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Tokyo – Naka-dori (Marunouchi) February 15, 2011

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 – Naka-dori (Marunouchi)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Cf

Naka-dori is a single street that stretches from Otemachi/Tokyo Station to Hibiya. It is a relatively unknown street in Tokyo and a great gem. If you have read my post about the Marunouchi area, you will know that is lined with various pieces of art. If you have read my post about Christmas lights in Tokyo, you will know that the street is lined with Christmas lights every year. This street has seen a huge revival in recent years due to the completion of several tall sky scrapers. For those who wish to enjoy a short afternoon or those who have been to Tokyo before but only visited the Imperial palace, this is a nice street to take a stroll.

Starting from Otemachi Station itself, finding Naka-dori can be a little challenge. The street starts between the exits of B1 and C14 of Otemachi Station. From there, it’s extremely easy to navigate as you are already on Naka-dori. This area of Naka-dori isn’t very interesting as they are still doing a few renovations but you can already see some of the changes that have occurred. One of the first things you will notice is that the entire street is lined with trees. This is a rarity in Japan, especially Tokyo. The trees may not be that big, yet, but they will continue to grow each and every year.

Most of the action starts next to the Marunouchi Building. From here, you can get a better feel for the street itself. The street feels more alike a European street than a Japanese street, yet it’s in the middle of a big city. The street is all brick lined, and as mentioned, also lined with trees. There are lots of various planted gardens along the street as well to give the entire area life.  This is a large change from the typical drab and lifeless streets of most areas in Tokyo. The biggest attraction along Naka-dori has to be the free art. If you have seen my post on the Hakone Open Air Museum, or if you yourself have been there, this is an area where you can see something similar. From the Marunouchi Building all the way to the Marunouchi Police Station, you will see various works of art lining the street. Some are new, some are old. Most of the art is actually on loan from the Hakone Open Air Museum.  This is probably due to the fact that the owner of almost every building in the area happens to also be the owner of the Hakone Open Air Museum. It’s a wonderful collection that will make you wonder what the artist meant, and some will also make you wonder if it is actual art. Needless to say, it’s something that can be enjoyed.

Naka-dori ends when you reach the Peninsula Hotel. While you can go a little farther, the atmosphere actually changes. After you pass the Peninsula Hotel, you will come to a plaza with a small statue of Godzilla. It’s a nice secret within Tokyo that is a must for anyone who wanted to meet Godzilla himself. The plaza is also a nice place to visit to see various hand prints and signatures of various famous people. The majority of the plaques are of Japanese people, but there are famous western actors and actresses as well. It’s similar to the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood where you can see the hand and feet imprints of various famous people. The only difference is that these are inverted. They are actually coming out of the floor. If you head a little further south, you will come to the end of the interesting area when you hit the Imperial Hotel. This is a famous Tokyo hotel that is the official hotel for royalty. While most royalty and heads of state will stay in Akasaka in the official guest residence, others will stay here. Next to the hotel is the famous Takarazuka theatre. This is an all female theatre troupe where all roles are acted by women. It is very famous amongst women in Japan and they are well known throughout Japan. You can often see hundreds of people lining the street waiting for the famous actresses to come out and wave to the crowd. It can be a little daunting to walk through but it provides an interesting scene to see.

Naka-dori is one of the best secret gems of Tokyo. While you may not see the “traditional” side of Japan, you will definitely enjoy the slow big city life. It’s a unique area that can’t be replicated. Ginza may be the posh shopping area for the wealthy, and Daikanyama is the posh area for the hipsters, but Naka-dori is the place for the office workers to run along and for tourists to stroll.

Naka-dori Information:

Naka-dori Official Site (Japanese): http://www.marunouchi.com/nakadori/

Takarazuka Revue Official Site (Japanese): http://kageki.hankyu.co.jp/
Takarazuka Revue (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takarazuka_Revue

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。

Hakone (Part I) January 26, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Hakone (Part I)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-jd

Hakone is one of the most popular areas near Tokyo.  It’s a great place to head for a day trip and there are many things to do.  There are various places to visit, and the area itself is fairly vast.  It can take a lot of time to get around and do everything, so as a day trip, it can be a little tight.  I would recommend at least two days and one night, that way you can at least experience a ryokan or an onsen.  For those that don’t know, a ryokan is a traditional style Japanese Inn.  It’s similar to a bed and breakfast, with a twist.  Usually, your room is a typical tatami room with futons on the floor.  You are served a traditional dinner and breakfast, so this can be a little scary if you aren’t used to raw fish, rice, and sleeping on the floor in a room full of people.  There are several western friendly hotels in the area as well, and almost all of them feature an onsen.  Onsen are Japanese style natural hot spring baths.  It’s almost always separated into men and women, and the bathing rooms can be as detailed and large as a spa, or as small and simple as a large private bathroom.  It really depends on the hotel.  All in all, it’s a great experience, and something you can might want to try while visiting Japan.

When heading to Hakone, there are a couple of routes to take.  If you are lucky enough to have a JR Pass, taking the shinkansen to Odawara Station is probably the easiest way.  Otherwise, most people would take the Odakyu lines from Shinjuku.  Odakyu offers a two day Hakone Free Pass, which is great if you are spending two days there.  Otherwise, just go for single tickets.  There are tourist booths that have English speakers inside the station, so don’t worry too much about buying tickets.  The ticket machines also have English instructions.  Once at Odawara Station, you have to switch to the Hakone Tozan Train.  If you take the special express train, which costs more, you will probably go all the way to Hakone Yumato Station.  Otherwise, you’ll have to change at Odawara, and again at Hakone Yumato.  From Hakone Yumato, you will board the original Hakone Tozan train.  This is a small mountain line that makes its way slowly up the mountain.  It can be extremely beautiful in November with the beautiful autumn leaves, or even in the spring when the hydrangeas are in full bloom as both sides of the tracks are lined with trees.

The first stop on the way to Hakone should be at Chokoku no Mori.  This is the second to last stop on the line heading into Hakone.  This is the home of the Hakone Open Air Museum.  If you need instructions, you should call it the Chokoku no Mori museum as that’s the Japanese name.  This museum opened in 1969 and has over 70,000 square metres of open space.  It’s built into the side of the mountain and the museum itself is spectacular.  There are several permanent exhibits and also several rotating sculptures within the museum grounds.  Almost everything is interactive.  You can almost touch each sculpture.  There are some pieces of art where you can enter them, play on them, and of course contemplate the meaning of them.  If you love taking photos, this place is great and it’s easy to spend a couple hours here.  Be sure to bring a few snacks when you get hungry.  There is also a nice little foot bath where towels are just 100 yen each.  It can make a nice little souvenir, and the bath water isn’t bad.  Be sure to check out all of the buildings, and if you have kids, bring them too.  There are a few places where kids can just play for hours on end.  The only problem is the weather.  Try to go on a sunny day and you’ll be treated with a great experience.

If you head to the next station, Gora, you’ll be able to enjoy a nice little park, some places to eat, and an opportunity to do some glass blowing.  Do note that you must pay to enter the park.  This area itself isn’t that interesting.  The food can be delicious, and there are several souvenirs to buy, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to really look around.  The weather was terrible when I went.  I only had a chance to try one of the small local shops.  There is a delicious tonkatsu shop, breaded and deep fried chicken cutlets, made from black pigs.  It appears to be a specialty and there is always a lineup whenever I’m there.  It’s a little pricey, but it’s delicious.  Do note that the wait can be over 30 minutes to get in, especially if you have bad timing.  While Gora is a good place to stop and have lunch, you can always take the cable car that is connected to Gora Station and head up to Souzan.  Taking the cable car is a nice simple journey.  It isn’t very steep, but there are several stops along the way.  Unfortunately, there is almost nothing to do at the top of the cable car, aside from going to the gondola.

If you are making this a day trip, you might want to think about heading back at this time.  Thankfully, there are still things to see and do on the way back that had been missed on the trip out to Souzan.  Along the cable car route, there are various hotels and ryokans that you can visit and spend a night.  Otherwise, you should head back and take the Hakone Tozan, get off at Miyanoshita and you will be at the Fujiya Hotel.  While I have never visited this hotel, it is a famous hotel.  It is expensive but it offers a nice dining experience and a few other touristy treats.  There is a nice onsen inside and the area of Miyanoshita has various shops where you can buy Japanese style fine china.  If you head back to Hakone Yumoto, you can take a bus for 30 minutes and visit the Little Prince Museum in Hakone.  This is a museum based on the author of “The Little Prince”.  It’s a famous French book that Japanese people love.  The museum looks nice, but as with many things around Hakone, I didn’t have a chance to visit this museum.  It is fairly popular with Japanese tourists, and from the pictures, the museum itself looks beautiful.  If you have a two day free pass, it’s probably worth a quick visit.

This is part one of a two part series.  To continue reading, please head over to Part II.

Hakone Information:

Hakone (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5200.html
Hakone (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Hakone
Hakone (Hakone Navi):  http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/
Odakyu Hakone Free Pass (Travel Information):  http://www.odakyu.jp/english/freepass/hakone_01.html
Hakone Open Air Museum:  http://www.hakone-oam.or.jp/english/index.html
Yunesson Spa:  http://www.yunessun.com/english/
Fujiya Hotel:  http://www.fujiyahotel.jp/english/index.html
The Little Prince Museum in Hakone: http://www.tbs.co.jp/l-prince/en/

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