A Travellerspoint blog

June 2012

Tokyo Panda Bus

And Kappobashi Dori, and other stuff...

snow -1 °C

Back home we are quickly to bed and I get my best night’s sleep yet, through to 8am. Today is colder than yesterday, drizzly but no snow. After brekky we catch the first Asakusa Panda bus of the day. We are only going a short distance, but the Panda bus route first does a loop across to the Sky Tree, then past Asahi’s Golden Sperm and back to closer to where we wanted to be. Yes,it may have been quicker to walk, but that isn’t the point is it? Panda Bus

Panda Bus

Yellow eared panda

Yellow eared panda

We head over to Kappobashi Dori, the restaurant supply street. L is lusting after a lot of things here and we spend a good hour and a half here, stopping only for a loo break in the local park. It is okay for G and I, but a pitiful yelp comes from the ladies as L’s derriere reaches the ice cold seat... We have finished here and great self control has seen us limited to a few ceramic pieces.
At this point the cold overcomes, and we head back to Ueno station and the warmth of a hot chocolate (much cheaper than on Ginza) After we have recovered, the group splits up. L is heading to Fabric Town on Nippori Chuo Dori. G and I head back to Akiba.
G finds another Nerf gun, and I may have located two extra things I want to get here too. But we are not buying anything yet – the deal is that we come back on the way back to Haneda at the end of the trip. This way at least I don’t have to carry a whole lotta stuff around. We head back to the hotel to rest up and warm up until we get to meet up with L.
We meet up outside one of the Unagi restaurants but it is booked out, and rather than let us wander around looking for another place G says, right we are going next door and marches in. It is a place with your own little hotplate in the table. We have a stilted conversation about what to order and do, but with some encouragement from other diners, we get our own okonomiyaki going and do three courses along with atkasan – hot sake! It is a lot of fun and we should listen to G more often.Okonomyaki dinner

Okonomyaki dinner

L has had good fun with several hours in Fabric Town not enough for her to cover a fraction of what she would like – no doubt if she were to return there would be a solid day spent there. We get to see her enthusiastic purchases – a wide selection of fabrics and trims, and so little time...

Posted by lostagain 18:25 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Cold Day in Tokyo

snow 0 °C

I am up early and super Amy has been working it again and has got our skiing leg of the trip organised to the detail. Amy works for Myoko Kogen tourism and is an absolute wealth of knowledge and a fantastic help for those of us who leave everything until the last minute.
Today it is markedly colder than yesterday and there is a steady drizzle outside. By the time walk down to pick up the first water bus of the day (10am)it has turned to a swirling snow shower. Asahi's Golden Sperm

Asahi's Golden Sperm

There are not many people on the water bus, probably something to do with the weather. The trip down river is probably nicer during the summer, but there is still plenty to see (25 bridges to start with) Even in the snow, there are still some well hard Tokyites out there running. The main ring road expressway goes along then crosses the river, and it is at a standstill at 10:20 in the morning, in contrast to the roads at ground level. Cold and wet on the Sumida river

Cold and wet on the Sumida river

The buildings change from dense packed housing to medium rise to light industrial, and on to high rise housing/offices as we head along. We get an unusual view of the Tsujuki fish markets from the river, before we head into our stop at the Hama Rikyu gardens. These were built by a Shogun as a duck hunting area. And have some nice streams and pools dotted around. Unfortunately, the snow/sleet is pelting down now and we are all whingeing about the cold and wet. A lovely lady at the gardens has lent us umbrellas, at least to the main entry – from here we are on our own.Keeping dry, Hama Rikyu

Keeping dry, Hama Rikyu

From here we struggle against the biting snow and rain to get to the nearest under cover shopping area – fortunately not far away, but L is still soaking wet in the meantime. Undercover, we thaw out a bit and try to work our way along further without having to go out into the cold. We can get as far as the nearest metro station, but now we have the choice – ride the metro until it warms up or back out? Yet again, someone comes to help us out with directions, even coming outside into the cold and wet to guide us. Lovely people the Romans.
We head along Ginza, ducking into stores which take our fancy, or when the snow is too heavy. We then make the brave decision to have hot chocolates in the cafe at the front of the Familiar store. At this point, we see the price, but go ahead with it any way. We have a warm, dry spot with a window view of one of the world’s premier shopping strips. We enjoy this, and try to milk our money’s worth, by staying until the snow abates a little.Million Dollar Hot Chocolates, Ginza

Million Dollar Hot Chocolates, Ginza

We drop into a couple of the department stores, and as lunch hunger hits, we are in Mitsukoshi. Walking around the food hall, there is a little curtained off area next to Sushi Iwa with people eating there.We get a seat there and have some of the best sushi ever to pass our lips. There was a fantastic scallop, L had an amazing sweet shrimp, and G loved his Ikura. Just blissful. Still happy, we wandered around the dessert and sweets area, helping ourselves to the samples.
We spent the next hour or so in the Japanese traditional craft area, looking for something that really grabs our fancy, but nothing leaps out. Having said that I did like an iron bowl with a gilded interior, but the price and the excess baggage charges put me off.
We head up to the Jimbocho area of Tokyo to get G a pair of gloves – although it is usually me with the cold hand issues. There are some good ones in ICI sports – they are very well equipped with everything you could want (if you are only a skier, as G points out) We go and do some other shops and there are a few pairs that G likes, but he wants the flash looking pair which are also the cheapest. I am worried by this but they are out of the clearance bin and had been 5 times the price. We shall see, and he has another couple of pairs as back up. L has gone ahead and calls up – she has found a jacket for me. I am mystified as there is nothing wrong with my op shop Ezekiel jacket with the gaffer tape inside the little tears – it has done plenty of tours no problem... But L has found a Marmot jacket, a season or two old which is cut just right and feels good too, and importantly is a quarter of the price of the new season’s gear. This was on the first floor at Aspen Ski Gear, who seem to have samples, past season’s stock etc.Winter has come to Tokyo

Winter has come to Tokyo

There was a complaint about hunger, so we looked in the book and strode for one of the recommended ones – after ten minutes, found it, it was closed. Could not even find the next one – lack of house numbers is getting to me. G has lost his patience and says why do we always look in the book – how about THAT place? Abashed, we go in. As soon as we sit down G complains that it is too smoky, but not enough to start looking for another place. The mistress of the restaurant speaks great Japanese, and I speak great English. With the help of a few amused customers, we get an order together. As it has been a cold day we get Atsakan (hot sake) to drink, which goes well with all the food. The restaurant, Han Nari, specialises in Kyoto style food, and it is all very good. We comment on how good it is, and G says told you so...Plum Tuckered

Plum Tuckered

Posted by lostagain 18:20 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Tour of the Imperial Palace grounds, Tokyo

4 °C

After a good breakfast to fuel us through the morning we head down to the palace – well as best I can as something has not agreed with me and wants to be out as soon as possible. No major issues and we present ourselves for the Imperial Palace tour at the Kikyomon gate. This tour is free, but you need to book ahead to confirm names, numbers etc and not just rock up. You can book up to the day before, which is okay at this time of year, but will be a problem when it is warmer.Kikyo-mon gate

Kikyo-mon gate

Even before the tour when we passed through the Kikyomon gate, the battlements are something to behold. The palace is circled by moats, with large rock walls rising out and up to the palace ground level some 10 to 20 metres above. The corners are dovetailed together with huge dressed blocks, and the walls in between are huge boulders coarsely matched to create a formidable barrier.
The tour starts with instructions given, understood and signed for. For the gaijin, there is a audio tour available to keep up with the explanations. My audio tour did not seem to have the jokes the guide was telling, or maybe they just did not translate well.
Once inside the main walls, the grounds are groomed to the minutest detail with bushes and hedges trimmed just so, and the pines shaped and plucked to their most pleasing presentation. These frame our first sight, the Fuji – yagura (Mt Fuji view keep), an impressive tower looking over the front moats. Mt Fuji view keep, Imperial Palace

Mt Fuji view keep, Imperial Palace

Past some non descript buildings that were the temporary Palace, we go up the hill to the real thing. The Palace had to be rebuilt in the 50s after the fire storms in WW2. The architect has done very well, creating a very understated facade that is quite timeless. The long balcony from which the Royal family greet everyone on New Year’s day stretches 100 metres and behind it is the Chowaden hall. The roof is copper which has gone green over the years to resemble so many traditional roofs. Imperial Palace

Imperial Palace

We headed past the palace to head down across nijubashi from where we can see Fushimi yagura, a keep moved here from Kyoto centuries ago. It is very picturesque and many photos are taken by all, with plenty of ducking and weaving as we all go for the best angles and not get in each other’s way. We head back across in front of the Palace, but closer this time so we get to appreciate some of the details better. We then loop around the north side to see some more of the gardens before heading back out to the start. It has been over an hour, and well worth doing to see so much more than circling outside.
Now we head over to the East gardens. The winter weather means that this is not as exciting as at other times of year, but you do get a strong idea of what the Edo palace was like centuries ago. The set out of the gardens is still apparent, and some of the tea houses dotted around show up well against the bare trees. Tea House, Palace gardens

Tea House, Palace gardens

The old tower base and fortifications bear witness to the craftsmen’s skills at working stone.
As we depart the gardens we try out another Japanese taste sensation, a hot strawberry flavoured tea from a vending machine. Hmmmm....
We head over to Daimaru on the other side of Tokyo station. We look at a map on the way which gets us attention as yet again someone stops to help. We have been helped many times by many different people from a broad cross section of ages.
In Diamaru we have a brief look about but we are really focussed on getting some food from the basement food court. We all pick up a selection, but then the issue is where to eat it – this is designed to take back to the office or work. So we indelicately prop somewhere and eat up, and it is really good.
After this L insists we bore her again and we head back to Akiba and look at models!! After leaving me with all the cash at my favourite, Leonardo’s, it is an hour before we get out again, and head off to the next shop and the next and the next... We meet up at a Starbuck’s for large serves of hot sweet stuff. I want to go to an Unagi (eel) restaurant – there are a couple not far from our hotel, but as we search around for them it is soon apparent that they are closed. G suggests a place nearby, and we head in to a small place with a central cooking/preparation area with a bar around that we sit up at. With our very fluent Japanese pointing and miming, and the restaurant phrase in the back of the guide book, we work out some food. This is all cooked on a little charcoal brazier, and we have piping hot chicken teriyaki, pork belly, chicken balls as well as some tuna sushi and hot sake. Izakaya restaurant

Izakaya restaurant

It is all delicious and we sort have a discussion about us coming to Japan for skiing and how we have been to Tokyo before but not Asakusa. After this we head back to the hotel and sleep.

Posted by lostagain 18:15 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Bike tour of Tokyo

sunny 7 °C

Morning comes and we rouse ourselves after up to 14 hours sleep. Some of us still look like the walking dead though. Breakfast is a varied buffet, basically Japanese, with a few western things to keep everyone happy. Volume is no issue, plenty for all.
This morning we have booked a bike tour around a bit of Tokyo, so we have to get to Naka-Meguro, right across town. The change of lines at Ueno was a bit of a hike – like most major city metros, although the schematic for the network shows two lines changing at a station, in reality the walk can be anything up to half a k. Out to the end of the Hibiya line, and down to see Neil at Tokyo rent a bike. From base, we head up through the typical local housing(very small to our Australian eyes) to Daikanyama, a low key and exclusive area, then on to Shibuya with the love hotels in the back blocks and its landmark crossing (not all that crowded at 11am on a cold day). Neil is giving us back ground as we go, helping us to make a bit of sense of it all. From Shibuya, we head up through Yoyogi park, looking quite bare at this time of year, to Harajuku and the Meiji Shrine. The shrine is a lovely sight with the copper roof and the huge cypress columns and beams.Out riding

Out riding

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu

After this peaceful interlude, we head into Takeshita Dori, the teenager’s street, although today there are almost as many tourists. We grab an oh so sweet crepe to keep us fuelled, and head off up to Jingu, where the big baseball parks are. Here Neil puts us into a batting cage and we show that Australians don’t know much about baseball, but we can hit fast moving objects.Moment of impact

Moment of impact

In fact, we are told as cyclists, we make great baseballers? The next part of the tour piqued my interest the most, as we head down through the Aoyama cemeteries. Here we get to see the burial grounds of some of Tokyo’s citizens. Some of the plots are simple, running the gamut through to mini Japanese gardens and bonsai landscapes.
From here we have a brief interlude in Roppongi Hills before a high speed descent down from Ebisu to get back to base. Four hours was well spent getting an overview of part of Tokyo.
Safely off the bikes (and admiring a new house in the back blocks of naka Meguro) we head down the street where there is a mega bike – a Surly Pugsley – and a ramen shop for us to have a go at. There is no point and order menu, but we have to buy tickets at a little vending machine and hand them over to get our food cooked – this way the cook does not need to bother with handling money. With the lucky dip concluded we dig in to a huge bowl of noodles to sate our hunger.
There was a bike shop nearby that I wanted to go to, and which I found easily enough, but it was shut today. This was going to happen a few more times. With no plan as to what happens next, there was a bit of a conference before we head to Akihabara, so G could see about taking a PS3 back to Australia. The stores people said it won’t work, and there was only a $30 – 60 saving anyway. Also asked at another place where they were showing much cheaper, second hand consoles, but the same story there.Akihabara


As it happened while we were in the area, I knew of a few model shops that I wouldn’t mind looking in...
In the end it was a bit later by the time we got back into bed tonight, may make tomorrow morning a bit of a drag...

Posted by lostagain 18:10 Archived in Japan Tagged cycling Comments (0)

A day in Asakusa

Back to Japan - told you we would

overcast 7 °C

As usual, we are still throwing stuff into suitcases when Mum arrives to take us out to the airport. Even still making lunch when the last bag is zipped up. No doubt I will remember what I have forgotten on the way.
We head off as L is getting a bit toey about her flight, but when we reach tulla it is quite deserted.
She is in, we are not far behind. L has no time to wait, straight on. Next it is time for G and I to head off to our SQ flight. The crew is lovely, but the Jumbo is showing its age, hopefully they will soon be overhauling it. Row 52 is right next to the galley – try to avoid that in the future. Had some good vistas over central Australia, but G complains as opening the blinds interrupts his viewing pleasure!
A number of empty hours in Changi as we wait for departure. This leg is in a nice shiny new Boeing 777 with the new entertainment system. Despite G’s enthusiasm, he has to try getting some sleep tonight or tomorrow will be a washout. In the morning as breakfast comes out, he does not look like he has slept much, and falls back asleep.
At Narita we head out and meet up with L and get ourselves organised – cash out of an ATM (28degrees card, no exchange ripoff or O/S ATM fee), hired mobile phones and got down to the train.
Last time we went on the N’Ex – Narita to Tokyo express, and thought it was good. But JR east suggest the Kesei line is better to get to Asakusa. So we head over there and once I have bought the tickets, we are off. Except I have bought the wrong ticket so we are doing the standard local train instead of the Sky Express. Thought it sounded cheap. As a guide:
Kesei Line train, Yen 1060, 75 minutes, limited express
N’Ex Yen 3000, 50 minutes, very comfortable though
Kesei Sky train Yen 2000, 45 minutes
G is immune to the landscape during the 70km ride as he sleeps on L’s shoulder most of the way – should have taken a photo. The trip is made more interesting as we cannot work out which train to change to at Aoto. One of the locals kindly points out my error and we are on our way. We can only drop our gear off at the hotel – room will be ready at 3pm. This is good, as it stops us crashing out there and then.
Essential Japanese cuisine?

Essential Japanese cuisine?

So we have a cruise around Asakusa – which starts as it always must, at mister donut. After a coffee that helped L appreciate instant, we are on our way, going through the Kaminarimon (Thunder gate) and battling our way through the street of stalls behind. Many of these sell Kaminarimon


touristy trinkets, but there are some making and selling rice crackers, biscuits and sweet pastries by hand in front of you. Free of this we are in front of Senso-ji, the large Buddhist temple. Senso-ji is approached through an outer gate which is imposing in itself, but passing through the main temple is revealed. In the foreground there is an area for making prayers and getting fortunes foretold by the random selection of a numbered chopstick from a container. L gets hers, but it is not good – her prayers will not be answered and she is out of luck for now. But bad predictions are not contagious as G tries his luck next he picks the opposite fortune – all good, every thing you touch will be gold. I don’t chance my arm and just get some incense to burn for good health instead. We have a look around, and she spies another fortune telling place and decides to try for a better prediction. When it comes out, it is the exact same fortune as the previous one – which freaks L out a bit.
Good Fortune!!

Good Fortune!!

Enough bad news for now, we head out into the beautiful gardens around the temple for a look and to try and get a bit of heat from the sun as well. It is (unsurprisingly) cold and crisp, but this does not stop the local girlies from wearing short shorts or miniskirts – not all with stockings either – they must be tough here!
Senso-Ji gardens

Senso-Ji gardens

We cruise around the neighbourhood – which away from the temple environs is what this is – a neighbourhood. There are some great little shops selling stuff like old style knives and scissors, another selling a myriad of brushes – most made of hogs or horse hair, kimono materials (we make to size).
But it is around 3 and we have to have some food, L locates a cheap and cheerful ramen place with a minimal menu, but we have great ramen and gyoza – just what we needed at the time, not least as it is hot and warms us up from the inside.
By now, the room is available to us and we head back to the Blue Wave. We get our bags and head upto out room – it is in a great place, with views over the Senso – ji, looks great. The room is not huge as a triple but would be great as a double or twin. Everything we need is here, except G has to huff down to the lobby to get Wi Fi. L meanwhile decides to lie down and rest her eyes. G, back from downstairs decides the same, and soon the room reverberates to the symphony of sleep.

Posted by lostagain 18:05 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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