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2011 Grand Prix of Japan October 18, 2011

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2011 Grand Prix of Japan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Jg

The 2011 Grand Prix of Japan was originally scheduled to take place in April, but due to the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, the race was promptly postponed.  It was tentatively rescheduled to October 2nd, its traditional spot on the Moto GP calendar.  In the last 3 years, the Grand Prix of Japan was scheduled to take place in March/April.  The first year was run without a problem, but the following year it was moved to October due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland.  The volcano prevented teams and some of the equipment from flying out to Japan due to safety concerns.  This year, while rescheduled to take place from September 30 to October 2, the race had been in doubt for some time.  Twin Ring Motegi Circuit is located just over 120km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and with that distance it made the riders and a lot of their crew nervous about coming to Japan.  There were only a few people who were advocates for Japan and the loudest was, naturally, Hiroshi Aoyama.  It doesn’t hurt that he is Japanese and his feeling is that the Grand Prix would help Japan and the riders would be safe.  After Dorna, the rights holder for Moto GP, along with the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme) contracted an Italian University to conduct an independent survey of Motegi and the surrounding towns for radiation levels both at the track, in the soil, and the food, most of the teams started to feel safe.  Unfortunately, while the scientific study said things were safe, the riders and many of the crew were still nervous about going to Japan and up until the last few weeks prior to the race itself, there were still big questions marks over who would or wouldn’t be attending.  In the end all of the riders came to Japan but not all of the teams.  Some of the teams, two as far as I know and both in lower classes, decided to not bring their mechanics and used local mechanics instead.  The entire Moto GP tour also brought their own food and water to allay any fears they still had.  It was an interesting compromise that provided a great event.

If you read my past posts about the Moto GP events, things haven’t changed too much.  This year there was no presence by Kawasaki.  They still had a very small booth last year but that has all disappeared.  Suzuki has also significantly reduced their presence at the event with just a tiny booth that showcased a couple items for sale.  Honda was still the largest manufacturer on display with Yamaha and Ducati a close second and third.  Since I have been to this event many times, I feel as if I’m an expert in what to do when visiting these events.  I typically entered the event and just did a lot of shopping on qualifying day.  I spent more time walking around the event than before as I wanted to check out the vantage points from various places.  Saturday is a great day to check out the various grandstands as they are all open to the public.  On Sunday, the reserved seating areas are closed off to those with valid tickets so watching the warm-up or parts of the race from other locations is not allowed.  This year I decided to change my tradition.  For the last several years, I joined the Yamaha Supporters group where I would get free swag for supporting Yamaha.  My favourite racer, Valentino Rossi, had changed teams this year to ride for Ducati, so I felt I couldn’t support Yamaha completely.  I am a huge Rossi fan so I decided to return to the grandstands that I visited on my first trip to the Japan Grand Prix, the 90 Degree Corner.  The 90 Degree Corner is considered to be the most exciting place on the track to watch the race.  It is named 90 Degree Corner because it is a 90 degree right turn that follows a downhill section.  The turn is also slightly off camber making it very tricky to get around quickly and smoothly.  Many riders have run off at that corner and many have crashed.  The other main corner is corner 3 where many other accidents occur.  The main straight may have the advantage of being where other supporters are as well as the podium, but for real enthusiasts, heading to other corners can be a lot more fun.  I always enjoy trying new areas just to enjoy the racing.

This year, as mentioned, the event was under a different air.  People were their regular selves and attendance seemed to be average.  The booths were a little different as more secondary sponsors were present and some of the traditional Japanese sponsors had pulled out.  Things are slowly changing, including the food.  I noticed that while the barbecued steaks on a stick were the same, and so was the beer, I never noticed the curry rice before.  I also never noticed how difficult it was to get water at the event.  Most of the places were selling sports drinks, coke, tea, and beer.  It was difficult to find anyone selling water anywhere.  In terms of interviews and such, it was pretty standard.  Suzuki’s test rider was one of the most prominent figures doing interviews and many others were going around.  The most important people had huge crowds.  Trying to watch interviews with Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, or even Casey Stoner was next to impossible unless you were waiting for nearly an hour before the actual event.  I was pretty content to just enjoy the interviews from far away and just listen to them.  Most of the things they talked about were pretty standard.  “It’s good to be here.  The track is a very stop and go track.  You need a lot of horsepower and a good setup.  I hope to do well.”  You really can’t get much more out of a rider who must be very careful with their words.  One of the best characters in Moto GP has to be Colin Edwards.  I had been a fan of his since I first “met” him in a rider’s clinic in Vancouver prior to the 2005 season.  I would discover that Colin has a remarkably frank way of speaking as well as being comical.  He was pretty honest about his opinions without getting into too much trouble.  He praises the bike all the time but hits out when he knows he has troubles.  He is also very honest when it comes to his own mistakes and does what he can to improve.  Next year will see him move from the Tech 3 Yamaha team to a new team that hopes to use his skills to develop their new bike.

In terms of the race, everything was pretty standard.  I was very happy and enjoyed the first two races.  It was the last year of the 125cc class as next year they move to 250cc 4-stroke engines and calling the class Moto3.  It was a nice race and somewhat predictable.  Motegi isn’t well known for its exciting 125 races as the long straights mean the riders can stretch out a bit and get away if they are lucky.  Unfortunately that was the case and nothing much happened.  The only special event was the fact that Frenchman Johann Zarco finally won his first race in Moto GP.  He had actually crossed the finish line in first near the beginning of the season but that was cancelled as he made a dangerous move on the last lap resulting in a 20 second penalty.  A second time he crossed the line tied for first but lost the win because his fastest lap of the race was slower than the other rider.  It was the first time that he was allowed on the top step to celebrate with champagne as the winner of a race.  In Moto2, the race was more interesting.  Marc Marquez has been showing his form and has made a charge up the championship field to take over the championship lead after this race.  The race was won by Andrea Iannone who has a lot of talent but tends to make too many mistakes.  The big event is Moto GP.  It was time for the big boys to come out on to the track.  The Moto GP race was an incident filled race.  It started with a crash by Valentino Rossi in the 3rd corner of the first lap.  He ran into Jorge Lorenzo as he tried to avoid Ben Spies which causing him to crash into the sand.  He retired before he could even finish one lap.  Needless to say I was very disappointed.  Casey Stoner was leading quite well until he had a tank slapper on the back straight which caused his brake pads to move which resulted in him losing his brakes for a second and subsequently running off course and into the sand.  He did rejoin in 7th place before finishing the race in 3rd.  3 riders were given a ride through penalty for jumping the start and 2 other riders crashed before the end of the race.  The field was reduced by a large margin and the winner would eventually be Dani Pedrosa.  It had been a long time since Honda had won on home soil and Jorge Lorenzo did his best to steal the win at the end but couldn’t keep up with the dominant Dani Pedrosa.  There were some spirited passes throughout the field the entire race and it was one of the more enjoyable races I saw.  I usually get a little tired about halfway through the race in the main grandstands but this year was much better and easier at the 90 Degree Corner.  I think I found my new home unless Valentino has his own supporter’s tour that will stay in another grandstand somewhere.

I have said it many times before.  If you love motorcycles, you should watch the Grand Prix of Japan in person.  It is a very fun experience.  Racing in Japan is very similar, be it F1, WRC, or even Moto GP.  I have watched all three now and while they are all different, the feeling is similar.  The fans carry flags and wave them feverishly.  People love their heroes all the time and do their best to will them on.  Like any country, the races themselves are exciting to watch and the food can be expensive.  With the right mindset, you will have the time of your life and memories that will last a lifetime.

2011 Grand Prix of Japan is part of a series of posts recounting my trips to Twin Ring Motegi and the Japanese round of the Moto GP series.  To read my other posts about this race please follow the links below:

Information:

Moto GP Official Site:  http://www.motogp.com/

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Tokyo – Nihonbashi January 11, 2011

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 – Nihonbashi” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-xQ

Nihonbashi can easily be considered the centre of Japan.  It is the point where ALL roads are measured.  When approaching Tokyo along one of the many highways and expressways, they almost always measure distance to Nihonbashi.  This is in stark contrast to the way things are done in different prefectures and cities where the zero mark is based on the official government offices.  In fact, while most cities in Japan consider their major train stations to be the centre of the city, it’s rarely used as a distance marker.  Nihonbashi is one of the few exceptions.  The bridge, Nihonbashi, was built originally in 1603 and rebuilt in 1911.  The 1911 version is what you will see today if you do head to Nihonbashi.  It’s a beautiful looking bridge with various sculptures adorning the bridge.  It is still used heavily to this day, although it is no longer a major thoroughfare for cars.  When walking along the bridge, you will be surprised by the beauty and majestic image the bridge portrays, and the fact that they recently power washed it (end of 2010), really brings the original beauty out of the bridge.  It doesn’t look old at all, aside from the styling.  It has been well maintained over the years and hopefully, it will stay for a lot longer.

The only blight against this Nihonbashi is the fact that in the 1960s, the government erected a huge overhead expressway that flowed along the Nihonbashi River.  This highway barely passes overhead and the tall statues show it.  You can see some of the tall statues in the middle of Nihonbashi stretching up between the lanes of the expressway overhead.  It’s an interesting sight, and some people feel that this is what Nihonbashi should look like.  There is a tug-o-war for people who wish to see the expressway moved underground to restore the original beauty of Nihonbashi.  Others claim that the expressway can show Japan’s modernization and true history.  I agree that it shows Japan’s quick ambitions to rise and meet any challenges that it faces, but ugly is still ugly.  It would be far better if the bridge was free from overhead unsightliness.  Alas, this is the problem that Nihonbashi, the district, faces everyday as the world changes.

The Nihonbashi district is a somewhat unique area.  It is well known for being part of the business core in Tokyo.  The old business core used to be the skyscrapers in Shinjuku, and by all means, it’s still a business hub, but for finances, you are hard pressed to find a better area than Nihonbashi.  When combined, Nihonbashi, Otemachi, and Marunouchi make the financial core of Tokyo.  These three areas are easily accessible on foot and can be walked from end to end in about 30 minutes.  Nihonbashi is home to three financial institutions and the Bank of Japan.  While this doesn’t sound amazing, when you walk around Nihonbashi for the first time, you’ll be surprised at how small it truly is.  Many will say that Nihonbashi stretches out towards the Sumida River which would increase its size dramatically, but if you are being a purist, the area can easily be walked on foot within an hour.  It is within this small centre that you will find all of these institutions.

While most people will find the financial institutions to be very boring, myself included, there is a lot more to see and do within Nihonbashi itself.  Shopping is where Nihonbashi truly excels, like many areas of Japan.  If you are looking for traditional Japanese products, this is a good place to go.  You can find various traditional products such as Japanese paper, old hand carved toothpicks, and much more.  Nihonbashi isn’t considered one of Japan’s oldest neighborhoods for nothing.  They have a large array of old and new mixed together.  Many of the old shops have been demolished, but the original owners have re-opened in the newer buildings.  Others have also taken their places and you can find many good traditional Japanese sweets within the area.  I would highly recommend a visit to one of these shops if you can.  There are also department stores that specialize in the higher end goods, and for the older generations.  Mitsukoshi is the first department store in Nihonbashi, and their main building is considered an historical building.  I would recommend a visit just to soak up the atmosphere.  Takashimaya and Coredo are also located here and shouldn’t be missed.  If you are wondering what the difference is between Nihonbashi and Ginza, there isn’t much, but there are subtle differences.  Ginza tends to be a posh area with younger people with lots of money to spend.  Think of a new izakaya that is expensive and extremely popular.  Nihonbashi feels more alike a refined sake; one that has aged and matured over time.  It has a feeling of being in an exclusive club, and if you don’t belong, you might be left out.  While I doubt that the shops will make you feel like an outsider, the air of the area is special.

I did mention that Nihonbashi is a small area, but that shouldn’t stop you from exploring the neighboring areas either.  For one, you should head west along the river.  If you head towards Ichikokubashi, you will see, on the south west corner a small marker next to the bridge at the entrance of a public park.  This is a very rare marker and an interesting history lesson for anyone.  The marker itself is a lost and found stone.  If you lose a child, or you find a child, you can post a note on either side of the stone and hope someone finds it.  For example, if I find Taro Suzuki, and I’m looking for his mother, Hana, I can write a description of him, and his name and put it on the found child side.  The opposite is also true.  From there, if his parents or caregiver found the note, they can move it to the reunion side which posts a meeting time and location for people.  It’s not always a happy story, but I’d like to think that more times than not, children are reunited with their parents.

Nihonbashi is an often overlooked and skipped area of Tokyo.  By all means, if you are only in Tokyo for a few days, it’s not a place I’d recommend a visit.  If you are in Tokyo for 2 weeks, and not venturing out to the outlying areas, I’d definitely recommend a visit to this area.  There are many things to see and do in a short time, and it’s a very short walk to get to the other various areas surrounding Nihonbashi.  It’s easy to walk over to Tokyo Station, and Akihabara is just a few stations away as well.  If you are considering a visit to either Nihonbashi or Ginza, I’d probably choose Ginza as it’s more famous and what most people want to see, however, Nihonbashi is a good substitute if you understand what you might be missing in Ginza.

Nihonbashi Information:

Nihonbashi (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihonbashi

Nihonbashi (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3033.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。

Sake January 4, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sake” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sake

One of the most famous drinks to come out of Japan has to be sake.  It is a clear alcoholic drink that is enjoyed in various ways.  It is often said to be “rice wine” because of the taste.  The subtle differences in flavour and ability to pair it with most types of food, depending on where it’s made, creates this comparison.  However, unlike wine, it is brewed like beer.  The main reason no one would ever compare it to beer is because beer is carbonated.  In reality, sake cannot be compared to anything.  No one would ever consider comparing an apple and an orange, so we really shouldn’t be comparing sake with anything at all.  In fact, saying the word sake in Japan would only make people confused.  The true translation of sake is “alcohol” or an “alcoholic drink”.  The true translation should be “nihonshu”, Japanese alcohol.

Nihonshu can be found in almost every city in Japan.  Local nihonshu, however, is sometimes hard to find.  If you travel to Nigata, north of Tokyo, or the Kyoto region, you should be able to find a plethora of local nihonshu brands.  There are essentially only four varieties of nihonshu, Jumai, Honjozo, Ginjo, and Daiginjo.  Like wine, if you don’t drink a lot of nihonshu, it will be difficult to tell the differences in each type.  In Japan, the easiest way to tell what type of taste a brand has is to check its “level”.  Japan has a level classification to define how spicy or how sweet a bottle of nihonshu is.  A high number implies a spicy taste, while a negative number implies a sweet taste.   Playing it safe by buying a “0” is okay, but generally, like wine, spicy nihonshus are good with meat, and sweet ones are better with fish or vegetables.  When drinking only nihonshu, it’s up to your own personal taste buds to decide which is best for you.

In Japan, and around the world, you will be able to find various types of nihonshu.  Price makes a huge difference between a good and a bad nihonshu.  Paying less than $10 a litre will almost always guarantee bad sake.  In Japan, you can buy sake from a roughly 300mL jar for about 200 Yen.  This is probably the worst thing you can do.  The nihonshu is mass produced to such a degree that it generally doesn’t taste good.  For a small bottle, roughly 355mL, you can expect to pay at least 500 Yen, but that can also go up to 1000 Yen.  When leaving Japan via the airport, you can find several 750mL bottles running around 2000 Yen.  These are all valuable bottles and you can never go wrong with them.  I have never personally purchased any special nihonshu bottles, such as those in a ceramic jar or ceremonial barrel, so be aware that it may or may not taste good.  Do note that prices in North America should be at least 50~100% more than Japanese prices.

There are many ways to drink nihonshu.  You can look all over the internet and find different opinions on how to drink it.  Essentially, nowadays, most of the people I have talked to enjoy cold nihonshu.  Heated nihonshu is generally for the winter season, and there are specific types of nihonshu for the winter season.  When going to an izakaya, the most common way to be served nihonshu is in a shot glass.  This is also how I generally enjoy nihonshu.  It’s simple and it keeps the flavours in tact.  You can also drink nihonshu from a “choko” which is essentially a small ceramic tea cup.  This is the very same cup you will see that comes in a “sake set” where you get a bottle and two cups.  While this is nice, a shot glass is more versatile.  There are some special cups used to drink nihonshu.  “Sakazuki” is a saucer like dish, about the size of a small tea saucer.  It is almost exclusively used in ceremonies and highly unlikely to be seen in a restaurant as it can only hold a small amount.  More commonly seen in Japan is a “Masu”.  This is a small wooden box made of hinoki or sugi.  Generally, these are fragrant woods that add to the flavour of the nihonshu.  High end restaurants may use real masu boxes, but regular izakayas tend to use plastic versions that are lacquered.  It’s customary to put a shot glass inside the box and fill it till it is overflowing.  The best way to drink the nihonshu is to sip it from the glass until it’s possibly half empty.  Then, you can pour the nihonshu that’s in the masu into the glass.

Nihonshu is one of my favourite drinks in Japan.  I don’t really drink enough of it, to be honest.  Like any alcohol, it isn’t for everyone, but if you only drink the cheap stuff, you won’t like it.  It can be an acquired taste as well, so just do your best and over time, maybe you’ll grow to like it.  This is only a basic introduction, so please read some of the following guides if you want to find out more.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sake (sake basics)
http://www.jetro.org/trends/sake_intro.php (a good introduction to sake)
http://www.sake-world.com/index.html (everything you need to know about sake)

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。

Japanese Football aka Soccer (Kyoto Sanga VS Urawa Reds) December 14, 2010

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Japanese Football aka Soccer (Kyoto Sanga VS Urawa Reds)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-xq

On November 14, I had the pleasure of being able to watch another football game in Japan. It was only my fourth time to ever watch live football in Japan, and as with my other experiences, this didn’t disappoint. In my previous visits, I had been to Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu, west of Tokyo. This time, I decided to north to Saitama to watch one of Japan’s biggest teams, the Urawa Reds. The Urawa Reds are one of the most popular teams in Japan, and their following is huge. Those who were born in Saitama are supposed to love the team. Those living in Tokyo and even Chiba like the team. Their fans always make the journey to watch their team play no matter where they play. The supporters are very vocal and it can be deafening to just be in the stadium as the team is playing. This was all at Ajinomoto Stadium, so you can imagine what it might be like at Saitama Stadium, the home of the Urawa Reds.

Getting to Saitama Stadium is very easy. Within Tokyo, taking the Toei Metro’s Namboku Line, you are directly connected to the Saitama Railway which terminates at Urawa Misono Station. This is the closest station to Saitama Stadium. It’s also a 20 minute walk from the station to the stadium. The first thing you will notice when you leave the station is that the entire area is a sea of red. No matter which way you look, you will see red everywhere. The station has various signs promoting the Urawa Reds. One of their slogans, at least for 2010, was “We are Reds”. It’s entertaining, but it isn’t the destination of the day. The signs and the walk to the stadium definitely make one excited, but unfortunately, it’s a long walk with few signs between the station area and the stadium to keep you interested. The area between the station and the stadium is nothing more than a broad walkway with a few street vendors along the way. There isn’t much to see, but if you are hungry, it’s best to buy something there. Once you reach the stadium entrance, everything becomes more expensive.

Once I got to the gate, I took a little time to enjoy the atmosphere outside. There were various street vendors selling beer and food. They even had a tent for people to transfer any liquids they had into free cups. Due to safety concerns, plastic bottles and cans are not allowed into the stadium. They do check your bag to ensure you don’t bring anything dangerous into the stadium. When I arrived, they even had a small jazz band playing music, and all of the band members were wearing Reds shirts. I doubt they could afford jerseys for a short show like that. The next thing to do was look for the merchandise. At the time I went, they had a large portable with various goods at discount prices. Due to the time in the season, they were trying to sell their 2010 merchandise before the end of the season so many things were 40-50% off. If you time your visit right, you can get some good things.

After that, I finally decided to head in. The game was a Sunday afternoon game, and they were playing Kyoto Sanga, one of the lowest ranked teams in J1. Kyoto Sanga was facing relegation into the J2 league as they were in the bottom 3. It was a must win for Kyoto. The entire stadium was obviously painted red with everyone wearing red jerseys. Even in the upper deck, it was hard to find someone who wasn’t wearing red. For the day, the only colour that was not allowed was purple, the colour of Kyoto. In fact, because it was Saitama Stadium, the supporter’s section was extremely small. They took up just one section of the entire stadium. If it was a bigger team, such as FC Tokyo, or Gamba Osaka, they would get at least 2, maybe 3, but not much more. The last game I saw was in Ajinomoto Stadium, and the reds took up the entire section behind the net, and even a little more towards the sides. It was almost impossible to see the Kyoto supporters in Saitama Stadium, but they were there, and they did their best to support their team.

The game itself was relatively predictable. With the mid ranked Urawa Reds playing the low ranked Kyoto Sanga, one could almost predict the outcome of this game before it even started. From the kick off, the Reds controlled the ball and kept it moving. They had more chances to score, but Kyoto kept capitalizing on turnovers for short chances. It was a tug of war between the two teams, and while the Reds were winning on the field they just couldn’t get the ball in the goal. At the 25 minute mark, the Reds finally converted and scored their first goal. Needless to say, the entire crowd jumped to their feet shouting in joy. I could barely hear the crowd as I was screaming way too loud to hear anything else. In fact, I screamed so loud, I almost lost my voice! High fives were exchanged between me and my friends, and I even got those around us, pretty much only behind us as those in front didn’t turn around, to also give high fives. Everyone was happy, but the game was far from over. By the second half, the game seemed to have changed. Urawa wasn’t playing as hard as before, and the opportunities didn’t materialize as much as it should have. For the team, they seemed to have stopped trying to score, and played for a 0-1 win. It was a tense second half, and by the end of regulation time, it was announced that they were adding 5 minutes of extra time. For a game that had minimal stoppage, 5 minutes was extremely strange. I thought that 2 minutes would be the most, but 5 minutes was unimaginable. I was talking to my friend about how the refs probably wanted to give Kyoto a chance to tie, but just as I was saying that, the Reds scored for a second time leading to a second round of cheers. By the time everyone had settled down to continue watching the game, the refs blew their whistles and the game was over.

While the game was over, the crowd wasn’t ready to go home yet. In the upper deck, a lot of people were heading out, and people were trickling out of the lower bowl. For those in the supporters section, not a soul had left. They were still singing and cheering and the action wouldn’t stop until all of the Urawa Reds players came out and saluted them. All of the players did their ceremonial salute to the stadium. As in Ajinomoto, the team came out, bowed, and raised their arms to the air as the crowd chanted in unison. It’s difficult to describe the chant, other than it was a long “oh”. You do have to visit the stadium itself to understand it.

Saitama Stadium is one of the only, if not the only, stadium in Japan that is dedicated to only football. The seats are very close to the pitch and all the seats are good. While I was in the upper deck, because I am a casual fan, it’s nearly impossible to get into the lower bowl for a reds game, unless you know someone. It was a lot of fun and I highly recommend going if you can. The only sad part was the fact that there are no beer girls in Saitama Stadium. Unlike Ajinomoto, they don’t make a lot of money on beer as everyone watches the game. Why drink when you should drink after the game. Needless to say, I had a great time and I’ll definitely go again if I get the opportunity. I’m still an FC Tokyo fan as I started out watching them. My second team will now be the Reds.

Urawa Reds Information:

Official Homepage (Japanese): http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/index.html
Official Homepage (English): http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/index_en.html

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urawa_Red_Diamonds

Access Information: http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/english/saitama.html

Saitama Stadium Official Site (Japanese): http://www.stadium2002.com/
Saitama Stadium Official Site (English): http://www.stadium2002.com/en/index.php

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。

Outlet Malls of Tokyo November 16, 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 “Outlet Malls of Tokyo” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-pk

Shopping is a major attraction of Tokyo, and the Outlet Malls are no exception.  While there is a lot of information out there on the different outlet malls, the information isn’t very detailed, and it’s difficult to understand the history of outlet shopping in Tokyo.  In Japan, shopping in large shopping malls, much less outlet malls, is a new concept.  Based on my short research, the first outlet mall is Outlet Mall RiSM located in Saitama.  This was opened in 1993.  It’s a fairly small outlet mall, from what others have said, and from their website, caters mostly to Japanese brands.  It isn’t too far from central Tokyo, but probably not worth a trip for the average person.  There are several other “independent” outlet malls with locations in Machida (western Tokyo) one on Chiba which is  east of Tokyo, and a new one that opened in Odaiba’s Venus Fort in December, 2009.  Do note that the Odaiba outlet mall is small but worth a short visit if you are in the area.

In general, there are only two companies that have outlet malls that are worth visiting.  Mitsui Outlet Parks are the largest chain of outlet malls in Japan.  They have 10 locations throughout Japan and 4 within the Tokyo area.  Depending on where you are staying or living, each one is convenient.  For those living on the east side of Tokyo, or in Chiba, the Makuhari branch is the best.  It is located next to Makuhari Messe and a lot of their business is from people visiting the convention centre and doing a little shopping at the same time.  This outlet mall is pretty good overall.  While it isn’t huge, nor is it the best, for those looking to go somewhere close by, and for only half a day, this is a good location.  Due to its relative close proximity to Tokyo, it can be very busy at times.  The other close mall would be the Tama Minami Osawa branch, located in Tama.  This one is best for those living on the west side of Tokyo.  From what I have heard, it isn’t that great, but very convenient and close enough to Tokyo to enjoy.  The last convenient branch would be the Yokohama Bayside.  This isn’t convenient for anyone in Tokyo, but for those in Yokohama, it’s a wonderful place to visit.  It’s large with many shops to see.  Unfortunately, it’s far from the station, about a 5-10 minute walk, and there is nothing else to do after you have finished.  It can take nearly one full day if you are travelling from Tokyo.  For those living in Saitama, or north western Tokyo, a trip to Iruma is also an option, but not convenient unless you have a car.  This is one of Mitsui’s largest outlet malls, and the newest one in the Tokyo region.  Unfortunately, it’s too far from the station making it tough for a regular tourist to visit.

Personally, and by many accounts on the internet, Gotemba Premium Outlets is the best outlet mall near Tokyo.  It is locate about 1.5 hours west of Tokyo and requires a bus to get there.  It’s located near the foot of Mt. Fuji creating a very picturesque scene for shopping.  Do note that Mt. Fuji is often obscured by clouds, and I have never really seen it when I have been to Gotemba.  Then again, I have been very unlucky and only visited Gotemba when it was raining.  This mall is huge, to say the least.  It can take several hours to get through all of the shops, but it can be worth it.  The food may be expensive, but thankfully, there are several places for children to have fun, including a small amusement park.  Do beware of the crowds on the weekend as it’s very popular.  Compared to the Mitsui outlet malls, Chelsea is more upscale with more foreign brands due to its foreign ownership.

For those looking for a cheap shopping experience near Tokyo, you can’t really go wrong with the outlet malls.  The only down sides are that they tend to be farther away from central Tokyo.  They also can’t compete well with the large sales that happen every few months at the department stores.  The amount you save on travel expenses may be more than enough to say home.  However, it’s still a great experience to see the other areas of Tokyo that few people experience.  If you are looking for a basic shopping mall, there are a few in eastern Tokyo, such as Lalaport Toyosu and Olinas Mall in Kinshicho.

Information:

Wikipedia index of Outlet Malls in Japan (Japanese):  http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:日本のアウトレットモール
Wikipedia on Mitsui Outlet Malls (Japanese):  http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/三井アウトレットパーク
Premium Outlets (English):  http://www.premiumoutlets.co.jp/en/
Premium Outlets (Japanese):  http://www.premiumoutlets.co.jp/
Gotemba Premium Outlets (English):  http://www.premiumoutlets.co.jp/en/gotemba/
Gotemba Premium Outlets (Japanese):  http://www.premiumoutlets.co.jp/gotemba/
Mitsui Outlet Park (English):  http://www.31op.com/english/index.html
Mitsui Outlet Park (Japanese):  http://www.31op.com/english/
Venus Fort (Japanese, but logos of the outlet shops):  http://www.venusfort.co.jp/index.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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