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Gotemba April 3, 2012

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Gotemba” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-gotemba

Gotemba is a small city located at the foot of Mt. Fuji.  It is surrounded by the towns of Susono and Oyama but most people will consider that entire area to be Gotemba for simplicity.  Gotemba itself is located on the south-east corner of Mt. Fuji on the east side of Shizuoka and at the border of Kanagawa.  It is literally at the border between the Kanto and Chubu regions of Japan.  While Shizuoka is technically within the Chubu region, most consider everything to the east of Mt. Fuji to be part of Kanto and due to the geography, Gotemba falls on the east side of Mt. Fuji.  Gotemba itself has only one major attraction aside from Mt. Fuji, and that’s a large outlet shopping mall.  In the surrounding areas, to the north of Gotemba is the town of Oyama which is famous for Fuji Speedway.  Both of these are the only famous destinations for any travellers to the region, although there are a lot of natural places to visit.

The most famous and obvious attraction in Gotemba has to be Mt. Fuji.  Gotemba is the location for the entrance to the Gotemba hiking trail.  This is probably only for the real adventurists as it is considered the most difficult way to hike up Mt. Fuji as it is the longest trail.  Due to the proximity of Gotemba to Mt. Fuji, you can usually see Mt. Fuji on most clear days.  Mt. Fuji is a very fickle mountain.  I have heard many people complain about the problems of heading out to the foot of Mt. Fuji only to be greeted by clouds instead of the majestic mountain.  Due to its isolation from other mountain ranges and its height Mt. Fuji is often obscured by clouds.  In order to see Mt. Fuji, you need to go there on a perfectly clear day.  If there are any clouds in the sky, it is highly likely that they will slam into Mt. Fuji and hang out for a while leading to a huge disappointment.  Gotemba is one of the few places you can visit and not feel too bad if Mt. Fuji is obscured.  Most people visit Hakone, and I actually recommend visiting Hakone over Gotemba, but it can be harder to see Mt. Fuji as Hakone is located in the nearby mountains which can make seeing Mt. Fuji a little harder.  Kawaguchiko is the other famous place to see Mt. Fuji but aside from FujiQ Highlands, an amusement park, there is nothing to do there.  Gotemba can be better but only if you enjoy shopping.

Currently, Gotemba is well known for its shopping opportunities.  If you tell anyone in Tokyo that you are going to visit Gotemba, almost everyone will ask if you will be going there to go shopping.  The outlet mall in Gotemba is called Premium Outlets and it is an American brand of outlet malls run by the Simon Property Group.  In Japan, they set up a joint venture with Mitsubishi Estate who operates the Premium Outlet Mall chain in Japan.  The Gotemba branch is the flagship mall in Japan and well known among people in Tokyo.  It is a destination for people with long lines to get into the mall on weekends and holidays.  The easiest way into the mall is to purchase a ticket on one of the special direct buses.  These buses run from Shinjuku and Tokyo Station.  They leave in the morning and return by dinner.  All you have to do is show up at the station, board the bus and then board the same bus to return back to Tokyo.  Tickets for the weekend do sell out quickly so it is best to reserve seats ahead of time.  For those who can’t get tickets, you can still easily take a regular highway bus.  A highway bus is a long distance bus that uses highways to get from A to B, but on the way to Gotemba there are several bus stops on the Expressway itself.  There is also a train service but the best option for this is via Shinjuku but it is more expensive than the bus.  For most people, shopping at Gotemba will not be very different to shopping at any other outlet shop in the world.  Most of the shops are the same as in America, but there are several Japanese brands that you can’t find elsewhere.  Depending on your own fashion sense, you may or may not enjoy shopping in Gotemba but if you enjoy shopping anyways, you can always spend a day visiting Gotemba and attempting to see Mt. Fuji up close at the same time.

To the north of Gotemba is Oyama, the home of Fuji Speedway.  Fuji Speedway is the most famous race course in the Kanto region.  It was host to the F1 Japan Grand Prix in the past and considered the most beautiful race course in Japan.  This is mostly due to the fact that you can easily see Mt. Fuji from the track.  Today, the track is used mostly for local racing championships and Toyota sponsored events.  The track itself has undergone several changes over the decades.  Due to financial difficulties by its owner, Toyota, the track was discontinued as an F1 circuit but continues to be used for national races and local events.  Unfortunately, it appears that the racing course will not be used as an F1 circuit in the foreseeable future.  It is a bit of a shame but when compared to Suzuka’s greater history, Fuji Speedway will probably continue to suffer from the lack of attention.

As I mentioned in the beginning, Gotemba is not a place most people will ever visit, nor will they really want to.  It is a beautiful place to go but compared to the more popular areas such as Hakone, Gotemba will be overlooked a lot.  For nature, people will visit Hakone.  For Mt. Fuji hikes, people will go to Kawaguchiko.  For shopping, most tourists will stay in Tokyo or visit one of the outlet malls that are easier to visit such as the Mitsui chain in Makuhari.  For locals and people living in Tokyo, Gotemba will be a place to visit once in a while.  If you can justify a visit to the region, I recommend doing so, but unfortunately, I doubt most will want to spend the time to go there.

Note:  Unfortunately I have no photos of Gotemba Premium Outlets.  I almost never go there to take pictures, only to do shopping.  🙂

2009 Formula 1 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix October 13, 2009

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 “2009 Formula 1 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-hI

On October 4th, 2009, Japan hosted it’s annual round of the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix.  For those of you who have been reading this blog, last year, I also attended the Japanese Grand Prix.  This year was a little different.  After two years at Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka, the Japanese Grand Prix moved back to its traditional home of Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture.  Mie is located south west of Tokyo.  The closest major city is Nagoya, but you can still access Kyoto and Osaka from Suzuka.  By and far, the easiest and most common way to reach the circuit itself is to leave from Nagoya.

The biggest difference between Fuji Speedway and Suzuka Circuit is the owner.  Fuji is ultimately owned by Toyota, while Suzuka is owned by Honda.  The two car giants of Japan competed for the rights to hold the Japanese Grand Prix for the last three years.  From this year, the plan was to alternate between Fuji and Suzuka.  Next year’s race was supposed to be held in Fuji.  Unfortunately, due to the downturn in the economy last year, Fuji decided to not hold the race in 2010, so Suzuka stepped up and will hold the race in Japan for the next few years.  Many of the drivers were very happy about this, but what about the fans and the Japanese people themselves?  While a lot of people don’t really care, race enthusiasts were always happy to hear that Suzuka won the race.  It is one of the very few figure 8 circuits in the world, and the only one on the F1 calendar.  It is steeped in history that, while not as old as Fuji, is more prestigious.

Accessing and retuning home from Suzuka Circuit is very easy.  From Nagoya, it’s a simple reserved express train from Nagoya Station to Suzuka Circuit Inou Station.  You can also purchase reserved tickets to get back to Nagoya.  While this may be a little expensive compared to the regular trains, it guarantees that you’ll have a seat, and when you return to Nagoya, that may be very important.  When you do reach the station, it’s very easy to find your way to the circuit.  Just follow the groups of people and you’ll be fine.  While it may be different in future years, be sure to pick up a map and ask the staff for some information to make sure you know your options.  If you want to play it safe, just return to the same station.  The second option is to take the Kintetsu trains to Shiroko Station.  It’s about 5 kilometres away from the circuit, or an hour walk.  There is a shuttle bus, but it can take up to an hour to wait for it.  Many people enjoy a nice walk in the countryside to get to this station.  To reach it, you must also walk past the Inou.  The main advantage of walking to Shiroko is that trains come more often than at the Inou station.  When leaving Nagoya, don’t worry too much about buying tickets.  You can easily buy them at the main entrance as there will probably be a table set up for selling return tickets.  Just be sure to know which tickets you need before leaving.

When entering Suzuka circuit itself, it’s evident that Honda’s circuit company knows what it’s doing.  It has held the F1 event and other major world sporting events for years.  The F1 event itself is very similar to the one in 2008, but there are noticeable differences.  The first is that the party is slightly bigger, yet more compact.  In Fuji, everything was spread out a lot more.  Suzuka’s main entertainment area was behind the main grandstand, and there wasn’t a lot going on outside of that area.  Of course, you can always buy the basic souvenirs around the course, but there were fewer opportunities to do so.  However, buying food was ten times better in Suzuka.  The options were slightly limited, and it wasn’t the cheapest food in the world, but it was good and reasonable for a world sporting event.  The major plus is the number of activities that are available for children.  There is a large ferris wheel, and other various amusement rides that are centred for children.  Suzuka, being Honda’s signature track, has a better amusement area compared to Motegi.  There are various boat rides, and roller coasters.  There was a go-kart track, but this was closed to add more space for exhibitions.  Overall, I’d prefer Suzuka over Fuji, and most Japanese people would tend to agree.  Fuji’s major advantage was being close to Tokyo.

Looking at the race, it was your typical F1 race.  I had the chance to enjoy the event during qualifying for the first time.  It was a nice event, and qualifying made walking around the main areas easier.  It was extremely busy on race day, so if you can enjoy the Saturday qualifying, be sure to do your shopping then; don’t wait until race day or things will be sold out.  Qualifying was riddled with accidents, and the race itself wasn’t that exciting.  In typical F1 fashion, there were several passes on the first few laps, but after that, it was a war of attrition.  Everyone kept circling the circuit and any passing was done in the pits.  By the end of the day, Sebastian Vettel won the race with home team Toyota’s Jarno Trulli in second.  Bringing up the last spot on the podium was McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.

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。

Suzuka Circuit Links:

(English – Note that this site has only information on the facilities) http://www.mobilityland.co.jp/english/
(Japanese – Note that this site has information on events) http://www.suzukacircuit.jp/
(Wiki) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuka_Circuit
(Official F1 Website) http://www.formula1.com/

Tokyo (Odaiba – Part II) September 22, 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 (Odaiba – Part II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gU

After completing a museum tour, heading to the southern area, just east of the museums is a couple of famous attractions.  The first is Palette Town.  It is a large complex that holds various activities, one being Venus Fort, a theme mall.  It’s very similar to the shopping malls on the north side however Venus Fort is modeled after a European city.  On the exterior, it looks like any regular building, but once you enter, you’ll be greeted by a grand walkway full of Italian styled stucco wallpaper.  The shops in this mall tend to be more upscale and there is a huge fountain in the back of the mall.  It’s a famous place for photos and the staff of the mall will happily take your photo.  The end of the mall has a stage for various performances and Mariah Carey made an appearance at one time to promote one of her albums.  In grand style, she was over an hour late for a 15 minute appearance.  If you head to the second floor, you’ll enjoy small walkways connecting various restaurants.  The other main attraction is next door to Venus Fort.  Toyota’s Mega Web, and the Palette Town complex.  Mega Web is a large showcase for Toyota and Lexus cars.  If you have a Japanese driver’s license or an international one, you can, for a fee, test drive any of the Japanese spec Toyota cars around a small private track.  You can easily enter any of the showroom cars, buy a brochure, or take a look at a few of their displays.  There is usually an F1 car, other race cars, a theatre showing Fuji Speedway, and a race simulator.  There is even a corner for children to drive around or just have fun.  If you want to, you can take a tour on an electric, automatic car that will drive around the entire showroom.  Heading over to the far end of the complex, you’ll come to one of the largest Ferris Wheels in the world, and an amusement centre.

From the eastern edge of Palette Town, you can walk over a famous pedestrian bridge, Yumeno Ohashi, which can be picturesque.  It was used in several TV dramas in the past but only a few people ever walk over it.  It is generally too remote for most people to use it, but it’s very good for most movies and dramas for this very reason.  Tokyo has very strict film laws, so closing any other bridge is very difficult.  The size of this bridge makes it very convenient to film on.   From here, there are various buildings that are mainly for office workers, but you can see the odd cosplay event from time to time.  In all honesty, there is almost nothing to see or do in this area.  If you can walk all the way to Ariake station, you’ll be able to visit the Panasonic Center.  It’s a small showcase of Panasonic’s latest technologies and green movement.  They even have a small Nintendo corner, but in reality, unless you love technology, it’s not worth the long walk.  In the past, this was a nice destination as it was the last stop of the Yurikamome line.  Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, but it does provide a nice trip to see the edge of Odaiba.

The bigger attraction in this area of Odaiba is Tokyo Big Site.  It’s the scene of various conventions and exhibits.  The popular Design Festa is held twice a year showcasing some of Tokyo’s craziest artists.  Everything you see will be strange, different, and unique.  It’s something that must be seen to understand.  There are several comic and anime conventions where you’ll be able to see your favourite characters, and even see all of the crazy fans that dress up as their favourite characters.  The annual Tokyo Motorcycle Show is also a popular exhibit, including various technological exhibitions.  It’s impossible to describe each and every convention that can be held in Tokyo Big Site, so visiting their website is essential.  If you don’t want to go to any conventions, or if none of them are interesting at the time of your visit, visiting Tokyo Big Site itself is still pretty interesting.  You can get very nice views of the planes coming in to land at Haneda airport and there are several public works of art.  Unfortunately, unless you want to see an exhibit, there really isn’t any reason to be in the area unless you have time to spare.

Overall, Odaiba is a wonderful place to visit.  For seasoned residents of Tokyo, there isn’t much to see or do.  Most people either come as a couple, usually in their teens, or to drive around.  Odaiba is, for some reason, considered a nice place to drive.  Is Odaiba really a place to visit in Tokyo?  The simple answer is no.  If you don’t have time, it’s not that important.  However, like any other city, if you have time and you finished seeing everything else, by all means, spend a day in Odaiba and you’ll have a great time nonetheless.

This is Part II of a II part series.  Please head back to Part I if you haven’t read it.

Odaiba Information:

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3008.html
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Odaiba
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odaiba
Map of Odaiba:  http://www.tokyoessentials.com/odaiba-map.html

Palette Town (Japanese Only): http://www.palette-town.com/
Venus Fort: http://www.venusfort.co.jp/multi/index_e.html
Toyota’s Mega Web: http://www.megaweb.gr.jp/English/
Panasonic Center: http://www.panasonic.net/center/tokyo/
Tokyo Big Site:  http://www.bigsight.jp/english/

Design Festa:  http://www.designfesta.com/index_en.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。

2008 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix October 21, 2008

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Sports, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on and read the post complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-39

On October 12th, 2008, Japan hosted the 16th round of the FIA F1 World Championship.  The pinnacle of four wheel motorsports has been coming to Japan for decades.  Since 2007, the Japanese GP has been run at Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka.  Before 2007, the F1 Championship had been going to Suzuka in Mie Prefecture.  A few hours away by Shinkansen.  In 2006, Toyota had more money than Honda, so F1 decided to move from Suzuka to Fuji.

Fuji Speedway is nestled at the base of Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka.  It’s a beautiful circuit that has a 1.5 km straight and various corners.  It has been full of controversy as many drivers dislike the course.  It tends to rain often and it’s difficult to see Mt. Fuji at anytime.  While Fuji Speedway is located very close to Tokyo, it was a nightmare to go and return from the Speedway last year.  It took over 3 hours to just leave the circuit!  I must say that I was worried about the wait to leave the Speedway, however, things ran extremely smoothly.  There was hardly any problems.  Following last year, the organizers decided to try to fix things, and the changes worked.  While I had to walk a long distance to reach my shuttle bus, the lineup was only 5 minutes and I reached Gotenba Station very quickly.  So quickly, that by the time I returned to Tokyo this year, I was still waiting for the shuttle bus, last year!  Needless to say, I was very happy.

I have never been to the Canadian Grand Prix, but as you should know, I have been to Japan’s Moto GP race.  Comparing the two, I still love Moto GP, and the feeling of both events is completely different.  Moto GP attracts more international faces, and more hardcore fans.  F1 brings more of the everyday people.  It’s hard to explain the differences, but just imagine the differences between the downtown core of any city with one of the suburbs.  Moto GP is like a suburb.  Everyone is roughly from the same type of family, whereas F1 brings people from all walks of life.  The amount of good available for purchase at the F1 race was astonishing.  There are more items, but unless you are a true fan, there isn’t too much that is worthwhile.  To the average fan, namely me, I wasn’t going to buy a Ferrari shirt, or a Renault shirt either.  Prices were very expensive and the products were generally useless outside F1.  I don’t know too many people who wear complete F1 race suits (each costs over 500,000 Yen) or even a shirt that is full of Toyota logos.  As nice as some of the clothes and goods were, I just couldn’t buy any of it.  However, that never stopped the thousands of other fans from buying as much as they could.

The race itself was fairly exciting.  Right at the first corner, there was an incident involving the top driver, Lewis Hamilton.  By the end of the 6th lap, things had finally settled down a little.  Like all of F1, passing tends to be infrequent and at the beginning of the race.  After 10 laps of any race, things get boring.  The only excitement occurs when there is a blown engine or an accident in the pits.  Other than that, not much happens.  I must say that Fuji Speedway is better than most tracks on the F1 calender.  Passing occurred during the entire race, although not so often as Moto GP.  😉  In the end, after a very eventful opening to the race, Fernando Alonso, driving a Renault, won the race.  After the cooldown lap, I grabbed my stuff and ran like the wind.  I had to beat the crowd so I could get home somewhat on time.

After the first year of hiccups at the first Fuji Speedway Grand Prix, the second year was 10 times better.  While the price of a ticket is reallye expensive, it’s worth it to go at least once in your life.  Hopefully next year, at Suzuka, there will be more free swag and a more exciting atmosphere.  I’ll let you if I do get tickets to go.

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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