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Archive for March, 2015

Highways and Byways

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 27, 2015

Friday, January 2, 2015

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
    • Sometimes smaller parking spots are cheaper. SOMETIMES

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 older kei 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? (The picture above is of a 2 lane road.)

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 stop 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…


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:

 

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

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


 

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:

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

 

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


 

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:

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

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


 

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:

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

 
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