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Narita to Tokyo April 13, 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 “Narita to Tokyo” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kZ

Arriving at Narita Airport can be a daunting challenge.  Not only will you probably be tired, if you don’t speak Japanese, it can be a small challenge to find out how to get into the city itself.  Unless you are rich, taxis are not an option.  There are three main routes into Tokyo.  The first is the Airport Limousine.  The second is to take a train, which has two options.  The simplest has to be the Airport Limousine.  When you exit the arrivals gate, you can usually find the Airport Limousine counter on the main floor.  There are several locations in both terminals.  It’s as simple as saying which hotel you want to go to, or what station.  The Airport Limousine goes to many destinations throughout Tokyo and Yokohama.  It’s also the most convenient way to get to Haneda Airport.  Do note that due to traffic, all times are estimates.  You can be severely delayed if traffic is horrible.

The safest way to get into the city is to use one of two rail companies.  The most popular for tourists is to use the JR Lines.  Using the regular lines is not popular for JR.  It is expensive and slow.  You will more than likely have to change trains at least once, maybe up to three times depending on your destination.  The easiest route is to take the Narita Express.  In fact, they have recently released a new train that makes things more comfortable.  They offer secure locks for your luggage and plugs for your laptop in each row.  Unfortunately, these are not available at all times.  The main advantage of the Narita Express is the number of destinations.  You can go as far as Ofuna, Takao, and Omiya without getting out.  However, most trains will only run from Narita Airport to Yokohama or Ikebukuro.  These trains usually de-couple at Tokyo Station.  Don’t be too afraid of connecting trains if you are headed to Ikebukuro.  If the train only goes to Shinjuku, it’s very simple to change platforms and get to Ikebukuro faster than if you wait.  The Narita Express doesn’t run too often, so it’s best to take the first one you can get, unless you have too many bags.

The cheapest route to Tokyo is to take the Keisei lines.  Their rapid service takes roughly 71 minutes to get to Tokyo, and their Skyliner service takes about 51 minutes.  The Rapid service costs roughly 1000 yen, which makes this a budget travellers dream.  If you want a good balance between cost and comfort, the Skyliner is one of your best bets.  The biggest problem with the Keisei service is choice.  You have your choice of Nippori and Ueno as destinations.  If you are headed to a hostel in Asakusa, this line is perfect.  If you are headed to Shinjuku, this route may not be your ideal choice, but it is a cheaper alternative at relatively the same time.  It’s just not as convenient.  However, as of July 2010, the service will be upgraded and the time will be cut by 15 minutes making this a more popular route in the near future.  The new service will be called the “Sky Express”.  It will feature brand new trains with a new local service being introduced as well.

Regarding what to take and how to get there, that’s your choice.  By far, the cheapest is the Keisei lines.  The most convenient would be the Airport Limousine, if they offer service to your hotel.  The Narita Express offers a very competitive service, but it is a little expensive overall.  In terms of locals, unless your company is paying for it, most people will take the Keisei lines.

Information:

Narita Airport:  http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/
Airport Limousine:  http://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/
Narita Express:  http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex/index.html
Keisei Skyliner:  http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/keisei_us/top.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。

Tokyo (Ebisu, Hiroo, and Daikanyama) March 30, 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 (Ebisu, Hiroo, and Daikanyama)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-ebisu

Ebisu is a relatively famous area of Tokyo. It is next to Shibuya and close to Roppongi. It is known among locals as a hip place to eat lots of good food. The area is named after a famous Japanese beer, Yebisu. Both are pronounced the same. The true origin of Ebisu is from the name of one of the seven gods of fortune. He is mainly the god of fishermen and is always pictured with a fishing rod and fish. He is also the god of luck, working men, and the health of young children. Yebisu beer, itself, is also named after this god. Many people outside Japan don’t know of Yebisu beer as it’s not famous outside Japan. It is considered a major craft beer, and it’s priced that way as well. Yebisu beer is a very good beer, and highly recommended if you are in Japan.

While Ebisu itself is a fairly large district, there aren’t many things to see or do. Heading South of the station, along the Yebisu Skywalk, you will reach Ebisu Garden Place. It is a wonderful area that provides many photo opportunities. Mitsukoshi department store is the major tenant of the area, and there are many interesting shops. However, don’t expect anything different compared to other department stores in Tokyo. The main attraction has to be the Yebisu/Sapporo beer museum. Yebisu is actually owned by Sapporo Breweries, and this is the only beer museum within Tokyo itself. The tour itself isn’t spectacular. It’s a self guided walk in only Japanese. You don’t even see anyone brewing beer. The best part is the sampling. You can get relatively cheap beer (compared to a bar). The best is the tasting set, 4 small glasses of beer. If you want to try Yebisu beer, but don’t know which one is best, this is your best option. Try them all! Aside from Ebisu Garden Place, there isn’t much to see. Ebisu has nothing more to offer than a plethora of restaurants. Anything you want to eat can be found here. If you choose any direction from the station, you are bound to find several good restaurants.

East of Ebisu, you will reach Hiroo. I don’t advise walking there as there aren’t many signs and you are bound to be lost. Hiroo is a quaint little town that is very expensive to live in. Hiroo is home to several embassies, and with it comes many foreigners. It’s very akin to Roppongi, but without the seedy nature. Shopping is mainly restricted to small boutiques, and so is eating. It can be difficult to find a reasonably price meal.  The nice I would generally skip this area, but some people enjoy walking around various districts in Tokyo.  The plus side of walking in this area is that it is very quiet and peaceful.  There are also a few nice places to sit, relax, and have a nice cup of coffee.

Heading West of Ebisu, you’ll reach the fashionable district of Daikanyama. It’s a very easy walk, but like all areas of Ebisu, you will more than likely get lost looking for it. It’s a very hip area that has many young fashion brands. You are likely to find rare pieces of clothing and several high end shops at the same time. This area is famous for the rich and famous. They do a lot of shopping, and it’s your best chance to see them on their days off. However, if you don’t know any famous Japanese stars, you would probably walk right past them without knowing who they are. Daikanyama is also home to Evisu jeans. While they were founded in Osaka, they were also named after the same god, Ebisu, as the beer and the neighbourhood. It’s fitting that they have a shop or two located just outside Ebisu itself.

Depending on what you are looking for, and how long you are staying, Ebisu and the surrounding areas may be an interesting place to see. However, I don’t recommend it for everyone. If you are looking for something unique, Daikanyama is a good place to go. If you want good eats, Ebisu is great. If you are just looking for a place in Tokyo where the old meets new, Ebisu is good, at the moment. Beware that Ebisu is growing extremely fast, and all the old shops that gave it character are slowly being demolished for large new buildings.

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。

2010 Sakura March 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 “2010 Sakura” and other posts from this blog.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-ow

It’s that time of year again.  It is now official.  The Japan Meteorological Agency has officially announced that the cherry blossoms in Tokyo are blooming.  This is a wonderful, if somewhat annoying, time of year.  The year is full of beautiful cherry trees that are full of pink blossoms.  You also have hundreds, if not thousands of people relaxing in the parks enjoying copious amounts of alcohol.  Love it or hate it, it’s a beautiful time of year.

For more information about the Sakura Season, please refer to my old blog post from last year:  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sakura

Information:

List of Sakura viewing sites (Japanese only):  http://www.mapple.net/sp_sakura/
Yahoo! Japan (Japanese only):  http://sakura.yahoo.co.jp/
Yahoo! Japan (Tokyo region – Japanese only):  http://sakura.yahoo.co.jp/spot/list/13.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。

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。

Temples of Tokyo – Part II [Meiji-jingu & Zojoji] February 16, 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 “Temples of Tokyo – Part II [Meiji-jingu & Zojoji]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gk

Once you finish with Sensoji, you can make your way across town to visit Meiji Jingu.  This is much more tranquil than Sensoji.  There are far fewer people here, and there isn’t any shopping within the shrine grounds.  The first thing you must do is venture to the main shrine.  This is, in itself, a difficult task.  It can take roughly 10 minutes to walk there.  The walk itself is very nice, as you are walking within a natural forest.  The various torii gates are also magnificent as they tend to blend in with the surrounding trees.  The entire walkway leading to the temple is also very spacious.  This is mainly due to the crowding during the New Year celebrations.  If you have a little money and want to see a garden, you can have a nice walk around the private gardens of the shrine.  I doubt that this garden is that beautiful, so it’s easy to skip.  You will also run into a row of large barrels with various writings on it.  These are sake casks.  Inside each one, it is filled with sake.   They are donated to the shrine by various sake breweries and companies for various reasons.  It makes for an interesting photo opportunity.  The shrine itself is pretty interesting.  The main courtyard is situated in such a way that you cannot really see any buildings in the surrounding areas.  This makes it a sort of oasis within Tokyo.  You can also see the inner buildings from the entrance way, but don’t expect a full walk through.  Like most of the other temples and shrines, there is a public area, and a private area.  Overall, the private area is nothing special.  They usually hold weddings and other ceremonies inside the various halls.  There isn’t much in the way of statues or things worth photographing.  Temples tend to have more interesting things behind the closed doors.  After you finish with the main court yard, you will be greeted by the fortune area of the shrine.  Shrines tend to make more money selling fortunes than anything else.  Do you want to have a child?  Do you want to do well on a test?  Go to the priest, tell them, and they’ll make a fortune for you.  It’s valid for only one year.  After that, you have to return it, or go back to recharge it.  When that is over, you can make your way back to Harajuku station.  On the way out, you can visit a small museum dedicated to Emperor Meiji, but do note that the cost to enter is probably not worth the visit.  I heard that there are only pictures inside, and very few artefacts.

If you have the time, visiting Zojoji before Meiji Jingu is recommended.  Zojoji, as I mentioned, is not very famous outside of Tokyo.  It is relatively small compared to Sensoji and Meiji Jingu.  The approach from Daimon station isn’t very interesting either.  You can do everything you want to do at Sensoji and Meiji Jingu, so visiting Zojoji isn’t necessary.  However, the experience of Zojoji is very unique.  Just outside the main entrance, there is a very major street.  It’s bustling with traffic all day long.  In fact, it can be extremely noisy.  However, once you walk into the temple grounds, the noise seems to disappear.  All around the temple, you’ll see various trees planted by various dignitaries, such as George W. Bush.  There are various statues, and a unique cemetery located in the temple grounds which also helps make it more unique.  You can see a large bell that is rung to signal the start of the New Year.  The major draw for this temple will be the ability to take a picture of the temple near the foot of Tokyo Tower.  It’s a great picture to show friends, and it truly shows the mix of traditional Japanese culture with modernism.  The other main draw, on a personal note, has to be entering the temple’s main hall.  While Sensoji allows you to only enter the entryway, Zojoji allows you to enter, sit, and meditate.  It is a nice cool place to relax on a hot afternoon, and the smell of the incense is very calming.  If you are lucky, you can see one of the monks performing a prayer.  It is, without a doubt, one of the best temple experiences I have had in Japan, and the best one in Tokyo.

Temples and shrines in Tokyo vary from large and extravagant, to small and unnoticeable.  Meiji Jingu is one of the large ones, but if you are walking along a side street, you might see a small shrine no bigger than a pay phone.  It’s impossible to truly recommend only three temples to visit in Tokyo.  It’s even more impossible to recommend three in all of Japan.  Each one has their own unique layouts, unique statues, and unique festivals.  If you are lucky enough to be living in Tokyo, be sure to visit other temples, especially your local temple.  You never know what interesting things are going to happen.

Note:  Other notable temples and shrines include Yasukuni Shrine (infamous for worshiping battles in the name of peace) and Sengakuji (famous for being the resting place of the 47 Ronin).

This is Part II of a two part series.  To read more, please head over to Part I.

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2059.html (About Shrines)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Shrine (Meiji Jingu)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3002.html (Meiji Jingu)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zojoji (Zojoji)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3010.html (Zojoji)

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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