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Tokyo (Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome) June 8, 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 “Tokyo (Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-qv

Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome is a small residential district adjacent to Nishi Shinjuku.  The area is full of high rise buildings and a mix of both residential and commercial use buildings.  The atmosphere is loud and busy making it a very dynamic place to visit.  Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome is located west of the Nishi Shinjuku skyscraper district.  It is very common for people to stay in hotels located in Nishi Shinjuku such as The Park Hyatt, The Hilton, and various other major hotel chains.  The Park Hyatt was even used in the movie “Lost in Translation”.  It is very easy for tourists to wander over and check out the closest thing they can get to a residential area.  All you have to do is head west.  Once you pass Shinjuku Central Park, you are in the 5-Chome area.

There aren’t really any landmarks in this area.  Locating the exact area can be very difficult.  The best way to find the area is to find the station, Nishishinjuku Gochome.  While that is easier said than done, another method to find the 5-Chome area is to just head west from any of the major hotels in the Nishi Shinjuku district.  Once you see Shinjuku Central Park, you are almost there.  It’s basically on the other side of the park.  The most obvious “attraction” in the area would have to be the schools.  This area is the central area for the TOHO group of schools.  You can see various kids walking around at all hours.  The main field of study for these schools is anything to do with entertainment.  They teach everything there is to know about film, theatre, and music.  From time to time, you can even see some of the school festivals where they sell various foods to eat.  If you are lucky, you might be able to hear a free concert from within one of the school walls, but this is a very rare occasion.

The main thing to do in Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome is to eat.  There are various restaurants that are good, and many that can satisfy you with a quick cheaper meal.  There is a nice Okinawan restaurant that is more fusion than real Okinawan.  The fusion style is less Western-Okinawan than Japanese-Okinawan.  If you go at the right time, they have a happy hour where beer is pretty cheap.  It’s also the only place in the area with seats outside.  It’s common for people in the middle of summer to buy a scoop of ice cream and enjoy it while the world passes by in front of them.  They sell the famous Blue Seal ice cream brand and you can get Orion beer, which are both famous in Okinawa.  If you are looking for good pasta, there is a good place to eat called Popolare.  It’s extremely hard to find if you don’t know where to look.  It’s behind one of the TOHO schools just past Yamate Street.  Mostly locals visit this restaurant, but it has been getting more and more popular.  It can be busy at times but the quality is generally good.  It’s rare to see a line outside, so reservations aren’t always necessary, but if you have a group of over 4 people, you might want to think about a reservation.  If you love the Beach Boys, you’ll also love this place as the chef/owner always has it playing all the time.  There are several other good restaurants in the area, but you do have to walk around to find them.  The adjacent areas are also very close by, within a 10 minute walk, and worth a quick visit.  The good thing about 5-Chome is that there are many fast food shops in the area so you are never far from food at any hour of the day.  If you get hungry, and you are staying in the area, you can easily go out and get some snacks to satisfy your late night urges.

If you have the energy, heading south will take you to Hatsudai or Tokyo Opera City.  This is a nice area.  The complex is hard to miss as it’s the tallest building in the area and a beacon in and of itself.  Inside, there is a museum and a concert hall.  Once, the annual Kohaku Concert was held there.  The main public complex also holds a small shopping area.  There aren’t many shops but there are a few restaurants as well.  If you are lucky, you can also enjoy a nice festival, usually in the latter half of the year.  Adjacent to the Tokyo Opera City complex is a small shopping street called Fudo Street.  It’s a local only shopping street.  There are various small shops, but the main type of shop is ramen.  You can find a lot of good ramen shops on this street.  The area is also known for some of its Indian or South-East Asian cuisine.  It’s important to try it out if you have the time.  There are also a few izakaya in the area, but they tend to be for locals only.  You can also cross the major highway to the south of Tokyo Opera City.  This area is very similar in tone, but you start to head further and further away from 5-Chome.  If you do have the energy to walk back to Shinjuku, you can always stop off at the Sword Museum which is a nice small museum.  The cost to enter is not really worth it, but if you are very interested in seeing samurai swords and such, it’s worth a visit if you are in the area.  It’s better to go to a major museum as they are only slightly more expensive, but they are at least three times bigger with more things to see.

If you want to try another smaller area, there is Nakano Sakaue.  It’s an area that’s about 15 minutes north of 5-Chome and just one stop down.  It’s very similar to 5-Chome and Hatsudai, with the exception that it’s a little busier.  It’s easier to find things in the area, and there are a few more restaurants that are delicious.  If anything, the main reason to head this way is for the large bookstore and Daiso.  Otherwise, it’s more interesting to head towards Hatsudai.  If you live in the area, it’s great if you head towards the Kanda River.  It’s a very small river that looks more like a concrete canal than anything else.  It’s a great area to go running, but beware that major streets make it difficult to run completely at times.

All in all, this area is great to visit.  It isn’t really worth it when you are only visiting Tokyo, but if you are on your second or third trip with nothing new to see, it is fun to just pick a direction and head out that way.  Many things are great to see a second time around, but heading to this area, especially if your hotel is around here, is worth a visit.

Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome Information:

Tokyo Opera City [English]:  http://www.operacity.jp/en/
Tokyo Opera City [Japanese]  http://www.operacity.jp/

Japanese Sword Museum:  http://www.nbthk-ab.org/Japan.htm

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。

Living in Shinjuku June 1, 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 “Living in Shinjuku” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-qa

In September of 2005, I arrived in Tokyo for the second time in my life and for the first time, I would live in Japan.  For the next five and a half years, I would live in a tiny apartment in Shinjuku.  Technically, I lived in Shibuya, but in reality, I lived closer to Shinjuku and I would later realize that it was impossible for me to explain where I lived if I said Shibuya.  Shinjuku was the best word to use and explained my location perfectly.

As I said, my apartment was a tiny 23 square metre apartment.  My bedroom itself was a paltry 10 square meters or 107 square feet.  Yes, it’s tiny. It cost me about ¥100,000 a month and I lived on a busy major arterial road.  Did I mention that I also lived with my girlfriend?  It was a cramped place that really wasn’t suitable for two people.  It was barely enough space for one, but it was home.  The apartment wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be just now.  While it was tiny, and it was expensive, the price of the apartment was mainly due to the location.  I was fortunate to live only 30 minutes away from Shinjuku, and that’s on foot.  I could easily find a great restaurant and getting out of town was easy.  Every weekend, I would walk into Shinjuku and enjoy the various shops.  It was busy, but not terribly so.  Over the five years, I got to know Shinjuku very intimately.  I know every corner and every path around the station.  Shinjuku Station is one of the most complex stations in the world, but for me, it is a simple place that takes but a second to get around.   If things did get too noisy, it wasn’t too hard for me to find a small quiet oasis just a month away.

The cost of living is not as high as you would expect.  Everyone says that living in Tokyo is very expensive.   For the first while, I would have said that’s true, but if you are smart and know where to go, you can live relatively cheaply.  The other advantage for me was that I lived in a tiny apartment.  It may be tiny, but the cost for utilities was equally tiny.  I was also very fortunate in that the quality of restaurants were very high.  You generally get what you pay for.  If I wanted to splurge and eat something nice, I could easily go to Shinjuku, or somewhere in my area to find something wonderful and romantic.  If I needed something dirt cheap, that was also available.  There were also a few grocery stores where you can get food at a very reasonable price.  Surprisingly, for such a central location, there were lots of options, but only a few that were worth a visit.  Thankfully, I lived outside the Yamanote line, which meant I had more choices.  Those who live within the Yamanote line are saddled with a cost of living that’s MUCH higher.  I was also fortunate that my favourite grocery store wasn’t such a major chain.  Major chains in Japan tend to have somewhat higher prices for some strange reason.  If you ever do decide to live in Japan, walking around the neighbourhood for at least a radius of 2km is necessary to find all of the cheapest places you need.

The biggest problem for me and my apartment was the noise.  My balcony was adjacent to a major street. There were cars on the street at all hours of the day.  Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, and even gas vans would blast be my apartment at all hours with sirens blaring.  In Tokyo, the gas company has the same status at times as an emergency vehicle.  I believe this is mostly to prevent major explosions from a pipeline, especially with buildings packed so closely together.   In the beginning, it was very cool to be able to hear all of the strange sirens of Japanese emergency vehicles, but after a year, it did get annoying.  By far, the most annoying sounds were the loud scooters, bosozoku bikes, and decotora.  Bosozoku are a type of teenage motorcycle gang, which is like recruitment to the Yakuza, but that’s not always the case.  They have very distinct bikes with no mufflers.  Their trademark is to ride around and make as much noise as possible.  While coasting to a stop, they will rev their engines as loud as possible, even though it does nothing but hurt the engine.  The decotora are trucks that have paintings on the side and hundreds of flashing lights.  Think epilepsy inducing strobes.  These trucks are usually okay, but at times, they add noise makers that “pop” as they use the engine brake.  It was the loudest engine noise you could ever think of.  I did get used to the noise, but it didn’t help me to get a good night sleep either.

While the street was a pain due to the noise, it was also a blessing.  I had one of the best views of Shinjuku.  I could look out everyday and see the Tokyo Metropolitan Buildings.  Each night, the buildings would be lit up and the colours would change every so often.  It would sometimes change due to a specific event, such as women’s day or earth day.  It was very nice.  I would also be able to see the changing skyline as new buildings would be built.  During a few storms, I had the privilege to see lightning and rain falling down as if God was angry at the world.  It was an amazing site, and living somewhat high above the street gave me a great view of things.  I even had a view of a major highway construction project that has lasted well over my 5 years at this apartment.  When I moved in, they were in the process of building an underground highway.  When I left, they completed the highway, but they were still doing the arduous process of fixing the roadway itself.   They were placing all of the overhead wires underground and beautifying the entire street.  Alas, I believe it would take another 2 to 5 years to complete everything.  I guess I may never see the final product.

One of the toughest things to get used to was the lack of greenery.  While the area was super convenient, it was also lacking trees and shrubs.  There were several parks in the area, but none of them were within a short walk.  The definition of a park is very different in Tokyo.  A park can be nothing but gravel paved into a square which is only good enough for a game of catch or other simple small area sports.  There were no chances to play touch football or even futsal.  It took a couple years before I was used to this.  It was also impossible to get out of town easily by car or on foot.  The west side of Tokyo is a large metropolis.  The north and west sides are much easier to get into the countryside.  This was part of the reason I sold my motorcycle last year.  The only consolation prize was that it was extremely easy for me to hop onto a major train line, or even get to the Shinkansen to get out of town, but that usually left me in a similar looking area, a major city.

All in all, living in Shinjuku is great.  I loved it and I will definitely miss it.  I wish I could continue living there, forever, but the cost and size was too much.  I found a great place on the other side of town, and now I get to start over again.  I’ll be learning more and more about the east side.  Over the next year or so, expect more information about eastern 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。

Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Civilized) April 20, 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 (Akihabara – For the Civilized)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-n9

Akihabara Electric Town is a well known tourist spot in Tokyo.  Its claim to fame would have to be the electronics shops, comic book shops, and video game shops.  The area is best understood when you look at the station itself.  There are two major train lines that form a cross.  This is the starting point for almost every visitor to Akihabara.  Looking at the map, you can see that most of the shops are located to the north-west of the station.  The south-west corner is still a good place to visit, and the east has recently grown in popularity.  The main street, Chuo-dori, is sometimes closed to allow people to walk freely, and to reduce crowding, but due to an attack that killed several people, this may not be happening anymore.  Thankfully, this area is still relatively safe.  There is no need to really worry about getting injured or having your money stolen, but as with any place in the world, just be careful.

The east side of the station has only one point of interest, Yodobashi Camera.  This is a large electronics retailer that opened in 2005.  It is their largest single building shop with 7 floors of electronics goodness.  There is also a restaurant floor and a golf centre with its own driving range on top of the main electronics floors.  It is very easy to spend a full day in this shop, hence the caveat to be aware of time.  The main floor comprises mostly of mobile goods, such as mobile phones and netbooks.  For most people, heading up is your best bet.  If there is anything you ever wanted, this is the place to go.  They can do duty free for many items, but be aware, that as with most shops, you usually have to spend over 10,000 Yen in order to get a reduction in taxes.  People must also be aware that almost all products sold will be geared towards Japanese people.  Finding goods with English menus will be difficult, if not impossible for many items.  Warranties are also limited to Japan, but this shouldn’t discourage you from purchasing something.  You can always find good things here.  For those looking for a great deal on a new camera, or PC parts, you may be in for a sad surprise.  Prices are not cheaper here.  Yodobashi is a major electronics retailer, so they do not always provide the cheapest prices, and you can always visit one of the other branches or even the other shops to get a comparable price.

On the west side of the station, you will find the true heart of Akihabara.  This is where the original Electric Town was located.  Unfortunately, due to the arrival of Yodobashi Camera, things have changed.  Many, if not all, of the small shops that used to occupy the central Electric Town has left.  Under the railway tracks, the ones that head east and west have almost all left.  The area is also undergoing renovations to “modernize” the area and bring about a cleaner feel.  When I first arrived in Japan, I was able to walk through the tight cramped corridors under the station and buy almost any piece of electronic hardware I wanted.  Switches, lights, cables, batteries and anything that used a battery was sold.  The prices weren’t extremely cheap, but very reasonable.  You could walk into the area, spend 20 minutes shopping, and have everything you needed to build your own radio or more if you had the talent.  Today, we can only see shops such as Laox and Ishimaru.  They are the last famous electronics shops in the area.  If you do go to Akihabara, you can usually skip both Laox and Ishimaru as they generally have the same electronics.  However, if you enjoy manga and anime, these shops do have various character goods for sale.  You can also head to Radio Kaikan which is the main centre for anime goods.  All of these shops are located between the station and Chuo-dori.

The area located between Chuo-dori and Akihabara Station is a very safe place for tourists.  You don’t have to worry too much about speaking Japanese, and the staff is generally friendly.  As you head farther away from the station, further east and further north, you will find the shops will speak less and less English.  The area bounded by Chuo-dori, the JR tracks, and Suehirocho Station in the north, is a very interesting area where you can somewhat experience the old style of Akihabara.  The area near the JR tracks still has a foreigner friendly feel, but one block north will present you with shops that can sell almost anything.  If you are looking for PC parts, this is the area for you.  You can see all of the various peripherals that you could imagine, but do be aware that many of them can also be found around the world.  Then, you have Mandrake.  This is a big black building that can be easy to find if you know where to look.  It’s the only big black building in the area.  This is similar to the same shop that is located in Nakano.  They specialize in the second hand trade of anime and game goods.  You can find various old video games, anime characters, videos, and costumes.  It can be a little scary if you venture into the wrong floor.

With all of this information, you could spend an entire day shopping in Akihabara.  It’s a nice place, but everything mentioned so far is quite tame.  In my next post, I will talk about the eccentricities of Akihabara and a little about the changes that have been happening over the last few years.

The Akihabara series continues with Akihabara – For the Eccentric and Akihabara – Redux.

Akihabara Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akihabara
Wikitravel:  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Akihabara
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html
Official Site (English): http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/index.htm
Official Site (Japanese):  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/ja/index.htm
Free Akihabara Tours:  http://akihabara-tour.com/en/
Akihabara Map:  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/map.htm
Commercial Site:  http://www.akiba.or.jp/english/index.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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