easy as you just buy a ticket on the NEX Express (reserved seating) and the train will take you straight to Shinagawa Station in one hour and 10 minutes.  The train was nice and new and very modern – a great first impression.  Six cars split off at Tokyo Station, and 6 more continued down to Shinagawa.

Once at the station, it wasn’t hard to locate the exit as the station is relatively easy to navigate.  The station is huge though as many bullet trains and other rail lines all converge at it.  Train stations are busy places in Tokyo.  People are always on the move  I loved the fact that there were tons of shops, malls, supermarkets, and restaurants at the place.  Train stations are the hub for services in Tokyo with people using them when they go to and from work. 
NOTE: Shinagawa.  This area isn’t too far from Tokyo Bay and it used to be on the main route to Edo with a big gate.  100 stations of the Tokaido Road by Hokusai. There isn’t a great deal around here to see for tourism, but it is centrally located for trains as it is a big hub for bullet trains, commuter trains, and long distance trains.  There is a newer complex of office towers on the eastern side of the station away from the hotels, but it is mainly a business district.  On a side note to this side note, in the 2002 film Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, the big green lizard comes ashore at Shinagawa, sweeping aside the tanks sent to stop him, so run if the air raid sirens go off.  Being at the Tokyo Tower is the next worst thing as it gets knocked down by Japanese monsters a lot. 
I was staying at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel, which is literally a five minute walk out of the Takanawa Exit (west entrance) from Shinagawa Station.  After exiting the station, you wait at a light with a hundred other people, cross over to the Wing Takanawa mall where there is a nice European bakery and a Mcdonalds to hit for breakfast and basically walk through the semi-covered open air passage all the way to the hotel which is just past a 7-11.  You stay on the street level and there is pretty much only one way to go – stay on the main path.  At the Hotel there is a soccer stadium, the Epson Aquarium, many restaurants and mini-malls.  There is a McDonalds and the before mentioned 7-11 within a half a block of the hotel that you can get to without getting wet via open air ground-level walkway.

The sign at the cluster of ramen shops.
Check-in took no time.  Up to a single room on the twelfth floor in the renovated West Tower and dropped my bags off.   
Went back down and walked  to a cluster of ramen shops just south of the station on the east side Tanakawa exit.  Walk along the street to get there due south out of the exit. Had a Shoyu ramen with some tasty broth.  It wasn’t a huge serving, but it hit the spot.  Used a ticket machine to order after the shop keeper gave me a quick helping hand (I found that many people in Tokyo were happy to help you out).
I was really tired on the train coming in, but got a second wind after eating.  Decided to go to Shibuya on the Yamanote Line which I used a lot.  Shibuya is a big station and I came out the wrong exit, but easily went north to the Scramble Crossing.  The crossing was really busy at 9 PM, but nothing like what it would be at rush hour apparently.  The crossing looks bigger in the wide-angle photos you see, but it is still a very impressive sight.  I walked around a bit, took photos and saw Hachiko the dog.  Went to Don Quixote past the Shibuya 109 building. A very cramped store.  Lots of weird stuff for sale and saw some earbuds that were about the same in Canadian pricing. Don Quixote had an entire costume section on the main floor for Halloween.
At night the subway / train smells of drunken salarymen and sour sweat sometimes.  On the train, passengers seemed to be entertaining themselves with their Nintendo DS or cellphones, reading books, playing PSP, and then reading manga (from most popular to least popular on this list).
Back to hotel – no luck with Wi-Fi for the PSP.  Free Wi-Fi in Vancouver too, but couldn’t connect with the PSP 2000. The PSP uses the G protocol, but an older version of something as I also had to switch it on in my home router to be able to actually truly connect.  The PSP could detect all of these networks, but not actually connect. I was going to try and use Skype, but this method failed pretty good.
Bathroom at the hotel had a high-tech toilet with the bidet and heated seat.  The heated seat is very nice - these should be standard everywhere. 

After a nice bath I watched some TV.
  • Saw a Tetsujin wireless commercial for DOCOMO.
  • Ultraman monsters car commercial.
  • Game shows had a Halloween theme.