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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome Information:

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

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



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.


Tokyo (Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town) May 11, 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 (Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mT

Ueno is one of the biggest hubs in the east side of Tokyo.  It is known as a transportation hub, home of various museums, Ueno Park, and Ameyokocho.  I have mentioned in previous posts that Tokyo’s major centres are all very similar to each other.  There is very little variance aside from the size.  Ueno is not an exception, but it is still unique in its own right.  The area doesn’t have the same feel as Shinjuku or Ikebukuro.  It is smaller than Shibuya, yet retains the character of a major centre.  The cherry blossom season is probably the best time to visit Ueno, but a visit at any other time is also recommended.

Looking north-east from Ueno station will take you to a fairly unknown area.  It was Bike Town.  Bike Town was an area along the highway, north of the station.  It was hard to find at first, but once you were there, you were greeted with a bike nut’s dream.  The area was dominated by a company called “Corin”.  This company ran several shops that dominated the entire area.  Each shop was slightly different.  One would specialize in Harley Davidson parts, another in old two-stroke racer parts.  Some had scooter parts, but most sold clothes that looked similar to each other.  All of the clothes they sold were either small brands, or their own personal brand.  The quality was good, and everything was fairly unique.  Unfortunately, as of 2008, reported by a blog post, the company has gone out of business.  This is not very surprising.  The entire area never looked like it could support that many shops selling the same items.  It would appear that they were the victims of trying to do too much in such a small area.  In the past, this area was very busy with people selling parts, but in today’s age, it’s not easy as most people can buy parts online.  Tokyo city itself is not a good place to have a full sized motorcycle, as Corin tended to specialize in.  The area has been transformed from being the bike mecca of Tokyo, to nearly being a ghost town.

While the major retailer of the area, Corin, has left, there are still various companies still doing business.  Along the main street, under the highway, there are still several shops that have survived the changing times.  There are a few bike shops selling new and used motorcycles, and there is the Honda Parts shop.  While the Honda Parts shop has “Honda” in its name, and a Honda logo, they are not exclusive to Honda.  They do sell a variety of parts that will fit with most bikes.    There is also “UPC Ride On”, which is mainly an Arai helmet seller, but they do have other gear for sale.  This shop is a personal favourite of mine, and they have various events with a few famous Japanese riders visiting the shop, or signing helmets for them to sell/display.  As with Corin, some of these shops have more than one branch along the main street.  Be sure to check each one as they don’t always carry the same parts, let alone the same goods.  Unfortunately, like Corin, they are starting to carry the same things in each branch, which could be a sign that things are getting worse.

If you are interested in buying a motorcycle, do not try to buy one in this area.  It might seem like a good area as it is called “Bike Town” for a reason.  Unfortunately, it’s mostly a parts and gear town.  For those looking to buy a motorcycle, you are better off visiting one of the major dealers.  The small dealers here do have nice motorcycles, but I myself find it a little scary to buy from them.  They don’t always seem friendly, and you may get a lemon.  I have seen nice bikes in a couple of shops, but one of the shops had nothing but very old bikes just collecting dust.  Besides the seedy bike sellers, if who love motorcycles, this area is still worth a quick visit.  You can still get cheaper helmets and gear from the remaining shops.  Unfortunately, due to the ease of online shopping, I wouldn’t be surprised if many more of these shops closed down.  You can easily buy the same parts for the same, if not cheaper price online.  I would recommend visiting this area soon as I assume that more of the shops might go out of business in the next few years.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a large department store buy several of the buildings and build a new department store in the area.  Do beware that buying a motorcycle from a small shop in this area can be dangerous.  You are better off going to a big shop that’s outside the city than one of the seedy small ones here.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Ueno Park and Ueno – Ameyokocho.

Ueno Information:

UPC Ride On (Japanese Only):  http://www.upc.ne.jp/
Corin Information (Blog):  http://www.persimmonous.jp/?p=377
Wikitravel (Ueno):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Ueno
Wikipedia (Ueno):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ueno,_Tokyo


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)


Tokyo (Shibuya) [Part III – The Path Less Ventured] November 24, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Shibuya) [Part III – The Path Less Ventured]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-fN

For people who want a more traditional experience, especially shopping, staying at the station, or heading north is the best way to go.  The Tokyu department store is located above and below Shibuya station.  Heading north from Shibuya crossing will lead you to Seibu and Marui department stores.  All of these shops provide a typical Japanese department store experience.  You can find them in every major centre of Tokyo, and almost every major city in Japan.  However, be sure to explore all of the side streets.  I have visited Shibuya countless times and every corner, every back street, changes constantly.  Many of the old shops have left the northern areas, in favour of more traditional fashion boutiques.  However, if you walk around enough, you’re sure to find a lot of nice shops that even residents who have lived their whole lives have never even found.

If you are feeling more adventurous, or you just have too much time on your hands, the areas to the south and east provide a very different feel for Shibuya compared to the north and west areas.  Directly to the east, people tend to associate it with Omotesando.  To the north east, it’s more Harajuku.  To the south, it feels more like Ebisu.  Omotesando is an upscale area that is very akin to Ginza.  The main difference is the affluence.  While Ginza is for people to be seen, and you’ll see a large variety of classes, Omotesando tends to be one class only, rich.  Harajuku was talked a lot by Gwen Stefani for its fashion and need to break away from the normal culture.  The north east corner of Shibuya borders Harajuku, and hence has more in common with that style of fashion.  It is also a location of an infamous park where homeless people tend to live, and rows of yakitori shops similar to the small shops in Shinjuku.  Again, like in Shinjku, I would not recommend them as they tend to be a little expensive, and they may not be so friendly to foreigners.  It’s better to go to Shinjuku.  The south region will see things be more food oriented.  Ebisu tends to have more food shops than anything.  You can also see some interesting fashion outlets, but people tend not to shop here.  There are more apartments than shops, but if you want to go for a nice walk, this area is a nice area.

All in all, Shibuya is a place to visit.  It’s noisy, bustling 24 hours a day, and willing to show you new insights into Japan.  Is it a true picture of Japan?  No.  Will you be amazed by the crazy lights, strange people, and wonderful shopping?  Yes.  Make sure you visit during the day and night.  In the day, do your shopping in the north.  At night, return to Centre Gai and take a stroll around the Love Hotel Hill.  Don’t be surprised when you pass expensive cars with blacked out windows parked in front of a sex toy shop

This is the end of a 3 part series on Shibuya.  To read more on Shibuya, please continue reading Part I and Part II.

Shibuya Information:



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