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Tokyo – Kinshicho April 12, 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 – Kinshicho” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Co

Kinshicho is the last major centre in Tokyo before you are in the suburbs, or heading towards Chiba.  It is located just a few minutes outside of Akihabara and one station away from Ryogoku.  The area itself is not very interesting for most travellers, but for those of you who use the Narita Express to enter or leave Tokyo, you will pass through Kinshicho.  When leaving Tokyo, just after you exit the tunnel, you will be in Kinshicho.  The area has a storied past and a growing future.  As any other part of Tokyo, Kinshicho is constantly changing and evolving.  What it will be like in 10 years is anyone’s guess, but the chances are that it will get much better.

The first thing to do in Kinshicho is to decide whether you want to go north or south.  Depending on what you want to see or do, each side will have its own purpose.  The south is considered the seedier side of Kinshicho.  In the south, you have two infamous things to do.  The first, less seedy, is the JRA (Japan Racing Association) building.  It is the easiest location to access in the east for horse race betting.  It’s not uncommon to see hundreds of men around the JRA building on a Friday evening, or even on Saturday and Sunday.  Horse race betting is still huge in Japan but not too many people talk about it.  It’s very common to see older men hanging out in front of the building just looking at the current horse races and deciding who to bet on.  I have never been inside the actual building but the betting process itself is pretty simple.  All you really have to do is go up to a computer terminal, select the horse you want to win and so on and that’s that.  Insert your money and you are done.  I’m not sure if there are English instructions as I’m not interested in the horse races but if you do walk around the outside, you can watch some of the races from a TV screen located in one of the lounges.  Note that you will find JRA buildings all over Tokyo and Japan but these are rarely where the races are held.  They are just betting offices with TVs set up for people to satisfy their gambling habits.  Racing happens near Shinagawa and out west from Tokyo.

The other seedy part to Kinshicho has to be the hostess clubs in the south.  Behind the JRA building will be several dozen clubs and bars.  Most of these are the cheaper cousins of their expensive Ginza and Kabukicho counterparts.  It’s still somewhat seedy during the day and the fact that there are several tall buildings obscuring the actual area makes it interesting.  Once you walk behind the JRA building at night, you’ll suddenly come upon several buildings with various lights flashing and men trying to push you into their clubs so that you can spend several tens of thousands of yen.  Nearby you can also find several love hotels that are more functional than fun.  Walking around in the area late at night may not be safe for everyone and it definitely isn’t as safe as Kabukicho.  There is a reason many people call Kinshicho the Kabukicho of the east and I would tend to agree for just this area alone.  The bad thing is that people tend to associate Kinshicho with these clubs and only these clubs these days.  When I talked about the storied past of Kinshicho, I was talking about these clubs in the south, but I was also referencing the fact that Kinshicho, botn north and south, was once a central area for the Yakuza, Japanese organized crime.  These days they are limited more to the southern areas.

While the south may sound like a bad area to visit, due to its reputation, the shops tend to be a lot cheaper.  You have a greater tendancy to find good cheap restaurants to eat in, cheap goods, and shopping tends to be more Japanese in flavour.  There is a small department store, small for Tokyo standards, and a small Yodobashi Camera.  Kinshicho has the usual set of small ramen and donburi shops as well as one of several Wallmart shops in Tokyo.  While they go under the name Seiyu, or as most people in Kinshicho say, Livin.  The company known as Seiyu is actually a wholely owned subsidiary of Wallmart.  It can be great as they offer the most competitive prices for their items and they also sell Wallmart goods.  It’s great to find really cheap food products when shopping there, but that isn’t always the case.  When shopping it is always true that if you visit one shop, they specialize in one type of food while another specializes in others.  It never hurts to shop around but it does take a lot more time to get things done.

The north side of Kinshicho has undergone a dramatic change over the last 5-10 years, or so I’ve been told.  In the past it was a Yakuza neighbourhood.  There would be several yakuza living in the area and the area was fairly “dangerous” to live in.  While I think it could be dangerous, as long as you keep to yourself in any such area, you should be okay.  In Japan, I don’t believe the organized crime is actually going to start shooting people randomly or have a gang war, but those were possibilities.  Today, things are very different.  The entire area has undergone some revitalization and a type of gentrification.  Many of the local businesses have put up signs saying that the Yakuza are no longer welcome in their shops and to leave the area.  Many of them seem to have relocated more towards the south and east and many of them have “left” their organizations.  In fact, as of the writing of this post, the police are cracking down on organized crime for various reasons which allow many areas to be revitalized.  The north area of Kinshicho is one of them.  One of the first major turning points in the north’s revitalization has to be the Olinas mall.  It is a larger western style shopping mall with lots of underground parking and various shops inside.  There is a theatre as well as a small food court as well.  The layout is a bit confusing to get around but it’s a nice place to do a bit of shopping, but for those looking for a Japanese style of life, this is not the place to go.  It is your typical western shopping mall teeming with teenagers.

One of the focal points of Kinshicho has to be Kinshi Park.  It’s a medium sized park for Tokyo that is currently undergoing renovations.  Renovations should be completed by the end of 2011, but this is just my own personal guess.  In the north east corner is the Sumida City Gymnasium.  It is a public community centre of sorts where you can do all kinds of sports.  You can play basketball, badminton, table tennis, go swimming, participate in aerobics, or even use a weight room.  The gym was completed in March 2010 and still looks very new.  The facilities are very cheap but you do need to share with the others who use it.  Next to the gym on the west side is a set of tennis courts.  If you have never practiced playing tennis in Tokyo, you will be in for a bit of a surprise.  They utilize a type of artificial turf and rubber pebbles to simulate grass.  Unlike typical artificial turf, this type seems to have a little flexibility and might be easier on your joints, but I haven’t personally tried it so I can’t comment too much on it.  It is still very popular and getting a chance to use it is still difficult.  In the south east corner of the park they are erecting a dual baseball field.  Basically it will be two baseball diamonds back to back that is designed for practice rather than real competition.  For real competition, I believe they will utilize just none of the diamonds at a time.  It’s an interesting design and it will be finished in early 2011.  As for the rest of the park, most of it is just open space with a bit of greenery.  I’m not sure how much will stay the same but the large open area is popular for young students to play in and for people to just relax on a nice spring afternoon.  If you need a little spiritual help, there is a small shrine located on the south west corner that provides a very unique look at Japan.

Aside from the park and Olinas, the other main anchor of the north has to be the Arcakit building and the Termina complex that surrounds the station.  The Arcakit main building has several floors of shopping including a large Daiso.  There are lots of things to see and do inside and it can be treated as its own shopping mall.  Be aware that there will be lots of families there as there is a famous baby shop where you can buy bulk items and almost anything you can imagine a child would want.  If you fancy a nice meal, I’d recommend the top floor of the building as the north facing shops have wonderful views of Tokyo Sky Tree which is nearly completed.  If the station area is not of much interest to you, you can always head just a little north into the small side streets.  This area has various little shops and restaurants of varying quality.  Some restaurants are very delicious and others are not so.  It can be hit or miss but it’s something that you have to try on your own. If you are interested in enjoying a little music, especially classical music, the Sumida Triphony Hall located in the Tobu Hotel is a very popular place.  Almost every weekend has a major concert and the halls are available for rent, at a price of course.  If that doesn’t interest you that much, they do have a shuttle bus that runs nearly daily and it can take you to Disneyland.

I think that Kinshicho itself will be undergoing a small change in the near future due to its proximity to Tokyo Sky Tree.  In order to cash in on the new attraction in the area, Kinshicho will have to do something.  While it’s difficult to cash in on it as Kinshicho is a little far from the tower itself, they will need to change a little in order to create a destination spot for domestic travellers.  I’m sure it could happen if the right people do the right things.  Removing some of the old and dirty shops is a start.  The small delicious shops will have to stay to retain the character of Kinshicho and some of the buildings will need a small renovation to make it more inviting to the casual shopper.  Like most areas, they need to find a niche that will attract people.  The north will continue to change with time as families and tourists start to take over.  Shop owners will be forced to change and the community will want to do something about it.  The south may not change much, if at all due to the character of the people and the lack of viewing locations of Tokyo Sky Tree.  Tokyo Sky Tree will be the major catalyst for the entire region, but it will still depend on the people and businesses in the area.

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。

Tokyo Dome City February 1, 2011

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 Dome City” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-BI

Tokyo Dome City is an amusement area around Tokyo Dome. Tokyo Dome itself was opened in 1988 and was a modern replacement to the previous open air stadium. It is only in one corner of the actual site itself but it is the focal point for all events within the area. Tokyo Dome is a 55,000 seat stadium that is home to the Yomiuri Giants. They are the perennial favourites in the Japan Series of baseball. They are akin to the NY Yankees or the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are the team everyone loves to hate if they aren’t a fan of the team themselves. They have a huge budget meaning they can have all of the top players on their team alone. They have won several championships and they are almost always favourites to win the championship. The dome itself is not exclusive to baseball. They hold various concerts as well as other sporting events. When there is a game or a concert, you can expect the entire Dome City to be busy as people will arrive a little early to relax and enjoy the facilities. If you are going to enjoy a concert, you had better arrive really early if you want to buy some of the concert souvenirs. They tend to open up an outdoor area for people to enter and do their shopping. It’s a great way to make money as people will line up from the early morning and people who don’t have tickets will also enter to do their shopping. This is very popular for Japanese singers as the fans tend to be a little overly crazed about buying related items.

LaQua is situated next to Tokyo Dome on the north side and it’s the second major attraction of the area. It is a large shopping and entertainment complex that is famous for couples. Inside the complex they have a multi story shopping mall where you can find all of the typical Japanese fashion brands. The prices within each shop aren’t too expensive but they aren’t cheap either. I’d probably recommend the main plaza that can’t be missed if you are heading in from Tokyo Dome itself. It’s a big open area with two floors of mainly restaurants. There are various shops to eat in, ranging from cheap fast food to expensive luxury. It’s a great range of food, but if you are looking for something Japanese, you might have a little difficulty finding it. It’s definitely worth a look and trying Japan’s take on western food. It’s not quite right, but it’s not bad either. The main attraction for most western people has to be the amusement section. There are 3 rides inside LaQua itself. The first is the ferris wheel. It’s nothing more than your typical ferris wheel but the views of the park must be nice. The other popular attraction is the log ride, Wonder Drop, which is especially popular in the summer. Located within the plaza itself, you can take a 2 story slide into a pool of water while inside a boat. It’s your typical double slide water ride, but being inside the mall is interesting in itself. The main attraction has to be the rollercoaster, Thunder Dolphin. Thunder Dolphin itself winds its way around the entire building going through a small hole in a wall located at the corner of the main building. Many people say it’s scary due to the roughness of the ride itself and the sharp corners. I have seen many friends go on it and the reactions range from frightening to just jarring.

If you go east of Tokyo Dome, you will come to a relatively open area. This is mainly an amusement area. There are a few baseball themed restaurants but the major attraction has to be the theme park rides. There are several “areas” for the theme park. The first is Tower Land. There are various rides that focus on heights and dropping from those heights. The main focus is the Tower Hacker which is an 80 metre tall tower where you fall from the sky. There is a children’s version as well. Splash Garden is a summer time area that focuses on children. For the teens and adults, this will be somewhat boring, but the light and easy rides make it a great adventure for kids of all ages. Parachute Land is a small area with only two rides. The easiest to see is the Skyflower where you ascend to have nice views of the area before gently floating back to the ground. Personally it looks boring to me. Geopolis is the last area with only two attractions as well. This is an indoor themed area where you play interactive games. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to actually enjoy this area as I have been too busy to take a good look around, but it is fun walk around the area.

The southern area has a high mix of buildings. In the south west corner, you have the JRA building where you can enjoy the horse races and bet on who you think will win. There is no actual racing done at Tokyo Dome, but races are televised live and it’s not uncommon to see dozens of old men lining up to buy betting tickets and reading the various odds on each horse. Within that same area are a few large buildings that are multi-purpose amusement centres. They offer entertainment such as bowling and other various sporting activities that can be accomplished indoors. Golfing and a batting cage are available, but I personally don’t see a huge point in doing that. This is a fairly typical “family amusement” area. In the central south area is the Tokyo Dome Hotel. This is just a standard hotel with various restaurants and bars inside. In reality, unless you are staying there yourself, there isn’t much to see inside. I recommend a short walk around the outside as there is a fountain on the north side that is very picturesque. On the south east corner is a small building called Meets Port. This is where you will find the most reasonable food and drinks in the entire area. If you are headed to a game or going to enjoy a concert, stopping by for something to eat and drink isn’t a bad idea. However, I’d probably stick to the JR Suidobashi Station to get cheap eats.

Tokyo Dome City is not a one time affair. You can visit during the various seasons and get a different experience each time. I can only account for the summer and winter seasons as I have never been there during the autumn and spring seasons. In the summer, the area isn’t that different but they do have a nice beer garden located outside Tokyo Dome. It’s one of the few places where you can enjoy a nice cold beer outside. When there are games going on inside the Dome, you can usually get a nice seat for several people and just relax. Once the game ends, you can watch everyone file out of the dome. The winter time is another good time. The entire area is decorated with Christmas lights. There are a few shows as well, but depending on the year, you might be surprised with fireworks. Unfortunately, I only know that they had fireworks in 2009, but in 2010 they decided not to do it again. Being a “theme park” inside Tokyo, they do their best to change with the seasons.

For those who are looking to save a little money, I highly recommend going to the JR Suidobashi Station. This is located across the river from Tokyo Dome City and has a lot of cheap eats. It’s more famous for its Chinese restaurants along with other small shops. It can look a little intimidating to enter a small shop with only a few people inside, but some of them are delicious. It could be difficult to choose but just do your best.

Tokyo Dome City Information:

Tokyo Dome City Official Site (English): http://www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/e/
Tokyo Dome City Official Site (Japanese): http://www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/

Tokyo Dome Hotel Official Site (English): http://www.tokyodome-hotels.co.jp/e/index.html
Tokyo Dome Hotel Official Site (Japanese): http://www.tokyodome-hotels.co.jp/home/index.html

Tokyo Dome Official Site: http://www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/e/dome/
Tokyo Dome (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Dome

Yomiuri Giants Official Site (Japanese): http://www.giants.jp/top.html
Yomiuri Giants (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yomiuri_Giants

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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