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Tokyo – Daimon March 13, 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 – Daimon” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Mz

Daimon is an area that is fairly unknown to a majority of tourists in Tokyo.  It is better known as Hamamatsucho or even Shiba.  Being Tokyo, many neighbourhoods are so close to each other that it can be difficult to distinguish between the different areas.  This is one such area.  Stretching from the east side of Hamamatsucho Station all the way to Tokyo Tower, the Daimon area is not the most entertaining areas but one of the secret gems of Tokyo.  For those with little time, there is no real reason to visit, to be completely honest, but if you have the time, you will be rewarded with beauty and tranquility that is not found outside of the area.

Daimon itself is a very bland area.  It is a modern symbol of how most of Japan’s cities look.  It has the appearance of being a small city in Japan with rows of boring rectangular buildings.  In all directions you look, you will find it difficult to tell where you are unless you can see Tokyo Tower.  Adding to the blandness is the fact that the area around Hamamatsucho is very busy transfer point as it is the end station of the Tokyo Monorail which runs to Haneda Airport.  The east side of Hamamatsucho is the home of the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Gardens but unfortunately I haven’t visited that area yet but I hope to do so in the near future.  The garden is considered the most beautiful in Tokyo and must be worth a visit.  I often just head straight from Hamamatsucho Station to Zojoji which is just a few minutes on foot.

Zojoji is a very beautiful Buddhist temple located near the foot of Tokyo Tower.  It is a large complex that houses one of the most tranquil temples in Tokyo.  I have visited many temples and shrines but Zojoji is one of the few inviting temples that encourage people to go inside and pray.  In some temples and shrines, the prayer area can feel a bit strange as the doors may be closed, or the setting can feel a little less inviting.  It is worth the time to just sit down and soak up the atmosphere inside the temple itself.  It is a very quiet atmosphere where you can only hear the various prayers people make as they throw their money into the collection boxes.  As I mentioned in a previous post about the best temples and shrines in Tokyo, Zojoji is one of the most picturesque.  With Tokyo Tower in the background, you can really get a good sense of history and modernity.  The surrounding grounds are also interesting with a small hall adjacent to the main one.  Behind the small hall is a mausoleum for some of the members of the Tokugawa shogunate, one of the first shogun clans to rule Japan.  They are revered in Tokyo and I would say one of the most, if not the most important clan in Japanese history.  Unfortunately you do have to pay a small fee to enter the mausoleum grounds itself.

To the south of Zojoji is Shiba Park.  It is not a very popular park and very often overlooked by most people.  Most tourists will cut through Zojoji to head directly to Tokyo Tower.  I prefer a small stop in Shiba Park as it is somewhat of a unique park in Tokyo.  The entrance makes the park look like a very small park.  It is an open field with trees in the back.  What is hidden is a large mound with stairs heading up the mound at the back of the open field.  Few people, aside from the locals visit this area.  It is a wonderfully quiet area with mostly local tourists exploring the area.  There are a few monuments in the area but for those longing for some nature, specifically a forest like feeling, this area is perfect.  With trees blanketing the entire hill, you will be hard pressed to find a lot of natural sunlight as the trees filter out most of the sunlight.  There are a lot of interesting corners of the park that can be explored.  It won’t take a long time to explore the entire park but it is worth it if you have the time.

Flanking Zojoji are two hotels.  The Prince Park Tower is located to the south of Zojoji on the west side of Shiba Park.  It is a tall modern tower that is a nice hotel to stay in, albeit somewhat less convenient than many other hotels.  There is a small open field located next to the hotel that is a nice way to cut through to Tokyo Tower rather than going through the main route next to Zojoji.  On the north side of Zojoji is the Tokyo Prince Hotel.  This is one of the most written about hotels in Tokyo.  Various novels that are set in Tokyo often use the Tokyo Prince Hotel as one of their locations.  While it is often referred to in various novels, it is also well known for its swimming pool.  In the summer, the pool is open to the public for a fee and it is one of the most popular swimming pools in the city.  This is mainly due to the good views of Tokyo Tower next to the hotel itself.  Unfortunately, for a regular tourist, this is probably not an important place to visit and the building itself is architecturally boring.  The area itself is more important than the hotel but for the curious, there is no harm visiting the hotel itself.

Aside from Zojoji and being a way to access Tokyo Tower, Daimon is not really an important place for tourists to visit.  I feel that it is a very nice hidden gem in the city and worth a visit for Zojoji alone.  It doesn’t take a long time and you can easily visit Tokyo Tower at the same time.  Combining it with an afternoon trip to Roppongi can help as well, and Tokyo Tower is pretty well connected to other areas of Tokyo via the Tokyo Metro System.  It can be difficult to choose but if time is on your side, make plans to visit the Daimon area.

Pets (Dogs) in Japan January 10, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Pets (Dogs) in Japan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-GY

If any of you have checked out my other blog, “A Sox Life”, you will know that I had gotten a dog in December 2010.  I have been an avid dog lover since I was young and had a dog for most of my life.  I have spent years without a dog in Japan, but I always had one back home in Canada.  It is a difficult but happy event to get a dog in Japanand I never regret getting a dog.  Owning a dog, or a pet, in Japancan be a very complicated process.  The actual process of getting a pet and keeping them in your house/apartment is simple enough but it’s difficult to be done officially.

The first hurdle one must jump is the need for a place that allows pets.  For anyone looking for an active pet such as a cat or dog, you must find an apartment that allows pets.  Before moving to the east side of Tokyo, my apartment didn’t really allow pets.  The initial contract said pets were not allowed but after asking the company that leased the apartment to us, they said a small pet was okay.  My dog, a Shiba, is a medium sized dog in Japan, yet he is on the small side of that scale.  My old apartment was too small for a dog anyways so we found a place that did allow dogs, but my current apartment owner says that cats are not allowed.  Small dogs are fine, and he said a Shiba was fine too.  When getting a pet, you typically add an extra month or two worth of deposits.  This is due to the increased costs of fixing the apartment due to having a pet.  While it seems simple to find an apartment that allows pets, this is a very difficult thing to accomplish.  In a completely unscientific method based on my memory, 98% of all apartments don’t allow pets.  The ones that do typically allow only small pets, and if you have a big dog, you can almost forget about finding a place anywhere in Tokyo.  It is almost necessary to own your own house.  Even apartment owners are restricted by the building rules and they typically restrict the size of a pet.

The second hurdle is to find a pet.  There are several places to get one.  The typical pet shops are the easiest, albeit expensive, places.  Personally, I refuse to purchase a pet from a pet shop due to the way they keep their pets.  The small boxes with windows where customers constantly bang on the window and the poor state they keep their pets is saddening to me.  I believe the major shops in Japan do a good job during the day but at night, who knows what they do.  I have also seen some of the small shops that are terrible.  When getting my dog, I looked at a website/NPO called Chiba-wan.  They are a group of volunteers that adopt cats and dogs from shelters and bring them to twice monthly events.  One event is geared towards small and medium sized dogs, and the other is for all sizes.  It’s a very well run organization and a network of nice people.  There are many other organizations but they are the only ones I know.  Typically, it will cost about 40,000 yen to get a cat or dog from them.  This is mostly in gifts and reimbursements.  Sox was adopted by the volunteer and he had to be neutered.  He also got an electronic chip inserted under his skin and the volunteer had to pay for food and such for the time he was with her.  Typically a person who is adopting the cat or dog will give a “thank you” gift of money to compensate the volunteer for the surgeries and food as well as a few other supplies so they can use it for future rescued pets.  Unfortunately the organization cannot rescue every pet as some are not capable of being adopted.  Some are too old and some are not cute enough.  Some are also too aggressive.  It is unfortunate but it is the only way for them to operate as there aren’t enough volunteers for these unwanted pets.  Some of the volunteers will rescue up to 5 pets on top of whatever pets they already have at home.

Once you adopt a pet, you have to register them.  For me, I had to wait a month as a trial period.  In this time, I can change my mind, but within a week, I knew he was going to be my dog forever.  It took a long time to register him, but it’s a very simple process.  Taking a few documents to the city hall and finding the appropriate window was simple.  My city actually has a dog event where they vaccinate and register dogs all at once.  It was pretty convenient to do it.  After that time, he was mine and everything was fine.  Of course that is just the beginning as with any other pet in any country, you need constant “maintenance”.  Finding a vet, a pet store for food, and other things like that take time.  In Tokyo, there are very few shops that sell pet items.  I found many places had a pet corner but the variety of goods sold was for small pets such as a chihuahua.  It took a month or two before I headed to another station and found a large pet store.  They had everything I needed and pets were welcome inside the shop.  Unfortunately I can’t bring my dog there as it’s a little far.  Thankfully it is probably one of only a few places that have a wide variety of items.

When owning a pet, you eventually have to leave your home and go somewhere else, be it for a vacation or to move.  It can be difficult to find a way around if you don’t have a car.  If you have a car, there is almost no limit in where you can go.  Without a car you are limited to where you can walk.  With my dog, that is roughly 5 km.  It can get a bit difficult to go places and with him, it’s difficult to take him on a bicycle.  Of course I can hold him but my cycling skills are no where near good enough to hold him in one arm and cycle at the same time.  I could put him in the basket but then I have to worry about him jumping out.  I’m also worried about him taking off as I ride the bicycle or him darting out in front of the bicycle and me hitting him if he runs alongside me.  It’s a difficult challenge that is not easy for either of us.  For those with a cat, it might be easier as using a hard cage isn’t too bad.  The other option is to get a cage and carry him around.  Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Having a big cage is heavy and cumbersome.  Sox is a little small but at just under 10kg, he isn’t light over long distances.  I could always purchase a stroller for cats and dogs but they are very expensive.  In reality there isn’t an easy way to travel with a pet if you don’t have a car.  If you have a very small dog though, it can be much easier as you can just stuff them into a bag and you are done.

For those looking for a less traditional pet, things can be much easier.  Most apartment owners say no pets, but hiding a small pet is much easier than a cat or dog.  Cats can scratch a lot of things, and dogs can be noisy.  A small pet such as a gerbil or a small rabbit are much easier to maintain.  While you still have to clean up after them, as long as you have a cage and a few other things to keep them happy, you don’t have to worry too much about them destroying your apartment.  They don’t need to be walked everyday so the chances of the owner seeing your pet is also much lower.  Snakes, bugs, and fish are very similar as well.  As long as you can hide them in your apartment without the owner knowing, it isn’t difficult to keep one.  In Japan, I’d say fish are the third most popular pet with gerbils/hamsters/mice also being up there.  For many kids, they love to keep Hercules beetle or a giant horned beetle.  They often have a huge fascination with them and you can often buy them at shops around Tokyo.

As a dog lover, having a dog is a life changing event.  It is almost always for the better.  Having a pet in Japan made me wonder how different things would be compared to Canada.  Aside from the need to find an owner who will allow us to have a dog, there really isn’t much trouble finding a place.  The only other problem is manners.  Carrying a dog to and from our apartment isn’t always easy and how to react when you meet other dog owners isn’t always set in stone.  It’s pretty similar and a dog lover in Japan is almost the same as a dog lover in any other part of the world.

Pet Information:

Chiba-wan:  http://route326.kir.jp/satooya_top.htm (Japanese Only)
Chiba-wan (Cats page):  http://boshuu.chibawan.net/cat/tokyo/index.html (Japanese Only)
Chiba-wan (Dogs page [males]): http://boshuu.chibawan.net/dog/male/index.html (Japanese Only)


2011 Year in Review December 27, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Japan, Kansai, Kanto.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2011 Year in Review” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-L6

It has been quite a year for me here in Tokyo.  The year started off pretty boring but got terrifying very quickly.  Things settled down of course and now things are pretty much back to normal.  I managed to make many new friends and got out of Japan twice.  Unfortunately I didn’t return home for a year but the adventures I did have will last me a lifetime.  2011 has been the year “everything changed” as the catch phrase goes.  I wouldn’t say everything has changed, but a lot has and will continue to change for years to come.  There is always change in life and I feel that this past year was not that different than past years, in terms of the total amount of change.

The year was pretty standard for me.  The start was filled mostly with work.  I was working hard as I had a personal project that I would be working on starting in late spring 2011.  I decided that working almost to my death was necessary to build up my savings.  I went out from time to time but spent most of my time just ploughing away at work.  By March, things were going smoothly until the 11th when the earth shook.  I can look back at the post I made immediately after the 11th when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred and I can tell that I was scared deep within my mind.  It wasn’t something I wanted to admit to myself at the time but it was probably true.  Even now I try to think that I wasn’t scared, but it was a point where I nearly had a nervous breakdown.  For nearly a month after the 11th, I heard nothing but people being concerned with my safety as well as people telling me things about radiation.  While the concern was always nice, the information on the radiation was not.  There comes a time when you choose your home and very little information will make you change it.  It was difficult and frightening to read a lot of the information but necessary as I had my own confirmation bias that things would be okay.

Once the drama of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster had subsided, things started to return to normal. Life never did return to normal, like before, but things were a lot better.  I started to plan my trips better and my personal project was delayed by just a month.  The summer months were filled with work and a little travel.  I visited Taipei for the first time in my life, as well as Singapore.  I was able to see various areas of Tokyo that I never would have visited before as well.  The summer was hot and humid as always but thankfully not too bad.  There was a lot of energy saving measures everywhere as Japan didn’t have the energy capacity at the time but now that it is winter, the energy supply is looking adequate for Tokyo’s demands.  It was a very difficult adjustment for most people but being me, it was nothing more than a quick change in my personal lifestyle to cope with the higher indoor temperatures and lack of light.

The biggest change for me, other than the earthquake, was my dog Sox.  I had gotten him in December 2010 and it was my first full year with him.  It took a bit of time for him to get used to living in my apartment and the earthquake followed by a trip to Kobe wasn’t helpful either.  He is such a cute and fun dog and now life has settled very well.  He is used to my place and he feels very much at home.  He even sleeps in my bed now, although I’m not always happy he does so.  My previous lifestyle of travelling at least once a season has ended though so it will be difficult for me to keep writing posts in the future.  Hopefully I’ll find more things to talk about in the future but it looks likely that I will have to write more about life in Tokyo rather than the various places I would love to visit.  I will write about them when I do go there but unfortunately it might not be as often as before.

In terms of statistics, this blog has grown a lot.  Aside from June, I have averaged over 1,000 hits a month with the busiest month being March (1,455).  This is probably due to the earthquake and people reading a bit about it, but October (1,432) was also a big month.  In terms of busiest days, November 3rd saw the most hits ever with 123.  My blog has opened a few interesting doors as a few news personalities in the US did contact me for interviews about the disaster in March, or to ask if I knew anyone up there, but I was not qualified to talk about it nor did I know anyone up there.  Tokyo was far from a disaster zone and I didn’t know anyone up there.  In even better news, I had two pictures published.  One was for my dog.  I had a picture of my dog published in a dog calendar for 2012.  It was a very small picture and one of nearly 365 pictures.  He occupied a small slot in June for just one day, but it is better than nothing.  Having my picture published in Mollie Makes was even bigger for me.  It is a new crafts magazine in the UK and I was extremely flattered that they wanted to use my picture, although it was just a small one and one of many used on the page.  Still, I’m happy to see things getting better after a few years of this blog.

This coming year should be exciting.  Last year at this time I mentioned that I was finally putting a little money into this blog and my site.  Things have changed a lot but all of it has been behind the scenes.  I have been working with a partner on a huge project that has taken a lot of my free time and a bit of my work life too.  I hope to have something to announce by spring.  I mentioned that I would have a new website last year, but unfortunately that hasn’t happened yet.  It is still in the works but as things go, they crawl to a finish at times.  Hopefully it will be complete very soon and the big project is released on time.  It is a big challenge to do things by a deadline but that is what must be done.  The year is ending but that doesn’t mean things will end.  Things evolve and so have I.  I can only hope it all works out.


Sakura April 21, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sakura” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sakura

Late March into mid-April is the Sakura season in Japan.  Every year, within a two week window, the cherry blossoms start to bloom turning Japan into a sea of pink.  It marks the true start to spring.  If you plan your trip to coincide with this season, you will not be disappointed.  You’ll be able to experience a unique Japan that very few tourists will ever experience.

Many people wonder what is so special about the cherry blossoms.  It isn’t, necessarily, only the fact that they are beautiful, but also some of the history of the cherry blossoms with Japan.  It has been part of their culture for centuries, if not millenia.  There is a fairy tale saying that there is a body buried underneath each cherry tree.  Cherry trees are the only trees in Japan that have flowers that bloom before leaves are grown.  While I cannot verify this claim, it does help promote the tale.  This also brings a feeling that cherry trees are somewhat magical and it can bring about powers to many people.  It is very common to see cherry trees planted within temple grounds, parks, along rivers, and almost everywhere else a tree can be planted.

The most popular thing to do in Japan during the sakura season is to go to a hanami.  In fact, many Japanese people don’t say “sakura season” but rather “hanami season”.  Literally translated, this means flower watching season, or more specifically watching the cherry blossoms.  On weekends, it’s common to see families enjoying a nice stroll in the park or along the river enjoying the beautiful cherry trees.  You can see many friends playing Frisbee or just having a nice time talking to one another.  It’s a great time to have a picnic.  These usually involve bentos (Japanese style packed lunches) and onigiri (rice balls with some type of filling and seaweed wrapped around it).  When the sun goes down, things can change dramatically.  Often, there are many floodlights that are turned on to make the pink blossoms stand out even more.  It can create very surreal experience.  It is also when all of the office workers come out to party.

Hanami parties are very common for offices and friends.  For the two weeks that the cherry blossoms are blooming, almost every office in Japan will have their own hanami party.  While this is probably declining in recent years, it’s still a popular tradition among the older companies.  Being the end of the fiscal year for most companies, and the start for most new recruits, it’s the final menial task for new recruits who are about to enter their second year with a company.  They have one, and only one mission.  Find a nice spot in a park, a park that has been decided by the office, and start camping out there from the mid-afternoon.  The spaces under the cherry trees, themselves, are often taken by noon, and some workers must camp out there all day.  It’s a long and boring task that essentially involves unfurling a large blue tarp, making sure it’s secure, and then sleeping all day.  They can also play games on their phone or whatever electronics they have.  Once their co-workers finish for the day, they can start to party.  Generally, it’s a loud, crowded, and jovial event.  If you are weary of such crowds, it’s best to avoid the parks at night, but there are a few places you can visit that are still nice, and not too bad.

In Tokyo, there are several great places to visit.  Ueno Park is one of the most famous places in the north.  The entire park is lined with cherry blossoms, but unfortunately, the entire park is paved, so there is very few, if any, grassy areas to sit, eat, and enjoy the cherry blossoms.  It’s also one of the most crowded areas in this season.  Another area is Kudanshita.  It is an area north of the Imperial Palace.  There are many areas here that can be enjoyed, along with almost any other place around the Imperial Palace.  Yasukuni Shrine is another famous, if not controversial, place to visit.  There are many cherry trees within the shrine and along the streets surrounding this shrine.  It’s a beautiful place.  Shinjuku Gyoen is also highly recommended, as is Shiba Park at the foot of Tokyo Tower.  The Sumida River and Meguro River is also famous and worth a visit if you have the time; and you aren’t tired of looking at cherry blossoms.

If you need to get out of Tokyo, Kyoto is always highly recommended.  The cherry blossoms are always nice, but I have not had the chance to see them.  I would also recommend visiting Himeji.  It becomes more beautiful with all the pink blossoms providing a new look to the castle.  It’s somewhat rare to see the white castle framed with cherry blossoms.  The park in front of the castle is also very nice and extremely popular for locals to enjoy the weekend.  If you get a chance, I’d also highly recommend visiting Himeji during this season as well.

The cherry blossom season is a beautiful time to visit.  Just remember that you have to be very lucky to get your timing right.  Pick a few weeks to visit and cross your fingers.


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