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Tokyo (Shiodome) July 13, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures had moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Shiodome)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-qz

Shiodome is one of the most modern looking areas of Tokyo.  It was once an old train terminal that has been redeveloped into a modern city within Tokyo.  There is no real way to describe this area, other than to say that it is awe inspiring.  There are many ways to enter the Shiodome area.  The easiest is to use the JR lines and use Shinbashi Station.  The station is located on the corner of the Shiodome area.  The station is also served by the Ginza and Asakusa lines if those are more convenient for you.  The best way to enter the area is to use the Oedo line.  The main reason to use the Oedo line is because you will start off under Shiodome.  The Oedo line’s station is located in the centre of the area and as you head up into the area, you will slowly get an idea of what Shiodome really is.  The Oedo line itself was built deep underground.  Regardless of which exit you take, you will start off with nothing more than a few hallways before you slowly make your way to the surface.  Each set of escalators will take you to the next level.  Think of it like peeling leaves off an artichoke.  You reveal more and more until you can see the entire place for all its glory.

The first layer that you will happen upon is an underground shopping complex.  Do beware that if you head in the wrong direction, you will be heading towards the residential district.  This area is not as interesting, but still worth a quick look.  You will be amazed by the vast area that you can wander that is completely underground.  Each building in the area has its own set of artwork, or something interesting to see.  Most of the buildings have their own restaurants within the basement area, and there are various shops located in the basement concourse.  Heading in the direction of “Shinbashi Station” is the easiest way to see everything, but if you do reach Shinbashi Station, you will have gone too far.  The underground area also has a few interesting plazas to see.  One of those plazas has an interesting dome object that doubles as a waterfountain.  Beware as the signs are written in Japanese with minimal English warning you of when the fountain show will begin.  The underground plazas are especially pretty in the Christmas season.  The Dentsu building, located on the north-east corner is home to an annual light display that is popular among couples during the Christmas season.  It’s common to see couples enter a small teepee shaped metal tent and press a button.  This will randomly make a set of lights turn a specific colour that coincides with their fortune.  Some couples will press it together to see if their fortune is good as a couple or not.  Obviously this is not a real indicator of luck, and everyone just enjoys it for the fun.  Generally, the lines for this attraction can be extremely long during the Christmas season.

One of the more interesting things to do is to visit the Nittele Building.  This is the headquarters of Nippon Television.  They do all of their broadcasting from this building, and film various shows as well.  It’s very common to see newscasters, weathergirls, and various celebrities filming live segments for the news or morning programs.  They also hold various concerts at times with musicians of all calibers performing.  The largest concert that I have seen was one for Arashi during their annual 24 hour telethon.  They also included a 3D segment of the concert.  Like the FujiTV studios in Odaiba, the Nittele studio also has various activities throughout the year in a concourse near the station.  It’s a great way to check out some of the television culture while you are there.  If you want to get on TV, it’s best to arrive in the morning as they always have segments being filmed throughout the complex.  If you aren’t interested in the Nittele building, it’s still a great place to visit for the building and architecture around it.

If you make your way up to the Yurikamome Station from the Nittele Building, you will be taken to a sky walkway.  The route to access this walkway, next to the Nittele Building, is a set of long escalators which provide a view of the central complex.  It is also a lot of fun to ride up and down the escalators due to their length.  If it’s busy, it isn’t as much fun as you can’t really play on it and take fun pictures.  At the top of the escalators, you will be able to see one of Hayao Miyazaki’s works.  He designed a large clock that performs every hour.  If you have ever seen one of his films, you will easily recognize his style of art within this clock itself.  It can be a little busy during the performance, so get there a few minutes before to get the best viewing locations.  Do note that it’s best to go during office hours as there are less people watching the show.  Once you reach the sky walkway area, you will be presented with a maze of walkways.  All of the walkways connect the various buildings high above the street.  Glass walls were built into the walkways to protect you from falling, or prevent you from jumping onto the street below.  There aren’t many support beams to block your view, so you’ll be able to see everything that’s around you.  The best time to visit the walkway is at night.  Once the sun goes down, fluorescent lights turn on giving the area a futuristic feel.  You cannot imagine the different tone the area takes up when things are dark.

Shiodome is a very interesting and futuristic looking area.  The buildings may look normal at times, but they also have a certain aesthetic that can’t be explained.  The area is very stale due to the lack of greenery, but the dynamism of the area is unique and intriguing.  Like any other area of Tokyo, the area has two different sides, if not three.  There’s the daytime, the nighttime, and the overnight side.  In the day, things are bustling with people moving from A to B.  The TV studio is running at full blast producing morning shows, and the shops are open.  At night, people rush home or head to the bars.  The atmosphere is a little quieter, and things look extremely different.  Overnight, the area is deserted.  You can walk around and not see anyone, although this is rare.  It can almost feel like a ghost town.  I wouldn’t recommend staying overnight in the area as there aren’t many people around.  Enjoy it during the day and at night, but return home by your last train.  If you did get stuck, get out and head over to Shinbashi.  They have a lot more happening all night.

Shiodome Information:

Wikitravel:  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Shiodome
Shiodome’s Official Site:  http://www.sio-site.or.jp/index2.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Tokyo (Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome) June 8, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-qv

Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome is a small residential district adjacent to Nishi Shinjuku.  The area is full of high rise buildings and a mix of both residential and commercial use buildings.  The atmosphere is loud and busy making it a very dynamic place to visit.  Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome is located west of the Nishi Shinjuku skyscraper district.  It is very common for people to stay in hotels located in Nishi Shinjuku such as The Park Hyatt, The Hilton, and various other major hotel chains.  The Park Hyatt was even used in the movie “Lost in Translation”.  It is very easy for tourists to wander over and check out the closest thing they can get to a residential area.  All you have to do is head west.  Once you pass Shinjuku Central Park, you are in the 5-Chome area.

There aren’t really any landmarks in this area.  Locating the exact area can be very difficult.  The best way to find the area is to find the station, Nishishinjuku Gochome.  While that is easier said than done, another method to find the 5-Chome area is to just head west from any of the major hotels in the Nishi Shinjuku district.  Once you see Shinjuku Central Park, you are almost there.  It’s basically on the other side of the park.  The most obvious “attraction” in the area would have to be the schools.  This area is the central area for the TOHO group of schools.  You can see various kids walking around at all hours.  The main field of study for these schools is anything to do with entertainment.  They teach everything there is to know about film, theatre, and music.  From time to time, you can even see some of the school festivals where they sell various foods to eat.  If you are lucky, you might be able to hear a free concert from within one of the school walls, but this is a very rare occasion.

The main thing to do in Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome is to eat.  There are various restaurants that are good, and many that can satisfy you with a quick cheaper meal.  There is a nice Okinawan restaurant that is more fusion than real Okinawan.  The fusion style is less Western-Okinawan than Japanese-Okinawan.  If you go at the right time, they have a happy hour where beer is pretty cheap.  It’s also the only place in the area with seats outside.  It’s common for people in the middle of summer to buy a scoop of ice cream and enjoy it while the world passes by in front of them.  They sell the famous Blue Seal ice cream brand and you can get Orion beer, which are both famous in Okinawa.  If you are looking for good pasta, there is a good place to eat called Popolare.  It’s extremely hard to find if you don’t know where to look.  It’s behind one of the TOHO schools just past Yamate Street.  Mostly locals visit this restaurant, but it has been getting more and more popular.  It can be busy at times but the quality is generally good.  It’s rare to see a line outside, so reservations aren’t always necessary, but if you have a group of over 4 people, you might want to think about a reservation.  If you love the Beach Boys, you’ll also love this place as the chef/owner always has it playing all the time.  There are several other good restaurants in the area, but you do have to walk around to find them.  The adjacent areas are also very close by, within a 10 minute walk, and worth a quick visit.  The good thing about 5-Chome is that there are many fast food shops in the area so you are never far from food at any hour of the day.  If you get hungry, and you are staying in the area, you can easily go out and get some snacks to satisfy your late night urges.

If you have the energy, heading south will take you to Hatsudai or Tokyo Opera City.  This is a nice area.  The complex is hard to miss as it’s the tallest building in the area and a beacon in and of itself.  Inside, there is a museum and a concert hall.  Once, the annual Kohaku Concert was held there.  The main public complex also holds a small shopping area.  There aren’t many shops but there are a few restaurants as well.  If you are lucky, you can also enjoy a nice festival, usually in the latter half of the year.  Adjacent to the Tokyo Opera City complex is a small shopping street called Fudo Street.  It’s a local only shopping street.  There are various small shops, but the main type of shop is ramen.  You can find a lot of good ramen shops on this street.  The area is also known for some of its Indian or South-East Asian cuisine.  It’s important to try it out if you have the time.  There are also a few izakaya in the area, but they tend to be for locals only.  You can also cross the major highway to the south of Tokyo Opera City.  This area is very similar in tone, but you start to head further and further away from 5-Chome.  If you do have the energy to walk back to Shinjuku, you can always stop off at the Sword Museum which is a nice small museum.  The cost to enter is not really worth it, but if you are very interested in seeing samurai swords and such, it’s worth a visit if you are in the area.  It’s better to go to a major museum as they are only slightly more expensive, but they are at least three times bigger with more things to see.

If you want to try another smaller area, there is Nakano Sakaue.  It’s an area that’s about 15 minutes north of 5-Chome and just one stop down.  It’s very similar to 5-Chome and Hatsudai, with the exception that it’s a little busier.  It’s easier to find things in the area, and there are a few more restaurants that are delicious.  If anything, the main reason to head this way is for the large bookstore and Daiso.  Otherwise, it’s more interesting to head towards Hatsudai.  If you live in the area, it’s great if you head towards the Kanda River.  It’s a very small river that looks more like a concrete canal than anything else.  It’s a great area to go running, but beware that major streets make it difficult to run completely at times.

All in all, this area is great to visit.  It isn’t really worth it when you are only visiting Tokyo, but if you are on your second or third trip with nothing new to see, it is fun to just pick a direction and head out that way.  Many things are great to see a second time around, but heading to this area, especially if your hotel is around here, is worth a visit.

Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome Information:

Tokyo Opera City [English]:  http://www.operacity.jp/en/
Tokyo Opera City [Japanese]  http://www.operacity.jp/

Japanese Sword Museum:  http://www.nbthk-ab.org/Japan.htm

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Subways of Tokyo March 23, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Subways of Tokyo” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kX

Riding a train in Tokyo can be a very challenging thing.  The first thing to do is understand the basics on how it works.  To do this, you need to look at a map.  Follow this link and you will get an idea on the basics of getting around in Tokyo:  http://www.tokyometro.jp/global/en/service/pdf/routemap_en.pdf . From this map, you need to understand a few things.  First, look for the black and white line that generally runs in an oval shape in the middle of the map.  It can be difficult to notice as it’s not meant to stand out.  This is the Yamanote line.  It’s a general boundary between central Tokyo and residential Tokyo.  From here, you will have to look at the legend at the bottom right.  The four lines on the left, “A-I-S-E” are for the Toei Lines, and the ones on the right are for the Tokyo Metro Lines.  This is very important.  Both Toei and Tokyo Metro operate subways within Tokyo, but they are not the same company.  Going from one company to another requires a transfer, although you will receive a discount for the second leg of your journey.  This can make a simple cheap trip into an expensive one.  I highly recommend getting a “Welcome to Tokyo” Handy Map from Yes! Tokyo.  These are large, scale, maps that show you relative distances between different subway stations.  This can help you save money by walking up to 300 metres to the next station, rather than transferring.

Typically, going from A to B is fairly simple.  You can easily use only one company and reach your destination.  The only problem is that it requires a little planning.  The private railway companies, excluding Japan Railways, created their own travel website that will help you get from A to B using any of the lines in Tokyo.  Of course, they are biased towards their own lines, but you can easily choose price, speed, or transfers as how to sort the options.  The link is provided below.  Depending on your hotel, if you have internet, it’s a good idea to use that website to plan how to get to various places in Tokyo and how to get back.  While it isn’t necessary, it can help you solve many problems.  There are a few places in major touristy stations where you can find terminals with the same program in place.  If you are completely lost, go up to any ticket gate, point on the map, and ask the station staff.  Locals can help too, but they tend to be very shy and freeze up when spoken to in English.

The next step is to actually buy a ticket.  For this, you need to know how to use the machine itself.  In most major stations, they have touch screen panels and button panels.  The touch screen panels are the easiest as you can select “English” and work your way through it.  The basics are, find the fare, select the amount, and put your money in.  Some of the machines, especially the push button ones require you to put your money into the machine first, before you can select the fare.  If you want to buy two or three tickets at a time, there is a button, usually on the left, next to the screen.  The pictures are very simple and easy to figure out.  If you made a mistake, you can either go to another ticket machine, or press the red cancel button.  If you are still completely lost, usually there is a small white tab covering the help button.  Press this button if you need help.  Do be aware that help can come from within the walls!  In the past, I had accidentally pressed the button, and a small panel in the wall next to the machine just opened up.  I nearly jumped back 3 metres.  It was terrifying, but funny at the same time.  You may want to push it just for fun either way!

Once you do have your ticket, you can go straight into the gate.  Be sure to keep it until you exit.  When you exit the system, the gate will just keep your ticket.  If you didn’t purchase enough, don’t worry, there are always machines at every gate where you can add more money to the ticket, or you can head straight to the attendant who will tell you, or rather show you, how much you have to pay to get out.  Do be aware that if you leave too quickly, the paddles, which are around thigh height, will close and you might take a tumble.  This has happened to me many times.  If you are transferring between companies, you might have to physically leave the station and re-enter a few hundred metres away.  This takes a little extra care.  Be sure to look for the “orange” gates.  These will let you exit and enter at the next company’s entrance.  Again, don’t forget your tickets, or you’ll have to buy a new one.

Finally, be aware of joined lines.  Many of the subway lines connect to commuter lines.  If you aren’t careful, you can end up traveling from one end of Tokyo, to the other, and out into the suburbs.  Only a handful of lines actually do this, but when they do, it can be very confusing, in terms of costs.  If you fall asleep on the train itself, you could end up over an hour away from your destination.  Thankfully, to return, without exiting the system, is free.  If you are worried, and want the simplest method of travel, the Yamanote line is probably the best bet.  It may not be the quickest mode of transportation, but it is by far the easiest.  Coupled with the Chuo line, traveling between places can be cheaper than the subway.  Plan wisely and you can save a lot of money.  If you plan poorly, just enjoy the ride and call it an adventure.

Subways of Tokyo was my initial thoughts about the train system in Tokyo.  To read more about trains, continue to Trains in Tokyo – Redux.

Information:

Tokyo Metro:  http://www.tokyometro.jp/global/en/
Toei:  http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/english/subway_op.html
Tokyo Metro’s Guide to the Subway:  http://www.tokyometro.jp/global/en/service/using.html
Toei’s Guide to buying tickets:  http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/english/subway_buy.html
Tokyo Transfer Guide:  http://www.tokyo-subway.net/english/
Tokyo Subway Map:  http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/english/images/pdf/rosen_e.pdf

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tsukiji December 15, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tsukiji” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-tsukiji

Tsukiji is one of the most well known places in Tokyo, if not Japan.  There is only one thing to do while in Tsukiji, visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.  In reality, when you head there, you can’t really do anything else.  The area itself is very small and there isn’t much else to do but look around.  If you venture in on your own, you can expect to spend at most, one hour walking around.  It’s unlikely that you will want to spend an entire day, and unless you are a chef or restaurant owner.

The fish market itself is located fairly close to the station.  If taking the Tokyo Metro subways, the Hibiya line’s Tsukiji Station is the closest.  However, it isn’t the closest station to the market.  For that, head on the Toei Oedo line and get off at Tsukijishijo Station, which literally means, Tsukiji Fish Market Station.  From there, follow the signs and you’ll be right outside the fish market.  Finding your way in is one of the most difficult things to do.  It looks like a large mess of trucks going in and out of the market.  There is no specific passenger entrance and everything looks chaotic.  Take your chances and just walk in from any entrance.  There are various places around the market itself to take photos, but do remember that flash photography is frowned upon inside the market.  If you are looking for a guided tour, there are various people who offer tours, but by and far the best looking one is by Naoto Nakamura (link below) who takes you on a two hour tour of the fish market starting at 4am.  This is great on the first day of your trip, especially if you are jet lagged.  You’ll be able to visit the various auctions and also see many of the middlemen selling their foods. Do note that due to many tourists abusing their privileges, the market was closed at the end of 2008, till early 2009 to tourists.  While this was localized to only the auctions, it was still sad to hear about this.  It is now completely open to the public, aside from restricted areas, and you can freely watch the auctions.  See the information in the links below for more information.

As mentioned, the entire fish market feels chaotic.  You MUST be careful.  There are a lot of sites with information on what to wear and how to be prepared.  It is necessary to read them, but the basic run down is this:  wear shoes you don’t care about, and no high heels or sandals; don’t dress too stylishly; no flash photography, especially in the auction areas; and look out for any and all moving vehicles.  While the market is open to the public, everyone should be reminded that the market itself is still a place of business.

Many of the men on the dollies are racing to get the fish from one end of the market to another, or even outside the market.  If you step in front of them, they will not stop.  It’s important that you don’t block the street, and finding out where the street is can be a challenge in and of itself.  Some areas are clearly marked, but others aren’t.  Thankfully, most of the dollies and trucks are gas powered, so it’s easy to hear them, however, even in the middle men market area, the trucks can appear out of nowhere.

Inside the market, there are several shops selling sushi, sashimi, donburi, and various kitchen tools.  It can be easy to miss, but it’s nice to just walk around a little.  The shops tend to be slightly overpriced, and busy.  If you go on the weekend, there could be a long line-up.  I would recommend waiting until you leave to eat any sushi.  Just outside the north side of Tsukiji Market is a small shopping area with various sushi restaurants.  This area itself is reasonable and you can get a lot of good food that’s on par with other shops inside the market.  If you looking to buy sushi and take it home, or to your hotel for a late morning breakfast, the middlemen inside are more than happy to sell a large amount of fish to you.  Do note that the days after the holidays can be the best to get the freshest fish, and the days before the holidays can be the cheapest as they have to sell everything.  Buying fish should be done after 6am, especially if the auction is held until around 6am.  Usually, I found arriving around 8am is a good time.  You can check out all the food, although a lot has already been sold, and you can still get a good breakfast after all the regular workers have eaten and headed to work.

In the last several years, there has been talk of moving the Tsukiji Fish Market from its current location to a location closer to Odaiba.  There have been lots of vocal people protesting against this.  While it’s true that a move will likely destroy the history and atmosphere of the current Fish Market, it feels almost inevitable due to the government wanting a more controlled setting for the fish market itself.  Moving it would allow things to be modernized and flow smoothly.  Plus, the current plot of land is worth a lot more as residential and commercial buildings than as a fish market, regardless of being a tourist attraction.  I myself am indifferent, but as a tourist, I would want it to stay in the current location.  As a worker inside the fish market, I would probably want it to stay as well.  In fact, the move has been delayed indefinitely as the future site is contaminated with various toxic materials.  For those who were worried about missing this fish market in the near future, don’t worry too much.  It will be several years yet before they move.

Tsukiji Information:

Tsukiji Fish Market (Official Site – English):  http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm
Tsukiji Fish Market (Official Site – Japanese):  http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/index.html
Tsukiji Fish Market (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3021.html
Tsukiji Fish Market (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsukiji_fish_market
Tsukiji Fish Market Tours (By Naoto Nakamura):  http://homepage3.nifty.com/tokyoworks/TsukijiTour/TsukijiTourEng.htm
Tsukiji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsukiji
Tsukiji (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Tsukiji

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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