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Geocaching in Tokyo and Japan October 26, 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 “Geocaching in Tokyo and Japan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-vR

If any of you have been following me on Twitter, you would know that I have a new hobby called Geocaching.  Geocaching, for the uninitiated, is a type of game where all you need is a GPS receiver and the ability to think.  You are given a set of GPS coordinates and you navigate your way to that location.  From there, you can look around the area and find a container that has been hidden by another geocacher.  The game itself is simplistic in nature.  Think of it as a grown man’s hide and seek, or treasure hunting for geeks.  In fact, you don’t even need a GPS receiver to play the game, just a print out of a map for the GPS coordinates.  Each cache, treasure, is different.  They can be as large as a coffin, this was a real cache, and as small as a button.  The only limits are your imagination.  There are hundreds of places you can hide a cache, and Japan is a place where this is growing.

From reports from other blogs and other geocachers, geocaching in Tokyo has not been that big.  It has taken off, somewhat, in recent years and there are hundreds of different sites around Tokyo.  If you are interested in it, it’s a great way to see the city.  Many of the caches are set up by locals, and many are Japanese.  I have had the opportunity to visit many places that I would never have visited without geocaching to tell me to go there.  While you probably won’t see them at the typical tourist hot spots, such as Meiji Jingu Shrine, you will see them just outside, and at places where most tourists would never think to go.  Imagine going to a famous cathedral, going inside, but never taking the time to walk around the block just outside the cathedral.  You never know what amazing things you can discover if you just walked within a block of the actual building itself.  Geocaching can take you to these places, and it can teach you interesting things if you care to learn about it.

While I’m still very new to geocaching, I have found several caches already, and there are several that I’d recommend.  In Shinjuku, there is the “Concrete Canyon Cache” (GC4B70) located in Shinjuku Central Park is a good example.  Many tourists will come and visit the area, but not many will actually enter the park, nor take the time to read the signs telling them the name of the “forest” inside the park.  Having lived in Shinjuku for years, I myself never took the time to actually read the signs and discovered that the park’s forest actually had a name.  The name itself is part of the cache as it is a Virtual Cache that requires you to find some information to make the “find” valid.  Another good one is “Astronomical clock and LOVE” (GC213BG).  This one is located near a large sculpture of the word “LOVE” that was originally designed by Robert Indiana.  It is world famous and extremely popular with tourists and locals alike.  The entire area is very photographic, and the cache itself is somewhat large for the area.  For geocachers, this is a good place to drop some toys for others to take.

If you are looking for a “traditional” geocache, look no farther than Shinagawa Station.  Going there, you can find a large geocache called “Takanawa Forest Park” (GC25MKW).  I won’t ruin the surprise if you are looking for it, but needless to say, it’s a typical sized cache, but fairly large for Tokyo.  It’s hidden in a fairly quiet area, and the entrance to the park itself is well hidden.  It was so hidden that I had to think twice about entering the park.  When looking for the entrance, you have to use a private driveway which makes you think you are trespassing on someone’s property.  Thankfully, that’s not the case.  When you do reach the area of the cache, it’s fairly easy to find.  Once again, I would never have visited this park on my own, and I was happy to find a very small urban forest in the middle of the hotels in Shinagawa.  This cache was also a treasure trove of goodies.  I found lots of goodies that I could “steal” and keep, and a few things that I could pass on to others.

Currently, I’m working in Ginza, and have found a lot of time to visit the caches in my area.  Unfortunately, there are only a few that I’d mention as being special.  The first is “Shinji Ike Pond” (GC12FXY) which is a small container in Hibiya Park.  While the location isn’t that special, the fact that I can visit a small cache that can hold goodies is important. It’s also a busy cache with many people visiting it every week.  “Godzilla” (GC28YAD) is also a good one.  I haven’t been able to find this one yet, but the area is great.  There is a statue of Godzilla nearby and hand prints of famous celebrities on the ground as well.  It felt a little like the Mann Theatre in Hollywood, but obviously without the same energy.  For relaxing times, a visit to “Brick Square” (GC23C10) is a must.  It is an urban oasis.  When you have had enough of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, you can head into this small courtyard and relax with various trees.  There are a few bars where you can also enjoy a nice glass of wine.  This cache was definitely a nice surprise.

One of my biggest surprises came from “Small Island” (GC18B37).  I never knew that there was a small island located in the middle of the Sumida River, let alone a cache.  I saw it and had to visit it.  It was a scorching hot day and with sweat dripping down my face, I took the time to hunt the cache and I found it within minutes.  I had a great time and the view was wonderful.  I wish I could have stayed for an hour or so, but unfortunately, I had no time as I had to get to work.  If you are in the area, or if you want to see something unique, this is a great place to visit.  Unfortunately, there is nothing interesting in the area, unless you are going to eat monja yaki.  While not the most recommended food item in Japan, if you do choose to try it, you might as well come to the cache, say hello, and grab some monja afterwards.

When in Asakusa, going to “Lucky and Happy Come Come Cats” (GC24X6G) is a great place to visit.  You will visit a nice shrine that is dedicated to cats.  If you are a cat lover, you’ll love this place.  I’m not sure of the importance of this shrine but it is a cool place to visit.  “Bridge of X” (GC249RQ) is also an interesting experience.  For this one, it’s the pedestrian bridge that was built to bridge the gap between two parks.  The bridge is full of people, and every year, there is a fireworks festival at the end of July.  I’d also recommend this as an interesting place to see Tokyo Sky Tree, and the various cruisers that ply the Sumida River waters giving tours.  Do note that you can always see things closer to Asakusa itself, but getting farther north will mean things are quieter and more relaxed.   A day spent exploring the area that no one has been will allow you to brag about seeing things that no other tourist would ever thing to see.

As part of the game, there is a thing called a trackable.  These come in two main forms, Geocoins, and Travel Bugs.  A Geocoin is exactly that, a geocaching coin.  It is a standard coin with a special design.  On the back is a special tracking number which is the password to tell the system that you truly found it.  A travel bug is the same, except it can come in any shape or size.  Usually, a dog tag is attached which has the tracking number.  These trackables may or may not have a specific goal in mind.  Some of them are there to just travel the world, aimlessly, and others are in a race or trying to do something specific.  I have seen people race their bugs, and others who have set a goal to visit a specific location before returning home.  Some people have sent USB drives in a goal to meet people, collect pictures, and essentially return home so that they can see all of the people who have touched it.  It’s a fun game and a way to meet people you never otherwise would have.

Geocaching is a fun game that requires a little stealth when playing.  Often, you are looking for something that is hidden so regular people can’t find it.  It can be very suspicious when looking around something that is generally uninteresting.  You may get into trouble from the police or security personal who thinks you are up to no good, but that’s also part of the game.  Just be careful.  When in Tokyo, the majority of caches are small to micro in size.  Unfortunately, this means that most of the caches you will look for and find will be somewhat boring.  They don’t tend to be that creative, but depending on the person, they can be.  However, Tokyo has so many wonderful secrets that most caches will take you somewhere interesting.  While visiting 20 shrines to see geocaches may get boring, you should know that many of them will be unique and give you a sense of “wow”.

Geocaching Information:

Geocaching:  http://www.geocaching.com
Love Sculpture:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_(sculpture)



Tokyo (Tokyo Station – Marunouchi) July 8, 2010

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 “Tokyo (Tokyo Station – Marunouchi)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-pz

Tokyo Station is probably the most misunderstood station in Tokyo.  It is often referred to by visitors as “Tokyo” as it’s the first station people arrive at when taking the Narita Express.  Since Tokyo is actually a very large metropolis with many city centres, it’s easy to understand why people would get this wrong.  Tokyo Station itself is separated into two distinct regions.  The east side of the station is an older area called Yaesu.  This is the connection of Tokyo Station to Nihonbashi, which is the “true” centre of Tokyo, and Japan.  On the west is Marunouchi, a rejuvenated area that has lots of new skyscrapers, enough to challenge Shinjuku in terms of size.  Unfortunately, this area has been overlooked by many people, including myself, but as of late, it has been getting more and more interesting each year.

The east side, as I mentioned, is not very interesting overall.  It is where you can find cheaper eats and lots of salarymen and OLs.  If you want to see what a typical Japanese worker looks like, this is your best bet.  Of course, almost every area of Tokyo will allow you to see these people, but in terms of Tokyo, this is where you will probably see the most.  You will see many men in black suits, white shirts, and ties walking with their attaché case.  Women can also be seen sporting black suits, usually with skirts instead of pants, black tights, a white blouse, and plain pumps.  The main reason to enter this area is to find cheap food, and possibly some interesting shops.  Generally, there isn’t much to see or do for the average tourist.  You are better off staying on the west side where all the action tends to happen.

The west side of Tokyo Station, also known as Marunouchi is one of the newest areas of Tokyo.  It has been undergoing a renovation of sorts with various old buildings being torn down and new skyscrapers going up in their place.  Walking out of the station can be a challenge as they are now working on the station’s entrances and various buildings within eye sight of the exit.  The first thing you do when you exit the station isn’t to walk out too far, but far enough and then to turn around.  The station has a very old history, being originally built in the late 1800s.  During the war, the building was destroyed, but rebuilt at a smaller height immediately after the war ended.  The building itself is still very beautiful showing some of the architecture of the time.  If you enter from this entrance, you can still have a small feeling of being in an old train station, compared to some of the more modern stations that have a colder feel to them.  Do note that they are currently doing renovations to the station itself, but it is scheduled for completion by the end of this year.

The area near the station exit has several new buildings for which you can pick and choose which one you wish to visit.  Unfortunately, they are all very similar to each other.  The good thing is that they are all very new and it can be interesting for a quick visit.  There are also various floors with restaurants and cafes for which you can drop in and get a nice meal.  Unfortunately, the prices for the meals are a little expensive, so you should be prepared to spend at least 1000 Yen per meal at lunch, more if you want dinner.  If you do go shopping, you will be able to see various European brands and other high end brands as well.  Marunouchi is not for the cheap shopper.  The good thing is that it’s very architecturally beautiful.  With the buildings being new, you get a great chance at seeing the latest building designs in Tokyo.  Shinjuku’s skyscrapers were primarily built in the 70s, and you can somewhat see that reflected in their designs.  Marunouchi does the same, but with an emphasis on recent designs.  The interiors are also unique within Tokyo, so a walk inside is always recommended.  If you do have the time, walking out towards Yurakucho will bring you to the Tokyo International Forum.  This building is a conference centre that mainly serves for business conferences.  You won’t be seeing too many conferences that are open to the public, or ones that are popular with the public.  This may change in the future, but I personally doubt it.

Marunouchi is also known for its art and events.  Since the rejuvenation started to finish, the various buildings within Marunouchi have grouped together to put on new events and to present art.  There was a campaign where they had various artists put a design onto a cow and placed them throughout the area.  It was similar to other various public art projects where the money raised went to a specified charity.  In the last few years, they have created one of the most popular Christmas events in Tokyo.  Along one of the main shopping streets linking Marunouchi to Yurakucho, there are various public artworks on display.  This street is also popular around Christmas as they have one of the biggest Christmas light displays in Tokyo.  This is in conjunction with the display around the Imperial Palace.  From around mid-November till about December 28th, the entire area of Marunouchi is lit up with Christmas lights.  These light displays are nice and worth a visit, but after one visit, it’s unlikely to change much in the future.  They tend to recycle the lights, and instead of trying to arrange them in a different way, they tend to use the exact same style of display.  I do recommend visiting Marunouchi at night as the feel can also be very different, but do note that things are much quieter as it is still a traditional office area.  You can enjoy a little in terms of a night life, but it still can’t compete with the traditional night spots of Tokyo.

Tokyo Station Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Station
Wikipedia (Marunouchi):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marunouchi
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3037.html
Marunouchi Official Site:  http://www.marunouchi.com/e/


Running in Tokyo (Imperial Palace) June 15, 2010

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

The first ever Tokyo Marathon was held in 2007.  It was the start of an annual event that would change the way people in Tokyo thought about running.  While there were several other marathon races, and half marathon races, this was the first marathon that was widely broadcasted.  This was also the beginning of what would become the “running boom” of Japan, which is still going strong today.  The first ever Tokyo Marathon, and all subsequent versions after that started in Shinjuku near the Tokyo Government Offices.  From there, the route heads east to the Imperial Palace where the course turns south.  It then makes a U-turn at Shinagawa where it heads north to Asakusa via Ginza.  From there, runners make a second U-turn and head east again once they return to Ginza where they continue until they reach Odaiba and the finish line.  It is by far the most popular marathon in Japan and one of the most interesting ones.  For those who want to participate in this marathon, it’s necessary to enter a lottery to get a chance to run.  Due to the extreme popularity of this marathon, you must enter the lottery.  Thankfully, there are several other marathons and half marathons run throughout the Kanto area.  If you ever want to try it, feel free to ask.

In terms of running courses, there are several courses located within Tokyo itself.  The most popular route has to be around the Imperial Palace.  This route is fairly simple and has promoted many running related shops to open up along the route.  Most Japanese people start around Takebashi Station.  There are several reasons for this.  The biggest reason people start around here is that the station entrance is located on the course itself.  The entrances have small areas nearby for you to stretch and prepare a little before you head out on a run.  The other reason is that there is a small section on the road where drivers can stop and drop people off.  While this isn’t quite legal, if you do it quickly, you can probably get away with it.  The last reason people enjoy starting at this station is the number of places to change and shower after a run.  With several locations with lockers, it is obviously popular.  One of the few places that I would think about visiting would be the Art Sports: Running Oasis.  Art Sports is considered to be one of, if not the best place to buy running shoes.  They tend to have the most recommendations among the Tokyo Runners Clubs and among many Japanese people.  Unfortunately, it’s still somewhat of a specialized shop, so it isn’t very famous yet.

While Takebashi Station is the most popular starting point, it isn’t the only place to start.  You can always start from Nijubashimae Station, Hibiya Station, Sakuradamon Station or Hanzomon Station.  You can also easily access the Imperial Palace from Tokyo Station, Yurakucho Station, Kasumigaseki Station, Jinbocho Station, Kudanshita Station, and many more.  Whichever station you do use to access the Imperial Palace, just be aware that the location can alter how you feel during your run.  The route around the Imperial Palace is located on the side of a hill.  The west side, near Hanzomon Station, is the highest point, while Takebashi Station and Hibiya Station are at the lowest points.  There are, obviously, two ways run around the Imperial Palace, clockwise and counter-clockwise.  This can make a huge difference in the quality of your run.  Most people run in a counter-clockwise direction.  The north side, from Takebashi Station to Hanzomon Station is a shorter and steeper uphill climb compared to the longer Sakuradamon Station to Hanzomon Station section.  For this reason, it is relatively easier to run counter-clockwise.  The secondary reason to run counter-clockwise is only for night runners.  Cars drive on the left side of the road in Japan, so if you run clockwise, the headlights of all the cars will be shining in your face the entire way around the palace.  If you are like me, you will probably enjoy the challenge of going clockwise, but be warned that it adds the extra challenge of running against the stream of other runners.

In the last year, there have been a many articles regarding the Imperial Palace and the “Runners Boom”.  While most of it has been good, there have been some calls to improve the signage around the palace so that runners can understand where to go easily.  The first time you run, there is one section that can be confusing, if not get you into trouble.  Running on the gravel, aside from near Sakuradamon, will get you into trouble and the police guards will tell you to get out.  The sidewalk is free to run on, but be aware that there are many tourists walking around.  The east side of the course is the busiest for tourists and you will have to avoid them.  One article said that there was an estimated 4500 people running around the Imperial Palace between 6pm and 9pm on a weeknight.  That is by far the busiest time, and probably best to avoid running there.  I have heard from friends that it can be too busy, and running at your own pace can be a challenge.  Weekends and weekday mornings are probably better, but you may have to find a way to pass people who are slower, or let others who are faster pass.  While this may sound bad, the actual route is very nice and picturesque.  Most people only visit the east side, but the west side offers a look at the palace grounds from a different angle.  It may not be the most beautiful thing in the world, but a quick run around is worth it.

This is part of a series on running in Tokyo.  To read more, continue to Running in Tokyo – Central Tokyo.


Running Club:  http://www.namban.org/
Runner’s World Article:  http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-239-281–6897-0,00.html
Running In Tokyo:  http://runningintokyo.com/
Time Out Tokyo (Blog):  http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/176
Imperial Palace Running Guide (Japanese):  http://koukyo-run.boo.jp/
Art Sports:  Running Oasis (Japanese): http://runningoasis.art-sports.jp/


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


Living in Shinjuku June 1, 2010

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 “Living in Shinjuku” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-qa

In September of 2005, I arrived in Tokyo for the second time in my life and for the first time, I would live in Japan.  For the next five and a half years, I would live in a tiny apartment in Shinjuku.  Technically, I lived in Shibuya, but in reality, I lived closer to Shinjuku and I would later realize that it was impossible for me to explain where I lived if I said Shibuya.  Shinjuku was the best word to use and explained my location perfectly.

As I said, my apartment was a tiny 23 square metre apartment.  My bedroom itself was a paltry 10 square meters or 107 square feet.  Yes, it’s tiny. It cost me about ¥100,000 a month and I lived on a busy major arterial road.  Did I mention that I also lived with my girlfriend?  It was a cramped place that really wasn’t suitable for two people.  It was barely enough space for one, but it was home.  The apartment wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be just now.  While it was tiny, and it was expensive, the price of the apartment was mainly due to the location.  I was fortunate to live only 30 minutes away from Shinjuku, and that’s on foot.  I could easily find a great restaurant and getting out of town was easy.  Every weekend, I would walk into Shinjuku and enjoy the various shops.  It was busy, but not terribly so.  Over the five years, I got to know Shinjuku very intimately.  I know every corner and every path around the station.  Shinjuku Station is one of the most complex stations in the world, but for me, it is a simple place that takes but a second to get around.   If things did get too noisy, it wasn’t too hard for me to find a small quiet oasis just a month away.

The cost of living is not as high as you would expect.  Everyone says that living in Tokyo is very expensive.   For the first while, I would have said that’s true, but if you are smart and know where to go, you can live relatively cheaply.  The other advantage for me was that I lived in a tiny apartment.  It may be tiny, but the cost for utilities was equally tiny.  I was also very fortunate in that the quality of restaurants were very high.  You generally get what you pay for.  If I wanted to splurge and eat something nice, I could easily go to Shinjuku, or somewhere in my area to find something wonderful and romantic.  If I needed something dirt cheap, that was also available.  There were also a few grocery stores where you can get food at a very reasonable price.  Surprisingly, for such a central location, there were lots of options, but only a few that were worth a visit.  Thankfully, I lived outside the Yamanote line, which meant I had more choices.  Those who live within the Yamanote line are saddled with a cost of living that’s MUCH higher.  I was also fortunate that my favourite grocery store wasn’t such a major chain.  Major chains in Japan tend to have somewhat higher prices for some strange reason.  If you ever do decide to live in Japan, walking around the neighbourhood for at least a radius of 2km is necessary to find all of the cheapest places you need.

The biggest problem for me and my apartment was the noise.  My balcony was adjacent to a major street. There were cars on the street at all hours of the day.  Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, and even gas vans would blast be my apartment at all hours with sirens blaring.  In Tokyo, the gas company has the same status at times as an emergency vehicle.  I believe this is mostly to prevent major explosions from a pipeline, especially with buildings packed so closely together.   In the beginning, it was very cool to be able to hear all of the strange sirens of Japanese emergency vehicles, but after a year, it did get annoying.  By far, the most annoying sounds were the loud scooters, bosozoku bikes, and decotora.  Bosozoku are a type of teenage motorcycle gang, which is like recruitment to the Yakuza, but that’s not always the case.  They have very distinct bikes with no mufflers.  Their trademark is to ride around and make as much noise as possible.  While coasting to a stop, they will rev their engines as loud as possible, even though it does nothing but hurt the engine.  The decotora are trucks that have paintings on the side and hundreds of flashing lights.  Think epilepsy inducing strobes.  These trucks are usually okay, but at times, they add noise makers that “pop” as they use the engine brake.  It was the loudest engine noise you could ever think of.  I did get used to the noise, but it didn’t help me to get a good night sleep either.

While the street was a pain due to the noise, it was also a blessing.  I had one of the best views of Shinjuku.  I could look out everyday and see the Tokyo Metropolitan Buildings.  Each night, the buildings would be lit up and the colours would change every so often.  It would sometimes change due to a specific event, such as women’s day or earth day.  It was very nice.  I would also be able to see the changing skyline as new buildings would be built.  During a few storms, I had the privilege to see lightning and rain falling down as if God was angry at the world.  It was an amazing site, and living somewhat high above the street gave me a great view of things.  I even had a view of a major highway construction project that has lasted well over my 5 years at this apartment.  When I moved in, they were in the process of building an underground highway.  When I left, they completed the highway, but they were still doing the arduous process of fixing the roadway itself.   They were placing all of the overhead wires underground and beautifying the entire street.  Alas, I believe it would take another 2 to 5 years to complete everything.  I guess I may never see the final product.

One of the toughest things to get used to was the lack of greenery.  While the area was super convenient, it was also lacking trees and shrubs.  There were several parks in the area, but none of them were within a short walk.  The definition of a park is very different in Tokyo.  A park can be nothing but gravel paved into a square which is only good enough for a game of catch or other simple small area sports.  There were no chances to play touch football or even futsal.  It took a couple years before I was used to this.  It was also impossible to get out of town easily by car or on foot.  The west side of Tokyo is a large metropolis.  The north and west sides are much easier to get into the countryside.  This was part of the reason I sold my motorcycle last year.  The only consolation prize was that it was extremely easy for me to hop onto a major train line, or even get to the Shinkansen to get out of town, but that usually left me in a similar looking area, a major city.

All in all, living in Shinjuku is great.  I loved it and I will definitely miss it.  I wish I could continue living there, forever, but the cost and size was too much.  I found a great place on the other side of town, and now I get to start over again.  I’ll be learning more and more about the east side.  Over the next year or so, expect more information about eastern Tokyo.


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