Monday, March 31, 2014

Viewing Cherry (Sakura) Blossoms Along The Meguro River by Nakameguro Station

I've never been to Tokyo in the spring so I've missed out on the hanami (cherry blossom viewing) ritual that families and companies do.  People show up early to reserve spots in parks to picnic and enjoy the mass flowering of cherry blossoms.  One of the places that I would like to view the sakura is along the Meguro River in Tokyo.  This river is cement lined on both sides now and resembles a canal with its vertical banks, but the photos that I have seen make it look so awesome.
Sakura Tree Ad at Ueno Station

http://tokyoexcess.blogspot.ca/p/my-sf-writing.html

The lovely, yet mildly scented cherry blossom.  By Jacob Ehnmark CC attribution license.
Meguro Canal at night with cherry blossoms.  By kazamatsuri CC attribution license.
Meguro Canal with illuminated sakura trees. By yoppy CC attribution license.

I've seen varying accounts of the number of sakura trees here from 500 to 800, but it looks really dense and beautiful in the best photos.  The trees are also lit up at night to provide a photographer's dream opportunity or a very romantic evening.  I don't have any pictures myself so this is primarily and informational post based on research I did for myself, but one year in the spring I will visit.  I can only imagine how amazing and pretty it would be if you arrived late in the season and a bit o wind kicked in to make it snow cherry blossom leaves!  This is also a classic meme from Japanese anime as the sakura are always flowering it seems.



The best viewing spots seem to be NW of the Nakameguro train station towards the Kitano Shrine.  Nakameguro is only a few stops away from Shibuya Station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line. Exiting the station to walk along the canal banks and cutting across the many bridges to find the best view seem to be the game of the day.  There are both wide and narrow sections to the canal with the narrow sections being quite spectacular.  From April 1 to April 10 they also hold the Nakemeguro Sakura Festival in the area and light up the trees for that.  Cherry blossom viewing dates vary from year to year based on the weather and you maybe too early or too late, so check the web for best viewing times.

More shots of what the canal looks like in full bloom, check out the links below.





Saturday, March 29, 2014

Shibuya Mini Travel Guide and Shopping

One of the first things I wanted to see in Tokyo was the famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing that is right outside of the Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station.  This intersection is the busiest pedestrian crossing on Earth.  Before I went to bed on the evening I arrived, I trained it over and walked the busy streets of this neighborhood.  It was dazzling with giant TVs, traffic, masses of people, and a constant barrage of sound from advertisements and jingles.  I know I didn't get the most out of Shibuya, but I've provided a list of things in this post that you might want to visit if you're inclined to do so.
Shibuya Crossing Looking Towards the Starbucks in the Q Front Building
Shibuya Crossing From Starbucks towards the Station

http://tokyoexcess.blogspot.ca/p/my-sf-writing.html

Shibuya is a very popular location for people to shop, eat, and to entertain themselves.  Popular fashions can be bought here and you can see what is in or out with the unlimited people watching that you can do. There are great places to eat and the shopping for both clothes and anything else is remarkable.


View Shibuya, Tokyo, Quick Guide in a larger map

Attractions
(click on the map above to zoom in and view all of the entries listed below)
These are just a few highlights you can see / shop / and eat in Shibuya.  If you are shopping, don't  forget the big departments stores like Seibu and Tower Records (independantly run in Japan).

Q Front Building.  To the left is Center Gai.  To the right is 109 Mens.
Shibuya Street.  Cafes and bars are not always at street level.  They're up in the buildings.
Sights
  1. Have your picture taken with the famous Hachiko the Dog statue.
  2. View Shibuya Crossing from the 2nd floor Starbucks in the QFront Building.
  3. See the iconic Shibuya 109 building. Shop here for younger womens fashions.  There is a different 109 for men too.
  4. Dogenzaka Love Hotel Zone.  Famous for the hourly rate love hotels.  Not quite as seedy as you would imagine either.  Google this for plenty of cultural background.
  5. Bunkamura Art Center.  Exhibits and a large piece of architecture here.
Iconic Shibuya 109 Building.
 Shopping
  1. Parco Part 1.  A smorgasbord of different shops (fashion, housewares, art, etc.) that often has an interesting art or anime related display out front.  In March 2014 it was One Piece and Dragonball.  There is a One Piece store here.
  2. Tokyu Hands.  Iconic craft and home accessories store.  You can spend hours looking at things from housewares, crafting materials, to toys.
  3. Loft.  More crafts and home accessories.  A competitor to Tokyu Hands.
  4. Hikari Center.  A new and massive high-rise shopping mall and entertainment complex with movie theatres, art galleries, and an amazing upper set of walkable floors including a sky-high Lawson convenience store. Hikari Center article on this blog.
  5. Uniqlo Shibuya.  Not the flagship store in Ginza, but bargain fashions that can be blended with your other outfits can be bought here.
  6. Don Quixote.  One of many branches of this bargain department store that sells all manner of merchandise, some of it very funky and interesting.
  7. Mandarake Shibuya.  Looking for used goods for books, games, manga, anime, and toys then check them out. 
Shibuya
Towards Center Gai Pedestrian Street
Dining
There hundreds of expensive and more affordable places to eat here.  If you see some place you would like to try, check out their menu and have a seat or wait in line (which is common).  Many of the department stores also have the famous food floors, restaurant floors, and some have food courts.  What you will find for fast food is still very good in most instances.
  1. A pretty good ramen shop that is located on a corner on the pedestrian street that runs through here.
    Kamukura Ramen in Shibuya
    On Center Gai
    Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku, 29-4
    Blogpost review of Kamukura
  2. This is a chain of shops that offers reasonably priced Japanese meals.
    Ootoya Shibuya Koen-dori shop
    Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Building 2F (on second floor) 1-20-7 Kawahara
    03-3770-5063
    http://www.ootoya.com/
  3. Not quite a conveyor belt sushi place, but this high tech establishment lets you order your sushi from a screen and it is shot straight to your table.  Scifi-ish spartan white decor.
    Uobei kaiten-sushi restaurant
    2-29-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
    TEL: 03 3462 0241
    Open Daily 11am-midnight
    www.genkisushi.co.jp/uobei/
Beef Bowl at Yoshinoya.  Location marked on the map.

See also:


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March 2014 Anime / Pop Culture Attractions in Tokyo

I don't do many time sensitive posts, but I'm making an exception as there have been a few cool things happening lately.  As usual, most of these are time limited events, so you have to be there now.  And if you're going to Tokyo this March, I'm officially envious as there are great things to see and eat.


Macross 1:1 Scale VF-25F Valkyrie Exhibit
First off, based on the what I've read, it looks like the VF-25F Macross Valkyrie from Macross Frontier now has a permanent home at the Tokyo Skytree Chiba Institute of Tech Campus.  It is on the 8th floor of the tower building - not the Skytree itself.  Awesome.  Will have to try and visit.
http://amiamiblog.com/amiamiblog/2014/2/28/macross
http://www.it-chiba.ac.jp/skytree/ In Japanese, Address with map at bottom of page.
Tokyo Sky Tree Town (R) Solamachi 8F
OPEN 10:30 ~ 18:00 (admission free) Tel: 03-6658-5888 Tokyo Sky Tree Town (R) web site: http://www.tokyo-skytreetown.jp/

http://tokyoexcess.blogspot.ca/p/my-sf-writing.html

Lotteria's Colossal Titan Burger Promotion
Pick a giant hamburger with 5 to 10 meat patties and share with a friend.  You're there to get the Attack on Titan swag and get full at the same time!
http://amiamiblog.com/amiamiblog/2014/3/10/titanstack
http://kotaku.com/the-attack-on-titan-burgers-look-utterly-disgusting-1537609511

Dress Classy in Evangelion Style
Evangelion based fashion on at the Evangelion Store Tokyo-01in Harajuku.  Nice clothes, Evangelion based patterns and colours.  It'll take a geek to spot a geek.
http://amiamiblog.com/amiamiblog/2014/3/3/be-cool-like-kaoru-with-the-haruyama-and-evangelion-collection
Official Website: http://www.evastore2.jp/tokyo01/

Strike the Blood Exhibit at the Tokyo Anime Center (Just missed it - doh!)
Popular anime had an art exhibit on at the center in Akihabara, Current Exhibit is "From The Calm Tomorrow."
http://amiamiblog.com/amiamiblog/2014/3/10/tokyo-anime-center-tempts-you-to-strike-the-blood
http://www.animecenter.jp/

Kill la Kill Cafe at Cure Maid Cafe
Visit the gashapon shop on the main floor and head upstairs to the Cure Maid Cafe (Gee! Store Akiba 6F) for a themed cafe based on Kill la Kill anime.  Bring your half of the giant scissors.  Runs until April 6.
http://amiamiblog.com/amiamiblog/2014/3/19/dont-lose-your-way-to-the-kill-la-kill-cafe
http://www.curemaid.jp/

Sanrio Opens Little Twin Stars Cafe in Shibuya
Cute characters, themed food in pastel colours, and lovely ambiance.  The Cafe opens on March 21st in the Shibuya Parco Part 1 on the 7th Floor.
http://blog.rinkya.com/sanrio-opens-little-twin-stars-cafe-in-shibuya-tokyo/
http://www.parco-art.com/web/other/exhibition.php?id=637

Also at the Parco Right Now One Piece Versus Dragonball Giant Sculpture
http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2014-03-17/see-life-size-dragon-ball-and-one-piece-statues-battle-on-tokyo-streets
http://kotaku.com/one-piece-and-dragon-ball-destroy-tokyo-street-1545351814

Super Sonico Collaboration at Cafe Mai:lish in Akihabara
Maids and Super Sonico.  Runs from March 15 to the 30th.
http://amiamiblog.com/amiamiblog/2014/3/18/sonico-menu-hits-all-the-right-notes
http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/venue/8713/Caf%C3%A9-Mai-lish
http://www.mailish.jp/

AnimeJapan 2014
Also, the new convention is on! AnimeJapan 2014 will be held on March 22-23 at the Tokyo Big Sight.
http://www.anime-japan.jp/en/

For more Pop Culture Highlights hit my list here.

That's all.  And don't forget to try the new Starbuck's drinks like the new Creamy Vanilla Lemon Frappucino (http://www.starbucks.co.jp/products/?nid=tbn_01_pc)



Sunday, March 16, 2014

Puzzles and Dragons Evangelion Collaboration (Starts March 17, 2014 to March 30, 2014)

In the portable gaming realm I've been playing Puzzles and Dragons, Pokemon X, and have to start Bravely Default and Danganronpa.  Well, tomorrow, North America finally gets the Evangelion themed dungeons and monsters that have appeared in Japan twice now.  Now, if Funimation would finally set a release date for Evangelion 3.33 for this summer my anime life would be complete.  Puzzle and Dragons is available on both IOS and Android for free.  http://www.puzzledragonx.com/en/mission.asp?m=457
Puzzle and Dragons charms from Rement
You get one set of monsters in a box and have to fight off your family and friends who all want one.

For those of you who haven't played Puzzle and Dragons, it is a game that runs along the lines of a match 3 puzzle type game, but you can move orbs as long as your timer runs out to set up combos.  It is pretty fun, with an in-app purchase model, but you can still have lots of fun if you are patient and wait for the freebie magic stone giveaways that seem to happen around every holiday you can think of.  There is a monster collecting element to the game, and the dungeons ramp up in difficulty, especially in the special dungeons (I can't really beat these too easily - and have to do Hera Descended soon).
Another Rement collection with the large spirits. 
There are 6 types, usually one of each in a whole box.
A spirit once a little assembly is done.  I always thought the little balls were connected to their head, but they are actually holding them!

In Japan, the toy industry over there has been busy with tie-ins for this game and Gungho, the game company itself, has been busy doing promotional tie-ins with other products via themed dungeons and monsters.  I've picked up a few of the toys myself and they're pretty cool - especially when you can get them on sale!

Anyhow, I'll be trying out the Evangelion dungeons coming up, so don't miss out.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

I Try Puccho Yuzu Kumamon Candy Chews and Japanese Character Mascots

I'm already kind of fond of UHA Puccho yogurt candy chews (Puccho gumi).  Been buying and eating this candy for years and it was a pleasant surprise to find these special promotional Kumamon Bear packages in a yuzu flavour.  I like the ramune flavour (kind of lemon-like but sweeter) too and the chews come in many different fruit flavours.  Best of all, inside this candy are more chewy jelly bubbles for some extra texture and it is really nice candy.  So what did this candy taste like?  It was like grapefruit / lemon and was a refreshing change of pace for a sweets fix.

Kumanon yuzu chews on the right.  I also bought some sour ramune candy balls by UHA and they were tasty too!

Yuzu is a Japanese citrus that is native to East Asia that is a hybrid of sour mandarin and ichang papeda.  It is resembles a small yellow grapefruit / funny looking lemon, but can grow quite large.  The flavour is bitter, kind of like grapefruit, but with a hint of orange.  It is also an ingredient finding more and more use in western kitchens.  A unique sweet version of this fruit was native to Japan and was endangered at one point.  This variety is now being cultivated in southern Kyushu and other locations.


Kumamon Yuzu Puccho Chews

The packages of yuzu chews came with bonus this time as a little cellphone charm of the Kumamon Bear from Kumamoto Prefecture was included.  The charms are sealed in a box so it is a random draw for which one you get, but I ended up with two pretty good ones.



The Kumamon Bear is a pretty popular mascot character created in 2010 by the province to promote the area after the Kyushu Shinkansen (bullet train) line was opened.  The area has several national parks and Kumanon has appeared as a stuffy, souvenirs, toys, etc.  Japan has many popular mascot characters as it is the land of kawaii (cute), and one of these days I'll post more about them, but for now, here are some links.  I also really like the little chick mascot used for Nissin Chicken Ramen.