With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

Job 2: English Channel

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 1, 2015

April 2007 – April 2008

South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.


One of my co-workers at EC and me

Why not Korea?

The next overseas Job I got was at English Channel. This is another company that has since gone out of business.

I enjoyed teaching English in Japan and wanted to try it in a new country. After a year in the ESL teaching industry, I knew what I liked and didn’t like. I liked teaching adults. I hated teaching little kids.

There is a huge difference in the behavior of children who have started school and those who have not. School aged kids have a higher maturity level and, since they’ve been to school, they have already learned how to control themselves in a classroom setting.

Some people love teaching babies and toddlers because they are so cute. But, if I have to wear a suit to work, I would prefer not to be thrown up or peed on. Besides, I hate singing and dancing. (I’ll do it if I have to, but I will never like it.)

I really got into hiking my first year in Korea.

So when I found the website for English Channel that said they only teach adults, I knew that I would like working for them. I just made sure that the pay, health insurance, and other benefits of the job met my criteria.

Jobs in Korea have different benefits than jobs in Japan. They both provide you with national health care and basic training. They both find you an apartment. But in Japan, you have to pay the rent. In Korea your boss pays the rent.

In both Japan and Korea you have to pay into the national pension. In Korea you get all of your pension back when you leave the country, if you are from the right country. In Japan, you only get the first 3 year’s work worth of pension that you put in.

Me on some mountain

So after taking a few months off to travel and visit friends and family back home, I emailed English Channel and scheduled an interview. I asked for the interviewer to call me after 18:00 my time on a Wednesday.

I woke up at 5:00 on a Tuesday when my cell phone rang. It was Mr. Webster at English Channel. I sat up in bed trying to sound awake. He asked if he had called me at the correct time. “No,” I said. Then I pretended that being called at 5 in the morning was no problem. “I was already up… um, organizing stuff.”

He started the interview. He asked questions and I answered them, quite well I must add. I was fast asleep 15 minutes before and sitting in bed in my pajamas, but I was killing this interview. At the end of the phone call I was told that I would be hired.

I just had to do some paperwork, which I did. Then I sent my passport to the Korean consulate in Georgia to get a visa. Within 2 weeks I was in Seoul.

I wore this everyday.

They did training and orientation for 3 days near one of their branches in Gangnam. There were 6 of us and we would all be sent to different schools around Seoul. I kept in regular contact with 3 of them until they left Korea. (I traveled with one of them to Thailand.)

There were many things about English Channel that I loved. The first being the coat. Most people hated wearing the lab coat but I loved it.

English Channel never called itself a school; it was a language clinic. It was very gimmicky, but I guess we were supposed to be doctors, nurses, or scientists… I don’t know.

But wearing the coat meant I never had to iron my shirt. Hell, I could wear the same shirt all week and no one would know. In the winter I wore long woolen shirts under my lab coat and in the summer I wore a tank top. That’s right; I wore a spaghetti strap tank top to work on hot days. No one would know; you only saw a small triangle of my shirt anyway.

I just made sure that my pants were ironed or my skirt was long enough. Then, I wore the same un-ironed shirts every week.

Another mountain

Life was great at English Channel. I liked my co-workers and would hang out or take trips with them often. The managers we had were all at least tolerable; even the one who didn’t seem to like foreigners much. And, the job was easy.

There were no lessons to plan. The books they used came in lesson form already. There was no paperwork for me to do. I would even get a bonus during the months I taught many classes.

There were also no meetings to attend. The only mandatory gatherings we had were branch sponsored dinners we had to go to every 3 months and the big Christmas company-wide dinner. We had to dress up for the Christmas dinner at a swanky restaurant in a posh hotel and sit through many boring speeches, but then we all got to eat as much free 5 star food we wanted. It was by far, the best free meal I ever had!

The only downside to the job was working on 2 Saturdays a month. But I could live with that.

another random mountain

Things were going so well, I started thinking about signing up for another year at English Channel. I had an around-the-world trip planned, but I was hoping to return to Korea and English Channel when that was done. But, during my last few months we got a new manager. He thought we could make more money by changing a few things.

The company stood out from the rest of the English schools in Korea because it was the only one that offered one-on-one classes. Students could have lessons go as fast or slowly as they needed. They could also feel safe to make mistakes, because it was just them and the teacher in the class.

The new manager thought, that we could double our profits if we put 2 or 3 students in a class instead of just one. We tried it, and within a month many students left. I could see the results quickly. Chatty students clammed up when they were no longer the only student.

It was a disaster.

Fun at the beach.

At the end of April 2008, my contract was up and I left for my trip. Within the first month of leaving English Channel, I was supposed to get my end of the contract bonus. But when I checked my bank account, there was no deposit from English Channel.

I sent an email to the new personnel guy at the head office. I told him that I had yet to receive the year-end bonus. I got an email back from him a few days later where he basically told me that life was tough and that I should not be such a whiner.

I had never really dealt with this new guy before, but I had heard my co-workers complain about what a jerk he was. Rather than get into it with him again, I emailed the personnel guy that Mr. Jerk had replaced. Mr. Webster was the man who interviewed me and he was the guy I turned to.

I sent him a copy of the email Mr. Jerk sent me and asked him what he thought I should do about it. He told me not to worry and that he would take care of it. Within a week I had my money.

Somewhere in Korea

Later I heard from the co-workers I left behind that Mr. Webster got frustrated with the horrible changes the company was making and he quit his job. After that English channel stopped paying its employees on time. Then they stopped paying the Korean staff all together.

One of the native English teachers found out that English Channel stopped paying into the employee’s pensions and health insurance. Everyone I knew at English Channel left. The last I heard they shut down many of their branches. I think there are none left.

 

Posted in Seoul, South Korea | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Job 1: GEOS

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 24, 2015

November 2005 – November 2006

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.)

Somewhere in Chiba City

Overseas Jobs

After spending more than a year as Mark’s housewife, I’ve decided to get a job. In a few weeks of writing this, I will take a trip to Okayama for 5 days of orientation. I’ve been through many orientations so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about them and all the overseas jobs I’ve had. I will talk about the good and bad and give any advice I can.

The manager of my school and me goofing off.

My first job was in Japan with a company called GEOS. I know they went bankrupt a few years back, but I’m unsure whether or not they still have schools running in Japan. I first applied to NOVA, but I completely bombed during the interview.

true story

I was just finishing my course at the University of Manchester in England. I went to a jobs’ fair and talked to some people at the NOVA booth. I handed them my resume, which was really written with getting a job in mathematics in mind. They didn’t seem to care. Soon they called me to come down to London for an interview.

It was my first job interview ever. I had no idea that there was a game to be played and I was totally unprepared. Back then, I thought I should look my best and answer all the questions honestly. If I were the right person for the job, which I was sure I was, I would be hired. During the interview when I was asked what my greatest weakness was, I told them the truth. I did not know I was supposed to give an answer like, “My greatest weakness is that I demand greatness from myself and I’m always trying to impress my boss.”

After not getting the job, I complained to a friend how the people at NOVA clearly made a mistake. He agreed that they had missed something good in not hiring me. Then he asked about the interview. He asked me how I had prepared and how I had answered the questions the NOVA people asked.

“Prepared? I’m just qualified for the job. What else do I need to do?”

I had a lot to learn.

bam!

The next interview was with GEOS in July 2006. This time I was prepared. I knew more about the company, the job, and I even looked up what questions they might ask me during the interview. I practiced my answers until they were perfect. I even had some questions of my own, because I read online that they like that. I spruced up my resume and cover letter too.

All this helped me to appear more confident during the interview. And I needed it. The NOVA interview was a one-on-one interview and took less than an hour. The GEOS interview had one interviewer and 30 possible candidates and took 3 days. I had to look better than 29 fools for more than 3 days in a row.

Even this bunny knows to hide his tattoos.

This was another interview in London. On the first interview day, we sat in a room and listened to lectures on living and working in Japan. We were given some basics on how to teach. We were each given a situation that could arise during a lesson and a few minutes to think about it. We were expected to tell everyone how we would deal with the problem and why. This was easy stuff.

We were given a break before lunch while the interviewer talked to her helpers. One by one the helpers came up to each of us waiting in the lobby to tell us whether or not we should come back after lunch. 5 people did not return.

During lunch we tried to figure out why the 5 were rejected. For one of them it was obvious. He had shown up to the interview with a pierced lip and visible tattoos. He constantly talked about anime and how things were done in Japan. He was clearly a Japanophile, but he had no clue about Japanese business culture.

And, I never punctuate incorrectly.

After lunch we had a test. It was mostly on grammar, but there was also some trivia about current events in Japan. Because I had prepared for this interview, I was expecting this test. Everyday for the past couple weeks I read an article from a Japanese newspaper. The grammar I was not too worried about; I knew my grammar was legit!

I think I had the highest or the second highest score. The other 24 interviewees could not hide their amazement that I did so well. One of them said, “I didn’t even know Americans could speak English.” “It’s the only language I speak, so I better speak it well.” “…good,” someone tried to correct me. I hoped he was just trying to be funny.

Twelve of the people left failed the test and had to retake it. They were given 2 more chances. About 8 people could not pass the test, even after both retakes, and did not continue with their interviews.

One of my GEOS students and me

For the next 2 days of the interview everyone could relax a bit. There were no more cuts until the final one. We were not told how many people from our group would be hired. But, I knew from looking online, that they would hire about 8 of us.

The second day was spent showing us how to make a lesson plan and teach a class. We took notes and asked questions. Then we were put into groups and we had to make our own mini lessons. This would be what the interviewer would mainly use to pick which one of us she would hire.

On the third day after the presentations, the interviewer talked to each of us privately. This, I was not expecting. No one online had ever mentioned anything about anything happening after the presentations.

When it was my turn, Yuki, the interviewer, asked me why I had chosen GEOS over say, NOVA. This time, I knew not to answer honestly and say that I had interviewed with NOVA but was not hired. Nor did I tell her that what I really wanted was to work on the JET Programme, but since I was an American living in England I could not do that. But I was still honest enough with my answer.

In my research on GEOS, I found it to be a better company than NOVA. Both companies were essentially the same. But, GEOS had a better housing arrangement. (With GEOS you get your own apartment. With NOVA you have to live with 2 other people.) GEOS had the better vacation plan, they had more schools all over Japan, and they had a bigger end of the year bonus. With GEOS you got money, but NOVA you just got a plane ticket home. (At the time, the money was worth more than the plane ticket.)

I explained this to Yuki and she seemed to like my answer.

A few years later NOVA stopped paying its employees, leaving many ESL teachers stuck in Japan. Then they went Bankrupt. GEOS went bankrupt too, but many years after NOVA did.

My first Japanese town

About two weeks later I got a letter from GEOS telling me that I was going to be hired. I had to go back to London to get some paper work done. There was also to be some orientation-like meetings in London before we left.

Ten people from the original 30 were hired. We all left for Japan at different dates and went to different places. After our last meeting in London, I never saw any of them again.

I left for Japan in November 2006. I was met at the airport by a Canadian guy who spoke some Japanese. His name was Marco, which is a masculine name in the West, but in Japan is sounds like a girl’s name. He took me to my hotel and then to the school.

There I met the teacher who I would replace. For the next few days she showed me the ropes and gave me many tips. She was a very nice and organized person.

The view from my balcony

She left her apartment fully furnished. She even purposely left some food in the fridge to give me time to settle in without having to worry about grocery shopping. But what I was most grateful to her for, was how all her lesson plans were well written with all the props in organized folders. I didn’t have to do much other than copy what she did and be happy and cheerful in class.

Within a month I had gotten a hang of it and was doing a great job. My students were happy and active in class. Several of them had already re-signed up for another year of lessons, even though I was a new teacher. I was even hanging out with some of the college aged and older students out side of class.

I took only a few trips to Tokyo.

About 3 months after I got to Japan and started teaching, GEOS had me go to orientation. One thing GEOS was good at was pointless meetings. The manager of our school was always away to attend some meeting, leaving me or one of the Japanese English teachers to answer the phone, if we weren’t in class.

The meetings never helped anyone be a better teacher. Most of the people giving presentations at the GEOS meetings had never taught English. They were just stock holders or something, so if you asked them for specific advice, they would give vague or meaningless answers.

For example, most of the teachers at GEOS had no problem with their adult or high-school level classes. What we needed help with was dealing with badly behaved toddlers from the baby classes. One of the presenters told us that to punish a misbehaving 2-year-old, we should lock him or her out of the classroom.

“Really? You want to leave a toddler unsupervised in the hallway or lobby? The front door of the school is never closed, what if the kid runs out into the street?”

There were 3 meetings a year and they were all useless!

We had so much fun doing paperwork after closing time.

GEOS loved making people do paperwork. We had to do so much paper work and then fax it all in to… I’m not sure whom. But doing this paperwork meant that someone out there, the guy who had to read this stuff, had a worse job than I did.

GEOS also loved telling its employees how badly they were doing and how much money they were losing. We would get faxes everyday showing us, in graph form, how we only made 5% of the money their best schools did.

I never understood why they showed me statistics like that. What do I care if they lose money? I’m doing the job that I was hired to do. I only teach students, not recruit them. GEOS was supposed to bring them in. If they’re losing students to NOVA that’s kinda on them.

I enjoyed my job. I loved teaching my students. They taught me so much about Japan while I taught them English. Many of them took me on trips and introduced me to their friends. Many of them, and their friends, I still talk to today.

GEOS, the company, was not so great. But, I always got paid and on time too. So, GEOS was not too bad. Though, when I heard that they had gone bankrupt, I wasn’t surprised.

Posted in Chiba 県, Honshū, Japan, Tōgane 市 | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

USJ

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 17, 2015

Monday, January 5, 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 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.)

Bonsai Guest House
(盆栽ゲストハウス)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°39’30.9″N 135°31’41.5″E

Address:

1-4-13 Momodani, Ikuno-ku, Osaka, 5440034

Phone:

  • +81-6-7492-8884

Websites:

e-mail:

Cost:

  • from 2,700 JYN

Hours:

  • reception is open~ 8:30 – 22:00
  • Check in ~ 16:00 – 21:00
  • Check out ~ by 11:00

Notes:

  • It’s a one minute walk from Momodani Station.
  • It’s a one minute walk from a shopping area with lots of restaurants.
  • It’s about a two minute walk from a grocery store.
  • There is paid parking right across the street, but it might be full.
    • There is another, cheaper place to park near a little park called Momodani Park.
    • Parking Lot: 34°39’40.4″N 135°31’44.7″E
    • (I don’t remember exactly, but I think it cost 700 JYN / day to park here.)

Universal Studios Japan
(ユニバーサル・スタジオ・ジャパン)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°39’55.7″N 135°25’56.1″E

Address:

〒554-0031 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, Konohana Ward, Sakurajima, 2−1−33

Phone:

  • 0570-200-606

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 10:00 to 17:00  low season
  • 9:00 to 21:00 peak season
  • Sometimes they open the park earlier than scheduled.
  • You can also get an early entry ticket, which allows you to get into the park at 8:30. But I don’t know how to get one other than going through the JTB travel agency.

Notes:

  • Getting into the park doesn’t guarantee you entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  • My advice:
    • Try not to go on a really crowded day.
      • Okay, so everyday is a crowded day, but there are some really crowded days.
      • Try not to go on a holiday or weekend.
      • Try not to go in the middle of summer.
      • Try to go on any Monday through Friday that is not a holiday when most kids should be in school.
    • Buy your ticket in advance at a Lawson convenience store.
      • Instructions in English
      • Any Lawson in Japan will do.
      • Don’t wait until the day of your visit and buy your ticket at the Lawson right outside USJ, that’s what everyone else is doing.
    • Get a Free Timed Entry Ticket to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
      • To get this, go early and be one of the first to enter the park.
      • Head to the Rose garden. (#65 on this map)
      • You don’t really need to know where it is, everyone in the park will be running to it. Just follow the crazy mob.
      • If you go on a not-so-overly crowded day, the Harry Potter sections will be open to any and everyone for the first couple hours after the park opens. Run there and do not leave until you are done. To re-enter you will need a timed entry ticket.
    • Bring your own lunch.
      • I know you’re not supposed to bring in food, but everyone does it (especially parents with small kids). In fact there are many areas in the park that are great for picnicking.
      • No one checks your bags or pockets.
      • Pack light; lockers are expensive.
      • If you need to buy lunch, or a snack, do so before or long after lunch time.
        • Eat at the Chinese Restaurant (#48 on this map). The lines are much, much shorter there.
        • Forget about American cuisine. The lines for those are ridiculously long.
        • Eat a hog dog super early or really late. Those lines could last for a good 50 minutes.
          • Don’t worry; they never run out of overpriced hot dogs.
        • Drink at any of the many water fountains throughout the park. It’s free and there are no lines.
      • Ideally, you should have a big breakfast. Buy some rice balls or sandwiches that you can fit in your pockets for lunch. Have a snack or meal around 15:00. Drink water anytime you pass a water fountain. Have dinner after the park is closed at any restaurant that is no where near the park. This would save you lots of money and time.
    • Take the “singles” line whenever you can.
      • The “singles” line are for people who don’t care if they sit next to their friends on a ride. “Single” people stand in a separate and much shorter line than everyone else. Whenever there is an empty seat on a ride, someone from the “single” line is put in that seat. A 2-hour wait in the regular line could take about 20 minutes in the single line.
    • Don’t bring too much stuff.
      • Lockers are expensive.
      • Lockers waste a lot of time. Sometimes you have to form a line to put your stuff in a locker before you can form a line to wait hours to get on a ride.
      • If you can fit everything you need in your pockets, that would be great.

Map:


The USJ station an hour and a half before the park opens.

We planned ahead.

We were ready for this. We knew that Universal Studios Japan was super crowded and overpriced. But the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened the summer before and I had to see it. We bought our tickets weeks in advance.

We knew that getting into the park did not guarantee that we would get into the Harry Potter section. Only paying for expensive fast pass tickets, or buying a package tour with flight or hotel stay included could guarantee that.

We had to get there early, be one of the first people in the park, then run to a timed entry ticketing machine before we knew whether or not we would be playing quidditch this day.

And we were one of the first people here!

The park opens at 9:00. We got there at 7:30 only to be met by a crowd of people in line in front of us.

There was a line on the far left. They had a red carpet and uniformed staff personnel checking their tickets. That line was for early entry. Everyone looked at them with envy.

At 8:00 the early entry people were let in. “Those lucky bastards get a whole hour of the park to themselves,” I thought. The crazy thing was that many of the early entry people showed up at 8:15 or 8:20. Everyone else, who could only go in at 9:00, got here around 7:30!

Get out of the way moms and dads!

At 8:30, half an hour before the park officially opened, they let everyone in. There was a mad dash to the Harry Potter Timed Entry ticket machines. Everyone, but parents of small kids and the utterly clueless, was running as hard as they could to be first in line to the ticket machines.

As we got closer to the machine we saw people heading to the Harry Potter section. One member of the USJ staff was waving people in. “It’s open now! Anyone can go in, even without a ticket.”

I wanted to be first in line.

Many people stopped to ask the staff person if it was true. Mark and I didn’t bother. If it was true, great! If it was a matter of us not understanding Japanese enough, someone would stop us eventually. But asking questions was wasting time; time we could waste standing in line for a ride!

But, which line ends here?

We ran into the Wizarding World. All the shops were empty. The shop keepers were standing outside calling for people to come in. I wanted to go. When would the shops be this empty again?

Mark tugged at my arm. “No! We have to choose wisely. Let’s get on a ride now.”

He dragged me to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. “This line will get very long later, so we must get in line now,” he told me. “But the line looks long now,” I protested. “And, how are you even sure we are in the right line?”

I looked at the crowd of people around us. There seemed to be several lines each going in different and random directions. I told Mark to hold my place while I followed the line to see where it ended.

I walked along the path. The “line” that Mark was in stopped at some guy eating popcorn with his friends. Another line ended at a restroom. I found the line for the ride and called Mark over. There was a break in the line where some lady had her back to the line and did not notice that everyone else had moved up. We jumped in the open spot.

Hufflepuff!?

From there it took about 15 minutes to get on the ride. It would have taken 10, but we wasted a lot of time putting my bag in a locker and then getting back into the line. The ride was great.

After the ride we ran back to the line to go again. We found another open spot where someone in the line wasn’t paying attention letting a gap form. This time it took 25 minutes to get to the ride. I would have gone one more time, but after the second ride the line had gotten a lot longer and there were no gaps to sneak into.

$45 for a wand! You do know that they aren’t really magical wands, right?

We then checked out the shops. They were still easy to get into; you could just walk in. Later, we would have to stand in line to enter the shops.

If you want to go into the shops to look around, do it at the Harry Potter section. If you want to buy something, especially if you’re like me and need to read everything and take your time to choose the best one, do it at any of the shops near the entrance. Those shops are less crowded and they stay open until the park closes. They have all the stuff that all the other shops throughout the park have.

Butterbeer

There were a few carts where butterbeer was sold. All the carts had really long lines. I wanted butterbeer, but these lines were too long.

Mark: “I read online that you should never buy butterbeer from the carts. They have really long lines. Instead, go to any of the restaurants in the Harry Potter section.”

At that time, there were very few people in the restaurants. We did have a big breakfast and weren’t really hungry. But we knew that we were not going to be eating at lunch time like everyone else. So early lunch it was!

The food was overpriced, but good. We had a whole table to ourselves. I enjoyed it, because things would only get more crowded.

We order one large hot butterbeer to be shared between the both of us. The first sip, was great. The second sip, was less great. By the 4th sip, the stuff was disgusting. It’s very sweet and buttery. We should have gotten a small cup. We forced ourselves to finish the whole thing; it was torture.

Good reading

We walked through all the shops and took more photos. Then we decided to see the rest of the park. We thought about going on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride one more time before leaving, but opted not too.

It’s like we’re in Anytown, USA.

I didn’t have any plans for the rest of the park. All the stuff I wanted to do, we did before 11:00 that morning. I let Mark pick everything we did for the rest of the day.

We rode on several rides. first we chose them based on how awesome they were when compared to the wait time for their lines. Then we discovered the “single” lines. That cut our line waiting time down to 15 or 20 minutes per ride.

Normally people go on rides in groups. Very few people show up at Universal Studios alone. If you come here with say, 2 friends, you will want to go on rides with your 2 friends.

But the park gets crowded. If you have a group of three, and a car on a ride that seats four, that ride will go with less than max capacity. USJ is very crowded even on its least crowded days, so they can’t have that.

But, there is a line, where people who don’t care if they sit next to their friends, can go. When there is an empty seat, a “single” person will take it. The rides always run at max capacity and overall there is less wait for everyone.

Mark and I started going to the “single” lines. Sometime, we still sat next to each other. Sometimes, we were on the same ride on different cars. Other times, we rode on different coasters. But it took way less time. We were able to get on every thing we wanted to ride that way.

Let’s be greedy and go back in.

After noon we wanted to see if we could get a ticket to go into the Harry Potter area. We spent so much time worrying about the ticket machines we just had to go look at them. Once there we saw that there wasn’t much of a line to get a ticket. So, we got a ticket.

And what do you know? There were plenty of tickets left for most of the time slots throughout the afternoon. We chose the last time slot. We felt a little guilty for going back after spending almost the whole morning there. But, not too guilty to not go back…

I just had to have one.

We continued to ride rides and eat. We specifically did not want to waste time or money on food in the park. We were going to eat only what we needed to stay alive. Time was really not to be wasted on silly things like food.

But, we got to ride so many rides using the “single” lines that time was not a factor anymore. And we’re just not used to being around so much American food. We got home sick. I couldn’t remember the last time I bought a hot dog from a sidewalk vendor? …or a churro, or a cinnamon bun?

Last time, I swear!

We went back to the Forbidden Journey one more time. This ride did not have a “single” line and it took us 45 minutes to get to the ride. This is where we noticed that there were things to look at while we waited in line.

“How did we miss this? We’ve been on this ride twice before?”

“We weren’t really standing in line much then, were we?”

When the ride was over, it was too late to stand in line for another turn. But, we could do the Hogwarts’ tour. Basically, we got to walk along the line going up to the ride. But, this time we could stop and look at all the stuff decorating Hogwarts. We could take photos without the people in line being in the way. That was nice.

Giant Elmo will kill us all!

We stayed until the parade then left with everyone else at closing time. We spent the whole day at USJ!

Later we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant near our hostel. We were still hungry!

The next day we drove back home while eating Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

Dirt is not so bad…

All Pictures

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

Water Day

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 10, 2015

Sunday, January 4, 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 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.)

Naruto whirlpools
(鳴門の渦潮)
(Naruto no Uzushio) 

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°14’21.8″N 134°39’18.9″E

Address:

Fukuike-65-63 Narutocho Tosadomariura Naruto, Tokushima Prefecture 772-0053

Phone:

  • 088-687-0613

E-mail:

  • info@uzushio-kisen.com

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

  • free – 2,000 yen depending on how you want to look at the whirlpools
  • View from the bridge:
    • Parking: 420 JYN per day
    • Admission to just the bridge: 510 JYN
    • Admission to bridge and boring museum: 900 JYN

Hours:

  • Bridge: 9:00 – 18:00
    • Closed:
      • during bad weather
      • 2nd Mondays in March, June, September, and December

Notes:

  • The whirlpools happen about every six hours, once in the morning and once in the afternoon for an hour or two.
  • The whirlpools vary in size, depending on the intensity of the tides.
  • They tend to be larger in summer than in winter, and are largest during spring tides, which occur every two weeks.
    • The name “spring tide” has nothing to do with the season spring. It’s just a name.
  • The best places to see the whirlpools is on the coast of the island Awaji or from the bridge.
  • You can see the whirlpools

The Umeda Sky Building
(梅田スカイビル)
(Umeda Sukai Biru)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°42’18.5″N 135°29’26.0″E

Address:

1-1-88 Oyodo-naka,
Kita-ku Osaka, Osaka Prefecture
531-0076 Japan

Phone:

  • 06-6440-3855

Websites:

Cost:

  • 700YEN,
  • but if you visit the cinema in the other building you can get a flier with a 70YEN discount/ person.
  • You only need one flier per group to get a discount for each person.

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 22:30
  • (Last admittance is at 22:00)

Notes:

  • The “Floating Garden Observatory” is on the 39th floor.
  • Be sure to visit the old time Osaka town on the first basement level (B1) of the building. It’s free to view.
  • There are many restaurants.
  • There are lockers near the elevator to the top. They cost 100YEN to use.
  • I recommend going about  15 minutes before sunset.

Zauo Fishing Restaurant 
(釣船茶屋 ざうお )
(Tsuribune chaya zauo)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°40’06.2″N 135°30’23.9″E

Address:

Namba Washington Hotel Plaza B1F, 1-1-13, Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka 542-0073

Phone:

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • Weekdays 17:00-24:00
  • Weekends and holidays 11:30-23:30

Videos:

Notes:

  • What to do
  • You can take as long as you need to catch a fish, as long as it is within opening hours.
  • If you are having trouble catching a fish, they will give you cheat hooks, where you can basically just claw the fish out the water.

Bonsai Guest House
(盆栽ゲストハウス)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°39’30.9″N 135°31’41.5″E

Address:

1-4-13 Momodani, Ikuno-ku, Osaka, 5440034

Phone:

  • +81-6-7492-8884

Websites:

e-mail:

Cost:

  • from 2,700 JYN

Hours:

  • reception is open~ 8:30 – 22:00
  • Check in ~ 16:00 – 21:00
  • Check out ~ by 11:00

Notes:

  • It’s a one minute walk from Momodani Station.
  • It’s a one minute walk from a shopping area with lots of restaurants.
  • It’s about a two minute walk from a grocery store.
  • There is paid parking right across the street, but it might be full.
    • There is another, cheaper place to park near a little park called Momodani Park.
    • Parking Lot: 34°39’40.4″N 135°31’44.7″E
    • (I don’t remember exactly, but I think it cost 700 JYN / day to park here.)

Map:


Shiver me timbers!

I’m Sailing Away

This day had an unplanned nautical theme. Originally, we were going to drive through Shikoku, the smallest big Japanese island whose name everyone keeps forgetting, at the end of this trip. We would have entered near Kobe, driven by Naruto, stopped off at Matsuyama to check out the Dogo Onsen, then headed home via a bridge near Fukuyama.

But then, Mark got an email from his boss telling him that he had a company meeting in Hiroshima on the 7th. So, I had to rearrange some of our plans. We went to the Dogo Onsen in early November, instead of during this trip. And, we left Kyoto at 5:00 and drove past Osaka and Kobe, this day, to see a whirlpool then drove back through Kobe and on to Osaka. Madness!

Give it a whirl!

The Naruto Whirlpool

I’ve wanted to see this thing since I found out about its existence a few summers ago. This trip was the closest we have gotten to the whirlpool since then. I know it’s best to go during the summer, but now is when I would be in the area.

The whirlpool didn’t get very whirlpooly and I was forced to take a photo of a photo of the whirlpool taken in the summer. The level of the awkwardness of that last sentence is about the same as the level of disappointment I had looking at the whirlpool that just refused to whirl.

Mark had to stop retaking this picture when the line of people behind us started to complain.

The Floating Garden

I took Mark to see the Floating Garden in the Umeda Sky Building. It’s a misnomer, but the name fits the theme here. We got to the top in time to watch the sunset and to take photos at night.

Mark will be occupied for the next 10 minutes.

If you go through Mark’s photos you will see very few pictures of me smiling. It’s not because I don’t smile. It’s because by the time Mark took the photo he actually keeps, I had stopped smiling.

We’ve been at this for hours; I’m cold and hungry now.

He’ll take a picture and forget to turn off the flash, or turn on the flash. Then he’ll want to try other modes, like cartoon mode or toy mode. Then I’ll hear something like, “Oh, the leaf moved,” or “Stand like this.” I would pose for him for a minute or two and then get bored.

I would tell him that I want to take photos too, but can’t because I’m spending all my time posing for him. Then he’ll complain about how he has no good photos of me smiling. “Learn to take photos more quickly!” I’d yell at him as I storm off to take my own pictures.

I bait ’em, Mark, you catch ’em!

Fishing on a boat in a restaurant

Mark found a Zauo Fishing Restaurant in Tokyo. But, when he called to make reservations he found that they would be closed for the duration of our stay in Tokyo.

He then went online and found another Zauo in Osaka. They would be open while we were in town. So this is where we went our first night in Osaka.

It takes less time for Mark to catch a fish than to take a photo of one.

We each got a pole, hooks, and bait. We stuck our hooks in the water and waited. People left, right, in front, and behind us pulled fish out the water. Every 5 minutes someone in the restaurant was cheering and laughing because they had caught a fish.

Every time a fish is caught the wait staff beat on some drums. There were no drums for us. We sat there for about 3 hours. I eventually gave up, took out my tablet, and started reading an e-book. I ordered some fries and a drink and let Mark have his fun.

He was having the time of his life even if he wasn’t catching a thing!

We get to eat!

The staff moved Mark around to restaurant hoping he would have better luck at some other spot. He must have met everyone on all the boats. When we were leaving several little kids ran up to Mark to say goodbye.

When Mark was still fishless after an hour they gave him a special 4-pointed hook. With this Mark was to try to grab the fish by the chin rather than wait for the fish to bite. On his first few throws Mark just whacked a couple fish on their heads. Then he got a hang of it.

The whack on the head really adds flavor.

Mark had the fish sushied and tempuraed. The fish was really good! …or maybe we were just half-starved by the time we got our meal.

The whole thing for the both of us, including appetizers, drinks, dessert, and bait cost us about 4,500 JYN. Not bad for dinner and an evening worth of entertainment.

All Pictures

Posted in Awaji 島, Honshū, Hyōgo 県, Japan, Naruto 市, Osaka 市, Osaka 府, Shikoku, Tokushima 県 | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

I forgot my notes

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 3, 2015

Saturday, January 3, 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 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.)

Kyoto UTANO Youth Hostel
(京都/宇多野ユースホステ)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°01’37.8″N 135°41’59.1″E

Address:

29 Nakayamacho Uzumasa Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 616-8191

Phone:

  • +81-(0)75-462-2288

Websites:

e-mail:

Cost:

  • About 3,400 JYN/ person/ night
  • 610 JYN for breakfast

Hours:

  • Check in: 15:00 – 23:00
  • Check out: by 10:00

Notes:

  • This was one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in!
  • Children and babies are welcomed.
  • free parking
  • free wi-fi
  • free onsen within the hostel
  • There is a really nice kitchen you can use.
    • all appliances, tableware, and flatware as well as pots and pans are provided.
  • You can buy a day pass for the bus at the reception desk.
    • 500 JYN
    • The bus stop nearest the hostel is called Utano Youth Hostel.

Gion
(ぎおん)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°00’13.3″N 135°46’37.6″E

Address:

Gionmachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0001, Japan

Websites:

Books:

Notes:

  • This is the setting for Arthur Golden‘s Memoirs of a Geisha.
  • Gion is around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west.

Nishiki Market
(錦市場)
(Nishiki Ichiba)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°00’20.2″N 135°45’56.9″E

Address:

Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan

Websites:

Cost:

  • free
  • The are many shop in which to spend money

Hours:

  • typically 9:00 to 18:00
  • typically closed Wednesday or Sunday

Arashiyama
(嵐山)
(Storm Mountain)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°00’59.3″N 135°40’13.4″E

Address:

Togetsukyo, Saga, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 616-8383, Japan

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • It’s best to visit the bamboo forest when there is at least some light.

Notes:

  • See the Bamboo forest inSagano.

Map:


Nothing like starting the day with sugary cereal.

Let’s take the bus.

We arrived at Kyoto on the night of the 2nd in the middle of, what seemed to be, a snow storm. Luckily, we live in a boondock town without the modern-day conveniences like salt trucks or snow plows. Everyone in Miyoshi puts snow tires on their cars in December and we had ours on for the trip.

We got to the hostel safely, but it kept snowing the rest of the night. When we woke up the city looked like… Well, you can see for yourself in the photo above.

I have no idea where our car is.

Rather than spend half an hour shoveling our car out of its parking space and then navigating Kyoto under piles of snow, we chose to use the bus. A day pass for the bus cost 500 JYN and the bus stop was not too far from the hostel. We bought the pass from the reception desk and went on our merry way.

I don’t know what to do next.

We got to Kyoto station. This was where the tour I had planned would begin. But, when I put my hand into my pocket to get the paper with the lists of things to see, it was not there.

My notes where back at the hostel. In them I had information about the things we should see, when they opened, how much it should cost, and interesting trivia we should think about when looking at the sights. But, now I had none of that with me.

I tried to remember what it was I wanted to see in Kyoto. But, this was a 2 week trip that I had planned months ago. I wanted to see lots of things in many cities. Kyoto didn’t really stand out in my mind.

“I think there was a temple with steps, but we could or should only go there in the morning. Or, maybe there was a garden, but we should make sure to get there before 17:00…”

Map, what do you think we should do?

We looked at a map of the bus route. A few things on it jogged my memory. Like there was definitely a temple I wanted to see, but I couldn’t tell which one from this map.

In every Japanese city there are temples that are important to Japanese tourists because some famous Monk or writer lived there. Non-Japanese (or rather non-Buddhist/ non-Shinto) tourists might not care so much. One temple pretty much looks like another. Unless the temple has a beautiful view of a lake or bamboo forest.

All the geishas are asleep.

I remember that Gion was a place I wanted to see. So we went there. We walked through the overly crowded streets and tried no to bump into anyone. We found a tiny tempura place to have lunch. What didn’t find were any geishas or maikos; not even someone pretending to be a geisha or maiko.

Aren’t you glad we came all the way to Kyoto to see this shopping area that looks like it could be anywhere in Japan?

Then we followed the crowd and ended up at the Nishiki Market. Mark was unimpressed. “This looks like it could be Oita or Hiroshima!”

The Nishiki Market is one of the famous landmarks in Kyoto, but I’m not sure why. Almost every city in Japan has a shopping area that looks just like this. (Miyoshi doesn’t have one, but Miyoshi doesn’t even have a movie theater.)

Bamboo forest

We wondered around looking at random temples, shrines, and palaces.

Many of the bus stops in downtown Kyoto have free wi-fi. I stood at one, hoping that at some point in time, I emailed my notes to Mark. I didn’t. But I was able to do a google search of things to do in Kyoto and was reminded about Arashiyama.

“We need to go there. That name sounds familiar!”

What’s down here?

We walked around some island but found nothing interesting. I couldn’t remember why I wanted to get to this place so badly. We found a train station and walked into a 7-eleven nearby.

I was about to ask the lady at the counter for information on the area, but she beat me to it. She pulled out an English tourist map of the area. She circle the spot where we were now standing.

Then she drew arrows across the bridge. Her arrows led us off the island and near a temple. The temple’s name, Tenryu, looked familiar. The arrows stopped at a trail through a bamboo forest.

“That’s it! The bamboo forest. Oh, and we need to get there before sunset.”

That’s all the light for today.

We got there just in time. We took several photos before it got dark.

All Pictures

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

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

All Pictures

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

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

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

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 »

 
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