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Tokyo – Ikebukuro February 14, 2012

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 – Ikebukuro” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-H1

Ikebukuro is a somewhat forgotten city in Tokyo.  It is located on the north western edge of the Yamanote Line and isn’t as conveniently located as Shinjuku or as famous as Shibuya.  It is often known more as a transfer town where many people stop, do a bit of shopping, then continue home.  Ikebukuro is a major hub for people heading north-west towards western Tokyo and western Saitama.  Rail lines to the west spread out in similar fashion to Shinjuku and Shinagawa however they move more northerly.  While the town may be a transfer town, there are many things to see and do and a reputation that can make it feel like a younger sibling to Shinjuku.

There are many ways to arrive at Ikebukuro.  The most common way is to use the Yamanote Line, but there are countless other lines as well.  Ikebukuro can be split into 4 major areas.  The western side of the station is a quaint little town that is full of life and spirit.  Just outside the west exit is a public art space inside a park.  There are several sculptures in an open square along with the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space.  This is a large concert hall that has various concerts and performances all year.  It is also home to the largest pipe organ in Tokyo with free lunch hour shows.  Unfortunately, when I visited recently, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space was closed for renovations.  I’m sure it will reopen soon enough.  The west side is quieter than the east and not as built up.  There are various smaller shops and more tranquil parks in the area.  There are several ethnic restaurants that are there to please all tastes.  It is also home to a small outdoor goods section with a few shops specializing in hiking and camping gear.

To the north of the station is a small area that is akin to Kabukicho in Shinjuku.  It is definitely not as well known and in some ways a bit more dangerous.  Like Kabukicho, this district is home to many clubs, bars, and adult themed shops.  It is also home to various restaurants where you can get good cheap food.  Somehow bars and the seedy underground business go hand in hand.  I would guess that drinking and risky business really complement each other.  During the day, this area is probably not as interesting to most people; however it can give a glimpse into what happens in the area and the type of people who frequent it.  There is also a small bridge that crosses over the train tracks which provides a great view of Ikebukuro Station and how busy the station gets as the trains constantly enter and exit the station.  While Shinjuku and Tokyo have more trains running through the station, Ikebukuro has more chaos as tracks crisscross each other creating a spaghetti-like mess below the bridge.

The east side of the station is where most of the action is.  The area immediately to the east and up to Sunshine City is a very busy urban centre.  When visiting this area, you will feel that it is busier and more chaotic than Shinjuku.  This is due to the nature of the area.  There are relatively few tunnels connecting each area and the shops are all crammed together.  The main roads and crossings are always crowded and it can be difficult to stop and smell the roses.  People will push to get to their destination and people will also push to get you into their shops.  It can take several days to explore this entire region.  The usual electronic shops are rampant near the station with various fashion boutiques along the main street to Sunshine City.  Just before Sunshine City is Otome Road.  This is a small 2 block section full of anime and manga shops.  It can give Akihabara a run for its money but unfortunately due to the size of the area, it still pales in comparison.  The shops are relatively large compared to the small shops in Akihabara which make it much easier to find things.  The shops are also well concentrated in the 2 block section with almost nothing else beyond those blocks.

For those who want something touristy, Amlux is a Toyota showcase that is akin to Megaweb in Odaiba.  It is very similar with the one exception that you can’t easily test drive the cars.  It costs more money and requires early reservations to test drive cars in Amlux.  They have similar models on display and rather than a wide open space, all the cars are crammed into a typical office building.  They still have the same amusement style rides for kids of all ages, such as driving simulators, and a few race cars on display.  Megaweb is by far the better of the two but Amlux is still a great place to visit.  Connected to Amlux, and just across the street of Otome Road is Sunshine City.  This is one of the most famous building complexes in Ikebukuro.  It is home of the 60 story Sunshine Tower with an observation deck with spectacular 360 degree views.  Note that when I say spectacular, it’s mostly a view of Tokyo so don’t expect to see many mountains nearby or a lot of nature.  Expect to see a sprawling urban landscape.  The Sunshine City complex itself has lots to offer.  There is a basic shopping mall on the main floors as well as Namja Town, and Aquarium, and Planetarium at one end of the complex.  Namja Town is a theme park run by Sega Sammy.  It is geared towards children but they also have a few things for adults and couples.  Namja Town is well known as a place to enjoy gyoza.  Gyoza is pan fried dumplings and Namja Town boasts that they have the largest variety of gyoza for sale.  It can take a few days to try all of the gyoza available but it can be done.  Do note that there is an admission fee to enter Namja Town on top of the cost to purchase gyoza and play various games.  The aquarium and planetarium used to be very basic and standard fares.  They are undergoing renovations and will reopen this year.  The aquarium was nothing to celebrate before the renovations.  It was a small place that took only 20 minutes to walk through.  It was a very disappointing experience.  Unfortunately I can’t comment on how things will be after the renovations.

Ikebukuro is a great place to visit, but to be honest, not an essential place to visit when visiting Tokyo.  If there is something specific you’d like to see, you should visit Ikebukuro.  However, there are other areas with more options.  Shinjuku has the Tokyo Metropolitan Towers which has a free observation deck.  Roppongi also has a similar observation deck for a fee.  Odaiba has Megaweb along with other interesting things.  Rather than going to Otome Road, you can visit Akihabara to see manga, anime, and electronics, or better yet, go to Nakano and see manga and anime.  If you happen to be staying in Ikebukuro, it is a good place to stay and explore.  If you are staying elsewhere, you probably won’t need to visit the area unless you have visited every other area ofTokyo.

Ikebukuro Information:

Ikebukuro (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3038.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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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

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。

Narita to Tokyo April 13, 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 “Narita to Tokyo” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kZ

Arriving at Narita Airport can be a daunting challenge.  Not only will you probably be tired, if you don’t speak Japanese, it can be a small challenge to find out how to get into the city itself.  Unless you are rich, taxis are not an option.  There are three main routes into Tokyo.  The first is the Airport Limousine.  The second is to take a train, which has two options.  The simplest has to be the Airport Limousine.  When you exit the arrivals gate, you can usually find the Airport Limousine counter on the main floor.  There are several locations in both terminals.  It’s as simple as saying which hotel you want to go to, or what station.  The Airport Limousine goes to many destinations throughout Tokyo and Yokohama.  It’s also the most convenient way to get to Haneda Airport.  Do note that due to traffic, all times are estimates.  You can be severely delayed if traffic is horrible.

The safest way to get into the city is to use one of two rail companies.  The most popular for tourists is to use the JR Lines.  Using the regular lines is not popular for JR.  It is expensive and slow.  You will more than likely have to change trains at least once, maybe up to three times depending on your destination.  The easiest route is to take the Narita Express.  In fact, they have recently released a new train that makes things more comfortable.  They offer secure locks for your luggage and plugs for your laptop in each row.  Unfortunately, these are not available at all times.  The main advantage of the Narita Express is the number of destinations.  You can go as far as Ofuna, Takao, and Omiya without getting out.  However, most trains will only run from Narita Airport to Yokohama or Ikebukuro.  These trains usually de-couple at Tokyo Station.  Don’t be too afraid of connecting trains if you are headed to Ikebukuro.  If the train only goes to Shinjuku, it’s very simple to change platforms and get to Ikebukuro faster than if you wait.  The Narita Express doesn’t run too often, so it’s best to take the first one you can get, unless you have too many bags.

The cheapest route to Tokyo is to take the Keisei lines.  Their rapid service takes roughly 71 minutes to get to Tokyo, and their Skyliner service takes about 51 minutes.  The Rapid service costs roughly 1000 yen, which makes this a budget travellers dream.  If you want a good balance between cost and comfort, the Skyliner is one of your best bets.  The biggest problem with the Keisei service is choice.  You have your choice of Nippori and Ueno as destinations.  If you are headed to a hostel in Asakusa, this line is perfect.  If you are headed to Shinjuku, this route may not be your ideal choice, but it is a cheaper alternative at relatively the same time.  It’s just not as convenient.  However, as of July 2010, the service will be upgraded and the time will be cut by 15 minutes making this a more popular route in the near future.  The new service will be called the “Sky Express”.  It will feature brand new trains with a new local service being introduced as well.

Regarding what to take and how to get there, that’s your choice.  By far, the cheapest is the Keisei lines.  The most convenient would be the Airport Limousine, if they offer service to your hotel.  The Narita Express offers a very competitive service, but it is a little expensive overall.  In terms of locals, unless your company is paying for it, most people will take the Keisei lines.

Information:

Narita Airport:  http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/
Airport Limousine:  http://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/
Narita Express:  http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex/index.html
Keisei Skyliner:  http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/keisei_us/top.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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