Sunday, 29 December 2013

Gut's Soul

I eat shabu shabu more often, but I think I really like yakinuku better.

Back in the old days I'd go to Gyukaku, but unfortunately a lot of the ones around Tokyo didn't do an "all you can eat" menu, or the cost would be kind of pricey. One of the other teachers once mentioned a place called Gut's Soul in Yoyogi that was incredibly cheap.

I'm a bit wary of yakiniku being too cheap after we went to one in Shinjuku ni-chome that had the worst fattiest pieces of meat you could imagine. Thankfully that little s*thole has closed down.

I'm happy to say that this place was MUCH better. The cheapest all you can eat is 1,280 yen for 90 minutes. Pretty amazing huh? This course didn't include beef so we "sized up" for the 1,580 yen one. Be careful not to over order though as you will be charged extra for the meat you can't eat!

My first impression was that the beef pieces were a little anaemic compared to other places I've tried but it tasted good. You can get salty or sauce flavoured meat. The pork and chicken also tasted real nice.

We went to the Yoyogi one. Make sure not to sit facing the window. The Yamanote line is very close to the window and passes by every few minutes. Seeing it speed past a million times gave me a bad sense of vertigo I didn't need.

It is a chain restaurant so you can also find Gut's Soul in Nakano, Koenji, and Takodanobaba. Yoyogi is easiest if you're in Shinjuku. It's only a stone's throw away.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Two Towers Part I - Going Up The Skytree

When it was being built I was sadly thinking I wasn't going to still be in Tokyo when it would be completed. For a Christmas present, I was gifted a ticket to finally go up and I have to say I was kind of excited!

Unfortunately you can't use a FOREIGN credit card to book a ticket. While I'd love to say this is because Japanese people are inherently racist, it's probably to stop tourists from booking it completely out every day. On this weekday it wasn't too long. It took about 40 minutes to get in. A ticket to the 350m level costs 2,000 yen. To go to the 450m level is an additional 1,000 yen and can only be purchased on the first observation deck.

So how was the view?

Pretty damn spectacular! From this height you are far above the city. While the 450m is nice, I don't think it's really worth the extra cost. The view is not so different. I was surprised to see Shinjuku almost in the dark. You can easily see Mt Fuji in the distance as the sun sets. Amazing!

The closest station to the Skytree is Tokyo Skytree Station or Oshiage station. I got off at Kinshicho station which was the cheapest way, but there's a bit of walk from there. Overall if you come to Tokyo you HAVE to come here.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The 2nd Happiest Place On Earth?

Did you know there are TWO Disneylands in Tokyo? Although it's called collectively Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland and Disney Sea feel like completely different theme parks.

After whetting my appetite with Disneyland I had to try out Disney Sea a short time later.

It's been said that Disney Sea is the "adult" Disneyland. The rides are faster and more appealing to older "kids". To me it actually didn't feel like a Disneyland. The Disney characters are not as overtly in your face, and it looks really picturesque! Also it feels quite a bit larger than Disneyland. From the first walk around I was drained.

To get to the entrance from Maihama station you have to get the Mickey train. It's Disney-fied well with Mickey-shaped windows and grab handles.

As soon as you enter the park it's hard to miss the Tower of Terror. I was nervous about riding it. On arrival we got our first fast pass for Journey To The Center Of The Earth. While waiting we tried out 20 Thousand Leagues Under The Sea as there wasn't a line at all. I quite enjoyed it! The illusion of being underwater was really effective.

From there we went on Aquatopia. Looking at it I thought it would be enjoyable. It features a similar trackless system to Pooh's Hunny Hunt, but riding it felt pretty pointless.

The nearby Stormrider bears a resemblance to Star Tours being another simulation ride, but it was just so-so. Getting wet wasn't really necessary as it didn't make it any more believable to me.

The Indiana Jones ride was maybe too intentionally jerky for my tastes, but it was fairly memorable.

From here I was to face my fears of the Tower of Terror. This ride is pretty cool. The buildup story was excellent. Even without understanding much Japanese the storyline was fantastic giving the looming dread of what awaited us. The ride felt like it actually pulls you down faster than gravity. On the third drop I'm pretty sure I said "Not again", but I kind of regret not going on it one more time before leaving.

One thing that stands out here is Duffy. Do you know it? The Mickey-faced bear that it seemed every Japanese girl had. I got so sick of seeing them that I wanted to throw them on the ground and stomp on their faces. But seeing that I'm not a violent person I relented.

Anywhoo where was I?

Oh yes.. By now it was time for the "Journey" ride. Again, lots of animatronics. Not bad. The fast thrill at the end of ride was unexpected. Nice. Later on in the day we'd ride it again. Unfortunately repeated riding actually made me rate it less. YMMV

At this point I have to mention the big gyoza sausage bun. It's around this area so we gave it a try. For 420 yen it's a little pricey but not bad for a hungry stomach. Speaking of food, I got the curry popcorn again. I saw the mickey popcorn bucket that I couldn't find in Disneyland. Bit overpriced too, but it's cute. Handy for popcorn nights at home I suppose. Later I bought strawberry popcorn. The least favourite to me. Kind of wished I got black pepper instead.

The Arabian Coast was a little boring (but pretty!). We rode the Flying Carpets and Caravan Carousel.

Next fast pass was Raging Spirits. Some people don't like it much. I think it's because it's all over too soon. I didn't mind it and I liked the 360 loop. Fun.

Mermaid Lagoon is what Toontown is to Disneyland. This is where the younger kids rides are. Jumpin' Jellyfish was so short it felt like it finished before it began. The teacups-like Whirlpool would've been better if it didn't hit the groove on the track so hard on the centre of the figure 8 so much.

The longest wait of the day was easily Toy Story Mania. This was the best ride of the day for me. The 3D, the shooting game, the movement. Lots of fun. A close tie would be the Tower of Terror simply for the great storyline.

To end the day we took the Transit Steamer Line back to the Meditteranean Coast, and rode on the last gondolas of the day. Funny that it was my first time on one even though I'd been to Venice.

So which is better, Disneyland or Disney Sea?

Now that I've been to Disneyland I'd have to say Disney Sea. It just has more overall enjoyment (for adults). BUT like I said it doesn't feel like Disneyland. It mostly misses what Disneyland is about - the characters!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Happiest Place On Earth

Before I came to Japan I didn't know there was a Disneyland in Tokyo. I never really thought to come here. One, I considered it a place really for kids (or for the weird J types obsessed with everything Disney). Two, I wanted to come here for a reason - a "special occasion" of sorts. It has been on my to do list recently. Well that occasion happened to be my birthday. It was given to me as a present so.. here we go!

The key to maximising your time is the fast pass. I researched a little what I wanted to do, and it was decided "Pooh's Honey Hunt" would be worthy of the first pass.

The line of "Haunted Mansion" wasn't too long so we went through there. One thing that kind of bothered me throughout the day is the lack of English on the rides. I know I'm in Japan but it would be nice to have maybe a headset to translate?

We waited in line for "Big Thunder Mountain" Nice. After that we got our fast pass for "Splash Mountain" and went to try out the Pooh ride.

Most people make a big deal of the trackless cars. They are pretty cool. As with most of the rides, it was too dark and speedy to take photos. The animatronics looks very new and modern, easily the best in the park. It's clear why this is one of the favourite rides here.

We went back towards the castle and had a popcorn break. I bought the curry flavour. It tastes great. It wasn't the last time I tried it. Later we had chocolate which tasted pretty good too.

Back to "Splash Mountain". We were in the front seat so unfortunately I got pretty wet. I noticed most of the attractions feature animatronics leading to a surprising climax.

"Beaver Brothers Explorer Canoes" was a bit of hard work especially considering the mother and son in front of me decided to take extended breaks OFTEN. Ga! Lots of ducks around.

Next was "Pirates of the Caribbean". Although we didn't use a fast pass the line was not too long and moved quickly. I guess since it's an older ride people aren't as excited for it anymore. Still enjoyable enough.

It's hard to navigate around parades. I had to take the LONG way around to get to Captain EO. Along the way I managed to take some great photos. I bet when these happy people go home they are chain smoking and swearing. Parade people can't be happy like this ALL the time.

So, Captain EO.. This seems REALLY out of place and dated. The years have not been kind. I hated the pre-show video. It made the time feel even longer to go in (and there wasn't even a line!) I love the 80's and Michael Jackson's music but I don't see this attraction lasting too long.

In sharp contrast I LOVED Mickey's PhilharMagic. The 3D was infinitely better as well as the "special effects". Good thing too that Donald Duck is the main character and I can't understand him half the time in English so the story was quite understandable too. The songs were real nice too. We watched it twice. It was THAT good.

Before we saw this show we went on "Star Tours" and "StarJets". We strolled through Toontown riding "Gadget's Go Coaster" for a laugh.

Space Mountain had one of the biggest lines. For sheer thrill this was probably the best ride for me. Maybe too scary for young kids. This would suit Disney Sea quite well.

By now we were both quite tired. Peter Pan's Flight was "ok". I had stupid fun "racing" a mother and daughter on the Grand Circuit Raceway. Then we went on Dumbo's "Flying Elephants",  "Castle Carousel" merry-go-round, and the Teacups "Alice's Tea Party" to be completists.

Finally to end the day we did the "Jungle Cruise" just before closing. Here again the jokes were completely lost on me being in Japanese.

We were here from virtually opening time till close, so it IS possible to do Disneyland in a day. This really is a place to take the kids, or maybe a date. You have to do it because it's DISNEYLAND. Right?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji is one of those places that I was always meaning to get to but never got around to it.

Probably the early morning wake up had something to do with it. If you want to see the tuna auction you have to be there at 5am. There is no pre-registration so first come, first served.  Unfortunately the time we finally got there all the places were gone.

The rest of the market doesn't open proper till 9am so what the **** are you supposed to do until then? *!&! Go and eat a sushi breakfast, that's what!

There was already a line building in front of Sushi Dai. Easily recognisable by the green curtains (and the queue). As the day progressed the line would only get bigger and bigger.  I'm not into sushi that has tentacles or anything of that sort. No problem! The selection they gave me was all kinds of "normal" fish.

The basic set is 2,500 yen. Quite pricey but well worth it. This was the BEST sushi I have ever tasted. Each piece felt like it was melting in my mouth, so fresh and delicious!

While I was bummed (and really, really tired) that I missed the tuna auctions, I really enjoyed checking out the rest of the market once nine rolled around.

To call it a tourist attraction feels wrong. I felt that I, actually "we" didn't belong there. I always felt like I was in the way of one of the workers. The electric cars zoom by silently with no warning or apologies. Certainly not a place to bring kids. That's for sure.

Even in this uncomfortable air, I'm glad that we can have access to this place. The fish is so fresh that there is no smell like you get in a supermarket fish section. Watching and taking photos as they worked, cutting and preparing the fish for sale was really fascinating.

If you have the chance (and can get up early enough) this place is highly recommended. Just bring some good waterproof shoes and your manoeuvring skills.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

And Justice For All

I woke up early so I rode to some shops beforehand. I had plenty of time, or so I thought.

Police do routine inspections for riders to check for stolen bikes. On every bike is a serial number on a yellow sticker. All bikes have to be registered as an anti-theft measure, and you're supposed to carry the registration proof to prove it's yours. I had the registration paper but my problem was it was under another name.

I'd bought the bike secondhand and didn't bother to change the name. Usually I hand the police the paper and they let me on my way. You might get the older cop that would just love to bust some ass. Unfortunately today was my turn.

What usually takes a few minutes turned into two hours of interrogation. Half an hour on the street, and the rest of the time at the police station. A free ride in a police car!

I explained I had to be at work. The officer (actually there was more than one because obviously this was serious! ) said "long time". That can't be good. Treated like a criminal, I was body and bag searched to help pass the time.

I was refused to call work to say I'd be a "little" late. The officer didn't believe I couldn't speak Japanese (Yeah I know, my bad), and seemed not to believe my story. The previous owner was back in his home country so it was hard to prove it wasn't stolen. Finally they decided to let me go with token apologies but it shook me up. A HUGE chunk of deja vu from this time.

This just reaffirms my feelings that a foreigner will never be treated with the deserved respect of a local.   Sure I could've changed the name on the rego, but who steals a bike with the registration papers? Was the bike reported stolen? No.

Today's event was heavy-handed and unnecessary. I'd like to go home with good memories. This has put a very sour taste in my feelings for this country.   Thinking of coming to Japan? Think twice.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Genki Sushi

I LOVE Sushi.

It's one thing I'm going to really miss when I go home. I have my favourite ones to go to but I thought I'd try this one in Dogenzaka.

Funnily enough the place used to be a game arcade with a lot of UFO Catchers. Those days are all behind me. I haven't played in ages, touch wood. You can find this sushi bar here.

This is actually the second time I've been here. The first time I was a little disorientated, but it's pretty simple to work everything out.

After you've waited in a quick queue to you'll be handed a mini clipboard with a seating number (63 here). You'll find the seat number along the bottom of the monitor screen.

Here you can see a brown box. That's the pickled ginger. It tastes great to eat between sushi bites. Also too is the green tea jar and soy sauce.

First thing I was looking for was a cup for some green tea, and a soy dipping dish. They're up the top there to the left of the monitor! Ah, the monitor. If you're a bit shy to yell out "sumimasen!!" to get a sushi chefs attention, that little touch screen is a godsend. When I first came it wasn't working when I sat down, so they had to reboot it. Easy to use as it's got English too.

The maximum order at once is three. Soon enough a tray will come zipping out with your order. Quickly take your plates and push the yellow blinking angry face button to send the tray back home.

I thought the pieces were kind of small and the taste, while not bad, I can say I've had better. For 105 yen though you can't beat the price. There is recently another Genki Sushi just off Center Gai.

For Shibuya I'd recommend Sushi Daidokoya, a short stroll here around the corner from the Dogenzaka place. It costs slightly more but seems a little bit bigger and tastier. Ask for the Avocado-maki. It's pretty special. Only thing here, while they do have a conveyor belt, it's often better (and fresher) to get the chef's attention to make you a plate on the spot (yes, yell out "sumimasen!").

In Shinjuku I really like Ooedo Sushi. There are actually two very close to each other here (B and D on Google Maps. I like the B one better (It's to the left of the Taito game arcade). I've been here heaps of times. Cheap and cheerful, and satisfyingly filling.

Thursday, 26 September 2013


You might be surprised that after all these years I had never been to a sumo tournament. I don't know why really. I guess I just didn't find the time to go. But right now I'm getting my culture on and checking it out!

I watched a Youtube video of a recent match and found myself laughing. Near naked fat dudes pushing their weight onto each other to either knock the other out of the circle, or on the ground.

The place to see sumo is at Ryōgoku Kokugi-kan in Tokyo. (Sobu line, Ryōgoku station) Seeing it live was pretty cool. In my haste to get there, I forgot to load my charging battery in my camera, but she was using my old camera so not all bad.

I never realised how short each match is. There's quite a build up as the wrestlers psyche themselves up with some salt throwing, false starts, and butt and stomach slapping. Once the fists touch the ground the fight is often over within seconds.

The sumo hall isn't that large. I think every seat in the house will get you a good view of the action. The cheapest seats are less than 4,000 yen. I paid the second "worst" seat price of around 5,000 yen but I was happy where I was. Sure, closer is always better, unless a sumo wrestler falls on you of course.

This is my video of the final fight of the day. They go a bit longer than usual, so it was a good match.  Stay watching for the pillow throwing!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Cats And Lions

I saw the Neko! exhibition recently and mentioned the Cats and Lions that was also by the same photographer.

Today I went to have a look. It was interesting how the photos were juxtaposed with similar poses between the animals. If you enjoyed the Neko exhibition or if you're a fan of cats (and/or lions), I think there's much to like here.

It is being held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Ebisu until October 20th.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Morito Beach

I didn't get to go the beach as often as my record high last year. I went "only" eight times this year.  At least I didn't get the massive jellyfish stings from the previous Summer season.

I got a tipoff about a picturesque place located not too far from my favourite beach.

This one's called Morito beach. Because it requires a bus from the train station, it's a much more relaxed affair than Zushi's crowds. Being past the end of "swimming season" (end of August),  is another reason the beach was practically deserted. Except for a photo shoot that was a nice extra surprise. Thank you..  really.

There are two parts to the beach split by a shrine. The first part is a fairly small patch of beach with a nice little man-made "jetty" made of blocks. The water was pretty clear. I could see quite a lot of fish and baby crabs scurrying along the wet blocks.

Just around the corner I was surprised by a nice stone beach which looked even better. In the distance there's a "floating" torii gate. Here the water was clear enough for some decent snorkeling. I wish I'd brought my mask!

With a slight fear brought on by last year's "attack" I stayed close to the shallows in my inflatable ring with a nicely balanced chu-hi to relax comfortably.

This is definitely one secret beach worth coming back to. I hope it stays this way. In the evening it was possible to see Mt Fuji.


Sunday, 8 September 2013

American Pop Art

It was an awful rainy day so a good time as any to check out the American Pop Art at the National Art Center in Roppongi.

I'm a bit divided on the merits of this art movement. Jasper Johns works left me unimpressed. Nothing that a school student couldn't do on any other day. Andy Warhol has his fans, but he just copied existing works (Campbell's cans) and photocopied prints. He had a good sense of colour though. I'll give him props for that.

I'm a big fan of Lichtenstein. His comic book style really does pop. I like someone that can really draw or paint. THAT is an artist.

 I really liked Claes Oldenburg's Giant soft vinyl drum set. I was thinking it would look great in a living room to lie on while watching TV.

The exhibition is on till the 21st of October.

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.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Ningen Gakki

Way back in 2011 I was in a music store and I attempted to try out this cute little toy. It's a Ningen Gakki which translates as "human instrument".

There are three modes. The first plays up to ten popular Japanese songs. Mode two is sound effects - animal noises, telephone rings etc., and the last one is a drum set.

To use it you hold one of the metal contacts on the little guy's hands or feet, and touch another person somewhere on the skin, even their face. One is a lonely number, and so using this by yourself is pretty useless.

Fast forward to today I was perusing one of my favourite Hardoff stores and I saw it in one of the junk boxes in its original box with the instruction booklet. Actually truth be told, I actually saw it the last time I was here, and wisely thought it was something I didn't really need. This time I was not so wise and decided to grab it.

It's made by Takara Tomy and even won some kind of toy of the year award here. I can imagine this would be fun to use after a few drinks, and a good excuse to poke people. I got it for a giveaway price. It's still available from Amazon Japan here.

Here's a good demo of it here. It's in Japanese but the way it works is pretty clear.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Welcome To Japan

"I wonder what goes through a person's head before they snap. What are they thinking? Are they angry? Indifferent? Disillusioned? Does their blood pressure rise? Do their fingers shake? Do they question their place, their thoughts, their own mental makeup?

Does the universe seem infinitely small or inconsequentially large? Do they lay awake at night recounting the day? Or go through the day physically exhausted? Do they long for a vacation that seems to never come? Do they yearn for a peace that does not exist? Do the walls that protect them seem easily broken under the strength of anger?

What happens to a person mentally when they decide that enough is enough? The question of why we are where we are is of little use when it is used as a complaint, but can mean the world when used constructively.

The only thing more annoying than having to hear people kiss is having to hear them have sex. Just go to bed already, ffs. If what is put forth by nature would have its way at my annoyance, then perhaps it is I who must retire. Retire to my slumber or perhaps to my home. Chiba sucks. I want to go home.

It's all the same, no matter how far a person travels to be the person they dream to be, it's never enough just to be a well meaning voyager. One must also have heart to see past their own limitations. What a load of crock. It's no use to complain, but it is of great value to recognize that it is not what just I want in the world, but what everyone else wants as well.

We are all the same, we are all star stuff. We are on our own voyage through time, space, life, death, love, hate, work, and play. I don't claim to be the work of a creator, for in a universe set forth into motion by its own being then there is little for a creator to do. I am what I am, which is to say that you are you, and that I am you, and you are me, and we are we. Or us. I don't understand English, I just teach it. What a crazy thing to be alive."

I didn't write this, but I could totally relate to it. There are days when I scratch my head and think why did I come here, and why am I still here. There are things that I really HATE about Japan. It's like that significant other. The things that were once cute, become frustrating and annoying.

On the other hand I've had awesome moments and a few valued people around me that seem to make the fleeting insane times pass.

I would like to credit the writer but I think considering the content it's best that the person stays anonymous. I wanted to put it here in case it was eventually deleted. Some things should not be forgotten.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

G Cans

G-cans (Otherwise known as the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel) is situated in Saitama.

It's on the Tobu Noda line and he closest station is Minamisakurai. From there it's a 30 minute walk to the complex amid acres of rice fields.

It's my day off today so I stupidly decided it'd be a good time to walk in 35 degree heat but having said that, underground it was a naturally pleasant 15 degrees.

Nothing prepares you for the first sight once you enter the "temple". Photos don't do justice how immense this place is. It's pretty huge. 25.4m high and 177 metres long. The feeling of this place gives you the impression of being on the set of Alien or Indiana Jones.

Unfortunately you only get ten minutes to take photos, and the area to look around is quite restricted. The majority of the time is spent watching a video (complete with cheesy music) explaining how the place works. The tour is all in Japanese, so they say you need someone who can translate for "security" reasons.

This place was used in this Land Rover commercial:

And also this music video by the band um.. Screw.

Oh and don't forget even Pharrell has been down here too. If that isn't enough of a recommend I don't know what is!

The tour is free so money back guarantee! It has to be booked in advance, which you can do from this page (Japanese). For some English information look here.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Bad Cop

I can't remember the exact reason why I bought these mirrored sunglasses. I was looking at the Rayban aviator style and thought they looked pretty cool.

I tried on the Oakley (Plaintiff) version and found a pair on Yahoo Auctions. They set me back 13,500 yen, but they were much cheaper than new ones.

I wasn't expecting the delivery on a Sunday so when I failed to answer the door I found the undeliverable slip. While the Sagawa courier still do deliveries, their branches are actually closed. I ended up chasing down a delivery truck to get them to redeliver it. Hard to do when the guy didn't speak English.

He did manage to say "Star Wars" when he heard my R2-D2 sms ring though.

I'm quite liking these sunnies but I did find out a few days later that the screw on one of the arms had been overtightened and I couldn't adjust the arm's looseness.

Another teacher often wore his dark sunglasses even at night. (Now that's a classic song) I thought it was silly but sometimes lately I've been wearing these on the train, and I can see how some people feel uncomfortable, but I can see why the other guy does it.

It's nice having my own privacy even on a train, and for once I'm not the one feeling uncomfortable for being watched.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Shinjuku Park

Shinjuku gyoen is a park MUCH closer to my house. You're probably wondering why I don't do my debauched drinking, and playing guitar there instead of Yoyogi Park?

I came here on this (Greenery) day, and since it was free today, I may as well see what I wasn't missing. Sure the Taiwanese pavilion is kind of nice. The greenhouse is kind of cool to all the geeky camera nerds with macro lenses. Oh, and you can't forget that rose garden. Unforgettable.

Their website amusingly states:

1. To bring items listed below.

  • Animals, or pets (except assistance dogs)
  • Bicycles, tricycles (except pushchairs), or trolleys
  • Alcohol
  • Plants

  • 2. To do the activities below.

  • Roller-skating, rollerblading
  • Playing with radio-controlled helicopters, radio-controlled cars, and similar products
  • Playing badminton
  • Playing frisbees, or boomerangs
  • Rope-jumping
  • Playing soccer and other activities using balls
  • Kite-flying

  • 3. Disrupting natural habitat such as:

  • Taking out or damaging the plants
  • Taking or causing injury to mammals, birds, or fish
  • Climbing trees
  • Feeding animals

  • 4. Activities which may disrupt other visitors.

  • Entering by car (except administrative vehicles)
  • Collecting donations
  • Smoking other than in smoking areas
  • Getting drunk and making other visitors uncomfortable

  • 5. Impairing scenery.

  • Throwing out or leaving rubbish other than throwing it into trash
  • Setting flags and putting posters
  • Bringing in a tent, parasol, table, chair, or such outdoor goods

  • 6. Activities which disrupts the garden administration.

  • Making the facilities dirty or damaging them on purpose
  • Entering restricted areas
  • Swimming in the ponds
  • Building a fire, or using products that cause fire or smoke
  • Taking fallen leaves, branches, or flowers and taking them home
  • Playing musical instruments, using audio goods, or speaking over a loudspeaker

  • What they really mean is that all the fun things to do in a park are actually prohibited. On top of that the usual entry is 200 yen.  No thanks. I'll do my getting drunk and making other visitors feel uncomfortable for free!

    Ueno Zoo was also free today too so we did a two in one. SO many people. No chance to see the pandas again. Dang.

    Sunday, 28 April 2013

    Meguro Sky Garden

    On this day we went to the Meguro Sky Garden. What's so special about it? Check this out.

    From the outside it looks like a concrete Roman coliseum. Atop the Shuto expressway is a landscaped garden looking over the Meguro ward. Surprisingly being on top of a freeway the sound of cars is not noticeable at all.

    It's about a fifteen minute walk down the 246 from Shibuya, but if you'd rather take the train the closest station is Ikejiri-Ohashi station on the Tokyu Den-en-toshi line.

    For some strange reason it reminds me of the High Line urban renewal development I saw in New York. Similar feeling elevated garden. While it's a novel idea, I probably won't come back. If I lived around here it would be a great place to have a picnic and a few drinks, but for now and forever Yoyogi park takes that special place in my heart.

    Saturday, 23 March 2013


    I was working near Tokyo station so I wanted to check out the newly opened Kitte building. It was formally a post office, hence the name. Kitte means "stamp".

    Inside you can check out the 98 shops and restaurants. The highlight of the place though is the view from the roof garden. You can see to the newly renovated Tokyo station and surrounds. It's location is not far from the underground shops I mentioned here and here. When I went there you had to line up to use the escalator. By now it may have settled down after all of Tokyo wanted to see it in its first week.

    Saturday, 9 February 2013

    Let's Guam!

    Before I came to Japan, I barely knew Guam existed. In the textbooks I noticed references to it, and students had sometimes mentioned it. In my mind I thought it was a poor man's Hawaii.

    Winter was getting me down and it's always a great idea to get out of Japan to keep one's sanity.

    I wanted to go to a beach. Anywhere as long as it was somewhere to get away from it all, and preferably hot enough to swim. I found some really cheap airfares to Okinawa, but from everything I read at this time of the year it would still be too cold.

    Hawaii was an option. I almost booked it. I was also keen to get rid of my American dollars at the same time! She couldn't really afford to go there, but she found a very reasonable package "tour". Three nights for 46,000 yen!

    There had to be a catch right? The plane left late in the evening from Narita, so we'd be arriving there very early in the morning. We flew with EVA Air on a not so long three hour or so flight. Not the most prestigious airline, but not much to complain about. Maybe they needed to update their printed napkins. They had a picture of Christmas mistletoe next to their name!

    We stayed at the Pacific Bay Hotel. It's no five star hotel. There was a slight smell of damp. Having said that though, the room was clean, the staff polite, and they do have a free Internet access in the lobby which is always nice.

    Before I left I wanted to buy a mask or goggles. I hunted around all over Tokyo for a reasonable pair. Since it was out of season, it wasn't going to be easy. After a huge runaround I found a mask and goggles for 500 yen at Donki! Sweet.

    I'm glad I got it, the water was crystal clear and close to where I took the above photo, there were plenty of fish to swim with. Be warned though. Seemingly curious Picasso triggerfish do protect their territory in breeding season and they DO bite. She got nipped a few times. I swear I could hear the Jaws theme a few times.

    So what else is there to do in Guam? Shopping! Included in our tour package was a free bus that took us around to all the shopping malls. Apparently Guam is home to the biggest K-mart in the world. Most of my purchases consisted of lots of ravioli, some Sara Lee cheesecake and.. a Lego tie fighter!

     Guam is strongly marketed to the Japanese. The majority of the tourists were easily Japanese (about 80%). It seems like they outnumbered the locals! There are numerous wedding chapels along the beach where it wasn't unusual to see a Japanese wedding.

    We left VERY early Tuesday morning. Unfortunately later that day this happened.

    Guam feels like a safe, enjoyable place to visit. I had a great time and it was a wonderful timeout from the loud hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The locals were very friendly so I could see myself coming back here again.

    Tuesday, 1 January 2013

    Sign Of My Times


    This WAS going to be my last post for this blog. New Year's hardly ever felt "happy" in that I wasn't satisfied with the year that had gone by, and the year that was to come didn't feel like it was going to get any better.

    Around this time I felt stung by the favoritism and insincerity of certain people around me. In many ways I've been doing the same thing for six years and not a lot to show for that. I thought it was a good time to kind of disappear quietly. An untitled post and a picture.

    I saw this in Shibuya while I was drinking with some friends. It struck a chord with me, and it gave me the release to say goodbye.

    So why the change?

    The purpose of this blog was to document my time in Japan. Even now I look back and remember the things I did, the junk I bought and where I went. It's been nice that some people have enjoyed my ride and I've liked the feedback from people that have stumbled onto my blog.

    A friend mentioned that no one cares if I ate ramen in a restaurant and I kind of agree with that sentiment. My most popular post is my How to use a UFJ ATM write up by far. So maybe less repetition, and maybe a few posts that you guys might be interested in along the way.

    In my absence I've been helping lost tourists with directions which made me feel all good inside, so if any of you have a question or just want to say hi, leave a comment or find me on twitter. Give me another reason to keep this going.

    I can't promise to be more prolific in postings, but I'm still here, ok?