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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 (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。

Tokyo (Shinjuku – West Area) Part I December 1, 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 – West Area)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-3O

So far, I have spent a lot of time talking about many places around Japan, but I have yet to touch on any places within Tokyo itself.  Having lived in Tokyo for over 3 years, a lot of the wonder and awe that I had felt when I first arrived has left.  However, every time one of my friends, or family arrive for the first time, I’m reminded of the exact same feelings I had when I first stepped out of the station and into Tokyo itself.

To give you an idea, Shinjuku is about the size of a city’s downtown core.  There is the business district, the shopping districts, and the dinner/bar district.  The main train in and out of Shinjuku is run by JR (Japan Rail).  It runs North-South through the heart of Shinjuku.  While the majority of interest is located on the East side, business generally runs on the West.  The old English saying talking about “the other side of the tracks” is very noticeable here.  Living on the West side, you feel relatively safe amongst the everyday workers and it’s generally peaceful at night.  When you cross the tracks into the East side, you suddenly feel how busy and hectic Shinjuku can truly be.

The West Side has two sections.  The main section is generally the business section, also called the “Skyscraper District”.  There are many skyscrapers in this area.  The most famous is “Tocho” which is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.  It’s iconic for Shinjuku.  It is the tall “castle” like building located at the edge of the West side.  This building has a wonderful observation floor that is free for all tourists and has the best view of Mt. Fuji, when you can actually see it.  The only problem is that the windows tend to be dirty, the lights within the building are too bright at night, and you can’t see a lot of the famous landmarks within Tokyo.  However, it’s still a great place to visit, and it’s FREE.  Just past Tocho is the Shinjuku Chuo Koen (Shinjuku Central Park).  It tends to be a popular place for tourists to visit after a quick trip up Tocho, but beware of the homeless people.  Around dinner time on Sunday’s, they tend to give out free meals and on weekdays, you can see lots of homeless people all over the park.  Don’t worry though.  They tend to stick to themselves and it provides a very interesting look into the poor side of Japan.  The other famous location for people to visit is the Park Hyatt.  It is the location of Bill Murray’s hotel in “Lost in Translation”.  It’s a wonderful movie that explains a lot of how people feel when they first enter Tokyo, but the hotel itself isn’t so important.  For photo opportunities, I recommend visiting the area both in the day and at night (before 10pm).  All of the buildings are lit up, and Tocho usually looks colourful.

The second region of the West side tends to be directly adjacent to the station itself.  Running from Odakyu to Keio, and out to Yodobashi Camera.  Odakyu and Keio are two department stores and Yodobashi Camera is an electronics shop.  Finding Yodobashi Camera is a good idea as you’ll be able to search the buildings for hours looking for unique things to buy.  While Akihabara is the cutting edge of technology, Shinjuku is still a decent place to pick up the latest technology.  You just won’t get exclusive items, or as many international models with English.  The West side is also the best way to get out of Tokyo (westward, of course).  Within the Keio Department store is the Keio train line.  It runs out West towards Mt. Takao, where you can enjoy a nice day hike.  It’s also the best way to get to Ajinomoto Stadium, home of Tokyo’s Football (Soccer) Teams.  Odakyu is great to head into Odawara and Hakone.  This area is famous for it’s hotsprings.  Near the Yodobashi Camera store, the Keio Bus Terminal is a great place to take a highway bus out of Tokyo.  Heading to Mt. Fuji is relatively cheap and FAST, if you take the Keio Highway Bus.

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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