jump to navigation

Tokyo (Azabu-Juban) May 19, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Azabu-Juban)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-8w

Azabu-Juban (Azabu) is not a place you would normally want to visit. It’s generally an upscale residential neighbourhood. It is an area that is immediately next to Roppongi that has many festivals and activities all year round. If you are a resident of Tokyo, Azabu is a very good place to visit during the day and enjoy a nice coffee and a little shopping. There are only a few main streets in Azabu, and they are lined with shops. In the middle is a small park where you can relax on most days. The far end of Azabu is actually Roppongi Hills, so walking from Azabu station to Roppongi station is a very nice way to spend a day. You are guaranteed to see many interesting things that are unique to Azabu. Azabu, as it’s next to Roppongi, is also a hub for foreign embassies, just like Roppongi and Hiroo.

The main reason I’m writing about Azabu is because of the Matsuri. Matsuri is literally translated into English as “festival”. Every year, in the heat of summer, Azabu is transformed for one weekend. It becomes an extremely busy place where people gather. The station is situated close to a highway and canal, and this is the best starting place if you visit the festival. This area traditionally has the most open space with many food stalls selling foreign foods. You can sample food from almost all over the world. There are very few places to actually eat, but if you don’t mind standing or sitting on the street, you won’t have any problems. There is also a nice set of fountains that make for good picture opportunities. One warning though, being the summer festival, you’ll have a tough time getting that perfect shot. You’ll have to do a hit and run. Another warning is to be patient. Often, each stall has a long line-up. The workers can barely keep up with the demand. Be patient and you’ll be able to eat a lot of different foods.

The main attraction has to be the regular festival stalls. If you have never been to a Japanese festival, this is the best one to see. You’ll see all of the regular foods and games that can be played. Starting with the food, there are plenty of places you can get good Japanese fare. The most popular food must be yakisoba. For 500-700 Yen, you can get a small box full of fried buckwheat noodles in a teriyaki sauce. If you call it teriyaki in Japan, people will probably look at you a little funny. They just call it sauce and it’s very easy to find, but it’s never labelled “teriyaki”. The other major food to eat is okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a traditional Osakan food. Some will call it a pancake, and others a pizza. I generally choose a pizza. The basic okonomiyaki is cabbage and batter with “sauce”, Japanese mayonnaise, and dried green onions on top. Often they add eggs, bacon, and anything else they can add. Okonomiyaki is literally translated into “as you like it”, so there isn’t any set recipe. You will find that kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, and the Nara area) food is very popular at any festival.

Takoyaki is the other essential food. This is similar to okonomiyaki, but without the cabbage, and instead of a pizza, it’s a ball. Be warned, takoyaki is EXTREMELY hot. While the outer crust of the ball is cool, the inside is still very hot. Tako is octopus in Japanese, and you’ll always find a large piece of octopus in the middle. Some places outside Japan make takoyaki, but they don’t always put a big piece of octopus in the middle. It makes a BIG difference. Other than that, you can get grilled fish and squid, and anything else that can be cooked on an open fire or flat grill. For desert, you usually have only two choices. Chocolate dipped bananas or kakikori (Japanese style snow cone). If you are thirsty, you can buy soft drinks, or beer. Yes, they have beer. Unlike Canada and America, you can actually drink in public. The price of beer is a little expensive, but you can get any brand you wish. If you need to save money, there are a few convenience stores in Azabu and beer is regular price.

Games are also part of the festival. Generally, the most famous game is a fishing game. You don’t get a fishing rod, or even a fishing line. You get a kind of “net” that is made of rice paper. It looks like a paddle, and it’s very fragile. After one or two tries, it will break and you have to stop. You generally pay for a few paddles and you try to scoop small goldfish into a bowl. Whatever you catch, you can keep. The festival also sells a few goods that are popular as souvenirs. If you aren’t interested in the games, the park is an excellent place to visit. At night, they start the bon odori. This is a traditional Japanese folk dance. They usually have a big taiko drum that is played by various people while music is played over a speaker system. People form a big circle and start dancing. It looks very much like line dancing, but in a large circle, and each dance tells a story. Don’t worry if you don’t know the moves. You can easily learn them by watching them. If you don’t know, one of the older ladies are usually happy to teach you. Many Japanese people don’t even know some of the dances, so don’t be afraid.

If you are in Tokyo during the Azabu-juban Matsuri, I highly recommend that you go to this festival. It’s probably one of the best in Tokyo. There are other festivals held throughout the summer and into late September, but this is one of the biggest. You’ll be able to see all of the other smaller festivals in one place. Make sure you are prepared for the heat, and buy lots of beer.

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。

Sapporo February 17, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sapporo” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sapporo

This is Part V of a multi-part series chronicling my motorcycle adventure from Tokyo to Sapporo and back again.

Background:  In 2007, I had finally gotten my Japanese driver’s license and a motorcycle.  I had been an avid motorcycle rider in Canada before I came to Japan, so after 2 years of no riding, I finally bought a motorcycle and decided to go on a big adventure.  I went from Tokyo to Sapporo by motorcycle and ferry.  It was an adventure to say the least.

Leg 5 (Sapporo)

Sapporo is a beautiful city.  It’s the biggest city in Hokkaido, but it doesn’t feel like such a big city.  It’s quite similar to Vancouver.  The streets tend to be wider than average Japanese cities, and the streets are all numbered.  While the numbering is difficult to learn, it should get easier if you spend enough time in Sapporo.  In Sapporo, addresses go by the block number and compass orientation, for example, 2N 3E and so on.  It’s a little confusing at first, and since I only spent about a day in total in Sapporo,  I didn’t get used to it at all. My initial impression would be that Sapporo would be very easy to navigate, but boy was I wrong.  Going from Chitose to Sapporo wasn’t difficult.  It was navigating Sapporo itself and finding my hotel that was a pain.  I found Sapporo station relatively easily, but finding my bearings to get to my hotel itself was difficult.  I ended up finding a convenience store to get directions.  Convenience stores are my second choice for finding directions.  They are everywhere in Japan.  There was one problem.  After getting directions, I got lost again, and asked a cop for directions again when I was close to the hotel.  Once there, I parked my bike and wouldn’t touch it again for a couple days.

Getting to Sapporo is a lot easier if you are taking a train.  The train station is not the centre of the town, but it is a major centre.  Most of the city’s heart is located on the South side of the station.  I took a look at the North, but it looked similar to any other business district of Japan, so I headed south.  The first thing you will see is a nice open space with a few sculptures.  The station itself is quite beautiful.  It is very modern and suits the city’s spirit.  It is a large brown and gray building with a large blue clock in the middle.  There is shopping in every direction from the main entrance.  If you go without enough clothes, there are many shops selling warm clothing.  If you continue to look south, you will see many tree lined streets.  It’s quite beautiful, and it might be even better in the snow.  Heading south, you’ll run into the former Hokkaido Government buildings.  It’s a wonderful park to visit with lots of green trees and a couple large ponds.  I recommend taking a nice walk from Sapporo station and stopping at this site on your way to Odori Park.

By far, the most popular place to visit in Sapporo is Odori Park.  It’s the most famous park in Sapporo.  It is 1.5 km long and spans 13 blocks.  It is also the centre of Sapporo.  On one end is Sapporo TV Tower and on the other end is the Sapporo City Archive Museum.  In the February, the Yuki-matsuri (Snow Festival) is held, and in the summer, several portables are built to create a large beer garden that spans a couple blocks.  The Yuki-matsuri is the most famous event in Sapporo.  I have seen pictures and it is quite beautiful.  I will be heading there in February and will write about it in the future.  I was a little early to attend the beer gardens, but I’m sure it would be a little overpriced, but wonderful.  Each major Japanese beer label was in the process of building the gardens, so having your choice of beer wouldn’t be difficult.  It looked much better than the Tokyo beer gardens because they are all in one place, and it’s easy to choose your favourite one.  There is only one thing to know about Odori Park.  It’s very boring if there is nothing happening, unless you are a kid.  There are a few places where children can play all day and never get tired.
The final area of Sapporo that is of interest is Susukino.  It’s regarded as the Kabukicho of Sapporo, a red light district.  In this regard, it is considered a place to get sex, but in reality, it isn’t that bad.  Like Kabukicho, it’s a reputation that is hard to shake.  Being a “red light district”, it has the most restaurants in Sapporo.  There is a famous ramen street where you can get Sapporo ramen.  There are also many izakayas and countless bars.  If you are looking for someplace to get a good cheap meal, this is the place.  It is also one of the main locations for the Yuki-matsuri.  I can’t really say too much about this place as I didn’t explore too much.  If you do go, be a little more careful as things could be a little dangerous, in terms of Japanese danger.

Sapporo is a wonderful place to visit, and I definitely want to go again and again.  If you can visit Sapporo directly, I do recommend it.  If you are spending a couple weeks in Japan, and can afford the plane ticket, it’s worth it.  If you have a JR Pass, I don’t recommend it because there are no Shinkansen trains that go to Sapporo.  It takes too much time to get there by train at the moment.  Hokkaido itself is quite easy to explore by train, so if you fly to Sapporo and have a JR Hokkaido pass, you can enjoy yourself for a full week or two and still have things to do.

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。

%d bloggers like this: