With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

Highways and Byways

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 27, 2015

Friday, January 2, 2015

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Map:


Look at all those fools trying to go to Tokyo.

The Long Drive

On this day we just drove from Tokyo to Kyoto. Rather than write an entire entry about how we, “drove for 3 hours, then stopped to use the bathroom, then drove for another hour or so, then stopped for lunch…”

I will tell you all about driving in Japan in general. When to do it. When not to do it. What are the best driving options and so on.

The next train will arrive any day now.

Why should I drive in Japan?

Because public transportation outside the big cities suck.

When I first got to Kyushu I did not have a car. To get to work I had to catch the first train that left the station nearest my home at 6:00 in the morning. This train took me downtown where I would wait 30 minutes for the train that would take me to work. Then I would walk 20 minutes up hill and get to my office all sweaty and ready to start my day almost an hour before I really needed to be there. (A later train would get me to work an hour too late.)

To get home I would sneak out of work, 15 minutes before I was officially allowed to leave, and run to the station. Most days I would get there in time to catch my train; on other days I had to wait an hour for the next one. This train took me back downtown just in time to see the second train I needed pull out of the station. I would wait an hour for the next one.

To put this in perspective, it took an hour and 20 minutes to get to work and 2 hours to return by train. The drive to and from work took 20 minutes with traffic. To walk to and from work; 2 hours. Yes, walking home from work took the same amount of time as taking the train!

Plus, the train isn’t cheap. I got transportation money from work and it never covered the cost of taking the train everyday to work. But once I got a car, that same amount of money covered the cost to fill my tank every month including my driving on the weekends (as long as I didn’t take a long road trip somewhere).

A Japanese driving test course

Who can drive in Japan?

Anyone with an International Driver’s License can drive in Japan for up to one year. You can use an International Driver’s License for another year if you go back to your home country for at least 3 months and re-enter Japan on a new visa.

An International Driver’s License is very easy to get if you live in a country that uses them and you already have a regular driver’s license. It took me about 20 minutes to get one.

As an American, I simply went to the nearest AAA office. (You don’t need to have AAA membership.) I brought my valid US driver’s license, $15, 2 passport photos of myself, and a completed application form. Everything was done right there and I walked out 20 minutes later with my International Driver’s License which did not become valid until the day I planned to arrive in Japan.

After a year of living in Japan, I had to get a Japanese driver’s license. The citizens of some countries just need to show up at a Japanese DMV, show their license from their country, and that’s it. Americans have to take a driving test.

The driving test is mostly non-sense and has nothing to do with proving that you are a safe driver at all. I won’t get into it here, because I wrote about the process in a previous entry.

Now he can’t drive.

Do not drink and drive!

Japan has a zero alcohol tolerance for drivers. You will be fined, thrown in prison, then kicked out of the country if you caught drinking and driving.

You can also get your friends in trouble too. If you got drunk at someone’s house, or with someone at a bar, that person can also be fined and thrown in jail. At the very least, that person could be fired from his or her job and deported.

Even if you are at a party and you know of someone there who drinks alcohol and plans to drive and you do nothing to stop it, you can be held responsible. This too can result in your being fired and deported.

A car slightly bigger than yourself

What can you drive?

You could drive a scooter, a kei car, or a regular car.

I know nothing about driving a scooter in Japan other than it’s a huge death trap. Why don’t you just hand the grim reaper your business card? Scooter drivers believe that most of the rules of the road don’t apply to them causing them to do things like overtaking cars on the left during traffic. (We drive on the left here in Japan.) They ride the knife’s edge of being annoying little two-wheeled trolls of the road and the cause of needless traffic accidents.

So, the two sane options are the kei car or the regular car. The kei cars come with yellow license plates and the regular cars come with white ones. Here are the pros and cons of both types of cars:

Kei-cars Pros:

  • Generally cheaper
  • Generally more fuel efficient
  • They have cheaper fees:
    • taxes are cheaper
    • tolls are cheaper
    • license fees are cheaper
    • insurance is cheaper
  • Smaller and easier to park and find parking

Kei-cars Cons:

  • You can fit at most 4 people in one.
    • More than that and you are breaking the law.
  • Hills are a problem for olderkei cars.
    • Turning off the a/c until you get to the top helps.
  • It doesn’t matter what the highway speed limit is, you will never come close to going that fast.
  • The trunk is a joke.
    • Travel light and don’t buy too many groceries at once.
  • You’re screwed in a serious car accident.
    • Try to only get hit by scooters or other kei cars.

Regular cars Pros:

  • Look at all the trunk space you have!
  • You can blow off that speed limit and have your a/c cranked all the way up at the same time.
  • You can have 4 friends or more depending on how many seat belts your car comes with.
  • Everybody gets an airbag!

Regular cars Cons:

  • You have all this horse power, but with the cost of gas, tolls, insurance, taxes, and price of the car itself, you can’t afford to go anywhere other than work (to earn money to pay for your car).
  • Many of the roads in Japan are slightly wider than your car.
    • Watch out for death ditches.
  • You have to look for the special big-car parking spaces.
  • Snow tires cost more money for regular cars.

Watch out for the cliff on the right!

Where can I drive?

On the left! For god’s sake, stay on the left!

You gotta pay extra for a median.

What roads should I take?

If you’re not going too far (any trip less than 2 hours) don’t take the expressway. The expressway is a toll road. It has a higher speed limit, less traffic, more signs, and most of the time there are 2 lines for each direction of traffic. The roads are nicer and there are plenty of rest stops to gas up, eat, and use the bathroom. You can even take a nap in your car at the rest stop, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But the expressway is expensive and for short distances, it might not be worth it. You shave off 30 minutes on your commute time, but you pay $20. It might be better to leave earlier or later to avoid traffic.

If the time saved is several hours and taking the expressway means not spending money on a hotel, then it’s definitely worth it. If you plan on using the expressway often, you should get an ETC card. This is easier said than done.

There are many benefits of having an ETC card. The tolls will cost you less at certain times and on certain days. There are even days when the tolls are free only to ETC card holders. You don’t have to slow down to pay your tolls. And, there are extra toll exits and entrances that only ETC card holders can use. Best of all, no scooters are allowed on the expressway!

The problem is that it is easier to get into MIT than to become an ETC card holder if you are not Japanese. My friend, Freda, has one and she recommends applying for a Japanese credit card and forcing the person helping you with the credit card application to apply for the ETC card as well. Getting a Japanese credit card is slightly less hard than getting an ETC card.

You don’t have to get a Japanese credit card to get an ETC card, but if you are a foreigner, it is damn near impossible without one.

On the free roads, you are guaranteed nothing! You may get 2 lanes of road for each direction, you might get one lane to be shared by both directions of traffic. You might have a tunnel that goes through a mountain, or you might have to drive up the mountain on windy roads with death cliffs. Most likely you will get stuck in traffic.

If Mark and I did more trips like this one each year, I would have put the effort into getting an ETC card. But we don’t, so…

Posted in Honshū, Japan, Kyoto 市, Kyoto 府 | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Towers and Emperors

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 20, 2015

Thursday, January 1, 2015

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to askwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Ace Inn Shinjuku

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°41’32.2″N 139°43’22.3″E
  • near AkebonobashistationontheToeiShinjuku line
    • Exit #3

Address:

〒160-0001 東京都新宿区片町5-2

Phone:

Websites:

Cost:

  • ¥3,300 ~ 4,500 per person per night

Hours:

  • Check in 16:00
  • Check out 11:00
  • There is a receptionist available 24 hours a day.

Notes:

  • The wi-fi is pretty decent throughout the whole hostel.
  • There is one parking space. (You can see our white k-car in the photo above.)
    • ¥1,000/ night
  • My Hostelworld review:

“Tokyo is expensive, so I can’t expect too much from a budget hostel. The place was clean enough for the most part. My bed, sheets, and towels looked pretty clean, but I did get run over by a huge roach in the common area. The kitchen is quite small, and dirty looking. Because the place looks a bit run down in the lobby, some travelers don’t make as much of an effort to pick up after themselves as they should. But, if you just want to stay for a night or two this place might be okay.”


It’s about to get real!

Tokyo Subway
(東京の地下鉄)
(Tōkyō no chikatetsu)

How to get there:

Phone:

  • 0120-104106 Customer Service (Japanese Only)
  • 03-3834-5577 Lost and Found
    • Lost property is kept at in Ueno Station’s (Hibiya Line) Lost & Found Center (across from the pass office) or 3-4 days.

Websites:

Apps:

Downloads:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 5:00 – 0:00 (actual time varies from station to station)
  • The trains run later on some holidays.
  • Rush hour:
    • 7:30-930
    • 17:30-19:30

Notes:

  • Getting to the Airport
  • Special Cars and Rules
    • Some cars are only for women (and children under 12) during the rush hours.
    • No eating or drinking.
    • Don’t put luggage on the seat beside you.
    • Do not talk loudly or make too much noise.
  • If you’re having trouble remembering what line you need, just remember the first letter of the line’s name. For most of the lines a tourist will use, the line’s symbol will be the same as the first letter of the line’s name.
    • This is not true for all the lines of the Tokyo subway system, just the ones mostly used by tourists.
  • There is a steep learning curve. At first the Tokyo Subways system will confuse you, especially when you compare it to more logically planned subway systems like that of Seoul or London. But you will get a hang of it.
    • The subway is actually run by 2 companies, Toei and Tokyo Metro.
      • Be careful when buying a day pass.
    • The train, and monorail are also separate from the subway system.
    • I have never used the bus in Tokyo and cannot give any advice on that.
  • The Suica card can only be used to ride the JR Railway.

Map:


Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
(東京都庁)
(Tōkyōto-chō)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°41’22.6″N 139°41’31.5″E

Address:

2-8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo Prefecture 160-0023, Japan

Phone:

  • +81 3-5321-1111

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • North Observatory: 9:30 to 23:00
  • South Observatory: 9:30 to 17:30
  • Closed :
    • (Entry ends 30 minutes before closing.)
    • North Observatory: 2nd and 4th Monday of each month (next day if a national holiday)
    • South Observatory: 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month (next day if a national holiday)
    • Both observatories: December 29 to January 3 (except January 1)

Notes:

  • The North Tower has a restaurant with the better view and a bigger souvenir shop. But because of the restaurant and the bigger souvenir shop there is less space for tourists to move around when looking out at Tokyo.
  • The South Tower has better views of Tokyo. Its souvenir shop is very small and its cafe is in the middle of the deck leaving lots of space for tourists to enjoy the view of Tokyo.
  • I recommend going to the South Tower if you just want to look at Tokyo, but going to the North Tower for lunch or dinner.

Tokyo Imperial Palace
(皇居)
(Kōkyo)

&

The Imperial Palace East Gardens
(皇居東御苑)
(Kōkyo Higashi Gyoen)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°41’06.6″N 139°45’10.0″E (Tokyo Imperial Palace)
  • Coordinates 35°41’10.5″N 139°45’33.8″E (The Imperial Palace East Gardens)

Address:

1-1 Chiyoda, Chiyoda, Tokyo Prefecture 100-0001, Japan

Phone:

  • +81 3-3213-1111

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

The Imperial Palace East Gardens:

  • 9:00 – 16:00
  • Mondays, Fridays, New Year (Dec 28 to Jan 3)

Map:


Yoyogi Park from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Let’s do whatever…

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is pretty much closed to the public during the first and last week of the year, with January 1st being the exception. On New Year’s day, it opens early enough that you can almost see the first sunrise of the year.

Before New Year’s eve we planned on getting up super early to be one of the first people to get into the towers. It’s free to get in so, we thought with all the long lines for the Skytree and Tokyo Tower, this too would have tons of people trying to get in.

Who needs a selfie stick?

But after getting to bed late the night before, we just weren’t in the mood to do anything “super early”. Instead, we woke up, when we woke up.

I wanted to skip the free tower all together to avoid the crowd. But we couldn’t think of anything else to do in Tokyo on New Year’s day that wasn’t closed or crowded. Mark made the decision to just go stand in line for the government building anyway.

We got to the towers around 10:00 in the morning. There wasn’t even a line. We just walked right through and got on the elevator. We walked around taking pictures and wondering where the crowd was. (Probably still in bed.)

High Brunch

We had an early lunch in the north tower. The prices weren’t too bad. The set lunch was less than 10USD per person. This is an even better deal when you remember that the tower is free to enter.

I’m really glad we didn’t waste any time or money going to Tokyo Tower or the Skytree. Both if which we could see from our view during our meal.

This is where the longest line in the world was.

After lunch it was up to Mark to pick what we did next. We had eaten very slowly, so it was about 16:00 in the afternoon. Even though it was late, Mark thought there might be a chance to see the emperor.

We took the subway to the Imperial Palace. There we could see the area where the lines were, marked off by orange traffic cones and canvas tarps. We could tell that there were many, many people in line earlier in the day.

While we were sipping drinks and eating lunch these people were standing around, waiting, and freezing. The emperor and his family came out every hour on the hour to wave at the crowd. But now, they were all gone and the emperor was inside.

No emperor for you.

Mark was a little disappointed that we missed the waving emperor. But I think we spent our time more wisely having lunch in the tower rather than standing in line in the cold.

All Pictures

Posted in Honshū, Japan, Tokyo 都 | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Last day of 2014

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 13, 2015

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank toaskwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Ace Inn Shinjuku

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°41’32.2″N 139°43’22.3″E
  • near AkebonobashistationontheToeiShinjuku line
    • Exit #3

Address:

〒160-0001 東京都新宿区片町5-2

Phone:

Websites:

Cost:

  • ¥3,300 ~ 4,500 per person per night

Hours:

  • Check in 16:00
  • Check out 11:00
  • There is a receptionist available 24 hours a day.

Notes:

  • The wi-fi is pretty decent throughout the whole hostel.
  • There is one parking space. (You can see our white k-car in the photo above.)
    • ¥1,000/ night
  • My Hostelworld review:

“Tokyo is expensive, so I can’t expect too much from a budget hostel. The place was clean enough for the most part. My bed, sheets, and towels looked pretty clean, but I did get run over by a huge roach in the common area. The kitchen is quite small, and dirty looking. Because the place looks a bit run down in the lobby, some travelers don’t make as much of an effort to pick up after themselves as they should. But, if you just want to stay for a night or two this place might be okay.”


It’s about to get real!

Tokyo Subway
(東京の地下鉄)
(Tōkyō no chikatetsu)

How to get there:

Phone:

  • 0120-104106 Customer Service (Japanese Only)
  • 03-3834-5577 Lost and Found
    • Lost property is kept at in Ueno Station’s (Hibiya Line) Lost & Found Center (across from the pass office) or 3-4 days.

Websites:

Apps:

Downloads:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 5:00 – 0:00 (actual time varies from station to station)
  • The trains run later on some holidays.
  • Rush hour:
    • 7:30-930
    • 17:30-19:30

Notes:

  • Getting to the Airport
  • Special Cars and Rules
    • Some cars are only for women (and children under 12) during the rush hours.
    • No eating or drinking.
    • Don’t put luggage on the seat beside you.
    • Do not talk loudly or make too much noise.
  • If you’re having trouble remembering what line you need, just remember the first letter of the line’s name. For most of the lines a tourist will use, the line’s symbol will be the same as the first letter of the line’s name.
    • This is not true for all the lines of the Tokyo subway system, just the ones mostly used by tourists.
  • There is a steep learning curve. At first the Tokyo Subways system will confuse you, especially when you compare it to more logically planned subway systems like that of Seoul or London. But you will get a hang of it.
    • The subway is actually run by 2 companies, Toei and Tokyo Metro.
      • Be careful when buying a day pass.
    • The train, and monorail are also separate from the subway system.
    • I have never used the bus in Tokyo and cannot give any advice on that.
  • The Suica card can only be used to ride the JR Railway.

Map:


NI-TELE Really BIG Clock

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°39’50.8″N 139°45’35.9″E

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

Chimes at:

  • 10:00
  • 12:00
  • 15:00
  • 18:00
  • 20:00

Notes:

  • designed by Hayao Miyazaki, the guy who did most of the anime you’ve heard of
  • It’s in Shiodome, in front of the Nippon Television Tower.

Odaiba
(お台場)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°37’29.1″N 139°46’33.6″E

Address:

Daiba, Minato, Tokyo Prefecture 135-0091, Japan

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • Shops’ and restaurants’ hours vary

Notes:

Things to do on Odaiba:

  • Rainbow Bridge ((レインボーブリッジ) (Reinbōburijji) – Cross Rainbow Bridge on foot.
    • The walk across takes about 30-45 minutes
    • free
    • April to October: 9:00 – 21:00; November to March: 10:00 – 18:00
  • Find the Gundam in front of the DiverCity Tokyo Plaza.
    • The plaza is open from 10:00 – 9:00.
  • Venus Fort
    • Shopping Mall
    • 11:00 – 21:00

Meiji Shrine
(明治神宮)
(Meiji Jingū)

in

Yoyogi Park
(代々木公園)
(Yoyogi Kōen)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°40’34.6″N 139°41’57.7″E

Address:

1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-8557

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • Park 5:00 to 20:00 (until 17:00 from mid October through April)
  • Shrine 5:45 – 16:30

Tokyo Tower
(東京タワー)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°39’30.9″N 139°44’43.6″E

Address:

4 Chome-2-8 Shibakoen, Minato, Tokyo 105-0011

Phone:

  • +81 3-3433-5111

Websites:

Cost:

  • main observation deck (150m) – ¥900
  • Special observation deck (250m) – an additional ¥700

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 21:30

Notes:

  • The tower is not as expensive as Tokyo Skytree but, just as crowed. I preferred going to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It’s free and has a great view of both Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower.

Map:


 

Island Fun

On New Year’s day we went to Odaiba, an artificial island built for the glory of shameless capitalism. I knew that the stores on this island would probably be open. But, if for some crazy reason, none of the malls or shopping centers in the island were open, we could always just walk around looking at the many statues (including a replica of the Statue of Liberty), TV studios, or beach where no one is allowed to swim.

During one of our many subway or train transfers, we came across a clock. Since it was almost noon we decided to miss the next train and wait for the chime. The resulting song, Mark took to make his video of our entire trip.

This photo will not be so cute once the Robopocalypse starts.

There was a lot of things to do and see on this island. Most of them being very overpriced. First we walked around looking at all the giant or small replicas of statues, flames, or robots. Mark wanted to exchange some cash for an item he could remember the island by.

“You’ve never heard of me or my art. So, that’s why I must charge you much, much more for a t-shirt than you would normally pay.”

There was a t-shirt art expo set up right next to the Gundam statue. Mark headed there. He thought that he could get himself an overpriced Gundam t-shirt to take home. But, the shirts had nothing to do with Gundam.

It was just a bunch of t-shirt vendors trying to make names for themselves. Some of the art of the shirts were okay, but most were just plain weird. Since neither Mark nor I had ever heard of any of the artists and didn’t understand the themes of any of the brands, we weren’t willing to shell out $30 for any of their t-shirts.

There was a long line, so clearly the t-shirt vendors had found their target audience. Mark and I were just in the wrong place.

One Piece food

We found an amine themed restaurant. One of the signs for the restaurant showed the characters from One Piece chowing down on some delicious looking cartoon food. It looked like fun. It must be, the place was packed. All the tables were full and there was a long line of people waiting to get in.

We stood in line too. I wanted to check out the menu so I could figure out my order while I waited in line. It was just regular non-One-Piece-related food. The walls were painted with scenes from the show and there were statues of the main character out front. For this the restaurants happily charged $25 for curry rice and other typical Japanese family restaurant food.

We ended up eating at Subway at the food court of the mall next door.

Rainbow Bridge

We walked along the beach and then across Rainbow Bridge. It was cold but we enjoyed the view of Tokyo on our 45 minute walk. Mark complain about how I had tricked him into exercising, but he kept stopping to take panoramas.

We walked to the nearest train station and took the subway to our hostel. We rested while Mark figured out the best place for us to go to see a good New Year’s ball dropping.

Nice to meet you.

First we went to Meiji Shrine. We wanted to look around and take photos, but somehow ended up in a crowd of people waiting for something. Mark kept telling me that any moment we would start moving and then we would see the rest of the shrine. I took out my tablet and started reading an e-book.

“Any minute now…” – Mark

After 20 minutes of waiting in the cold and not moving an inch, I questioned Mark’s theory of what we were waiting for. Mark got out of the line and stopped one of the passing police men. He asked him what our line was for.

The cop told him that these people were waiting for midnight to hear the bell in the shrine to ring and pray. It was 21:00. These crazy people were standing out in the cold with the intention of waiting for 3 hours doing nothing. None of them even had e-books with them.

New Year’s wishes

“This is totally CRAY!” I told him. “I agree!” We got out of line and followed some cops into the shrine. It turned out that if all you wanted was to walk through the shrine and take photos, you could. You just could not stand there or move too slowly.

Waiting for some amazingness

We spent the next 3 hours wandering around Yoyogi Park. We passed many food stalls. There were vendors everywhere, but they were all just setting up and none of them had food ready to sell. After a while we found a subway station and made our way towards Tokyo Tower.

We were hoping to see the ball drop there.

There!

We stopped by a 7-Eleven and got some snacks and hot coffee. There was a park bench with a view of the tower. It was also away from the crowd. We sat there and talked about how neither of us had ever seen a ball dropping on New Year’s eve. It was very cold but I was excited.

That’s it?

When it was almost midnight we got up and move towards the crowd for a better view. Then Tokyo Tower lit up then flashed a bit. Then it said, “2015”. That was it.

There was no big ball of lights slowly moving down the tower. There were no fire works. Later we found out that they had drop thousands of balloons from the top of Tokyo Tower. But only the people standing really close to the tower could see any of them.

No sparkly ball or fireworks at midnight

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Impossible of a Visit

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 6, 2015

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Ace Inn Shinjuku

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°41’32.2″N 139°43’22.3″E
  • near Akebonobashi station ontheToeiShinjuku line
    • Exit #3

Address:

〒160-0001 東京都新宿区片町5-2

Phone:

Websites:

Cost:

  • ¥3,300 ~ 4,500 per person per night

Hours:

  • Check in 16:00
  • Check out 11:00
  • There is a receptionist available 24 hours a day.

Notes:

  • The wi-fi is pretty decent throughout the whole hostel.
  • There is one parking space. (You can see our white k-car in the photo above.)
    • ¥1,000/ night
  • My Hostelworld review:

“Tokyo is expensive, so I can’t expect too much from a budget hostel. The place was clean enough for the most part. My bed, sheets, and towels looked pretty clean, but I did get run over by a huge roach in the common area. The kitchen is quite small, and dirty looking. Because the place looks a bit run down in the lobby, some travelers don’t make as much of an effort to pick up after themselves as they should. But, if you just want to stay for a night or two this place might be okay.”


It’s about to get real!

Tokyo Subway
(東京の地下鉄)
(Tōkyō no chikatetsu)

How to get there:

Phone:

  • 0120-104106 Customer Service (Japanese Only)
  • 03-3834-5577 Lost and Found
    • Lost property is kept at in Ueno Station’s (Hibiya Line) Lost & Found Center (across from the pass office) or 3-4 days.

Websites:

Apps:

Downloads:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 5:00 – 0:00 (actual time varies from station to station)
  • The trains run later on some holidays.
  • Rush hour:
    • 7:30-930
    • 17:30-19:30

Notes:

  • Getting to the Airport
  • Special Cars and Rules
    • Some cars are only for women (and children under 12) during the rush hours.
    • No eating or drinking.
    • Don’t put luggage on the seat beside you.
    • Do not talk loudly or make too much noise.
  • If you’re having trouble remembering what line you need, just remember the first letter of the line’s name. For most of the lines a tourist will use, the line’s symbol will be the same as the first letter of the line’s name.
    • This is not true for all the lines of the Tokyo subway system, just the ones mostly used by tourists.
  • There is a steep learning curve. At first the Tokyo Subways system will confuse you, especially when you compare it to more logically planned subway systems like that of Seoul or London. But you will get a hang of it.
    • The subway is actually run by 2 companies, Toei and Tokyo Metro.
      • Be careful when buying a day pass.
    • The train, and monorail are also separate from the subway system.
    • I have never used the bus in Tokyo and cannot give any advice on that.
  • The Suica card can only be used to ride the JR Railway.

Map:


Tokyo Imperial Palace
(皇居)
(Kōkyo)

&

The Imperial Palace East Gardens
(皇居東御苑)
(Kōkyo Higashi Gyoen)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°41’06.6″N 139°45’10.0″E (Tokyo Imperial Palace)
  • Coordinates 35°41’10.5″N 139°45’33.8″E (The Imperial Palace East Gardens)

Address:

1-1 Chiyoda, Chiyoda, Tokyo Prefecture 100-0001, Japan

Phone:

  • +81 3-3213-1111

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

The Imperial Palace East Gardens:

  • 9:00 – 16:00
  • Mondays, Fridays, New Year (Dec 28 to Jan 3)

Yasukuni Shrine
(靖国神社)
(Yasukuni Jinja)

&

Yushukan War Memorial Museum
(遊就館)
(Yūshūkan)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°41’38.6″N 139°44’37.8″E

Address:

3-1-1 Kudan-kita, Chiyoda, Tokyo Prefecture 102-8246, Japan

Phone:

  • +81 3-3261-8326

Websites:

Cost:

Shrine:

  • free

Museum:

  • 800 yen

Hours:

Shrine:

  • 6:00 – 18:00

Museum:

  • 9:00 – 16:30
  • A few irregular closure days in late June and late December

Nakagin Capsule Tower
(中銀カプセルタワー)
(Nakagin Kapuseru Tawā)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°39’56.1″N 139°45’48.2″E

Address:

中銀本社ビル中銀カプセルタワービル
〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza,
8 Chome−16−10

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free to look at from the street.

Hours:

  • Always available to look at from the street.

Notes:

  • There is no way to get inside to look around, unless you’re paying to spend the night.
  • There are many rumors that this building will be torn down soon. But, these rumors started in 2007, so…

Sensō-ji
(浅草寺)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°42’53.0″N 139°47’47.7″E

Address:

2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Phone:

  • +81 3-3842-0181

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 6:00 – 17:00

Notes:

  • Sensoji Temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo.
  • Sometimes referred to as the temple near Asakusa.

Niimi Head & Teacups
(ニイミ洋食器店)
(Nīimi Yōshokkiten)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°42’38.0″N 139°47’17.1″E

Address:

1 Chome-11 Matsugaya, Taito, Tokyo

Phone:

Websites:

Cost:

  • It’s actually a shop.

Hours:

  • The shop’s hours are 10:00 – 18:00
  • Closed Sundays

Notes:

  • The head and teacups are advertisements for a shop that sell table and kitchen ware.

The Asahi Beer Hall 
(スーパードライホール)
(Super Dry Hall)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°42’35.4″N 139°48’01.1″E

Address:

1, 1 Chome-23-1 Azumabashi, Sumida, Tokyo

Phone:

  • +81 3-5608-5111

Websites:

Hours:

  • 11:30 – 23:00 for Flamme d’Or,
  • 10:00 – 21:00 for Asahi Sky Room

Notes:

  • The gold thing on the top of the building is supposed to be the ‘burning heart of Asahi beer’ and a frothy head.
    • But, most people refer to it as “the golden turd” (kin no unko, 金のうんこ) and the Asahi Beer Hall itself as “poo building” (unko-biru, うんこビル).
  • Apparently, it’s not a bad place to get a beer and a view of Tokyo.
  • There are several restaurants in the building.

Tokyo Sky Tree
(東京スカイツリ)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°42’36.1″N 139°48’38.5″E

Address:

1 Chome-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida, Tokyo 131-0045

Phone:

  • +81 570-55-0634

Websites:

Cost:

  • Online Ticket Purchase (Japanese Only)
  • TEMBO DECK (350m)
    • maximum of 10,000 tickets per day
    • ¥2,060 - no time assignment
    • ¥2,570 – day/time assigned
  • TEMBOGALLERIA (450m)
    • additional ¥1,030
  • Skytree Fast Tickets
    • Show your passport to be able to purchase this ticket. (Japanese Citizens accompanying a foreign tourist may also buy this ticket.)
    •  ¥2,820
    • This ticket allows you to skip the line.

Hours:

  • 8:00 – 20:30

Notes:

  • The tower is expensive and crowed. I preferred going to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It’s free and has a great view of Tokyo Skytree.

Tokyo Tower
(東京タワー)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°39’30.9″N 139°44’43.6″E

Address:

4 Chome-2-8 Shibakoen, Minato, Tokyo 105-0011

Phone:

  • +81 3-3433-5111

Websites:

Cost:

  • main observation deck (150m) – ¥900
  • Special observation deck (250m) – an additional ¥700

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 21:30

Notes:

  • The tower is not as expensive as Tokyo Skytree but, just as crowed. I preferred going to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It’s free and has a great view of both Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower.

Map:


Typical Japan during a holiday…

The impossibilities are endless!

Well, I didn’t expect everything that we planned to see this day to be open. Somethings I knew would be closed, even before we got to Tokyo, and had expected to view only from afar. What I didn’t expect were things like high walls blocking my view of imperial flowers.

It looks like he’s traveling alone.

The Yasukuni Shrine was a 30 minute stroll from our hostel. So, we got up early and ate cereal before heading out. We passed by the Yushukan War Museum first. There we were greeted by a sign telling everyone that the museum was closed and we should come back after the winter break. “When exactly do they expect  working people to come visit this thing?”

Then we went to the museum’s accompanying shrine. It was very shrine like; nothing over-the-top special about it. We could tell that the real festivities would not happen until New Year’s eve night. But we came to say, we saw the shrine that everyone gets all upset about when the Prime Minister of Japan visits. That was really the most interesting thing about this shrine.

There are some amazing gardens across the moat and on the other side of that wall.

We walked towards the Imperial Palace Gardens. It’s open whenever the Emperor is not in residence. People walk the gardens to relax and some even run there to train for the many marathons in Japan. But, Emperor Akihito always spends New Year’s day with his family at this palace.

I thought we could walk around it and look towards that general direction and maybe glimpse some trees or something.

Nope.

I guess we could have come back on New Year’s day and stood in line out in the cold with millions of other people to hope for a chance to see the emperor waving at everyone from a balcony. But, crowds, the cold, and waiting are three of my least favorite things.

For a split second I thought the crowd meant that it was open.

We came upon a small crowd of people walking around the entrance to the Imperial Palace. I knew the palace should be closed, but there was a crowd. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.

Mark and I walked all the way to the main gate, which was really far away from were we first saw the crowd. There were clumps of people walking up to the gate to read the sign saying that the palace was closed. That’s why you should never follow a crowd!

The future is here.

Next we went to the Nakagin Capsule Tower where we stood on the side walk and took photos. There was no way for us to get in. To discourage anyone from asking to be let inside, they put up a sign on the door that said, “This building is impossible of a visit.”

Well, that ends that.

I tried to get a photo of a selfie stick in action.

Now for things that are open.

Next we took the subway to Sensoji Temple (also known as Asakusa Temple). This temple, like most temples, is never closed for holidays. And this particular temple is always crowded.

A student of mine and me at Asakusa temple in 2006.

This was actually the very first temple I had ever visited. Back in 2006 when I first moved to Japan and worked for GEOS, a company that has since gone bankrupt, two of my students took me to see it. I told them that I hadn’t seen much of Tokyo besides the many times I had been there for business meetings that GEOS forced be to go to.

Two of my adult students took it upon themselves to show me a little of Tokyo. I don’t remember much of what we saw that day other than this temple. It really impressed me. I took everyone who visited me that year to this temple.

I would drink tea everyday if I lived here.

We then walked around looking for what Mark called, “stupid tea cups”. I liked it and really wanted to see the giant tea cups in person. Mark was unimpressed.

The shop that the tea cups advertised was open and they even had a sale going on, but we didn’t care about going in. I didn’t want to find some fragile thing, like a tea cup or kettle, that I really liked only to have to carry it around the rest of the day.

Let’s see a tower!

Next we went to see Asahi’s Golden Turd. The building was closed. Mark stood on the steps wishing for beer and cursing the Tokyo gods. “The stupid tea cups shop is open, but this, this you close!?”

Once he stopped weeping, we walk towards Tokyo Skytree. Since the day was filled with so much disappointment Mark was determined to go up the Skytree, if it was open.

I’m too disgusted by the long line to smile.

It was. But everyone and their mom was in line hoping to buy tickets before it closed. Later, we talked to some people staying at our hostel who went up the Skytree. They wasted a whole day to buy tickets to go up only to spend about 30 minutes up there before getting bored.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that if they were willing to pay about 8USD more, they could have taken their passports and gotten the special foreigners’ Fast Ticket and skip the line entirely.

I didn’t feel like dropping ¥2,820 on the Skytree, when we could go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for free. Rather than tell Mark this out right and start an argument, I suggested checking out Tokyo Tower first, then seeing which tower we would rather go up.

Tokyo Tower: The Eiffel Tower, only smaller and more orange

After seeing Tokyo Tower, it was clear that Tokyo Skytree was better. Tokyo Tower’s tickets were cheaper and it had shorter lines, but the Skytree was more exciting. Mark concluded that if we were going to see one of these towers, we should see the other one, but not today.

How can we be at a subway station and still completely lost!?

Negotiating the subway in Tokyo when you still don’t have the hang of it is stressful and tiring. It also takes so long to figure out what to do.

There is free wi-fi at most of the subway stations in Tokyo and navigation apps help a lot. We were doing great until my tablet’s battery died. There are no charging areas at any of the stations.

Once we had to figure things out by looking at a map, we lost interest in sightseeing. It’s that damn confusing! (At least at first.)

By the end of the next day we figured out how the whole thing worked and stopped using the apps to get to places. But by the evening of this day we had had enough.

Subway adjacent food

It took us so long to find the right station on the correct line to take us back to our hostel, that we chose what restaurant to patronize based on its proximity to said station.

Unlike other subway systems in other cities, in Tokyo you can be at point A and station A wanting to go to point B near station B and have no way of doing that. Sometimes, you have to go above ground and walk to another line because there are no transfers between the line you are on and the line you need to get to.

Later we chose where we wanted to go based on whether they were on one of the Toei Lines or Tokyo Metro Lines. Then we stuck to either Toei or Tokyo Metro Lines for the whole day. It just made life easier.

All Pictures

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The hardest thing is parking

Posted by Heliocentrism on February 27, 2015

Monday, December 29, 2014

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Aokigahara
(青木ヶ原)
(Suicide Forest)
 

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°28’46.2″N 138°39’30.6″E

Address:

Fujikawaguchiko-machi, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi Prefecture 401-0332 , Japan

Websites:

Cost:

  • Parking is free
  • Hiking is free
  • There is a charge for visiting the Lave tunnels or the caves

Hours:

  • There is no closing time for hiking. But, really, do you want hike here after the sun goes down?

Videos:

Notes:

  • If you go hiking here, DO NOT leave the path. Not only is there a chance you will see dead people, but you will most likely get hopelessly lost!

Kōtoku-in
(高徳院)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°19’00.1″N 139°32’10.1″E
  • Parking 35°19’00.1″N 139°32’03.9″E

Address:

4-2-28 Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0016, Japan

Phone:

  • +81 467-22-0703

Websites:

Cost:

  • Temple: 200 yen
  • Statute: 20 yen
  • Parking: 200 ~ 800 yen
    • Don’t go to the nearest parking area. It will be very expensive (800 yen/hour).
    • It will take you about 10-15 minutes to see the Buddha, so you will want the cheapest rate.
    • It will be cheaper to use any parking lot nearby that you pay for via a machine (not a human).

Hours:

  • Temple: 8:00 – 17:30
  • Statute: 8:00 – 16:30

Notes:

  • This is where you can see the Great Buddha of Kamakura (Kamakura Daibutsu).

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
(東京都庁)
(Tōkyōto-chō)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°41’22.6″N 139°41’31.5″E

Address:

2-8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo Prefecture 160-0023, Japan

Phone:

  • +81 3-5321-1111

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • North Observatory: 9:30 to 23:00
  • South Observatory: 9:30 to 17:30
  • Closed :
    • (Entry ends 30 minutes before closing.)
    • North Observatory: 2nd and 4th Monday of each month (next day if a national holiday)
    • South Observatory: 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month (next day if a national holiday)
    • Both observatories: December 29 to January 3 (except January 1)

Notes:

  • The North Tower has a restaurant with the better view and a bigger souvenir shop. But because of the restaurant and the bigger souvenir shop there is less space for tourists to move around when looking out at Tokyo.
  • The South Tower has better views of Tokyo. Its souvenir shop is very small and its cafe is in the middle of the deck leaving lots of space for tourists to enjoy the view of Tokyo.

Alcatraz ER
(アルカトラズE.R.)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°39’30.1″N 139°41’44.4″E

Address:

2-13-5 Dogenzaka | Harvest Bldg 2F, Shibuya, Tokyo Prefecture 150-0043, Japan

Phone:

  • +81 3-3770-7100

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 17:00 – 23:00

Notes:

  • I recommend making reservations.
  • You are encouraged to play with the staff and act like you really are an insane inmate.
  • The food is decent. It’s nothing special. This place is more about the atmosphere than anything.

Ace Inn Shinjuku

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°41’32.2″N 139°43’22.3″E
  • near Akebonobashi station on theToeiShinjuku line
    • Exit #3

Address:

〒160-0001 東京都新宿区片町5-2

Phone:

Websites:

Cost:

  • ¥3,300 ~ 4,500 per person per night

Hours:

  • Check in 16:00
  • Check out 11:00
  • There is a receptionist available 24 hours a day.

Notes:

  • The wi-fi is pretty decent throughout the whole hostel.
  • There is one parking space. (You can see our white k-car in the photo above.)
    • ¥1,000/ night
  • My Hostelworld review:

“Tokyo is expensive, so I can’t expect too much from a budget hostel. The place was clean enough for the most part. My bed, sheets, and towels looked pretty clean, but I did get run over by a huge roach in the common area. The kitchen is quite small, and dirty looking. Because the place looks a bit run down in the lobby, some travelers don’t make as much of an effort to pick up after themselves as they should. But, if you just want to stay for a night or two this place might be okay.”

Map:


“…and the old people were never seen from again.”

Back to the Forest

The light of day gave us an extra boost of bravery that we took to the Aokigahara forest. It was early in the morning and none of the caves, or lava related sight-seeing activities were open. We just wanted to walk around and look at stuff.

We stuck to the trail and did not go down too far. It was cold. It had snowed the previous night and it started to snow again on our walk. While in the woods, Mark told me about some scary tale about the forest involving abandoned grandparents left in the winter to starve to death. Once we were sufficiently cold we headed back to our warm car.

“Can I interest you in a nicely overpriced parking spot, ma’am?”

He called me over.

Next we went to see a big Buddha who would let us walk around in his belly. We had no trouble finding him. He was right were Google maps said he would be. The problem was where to park.

The attraction did not have its own parking lot. We drove past it, but turned around when we saw no place to park. As we were passing it again, from the other side, a guy with a bright orange vest motioned us to his parking lot. He seemed to know what he was doing and he called us over with such authority, we figured that this was the official parking lot of the Kotoku-in shrine.

As we got out of the car Mr. Orange gave us a ticket with a time on it. I asked him how much the parking cost. It was ¥800 for 30 minutes. YIKES!! We were already parked. We handed him the cash and crossed the street.

When we left we found a better parking spot a few blocks up the road. It had a machine you paid instead of an overly confident guy, but it was too late. The mistake had already been made. “You win this time, Mr. Orange.”

He’s empty inside.

We didn’t want to go over our 30-minute time limit and have to pay another ¥800 for parking. So, we zipped through the shrine. We ran through the gardens and stopped at the souvenir shop to pick up some postcards. We went inside the Buddha and took many photos, all the while checking the time.

We were back to our car in 25 minutes.

Capital City!

Calculon

The next stop was Tokyo. We found our hostel with ease. I walked in to inquire about the parking situation. The clerk at the hostel told me that they had one parking spot that cost ¥1,000 per day to use. My heart skipped a beat; ¥1,000 per day is practically free when it comes to downtown Tokyo parking.

“Is it available?” I felt like even asking was being too optimistic. The guy rummaged through half a ton of papers on his desk looking for something that would tell him if the spot was open for the duration of our stay. He chattered on and on about things I didn’t care about as he read through random papers here and there.

There were several false finds. “Oh this is it. No. No. This is the information about the blah blah blah. Did you know that blah blah blah… ?” I stood there trying not to look anxious. I really didn’t want to blow half our travel money on parking.

“Here it is. Here it is! You can use the spot.” He went into a little speech about how the spot was only for guests, there was only one, and how much it would cost. I knew all this already. He told me all of it about 20 minutes earlier when I walked in.

I tried to interrupt to ask him where the spot was. Mark was illegally parked on the street and waiting for me to give him news about our parking situation. But, the guy ignored me and continued with his sermon. I counted out all the money I needed to pay for both the parking fee and the cost for Mark and I to stay at the hostel while he was talking.

I placed the money on the silver money tray on the counter. He tried to shoo it away. He had not done the calculations yet and did not want to deal with money right now. He was still talking about parking.

Finally, when he was done he asked if I wanted to pay for the parking all at once now, or day by day. I told him that I would pay for everything right now and tried to hand him the money he shooed away before. He rejected the money again.

“You must first check-in, but to check-in you must pay for your stay.” He said this so solemnly, I would have thought, that he thought, that I thought paying was optional. Had I not been trying to give this man money for the past 10 minutes?

Again, I placed my wad of cash on the silver tray and again he shooed it away. He pulled out a calculator and pushed buttons like a mad accountant. He mumbled some numbers in Japanese. Once again, I placed my money on the silver tray, but took it back when he waved his hand at me. The money was messing up his calculations.

When he was done with his math, he gave me his figure. I place my cash on the silver tray once more. He counted it and meticulously wrote me a receipt. I took the receipt and asked where the parking spot was. “Didn’t I tell you? It’s right there.”

Mark has his own city?

Let’s go to the insane asylum!

I made reservations that evening for dinner at an insane asylum themed restaurant. I read about it in some odd e-zine some time back. But since then, I’ve only been to Tokyo for business.

This was my opportunity to check out this restaurant.

Hungry?

Diners are encouraged to play along with the theme. Mark and I saw some customers handcuffed and chained together as they were led to their table. But speaking Japanese with a very limited vocabulary, put a damper on our experience.

Let me just tell you all the naughty words I know in English.

For one thing, I don’t know that many curse words in Japanese. I know the word, “fool” and a really rude way to say “you” but, this is quite tame compared to the horrible things I can say in Spanish. So when the waitress came over, with her purple eyes, she failed to shock us with her scandalous vocabulary.

So she tried using English. But, English isn’t really her thing and at first we didn’t understand what she was getting at. For one thing, she got the names for the female and male genitalia mixed up. Then she tried to ask us about our sex lives, but we couldn’t understand her the first 6 times she asked. The conversation ended with her just saying the word, “pussy” over and over along with some other stuff that could have been English and/or Japanese.

I’m sure that whatever she said, it was all very naughty.

Mad Chemist

The food is nothing special. I think they put most of their creative effort into their drinks. The menu starts with drinks giving you high hopes of things to come. But the food, with the exception of one or two dishes,  is just regular non-asylum themed food that you can get anywhere. It just costs more.

Tokyo brings out the worst in some people.

You pay for the atmosphere, the fun, and the creepiness.

I enjoyed the restaurant, but I think I would have liked it more if I knew more rude words in Japanese.

All Pictures

Posted in Fujikawaguchiko 町, Honshū, Japan, Kamakura 市, Kanagawa 県, Tokyo 都, Yamanashi 県 | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Nobody wants to look at Mt. Fuji

Posted by Heliocentrism on February 20, 2015

Sunday, December 28, 2014

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Ryugashi Cavern
(竜ヶ岩洞)
(Tatsugaiwa hora)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°50’42.7″N 137°38’55.0″E

Address:

193 Inasacho Tabata, Kita-ku, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture 431-2221, Japan

Phone:

  • 053-543-0108

Websites:

Cost:

  • 650 yen
  • parking is free

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 17:00

Notes:

  • It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to explore.
  • Check out the blue Illumination Cave in the waiting area.

Lake Kawaguchiko
(河口湖)
(Kawaguchi-ko)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°30’37.2″N 138°46’25.7″E
  • free parking at: 35°30’46.0″N 138°46’04.1″E
    • This is not long term parking.

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • always avaible

Notes:

  • Go to the eastern end of the lake for great views of Mt. Fuji.
  • There are many hotels nearby that have onsens with great views of Mt. Fuji.

Aokigahara
(青木ヶ原)
(Suicide Forest)
 

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°28’46.2″N 138°39’30.6″E

Address:

Fujikawaguchiko-machi, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi Prefecture 401-0332 , Japan

Websites:

Cost:

  • Parking is free
  • Hiking is free
  • There is a charge for visiting the Lave tunnels or the caves

Hours:

  • There is no closing time for hiking. But, really, do you want hike here after the sun goes down?

Videos:

Notes:

  • If you go hiking here, DO NOT leave the path. Not only is there a chance you will see dead people, but you will most likely get hopelessly lost!

K’s House Mt.Fuji

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°30’20.6″N 138°45’38.4″E

Address:

6713-108, Funatsu, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru-gu, Mount Fuji, Japan

Phone:

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • Check in 15:00-20:00
  • Check out 8:00-11:00

Notes:

  • There are a few free parking spots.
  • This is one of the nicest, cleanest, and most organized hostels in Japan.
  • The wi-fi is not that great, though.
  • This is part of a chain of hostels throughout Japan.

Map:


Mark is really getting into this blue cave.

2 Hours early.

Because of our early departure from Popeye’s Media Cafe, we got to the cave 2 hours early. At first we thought about using this extra time wisely, by stopping at a laundromat or coin-laundry as they are called here. Mark and I packed only 3 days worth of clothes and, not including what we were currently wearing, we were completely out of clean clothes.

We stopped at one place that had lots of washers and dryers. (Sometimes, you find laundromats here with 2 washers and dryers.) We sorted our clothes and then turned around to choose which machine we wanted. Here in Japan not all washing machines do the same thing.

Some are bigger, but more expensive. If you can fit all your clothes into a bigger machine it might be cheaper overall than doing 2 loads. Some are exclusively for shoes. Some are heavy-duty and are meant for washing thick blankets and duvets.

Some give you the option of using hot water. This is a rarity in Japan. Most home washing machines don’t give you a hot water wash option. The ones that do, require you to get a hose that links the washer to your kitchen faucet or bathroom shower to access the hot water. In Japan you are supposed to get the germ killing power of hot water from the sun when you hang out your washing on a nice sunny summer day. What you are supposed to do in the winter or when it rains, I have no idea.

We looked at the machines and tried to figure out the cheapest way to get all our laundry clean. The smallest, cheapest machine was something like ¥800 ($8) for one load. The biggest was ¥1,600. We looked at the dryers. They cost about $2 for 10 minutes of drying. I know it’s been a long time since I’ve had to go to a laundromat, but come on!

We passed a couple other coin-laundrys, but they all had roughly the same prices. “I’m not dropping ¥3,000 ($30) just so I can reuse my own clothes. I’ll wash my clothes by hand before it comes to that!” It never came to that. The washers and dryers at the hostels were a lot more reasonably priced with an average of ¥150 to wash and ¥100 for 20 minutes for the dryer.

Instead of doing laundry, we took a nap in the car then went to Seven-11 for hot cup noodles. After eating, we went back to sleeping in the car. By the time we were thoroughly cold, the cave opened.

Someone’s looking for his breakfast.

The cave was nice; not too cavy. It was big enough to walk through upright except for one small section. It was drippy, but well lit.

It is supposedly colder inside the cave than outside, but this is hardly noticeable in the winter. It’s cold everywhere! Except for the part near the in-cave water fall, I thought it was warmer in the cave. But, that might have been because we were walking along the path in the cave and outside we were just standing around.

We did prepare to be cold on this trip. We had 2 packs of kairo, the sticky and the regular type. The sticky ones come with an adhesive on it’s back and you are to stick it to your clothes, never directly to your skin. But I never feel any warmth from it when I stick it to my clothes. Once I said, “Screw the rules!” and slapped one right to my back. It felt like I had a nuclear reactor burrowing into my spine.

The best thing to do is to just hold onto the kairo and stick your hands into your jacket pockets. You could put them in your mittens, too. If you’re a guy you could stick them in your pants’ pockets to keep your legs warm. This does not work for the ladies; women’s pant-pockets are just not deep enough.

It’s just at the end of this road.

A Great View of Mt. Fuji

After the cave we headed to lake Kawaguchiko for a view of Mt. Fugi. Long before we got to our destination we could easily see Fuji on the horizon. Around lunch time we thought how great it would be to eat lunch somewhere while looking at Japan’s most famous mountain.

We drove for miles looking out for any restaurant with a mountain view. We drove and drove and drove. Every restaurant, cafe, or diner we passed had it’s back to Mt. Fuji.

The handiwork of the dumbest building planner in the world.

We passed a McDonald’s and thought, “Finally!” We parked our car and went in. The place was not too crowded, but we wanted to make sure to get seats by the window on the Fuji side. But, there were no windows on the Fuji side. It was just a cream-colored wall. The only window in the McDonald’s faced the road we were just on.

“Don’t you wish you were somewhere with a great view of something special?”

There was an Italian restaurant across the street from the McDonald’s. We decided to go there, even though we could see from the McDonald’s parking lot that it had no windows at all. “If I’m not going to enjoy a view of Mt. Fuji, I should at least enjoy my food.”

The Italian food was pretty good. There were windows on the inside, but they looked out to paintings of Italy. You could look out one window and see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Out another you could see Rome. This would have been all nice and well, if the real Fuji-san weren’t sitting outside the restaurant begging to be looked at.

This would be a great spot for a McDonald’s.

We found a parking spot near Lake Kawaguchiko where we could park for free. We took a million photos of Mt. Fuji. I took photos of Mark and Mt. Fuji. He took photos of me and Mt. Fuji. We took photos together with Fuji in the background then some with neither of us in them. Then Mark suggested that we look for Aokigahara.

Me – “You do see that the sun is about to set…”

Mark – “Yup. It’ll be creepy!”

“Mark, did you hear that?”

We found the forest some call the Suicide Forest. It was dark. I know that there is a hiking trail into the forest and that one should always, always, always stick to the trail. Wandering off the marked path could get you hopelessly lost and you can die of exposure.

In the dark I could not even see a path to follow. We went just far enough to say we went in, but not far enough that we could not see the lights from the cars on the road. I think Mark tripped on a fallen tree and we both decided to come back the next morning.

“The ghosts would be asleep then.”

All Pictures

Posted in Fujikawaguchiko 町, Hamamatsu 市, Honshū, Japan, Shizuoka 県, Yamanashi 県 | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Wasting Time

Posted by Heliocentrism on February 13, 2015

Saturday, December 27, 2014

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Ecohotel Nagoya

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°10’09.9″N 136°52’44.1″E
  • Next to the Denny’s by Nagoya Station.

Address:

14-5 Tsubakicho, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture 453-0015, Japan

Phone:

  • +81-524621777

Websites:

e-mail:

Cost:

  • A base of 2,100 JYN per person per night

Hours:

  • There is closing time when there is no receptionist, but I don’t know when that it.

Notes:

  • The nearest cheap parking is near the MaxValu grocery store nearby.
    • 35°09’56.1″N 136°52’50.0″E
    • Parking is ¥700/12 hours
  • This is not a hostel, so there is no kitchen but they do have electric kettles in the hall way.
  • They do have a coin laundry in the basement near the showers.

Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Money Museum
(三菱東京UFJ銀行貨幣資料館)
(Mitsubishi Tōkyō UFJ Ginkō Kaheishiryōkan)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°10’59.0″N 136°55’23.2″E

Address:

25 Akatsuka-cho Higashi-ku, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture 461-0026, Japan

Phone:

  • 052 933 5151

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 16:00
  • closed Monday and public holidays

Notes:

  • They have some video presentations in English.

Nagoya Sky Boat
at Sunshine Sakae
(サンシャイン栄)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°10’10.8″N 136°54’22.9″E

Address:

Sunshine Sakae, 3 Chome-24-4 Nishiki, Naka Ward, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture

Phone:

  • 052-310-2211

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 11:00 – 23:00
  • Last entry at 22:45

Notes:

  • Max of 4 people per berth

Nagoya Spaceship Aqua

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°10’15.7″N 136°54’35.0″E

Address:

1-11-1 Higashisakura, Higashi-ku, Nagoya

Phone:

  • +81-52-962-1011

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • Spaceship Aqua 10:00AM – 9:00PM
  • Shops 10:00AM – 9:00PM
  • Restaurants 10:00AM – 10:00PM(Business hours vary by shop)
  • Closed New Years’s Day

Notes:

  • The bus terminal is below or near this.

Map:


What is there to see in Nagoya?

What is Nagoya famous for?

I did do a lot of research and planning for this trip. But, when it came to Nagoya, my to-see list included things like, the science museum, a car museum, and an aquatic museum. All of which are great if you are into that sort of thing. Neither Mark nor I are.

When we started our day we both realized that we weren’t into any of that stuff. We wanted to do things that can only be done in Nagoya. But we could not come up with anything that Nagoya is famous for.

“There must be something. I had heard of Nagoya, even before living in Japan. It must be famous for some reason.” But we couldn’t find a thing. Nagoya was the Charo of Japan. We’ve heard of it, but we just don’t remember why.

¥600 one day bus and subway pass

We would have gotten the ¥500 pass for the Nagoya city sightseeing route bus if we had stuck to the original plan. On that route we would have seen many of the city’s museums as well as Nagoya castle, gardens, and a plethora of temples and shrines. But none of that sounded appealing or unique.

Every city in Japan has temples, shrines, castles, and gardens. We’ve seen so many of those that we no longer care to see any more. What can we only see in Nagoya?

We spent a good hour and a half at Nagoya station trying to come up with a new agenda for the day. At one point a cop came over and gave us his confused two cents. His English was fine, he just could not get over the fact that we didn’t want to see the castle or the gardens or any of the shrines.

He is worth his weight in ¥10,000 ($100) notes.

 Money Money Money

The one thing on my planned list was the money museum. It promised old currency from Japan, China, and many other countries. Plus it was free. We asked confused cop for directions to the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Money Museum. That was too much for him. “You want to see a bank!? …not the castle?”

Japan used to put a fat man with a sack of money sitting on another sack of money on their money.

I enjoyed the money museum and learning about the history of Japan’s money printing and minting. You can find out what your height weight in money are. Though, I generally have a policy against being weighed in public.

“I think we should wait for the #35 to see the blah blah blah shrine!”

After the money museum, we stood on the street for about 30 minutes arguing about what we should see next. Mark gave up on doing or seeing anything unique to Nagoya and wanted to just go to the castle, a temple, or a shrine. But, I didn’t want to. All castles, temples, and shrines generally look alike and are a bit boring.

The science museum was the only thing that we both agree would be interesting, but the admission fee of ¥800 was a little too high to chance not being able to read anything. If they had English translations, fine. But if it was all in Japanese, we thought that the entrance charge would be too high. So we contemplated just going there and asking.

In the end we got cold and just hopped on the next bus back to Nagoya station. The new plan was to get off when we saw something interesting.

From here we can see all that Nagoya has to offer.

We ended up on the Sky Boat, a Ferris wheel in downtown Nagoya. We took out our map of the city and looked at our view to see what we could do next. That’s when we spotted the Spaceship Aqua. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it looked interesting.

The Nagoya Tower from the Spaceship Aqua

I’m still not sure what the Spaceship Aqua is all about. I think it started as a bus station that turned into a mall and it’s now a multi-leveled piece of art that encourages people to exercise while getting fresh air. Whatever it is, I liked it!

Mark, I’m not drunk or old enough to go to Denny’s.

It’s for the mall walkers.

When Mark saw the Denny’s the night before he demanded to eat there. I wasn’t too keen. “It’s for old people,” I told him. But, he was feeling home sick and wanted to eat at an American diner.

Well, so did half of Nagoya. The place was crowded and there was a long line of people waiting to be seated. We put our names down for a table and waited for about 40 minutes. It was about 14:00. Come to think of it, when we passed the Denny’s the night before at around 22:00, the place was packed then too.

There were no typical American diner dishes on the menu. I had a Japanese version of an Italian dish and Mark had a Japanese version of a Chinese dish.

postcards

While I waited I wrote out several postcards to be sent to friends and family back in the US. I know it’s easier and faster to upload photos on Facebook, but I still like mailing postcards. I used to mail a postcard to my Aunt Audrey and Uncle Mike every time I took a trip. But I stopped doing that a few years back. Now, I’d like to get back into the habit of it again.

“We’re now in some city somewhere in Japan, I guess.” – Mark

We had another long drive to the tiny city of Hamamatsu. I wanted to make sure to leave Nagoya by 15:30 so we could avoid driving at night on some lonely back road. Japanese roads in the winter in small towns can be a little tricky. There are no street lights and most towns do not salt their roads. And there are always those drivers who just don’t understand why other people slow down when the road gets a little icy.

(Winter 2010 Yufu, Oita-ken) I wanted to avoid drivers like this guy.

I never understood those idiots who don’t slow down in bad weather. There were many times that I have slowed down significantly because I could not see the road very well, or because I knew that there is a chance I could hit some icy patch of the road and lose control of the car for a few seconds, only to see some driver honking at me annoyed as they over take me.

Once, 20 minutes after being overtaken by 4 of those types of jerks at the top of a hill, I slowly passed all four of them when I got to the bottom. They had all crashed into each other and were scattered along the road and in ditches. Those foolish fools.

To sleep or to internet all night long, that is the question.

We got to Hamamatsu safely and spent the night in an internet cafe. This little town had no hostels or hotels on hostelworld.com. I could find no accommodations that advertised online at all, except for good old Popeye’s Media Cafe. We got 2 cubicles with a 10 hour special for ¥2,100 each.

He’s going to do this all night!

We spent the first couple hours sampling all the free drinks at the drink bar and eating ice cream cones. Then we took showers and went to bed after watching a thousand YouTube videos.

I had set my alarm for 5:30 the next morning. We had to check out by 6:00 and I didn’t want us to over sleep. But, there was no need to worry. The 5 gallons of coffee, tea, and soft drinks I had before bed made sure that I woke up several times that night to pee. Then some guy, in a cubical near us, set his alarm for 4:30, but he slept right through it. It kept beeping until 5:45.

I hope he got charge a lot extra for missing his check-out time!

All Pictures

Posted in Aichi 県, Honshū, Japan, Nagoya 市 | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

They Lost Mark

Posted by Heliocentrism on February 6, 2015

Friday, December 26, 2014

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank toaskwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Rokko-Shidare Observatory
(自然体感展望台 六甲枝垂れ)
(Shizentai-kan tenbō-dai Rokkō shidare)

on Mount Rokko
(六甲山)
(Rokkosan)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°45’51.9″N 135°14’47.4″E
  • 100 JYN toll

Address:

1877-9 Rokkosancho Gokaiyama, Nada-ku, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 657-0101, Japan

Phone:

  • +81 78-894-2281

Websites:

Cost:

  • 100 JYN toll to the top of Mt. Rokko
  • The look out is free.
  • Parking is 500JYN/car
  • The mesh dome thing in the photo above costs 300JYN to enter.

Hours:

  • Apr-Nov 10:00~21:00
    • Sep 19 and Nov 23 on Sundays & Holidays 9:00~21:00
  • Dec-Mar 10:00~18:00

Notes:

This is mainly a bunch of cafes and restaurants.

Map:


Mark is fast asleep somewhere in here.

Departure time — 9:30

The plan for this day was to visit Mt. Rokko then drive to Nagoya and see Nagoya at night. I wanted to look at Kobe from the heights of the observatory which doesn’t open until 10:00, so we could leave the hostel as late as 9:30.

The hostel put Mark and me in different dorm rooms. Mark was in a mixed room and I was in an all female room. Although Mark came to my room when he carried my stuff up, I had no idea where his room was. But, I didn’t think it mattered when we went to bed that night before, so I never asked.

The next morning I woke up around 7:30 and took a long hot shower. With hostels, even in Japan, you never know what the shower will be like. Since this hostel had a very nice, clean, and mold free shower, I took my time to make up for any possible future dirty showers where I would try to spend as little time as necessary in.

I got dressed and headed to the kitchen for breakfast. Mark and I didn’t want to waste time looking for a restaurant in the mornings for breakfast, so we got 2 double size boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios from Costco for the trip. I’m not a big fan of cereal. It has way too many calories for a meal that is just somewhat enjoyable. But, it’s quick, easy, and it needs no refrigeration. We just made sure to buy milk the night before and that was that.

I ate my cereal and did my usual morning online routine like I would if I were at home. I expected to see Mark at any given moment. I finished my breakfast and washed my bowl. I even filled my coffee tumbler with mostly milk and sugar add very little coffee to go, but still no Mark.

Finally, I ask the clerk on duty where a Mark Racine was staying.

clerk – “Who?”

Me – “My husband, Mark. We checked in together.”

This was not the same person who checked us in, but he kept asking for clarification of Mark’s identity like there was a possibility that he knew Mark or something. Like if I were to say, “You know, that guy who likes to do the ‘octopus dance’ at parties” he would go, “Oh, Mark Ray-seen!” But this did not happen.

He pulled out a giant poster board, like the kind used for elementary school presentations, and put it flat on the table.

clerk – “What’s your name?”

me – “Josie Racine, or Josephine Racine.” (I can never remember what name I gave when making reservations.)

clerk – “Oh, he’s in the bunk next to yours.”

He pointed to some scribblings under yesterday’s date quite pleased with himself. I almost felt bad telling him that this was not possible. I spent the night in an all female room and none of the women in my room were my husband.

me – “Could you check the board again?”

I looked at the board. There was nothing intelligible on it. It was not in Japanese or anything, only numbers and dates and bad handwriting of Roman script. I don’t know how he got any information off the board other than by pure witch craft.

clerk – “Well, since your husband is a guy… you should try the mixed dorm room on the 2nd floor.”

I went up to the second floor, opened the door and walked to the sleeping area. There were many bunks with their privacy curtains drawn closed. Which one was Mark’s?

Look at me being all easy to find.

I went back downstairs to ask the clerk which bed was Mark’s. He pulled out the board again and stared at it intently.

clerk – “You two were supposed to be in bunks 10 and 11 in the mixed room. So he should be in 10 or 11.”

I went back to the 2nd floor mixed dorm room. Both 10 and 11 were open and empty. No one had been sleeping in either of those beds the past night. It was useless asking the clerk to check the board anymore. Clearly this hostel had lost my husband.

I started to call his name quietly as I walked through the room. I got no response. Then, I went to each bunk with closed curtains and called him. After 4 or 5 bunks, his head popped out. “What are you doing?” I asked, “It’s 9:20; we have to go!”

 

You think it’s cold now? Try standing in this tower that attracts the wind.

We drove to Mt. Rokko within the time estimated by Google Maps. We got there about 10 minutes before the observatory opened. Rather than warmly waiting in the car, we got out and explored the wintery area.

Kobe

We found a look-out tower and went to the top. We look down on Kobe and took photos.

I looked back towards the observatory and thought that this tower might have a better view of Kobe than the observatory.

The area around the tower look like some sort of fake European village. It was filled with closed coffee shops and restaurants, and a gift shop that was just opening up. We went in the gift shop and bought post cards.

After that we walked to the observatory. It got colder the further up the hill we walked. We were about to pay to enter the observatory, but it didn’t look open. The time it took to figure out whether or not the observatory was open was just enough for us to ask ourselves, “Do we really want to pay ¥600 to see what we just saw for free, but at a different angle?”

The answer was, “no.” We got back in our car and headed for Nagoya.

Mark just blends right in.

On our way to Nagoya we past a small town, in Shiga-ken maybe, whose main industry is making ceramic statues of raccoon dogs. There were no restaurants or gas stations that we could find, just 20 or 30 ceramic takuni shops.

“Look at all them shiny lights, Mark!”

By the time we got to Nagoya it was night and all the tourist attractions were closed. After checking into our hotel and finding cheap parking near a grocery store we walked around Nagoya station in amazement of the big city. We live in Miyoshi, now. We don’t have bright lights or anything that resembles a night life.

Paid Parking

The Trick to Cheaper Parking in Japan

If you don’t mind doing some extra walking, you can find cheap parking. Stay away from train stations. That is where everyone wants to park. Go a few blocks away from the station. The further away from the station, the cheaper the parking will be.

For short-term parking, look for a convenience store. These are good for parking for less than 30 minutes. Any longer than that, and your car will cause suspicion.

For longer parking times, look for a grocery store, hardware store, or a pachinko parlor. Depending on where you are these options might even be free. And, if not, they will have cheaper parking, even if you don’t buy anything.

Pachinko parlors will have the most parking spots and no one will notice if you leave your car there for days, many gamblers do. Just don’t go in and lose all your parking money in the machines.

All Pictures

Posted in Honshū, Hyōgo 県, Japan, Kobe 市 | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Steak

Posted by Heliocentrism on January 30, 2015

Thursday, December 25, 2014

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Kobe
(神戸市)

How to get there:

You can get here by plane or train. If you live in Oita on Kyushu you can take an overnight boat from Beppu city.

Websites:

Cost:

  • Kobe Beef $35 ~ $200
    • To get a better deal, try having Kobe steak for lunch instead of dinner.

Videos:

Notes:

  • There is free wi-fi throughout the city of Kobe. You can sign up for free week long wi-fi at any tourist information centers, or use the free 3-hour long wi-fi.

Meriken Park
(メリケンパーク)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°40’55.4″N 135°11’19.0″E

Address:

Hatobacho, Chuo-ku, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • the park itself is always available

Notes:

  • The name of the park comes from the word “American,” which was commonly translated as “Meriken” during the Meiji era.
  • Things to see in or near this park:
    • Steakland Kobe (神戸のステーキランド)
      • 34°41’34.9″N 135°11’31.5″E
      • Go for lunch
      • There are many Steakland Kobe restaurants in Kobe.
    • Hanshin Earthquake Memorial Park (神戸港震災メモリアルパーク)
      • 34°41’01.3″N 135°11’24.4″E
    • Kobe Maritime Museum
      • 34°40’58.0″N 135°11’18.0″E
      • ¥600
      • 10:00 – 17:00 Tue – Sun (Closed December 29 to January 3)
    • Kobe Port Tower (神戸ポートタワー)(KōbePōtoTawā)
      • 34°40’57.5″N 135°11’12.1″E
      • ¥600
      • 9:00 – 20:00
    • Kobe Anpanman Museum (神戸アンパンマンこどもミュージアム&モール)
      • 34°40’45.5″N 135°11’04.7″E
      • ¥1,500 for everyone over 1 year old
      • 10:00 – 18:00
      • for toddlers
    • Love’s Post Box (愛の郵便ポスト)
      • 34°40’47.0″N 135°11’06.2″E (or nearby)
      • a hallowed spot for romance
      • It’ right in front of the Anpanman Museum
      • The stationary store, near the mail box, where you can buy postcards and stamps, closes at 19:00.
    • Statue of Elvis (エルヴィス・プレスリー像)
      • 34°40’42.9″N 135°10’56.2″E
      • This was paid for by Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi along with many other Elvis fans.
      • Was originally placed in Harajuku, Tokyo in 1987.
    • Kobe Harborland (神戸ハーバーランド)

Steakland Kobe
(神戸のステーキランド)
(Kōbe no sutēkirando)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°41’34.9″N 135°11’31.5″E

Address:

1-8-2 Kitanagasadori, Chuo-ku | Miyasako Bldg. 1-2F, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 650-0012, Japan

〒650-0012神戸市中央区北長狭通1丁目9番17号 三宮興業ビル6階

Phone:

  • +81 78-332-1653

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 11:00 – 22:00

Notes:

  • It’s cheaper to eat here for lunch than dinner.
  • There are 3 locations for this restaurant.

Sannomiya R2 Hostel
(神戸三宮R2ホステル)
(Kōbe Sannomiya R2 hosuteru)

How to get there:

Address:

2-4-6 Kumoi-dori Chuoku-ku, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 691-0096, Japan

Phone:

  • +81-80-4496-3034

Websites:

e-mail:

Cost:

Hours:

  • reception 9:00-22:00
  • Check in 15:00 – 22:00
  • Check out 10:00

Notes:

  • No kids under 7
  • If you book your stay through HostelWorld, make sure to bring your conformation paper and proof that you have paid 10% of the charge already.

Map:


Road Trip!

On the Road Again

This was our first big road trip, since… what is it? …2012? 2012!

I had been planning this trip for months. I had a day-to-day schedule of what we would do, see, where we would sleep, and how much everything should cost. I even wrote down what time we should wake up each morning and how long we should stay at any given tourist attraction.

I’ve changed my traveling ways. I’ve gone from a haphazard tourist that goes places knowing nothing about everything, to researching everything thoroughly and playing tour guide to Mark.

There are still a few things that stand in my way, research-wise. A lot of the information online and in guide books are grossly incorrect or non-existent. Also, estimations of travel time due to traffic are way off.

The drive time from Miyoshi to Kobe was estimated by both my Garmin and Google maps to be about 6 hours with traffic when not taking any toll roads. That was not even close. It’s more like 8 or 9 hours. And, we left at 7:00 in the morning and avoid traffic until we got to Kobe city.

I was hoping for a world made entirely out of steak.

Adventures in Steak Land

Kobe beef is very expensive. I’m talking 60~80 bucks for a steak-centric meal here. But, this is one of the finest beefs in the world. So, Mark did some research and found the cheapest of the most expensive steakhouses; Steak Land.

Generally, Steak Land has the more affordable Kobe beef steaks. It’s still a lot of money to drop for one meal. So, we were going to go there for lunch. The lunch menu is about $10 less than the dinner menu. But, damn that Kobe traffic!

Once we were officially in Kobe’s city limits, the Garmin said we were 30 minutes from the hostel. It kept saying that for about 2 hours. Then when we got to the coordinates, there was no hostel to be seen. The hostel is in an area filled with one-way roads so we could not easily drive around looking for something that looked hostel-like.

Mark parked the car on the side of the road, illegally. But, he put on the emergency blinkers, like everyone else around here does, so it was totally cool. I took out my tablet and used the GPS on it to find the hostel on foot. It took me to the back of an apartment building. “That cannot be it.”

I kept walking, looking for someone to ask for help. I was hoping to find a shop but there was none on the little back alley I was on. So I walked away from the spot where the hostel was supposed to be and tried to get on a main road. Just when I found the main road, I saw the hostel’s teeny tiny completely missable sign.

Needless to say, we did not make it to Steak Land in time for the lunch special.

one Kobe steak and one steak from Kobe

Can you taste the difference?

We had been looking forward to this meal, and hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We decided to go anyway, even if we did have to pay for the more expensive dinner.

We paid for one Kobe steak and one regular steak. This was not only easier on our wallets, but it gave us an opportunity to compare the two steaks.

Keep in mind that the regular “roasted” steak was from a cow grown, bought, and cooked in Kobe. I preferred the regular steak. Mind you that they were both very good. They were the best and second best steaks I have ever had by far. They were both “like buttah” but I just like the non-Kobe steak a bit more.

We had to wait about 15 minutes for a couple with a selfie stick to take their standard 1,001 photos.

This Lights of Kobe Harbor

We spent the rest of the evening walking around Kobe harbor looking at attractions and taking photos. I used the GPS on my tablet to get us from one thing of interest to another. But then it’s battery died, so we found a map and navigated the old fashioned way.

Kobe wears the night well.

We had a great time, until we were ready to go back to the hostel. I was counting on my tablet to give us directions, but that was not an option now.

Me – “Mark, do you remember how to get back to the hostel?”

Mark – “Sure, just go to that one train station. Walk down the main road, and turn at the Lawson. It’s a straight 8 minute or so walk from there.”

Me – “Seriously!? You’re standing on a street in Japan and your point of reference is a convenience store?”

Mark – “Now, I see where I went wrong…”

Elvis was no help with directions.

We walked around for an hour looking for that one particular Lawson that was an 8-minute walk from our hostel. We found it eventually, but during our search I wondered what would happen to us if we really could never find this hostel again. We would not be able to find our car, because we only knew it’s location in reference to the hostel.

Luckily, it never came to that.

All Pictures

Posted in Honshū, Hyōgo 県, Japan, Kobe 市 | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Shobara Cave

Posted by Heliocentrism on January 23, 2015

Saturday, November 15, 2014

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Taishaku Gorge
(帝釈峡)
(Taishakukyō)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°52’08.5″N 133°12’10.8″E

Address:

Taisyakukyo Tojo-cho Shobara City , Zip code 729-5244

Phone:

  • +81-(0)8477-2-0525

Websites:

Cost:

  • Parking – 400 JYN per car
  • Hakuundo cave – 250 JYN/adult
  • Bike rental – 500 JYN

Hours:

  • Hakuundo Cave – 9:00~ 17:00
  • The rest of the trail is always available.

Notes:

  • Things you can see here:
    • Hakuun-do Cave (白雲洞) – a 200-meter-long limestone cave
    • On-bashi Bridge –  a 90-meter-long
  • You can rent bikes here.
  • Near the parking lot there is a restaurant.
  • There is also a coffee shop near the start of the trail.

Map:


Ready to go in a cave

The Cave

I’ve known about this cave for a while, but I could not find exactly where it was. I had gps coordinates for the cave, but my Garmin said that it could not calculate the directions needed to get us there.

A friend came over to our apartment one day and I asked her about the cave. She got on google and showed me where it was. From google.maps I found Shobara’s tourist website and general directions to the cave.

I put in the new coordinates and the Garmin once again refused to help. But this time Mark and I knew to head to Tojo. Once there we found some ambiguous signs and asked a couple people for directions. We also found a few other tourist who were looking for the same place. If you don’t know where this place is, it’s a little difficult to find.

Hot udon because we’re heading out into the cold.

We parked our car and stopped at a little restaurant before starting our 2 hour hike. We ordered curry udon and consulted the many maps that were given to us when we asked for directions.

It might look like just an ordinary pillar of stone to you, but it’s actually a demon tower!

The maps are not for not getting lost. There is only one path to follow. The maps tell you what you pass along the way. Most of the items on the map seemed like stuff made up by Shobara’s board of tourist to attract more people. I have to say, I quite enjoyed it. The walk was so much more better for all the demon rocks and stories about demon rocks.

Japanese Sphinx?

I’ve noticed a trend in our little neighboring town to the north. They are obsessed with Egypt. We saw the mountain that the board of tourism wants us to believe is actually a pyramid. Now, in the cave we saw a natural sphinx. I wonder it they have mummies anywhere…

Mark stole that scarf from me. I just finished knitting it too!

The path is a lovely place to go for a walk, especially in fall. It would be a great place to take a date, since neither Shobara or my town, Miyoshi, have a movie theater. Yes, you read that correctly. There are no movie theaters in my town or the next town over.

It’s madness!

All Pictures

Posted in Hiroshima 県, Honshū, Japan, Shōbara 市 | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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