Sunday, 25 August 2013

Akasaka Palace State Guesthouse

The closest station to the Akasaka guesthouse is Yotsuya station. Usually you can only see it from afar behind the gates, but on occasion it's possible to not only go a little bit closer but also inside.

I'd been inside the gates before on the 3rd of November last year, but was only allowed outside the front of the main building. If you make bookings in advance it is possible to be chosen to go on a tour of the rooms inside as well as viewing a limited fountain area behind the building.

Originally built as the Imperial Palace for the Crown Prince, now it is used as the official accomodation for visiting state dignitaries.

As you'd expect, security is quite high. They had set up airport style walk-through scanners. I brought my camera with my nice ultra-wide angle lens to take in the opulence of the rooms, but I was quite dismayed to soon find out that they didn't allow photos.

Why do they do this? I find out later they sell photo cards at the end of the tour. How convenient. I did manage to take a photo of the stairwell but sad to say it's not worth putting up here. If you'd like to see what you missed look here for a description of the rooms and their photos.

Tours inside are limited to 10 days a year and guests are chosen by lottery, so good luck if you get in. While it was kind of interesting to see what most people won't, you shouldn't lose too much sleep if you don't. From the first to the third of November there will be another open day. It is only outside, but pre-registration is not required.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Onjuku Beach

There are quite a few "juku" in Tokyo. You might have heard of some, Harajuku, Shinjuku for instance. How about Onjuku?

Onjuku Beach is about two hours from central Tokyo on the Chiba peninsula. Usual way is the JR Sobu line, which continues on the Sotobo line to Kazusa-Ichinomiya, then you take the local service to Onjuku station. The cost is 1,890 yen from the Shinjuku area.

Some friends wanted to go somewhere different, so it was decided to come here.

The weather was nice and there were a few waves, although quite lame. While you could do some simple bodysurfing, I'd be a little embarrassed bringing a surfboard here. Chiba faces the open sea so it is possible. (Kujikurihama comes to mind)

Instead of a surfboard, I brought along a floatie ring that I "found" in Enoshima. It was left behind before we left that day. I got a 105 yen air pump to blow it up but it was pretty useless. One of the beach hut guys inflated it for "free" seeing that we rented an umbrella (1,500 yen). Not very manly (especially in pink), but it did the job nicely allowing me to zone out a bit


The beach is a similar shape to Zushi. On arrival there are two camel statues greeting us at the entry. Strange. The sand is perhaps relatively cleaner, but the sea is much the same. Quite a lot of people with tats and tans around. I saw a girl with a butterfly tattoo on her chest. Not pretty.

If I lived in Chiba I'd frequent this beach more often, but for the time and money getting here, I'd say Kanagawa beaches are more worthwhile, as long as it's not loud and dirty Enoshima.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Sompo Building

One of the interesting building that you see in the west Skyscraper district of Shinjuku (Nishishinjuku) is the Sompo Building. It looks like this:

You'll notice the possibly even more interesting Mode Gakuen cocoon building on the right.

One reason you might like to go up the Sompo building is that there is an art museum on the 42nd floor. While I was there I saw the Jeux Surrealism exhibition. It is also possible to see one of Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" paintings here. Another good reason is the view.

Pretty damn fine.

You may recognise the intersection on the left as the same as the background of my blog. If you look closely you can see Tokyo Tower, and even more closely the Tokyo Skytree.

Thursday, 15 August 2013


Are you one of those people that watch all those Youtube cat videos?

Yes? Then you HAVE to go to the Neko exhibition. The photographer, Iwago Mitsuaki captures cats from around the world in different states of emotions and situations. I'm not a cat lover per se. I consider myself more of a dog person,

but I quite enjoyed it!

The exhibition is being held in the new Hikarie behind Shibuya station on the 8th floor. It's an interesting looking building, but the shops, mainly geared towards female clientele, are a tad boring to me.

 Cost of entry is 800 yen, but here's a tip. Give them a photo of your cat and the entry is free! Mr. Mitsuaki also has another exhibition concurrently entitled "Cats and Lions" at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Ebisu. It looks very cool too. I'm planning to check that soon too.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Katase Enoshima Eastside Beach

I thought this was the first time but thanks to my blog I found out I came here almost to the day six years ago!

Although I did come to Enoshima beach, last time it was Katase Nishihama Beach (Westside). I was a bit confused with the names of the beaches around here. Was it Shonan, Katase or Enoshima beach?

After a bit of research and translating, Shonan refers to this coast of beaches, similar to how Kujikurihama covers the Chiba side. Some say Katase, and others says Katase-Enoshima so that's my conclusion!

Enoshima beach is split by Enoshima Island, which one day I might check out if I have enough time. It looks interesting.

To get here the cheapest way is via the Odakyu line (610 yen). From Shinjuku you can take a one hour rapid train to Fujisawa station, and then walk to the opposite side of the platform to get the local service which terminates at Katase-Enoshima station. From there you take a short walk across the footbridge and either go the Higashihama (east) side, or the Nishihama (west) side of the beach. Super easy.

Enoshima Beach feels very different from other beaches I've been to. Today was absolutely packed.    The loudspeaker was blaring incredibly loud with horrible J-pop, and announcements that seemed to come every five minutes.

The crowd here were quite young. My first question I felt like asking was "How old are you?" in case I was chatting up some jailbait. Seriously! Also, once I got in the water I felt like there were many more guys than girls here :(

The water is quite shallow so this would be a good place for kids, although it's noticeably dirtier with tiny furry algae, and I noticed a used bandaid floating by. Ew. Maybe it was just today but I seemed to get stung by jellyfish particles more often than usual. Every now and then I heard someone say "Ittai" (ouch!).

By the time 5pm rolled around, they started playing the go home music ("Auld Lang Syne", the default closing time song in Japan). For a beach? That's pretty strange. Once that finished and people started going home, it was quite blissful hearing the natural sound of waves. Almost felt like a different beach!

A big disappointment though is this beach is SO dirty. A lot of people just leave their trash on the beach when they go home. Lots of blue tarps and empty bottles, cigarettes left behind. I saw a floatie ring that it seems like every girl has when they go to the beach.

I grabbed it to take next time. It was pretty difficult to let the air out though. That's probably why. Anyhow, it's mine now, and it's pink!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Free Wifi in Tokyo

Years ago when I was travelling through Europe, internet access was paying 2 Euros for 30 minutes in some nondescript cafe to check emails and keep in contact with family (Yeah, that and "cheap" phone cards). Life was simple without Facebook. No doubt a better place :P

These days it's virtually a given that free wifi internet access is part of the deal with a lot of hotel rooms these days. BUT I don't really stay in that many hotels since I live here.

I never really liked Softbank's iPhone deal. Unlimited internet access and an iPhone! The phone was locked and these days Internet access is getting cheaper and cheaper. TIP: Bring your own unlocked smartphone, or buy a used one in Japan.

In the early days I DID have wifi on my phone and with some stealth ninja wardriving, I was able to find places where I could connect when I really needed to.

The fantastic news is that free Internet access is available now from a lot (not all at time of writing this) of JR and subway train stations. JR trains supposedly three hours at a time, and the subway for fifteen minutes (but you can log back in up to five times).

JR's access point is "JR-EAST_FREE_Wi-Fi", and Tokyo Metro is "Metro_Free_Wi-Fi". It requires that you register with an email address, but it's quick and painless (ie. English too), so if you're coming to Tokyo you won't be missing any Facebook updates. Ha Ha!

Incidently, there is also free wifi at Narita and Haneda Airports too.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

ANA Maintenance Tour

It's the start of my summer vacation here in Tokyo and what that really means is that airfares go through the roof making it prohibitive to travel anywhere away from here (except the beach which I've been trying to go often, but it has been raining or overcast on my days off lately).

Like the recent G-Cans excursion, I'm open to ideas that cost little or no money. Enter stage left, the ANA maintenance tour!

To get there you have to get the Tokyo monorail from Hamamatsucho to Shin Seibijo (470 yen). (Hamamatsucho is on the Yamanote line so it's really easy to find your way there.) From the station it's a five or so minute walk to the ANA building. It's NOT the ANA building you see as you exit the station. Give yourself at least one hour leaving from central Tokyo.

We arrived there for our 1pm tour. Most of the people were kids today. They commenced with a talk and video about the different kinds of aircraft and how planes fly. It's all in Japanese but I got the gist and the music was better than the other G-cans video presentation. I was getting a bit of Top Gun vibe here. This part lasted about forty minutes.

Next we were given hair nets and blue helmets to proceed to the maintenance area. All up the tour lasted about an hour and a half. The tour guides were very generous, allowing everyone time to take plenty of photos and didn't mind that we, meaning I, lagged behind a bit to take even more photos.

As a nice memento we were given a plastic airplane.

Like the G-Cans tour it is free, but MUST be pre-booked and gets booked out very heavily. Checking it now I see the first available day is in December! Don't give up hope though. There can be cancellations.

If you want to see something a little bit different this is an enjoyable day out. Not far away is the Haneda domestic airport so also a good (photo) opportunity for some plane spotting!

For reservations go to the ANA tour booking site (Japanese) here. Highly recommended.