It’s actual real-life blogging time for once! I’m going to put up some info and images from my first trip to Japan up to the end of May. I won’t be writing page-long articles describing every detail and in what way to visit what. There are plenty of those and they aren’t my domain anyway.
The flight went through Amsterdam and costed about $560. Couldn’t see anything of the city but I wasn’t really interested in that anyway. We arrived at Narita International Airport. Our place to stay was close to the Nishi-Kawaguchi station in Saitama which is pretty close to Tokyo. The hotel or rather apartment Weekly Nishi-Kawaguchi costed about $xxx for 2 people for 2 weeks. That is quite a bit cheaper than than most hotels in Tokyo and you get the full advantages but also duties of a private apartment.
The first day consisted of checking out the hotel surroundings as well as visiting Sunshine City in Ikebukuro. The primary target in Sunshine City was Pokémon Center which turned out to be rather difficult to find.
There wasn’t too much else interesting there. Just a bunch of shops and restaurants. Also some English guy with a really annoying voice doing a Japanese concert.
Second day was all about Shinjuku.
First sightseeing spot was Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden which turned out to be pretty interesting and had a few nice spots although I didn’t manage to arrive at cherry-blossom season. The botanical garden wasn’t that interesting but oh well…
The second spot was Meiji Jingu, a rather huge shrine you unfortunately can’t see all of because of visitor restrictions. There was a ceremony going on you weren’t allowed to record. I also got a fortune telling I still have to translate because that one wasn’t available in English.
Exiting the shrine we went to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building by subway followed by a really long path underground. It felt pretty weird being treated as some sort of VIP when using the elevator even though you didn’t pay anything. There were some random shops upstairs complementing the nice view from the observation deck.
We walked back from the building and kept looking at the busy streets and all kinds of businesses.
The goal was to eat at ufotable Dining which unfortunately turned out to be full. So we decided to kill even more time by going through the streets and eat somewhere else. We visited another shrine we found and finally played some Tekken and Dragon Ball at Shinjuku Playland Carnival.
The day ended with a visit of the Boku Dake ga Inai Machi movie in Shinjuku Piccadilly. It was one of the last showings and turned out to be pretty good, though you probably would be missing some rather important background information if you only watched the movie. The ending was completely different from the anime and while not perfect, quite a bit better.
Lessons learned so far:
1. Entering a train / subway station using the wrong gate means you won’t be able to take your train and won’t be able to exit to use a different gate either. Same applies if you remember you forgot something after you just checked in. Double check if you’re entering using the correct company’s gate and if you got everything you need or you’re going to have to ask staff for help.
Spot 1: Ueno Zoo
Arriving at Ueno station there is a zoo… Like every other zoo out there. Really nothing special. There were tons of panda goods and we bought a box of sweets containing candy, cookies and some other stuff.
There were also owls.
I ate some shaved ice and we went to spot 2: Ueno Park
I actually can’t comment on the whole park as we seem to have missed quite a big part of it. Anyway, there were lots of shrines and temples of different sizes…
…as well as street performers.
We continued walking through the busy streets and finally reached spot 3: The University of Tokyo
Nothing too special… I guess.
The main entrance didn’t look too bad but that was about it…
…so we continued to spot 4: Koishikawa Korakuen Garden
We had to rush through it because of the closing time and also almost got lost. The contents weren’t as interesting as Shinjuku’s garden but some spots were quite pretty.
The final spot for that day was: Tokyo Dome City
It turned out to be a lot bigger than we expected. There are multiple event halls, tons of shops…
…restaurants as well as some attractions and other stuff. We bought some snacks and rode the Ferris wheel to take pictures and listen to the beautiful AKB48 songs it offered.
There was also a water show. We wanted to take a look at some more stuff after eating but most stores were already closed by then.
The first spot of the day was Kappabashi Dougu Street.
The contents of its shops are mainly aimed at other shops: artificial food, signs, kitchen utensils, decoration and so on, but that also made it interesting. There were a lot of weird signs and tons of places to buy souvenirs. I don’t have any representing picture, though. Just one of some figures found in one of the shops.
After walking down the street and back, we went back to the Asakusa station to find spot 2: Asakusa Nakamise.
It was very crowded and full of tourists and shops for them.
Again, a lot of places to buy souvenirs as well as a shrine on the way to the main shrine of Asakusa.
The shrine was huge and extremely crowded as well. It seems to be a main tourist spot. No surprise, I guess. An interesting view although nothing special I can say about it besides it being huge.
The next target was a bit farther away: Imado Shrine.
The shrine’s theme are cats which are everywhere. No real ones, though.
There was also a TV running with a music video of little girls dancing to a catchy song. I couldn’t resist and bought a small cat figure.
After going back a bit we entered the next destination which we already found on the way to the shrine: Cat cafe Asakusa-Nekoen.
It’s a cat cafe with only stray cats which means donating for a good cause. You’re also free to adapt any of the cats! After coming in, you have to disinfect your hands and have your starting time registered. After that, you’re free to play with the cats, buy food for them or drinks for yourself.
The cats didn’t really care about anyone without food and mostly avoided people. The room was also really small with a lot of people inside. It was a peculiar experience and for a good cause but that’s about it.
Going over a bridge the next stop was already in front of us: Tokyo Skytree.
It’s a gigantic tower with a shopping and restaurant complex called Tokyo Solamachi inside.
Actually going to the top is pretty expensive and even more so if you’re unsatisfied with floor 350 and want up to 450. I thought the view from 350 was amazing enough already and didn’t go up any further.
There is an even pricier fast lane to get tickets to the upper floors in case you are a tourist. We used the normal lane after eating and waiting until 1 hour before closing time which resulted in a waiting time of 0 instead of 1 hour even when using the normal lane.
A day for Akihabara or just Akiba! The leader of Oyatsu accompanied and showed us some stuff on this trip so a thanks to him.
Akiba isn’t that huge but there are tons of things to do for weeaboos.
We arrived at Akihabara station quite late thinking we could even visit Tokyo station afterwards considering Akiba is small. That didn’t work out too well. I also couldn’t take too many pictures because doing that is not allowed in most shops.
After going the wrong way at first, we found a Yodobashi and went inside. There is a seemingly endless amount of electronics, games and similar stuff inside.
We spent a lot of time at the game section and continued onto the main street which was in its full glory as on every Sunday.
After looking around a bit we decided to eat. And where would that be if not in a Maid Cafe? Well, actually finding the determination wasn’t that easy but I’m glad we did. The “Cafe and Bar of Time Magic: Chronos Gate” is a Maid Cafe with an RPG theme. You login, spend MP and logout at the very end. It wasn’t nearly as awkward as I feared it to be. The maids were nice and the food was good. A great place if you want to visit a themed and probably because of that a maid cafe without any embarrassing moe-moe-kyun casts onto your meal.
After that, we went into some anime / manga stores. I don’t even remember all their names: Sofmap, animate, Tora no Ana, K-BOOKS and so on. Some contain other smaller shops and multiple of them had like 6 floors. Want some BD box? Go check floor W of store X. Didn’t find it? No problem, there’s floor Y of store Z and so on. I’m quite sure you can eventually find everything you can imagine if you just search long enough.
No problem. By the way, what’s worse than going through the 18+ section? Actually recognizing titles there.
We skipped some floors and even shops because we just didn’t manage until night. To be fair, there are a lot of overlapping articles in the different stores as well. There are also arcades we didn’t manage to do much inside either.
Also Love Live!… Everywhere… Terrible.
The main street re-opened for cars in the evening but the shops didn’t close until much later.
Once evening arrived we tried to remember what we might’ve missed and visited two additional places. First was the Tales of Shop which was unfortunately pretty small and aimed mostly at girls.
And second was the Kanda Shrine close by which was also full of Love Live!
We have yet another day or at least part of it planned for Akihabara so that’s not it yet. At the very least the at that time closed Tokyo Anime Center is still on our to-visit list.
The first time far outside Tokyo: Kyoto!
We activated our JR Passes on that day and instantly used up its price worth by taking the Shinkansen to and from Kyoto. Turns out you mustn’t board the train until shortly before departure even if it’s been standing at its first station for a while. As expected, they’re very comfortable trains that reach pretty much 300 km/h.
After arriving in Kyoto we got hit by the heat wave and changed quickly to the next train which was even more of a wind tunnel than those in Tokyo.
The first destination was: Fushimi Inari Taisha
We didn’t realize it first but it’s really huge and goes up a mountain.
The name of the famous gates say that there are 1000 of them but it seemed like even more. I gave up half way. Besides the main shrine there are tons of smaller shrines on the ways to the top and back as well.
After spending multiple hours there, we went back on the same train line and went further south. There, in the middle of (almost) nothing, was a small shop called Kyoani Shop!. As always, taking pictures wasn’t allowed but there wasn’t that much to take them of anyway. It seemed to be mostly aimed at girls and the merchandise was really expensive. I bought a Mayaka flash drive.
The next two destinations were around Arashiyama and quite far from the shop. Of course we got lost while trying to get there and ended up in a station surrounded by mountains and without any mobile signal.
Thinking we missed the correct station, we took the next train back and ended up in Saga-Arashiyama. Still wrong but oh well…
We just went to the next destination by foot: Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama.
Entry does cost a bit and it took about half an hour to go up the mountain.
At some point we were greeted with monkeys just sitting and lying around…
…and a rest area a bit after that. After resting and feeding them a bit, we went back down without climbing the mountain further. It was an enjoyable experience.
We tried to find the next spot and obviously got lost again. Turns out it’s actual name is Bamboo Path and if going from the monkey park, you need to cross the river and pass through a park to reach it. The path wasn’t too spectacular except for taking pictures.
Going to the closest station we realized the last train for the day already left and so we went back to Saga-Arashiyama and back to Kyoto. It was pretty late at this point already…
…so we boarded the last Shinkansen back to Tokyo after taking a few pictures and eating.
Day 7: Random locations inside Tokyo!
Location 1: Tsukiji Market.
It’s pretty famous and there were a lot of tourists there although we didn’t go on “prime time”. The market itself was very crowded and not too interesting.
The hall was a bit more interesting with people driving in fish transportation cars.
We ate some sushi but that was meh for me as well.
Next up was Roppongi.
After arrival we instantly saw the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower and tried to go inside.
Turns out it’s not possible from the front if you want to visit the exhibitions inside, but after finding the right entrance we managed to get a ticket and went up. There we found the first exhibition: The Exhibition of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon.
Of course, most of the visitors were girls and taking pictures was mostly not allowed. The exhibition was quite huge and had everything displayed from anime episode sketches to tricycles. At the end was a shop…
…where the only remotely useful object for me seemed to be the opening single for the first Crystal season. Oh well, bought both versions of that.
Going back through another shop, there was a Chibiusa Cafe with a huge waiting line.
We decided to skip it.
The other exhibition we were able to enter with our tickets was an art exhibition.
I’m definitely not someone who’s able to judge art, but most of it was… weird. There were some TVs stacked that were showing photos and some machine that transported bags of something up until they fell back down.
Exiting the building we went around Roppongi a bit more but there wasn’t too much interesting stuff around so we continued to Shibuya.
To get a good view of the main crossing we decided to get a drink at Starbucks right in front of it to be able to go up to 2nd floor. It was completely full so we had to wait for a good place and we also could’ve just went up there using the escalator without paying Starbucks. Too late.
The crossing was impressive…
…but even more so the surroundings of the station. There wasn’t anything specific there but rather a huge mix of everything. People, shops, music, a great place.
Also Hachiko… and tons of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu ads.
Having spent quite a bit time there, we went to the next destination pretty late: Odaiba.
Unfortunately, the Rainbow Bridge was simply lit in white and Diver City Tokyo was mostly closed.
At least we still managed to buy some snacks and barge into some company’s party at the rooftop.
We also found two other interesting places on the ways there and back: DECKS Tokyo Beach and VenusFort. Most of the shops were, once again, already closed so we couldn’t do much.
Day 8: Spots outside Tokyo.
The first stop of the day was Machida Squirrel Garden. Took a bit to get there and I didn’t quite get how using the Suica on the buses there works exactly. Anyway, the garden wasn’t too huge but still bigger than I expected. The entrance is like a small zoo while the squirrel park is further inside. You get gloves and are able to feed them for a fee. There are tons of squirrels roaming around and feeding them can be a painful (scratches!) experience.
We got some melon candy in the shop at the exit.
Next up was Enoshima. It’s an island farther south from the garden. We obviously forgot to change trains at a certain station and had to return. You need to pass a rather huge bridge to get to the island…
…which greets you with a few busy streets and a ticket counter if you walk farther up. We bought Smart Passes since it was too late for day passes already.
Those allowed us to use the escalators to go to the top as well as visit the Samuel Cocking Garden and the Sea Candle.
We went up the escalators and took a look at the island’s shrines as well as some other buildings and gardens.
We barely managed to get to the Iwaya Caves before closing time and got tickets for that as well. It wasn’t too interesting but we also had to rush through them since we were the last ones.
Going outside, the wind got way stronger than it was before and some big waves formed.
We also saw hawks attacking people twice, but only those with ice cream.
The Samuel Cocking Garden was not too spectacular…
…but the view from the Sea Candle was nice on sunset.
This day was dedicated to Nikko, more or less.
We missed our Shinkansen because there was a huge line in front of our train station. Turned out trains were delayed because of an injured passenger. Staff weren’t letting people in and were giving out what I believe to be proof of why people were late. The train held for about 10 minutes on multiple stations as well.
After arriving in Nikko pretty late we went to the Nikko Toshogu Shrine by bus.
Entrance wasn’t cheap but it also wasn’t a bad view.
There were also some other shrines around but we continued to the next stop: Kanmangafuchi Abyss.
A lot of decorated monk (I think?) statues. Lost heads were replaced with simple stones and also decorated.
Not the most interesting place probably except for some balanced stones.
And that was actually it for the day. We had 3 more places planned further north but our being late made those impossible to visit as they had already closed. We only realized that after coming to Tobu World Square half an hour after it closed.
And back to Tokyo.
Day 10: Mt. Fuji
Another day, another adventure with 3 hours of sleep and terrible planning. We had hoped to go to Aokigahara and/or the safari park close to the mountain but decided on simply taking on the mountain and the city Kawaguchiko because of easier access. We went to Shinfuji by Shinkansen and took a bus to Kawaguchiko from there.
I slept through about the whole 3+ hours trip. It’s said to take a reservation for those busses but that wasn’t necessary as all of those we took at that day were pretty empty. From there we went up to the 5th Fuji station on bus as well. They’re really expensive and it took another hour.
Anyway, arriving there it was quite a bit colder and we took a look around the stores there. After buying some apparently exclusive cowberry ice cream, we found a path that went what seemed to be around the mountain. A bit further in there were no tourists around anymore but only deadly silence and fog.
Unfortunately, while the fog made for a great view, it prevented us from seeing much of the mountain.
After a while we went back…
…and took the bus back to the city.
We walked around some more there and rode the Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway.
There wasn’t much else to do that wasn’t too far away, so we just bought some sweets, ate and went back again after successfully climbing (a few meters of) the mountain.
Day 11 was the last day dedicated to a city outside Tokyo: Osaka.
Going by Shinkansen on the same line as to Kyoto we arrived there…
…and not to waste time instantly went to the first destination: Shitenou Temple.
You can see it from pretty far away and there were tons of tourists even on the way there.
Actually going inside obviously costs money and it’s more like a museum with an observation deck.
It kept raining from time to time and was still pretty hot. Annoying combination.
Our second stop was the Osaka Aquarium KAIYUKAN.
I’ve heard it’s one of the best in Japan and so we decided to go there. Entrance is really expensive even if you don’t take any of the boat trip or ferris wheel extras. We took the ferris wheel but left that for later and went inside.
I don’t have much of a comparison in terms of aquariums but it seemed quite huge and have a lot species even though some of them had like 5 viewing spots.
There was also a petting place and shops at the end. We continued to the ferris wheel that was included in our tickets.
It goes way further up than the observation deck we visited so it was worth it.
Our third and last stop was Den Den Town which is supposed to be similar to Akihabara. Actually, I can’t say it is. While there are electronics, anime / manga stores and similar, they are spread apart further and don’t give the same kind of feeling Akiba does. Still, you can probably find a lot of stuff there, you just need to look more carefully.
As we didn’t have much time left at this point, we just basically visited parts of the Namco Osaka Nipponbashi Shop.
It’a more an arcade than a shop but still an interesting visit.
Far more interesting, though, was the fact that we arrived about exactly for a birthday party for AmiMami. An actual event I was able to take part in even if just for half an hour because of our train back to Tokyo.
There were people sitting imside the store, wearing t-shirts of the twins or holding their figures.
I was asked to join them as well (yes, no tickets) and got a pamphlet of the event schedule. We listened to Start Star, sung Happy Birthday and those who wished held speeches. My Japanese definitely isn’t good enough for listening comprehension of real people in loud places but there was something about Ritsuko always scolding them and them playing tons of pranks yet actually doing their work properly when needed.
It was just 20 or so people sitting on the floor of an arcade but it was really amazing how something like this can actually take place. Really wish I could’ve stayed longer but we already had reservations on the last Shinkansen back to Tokyo.
Day 12: Here and there in Tokyo.
We started the day by going to Shinjuku to witness the “sacred figures” of the Hanazono Jinja Shrine being carried around town. Why? Because the Hanazono Jinja Festival was taking place. Arriving just in time to actually see the 2 figures being carried out, we followed them as they were carried down the streets.
This takes a while so we decided to come back later and watch them being carried back inside.
A festival also means food stands! I got some Okonomiyaki.
The next stop was Nakano Broadway. It’s pretty huge spanning multiple floors with tons of various shops: clothing, food, hobby and so on. There’s also a street leading to it from Nakano Station with even more shops.
We didn’t spend too much time there but there were a lot of interesting places like a “Weirdness Shop” with alien figures, weird politician dolls and who knows what else.
Continuing walking to our next destination, we walked through Tetsugakudo Park with a huge mass of people relaxing (it was a Sunday), grilling and even performing.
After relaxing ourselves for a bit, we continued and encountered the next stop after some walking: floresta, a donut shop. I don’t know what’s so special about it and I didn’t pick it as a spot to visit but anyway, I got me a Shiba Inu donut.
We continued exploring the place and finally went back a bit to the next spot we unfortunately only passed on the way to floresta: ufotable Cafe.
“Unfortunately” because we first had to make a reservation then come back 40 minutes later. No choice so we did that and walked back to the park to kill the remaining time. After we finally entered the cafe and I got me some Collet waffles (with an art sheet of some show I don’t know. Yay?) and a Kara no Kyoukai cocktail (with a cup holder). They were both pretty good.
Obviously, no pictures were allowed inside, but there was a TV and a projector showing ufotable stuff as well as a lot of sketches and also merchandise for sale. I got an Illya cup when exiting! The Rin one actually looked better but can’t pass up on Illya and it was also the last one.
As we still had time left, we just went to Tokyo station which actually wasn’t in our plans anywhere. The station itself is gigantic with probably a hundred shops. Shoes? Check. Kit Kat Store? Check. Convenience stores? Check.
But once you leave the station, it’s a different matter. Lots and lots of high buildings but barely any place to visit and almost no people in sight.
Once 7 pm drew closer, we went back to Shinjuku and watched the shrine figures being carried back inside.
All the stands were open and some even already closed at this point and I got some candy apple and a ramune.
The final day: More Shibuya and Akihabara.
Visiting Shibuya in the morning at rain wasn’t nearly as amazing as the first time. A lot of stores still had closed and there were way less people around. I had used up all my money and had to withdraw some.
We walked around and at some point came to Harajuku station by chance. Instead of using the subway like last time, we continued walking around and found a few busy streets with some interesting candy shops, another floresta and more.
As noon approached, we left for Akihabara which again was less impressive on a Monday and with / shortly after a rain shower.
Nevertheless, we visited a few new and old shops and got us some key straps (both as a “lottery” and some resold ones). I also spent all my remaining money as well as a ton of my credit card limit on a Vita, Neptune U, tons of PSN credit and a memory card. Yay for tax-free and 5% credit card discount.