Farewell Japan

A few days back I booked an airport transfer from the hotel as I couldn’t be bothered dealing with the trains again and all my bags. With it departing just after 1pm, arriving at the airport around 2:30pm or so, and me having a 7:50 pm flight, I was going to have plenty of time to do some browsing in the duty free shops. This had the afternoon planned, but not the morning. Not wanting to go anywhere else or do anything it was a good excuse to sleep in, have a long breakfast, and then sit in the lounge upstairs until my 12pm checkout time. With another hour waiting in the lobby for the bus I was on my way to the airport. I didn’t think it was really a 1.5 hour trip, but it turned out to be this long given all the stops at the different hotels of which we were the very first. Getting to the airport and walking I immediately found the Qantas counter in front of me which was good luck, but I found a message that check in could not occur until 5pm. I guess when you only have 1 flight a day leaving you don’t employ people to sit there all day. This meant I had bags in tow, and after visiting the first few shops batting the narrow isles and hoardes of people I had enough and would wait until I could get rid of them. Spent the next few hours hiding in the corner of the check in lounge making use of the free wifi. Decided at 4:30pm I should wander back over and check what’s going on, and I am glad I did. The line had already started forming, and after standing in it for just a short time the line was several times bigger than when I started. The staff started arriving and stood behind their counters, and we stood in the in the line, but nothing was moving. It appeared they were waiting until the stated 5pm. Shortly before 5pm though they gathered and had a meeting, then started to process the queue. After only about 5 minutes more waiting I was checked in, and even had my request supposedly granted for an exit row seat. I originally had a window which I prefer in the absence of leg room and in the presence of strangers because the wall gives me something to lean on and I don’t have people climbing over me to get out (once I am in my seat I only move if I really have to, and then I would hold it anyway until an appropriate time). I was changed at my request though to an aisle exit row this way I have leg room, and if people want to get out they still have plenty of space to climb around. Proceeding through all the normal security stuff I was shortly in the terminal and browsing duty free. There were some bargains on offer, but also some that were not bargains at all. With only 1 litre alcohol allowance still remaining having already picked some up in Zao I figured I should buy something different and japanese rather than getting it on the Australian side and it being very generic to us. I am still not sure what I bought, some small gift set with 3 x 300ml bottles, and when I asked if it was sake they said no, but just to drink and not mix. Guess we will find out later if its any good. Still had a while left, so sitting at the gate I looked up the planes seating configuration to see what it had to say about the pros and cons of my seat, only to find out it didn’t recognize it as an exit row. I was just hoping this site was wrong and this particular seating configuration was not shown, but the time eventually came time to board and I found I indeed did NOT have an exit row. It was too late to do anything about this now as the exit rows would be gone, and the first thing I noticed was my new seat was seated right next to the area for babies. Sure enough on came a family, 2 young kids and a little baby. Well it didn’t take long for my suspicions to be correct when the baby started to scream its lungs out. Why didn’t I just stick with my original seat. Luckily after takeoff the baby and the kids went to sleep, and I didn’t hear a peep out of any of them until we were preparing to land. What I did hear a peep out of though were the people around me. The Japanese women in front non stop chatting between themselves and with the flight attendant every time she passed (she seemed reluctant), the Japanese women behind who continually got out of their seats and to balance themselves pulled back on my headrest, and the Japanese couple on the seats beside me to decide it was toilet break time in the few hours we had to sleep. By the time you get in the air and they give you dinner more than 2 hours have passed, breakfast is served 2 hours before landing, so this roughly only leaves 3-4 hours to sleep. Given I don’t really sleep on moving vehicles, when I do get to sleep it is only very lightly and am easily awoken. I guess this is why when I am now sitting here in Sydney waiting for my flight to Canberra in a few hours that I feel like crap. Oh well, will sleep well tonight. Would have liked an earlier Canberra flight, however I purposely increased the gap so I could look at duty free. However given I have no more space left and I have already used my alcohol allowance anyway I walked straight through. Waiting for my bags took forever, after so many bags coming up and not seeing either of mine, they eventually stopped coming but many people still waiting. A technician soon appeared and crawled down the chute where the bags come up and dragged one of mine and someone else’s out. It seems one of them got stuck and blocked everything up as they started to flow again. At least the bags look in good condition seen as though the stitching on my new suitcases zipper is already coming undone, and the other bag being a $10 special I was hoping it would at least make the one trip. They still have to make it to Canberra yet though. I did the right thing and declared I had food, knowing that they wouldn’t care about the chocolate or potato chips but wasn’t sure about my sake with a cherry in it. Having no problems with it upon inspection, and also not being concerned with my timber shot glass or chopsticks after inspection it was an easy process. Oh well, a few hours waiting already done in Sydney and another 2 before we take off, but won’t be long now and I will be home.

My Last Night

Arrived at the DisneySea park again today for my final day. The crowds were considerable, and definitely more than Monday. Given we are currently in the low season, and a lot of the surrounding car parks are still empty, I would hate to be here on a busy day. Once those gates went up at 10am it was mayhem again, and this time I thought I should capture the moment. There are a few pictures below of just part of the crowd out the front before entering the gates, and another of the queue inside the park for the Toy Story ride within minutes of the park opening. People rush to the rides first up which means they extend the queues out into the public walkways using temporary ropes, but as the day progresses and people spread out and do other things it becomes a bit more relaxed and they are removed again. I walked at a bit faster than normal pace, but was not in a full speed frenzy like some of them. It’s almost an accident waiting to happen (i’m sure it would have happened) as people are running and dodging people and other obstacles. I was knocked into a few times usually by the teenage kids or the adults who are basically dragging their kids by the hand. The main thing I wanted to get out of today was to do the Tower of Terror again, so headed straight over and got a fast pass. This gave me more than an hour to have a bit of a wander and do a few other things with shorter lines. Having wanted to do the Tower of Terror for quite a while I did enjoy it, however would be interested to actually hear the story behind the theme of the ride in English rather than Japanese. After doing a few other things around the park and buying a few last minute things, I got to the point early afternoon where I had enough. Reading my pamphlets last night I realised when I visited the Disney Store the other day at the shopping centre and was quite disappointed, this is because I was at the wrong one. On the other side of the shopping centre is a free standalone building, so after dropping in there on the way back to the hotel I found it would have been a one stop shop for pretty much everything I found in the parks. Back at the hotel I visited the game arcade, but only because when I checked it I was given coupons for free games. After playing for a little bit and it not really entertaining me (I was the only one there), I headed off and passed the rest of the coupons onto a family on their way in. Spent a bit of time starting to reorganise my bags again; I am really hoping everything makes it back in one piece. My last trip in Europe seen a few fragile items broken in transit, so I am hoping with better packing and a new harder shell suitcase everything will be fine. I made use of the club lounge again this evening including supper which was basically a few snacks/light meal. I had considered doing the full buffet downstairs, however at about $55 and not being overly hungry I think its just a waste of my money. Took a few good sunset photos of Mt Fuji too.

Counting down the days

Although I was going to sit with a Disney park view for breakfast this morning, I chose again to look out over the ocean as the visibility was very clear and I could easily see Mt Fuji in the distance (see photo). Although I have seen it a couple of times now from Tokyo, today was the best view yet. I think I could be a little closer to it now too given if I look out of the window on the opposite side of the building I can see the Tokyo Sky Tree giving me an idea the direction I have come from. I did a bit of wandering around the hotel grounds for a little bit after breakfast before deciding to head off. Today I decided to revisit DisneyLand again rather than visiting DisneySea which have put me in the same park 2 days in row. Catching the monorail it seemed most of the crowds were getting off at DisneySea park which would hopefully mean DisneyLand will be that little bit quieter, and once I was in and looking at the ride times throughout the day it also seemed to confirm this. Compared to Sunday, most rides had less than half an hour waiting times, and only occasionally peaking over this for short periods. It seems however when they have smaller crowds they also leave the FastPass system off for some attractions, so could only use it for the really major rides. I rode Space Mountain today having not done it on Sunday, and being to Disneyland Paris a few years back I can say it is no where near as good. I guess this is why the one at Disneyland Paris is called Space Mountain 2 and therefore it is an updated version. I was hoping to catch a few more rides on Splash Mountain which is the one ride they allow me to go straight to the front as a single rider, however it has now been closed up for maintenance and redevelopment so I am glad I did it the other day. Having done the major rides a couple of times, by early afternoon I was a bit over it, so went and did some shopping instead before calling it a day. Returning to the hotel I started going some bag reshuffling to try and make sure breakables stay in one piece for the flight home, but nothing is ever guaranteed. Being back earlier tonight also meant I could visit the club floor lounge for supper which turned out to be a few nibblies in addition to the drinks which were already available anyway.

13 year wait is over

Whats worse than Tokyo station in peak hour? The opening of the Disney gates and getting between a crazed fan and their rides 🙂 I had read online that this was quite an interesting scene, and today I experienced it for myself. But back to that in a minute. I woke up today with a cold. That’s what I get for freezing outside last night, but unlike my last Disney trip where food poisoning confined me to my room this was not going to stop me. Staying at the Sheraton Grande in Tokyo Bay (actually the cheapest of all the Disney Hotels) I splurged a little and booked a room on what they call their club floor. Basically its the top floors of the hotel, and has access to their exclusive club lounge for free internet as well as free drinks, but also includes a buffet breakfast every day in their top floor Summit Restaurant. Breakfast offerings were very similiar to what we had while staying in Zao with both Japanese and Western offerings. Upon entering I has the choice to either overlook the Disney parks or the bay, so given my room overlooks the parks I went for the bay. I found however there is not much to look at out there, a few ocean liners going past, some fishing trawlers, planes taking off and landing. Still a great view though, so no complaints. After filling up on a big breakfast I got myself sorted and headed off to the second Disney park, DisneySea. Arriving at 9:30am for a 10am opening time the lines were already long, however I was already aware that this would probably be the case. Standing in the line with many thousands of other people I was surprised to be the odd one out, that is the only foreigner I could see. I think they were surprised too. Quite a lot of groups of kids by themselves in school uniforms, not sure whether the school knew they were having the day off or not. At 10am the gates went up and one by one people passed through the turnstiles with their tickets scanned, however when you have so many side by side the crowd moved very quickly. The mayhem was on the other side; once people were through those gates their legs were running to beat the crowds. After making it through myself after 5 minutes I put my backpack with some extra warm clothes in a locker at a cost of about $4 for a day, only to make the mistake of sticking the key back in to find once its back in the hole thats the end and you have to put money in again. So after another $4 down the slot I headed off to find the lines were already increasing and wait times were climbing. Grabbing my first fast pass ticket which was for only half an hours time, I then lined up for something else. By the time I finished and then also used my fast pass meaning I was able to get another, I headed over to the Tower of Terror for my second fast pass to find it was already up to 4pm, and the current time in the waiting queue was 130 minutes! There is no way I was going to stand in the queue for over 2 hours, so waiting until 4pm was fine with me. I have been waiting for 13 years to ride this one, so the extra hours were not going to hurt. Was only very soon after that the fast pass system was shut down as the day’s allocation was exhausted, so the lesson is get in early for the most popular rides. Spent the day browsing the park and new rides. I was let down by a few; they were ok but I was expecting more. One thing that I am finding good on the rides is every single time they seem to separate me out at the front of the queue and put me in the front row. Not sure whether its because I am by myself, whether I am the rare foreigner, both, or some other reason. Have to laugh getting on rides when they give you all the safety instructions in Japanese, so I just follow every one else and do what they do. I also caught a live band show in the theatre and the entire thing was in English which surprised me, not just the music but the talking too. Not much more to say, not going to give running commentary of every ride I went on. By mid afternoon I was starting to get bored, I had done the rides with the shorter waiting times, and even though I had not done 1 or 2 major rides still I was not going to line up for over an hour. By this time I was eligible to get another fast pass ticket, however all the rides had their allocations exhausted. I will do these rides first when I visit again tomorrow or the day after. 4pm eventually rolled around and I walked straight to the front of the queue for the Tower of Terror. I did enjoy the ride except for the fact my sore back had been getting progressively worse again over the day, so the sudden movements were a bit painful. Will definitely have one more turn in next couple of days. With only over 2 hours of park open time left, and with 60 minute waits still on rides, I decided to call it quits for day. Rather than head straight back the hotel on the monorail though I instead stopped back at the main welcome centre which also has a shopping centre boasting Tokyo’s largest disney store. I was quite let down by it, and yes even though it has stuff under one roof, just a couple of the smaller stores in the parks put together would beat it. Merchandise was quite different too though with 99% of the items not sold in both the park and in this store, yet I still found the stuff in the parks to be better. Grabbing some dinner in a Hawaiian burger joint (refuse to sit alone in a nice restaurant) and also picking up some cold and flu tablets (after trying to work out with the shop assistant the directions) I headed for the hotel. I sat in the club lounge most the night, and even though I was back in plenty of time for alcohol serving, I figured mixing this with the cold and flu tablets might not be recommended.

I’m still a big kid

Was up early this morning and on the train over to Harajuku to hopefully check out some local talent hanging out in Yoyogi Park (see post on 21st January to understand what I mean). It was pretty quiet on the talent front with a guy learning saxophone and a handful of others practicing some drama acting. It was a nice morning walk though with all the other walkers, runners, and cyclists; obviously a popular spot. If I hung around longer and seen nothing more it would be time wasted from Disneyland, so I headed back to the hotel and checked out. With an extra bag in tow I had considered getting a cab, however being a Sunday I figured using the trains would be ok. Wasn’t that a big mistake. Waiting on the platform trains were coming and going (every 3 minutes), with each of them very full. I was hoping one might be a little less crowded than the last, however with this not appearing to be the case I dragged my bags on and pushed my way into the crowd. Luckily it is only an 8 minute ride into Tokyo station where I needed to transfer, however this proved to be just as much fun. Hopping off the first train and starting to follow the signs for the next train line I found it was a 500m walk in the underground tunnels. This proved to be a challenge with people walking in every direction. I have found though that people often move in bursts, so not being in a great rush myself I slowly made my way through and stood to the side when I was in the way. One thing I have found is travelling with bags on trains in Japan is quite difficult. We noticed when we were up in Zao that each day a truck would deliver and take away bags suggesting that bags may have been sent separately to the actual travellers. Eventually I made it to my second train and I was soon out of the city heading out over the bay. Arriving at Maihama station (Disneyland) I headed downstairs and immediately found myself at the Disney welcome centre. First stop was the hotel check in counter who gave me my room keys and took my bags off my hands to be delivered to the hotel later in the day. Next stop was to pick up my Disney tickets, then I was off to the monorail. The monorail links Maihama station and the welcome centre with the 2 Disney parks (Disneyland and DisneySea) and the hotels. Today I had elected to visit Disneyland, and before long I was walking through the front gates. There were quite a few people, but based on the waiting times for the most popular times being about an hour I realised this was a good day. Reviews on the internet say when it is at its busiest rides experience a several hour wait. This is why I have a 4 day ticket, and with my next 3 days being the beginning of the working week with kids also at school I was planning for it to get a bit quieter. Similar to other Disney parks around the world it also implements a FastPass system where you can get a ticket with a time later in the day to come back and skip straight to the front of the queue. As they only allow so many of these entries per hour on each attraction, my first fast pass ticket was for 7-8pm even though the time was still only early afternoon. You can only get a new FastPass ticket after the beginning of your time period has passed, or after a few hours since your last (exact time printed on ticket). What I found though was by this time on the ticket came around all attractions had already exhausted their FastPass allocations and therefore all the machines has been closed up for the day. I was fortunate in one line I was waiting in that a worker pointed out to me for that ride only as a single rider I could also go up the FastPass line without a ticket. I will definitely have to check out whether this is also an option on any rides when I visit the other park tomorrow. I avoided all the other rides with long wait times as I figured I can make use of their FastPass system when I return to the park first thing of a morning on the 3rd or 4th day, and hopefully also with less crowds. What I also found funny is some of the rides with theme music, not all of the worlds translate to English so the songs are a bit of both. One example for instance is the lines “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A” do not translate so they are sung as is, however the following lines beginning with “My oh my, what a wonderful day” are translated. Was pretty funny and put a grin on my face when I heard it. I found for most cases any characters on rides talking were in Japanese (i.e. bits you walk through while lining up), but others especially when music is involved is left original. This must confuse some people who have no idea what the songs are about. Between rides I also managed to do some browsing in the surrounding shops, primarily to find another beer mug or wine glass (or both) to add to my increasing collection. Have already found a couple of new designs and styles, including a wine glass shaped like a cactus, so I might be returning to Australia with a few more items squeezed in my bag. Everywhere you looked there were staff working, however this was just not limited to Disney but all of Japan. Not once did I see an overflowing bin, and any mess was cleaned up immediately with spilt popcorn an example I saw. I was also surprised to the reasonable pricing of food and drinks, for instance in Tokyo you could buy a bottle of Coke for 150 yen (just over $1.50), and even though prices were up here it was still only 200 yen (just over $2). Most public places or events around the world usually charge a high premium because they can. Even buying tubs of flavoured popcorns was only 300 yen, and plenty of other snacks like crepes and hotdogs were all under 500 yen. By the time the sun fell the temperature dropped rapidly, and although I was wearing a jacket I really would have liked my fleecy jumper. I also found the hard way this isn’t a good time to go on rides where you get wet. Crowds started to gather along the main paths and eventually the evening entertainment started beginning with the Electric Lights Parade which consisted of Disney themes floats covered in thousands and thousands of coloured lights which were programmed to change colours and perform patterns which was quite impressive. Now starting to feel like my fingers were ready to drop off, but only being half an hour before the fireworks show started, I figured I might as well stay especially since they have cancelled all mid week performances making this my only chance. After waiting and with minutes to go a Japanese announcement came over which caused everyone to get up and start leaving so I guessed it wasn’t good news. The announcement eventually came over in English which said it had been cancelled because of the weather, but still not sure what part of the weather given there was no rain or wind. With only half an hour now before the park closed, I decided to call it quits and powerwalked for the exit to get in front of the crowds. Back on the monorail I jumped off at the hotels station and boarded an awaiting bus to the hotels front door. I was aware the hotel was walking distance, however I didn’t realise as soon as the bus pulled away from the station it turned into the hotel driveway. The few minutes I waited on the bus for it to leave and I could have walked, but at least it was out of the cold. Already having my keys I headed straight upstairs and found my bags in my room. Being on the 11th of 12 floors of the hotel (club floor) the view over the parks is not bad, however there is a car park between us which adds a little distance. Being on the club floor it also provides me free access to the club lounge which provides me with free drinks and snacks along with other services, but with alcohol only being served until 9pm and me arriving a few minutes after I had to live with a coke. I am looking forward to visiting the DisneySea park tomorrow given it has the Tower of Terror ride which I have always wanted to ride, but with nobody wanting to go with me 13 years ago when we were at DisneyWorld in Florida which resulted in me skipping it, then being confined to the room with food poisoning 3 years ago at Disneyland in Paris, tomorrow I should finally be able to cross this off my list.

Last day in Tokyo

Was not sure what I was going to do today, so I didn’t set my alarm and decided to get up when I felt like it. I was still up at a reasonable hour and decided I would first try to check out the Tokyo Sky Tree (assuming crowds were not as bad as the other day) as I figured if I didn’t do this I would probably regret it later. My back was still quite sore today for some reason, and occasionally while turning or bending I had very sharp pains which made for a quite uncomfortable day walking around, but kept pushing on. I skipped grabbing breakfast first up, deciding to find something on the run later (which didn’t happen) and headed straight for the Sky Tree. Although there was a queue, estimated times were only at 40 mins compared to 70 minutes a few days ago (when I also had other things to do) so I lined up and eventually got into the elevator and was on my way up. This ticket allowed me to go to the first observation platform at 350 metres. There were a lot of people, but with a bit of patience and standing around they eventually moved on allowing me up to the glass for a closer look and a chance for photos, but I found looking doing this over their heads works too. The views were great seeing the differences in buildings and areas far and wide. I decided to spend the little bit extra and buy another ticket to head to the second observation platform at 451.2 metres which turned out to be very little difference, but at least I can now say I have been to the top (well as far as the public can go, the tower is actually 634 metres with all the broadcasting and communications equipment up above). By the time I slowly moved my way around the levels through the crowds a few hours had already passed, so by the time I came down I was getting hungry. It’s sad to say I had McDonalds again, but at least today I didn’t have it for breakfast and I have made it a point not to have it for dinner any night. Feeling like being a pig, I ordered their Mega Mac which is basically a supersized version of the Big Mac, and after eating it I really didn’t feel very healthy. Wondering where to go next I looked at my map for ideas and spotted the district of Ueno a few stops away which I know has a zoo in the large public park. Lately I have felt like I am over zoo’s, however I wanted to have a look at the giant panda’s, and at only just over $6 to get in it was a bargain. The zoo was quite good with a large range of animals, however as with any zoo in a smallish space some of the enclosures felt a bit small for the type of animals. It was fairly neat and tidy, however did feel a bit run down. Even though it was busy, with the minimal entry costs it is probably just covers the cost to keep it running. Picking and choosing my way through the animals and skipping most of those I have seen at every other zoo I have ever been to, most of the day now gone. I decided to head for home with a stop at Akihabara on the way through to finally grab these keyboards I have been chasing (plus another bag from the bag shop as I have run out of space to bring stuff home, which also means excess luggage fees). Arriving back at the room I took it easy for a while until dark, and then headed out for a night photo opportunity of Tokyo Tower (basically next door to the hotel) and to find some dinner. I decided tonight to visit a more traditional Japanese establishment, and told myself I would be happy just to order from a picture if needed. I did find a place however that had some English translations, so headed on in to find orders are placed on a machine and tickets then handed over so the chef knows what to cook. With a bit of help from the staff I was sorted, beer in hand, and having a seat at the counter. It was a great spot to sit as I could watch the chef doing his thing, and even managed to sneak in a couple of photos while pretending to use my phone. I find it funny in these sort of places that feel very Japanese that they have the western music we hear on the radio everyday playing. Food was great, and after thanking the chef and telling him food was “oishee”, I left with a very full belly. With a bit of bag packing and reorganising upon returning home, I called it a day. I plan to head out for a little bit first thing in the morning to see if there are any performers in Yoyogi Park, before heading back to the hotel to check out and head over the bay to Disneyland for my last 4 nights in Japan.

So much walking

Woke up today so much more comfortable than I have been over the last few nights. This is because I now have a proper bed, not the fold out sofa. I hit up McDonalds again for breakfast as I have figured why change a good thing when it works. I finally solved the mystery today of why I had trouble asking for a bacon and egg muffin; they don’t have one. You can get a bacon and egg sandwich, which from the blog a few day ago is bacon and egg between pancakes, but a muffin actually comes as a ham and egg muffin. I did notice the first time I had one what I believed was bacon was a bit perfectly round shaped, however still tasted good. My first stop today was Odaiba, which is actually across the water on the bay, and has both shopping and indoor amusement/theme parks. The train over was quite interesting, it doesn’t have rails but guides itself along short side walls, and its wheels are actually normal rubber wheels you would find on a truck/bus. This is very similar to the bus system in South Australia, however the trains are obviously much longer. The other interesting part is there are no drivers on board; the system is completely automated. Lets hope it doesn’t get confused and keep going when it comes to the end of the line. Getting off the train at 10am I found the shops here didn’t open until 11am, however the Sega Joypolis indoor theme park was just opening. I was more curious than anything, and with time to spare I headed on in. My options were to pay a general admission and then pay separate for the rides, or to pay a single fee for admission and unlimited rides for the day. I worked out if I was going to go on 4-6 things then the unlimited option was better value for money. The first thing I found was a roller coaster, however was curious how it worked in such a small area. With nobody else lined up I jumped straight on, then found out the hard way. The first few minutes were sedate, moving slowly between multiple large screens where you had to use a controller on the shoulder harness to shoot the monsters. When it did decide to speed up and be a roller coaster, it turned out the car continually spins 360 degrees as it moves around the track. I guess its the only way that can add the thrill perspective in such a small area to operate. Getting off quite dizzy, I decided I didn’t need any more of that one. Moving on to the next ride I found a hand gliding simulator, and after being strapped in and grabbing the control bar (like a normal hand glider) we were off. Well it turns out they basically took an 80’s arcade computer game and mixed it with movement. The graphics were terrible on a big screen and was giving me a headache. What made matters worse is I was terrible at flying the hand glider which made it shake around quite a bit, and it kept yelling at me in Japanese. After a few minutes it was over, and I decided I was calling it quits. Turned out to be a waste of money, but at least I didn’t lose too much. I thought they were going to be rides rather than interactive video games. I started wandering through the shops which were now opening, however nothing really caught my attention with most shops all the US and European retailers we have at home anyway. Within the shopping centre was also a massive Lego theme park, and Madame Tausadds wax museum but gave these a miss. Outside was a replica of the statue of liberty which you can also see in the photos below with the rainbow bridge in the background. I was a bit over shopping centres by now, however had to continue to the ones up the street as they were a little different. The first had a huge robot out the front, so took some photos but didn’t go in. The second however called Venus Fort was more interesting, not because of the retailers, but because of the shopping centre interior. It has been designed to resemble a 18th century south European town, including water features (with light shows that are not really 18th century) and a church. I took a few photos which you can see below. With shopping centres now done, I continued up the street again to a place called Toyota Mega Web which is basically a massive Toyota showroom with new and concept cars where you also have the ability to take cars on test drives along their purpose built road around and through the facility. Taking a few happy snaps and not being able to read any info about the cars as it was all in Japanese, I continued on again and found a place called Leisureland. It is basically an entertainment complex featuring game arcades, bowling alleys, slot machines, batting cages, karaoke, darts, table tennis, sports games, and much more. After a quick lap through I decided I was getting bored, so decided to move on completely. Back on the train I headed back into Tokyo in search of the Oriental Bazaar I could not find yesterday. My research before I came to Japan had said it was at Tokyo Central Station, however after verifying last night this was incorrect and was quite a few stations away on the other side of Tokyo. I did end up finding it, and turning out to be different to what I was expecting, but not so much for the worse. Expecting lots of markets selling cheap crap, its actually an upmarket souvenir and antiques store ranging from cheap to very expensive pricing. They did get some money from me, including the purchase of some traditional japanese clothing called a Yukata and and a Happi (basically they are gowns). With Tokyo commuter peak hour getting very close, and also not wanting to carry all my purchases with me all night I headed back to the hotel and had an hour of downtime. By this time my feet were killing me, however with a few places and things to do still on my list I couldn’t give up now or I was going to run out of time. Back on the train I headed to Shibuya again, this time to check it out of a night. There were so many more people compared to when I went earlier in the week, so the photos I took of the busy pedestrian intersection are amazing. After having a wander around the streets and a few of the shops, mainly checking out the people, I hit the downstairs food market again for some dinner. Along with some dumplings, I also got a spoonful of a cold prawn curry. I am glad I only asked for a spoonful, as 5 prawns turned out to be 700 yen (about $8). I figured while I was out I might as well cross something else off my list, so decided to head back to Akihabara to pick up a few more of those keyboards (see yesterday’s blog). Arriving just before 9pm, I was sure they closed at 10pm, but it turns out I was wrong as all the doors to the retailers were being closed. This was a bit of a pain considering I had to travel to the other side of Tokyo, so may or may not make it back again now. Now also having an aching back as well as sore legs, it was time to call it a night and I went back to the hotel.

The nerd goes shopping

Didn’t have anything planned for the morning today. Denise and Scott are due to fly out this evening which meant I had to change rooms for my new booking. With checkin and checkout times both at 12 noon, and Denise and Scott not due to head to the airport until early afternoon, I figured I could just do a simple swap over at that time. We all went for a wander up the street in the morning for coffee, then picked up some bakery items to take back the room for brunch. Everyone was happy to sit around and do a bit of nothing, but eventually it was time to make a move. The checkout and checkin process was simple; I was moved from the 11th floor to the 5th floor and lost my view of nearby flat rooftops to a view of a wall. Room was smaller (which I guess is ok since I went from 3 people in a room to 1 person), however it appears more recently renovated and VERY purple as with the rest of the floor. With that now sorted, and with Denise and Scott waiting in the lobby for their airport transfer, rather than me sitting with them we said our goodbyes and I headed out. This afternoon I planned to do a bit of shopping, and first stop was central Tokyo. I had 2 main places to seek out, the Daimaru department store right next to the station, and the Oriental Bazaar selling all sorts of touristy stuff. I found the department store, and spent quite a while browsing its many levels. I think its probably the largest department store I have been in. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but did come across a cool little bluetooth keyboard for the iPhone which I had taken a liking to a few days back in Akihabara, however here it was only 70% the price. It’s not something I probably need, but I think its cool and never seen them in Australia. After wandering the rest of the department store and managing to keep my credit card in my wallet, I went off in search for the Oriental Bazaar. Not taking the map was a silly move, as even though I knew the street name, the tourist maps in the streets only showed the major roads. I also got nowhere asking a few people, so ended up giving up and figuring I will have to work out tonight where it actually is. Next stop was back to Akihabara (visited a few days ago), this time taking a closer look and not worrying about holding Denise up when she was with me a few days back. I wanted to do a couple of things including checking out the game arcades, buy Scott a bluetooth keyboard for his iPad, and buy Denise and myself a new camera. The first thing I found was I couldn’t get far in the game arcades when all the games are new to me, and are not in English anyway. I was quite impressed with the machines though, some with multiple high resolution displays, which are much more advanced than ours in Australia. I resorted to having a play on the claw skill tester with Japanese character figurines as prizes, and after dropping a couple of coins for single turns (100 yen, roughly $1) and managing to move the figurine over the chute and it getting stuck on the way down, I knew one more turn and it was mine. Problem was I ran out of small coins, therefore having to use a larger coin (500 yen, roughly $5) as I didn’t want to go and get change and have someone steal my prize. Sure enough one more turn and it was mine, however with 5 more turns now left I didn’t do so well trying to get a second one but did make it much easier for the next person who came along. Next stop, the electronics shops. After spotting the camera I wanted a few days ago for almost half the price it is in Australia, I went back to take a closer look (planned on getting Denise one too). Playing with the display model, the first thing I wanted to ensure is I could actually change the language to English. I was sure pretty confident it would be possible, however using the pictures that go with the Japanese writing in its menus I wasn’t getting very far. I resorted to asking the shop assistant who started having a play while I pulled out my current camera of the same brand and noticed that although I could change the language, Japanese was not an option, so maybe on this Japanese camera English may not be an option. She wandered off to consult her colleagues and returned to say the language cannot be changed on that model. What a bummer, but not really needing it anyway and only upgrading because it was cheap, it didn’t bother me too much. In my browsing though what I did find was an iPad case with bluetooth keyboard, marked from 8000 yen (roughly $85) to 1500 yen (roughly $16). Seeming too good to be true I double confirmed with a shop assistant, and pricing was correct. The packaging stated it was for the iPad 2, however being a soft case and the later iPads only being 0.6mm thicker (basically nothing), I was confident it would fit. Picking up 4 of them and taking them to the counter though the girl behind the counter asked me if I was using iPad 2, to which I said no, and so she assured me the newer iPads would not fit and thats why they are selling them cheap. Not wanting to take the risk, I bought 1 to give it a go anyway as I was pretty sure she didn’t know what she was talking about. Considering I am sitting here now writing the blog on the new keyboard, with the iPad comfortably in the case, it looks like I am going back in the next day or so to pick up some more. While wandering around I found a large gathering with people on a stage taking questions, people were excited and taking photos, but still have no idea who they are. I did take a photo, and was soon in trouble as apparently photos were not allowed. Having spent the rest of the afternoon in Akiahabara, it was now getting dark and the streets were getting very busy. I managed to get a few happy snaps of the lights, and then set off in search of food rather than trying to track something down after returning to the hotel. I found an English style pub in the middle of happy hour drinks and food, so went on in. Being by myself they didn’t want to waste a table on me so put me at the bar instead; I guess it will do. Ordering a pint, some fries, and what looked like a few pieces of crumbed chicken, the total was still roughly around $20 even being happy hour. Quantity wasn’t huge, but enough. What I found interesting though is the thin pieces of chicken were crumbed in full cornflakes. I have had chicken before in cornflake crumbs but not full ones. Was pretty good, and think I will give it a go myself at home when I return. I made a move for the door as soon as I had finished eating, primarily because sitting at the bar was in the smokers area. After returning back to the hotel on the packed train I got to play with some of my goodies I bought today which was a bit of fun given the instruction manuals are in Japanese, so took a little bit of working out on a few things.

Temple, markets, and SUMO!

With a good looking day outside today, I gave the second day of my ticket on the tourist bus (see yesterday’s post for details) to Scott so he and Denise could go and do some looking around Tokyo, even if it is just from the confines of the bus to minimise the amount of walking on Scott’s leg. Today is their last full day in Japan with their flight to Australia tomorrow evening. I am staying another week on my own. I decided to spend the morning exploring on my own, and meet back with Denise later today to go and see the sumo tournament we had booked tickets for yesterday. First stop was breakfast, and McDonalds seemed the easiest option on the way to the train station. After asking for a bacon and egg roll, and having her ask if I wanted a sandwich to which I replied “yes”, I learnt this is something different. For starters the wrap around it said “Bacon and Egg McGriddles”, and upon unwrapping it I found bacon, egg, and cheese between 2 pancakes which just didn’t seem right as I got through it. Oh well, I know for next time. Onto the train I headed for Asakusa with a few ideas in mind:

1. Visit the temple complex (really old temple complex in the heart of Tokyo)
2. Browse the market stalls
3. Have a look at the Asasi beer headquarters building
4. Go up the Tokyo Skytree (tall communications/broadcasting tower)

After jumping off at Asakusa station I headed for the temple, but before I made it I found myself in the middle of the market stalls. The crowds were dense with people, all buying up on the random Japan souvenirs each stall offered. Yes I admit I was also one of them, however I ended up exercising a bit of control when I realised most of these Japanese items were infact made in China. When I buy something I would prefer it to come from the place it is actually representing. I was also quite amazed at some of the prices of things (expensive), and these people were not interested in bartering with a firm reply of “no discounts”. With a few items in hand I continued on down to the temple and found the same crowds, this time however mixed with the locals who were there to pray. Since coming back to Tokyo from Zao we have been reintroduced to the loud, arrogant, and disrespectful travellers who think they are the most important and here at the temple there was no shortage of them. After having a quick look it was time to move on, so decided to walk over to the river and take a look at the Asasi beer headquarters building. The building was designed to represent a filled beer glass with the frothy head on top. After a few happy snaps it was off to the Tokyo Skytree, but with no rush I decided to walk it which took about half an hour through the local back streets. It was quite interesting wandering between the houses and the traffic. The Tokyo Skytree only opened in 2012 and is used for communications and broadcasts across Tokyo. The Tokyo Skytree replaced the aging Tokyo Tower (next door to our hotel) which resembles the Eiffel Tower and was unable to continue providing effective services given the increasing height of the Tokyo skyline. All the services were moved to the Tokyo Skytree, and the Tokyo Tower now only operates as an emergency communication backup as well as continuing its role as a tourist destination. On arriving at the Tokyo Skytree and finding a sign indicating it was a 70 minute wait just to buy a ticket I decided today was not the day for this, and if I want to do it I will come up early one morning. I figured I might as well now head over to the sumo arena and make the most of my day ticket. I thought I had figured out the train system, however somehow I made a bit of a stuff up as after jumping on the train at the Skytree and heading one station in the right direction it turned out to be the end of the line. It seems I wasn’t actually on the subway. Rather than ride back to the Skytree and try again, I set off to find the subway station. This turned our more difficult than I thought, and without a map I wandered the streets for quite a while. After finding a tourist map on the street I realised I had been going the wrong direction, so headed back and eventually found where I needed to be for the right train. Arriving at the sumo arena (dohyō) I now had another mission on my hands. We had purchased reserved tickets, however trying to work out exactly where my seat was a challenge given I don’t read Japanese. After giving up on trying to play match the symbols I picked a random door and the usher showed me to my seat; luckily it was not too far away. Watching sumo was pretty interesting and exciting with a lot of rounds only lasting a few seconds. Rounds turned over fairly quickly though which meant there was not too long of a wait. Before a new division of competition begins there is a ring entering ceremony, or dohyō-iri, which I also managed to see. In this ceremony the wrestlers wearing their silk ceremonial aprons are introduced to the crowd one by one. After an hour Denise joined me (also led from one side of the arena to the other as she didn’t know where her seat was). It made for an interesting few hours with the level of competition increasing towards the end of the days competition. Our seats were the best you could buy in the arena seating which was on the second floor as we figured we might as well do it properly, however there are also box seats on the first floor which have 4 cushions in each for 4 people who sit with their legs crossed (can see in the photos). I am glad we didn’t go this far, there is no way I could have sat there that long. The most expensive seats (or should I say cushions again) are ring side, however as we seen these seats can be potentially dangerous with them right up against the ring, and often a sumo goes over the edge. Finishing up about 6pm we gave the rest of the crowd a 15 minute head start to the trains, and with the way they cram them in by the time we got there crowds were manageable. After heading back to the hotel, we headed off with Scott to find some dinner, tonight some meat, rice and soup in a fast food style restaurant. We considered doing teppanyaki, however it was a bit of a hike to make Scott walk. Food was not bad considering the fairly cheap price. Spent the rest of the night sorting out the crap in my bags (have 2 of them) as Denise and Scott kindly offered to take one back with all the stuff I don’t need (e.g. ski gear) to save me lugging it to my next hotel in a couple of days.

Shopping heaven (for nerds)

We woke this morning to cold weather and rain which is not a good combination when you want to get out and explore. Denise and I started researching how to obtain tickets to the Sumo wresting as we are in Japan in the middle of their January tournament. Rather than buying unreserved seats on the day which are at the back of the arena, we spoke with hotel reception about purchasing some reserved tickets who gave us the information we needed and sent us off up the street to book it. We soon had tickets in hand for tomorrows tournament, but unfortunately Scott will be unable to join us given the current situation with his leg and his inability to move through large crowds in the arena. Now in search for something to take back for breakfast, we realised what little choice we had in the adjoining streets. Most are noodle and sushi bars, and although some of these items can be common for breakfast in Japan, I draw the line before I get to this. We were hoping for a few items from a bakery, however with none in sight other than prepackaged items from the convenience store we sadly had to resort to bacon and egg muffins from McDonalds to take back to the room. Last night we had been trying to figure out an easy way to get out and see some of the sights of Tokyo with Scott while trying to avoid mixing with the large crowds of the trains and subways. Although previous reviews of the red double decker tourist buses in Tokyo similar to other cities in the world were very negative, it seemed like a reasonable option in our case so we were aiming to give it a go. Being quite reasonably priced (approx $25 for 24 hour pass, or $33 for 48 hour pass) when compared to other versions in the world, if it turned out to be a big flop it was not going to be the end of the world. The buses run 3 different routes around the city, and with your ticket you can hop on and off at any stop along the route, and also change buses where the routes cross over. With the rain still not letting up though and still needing to walk to the stop at the nearby Tokyo Tower to begin the journey, Scott decided is was probably not a good idea walking on the slippery pavement so sent Denise and I on our way to continue exploring without him. Even though Denise and I could have reverted back to using the trains, we decided to continue with the bus and give it a go for ourselves. Waiting at Tokyo Tower the bus arrived on schedule, and upon climbing aboard we found we were the only people on it. This wasn’t a good first impression, but we had now committed to it so paid our money, collected our headphones for the automated running commentary, and off we went. Reviews on the internet had said what a waste of money it was, and with such poor commentary (particularly the English version). Within 10 minutes I came to the conclusion the people who wrote the reviews had no idea what they were talking about. The commentary was passing on information and history of important or interesting buildings and sights, then returned to playing elevator type music. I thought it was great, and I much prefer this than having someone talking in my ear for over an hour with information I won’t remember or don’t care about. It is also such a different experience seeing Tokyo from the streets, rather than just around subway stations where you get off and come above ground. The route we took has given me a few other ideas for places to visit in my coming days, especially Tokyo Bay with a handful of large shopping and entertainment complexes. After finishing the route we were on, we had planned to jump over to the next route and head to Akihabara, however given it was another 40 minutes before it departed we jumped straight onto the train and decided we would continue the bus tour later. Akihabara, also known as Akihabara Electric Town, is a major shopping area for electronics, computers, anime, and games. After arriving in Akihabara we were presented with brand names everywhere on shops, buildings, and billboards. Strolling around some of the streets and browsing at some of the shops seemed to present 2 distinct types of shopping, the first type being major stores over many levels offering all sorts of things from watches, computers and cameras, perfumes, to whitegoods, while the second type reminded you of junk shops you would find at the local markets back home. Over all it was interesting to see so many items and types of items in one place, however given todays society of various shopping styles and trends, including the internet, we didn’t see many new items we had not seen before anyway. I also found most of the items to be fairly equal in price to what I would expect to pay in Australia, sometimes even more expensive. It definitely made for a good browse though, and if I had a thicker wallet I am sure I could have come out with lot’s of shopping bags. The other thing Akihabara offers is shopping to Japan’s anime or manga fans. There were quite a few shops selling books, comics, magazines, cards, toys, and figurines. Akihabara is also a place known for maid cafes where waitresses dressed in maid costumes act as servants, and treat customers as masters and mistresses in a private home, rather than as café patrons. You soon know when you are close to a maid cafe as they often had one of the waitresses dressed up on the street handing out brochures and trying to drum up business. Given it was a cold day most of them were wearing jackets, however they still looked pretty cold standing out there, especially given I was cold and I was fairly rugged up. Being late afternoon we decided we would start making our way back the hotel, and although we could have jumped back on the bus we decided to head straight back by the train. In the end we spent more time than we had expected in Akihabara, however the later than usual start this morning also didn’t help our timing. Back at the hotel we met back up with Scott and had a bit of a break, which gave me a chance to do my day’s blog compared to yesterdays late night effort. Dinner tonight was a bit of a mission with many restaurants quite full, and with others not having an english menu and not having any sort of pictures that we can simply choose from. After quite a bit of wandering we ended up in a italian type restaurant ready to choose from the pictures in the window, however luckily the menu did end up having an english translation. Having pizza in Japan is not really traditional, however after wandering for so long, and not wanting to resort to McDonalds or similar, it was an easy option.