Tokyo Drift! A Fast and Furious Journey (Part 3)

I suddenly remembered that I have to write about the last leg of my quick Tokyo trip!

In case you missed out on the earlier posts, here’s Part 1 and Part 2

The last part of our trip covered most of Central and Western areas of Tokyo: Akihabara, Harajuku, and Shinjuku.  These are the busiest places in Tokyo (probably in Japan) and offer a lot in terms of things to do.

We started by visiting Tokyo Imperial Palace.  The palace grounds alone will take you about 30 – 45 minutes to circumnavigate.  One can really feel that this is the epicenter of the Japanese empire just by walking around.  The attention given to the plants, flowers, trees, and structures cordially dial in majesty.

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Behold!  The almighty castle walls!
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How big were horse-drawn carriages in Japan back then?  Because this street is so wide!
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The trees are just perfectly manicured.  Not a leaf out of line.
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We were really lucky because these were not supposed to be in bloom until 3 days later.

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From there, we took the subway bound for Yoyogi Park.  This is a massive and beautiful park that ends at Harajuku.  At the middle, you can drop by Meiji Jingu to get a breather.  It felt like a stretch of 2.5 kms. of gravel.IMG_1676

If you followed our route, this is what you should see:IMG_1678

We went crazy with all the shops from Harajuku to Roppongi.  There were a lot of foreigners living here too.  This area will gladly take your money.  Name a brand and chances are, a flagship store will be in this area.  So bring a lot of dough.  Or don’t.IMG_1679

If you go left from here, you will arrive at another famous shopping destination, Takeshita Street where you could get a shot at one of the graffiti-lined walls.  Each of us just had to take one.

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According to my sister, this street is mostly kawaii girls stuff.  But she was able to find this store, Monki.  There’s a cool dessert place beside it if ever you are a guy shopping with a female.

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The iconic Hachiko just near Shibuya Crossing!IMG_1689

Maybe it is just because off-season but I think Dotombori in Osaka is much busier than this one.  If you are thinking about getting a nice view from the Starbucks joint you see in this picture, good luck getting in.  The upper floors of the train station and malls are the best places to get a nice shot.  I just wished I was into time lapse photography when I went here.  IMG_1693

We had to double back to our hostel to get our bags and got lost.  All the subway-switching can get really confusing.  It really pays to know some kanji especially when the nearest map looks like this:

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We had a great bowl of Seaweed Shio ramen after an exhausting day.  Unfortunately, I forgot the name of this ramen place in Shinjuku.

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While waiting for our midnight bus back to Kyoto, we checked our watches and realized that we had about 4 hours to kill.  Luckily, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is still open!  It has 2 observation decks: North (9:30-23:00) and South (9:30-17:30).  It gives you a stunning 360-view of Tokyo for free!  The elevator line might be long during the day so going at night is better (the night view is better too, I think).  Oddly, the observation deck has a toy store and a coffee shop at the top.  It even has complimentary Wi-Fi! IMG_1702

That’s all, folks!  This series is done!  I can’t wait to go back to Tokyo!

Here’s a video of the entire trip!  I’m very sorry that the camera is shaky, the gimbal is broken. 😦

Tokyo Drift! A Fast and Furious Journey (Part 2)

Yes, as promised, here’s what went down in Tokyo!

If you want to know where we stayed and how we got here, Part 1 will guide you through. 

First off, buying a train pass comes highly recommended.  There are a number of passes available to tourists and non-tourists.  After reviewing all the bus passes, train passes, and bus and train passes, we decided to get the Common One-day Ticket for Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway.  Since our hostel was near to a subway station, we didn’t really need access to buses or JR Lines for that matter (although there was a JR station about 15 mins away).

The tickets exactly look like the ones on the right side of the photo below (credits to the owner) and are available in almost all ticketing machines.  Don’t forget to press ENGLISH first.  It costs 1000 Yen (500 Yen for kids) and is valid only on the day of purchase.  Since we started early on day 2, we were able to maximize the pass and probably used the subways more than 10x (considering the average fare was around 200 Yen).

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Our first stop was the Asakusa area.  We strolled down Kototoi Dori for about 15 minutes and found ourselves hearing screams.  Yeap, screams.  In the middle of the city.  Turns out that one of the oldest amusement parks in Japan, Hanayashiki, was there.  If you ever hear screams while walking, you are on the right track.

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Since Asakusa Shrine was a Buddhist temple, it was customary for believers to offer prayers.  
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The shrine area was packed. The atmosphere was quite different than that of the shrines and temples in Kyoto. This one just felt less tranquil, I guess.

After this, we just walked straight and ended up on Nakamise Dori which is a popular tourist trap.  The street is lined up with a lot of shops where you can buy native Tokyo eats and things.

Using the powerful subway ticket, we boarded the Ginza Line,  got off at Shiodome and walked to our next destination: Hama Rikyu Gardens.  Shiodome Station itself was a huge building and offered fantastic views of the whole Asakusa area.  Just cross the bridge and you will see a big park across.  The entrance fee is 300 Yen.  What you can find inside will make you forget the entrance fee.

Fields of (Yellow) Gold! Literally.  What a sight.  I can only imagine what the whole park looks like during the climax of spring!

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Plum blossoms were blooming!

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Now after the walking we have done so far, we were hungry.  Good news!  The famous Tsukiji Fish Market was nearby (maybe a 10-min. walk).  Most blogs and guides say that it is best to go during 6-9AM and line up for auction passes.  But, seriously?  We are just in it for the sushi!

Sushi joints in the “inner” loop of the market are generally more expensive and usually cost upwards of 5000 Yen for a set.  The shops in the outskirts of the market are better value and are of the same quality (they come from the same market!).  The premium comes from 3 things: name, chef, history.  This was from Ryu Sushi, if I read the characters right.

This was how our set looked like and it cost around 2500 Yen.  As with most of the food in Japan, we were left wanting.  (tummy still grumbling).

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After leaving still hungry, we retraced our steps back to Shiodome.  We wanted to use the elevated train (Yurikamome Line) to our next destination: Odaiba.  In doing so, we were unable to use our train pass and had to pay 440 Yen for the privilege.  It was worth it: the train will give you breathtaking 360-degree views of Tokyo Bay.

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Alight at any station after the bridge.  The whole island is pretty much walk-able and will take a better part of your day.

Palette Town had a nice mall named Venus Fort (will keep the females occupied) and an amusement park to boot.  Furthermore, Toyota’s Mega Web  (will render males unconscious) theme park was here!  In here, you can test drive (if you have an international permit) virtually anything from Toyota’s current vehicle roster, see a sea of Toyotas, buy limited edition racing stuff, and browse through a curated historical garage.

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The ferris wheel would have been fantastic to try if it weren’t for the rain.  
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The inside was unlike any mall I have ever seen.  It was very confusing to navigate but it smelled really, really nice.  So yeah, we got lost.  But we smelled good doing so. 
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After the endless sea of shops (nothing of which I was interested in), I jumped for joy when I saw this.  I immediately cut ties with my sister and went straight to business.   Thank you Speedhunters for writing about this!
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Mega Web had a lot of the current Toyota GT racing cars and lots and lots of exclusive TRD-editions and parts.  It was a Toyota fan’s mecca.   
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Fancy a pristine 2000GT?  Feast your eyes!
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At last, I was able to see and ride the most exclusive Toyota in the world, the V12-powered Toyota Century.  In Japanese scheme of things, it is mostly used by the Yakuza and powerful sarariman.  It costs north of $100,000. 
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GREAT SCOTT IS THAT A DELOREAN?! 
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History Garage had a Cafe on the ground floor which had a window that allows you to see some craftsmen working on Toyota classics.
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The world’s only full-size Gundam (I think it’s an RX 78) at the back of Diver City Tokyo Plaza.  
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Tokyo Bay

Due to the sheer amount of things to do in this island-city, we were unable to visit SEGA Tokyo Joypolis, Leisure Land, and a whoooole lot more.  I highly recommend setting aside a full day (AM-PM) if you want to visit all of the spots.

It was a lof of fun, Odaiba!

That’s it for part 2 which pretty much covers the Asakusa and Odaiba areas.

Ja mata!

 

Tokyo Drift! A Fast and Furious Journey (Part 1)

First timers in Tokyo!

In the past, I had always wished to visit Tokyo.  I mean, hello, I live in Japan!

Anyway, I planned the trip for me and my sister who was visiting.  The plan involved visiting 4 cities (Kyoto-Tokyo-Nara-Osaka) in 9 days using the least amount of cash possible.

Tokyo from Kyoto?  How can that be cheap?

Bullet train? EEEEENK.  At around 25,000 Yen for a roundtrip ticket, this was out of the window.

Local train? EEEEEENK.  Waaaay too confusing and waaay too long.

Bus? TING NING NING!  But not just any ordinary bus.  An OVERNIGHT BUS!

Welcome to Willer Express.  At around 4,500 Yen (one-way) for a no-frills overnight bus ride to Tokyo from Kyoto, this was in the money.  We intended to visit only metropolitan Tokyo this time around and set aside 2 FULL DAYS for it.  They also offer premium coaches with sleeping pods and other creature comforts for around 7,000 Yen (one-way) which is still cheaper than the Shinkansen.  We were so happy with the experience that I am now blogging about it. If you are penny-pinching, not pressed for time, or both, then we highly recommend taking this route.

The Willer Express (not the one we took) looks like this:

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Inside, it looks like this (WHY ARE WE BROKE!!) and it is pretty awesome

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The good thing is they subcontract other buses for the cheapest trips and their buses look something like this (this is not the actual one)

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Inside it is still pretty comfortable and clean.

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Flow:

  1. Catch overnight bus at midnight at the bus stop near Kyoto Station (Hachijo side). The stop is very easy to locate and the directions and pictures from the website are very accurate.  Our only comment was the stop was not enclosed so we were freezing all the time we were waiting.
  2. As with all things in Japan, the bus arrived and left on time. The bus was clean and the seats were comfy, even though we opted for the dirt cheap ones.  Curtains enclosed the bus so in a matter of minutes, we were ZZZZZ…
  3. Around 7AM, we arrived in Shinjuku (you have the option of choosing either this or Ikebukuro) where we took the subway going to our hostel, SPACE (which was freakin’ awesome as well!)
  4. The trip back is pretty straightforward.  Just go from #3 to #1 and voila, you’re back in Kyoto.

You can plan and reserve seats online.  Their website takes some getting used to but i user-friendly enough for locals and tourists alike.

After sifting through various hostels prior to our trip, we ended up staying at SPACE Hostel.  The hostel was nicely sandwiched in between the Ueno and Asakusa areas and is a 5-minute walk from Subway Iriya station (Hibiya Line).  It had a Lawson 100 Yen store nearby that will solve all your personal needs. The location was perfect.

Website: SPACE Hostel

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Stefan, the one operating the concierge at that time, was very accommodating and understanding.  He fixed a system issue because apparently the system did not recognize the booking revision I made.  Otsukaresamadesu!

There was a common area with a dining table.  Coffee and tea were complementary and there was a fridge to store some of your food.  They can even keep your luggage on checkout day for free until 7PM!

Shower rooms and bathrooms were conveniently located on the 2nd floor.  No need to bring shampoo and soap.  You do need to bring your own towels and other personal effects such as (toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.).  The dormitories were very nice and the temperature was kept at the perfect temperature (it was around 3-4 degs celsius outside).  As advertised, the beds were nicely crafted and were complete with covers and a duvet to keep you warm.  Everything was really, really clean as well.

Overall, we highly recommend this hostel to anyone visiting Tokyo!

Please drop a line if you have any comments or questions!

Now, on to the sights and sounds!

**disclaimer:  full credits go to the owners of the photos used in this post with the exception of the cover image which is mine