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Tokyo (Ueno – Ameyokocho) May 25, 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 (Ueno – Ameyokocho)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mZ

Ameyokocho, or Ameyoko for short is a major shopping area of Ueno.  It’s literally translated as “Candy Alley” or “American Alley” depending on how you read it.  “Ame” is short for sweet or America and “Cho” can be translated as town, or alley.  This area was famous as a black market area for American products after WWII.  However, this area has changed significantly since then.  Today, this area is more popular for its small shops and cheap prices.  Ameyoko is located south of Ueno Station.  Immediately, you will be faced with a wall of buildings with the train tracks running right through them.  Next to the highway is a large department store, Marui, and next to that is a somewhat large toy shop, Yamashiroya.  Marui is a typical department store, and Yamashiroya is one of the best toy shops outside of Akihabara.  It’s also difficult to navigate as the floors are packed with good from floor to ceiling.  On the west side of the tracks, you will see Yodobashi Camera.  While this is a famous electronics goods shop, it’s not as good as their Akihabara branch.  This branch should only be visited if you have nothing better to do.

In the area just inside Ameyoko, you’ll find several small restaurants selling various typical Japanese foods.  You can buy everything from yakitori to sushi.  A good tip is to head south for about one block.  From here, you can see a few cheap sushi shops under the train tracks.  If you are on the west side of the tracks, next to Yodobashi Camera, you will be in the fresh market area.  Here, they will offer a variety of seafood, konbu, and other items needed to make a delicious dinner.  Do note that they are open at different times of the day, probably the afternoon.  If you see them, you will see, or rather hear, the fishermen selling their wares for a very cheap and reasonable price.  The only problem is that they tend to sell in larger quantities making it difficult to purchase seafood for just one or two people.  In the same area, they have a famous chocolate shop where everything is just 1000 Yen.  Basically, you can just walk up and they’ll throw a lot of chocolate into an average sized grocery bag, and it all costs only 1000 yen.  You never really know how much, or what you will get, but that’s part of the adventure.  Located somewhere under the tracks, you’ll be able to see a man selling “Ueno Okonomiyaki” and possibly another man selling mochi.  These two stands are great for trying Japanese junk food.  It’s not too expensive, but not cheap either.  Closer to the south end of Ameyoko, on the east side, there is a supermarket called Nikki.  This is one of the most famous shops in the area.  The shop itself is large, by Ameyoko standards, and they sell a variety of foods.  It’s not a traditional Japanese supermarket.  You can find various name brand snacks, along with western snacks.  If you are craving western chocolate bars, you can usually find the most famous ones here.  Don’t expect to find “Oh Henry!” or “Reese’s Pieces” around here though; just the standard Hershey’s Kisses.  The good thing is that you can get Japanese snacks such as sembe or dried seafood for a decent price.

Food is not the only famous thing to shop for in Ameyoko.  There are several shops selling everything you can imagine.  Walking under the train tracks will allow you to see a market that is more akin to a Chinese style market.  The shops are very small, and they sell things such as leather jackets/bags, jewelry, make-up, and perfume.  At the end of Ameyoko, in the south, they have all of the perfume and make-up shops.  Towards the north end, you will see more clothing shops.  Scattered throughout the entire area, mostly on the west side of the tracks, you will see similar shops.  Some of the biggest things you can buy are shoes.  There several shoe shops with a large variety.  After walking around for a bit, you will start to notice that most of the shops sell similar items, with the only difference being colours.  While Harajuku may have the most variety, Ueno still has a good selection, and it’s usually at a cheaper price.  If higher end goods are what you are looking for, be sure to head to Matsuzakaya, which is just south of Ameyoko.  It’s your typical high end department store.  If you don’t want to go to Ginza, this is probably the best place to go, if you are in Ueno.

Ameyoko is a great place to visit.  The atmosphere alone is worth the trip.  You can experience a typical Asian street market, without worrying about buying something of poor quality.  Japan prides itself on quality, and this area is no exception.  Do beware that sometimes you can get poor quality goods, but most of the shops are legitimate now.  You generally don’t have to worry too much.  It’s also a great way to spend a morning, or afternoon.  It’s very close to Akihabara, which is about 10 minutes from the southern point of Akihabara.  The walk itself isn’t very interesting, but you can always save a few bucks.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town and Ueno – Ueno Park.

Ueno Infomration:

Ameyoko – Official Site (English):  http://www.ameyoko.net/e/
Ameyoko – Official Site (Japanese):  http://www.ameyoko.net/
Japan Guide (Ameyoko):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3012.html
Ameyoko (Photo Blog post by Danny Choo):  http://www.dannychoo.com/post/en/1514/Ameyoko.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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Tokyo (Ueno – Ueno Park) May 18, 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 (Ueno – Ueno Park)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mW

West of Ueno Station brings you to Ueno Park.  This is probably the biggest reason people visit Ueno, at least as a tourist.  The park is one of the largest in Tokyo.  The park area itself contains a temple, a zoo, three museums, and various activities any other park would have.  The park itself is nothing special.  There are few places to actually enjoy a nice picnic.  Most of the paths in the park are paved, with little to no areas to sit and relax.  It’s a very typical Tokyo park.  The best time to visit the park itself is during the cherry blossom season, in spring.  There are over 1000 cherry trees in the park allowing you some of the best views of the park itself.  During the cherry blossom season, the city brings in extra lights to light up the cherry blossoms at night.  While most parks do the same, Ueno Park is one of the most beautiful to see.  As with any other park with lots of cherry blossoms, the park will be extremely busy at the peak of the cherry blossom season.  It’s advised to be careful as you will more than likely have to navigate between people to get around.  At night, it can also get very noisy as many office workers are drinking and fairly drunk at that time too.  Many people do avoid the park for this very reason.  The daytime is still very tame, but in true Japanese tradition, at least nowadays, it’s best to see the blossoms at night.

Ueno Park has four major religious structures.  The first you will encounter, near the entrance, is Kiyomizu Kannondo Hall/Temple.  This hall is famous once a year for its “Dolls Funeral”, or Ningyo Kuyo.  This funeral for dolls is related to the Hinamatsuri.  The Hinamasturi is a “Dolls Festival” where Japanese people display dolls for a happy life for their daughters.  It’s an elaborate festival that is celebrated at ones home.  There can be several dolls, and when Japanese people get older, they must decide what to do with them.  Some believe that they are spirits and must be treated with respect.  Due to this superstition, they cannot throw them away.  Several temples and shrines around Japan hold a type of Ningyo Kuyo each year in order to wish them luck in their next life.  The Ningyo Kuyo at Kiyomizu Kannondo is not very large, but there are probably hundreds of dolls, including stuffed animals such as Mickey Mouse, that are “cremated” at this time.  It can be interesting to watch, but I believe there are more interesting versions outside Tokyo, but unfortunately I do not know them.  Next Hanazono Inari Shrine, which is dedicated to the Inari, or fox.  These shrines can be very interesting as they tend to have several red gates and stone foxes with red bibs.  Toshogu Shrine is the next religious building.  It’s a small shrine located deep within the park.  It is linked to the shrines in Nikko, however this shrine is not as grand.  Unfortunately, I have never been to the shrine itself, but it is recommended to enter nonetheless.  The last religious structure to visit would be Benten-do.  It’s a hall dedicated to a female Buddhist god.  This hall is supposed to be popular for various reasons; probably wealth and knowledge, but unfortunately, I have forgotten the true meaning.  I have also heard that couples should avoid going to this hall together as it could create bad luck for their relationship.

In terms of museums, you have the Tokyo National Museum, The National Science Museum and The National Museum of Western Art.  The Tokyo National Museum is located at the northern end of Ueno Park.  It is the biggest and most important museum of the park, for obvious reasons.  On display are various paintings, writings, pottery, and of course the standard statues of various eras.  It’s a wonderful way to learn and hopefully appreciate the history of Japan.  It can be difficult to visit the entire museum in just a couple hours.  I would suggest arriving somewhat early and to allow yourself enough time to take your time throughout the museum.  If science is more interesting, the National Science Museum is an interesting place to visit.  They have various exhibits in and around the museum itself.  It is a relatively compact space and worth a visit with children.  The quality compared to a science museum in your own hometown will depend on what is available.  Many of the exhibits are interactive, as any good science museum is, but do look at their website and see if they have anything you’d be interested in seeing before heading in.  The last museum located in Ueno Park is The National Museum of Western Art.  I have never ventured inside the museum; however, there is a famous sculpture by Rodin, “The Gates of Hell” located outside the museum itself.  This gate alone is worth a quick walk up to the museum.  There are also a few other sculptures located around the National Science and Western Art Museums that are picturesque.

Ueno Zoo is a popular destination for people, especially for Japanese people.  It is split up into two sections that are separated by a monorail.  Within the main section is a 5-storied pagoda.  It can be impressive.  The west side of the zoo, there is a children’s zoo.  This is mainly a petting zoo for children to hopefully enjoy feeding various small animals.  The zoo used to have a panda, but unfortunately, it died a little while ago.  The zoo is a popular place on weekdays for schools to have a field trip.  It’s also popular among locals on dates, or bringing their families for a nice day out on the weekends.  As you approach, you are sure to hear and see lots of kids.  Bring your patience cap when you visit and all will be fine.

Ueno Park is a wonderful place to visit.  You can spend as little as an hour just wandering around, or up to a several days exploring all of the nooks and crannies that are to be found.  If you are visiting during the day, it is lovely.  There is a down side to the park when things get dark.  Because it’s an open and public park, it never truly closes.  It is open 24 hours a day, so when the sun goes down, all of the homeless people in the area venture into the park.  They can come out of nowhere and set up a small “tent” out of cardboard boxes.  It’s a little scary at first, but you have to realize that homeless people in Japan are very different than Canada, or America.  They tend to be very quiet and to themselves.  As long as you don’t stare, you’ll be fine.  You can even strike up a conversation with one of them if you dare.  Either way, Ueno Park is something you should see, especially if you are in the area.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town and Ueno – Ameyokocho.

Ueno Information:

Ueno Zoo (English):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/main.html
Ueno Zoo (Japanese):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/zoo/ueno/index.html
Ningyo Kuyo:  http://www.jnto.go.jp/eventcalendar/search_result_en.php?num=719
Japan Guide (Ueno Park):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3019.html
Wikitravel (Ueno):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Ueno
Wikipedia (Ueno):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ueno,_Tokyo
Tokyo National Museum (English):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/en/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
Tokyo National Museum (Japanese):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/jp/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
National Museum of Science and Nature (English):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/english/
National Museum of Science and Nature (Japanese):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/
National Museum of Western Art (English):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/en/
National Museum of Western Art (Japanese):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/jp/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。

Tokyo (Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town) May 11, 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 (Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mT

Ueno is one of the biggest hubs in the east side of Tokyo.  It is known as a transportation hub, home of various museums, Ueno Park, and Ameyokocho.  I have mentioned in previous posts that Tokyo’s major centres are all very similar to each other.  There is very little variance aside from the size.  Ueno is not an exception, but it is still unique in its own right.  The area doesn’t have the same feel as Shinjuku or Ikebukuro.  It is smaller than Shibuya, yet retains the character of a major centre.  The cherry blossom season is probably the best time to visit Ueno, but a visit at any other time is also recommended.

Looking north-east from Ueno station will take you to a fairly unknown area.  It was Bike Town.  Bike Town was an area along the highway, north of the station.  It was hard to find at first, but once you were there, you were greeted with a bike nut’s dream.  The area was dominated by a company called “Corin”.  This company ran several shops that dominated the entire area.  Each shop was slightly different.  One would specialize in Harley Davidson parts, another in old two-stroke racer parts.  Some had scooter parts, but most sold clothes that looked similar to each other.  All of the clothes they sold were either small brands, or their own personal brand.  The quality was good, and everything was fairly unique.  Unfortunately, as of 2008, reported by a blog post, the company has gone out of business.  This is not very surprising.  The entire area never looked like it could support that many shops selling the same items.  It would appear that they were the victims of trying to do too much in such a small area.  In the past, this area was very busy with people selling parts, but in today’s age, it’s not easy as most people can buy parts online.  Tokyo city itself is not a good place to have a full sized motorcycle, as Corin tended to specialize in.  The area has been transformed from being the bike mecca of Tokyo, to nearly being a ghost town.

While the major retailer of the area, Corin, has left, there are still various companies still doing business.  Along the main street, under the highway, there are still several shops that have survived the changing times.  There are a few bike shops selling new and used motorcycles, and there is the Honda Parts shop.  While the Honda Parts shop has “Honda” in its name, and a Honda logo, they are not exclusive to Honda.  They do sell a variety of parts that will fit with most bikes.    There is also “UPC Ride On”, which is mainly an Arai helmet seller, but they do have other gear for sale.  This shop is a personal favourite of mine, and they have various events with a few famous Japanese riders visiting the shop, or signing helmets for them to sell/display.  As with Corin, some of these shops have more than one branch along the main street.  Be sure to check each one as they don’t always carry the same parts, let alone the same goods.  Unfortunately, like Corin, they are starting to carry the same things in each branch, which could be a sign that things are getting worse.

If you are interested in buying a motorcycle, do not try to buy one in this area.  It might seem like a good area as it is called “Bike Town” for a reason.  Unfortunately, it’s mostly a parts and gear town.  For those looking to buy a motorcycle, you are better off visiting one of the major dealers.  The small dealers here do have nice motorcycles, but I myself find it a little scary to buy from them.  They don’t always seem friendly, and you may get a lemon.  I have seen nice bikes in a couple of shops, but one of the shops had nothing but very old bikes just collecting dust.  Besides the seedy bike sellers, if who love motorcycles, this area is still worth a quick visit.  You can still get cheaper helmets and gear from the remaining shops.  Unfortunately, due to the ease of online shopping, I wouldn’t be surprised if many more of these shops closed down.  You can easily buy the same parts for the same, if not cheaper price online.  I would recommend visiting this area soon as I assume that more of the shops might go out of business in the next few years.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a large department store buy several of the buildings and build a new department store in the area.  Do beware that buying a motorcycle from a small shop in this area can be dangerous.  You are better off going to a big shop that’s outside the city than one of the seedy small ones here.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Ueno Park and Ueno – Ameyokocho.

Ueno Information:

UPC Ride On (Japanese Only):  http://www.upc.ne.jp/
Corin Information (Blog):  http://www.persimmonous.jp/?p=377
Wikitravel (Ueno):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Ueno
Wikipedia (Ueno):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ueno,_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。

Narita to Tokyo April 13, 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 “Narita to Tokyo” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kZ

Arriving at Narita Airport can be a daunting challenge.  Not only will you probably be tired, if you don’t speak Japanese, it can be a small challenge to find out how to get into the city itself.  Unless you are rich, taxis are not an option.  There are three main routes into Tokyo.  The first is the Airport Limousine.  The second is to take a train, which has two options.  The simplest has to be the Airport Limousine.  When you exit the arrivals gate, you can usually find the Airport Limousine counter on the main floor.  There are several locations in both terminals.  It’s as simple as saying which hotel you want to go to, or what station.  The Airport Limousine goes to many destinations throughout Tokyo and Yokohama.  It’s also the most convenient way to get to Haneda Airport.  Do note that due to traffic, all times are estimates.  You can be severely delayed if traffic is horrible.

The safest way to get into the city is to use one of two rail companies.  The most popular for tourists is to use the JR Lines.  Using the regular lines is not popular for JR.  It is expensive and slow.  You will more than likely have to change trains at least once, maybe up to three times depending on your destination.  The easiest route is to take the Narita Express.  In fact, they have recently released a new train that makes things more comfortable.  They offer secure locks for your luggage and plugs for your laptop in each row.  Unfortunately, these are not available at all times.  The main advantage of the Narita Express is the number of destinations.  You can go as far as Ofuna, Takao, and Omiya without getting out.  However, most trains will only run from Narita Airport to Yokohama or Ikebukuro.  These trains usually de-couple at Tokyo Station.  Don’t be too afraid of connecting trains if you are headed to Ikebukuro.  If the train only goes to Shinjuku, it’s very simple to change platforms and get to Ikebukuro faster than if you wait.  The Narita Express doesn’t run too often, so it’s best to take the first one you can get, unless you have too many bags.

The cheapest route to Tokyo is to take the Keisei lines.  Their rapid service takes roughly 71 minutes to get to Tokyo, and their Skyliner service takes about 51 minutes.  The Rapid service costs roughly 1000 yen, which makes this a budget travellers dream.  If you want a good balance between cost and comfort, the Skyliner is one of your best bets.  The biggest problem with the Keisei service is choice.  You have your choice of Nippori and Ueno as destinations.  If you are headed to a hostel in Asakusa, this line is perfect.  If you are headed to Shinjuku, this route may not be your ideal choice, but it is a cheaper alternative at relatively the same time.  It’s just not as convenient.  However, as of July 2010, the service will be upgraded and the time will be cut by 15 minutes making this a more popular route in the near future.  The new service will be called the “Sky Express”.  It will feature brand new trains with a new local service being introduced as well.

Regarding what to take and how to get there, that’s your choice.  By far, the cheapest is the Keisei lines.  The most convenient would be the Airport Limousine, if they offer service to your hotel.  The Narita Express offers a very competitive service, but it is a little expensive overall.  In terms of locals, unless your company is paying for it, most people will take the Keisei lines.

Information:

Narita Airport:  http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/
Airport Limousine:  http://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/
Narita Express:  http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex/index.html
Keisei Skyliner:  http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/keisei_us/top.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。

Tokyo (Nippori) December 22, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Nippori)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-iQ

Nippori is an overlooked area of Tokyo.  Most people who do venture to this area will more than likely pass straight through it.  It can be considered a focal gateway to Saitama, a residential city to the north of Tokyo.  There really isn’t much for the regular tourist, but there area a couple of interesting things to see and do that could warrant a visit.  The first would be the Fabric Town, and the other would be the Yanaka Cemetery.  The other main reason to visit Nippori is to head to Narita Airport.  It’s a popular transfer point for those on the west side of Tokyo who want to save some money by taking the Keisei Skyliner instead of the Narita Express.

The first thing to do in Nippori, would depend on your purpose.  If you want to see the cemetery, I’d recommend heading there first.  It’s a large area with a long history.  If you head to the southern exit, you will be near the central entrance of the cemetery.  From here, it’s a short walk up the hill to reach Tennoji Temple.  This is a nice little temple with a seated Buddha inside.  It’s actually a bit of a surprise as the outside appears somewhat modern and inside is a quaint little Buddhist Temple.  It’s a nice place to go and relax for a few minutes, but the temple itself is pretty small.  From there, you can head straight into the centre of the cemetery.  The entire cemetery is lined with cherry trees.  It is very beautiful in the spring as the entire area is bathed in pink from the cherry blossoms.  In the autumn, it’s the same, but with colourful leaves.  Yanaka Cemetery is also one of the most famous cemeteries in Japan with various writers, poets, politicians, and scholars.

Fabric town is located on the opposite side of Nippori Station.  It’s a short walk from the station, and a little difficult to find.  Look around the main entrance of the station, where all the taxis park, and you’ll find a few signs pointing you in the general direction.  You have to walk past a major street before you enter Fabric Town.  While it is called Fabric Town, it’s more or less of a street.  There are very few shops located off the street that sell fabric, so don’t worry about venturing off the main street.  Here, if you love to buy fabric of any type, this is the place to be.  You can find various patterns, colours, thread, accessories, and so on.  The fabric can come in silk, polyester, cotton, and even leather.  If you love arts and crafts, enjoy sewing, or just looking for a good costume idea, this is a great place to get started.  Metres of fabric can start at 100 yen each.  Often, there are spools of fabric just sitting in bins in front of each shop inviting you to enter.  Once inside, you’ll have to decide what you want, how much you are willing to spend, and how to bring it home.  Husbands beware, if your wife loves sewing and crafts, you might want to drop her off and head over to Ueno for a little shopping, or even Akihabara to look at more electronics.

Other than that, there really isn’t much to see or do around the station.  There are a few shops to visit, some izakayas and restaurants, but other than that, it’s a pretty boring place.  The only interesting shop would be the Edwin store.  They have a large shop located in front of the station where you can buy all of their latest jeans.  Edwin is a Japanese jean maker whose headquarters are located at the end of Fabric Town.  It is akin to Evisu jeans, although Edwin is not as big, nor as popular as Evisu.  Either way, happy shopping.

Nippori Information:

Nippori (An article about an area that I barely visited in Nippori): http://www.nihonsun.com/2009/06/01/nippori-shopping-street-a-shotengai-worth-a-visit/
Nippori:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nippori_Station
Yanaka Cemetery:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanaka_Cemetery
Fabric Town Blog Post:  http://www.askingfortrouble.org/crafts/2007/11/02/tokyo-shopping-guide-tomato/
Edwin Jeans:  http://www.edwin.co.jp/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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