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1 Year Later March 6, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “1 Year Later” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Nm

Almost 1 year has passed since the earth moved, literally.  I feel like a broken record as I mention the huge earthquake that occurred off the coast of Miyagi on March 11, 2011.  The tremor was felt almost all over Japan and the tsunami that followed cut a swath of destruction from Chiba to Aomori.  To give you an idea of how far that is, in 2007, I rode my motorcycle from Tokyo to a location near the northern point of Aomori.  It took me over 12 hours of riding on mostly highways at around 100km/h.  Of course I had breaks but the distance was roughly 700km or so.  It is almost unbelievable to imagine so much land was washed away due to the tsunami.  The following days after the earthquake was a tense one as people realized just how bad the earthquake had been and the realization of how many lives were lost and the time it would take to rebuild.

My own personal ordeal was somewhat well documented on this blog and I had made updates to travellers when asked about Japan.  It took roughly 6 months for Tokyo to return to complete normalcy.  For the first two or three months Tokyo was a very different city.  With infrastructure being damaged in an area just east of Tokyo, several roads, water mains, and electrical lines were cut.  It didn’t take long to fix everything and the speed at which things were repaired was amazing.  After the earthquake and over the summer, Japan had to institute energy saving measures which made the Tokyo a very dark place, relatively speaking.  Tokyo is usually a bright and vibrant city but from spring till summer, the city was very sombre.  It didn’t take long for people to return to their normal routines and people seemed to quickly forget about the people in Tohoku.  Similar to the events of 9-11 in America, after a week or so, the public starts to turn its attention to regular non-essential things.  In Japan, you can easily see news programs repeating information about the troubles and hardships the people in the eastern Tohoku region are experiencing.  It is a terrible situation for them that will last years if not decades.  In the past year most of the east coast has been cleaned up and only sorted debris remains in some places.  Recently the final evacuation centre closed and most of the people displaced due to their homes being washed away have been placed in various temporary homes.

In the past year I have also come to envy and silently commend a lot of people whom I have met in the past year or so.  A lot of the people whom I have met have made trips up to the Tohoku region.  I have seen one person make a trip almost every month.  It is amazing to see how many people from Tokyo made a trip up to Tohoku in the months following the earthquake.  I would see pictures on Facebook that would highlight their personal trips up to Tohoku and the challenges they had.  Some drove, some took trains, and many took buses.  The main clean-up took roughly 6 months, if the accounts from my friends are any indication.  There are still mountains of garbage in the destroyed towns that need to be removed and disposed of but they are at least sorted and awaiting incineration, burial, or recycling.  It is an unfortunate situation to see in the news recently that many cities and people all over Japan are against the disposal of the waste.  While most of it is safe with no radiation, NIMBYism has been rampant and it has been difficult for municipal officials in other regions to convince their residents that the waste is safe.  I have even heard of pleas from a few mayors from the tsunami ravaged areas pleading for people to understand and help out so that their cities can begin the process of rebuilding.  Without the ability to remove the waste, the area cannot rebuild.

With the spring approaching in Japan, it is hard to imagine how Tohoku can move on.  There are various documentaries and news stories starting to be shown on local TV to remind people of the problems that are still affecting the people on the coast however I fear that the general public is now turning their focus on nuclear energy and the problems in Fukushima.  I remember passing by an Occupy Kasumigaseki camp in Tokyo in early January.  Kasumigaseki is the neighbourhood where the Japanese national government is located.  It was a very small camp with less than 20 people, by my crude estimate.  Most of them wanted to remove nuclear energy from Japan.  There have been various demonstrations over the past year against nuclear power and they continue to be present.  There are a lot of open meetings for various government officials at all levels as well as for TEPCO.  Most of these meetings have been fairly boring but the news programs are sure to show the outbursts of residents at each of the meetings.  While I can’t understand everything that is being said, many are angry at the inability to go home, the thought of burning trash with a potential to have a trace of radioactive material on it, or the idea of restarting nuclear reactors in Japan.  It seems as if nuclear energy is dead in Japan and only time will tell if this is true, but for the people in Tohoku, it is a shame that the general public is no longer trying to help them rebuild. (Note:  This is just a perception that I have from watching various media.  I doubt people don’t want to help rebuild Tohoku, but their focus is more on the nuclear issues that the future of the devastated towns.)

Personally, I am also a victim of forgetting.  I have been busy with various work activities and I haven’t been able to sit back long enough to think about the people in Tohoku.  It is an unfathomable job to rebuild the entire area if they even want to.  I really hope things get back to normal for everyone.  I have the luxury to enjoy living in Tokyo where things are virtually back to normal.  Aside from a few reports in the news reminding people about the dangers of a potential future earthquake and meeting up with friends where we sometimes bring up the earthquake again, there are few points where I even think about the earthquake last year.  It is a shame that I haven’t helped Tohoku enough and I do regret not doing my part.  That is the problem of living a relatively busy life.  I hope I won’t be too busy to take a minute out of my supposedly busy life to reflect and pray (to whatever god/spirit is out there) for the people of Tohoku.  I hope you will also do the same this Sunday.

1 Year Later is part of a series of posts following the earthquake in Japan.  Please continue reading the following posts in this series:

2012 Tokyo Auto Salon January 24, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2012 Tokyo Auto Salon” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-M4

Last week I had written about going to the Tokyo Motor Show at the end of 2011.  In January 2012, a second motor show of the season called the Tokyo Auto Salon is held.  This is a very different car show compared to the Tokyo Motor Show.  The Tokyo Motor Show is a typical auto show that focuses on new cars and concepts from the major car manufacturers.  The Tokyo Auto Salon is a tuner car show that is similar to the SEMA show.  For those who are unfamiliar with the auto industry, a tuner car is any car that has been modified from its original form.  This can be anything from upgrading engine parts, changing the paint or any other part of the car.  It can be very subtle to very crazy.  The Tokyo Auto Salon is the best way to see all of the potential craziness people can do to their own cars.

The first thing to understand about visiting the Tokyo Auto Salon is to know where to go.  The Tokyo Auto Salon is held in Makuhari Messe in Makuhari, Chiba.  It is one of the most famous convention centres in Tokyo with concerts and various trade shows being held at all times of the year.  Due to the layout and cheap rent relative to Tokyo Big Sight makes this a very attractive location for trade show organizers.  The Tokyo Auto Salon is a large show that encompasses the main 8 halls as well as a small exhibition outside.  While they don’t make use of the entire facility, they made use of a huge space nonetheless.  Compared to the Tokyo Motor Show, it felt somewhat smaller, yet more tiring.  The show itself has a lot more to see and it is all crammed into a somewhat smaller space than the Tokyo Motor Show.  There are relatively less people at the Tokyo Auto Salon but with the area being more cramped makes getting around the show floor difficult.  When visiting the Tokyo Auto Salon, like the Tokyo Motor Show, I highly recommend going early and being as patient as possible.

As I mentioned, the Tokyo Auto Salon is very different to the Tokyo Motor Show.  It focuses on tuner cars.  The entire Auto Salon in 2012 was loosely divided into sections.  There were the custom car areas, the manufacturer custom car division, accessories, sound systems, paint, and custom car displays.  While there are many sub-sections in each area, they generally kept close to their theme.  All of the major Japanese aftermarket tuners were at this show.        Many of the well-known Japanese aftermarket companies such as VeilSide, Tommy Kaira, and HKS were present at the show.  Wheel and tire manufacturers such as Bridgestone, Yokohama, BBS, and Rays were also present.  You could easily spend hours just visiting these booths to see what new and innovative products they had.  Each company had their own theme.  HKS was very much performance based while VeilSide was all about looks.  The major Japanese manufacturers had their own booths as well showcasing the products of STi, GD, Nissmo and others.  These names may not seem very familiar but companies like STi stand for Subaru Tecnica International.  They are subsidiaries set up by their parent companies to be somewhat independent but loyal to their parent company.  In fact, most of the companies were fairly loyal to one or two manufacturers.  RE Amemiya is a well-known tuner company that is known for their ability to tune Mazda RX-7s and RX-8s.  It provided a lot of variety into the designs of each car that can be both a blessing and a curse.

The other aspect of the show is to showcase individual cars.  At the Tokyo Auto Salon, some of the aftermarket companies brought cars to be judged.  Other individuals from around Japan also brought their cars to be put on display.  Most of the cars on display in the general area were street legal.  By far the most memorable was one by NATS (Nihon Auto College).  It is a school that teaches the students how to fix and modify cars.  They modified a Lexus SC430 (SoarerZ40 in Japan) to be a modern take on the original DeLorean from the “Back to the Future” movies.  It was a work of art and craftsmanship that was nearly unmatched in the entire show.  There were other great examples of their work that was present in the auto show but that one still sticks out in my mind.  NATS is a great college that probably doesn’t get much attention overseas.  It is a very creative group of students and teachers working together like a master and their apprentices.  In fact, I would say that most of the companies at the show acted in a very similar way.  From my very limited knowledge of the aftermarket industry, a lot of it is art with a healthy dose of mechanics.  With enough time and money, you could create anything you wanted but you still need the ideas to make something good.

One other aspect of the show is the women.  No auto show would be complete without having beautiful women posing in front of the expensive cars.  The Tokyo Motor Show was the same yet very different.  The women at the Tokyo Motor Show had to either fit in with the theme of the manufacturer.  Many times you would see women in the strangest costumes just to fit the theme.  At the Tokyo Auto Salon, that seemed to be less apparent.  Most of the women at the show were there to get as many people to their booths.  You could tell which booth had a woman modeling by the crowds surrounding them.  If there was a large crowd, it was highly likely that there was a woman there.  It was a bit sad as the most beautiful women, rather sexy looking, were getting the most attention.  The women who dressed in a regular way or those who didn’t go the extra mile to look beautiful or sexy didn’t get large crowds of men with cameras in front of them.  It is an unfortunate part of life that men usually think predictably.  Each booth that had girls had a slightly different taste but in general.  When you see a few booths, you have basically seen all of the girls as they all have girls that are differentiated by the colour of their clothes and a little difference in taste or style but generally it is similar and gets numbing after a while.

There are several final thoughts I have about the show itself.  My first thought is that it was cramp and crowded the entire time.  At the Tokyo Motor Show, I had a lot more energy to see the entire show whereas at the Tokyo Auto Salon, after an hour or so I was exhausted.  I would also say that the types of people that went to the show were different.  The Tokyo Motor Show is geared towards the average person.  I saw more families at the Motor Show compared to the Auto Salon.  I also saw more young people and “gangsters” at the Auto Salon.  While I would not say that they are gangsters, some of them did fit the bill in terms of style.  There were also more camera geeks who would do anything to push their way forward to get dozens of photos of the same girl.  It was annoying and difficult to manage.  For those who love fixing cars and seeing tuners, I highly recommend visiting the Tokyo Auto Salon.  In fact, you might enjoy it a lot more.  Unfortunately, since it is a tuner crowd, expect to see a plethora of Nissan GT-Rs, Toyota Prius’, and Mazda RX7s.  It is an unfortunate reality that domestic cars will get more attention as it is cheaper to buy a domestic car than an imported car and easier to get parts for it.  Either way, there are some great cars to see and if I had the time and patience, I would go for a second day as well.

2012 Tokyo Auto Salon is part of a series of posts about various car and bike shows in Tokyo.  To read more about the other car and bike shows, please follow the links below:

Information:

Tokyo Auto Salon:  http://www.tokyoautosalon.jp/

NATS (Blog with Tokyo Auto Salon information):  http://www.nats.ac.jp/pc/as/ebizo/index.php?day=20120114

2011 Tokyo Motor Show January 17, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Plesae venture on over there to read “2011 Tokyo Motor Show” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-LT

In December of 2011, I had the luxury to head to the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show.  It is a regular pilgrimage for me to go and see this event.  The Tokyo Motor Show has been held every second year since 2005.  Prior to 2005, it was held every year, however one year was dedicated to passenger vehicles and the next was dedicated to commercial vehicles.  Since 2005, they combined both shows into one large event.  The last Tokyo Motor Show was in 2009 and it was at the height of the financial crisis that started in 2008.  While a lot of the pain of the financial crisis had subsided a lot, most of the planning for the 2009 show had to occur in the beginning of the 2009 and a lot of manufacturers pulled out of the show citing financial problems and a declining relevance of the Tokyo show itself.  The 2011 show had a very different feeling and it is debatable whether things got better or worse.

The 2011 Tokyo Motor Show had moved from its recent traditional home of Makuhari Messe in Chiba to Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba.  It was a bit of a shock for me to hear that, but at the same time I was very happy to hear it.  I don’t normally enjoy heading out to Makuhari Messe as it feels very far away.  Odaiba is still within Tokyo and there is a lot to do in the area.  Makuhari is a somewhat isolated area that is famous for the convention hall, baseball stadium, and outlet mall but not much else.  In 2005, the largest show I attended, it occupied all of the main halls in Makuhari Messe.  This created over 70,000 square metres of exhibition space.  In 2009, they only occupied the main halls with over 54,000 square metres of space.  It was a very noticeable difference that year.  For 2011, they used all of Tokyo Big Sight for roughly 80,000 square metres of exhibition space.  I couldn’t completely verify the numbers for Tokyo Big Sight but I thought it was a lot smaller than that.  It is a large convention hall regardless and it still took me nearly a full day to see everything.

The theme of the 2011 Motor Show was “Mobility can change the world”.  On the Tokyo Motor Show website, they say the motto shows how technology developed in cars and other vehicles can help change the world for the better.  Whereas the typical internal combustion engine has been derided as a harmful invention for the environment, the organizers of the show wanted visitors to understand how the various manufacturers were trying to change people’s perceptions.  In 2009, the motto was “Fun Driving for Us, Eco Driving for Earth”.  This is a bit more fitting as they are explicitly talking about the new green technology that most of the manufacturers were trying to promote.  While the 2011 show did have a heavy “green” theme to it, it also had a very strong theme that things will change in the future.  All of the manufacturers in attendance brought the standard set of concept vehicles, new vehicles, and displays of technology.  Upon reflecting on the exhibits I visited, there did appear to be a bit more emphasis on technology at this show compared to past shows, but it could also be a bit of a bias on my part after researching this post and reflecting on what I saw.
The 2011 show was most notable for its return to Tokyo, as well as the return of a few foreign manufacturers.  In 2009, a lot of the manufacturers pulled out leaving the show nearly crippled.  This time, enough had returned to create a better balance, but on the whole most of the exhibits were Japan based manufacturers.  In fact, the Toyota group took up an entire hall on their own displaying the various products from Daihatsu, Lexus, and of course Toyota.  All of the manufacturers brought various new cars as well as concepts however the area seemed to be more spacious.  I was lucky enough to attend the show on a weekday, but it was still as busy as ever and very hard to get around.  It wasn’t very enjoyable trying to fight with people trying to take photos but that is the life of those who can’t go to the show on press days.

Comparing this show to the past shows I attended, I would say that things are similar, yet different.  I was happy that the show was back in Tokyo, rather than still being in Chiba.  I was also happy that I could go on a weekday and see the various new cars.  Unfortunately, there weren’t many world premier cars at the show.  The relevance of the Tokyo Motor Show is decreasing each year and I fear that the ability to see cars for the first time in person before most of the world will be rarer and rarer.  With China and India vying for greater importance in the automotive world, Japan will be nothing more than an afterthought as most manufacturers, Japanese included, vie for increasing markets in developing countries.  Let’s hope those in Japan can continue to get a top notch motor show for the foreseeable future.

2011 Tokyo Motor Show is part of a series of posts about various car and bike shows in Tokyo.  To read more about the other car and bike shows, please follow the links below:

Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido June 7, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-EX

 

Japan is a small country that happens to be very long.  From end to end, Japan is well over 1000km long.  It is larger than Germany in terms of land mass and has a very diverse ecosystem.  You have the cold snowy north and the sub-tropical south.  It is a common misconception that Japan is a small country.  I would also argue that many people feel that any country that is outside of their own region is small, especially for Americans and Canadians.  It is important to know that Japan, while small overall, is actually very long which helps create the illusion that it is small.

Japan is divided into 8 main regions with a few sub-regions.  In the north is Hokkaido.  I have written a lot about Sapporo and the various festivals there.  It is a winter wonderland and also a great summer getaway.  In the winter, people head up there for skiing and to enjoy the delicious seafood.  In the summer, the seafood is still around but people go to escape the heat and humidity of the south.  Compared to other regions in Japan, Hokkaido is a relatively stable and sparsely populated region.  It isn’t the “wild west” but it isn’t like Tokyo either.  Getting from point A to point B in Hokkaido can be very difficult due to the sheer distances between cities and towns and the lack of trains can make it a difficult task.  Renting a car is definitely recommended if you want to see the local areas such as Shiretoko but it isn’t a necessity.  The bus network between cities is pretty good and you can get from Sapporo to most cities in Hokkaido by bus.  Planes are not so popular and trains are good for the major cities.  Unfortunately the trains can take a long time to get from place to place but keeping on the main belt from Asahikawa to Sapporo, then down to Hakodate via either Chitose or Niseko is relatively easy.  Be prepared for long travel times and you will have a good time.

Tohoku is the northern section of Honshu, the main island of Japan.  The main island forms an ‘L’ shape and Tohoku is at the top of the ‘L’.  It is a region that is very similar to Hokkaido yet also very temperate in nature.  The most common starting point is Sendai.  Including Sendai, all points north are considered Tohoku.  Points below Sendai are generally Tohoku as well but places such as part of Fukushima can be considered part of the Kanto plains.  Honshu itself is a very mountainous area with mountains bisecting the entire island into the Pacific and Sea of Japan side.  This creates a very distinct feel in each city depending on which coast you are on.  On the Pacific, the winters can be cold but there isn’t a lot of snow.  The Sea of Japan side which includes Akita and Yamagata receive a lot of snow in the winter.  In the summer, this area is more pleasant but the southern regions can be pretty hot and humid.  It is literally a transition between Hokkaido and the temperate south.  There are many local delicacies such as the Aomori apples and the beef tongue of Sendai.  It isn’t a popular place for tourists as there aren’t many things to see and do compared to other regions.  Hokkaido is well known for seafood and snow, but Tohoku doesn’t have a major drawing point for tourists.

Kanto is the centre of Japan.  It is a small section of Japan that includes Tokyo and located at the bend of the ‘L’ of Honshu.  It is where almost everyone goes when they visit Japan and it is a pretty small area.  The entire Kanto region can be considered as Greater Tokyo as many people do commute from the edges of Kanto to get into Tokyo.  Some would argue that there are major cities and industries as well such as Yokohama but the shear size of Tokyo makes Yokohama feel like a twin city similar to the twin cities in Minnesota.  Of course this is not the same however the idea that both cities can be considered the same city, rather twin cities, is true.  There isn’t really much to say or add to this region as most people know about the Kanto region already.  It is the heart of Japan.  Most companies and most people live in this area.  There are not a lot of historical places to visit anymore but places such as Nikko, Kamakura, and Hakone are excellent places with their own unique feel.

Chubu is a very complex region.  There are several sub-regions to Chubu due to its geography.  It is a region that is bound by Mt. Fuji, bordering the north-western area of Kanto and extending west to Kyoto.  It is also one of the most “visited” regions in Japan yet most people never stop to enjoy the region.  I am also a victim of just passing through the region more times than not.  Most people will go up to Mt. Fuji or pass through on their way to Kyoto.  The few people who do go to the Chubu region will usually head off to Niigata and Nagano or do a little business in Nagoya.  Due to the geography of the area is further subdivided into 3 regions.  The lesser known is the Koshinetsu region that encompasses Nagano, Niigata, and Yamanashi.  This area is well known for its snow and excellent onsen however the use of the name Koshinetsu is not popular.  They are more commonly known by their own respective prefectures.  The Hokuriku region is an area on the Sea of Japan side that is bordered by Niigata and Kyoto.  It is considered a northern path to reach Kansai but it is often overlooked by people.  It is still a somewhat remote area that is easily accessible by plane.  Trains do travel to the region but the new Hokuriku Shinkansen isn’t expected to be finished for a long time.  The main sections allowing access from Tokyo to the heart of Hokuriku will be complete in 2014 but the final section to Osaka has yet to be finalized.  As it stands, this area is often overlooked due to its remoteness.  The Tokai region is the most famous region as it is the main route for the Tokaido Shinkansen that links Tokyo to Osaka.  Shizuoka is one of the biggest prefectures in Japan yet very few people will visit it.  The most famous area is Nagoya where you can enjoy many delicacies.  Nagoya is not a particularly interesting for those visiting other cities but it is famous for its castle, local deep fried delicacies, chicken wings, and Toyota.  Toyota has their main factories located just outside Nagoya with a large museum as well.  Nagoya is also one of the most popular cities for people wishing to see races at the nearby Suzuka Circuit, but the circuit is located in Kansai, not Chubu.

Note:  Due to the amount of information available, this is only part 1 of 2.  Part 2 will be posted next week.

Regions of Japan Information:

Wikipedia:
Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Hokkaido:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokkaid%C5%8D_Prefecture
Tohoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dhoku_region
Kanto:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kant%C5%8D_region
Chubu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABbu_region
Hokuriku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokuriku_region
Koshinetsu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C5%8Dshin%27etsu_region
Tokai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dkai_region

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1001.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。

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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