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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/

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 (Imperial Palace) June 29, 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 (Imperial Palace)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-pC

The Imperial Palace is one of the biggest tourist spots in central Tokyo.  It is the home of the Japanese Imperial Family and home of one of the most beautiful parks in Tokyo.  The area itself is somewhat difficult to reach, but the area also provides one of the most unique views of Tokyo.  The most famous way to reach the Imperial Palace is to exit from Tokyo Station, Marunouchi Exit, and head down the biggest street.  This will lead to the main entrance of the palace.  Following this road will take you to a vast open area with no buildings.  This is the Imperial Palace.  Once there, you will see a small park full of cherry trees on the east side.  This is one of the most beautiful views for cherry blossoms in Tokyo.  It is always popular, but do be aware that security is very heavy and they will tell you if you are doing something wrong.  There is also a major street running straight through the middle of this area called Uchibori Dori.  On the west side of this street is the main entrance to the Imperial Palace.  This area itself isn’t special as almost all of it is full of gravel.  You can walk up to the inner moat of the inner palace grounds, but that’s about it.  You can take photos of the palace from behind the moat.  It is popular to take pictures of two famous bridges, but access onto the bridges and into the palace is extremely limited.  Twice a year, you can enter, but you will still be restricted to specific areas, and if you take the tour, the chances of English guides is low to none at all.  If you do head over, January second is a good day to visit as you can enter the inner grounds a little and you can see all of the dignitaries from around the world visiting the Emperor and wishing him a happy new year.  Many of the dignitaries will be wearing their traditional clothes as it would be an official visit.  If you are lucky, when a new Ambassador visits the Emperor for the first time, they usually take him or her from Tokyo Station to the palace by horse and carriage.  It’s a unique experience that I hope to experience once, but I haven’t been that lucky.

Just north of the main entrance is the Imperial Palace East Gardens.  I have not had the luxury to visit this area yet, but it is the home of the original Edo Castle.  The Imperial Palace itself sits on the property of the original Edo Castle.  This was the main castle of Tokyo that was destroyed either in the late 1800s or during World War II.  Unfortunately, the information on the internet is not very clear on an exact date of destruction.  Today, the East Gardens are open to the public, but the sights are no where near as grand as in the past.  The old castle is nothing but a stone foundation, but the gardens are sure to be nice.  Visiting this area, you are sure to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and be able to relax.  If you were hoping to see a real Japanese castle, unfortunately, you have to leave Tokyo to see one.  If you have the energy and the time, heading a little farther north, you will come to the Nippon Budokan, or Budokan for short.  This is one of the most famous concert venues in Tokyo, and also the biggest martial arts arena in Tokyo.  It was originally built for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, but it is also a very popular venue for artists.  There are several famous places to play a concert in Tokyo, and the Budokan is one of them.  Tokyo Dome and Jingu Stadium are bigger and more famous, but you’d have to be a huge star to play there.  If you are lucky, you can always buy a ticket to see one of the judo competitions.  It is said to be one of the most interesting places to see judo.

While the Imperial Palace is a famous spot for tourists, many locals take advantage of the palace grounds as well.  It is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing and seeing the autumn leaves.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of cherry trees located on and around the Imperial Palace.  During the cherry blossom season, the cherry trees are lit up at night and people jockey for position along the moat.  It can create a very nice and interesting picture.  The biggest draw for locals is the road encircling the palace.  The road goes around the palace in a ring for 5 kilometres.  This provides an ideal location for people to go running.  It’s most popular for people to head to Takebashi Station, walk to a nearby sento (public bath), change and go for a run.  When they have finished, either 5/10/… km run, they return, take a shower, and head back home.  If you are a runner, this is the once place you must go to enjoy a nice morning, afternoon, or night run.  The most popular way to run around the palace is to go counter-clockwise.  You start off from Takebashi Station and head uphill until you are near Hanzomon Station.  From there, it’s downhill to Sakuradamon Station.  Because the uphill is steeper going counter-clockwise, it’s easier, so most people go this way.  Also, at night, if you go clockwise, you will have many headlights pointed in your face.  This makes it difficult to see with the glare.  There is one thing you must be careful about, and that’s the pollution.  When running in other areas, there is less pollution.  When I had run in this area, I didn’t have problems as I am used to Tokyo, but after this run, my clothes were covered in a thin, or thick depending on your viewpoint, layer of soot.  This can be disgusting to most people, do be prepared.  The good thing about this is that you can see a lot of Tokyo in a short time, and experience another aspect of Japanese life.  Running is now a major pastime for many Japanese people, and it’s growing.

Is the Imperial Palace worth a visit on your next trip?  Many people say yes, but for me, it’s 50/50.  I think it’s a nice place to go, but I wouldn’t put it high on my list of places to visit.  You can do many things there, but you are still extremely limited, and you may be in for a disappointment.  If you go expecting nothing, you will probably enjoy it a lot more.  If you go expecting to be wowed, you will probably be disappointed.  Just go and have fun as always and you will be fine.

Imperial Palace Information

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Imperial_Palace
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3017.html
Budokan (Official Site – Japanese):  http://www.nipponbudokan.or.jp/
Budokan (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nippon_Budokan
Edo Castle (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo_Castle
Edo Castle (JNTO): http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/attractions/facilities/castles/83dn3a000000ece7.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。

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 (Asakusa – Part I) January 12, 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 (Asakusa – Part I)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-ke

Asakusa is one of the must see places in Tokyo.  For any resident, however, it’s a place to avoid, unless you live in the area.  It’s a typical tourist location.  There is really only one thing to do in the area, but it can take up to half a day to complete it.  Asakusa itself is one of the oldest entertainment districts in Tokyo, and one of the oldest neighbourhoods.  If you take the Shitamachi bus line from Tokyo Station, you will essentially be travelling in the oldest areas of Tokyo once you reach Ueno.  You can see some of the oldest houses in the area if you know where to look.  You can also enjoy the beautiful Sensoji temple or shopping for very kitsch souvenirs.  Be aware that this being a tourist trap, you may want to keep a closer eye on your wallets and purses.  It can get very busy, which can bring out the pickpockets.  Do note that this is still Japan, so the chances of a pickpocket are still extremely low.

The best thing to do when arriving in Asakusa is to get there early, say 9 or 10am and head straight for Sensoji.  Head to exit 1 from the Ginza line and A4 from the Asakusa line.  From here, you can head straight to Kaminarimon, or Kaminari Gate.  This is the main entrance to Sensoji, and Nakamise Shopping Arcade.  This gate will be very busy and any pictures are sure to include other tourists.  This spot is also popular for hiring rickshaws.  Prices can vary and they are all eager to take you around the streets for a private tour.  Prices start at 5000 Yen for one person, for 30 minutes, 8000 Yen for two people, all the way up to 30,000 Yen for over 2 hours.  These people can be very colourful, but do your best to find someone who can speak English, at least a little, so that you can understand the history of the area better.  The gate itself is fairly large and lit up at night.  There are four large statues located within the gate.  The two facing the street are Shinto gods, while the opposing two are Buddhist gods.  While these are not the most fascinating statues in Japan, they are the easiest to access and it provides a taste of what you can see in other areas of Japan.

Once past the gate, you will be within the Nakamise Shopping Arcade area.  This area is where tourists tend to buy everything.  You can get things from key chains, head bands that say “Japan” with the rising sun logo, and even yukatas.  While you may think you are buying a kimono, do note that you are more than likely buying a basic yukata.  There are a few shops selling these clothes and they can be very beautiful.  It may not have a traditional print, but for most tourists, it’s still very popular.  You may even get a small deal if you buy a few of them as gifts.  If you are looking for real kimono, you would be looking at spending at least 100,000 Yen for a very basic one.  About half way up the street, there is a small branch leading to Shin-nakamise Shopping Arcade.  This one offers a more modern style shopping and it feels like you are in a smaller Japanese city.  There are shoe shops, drug stores, and various restaurants and snack shops.  It’s worth a quick romp, but do note that things probably won’t open until 10am.  Towards the end of Nakamise, there are lots of food shops selling Dorayaki, a pancake like sandwich with sweet red bean paste inside, and senbe, a Japanese rice cracker.  These places aren’t the cheapest, but they are very good and made fresh.  I’d suggest buying some if you want to try traditional Japanese junk food.

This is Part I of a II part series.  Please continue reading about Asakusa in Part II.

Asakusa Information:

Asakusa (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3004.html
Asakusa (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asakusa
Asakusa (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Asakusa
Asakusa (English):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index_e.html
Asakusa (Japanese):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index.html
Rickshaw Information (Japanese):  http://www.jidaiya.biz/kanko-j.html
Tokyo Shitamachi Bus:  http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/english/bus_guide.html

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