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Tokyo Sky Tree March 27, 2012

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 Sky Tree” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Nv

Tokyo Sky Tree is the newest landmark in Tokyo.  It is a culmination of planning and building that spanned over 5 years.  Tokyo Sky Tree was officially unveiled to the public when the designs were published at the end of 2006.  Tokyo Sky Tree is currently the tallest tower in the world and second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa.  Sky Tree was built because of the rapid growth of skyscrapers in Tokyo.  In the past, Tokyo Tower, which stands at 333m, was the tallest structure in Japan.  With an ever changing landscape and advances in technology, Tokyo Tower was quickly becoming a regular structure rather than the tall tower that was needed.  Tokyo Tower is a fully functioning TV Tower that broadcasts terrestrial television and radio programs across Tokyo.  With the large towers in Roppongi creating greater problems for Tokyo Tower, the need for a new taller structure was conceived and Tokyo Sky Tree was built.

In 2008, the ground-breaking ceremony for Tokyo Sky Tree was held and the pace of construction has been furious.  Like many buildings, the foundation is the hardest part of any construction.  It took almost one complete year before the foundations were finished and the main structure could begin to be built.  From that point it was very noticeable that Sky Tree was growing daily.  It took two full years to reach a height of 600m and aside from a few moments where the tower seemed to stop growing for a month or so, it was very easy to see progress being made to the external structure of the tower.  Tokyo Sky Tree is topped by a large antenna that stands 36m tall.  The 36m tall antenna was built inside the base of the tower and jacked up to its final position.  It was about 10m from its final resting height when the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake struck.  Thankfully the main structure held up and the tower structure was completed soon after checks were made along the entire tower.

There is a lot of symbolism and technology within Tokyo Sky Tree.  The first aspect of Tokyo Sky Tree is the shape.  While most pictures will show a circular structure, it is far more complex than that.  The design was created to start as a triangular base as it slowly transforms into a circular design by the time it reaches the observation decks.  The triangular base was designed to minimize the effect of shadows on the surrounding area.  Whether this is true or not is unknown by myself as I don’t have the means to test it out.  The next piece of technology is the use of old technology.  It is often promoted by the designers that Tokyo Sky Tree was built using old ideas with modern technology.  Utilizing the ancient designs of pagoda in Japan, they created a centre column with the structure hanging from it at the top.  This allows the centre column to “float” independently from the outer structure and help protect it from catastrophic failure in the event of an earthquake.  Of course this is using modern upgrades to the design and modern technology and materials.  The final symbolism in the structure is the height.  Tokyo Sky Tree stands at 634m tall.  634 can also be read as “mu(tsu) (6), san (3), shi (4)” or “musashi”.  Musashi is the old name of the region.  Musashi Province was an area that encompassed Tokyo, Saitama, and part of Kanagawa.  It can easily be thought of as the entire region that also includes Chiba.

The official mascot of Tokyo Sky Tree is Sorakara-chan.  Sorakara-chan can be loosely translated as the girl from the sky.  The simple backstory of Sorakara-chan is that she found Tokyo because Tokyo Sky Tree was able to cut above the clouds and shine very brightly.  You can already find her items and souvenirs at the base of Tokyo Sky Tree before the tower has even been opened to the public.  It is a typical marketing ploy by the operators of Tokyo Sky Tree and she will definitely make money for them.  Tokyo Sky Tree is not just a TV tower.  It is also a full scale shopping complex.  The main floors are occupied by Tokyo Solamachi.  Tokyo Solamachi is the name of the shopping complex that occupies the main building at the base of Tokyo Sky Tree that stands a mere 7 stories tall.  Tokyo Solamachi isn’t very special as it consists mainly of a typical shopping mall but they have added a dome theatre and aquarium to the top floors.  It will be the focal point for the entire neighbourhood and create a bit of competition for neighbouring Asakusa and Kinshicho.  It is unlikely that the new area, coined “Sky Tree Town” by the developer will take off immediately.  It will take time to build up but it will be very popular once it opens in May.

While Tokyo Sky Tree itself is complete, the entire structure and Solamachi won’t be open to the public until May 22nd, assuming there are no last second delays.  It will be a very popular destination at first and there are sure to be lines to go to the observation deck and lines to get into the shopping complex for the first year or so.  Whether or not it will give people enough reason to keep visiting is anyone’s guess.  It is likely that the complex will do well into the future.  It has the potential to draw a lot of people to the tower as it is located just a stone throw’s away from Asakusa.

This is the first in a series of posts about Tokyo Sky Tree.  To read more, please head over to Tokyo Sky Tree (Opening Day)

Tokyo (Ebisu, Hiroo, and Daikanyama) March 30, 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 (Ebisu, Hiroo, and Daikanyama)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-ebisu

Ebisu is a relatively famous area of Tokyo. It is next to Shibuya and close to Roppongi. It is known among locals as a hip place to eat lots of good food. The area is named after a famous Japanese beer, Yebisu. Both are pronounced the same. The true origin of Ebisu is from the name of one of the seven gods of fortune. He is mainly the god of fishermen and is always pictured with a fishing rod and fish. He is also the god of luck, working men, and the health of young children. Yebisu beer, itself, is also named after this god. Many people outside Japan don’t know of Yebisu beer as it’s not famous outside Japan. It is considered a major craft beer, and it’s priced that way as well. Yebisu beer is a very good beer, and highly recommended if you are in Japan.

While Ebisu itself is a fairly large district, there aren’t many things to see or do. Heading South of the station, along the Yebisu Skywalk, you will reach Ebisu Garden Place. It is a wonderful area that provides many photo opportunities. Mitsukoshi department store is the major tenant of the area, and there are many interesting shops. However, don’t expect anything different compared to other department stores in Tokyo. The main attraction has to be the Yebisu/Sapporo beer museum. Yebisu is actually owned by Sapporo Breweries, and this is the only beer museum within Tokyo itself. The tour itself isn’t spectacular. It’s a self guided walk in only Japanese. You don’t even see anyone brewing beer. The best part is the sampling. You can get relatively cheap beer (compared to a bar). The best is the tasting set, 4 small glasses of beer. If you want to try Yebisu beer, but don’t know which one is best, this is your best option. Try them all! Aside from Ebisu Garden Place, there isn’t much to see. Ebisu has nothing more to offer than a plethora of restaurants. Anything you want to eat can be found here. If you choose any direction from the station, you are bound to find several good restaurants.

East of Ebisu, you will reach Hiroo. I don’t advise walking there as there aren’t many signs and you are bound to be lost. Hiroo is a quaint little town that is very expensive to live in. Hiroo is home to several embassies, and with it comes many foreigners. It’s very akin to Roppongi, but without the seedy nature. Shopping is mainly restricted to small boutiques, and so is eating. It can be difficult to find a reasonably price meal.  The nice I would generally skip this area, but some people enjoy walking around various districts in Tokyo.  The plus side of walking in this area is that it is very quiet and peaceful.  There are also a few nice places to sit, relax, and have a nice cup of coffee.

Heading West of Ebisu, you’ll reach the fashionable district of Daikanyama. It’s a very easy walk, but like all areas of Ebisu, you will more than likely get lost looking for it. It’s a very hip area that has many young fashion brands. You are likely to find rare pieces of clothing and several high end shops at the same time. This area is famous for the rich and famous. They do a lot of shopping, and it’s your best chance to see them on their days off. However, if you don’t know any famous Japanese stars, you would probably walk right past them without knowing who they are. Daikanyama is also home to Evisu jeans. While they were founded in Osaka, they were also named after the same god, Ebisu, as the beer and the neighbourhood. It’s fitting that they have a shop or two located just outside Ebisu itself.

Depending on what you are looking for, and how long you are staying, Ebisu and the surrounding areas may be an interesting place to see. However, I don’t recommend it for everyone. If you are looking for something unique, Daikanyama is a good place to go. If you want good eats, Ebisu is great. If you are just looking for a place in Tokyo where the old meets new, Ebisu is good, at the moment. Beware that Ebisu is growing extremely fast, and all the old shops that gave it character are slowly being demolished for large new buildings.

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 (Roppongi) September 8, 2009

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 (Roppongi)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-8u

Roppongi is a somewhat seedy area of Tokyo that is extremely popular with foreigners. When I came to Japan, over 3 years ago, Roppongi was undergoing a revitalization of the neighbourhood. Roppoongi Hills had just opened and it was suddenly a place for the rich and famous to visit. However, there was still a large club district where there were dozens of clubs that attracted many foreigners.

The first place people usually think of when they talk about shopping and Roppongi is Roppongi Hills. It is an upscale shopping mall and business complex that opened in 2003. It’s a large labyrinth of walkways, stairs, and shops. Finding your way around this shopping complex is difficult to say the least. Finding Roppongi Hills is also a challenge. Depending on which train you take, Roppongi Hills isn’t located near the station, so check the maps or you could easily get lost. However, if you take the correct train, you will be greeted by a large glass atrium that is very picturesque. The main attractions of the complex aren’t the upscale shops. Rather, the first is a large open terrace that goes up and down over the complex. It’s a nice place to see some interesting art and enjoy a nice stroll. There is a famous spider sculpture that can be eerie, yet it’s perfectly harmless. The roof will also allow you to enjoy the view of Tokyo Tower. If you head down from the terrace, you’ll reach a nice small garden with lots of plants and flowers. It’s a beautiful place to visit during the cherry blossom season. In the winter, there are hundreds of lights within the park and also throughout the complex. If you head up, way up, you will reach the Mori Art museum and a viewing centre. Beware though as you have to pay to see the view. The last attraction is the TV Asahi building. It houses a few displays of current TV shows airing in Japan as well as a gift corner. If you venture outside near the car park entrance, you might see some film crews with some Japanese talents.

If you walk around Roppongi Hills, you will have a nice time enjoying some of the new shops that have popped up in the area. They tend to be high priced boutiques that offer some nice goods that may not be easy to find anywhere else. You will also run into the Chinese embassy. It’s best to not head too far down that road as there really isn’t much to see. However, on the TV Asahi corner of the complex, you will be able to go to the Blueman Group theatre, a nice large Tsutaya bookstore, and Azabu-juban.  Do note that the Blueman Group will have their last Tokyo show on November 29, 2009.  Be sure to catch the show while you can.  Whether or not they’ll have a new show or what will replace them in that theatre remains to be seen.

In 2007, Roppongi Hills had some competition. Roppongi Hills was built by Mori Building, one of the largest development companies in Japan. Their arch rivals, Mitsui Fudosan decided to literally go across the station, buy a disused military base and build a “cousin” complex to Roppongi Hills called Tokyo Midtown. It was an ingenious idea as the area was already growing rapidly, and demand for high end shops were growing. It was also a very risky adventure as it could easily flop. Thankfully, things went well, and both complexes are thriving. The main theme of Tokyo Midtown was to promote lesser known high end brands. Tokyo Midtown also has a large underground eating area and prepared foods section. You can buy almost anything that you could imagine. The main attraction for the budget conscious is the large garden behind the main entrance. The garden measures a 40,000 sq metre garden that is wonderful to just wander around. While it’s more of a park, it’s still very beautiful and full of couples during December as they have a huge light display. In a corner of the garden, and underground, is the Suntory Museum of Art. It is a direct competitor to the Mori Art Museum, and in many cases, people say its better. Lastly, Tokyo Midtown is also the site of the Ritz Carlton Tokyo. It’s the first one in Tokyo, but probably not too interesting for most people.

I mentioned, at the beginning of this post, that Roppongi has undergone a transformation from a club district to a high end shopping district. While that is true for the most part, there is still a sizable area for clubbing. The original meeting spot of Roppongi was at the Almond café. It is on the corner of Roppongi-dori and Gaien Higashi-dori. It is the pink and white shop. Unfortunately, due to high rents, this café has recently relocated. However, if you walk down the street towards Tokyo Tower, you will head towards the entertainment district of Roppongi. Unfortunately, things are quickly getting quiet as many clubs are closing due to the revitalization efforts. If you want to see this area, you had better do it quickly. I’ve heard that some of the clubs are moving towards Azabu, but I cannot confirm this.

Roppongi is, without a doubt an interesting place to visit. Unfortunately, it is no longer a unique place. Aoyama and Omotesando both have their own versions of Roppongi Hills, and even Shanghai’s World Financial Centre (developed by Mori Building) will be similar. It isn’t a new thing. It’s essentially mixed use “habitat” where you can work, live, and play. It’s a wonderful place to go on a date, but remember that it’s still somewhat expensive.

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 (Azabu-Juban) May 19, 2009

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 (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。

Tokyo (Shinjuku – East side and Kabukicho) Part III December 15, 2008

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 (Shinjuku – East side of Kabukicho)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-4R

This is Part III of my Shinjuku post. Please go to my first and second post for more information Shinjuku .

 

Shinjuku Nichome is an infamous district in Tokyo.  It’s known as the gay and transvestite section of Tokyo.  There are many TV shows showcasing the bars and atmosphere of Nichome.  It is very well known to Tokyoites, however many people rarely venture into this area.  You will definitely see male oriented adult shops, but it’s relatively tame during the daytime.  When the sun goes down, and the bars open up, you’ll start to see people enter and enjoy a crazy time.  While this area is known as a gay district, just West of Nichome and East of the train tracks is Shinjuku Gyoen.  This is one of the Imperial Gardens of Tokyo.  The cost of admission is 200 Yen, and depending on the time of year, it’s worth it.  During the Spring time, you’ll be greeted by tall cherry trees that are completely pink with cherry blossoms.   It can be a beautiful sight.  Beware of the early afternoon and night as it’s also a famous place for Hanami parties.  During the Hanami season, Japanese people gather with their friends or co-workers for a night of drinking beer under the cherry blossoms.  It can become a very exciting night.  During the day, you’ll even see one of the new employees sleeping on a big blue tarp, keeping the space reserved so that his co-workers can join him for the party.  In the Summer time, the trees are green allowing you a beautiful getaway from the city.  You’ll be graced with the presence of rare birds and fauna for Tokyo as well.  In late Autumn there is a Chrysanthemum exhibit and the Autumn Leaves season.  This is when all the leaves turn a magnificent red, yellow, and orange.  Like the cherry blossom season, you must be very lucky to be here at that time.  Being one week too early or too late will not help you.  The season lasts around one week, max.  If you just happen to be here at that time, this is a place that I’d definitely recommend.  Note that in Winter, the leaves of most trees have fallen, and the grass begins to turn yellow or brown, so it isn’t worth it.  Avoid December-March.

Kabukicho is considered to be the most dangerous place in Tokyo, if not Japan.  It’s Tokyo’s unofficial red light district and home to many bars, clubs, and adult (sex) shops.  Like most places where sex is the main attraction, you’ll be able to enjoy great food in this area.  Restaurants and bars are everywhere and getting fast food is also very easy.  If you miss your train and need food or coffee, this is probably the most guaranteed area where you’ll find something.  You may even be surprised by the quality of the food.  The clubs, on the other hand, tend to have mixed results.  While I have never visited one myself, they range from typical host and hostess clubs (kabakura), to strip clubs.  Dancing is better in Roppongi or Shibuya.  Visiting a host or hostess club is a very strange experience, from what I’ve been told.  You are basically paying to drink and talk to someone.  The bill usually starts from 10,000 yen, and there are no limits.  The women in this area can be quite beautiful, however they tend to be dressed in very fancy evening gowns and very puffy hair.  The hosts tend to wear cheesy suits and also have puffy (Dragonball) hair.  Unfortunately, foreigners may have a tough time entering one of these clubs as the owners are afraid of foreigners abusing the system and not knowing how to act in one of these clubs.  Each club will be different and the types of girls/guys working there will vary.  While the majority look the same, be aware that there are some transvestite clubs in this area too.  In terms of sex stores and clubs, they are also everywhere, but they tend to be behind opaque curtains.  Many African men, and Japanese of course, will solicit you (mainly men) to enter one of their clubs.  This will probably mean a very high cover charge that you were never told about, or something even more expensive.  I’ll let your own imagination paint the picture.  The good thing is that these guys are rarely, if ever, in the area before 6pm.  However, it’s a great place to walk and see the other side of Japan, the side that most people would like to forget.  Regarding the “most dangerous place in Japan”, I don’t believe this place is that dangerous.  It’s not completely safe, but it’s still safer than the rest of the world.  If you have lived a sheltered life, I don’t recommend it, but if you have travelled a lot, or know how to handle yourself, it’s a fun place to check out.  You don’t have to spend a lot of time here either.  It does get boring, very fast.

So that’s Shinjuku.  In all respects, it is a city unto itself.  If you pick a direction and start walking, you’ll see something different every time.  You can spend two full days exploring the different areas of Shinjuku, but I only recommend one.  There is so much more to see in Tokyo.   However, if you live in Tokyo, please visit Shinjuku often and check out each district.  The “city” has a bad reputation among many people, but it’s still a wonderful city to check out and enjoy.  It literally has something for everyone, unlike most of the other districts in 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。

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