2012 Japan Trip Day 39 – Tokyo

Date of Travel: 08/03/2012

Today marks the final day we were spending in Japan. I started it off by giving my father a call to let him know our plans for the rest of the day. He did ask me if I thought I had planned the length of the trip well and whether I thought it was about time to come home. Thinking back on what we had accomplished over the whole trip, and everything else which we had not yet done, I replied that I wished it would go on for a few more weeks, but yes it was about time to return home. We checked out of our room left our luggage in the storage room before heading out on our final adventure of our Japan trip.

We started off the morning like we did over 30 times during this trip – by going to a convenience store to pick up some breakfast. I bought takoyaki for a change. Looking back on it now, it was strange that I haven’t actually bought takoyaki much during this trip considering it is one of my favourite Japanese food. We caught a train and headed over to Ikebukuro to find Sunshine City. Sunshine City is very similar to Canal City in Fukuoka, in that it contains a large mall, and also living quarters and hotels. Its general idea is that it is a city within a city. But we weren’t here for shopping. No, we were here for Namjatown.

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Having convenience store bought Takoyaki along Ikebukuro

Namjatown is an indoor theme park owned by Namco Limited, a Japanese corporation famous for games such as Pac-Man, Tower of Druaga, Bubble Trouble, Tekken, Time Crisis, Soulcalibur, and last but not least the hugely popular The Idolmaster. The main reason we came was to try out some extremely strange ice cream flavours. A quick search on Youtube will show examples of people going there to torture themselves on the strangest flavours imaginable, such as squid, octopus, ramen, ox tongue, and many more. The two most notable videos of this place are from from Tokyocooney and Rodgerswan (who tragically passed away a few years back). The ice creams are located in a section of the theme park called “Ice Cream City”, which features many other types of deserts and normal flavoured ice cream other than those strange ones mentioned above.

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It’s Ice Cream Shitty City!

We decided to challenge ourselves and buy two different flavours each. I bought squid and curry, Brownie bought plum wine and ox tongue, while Jay-C bought eel and tulip. I must say, the ice cream was not as foul as some of the previous videos made it seem. The squid flavour was not strong initially, as it was only the aftertaste that you could really taste it, though the small bits of squid in the ice cream was strange. The curry flavour just tasted like normal curry, except cold and hard. We also tried each other’s flavours too. None of them were really that bad actually. Brownie did not like the ox tongue flavour though due to there being strange pieces of meat in there.

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So…anyone for these weird tasting ice cream? (squid – top left, curry – top right, ox tongue – middle left, plum wine – middle right, tulip – bottom left, and eel – bottom right)

After having such strange tasting ice cream, I decided to buy myself a normal type of ice cream with fresh strawberries and bananas mixed in with vanilla ice cream. Definitely helped kill off most of the horrible aftertaste left in my mouth! We then explored other areas of Namja Town. There was an arcade and some small attractions, but the biggest highlight has to be the “haunted” area. Okay, this place was not that scary, but the atmosphere here was great. There were windows with moving handprints on them, ghost cat lanterns, the bones of a trapped man, and many more. It was definitely more impressive than that Room of Living Dolls ride we had back in Osaka! After exploring, we headed back to the train station, and made a return trip to Odaiba.

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Exploring Namja Town

Why were we heading to Odaiba you asked? It was because Brownie and Jay-C loved Miraikan so much that they requested to go back and finish exploring the place, and so we did. It was good having a chance to see some of the exhibits I did not manage to see the previous day, but part of me wondered whether it was opportunity lost that we did not go see something new. To add insult to injury, I was still unable to finish exploring the place! On the other hand, since we knew how long it took to travel from Miraikan back to the hostel, and that we were on a tight schedule (we don’t want to miss our international flights do we?), it was probably a better option than stressing out over going somewhere new. We did once again stop by Akihabara on the way back as Brownie was still looking for the ship model. But once again, the store he wanted to go to was closed! I took the opportunity to be a nerd for one final time on this Japan trip and do some last minute shopping.

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The thrill of Miraikan!

We headed back to the hostel and picked up our luggage. We bid the place farewell, and slowly headed towards the Uguisudani train station. We then transferred at Nippori station to catch the train to Narita Airport. While standing at the platform, I reflected upon all the things we had gotten up to during the trip. I was proud of what we had done, and really treasured the time we had spent. Our train trip to Narita Airport was not smooth though, as we were stuck in a carriage with a crying baby that really gave all of us a headache! Once we got to Narita Airport, we checked in our luggage and picked up our air tickets. It was that time that we turned to each other, gave each other high fives, and congratulated ourselves for surviving and reaching Narita Airport in once piece.

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Going to Narita airport 😦

There was still plenty of time before our flight, and we were quite hungry from having an early lunch. We proceeded to find a place in the airport for dinner. We did originally thought that any meal would do, then decided that since it was our last meal in Japan on this trip, we should go for Japanese one last time. After dinner, we contacted our friends we visited from around Japan, and thanked them for going out of their way and spending time with us. I then stopped by a bookstore and bought some additional manga in an attempt to get rid of as many 1 yen coins as possible.

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One last meal in Japan!

A few minutes later, it was time to board the plane. As there was hardly anyone on the flight due to it being a late night flight, we all had a row of seats to ourselves. Soon after, the plane took off. And just like that, our Japan trip had come to an end. While we were feeling a bit of sadness, our trip was not over yet! We still had 3 days to spend in Singapore before finally going back home.

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On the plane to Singapore

Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Train from Uguisudani to Ikebukuro – 160 yen
Train from Ikebukuro to Funenokagakukan – 560 yen
Train from Funenokagakukan to Akihabara – 520 yen
Train from Akihabara to Uguisudani – 130 yen
Train from Uguisudani to Narita Airport – 1,130 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
N/A […catching a flight out of Tokyo T_T…]

3) FOOD
Breakfast and lunch from convenience store – 1,187 yen [tea, takoyaki, double coronet, onigiri, chocolate croissant, teriyaki burger, apple pie]
Ice cream at Sunshine City – 1,250 yen [squid and curry flavoured, strawberry and banana]
Dinner at Keisei YuzenNarita Airport – 1,930 yen [sirloin steak and drink]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Namja Town entrance fee – 500 yen
Miraikan entrance fee – 600 yen

5) OTHERS
Black Rock Shooter comic from Gamers @ Akihabara – 798 yen
Madoka comic books from Tsutaya @ Narita Airport – 2,067 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
10,832 yen (634,872 yen total)

Total Cost of Tokyo leg (excluding the day which friend’s mum paid for everything)
97,547 yen (19,509 yen per day)*
Note – as we were nearing end of trip, I started spending more than I usually would. If excluding gifts from Asakusa and anime/manga goods, this would be just 7,374 yen

Average per day (excluding international flights)
13,112 yen [11,556 yen excluding the shopping spree in Tokyo]

2012 Japan Trip Day 38 – Tokyo

Date of Travel: 07/03/2012

Once again there was a slight sense of sadness in the air, as this was the penultimate day of our trip in Japan. But that would not stop us from having a great time! We started off our day by walking to the Asakusa district, where the Sennoji Temple resides. We walked through Kappabashi along the way, which is a district well known for selling kitchen utensils and wax models of food. I was tempted to buy some wax food model items, but they were surprisingly pricey (I could probably have the real food at half its price!). Along the way, we could see the Sky Tree towering in the background. Its interior is not opened to the public at the time that we were there. We had a quick stop along the way to have some breakfast. It was the first time I came across a sandwich comprising of strawberries, cream and custard, and it was pretty good too!

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Kappabashi and breakfast

We soon arrived at the Kaminari Gate, which is one of the more famous sights of Tokyo. This gate marks the start of the Nakamise shopping street, which is lined with dozens of shops selling souvenirs and local foods. Unlike the previous times I was here in summer, the place was not overly crowded, which made it easy to move between shops. The shops themselves are very small, and I found it hard to manoeuvre around with my backpack. Generally though, the goods here are reasonably priced and are of pretty good quality. At the end of the street is the Hozo Gate, which in my opinion was actually more impressive than the Kaminari Gate.

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Nakamise Shopping Street

Past the Hozo Gate lies Sensoji Temple which is the most famous temple within Tokyo. The layout of the temple was very simplistic, and the red colour of its exterior reminded me of shrines rather than temples. The place has its own charms, and the spaciousness of the grounds meant that it never felt crowded despite this being the most people we had encountered at any temple throughout our trip. There were also a few small gardens around the ground which were quite nice to wander through. We did spot some strange small house shaped rides being suspending high in the air. Turns out that this is a ride at Hanayashiki Amusement Park, which was located just a few metres away from Sensoji Temple. Looming in the distance is the Sky Tree, which I must say I was surprised that such a large structure located such a short distance away did not take away anything from the atmosphere of Sensoji Temple.

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Exploring Sensoji Temple

We headed back along Nakamise street, then headed down Shin-Nakamise street looking for lunch.  After lunch, we headed to the Sumida riverside, where we had a good view of the Sky Tree and the Asahi Beer Tower. Tokyo, like many old cities in the world, have old and new districts lying side by side with each other, and none better example than the contrast between the sight in front of us and the Asakusa district we were currently standing in.

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Lunch and the view across the Sumida River

Our next destination was Odaiba, and we were deciding whether to take the Tokyo Water Bus or the subway/yurikamome. We decided on the later as it would be quicker and that we were running behind time. I had been to Odaiba once before in 2003 at night time. Walking around the place during the daytime, it really sunk it how modern this area compared to many other parts of Tokyo. It was also very eerie that the area appeared almost deserted. I suppose it was a weekday after all.

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The unusual feeling of walking through empty areas in modern Tokyo…

We headed to Miraikan, which is the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. We were a bit worried that we were going to be disappointed with this place, as the museum from the day before fell way short of our expectations. However, this place far surpassed all expectations we had. Even Brownie who was not a fan of museums really enjoyed the place. As the name suggests, many of its exhibits were geared towards emerging technology and innovative ideas. The exhibits were very interesting and interactive, and we found that we had barely covered half of the exhibits by closing time! There weren’t many people around, which allowed us to explore the place at a relaxed pace. Just a note that there is the Dome Theater, which featured a video of some kids watching stars. It was an incredibly cheesy video which in my opinion was a waste of 15 minutes, but overall the museum was great. I would highly recommend it for anyone who find themselves in Odaiba.

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The amazing Miraikan

The next place we wanted to go to is the Tokyo Big Sight. We decided to walk over instead of taking the yurikamone train so that we could explore the place in more detail. It was a good thing too, as we stumbled across the Gundam statue being erected outside Diver City. The architecture and landscaping of the place was very appealing too, and the spaciousness was much appreciated compared to how claustrophobic some other parts of Tokyo and other big cities around Japan can be.

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Exploring Odaiba

Tokyo Big Sight is the site of many convention halls, and is perhaps most well-known to fans of Japanese pop culture as the site of Comiket and AnimeJapan. Its inverted pyramid design was very unique, and it did look like a spaceship. We had a quick walk around the premises, took a few photos, then headed off to look for dinner.

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Tokyo Big Sight

We found another Tonkatsu place at Wanza Ariake Bay Mall located close to the river. As I mentioned previously I am not a fan of deep fried foods, but we were quite tired and the place did look quite good. I did not realize it at the time, but it was also symbolic that we were eating at this particular Tonkatsu restaurant chain, as it is the same chain as that we ate at back at Kyoto JR station on our very first meal of the trip. This would turn out to be the last sit-down meal we would have in Japan outside of airports, so in a strange way we were ending our trip in a similar way as it started. After dinner, we started heading towards the Odaiba Seaside Park, passing by Palette Town and its ferris wheel along the way.

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Dinner and wandering past Leisureland

We reached the park via a pathway between Aquacity and Decks, two large shopping malls locaed next to the Fuji TV station. This area is known for having great views of the Tokyo Tower (supposedly inspired by the Eiffel Tower), the Rainbow Bridge (inspired by the Golden Gate Bridge) and a mimic of the Statue of Liberty. So in a way, it was like visiting so many places of the world in a single place! This place was a great way of spending our last night in Tokyo, as it reminded us of the uniqueness of Japan and also how different this country was compared to our home.

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Aquacity and Decks

As we were heading back to our hostel, Brownie wanted to stop by Akihabara again to buy a ship model he was interested in the day before. As it was quite late, some of the stores had already started closing, including the one which Brownie wanted to go to! We then headed back to the station, where we saw a girl singing and playing on her guitar next to the station exit. We stopped and listened for a few minutes, enjoying her music with the large crowd that had built up around us, before finally heading back to our hostel for the final night’s sleep we would have on this Japan trip.

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Another stop at Akihabara

1) TRANSPORT
Subway/Train from Asakusa to Funenokagakukan – 580 yen
Train from Daiba to Akihabara – 460 yen
Train from Akihabara to Uguisudani – 130 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
Toco Tokyo Heritage Hostel – 2,800 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from 7-11 towards Asakusa – 638 yen [melon bread, prawn onigiri, okonomiyaki break, strawberry sandwich]
Lunch at Juraku at Asakusa – 1,180 yen [seafood stirfry]
Dinner at Tonkatsu Wako @ Wanza Ariake in Odaiba – 1,830 yen [prawn/oyster tonkatsu and beer]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Miraikan entrance fee – 600 yen

5) OTHERS
Fan at Kazusaya @ Asakusa – 1,740 yen
Doll @ Asakusa (estimate 3,000 yen)
Kimono gift @ Asakusa – 5,000 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
17,958 yen (624,040 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 37 – Tokyo

Date of Travel: 06/03/2012

Toco Heritage Guesthouse must have the thinnest walls of the whole trip, as the sound of people moving about woke us up quite early. I did not mind it too much since we had planned to get up early anyway, though it did get annoying at later parts of the trip. We had breakfast at the hostel, had a look around the hostel’s garden, then headed off to Uguisudani station.

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The gardens of our Guesthouse

Our first stop of the day was Tokyo University. We took the train to Ueno station, cut across Ueno Park, and entered the Hongo campus. It was interesting seeing how large in scale the university was compared to those back in New Zealand. Many of its buildings were quite old yet grand. There wasn’t terribly much to do, so we did not stay too long. We did stumble across the Sanshiro Pond, and it still baffles me how such a quiet secluded area could exist in the heart of Ueno!

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Tokyo University

After exploring the university, we headed back to Ueno Park to have a wander around. As it was towards the end of winter, and that it was an overcast day, the park grounds were very quiet and gloomy. There was a large pond with many foot-pedal boats, and it was very eerie how still the water was and how the whole place seemed dead. There were more people in the areas closer to the train station thankfully, otherwise it would have felt like an apocalypse had occurred, leaving us behind in a deserted park in the middle of the most populated city in the world!

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Ueno Park

The next stop was the National Museum of Nature and Science, which is located within Ueno Park. There were two distinct sections of the museum. The first, which was located in the same building as the entrance and reception, was based around the environment of Japan, with some exhibits on techniques to observing nature (e.g. seismographs). The other section, which is located in a building hidden behind the first, was based on the history of life on earth, with some exhibits on the physics of the world. While they were interesting, there was not really anything to write home about. It is just a typical museum after all, though I must say that some of the exhibits in the second section were quite well presented. Just a warning that the location of entrance to the second section is not immediately obvious. Jay-C for example did not even know there was a second section! Brownie and I had lunch while waiting for Jay-C to find the place.

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National Museum of Nature and Science

Our destination for the afternoon is Akihabara. I must admit that I am a geek when it comes to Japanese animation, so it should come to no surprise that I had been highly anticipating going to Akihabara. I had been there previously on my school trips, but back then I was not into Japanese popular culture as I am now. I had allocated about 3 hours to go around shopping, but we all agreed to extend it out to 4 as there were just so many shops! We all split up and went our separate ways so that we could shop at our own pace. As it was my first time specifically looking for anime goods, I had no idea which shops to hit first. I started with trusty Gamers, which was located near the train station entrance. The mascot of this place is Dejiko, who is the main character of the series Di Gi Charat. I then hit several other places, such as K-books, Robot Robot (highly recommended for small figures and keychains), Ganking, Mandrake, Animate and Toranoana. Safe to stay that I got a bit carried away buying stuff. I mainly regretted buying anime DVDs due to its high price, and that the series I bought has since been released at a much cheaper price with subtitles in my home country! But overall I had a great time exploring the place. Just a warning though, that one wrong turn will lead you straight to the ero-doujinshi/manga/anime/game section, so be on your guard if you get easily offended by these things.

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Akihabara

We headed back to our accommodation to drop off the goods we bought, then went around looking for dinner. We could not find a good place that was cheap and that we liked, so we returned to the same family restaurant from the night before. It was the first time this whole trip that we hit the same restaurant twice! I suppose it was coming towards the end of the trip, and we had kind of gotten tired of looking for new places to eat everyday.

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Quick dinner near the Guesthouse

After our dinner, we decided to head back to the Shinjuku area, which we had visited a week earlier. This time, we wanted to explore the eastern side, which contains the famous Kabukicho district. This is historically the main red-light district of Tokyo, though Roppongi has risen in prominence over the past few decades. The area was very vibrant, with plenty of neon signs showing that this place is far from dead when the sun sets. The alleyways are where most of the bars and clubs are hidden. It is also where many Africans reside to try and hassle people to go to clubs. One of them approached us asking if we were keen to go get drinks and hang out with girls. Knowing that the club would likely rip us off or steal or money, we declined. Brownie did toy around with the guy for a bit too! The guy got pissed off an eventually left us alone. There were a few others that also tried to hassle us, but we just ignored them. Jay-C did get completely annoyed with them though! We eventually had enough of wandering around the place, as it was nowhere as interesting as Dotonbori in Osaka, and the hassling was just too much. I had always wanted to explore the place though, so I am glad I did. We headed back to our hostel, stopping by a convenience store to pick up some dessert along the way.

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Kabukicho

Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Day pass for JR trains within Tokyo city – 730 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
Toco Tokyo Heritage Hostel – 2,800 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast at hostel – 300 yen [onigiri and miso soup]
Lunch at National Museum of Nature and Science @ Ueno– 900 yen [2 hot dogs and a strawberry crepe]
Dinner at Gusto @ Uguisudani – 994 yen [spicy chicken set]
Desert – 393 yen [green tea ice cream sandwich and pudding]

4) ATTRACTIONS
National Museum of Nature and Science at Ueno park – 600 yen

5) OTHERS
Souvenir from National Museum of Nature and Science @ Ueno – 950 yen
Random anime goods – 33,205 yen [DVD, CDs, figurines, keychains, artbooks, comics]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
40,872 yen (606,082 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 36 – Tokyo

Date of Travel: 05/03/2012

Studio Ghibli is one of the most recognizable animation studios from Japan. They were behind many classics such as My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. The movies that they produce helped raise the popularity of Japanese animation outside of Japan. All three of us are all fans of the studio. Because of this, there was no way we would leave Mitaka without visiting the Ghibli Museum, which showcases many of the work which they have done over the years. Advance reservations is required for the museum to ensure that it does not get overly crowded at any time, so we were lucky to have my friend book us tickets well in advance.

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Famous Ghibli movies of the past

We started the morning by chatting with my friend as it would be the last time we see him during this trip, before saying our goodbyes and parting ways. We then went to Mitaka station to get breakfast, then went to locate the bus terminal for the Ghibli Museum bus. It was only a short 10-15 minute bus ride to reach the museum. The buildings were very uniquely coloured, and stepping foot past the front gate felt like we were stepping into a fantasy land. Some of you may also notice the giant robot from “Castle in the Sky” standing in the far distance. Many of the staff were greeting us as we entered, which was nice of them as it was raining at the time!

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On our way to the Ghibli Museum!

The museum has many interesting displays and exhibitions, but unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos inside. It would spoil the fun for those thinking of visiting anyway. We dumped some of our belongings in a locker, and followed the crowd to the main lobby. There, we had a choice of stopping by a few exhibitions, or watching the short film in the Saturn Theater. As the queue for the film was full, we decided to look around the exhibits first. The most impressive exhibit for me was a zoetrope featuring characters from Totoro. A warning though that this zoetrope featured a lot of flashing lines to create the sense of movement, but could easily cause a seizure to those with epilepsy! There were also a few other displays showcasing various animation techniques. We returned to the main lobby and waited in line for the short film. The film of the day was called “Koro no Daisanpo” (Koro’s Big Day Out). It was a cute heart-warming film about a puppy who escapes from its house and has a massive adventure around town trying to get back home. Oh the warm fuzziness. It was only about 15-20 minutes long too, and it was amazing just how much emotion Studio Ghibli’s movies can bring out in such a short time.

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The movie which was shown on the day we were there

Afterwards, we headed up to the upper floors. There was another display, this time some rooms were setup as it they were actual animation studios. There were a few other displays around targeted mainly at young kids. I must stay that I was a bit disappointed as I was expecting more, but the atmosphere of the place really does feel like a fantasy land. There were very small touches to the architecture too, most notably stain glass windows featuring Ghibli characters. We were able to get up to the roof, where we could take some photos together with the robot. It was raining at the time so it was not too pleasant up there though. We ate lunch at the café in the museum, then overspent at the souvenir shop buying plenty of artbooks, plushies, and gifts.

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Around the Ghibli Museum

Once we had finished exploring and buying souvenirs, we headed back towards Mitaka station by bus and walked back to my friend’s house. We packed our souvenirs into our bags, left the house key behind, and headed back to Mitaka station to catch a train to Tokyo. Once at Tokyo station, we were considering taking a train to Uguisudani station which was the closest to our next accommodation at Toco Tokyo Heritage Hostel. However, the train was extremely crowded, and we knew we were going to have a hard time fitting in with our luggage. Instead, we headed out of Tokyo station to the taxi stand and took a cab instead. Luckily I had printed off the address of the accommodation, else it would have been quite tricky to find as it was in a quiet area. We checked into our rooms, rested for a bit, then went out to find some dinner. We settled for a Japanese style Family Restaurant near the station, which was the first time we had ate at one the whole trip!

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Quick dinner near the Guesthouse

There was quite a lot of time left after dinner, so we headed out to Shibuya. Shibuya is famous for having one of the busiest road crossing in the world, as often seen in many movies or documentaries set in Japan. And it was not hard to see why. There must have been at least a couple of hundred people crossing it at once. There was also the famous Hachiko statue nearby, which is a tribute to one of the most loyal dogs in history who continued to wait for his owner at Shibuya station long after his owner had died.

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Shibuya Station

Many people online would recommend going to Starbucks on the second floor of the Q-Front building to have a look at the crossing. That’s what we did, but unfortunately there wasn’t much seats available. Brownie and Jay-C did not want to wait, so they went off and explored the adjoining music store, while I took a seat next to the window and filmed people crossing the street while having a nice warm cup of Mocha. Afterwards, I also looked around the music store, but found most things there too expensive for me. Once we had enough, we got back down to street level and walked around the block. I found that it was not as fun or vibrant as Dotonbori was in Osaka, but it was still refreshing to mingle around with nightlife once in a while. We headed back to the accommodation shortly after for a good night’s sleep.

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Exploring Shibuya

Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Bus from Mitaka station to Ghibli Museum (return) – 300 yen
Train from Mitaka to Tokyo – 380 yen
Taxi from Tokyo to accommodation – 843 yen
Train from Uguisudani station to Shibuya station – 190 yen
Train from Shibuya station to Uguisudani station – 190 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
Toco Tokyo Heritage Hostel – 2,800 yen

3) FOOD
Lunch at Ghibli Museum – 1,050 yen [hotdog and motsu soup]
Dinner at Gusto @ Uguisudani – 890 yen [curry and hamburg topping]
Starbucks @ Shibuya – 440 yen [hot mocha]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Ghibli Museum entrance fee – 1,000 yen

5) OTHERS
Souvenir from Ghibli Museum – 15,664 yen [artbooks and soft toys]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
23,747 yen (565,210 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 35 – Tokyo

Date of Travel: 04/03/2012

As much fun as I had on the previous day, I was glad that all three of us regrouped and explored Tokyo together. It wasn’t quite the same without them afterall. We started the day travelling towards Harajuku, which is well known as the area where many of unusual teenage fashion trends originated from. We bought breakfast from a convenience store and ate just outside of Yoyogi Park. We were hoping to see some people cosplaying or dressed in the latest fashion trends, but instead we came across a marathon! It was interesting to watch anyway. It was also still a bit early so we decided to go explore Takeshita Dori.

???????????????????????????????No idea which marathon this is (if it is even a marathon)

Takeshita Dori is an alleyway opposite Harajuku station, and is well known as the place to go to for the outlandish fashion, and is perhaps the heart of the Harajuku district. For some reason, we walked around the block and entered the alleyway from the east end (I think it was because we wanted to see some shops along Omotesando, but most were closed at the time). As we were early, the street was not too crowded, which made it easy to move around and take photos of some of the frilly clothes on sale. There was also an interesting shop called The World Connection that sold a lot of strange and unique items which could make great souvenirs. Caution that there are a number of African hustlers hackling people to go to their shops (selling American baseball caps and the like). They are unlikely to do any harm to you, but can be very annoying to deal with. Best bet is just to walk straight past them and ignore them. Jay-C didn’t however and one of them started following and chatting to him before I walked past and grabbed him away. We exited the alleyway on the west end (near the train station). I was surprised that the popular Takeshita Dori sign at the entrance to the alleyway was missing at the time, and the street was not as recognizable without it.

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Harajuku

As it was still quite early, we decided to walk around the block back to the other end of Takeshita Dori to explore Omotesando Street. The thing that caught our attention the most was the Condomania shop which specializes in specialty condoms. There were many malls around the area with very interesting architecture, and definitely enhanced the modern feel of the city. We also dropped by Kiddy Land, which was a store selling a lot of popular toys. There was a section selling Vocaloid dolls…which kind of creep me out somewhat!

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Omotesando

We headed back to the train station and decided to buy our lunch from the convenience store and eat inside Yoyogi Park. While we were eating lunch, we were watching groups of Japanese youths performing from scripts. It was an interesting sight to behold. There must have been about five or six different groups going at it at the time. We also came across a large group of cosplayers, and another group of youths dancing. It was great seeing them getting up to such activities! The fun doesn’t stop there either. Outside, a group of Japanese in classic rock and roll outfits were belting out their dance moves like there was no tomorrow! There was also a ballroom dancing couple too. A few minutes later we were bombarded by a group walking dogs dressed in beautiful yukata outfits, and a dog going around on a skateboard! Such liveliness and character of the place really made us fall in love with Yoyogi Park instantly. We were hoping to have a wander around Meiji Shrine, but we were running behind schedule and decided to head to our next stop – Ginza.

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Yoyogi Park

Ginza is known as the upmarket shopping street of Tokyo. Many well-known brands have stores here. But none of us are the shopping type. Rather, we were keener on the Sony Building. This place showcases the latest Sony gadgets available, such as cameras/camcorders, audio equipment, and ultra HD television sets. All of these were far outside our price range, but it was fun having a look at the latest technology. While wandering around, I got a call from two of my friends who we planned to meet for dinner. As they were currently free, they wanted to join us as we wander about, which I was more than happy to agree to. We waited at the showroom until they showed up. After we caught up and chatted for a while, we wandered around Ginza, and entered the Hakuhinkan Toy Park. This place sold very unique toys not found in many other places around Japan, including many strange cosplay items. Its upper floors sell more common goods, but we had fun exploring the place.

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Ginza

It was starting to get a bit late by the time we were done with the Toy Park, so we headed over to Ueno Station to wander around the Ameyoko area. This place is a busy market street. A large array of stores can be found here, such as food, fashion, and more. It was quite the experience walking through here, with dozens of store vendors yelling out whatever deals they have on special till their voice started cracking! After wandering for a while, we found another izakaya nearby and had dinner. My friends shouted us majority of the food costs. They would have shouted all if not for us making them agree to let us pay at least 1,000 yen each! It was great catching up with both of them, and we had a great time chatting over dinner.

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Ameyoko

After dinner, my friends wanted to bring us to an arcade nearby to take some Purikura (sticker photos). However, there was a sign outside telling us that they do not allow only men to use the machines! I have no idea why. We did joke about going around picking up girls just so that we could use the machine! We returned back to Ueno station, were we found a female passer-by to take our photos for us with our cameras. We did joke that we should also ask her to come with us back to the arcade too! All of us ended up going in the same direction, so we chatted with each other for quite a long time on the train. We parted ways with them along the way, and headed back to my other friend’s place in Mitaka. There, we chatted with him for quite some time again. It would be the last night we would spend with him before heading to another accommodation in Tokyo city itself. We started packing our luggage for the first time in six days, then headed off to bed.

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Random sights

Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Train from Mitaka to Harajuku – 290 yen
Train from Harajuku to Yurakucho – 190 yen
Subway from Ginza to Ueno – 160 yen
Train from Ueno to Mitaka – 380 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
N/A […seriously, saving so much money thanks to my friend…]

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store – 361 yen [Honey soft bread, mocha-chocolate donut, hotdog]
Lunch from convenience store next to Harajuku station – 560 yen [Yakisoba bread, onigiri, omelette riceball, sandwich]
Dinner with friends at Ameyoko – 1,000 yen

4) ATTRACTIONS
N/A ~All Free~

5) OTHERS
Souvenir at The World Connection @ Harajuku for friends – 1,197 yen [pencil case, pens]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
4,138 yen (541,463 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 34 – Tokyo

Date of Travel: 03/03/2012

We kick-started the final leg of our trip by going our separate ways for the day. Jay-C had a friend who was going to bring him around some parts of Tokyo, and Brownie decided to tag along with Jay-C. I on the other hand would spend the day with my friend in Mitaka, together with his mother and another two friends, most of whom I had previously met on past exchanges between our schools. We went to the Kichijoji district, which was located right next to Mitaka. Kichijoji reminded me of the Shinsekai district in Osaka somewhat, with bright signs everywhere and people packing the streets. The main difference was that Kichijoji appeared to be livelier, probably due to the fact that more youngsters roam the streets here. We went to a nearby restaurant for lunch, where I had a sashimi set. My friend also ordered sukiyaki for us all to share. My friend’s mother paid for our lunch, which I kind of felt bad about, yet allowed anyway since it would be rude to decline.

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Amazing lunch at Kichijoji

After lunch, we headed over to Inokashira Park. This park features a large pond in its centre, and was very lively with a lot of youths. My friend, his mother and I took a rowing boat out into the pond, while the other two friends were in a swan boat. We had fun chatting while rowing to the end of the pond and back, though it was quite tiring.

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Inokashira Park

We did some window shopping for a bit, stopping by an interesting book store and another store selling a lot of old unique items. We then hired a karaoke room for a couple of hours in the afternoon and had a blast. I ended the afternoon belting out to Jet’s “Are you gonna be my girl” and made an absolute fool of myself. But hey, that’s the fun of karaoke right?

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Belting it out at Karaoke!

Following on from karaoke, we went around and explored the alleyways of Kichijoji and had some snacks along the way. The liveliness of the place was refreshing, as Brownie, Jay-C and I never did venture out to these sorts of places ourselves. It was a great chance to people-watch and get a taste of what the youths in Japan get up to in their free time.

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Wandering among the alleyways of Kichijoji

We stopped by an izakaya in one of the alleyways to have some dinner. The food was great, though not quite “typical” Japanese cuisine. We did try a selection of different alcoholic beverages, and had a lot of fun just chatting about what we have been up to in our lives, and also me sharing my experiences of the trip thus far. After dinner, we headed back to my friend’s house. Along the way, we parted with his mother and the other two friends, and I thanked his mother again for paying for everything on this day which was much appreciated. Walking through the ticket gate at Mitaka station, I felt another ping of sadness, as today was the last day I could use the JR pass before it expires. Once we returned to my friend’s house, we talked more until Brownie and Jay-C returned. We then spent the rest of the night discussing our activities during the day while playing card games before calling it a night. It was not the most fulfilling day of the trip thus far as neither of us really got up to much, but I was glad I was able to experience the things which my friend brought me around to do today as it was pretty typical ways to spend time with friends in Japan, and was definitely one of the more memorable days of the trip thus far.

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Dinner at an izakaya

Daily Expenditure
None! 🙂

Random Fun 3 – The K-on! School

BACKGROUND

As I mentioned in my previous post, Day 33 was very unique as we were going to go to a place where no grown men with balls would go to unless they were tasered and brought against their will. Luckily J.C. and I couldn’t care less (can’t say the same about Brownie though). Ladies and gentlemen, we were going to the K-on! school! Well…more specifically we were going to Toyosato, home of the school that inspired the school setting in the K-on! anime series.

What is k-on
“You would actually spend half a day of your precious trip to come visit a school featuring characters that do not exist? -_-“

For those who do not know, K-on! is one of the most popular anime series in Japan from 2009 to 2011. It featured a group of four high school girls who reformed the “light-music” club…just so that they can spend their days drinking tea and eating cake, talking about nothing, and being cute just for the sake of being cute. Oh yeah, it also features a teacher who has a screw loose in her head, and Azu’nyan’ (the fifth member of the group that joined in its second year). The series does not fall to the level of having flower petals mysteriously falling from nowhere, but there is enough fluffiness to make a billion woolen sweaters.

HTT_group_image_2From left to right – Mugi, Mio, Yui, Azusa and Ritsu

THE POINT OF NO RETURN

The moment we got off the train in Toyosato, we knew that there was no turning back. Right away we saw a large amount of fliers advertising events such as birthday parties for the K-on! characters at the school on the windows of many shops in the area. There were also a number of street markings featuring the K-on! characters. It was time to shed away our manly spirits, and become fan-boys for the next few hours.

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Posters of events for fans of the series, and various road signs, shows that K-on! has definitely overtaken the town!

THE SCHOOL EXTERIOR

The K-on! school was based off the old Toyosato elementary school, which has since been converted to a library. The exterior of the old elementary school was definitely reminiscent of the main school building from the K-on! anime series. There was also a statue of a man who I presumed was either the founder or the principle of the school. It was very similar to that from the K-on! series too.

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It was almost as if we had just crossed dimensions into the K-on! universe!

THE HALLWAYS AND STAIRWELLS

We entered the school building, and slowly walked along its hallways. It was a strange feeling exploring the school, as I slowly recalled the many scenes from the anime series that took place in these locations. A lot of detail was captured in the series, such as the yellow semicircle around doors, the rabbit sculpture on the stair railings, the arrangement of windows, and much more. Even the green frog statue that Yui kept on displaying outside the clubroom to try and recruit more students to join the club was there (probably left there by a fan)!

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So many memorable scenes…it was quite strange walking around these halls!

THE CLUB ROOM

We entered the door right next to the green frog and stepped into the “club room”. It was almost as if we had stepped straight into the anime series itself. Majority of the scenes in the anime series were based in this room, as the girls would often sit at the group of tables at the back and have tea and snacks. Some visitors had left an array of wax food models and tea cups to bring the atmosphere to life.

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The whole school was reminiscent of so many great scenes from the show, but the club room has to take the cake!

The blackboard in the club room was full of messages from fans and visitors alike. Just shows how popular this place has become. No doubt that tourism in Toyosato has increased significantly since the release of the anime series. There was a corner with figurines of the characters and other small items.

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Some of those figurines are expensive! In many countries in the world they would probably be stolen by now…

Die-hard fans have left hilarious homages to the series lying about the room. This included a tank with a small toy turtle in it (representing Ton-chan, the turtle mascot of the second season of the series), and a model of Azusa’s tea cup.

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Bits of shenanigans around the club room.

One of the stranger homages that Brownie had no idea what it was about was an electric fan sitting in a corner with a triangular headband on it (usually worn by the deceased). This was a homage to an episode in the second season where Ritsu hogged the fan to herself and turned it on max, causing the fan to break and the blade to go flying around the room, almost decapitating Ritsu in the process.

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…R.I.P poor fan that almost ripped Ritsu’s head off…

There was a small hallway connecting the club room to an adjacent room. In there, there was a clothes rack featuring many cosplay outfits. This was a homage to that owned by Sawako, the club’s advisor and home-room teacher of the four original band members’ final year at school in the anime series, as she likes dressing the girls up (particularly Mio and Azusa) in these outfits.

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…I still wonder who brought those clothes…

THE STORAGE ROOM

Finally, the adjacent room featured a small stage at one end, and storage of musical instruments at the other. This room was featured in several episodes of the anime series. Most notably, the tea party for Mio’s fanclub was held in this room in the second season.

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The episode where Mio was the guest-of-honour at the gathering of her fan club was one of the highlights of the series in my opinion!

THE LIBRARY

After exploring for a while longer, we headed down to the public library on the ground floor (the real library, not the one from the anime). We spent a surprising amount of time here just looking through several books in the library. The new Toyosato Elementary school lies just across the courtyard from the old school building, and can be viewed from the library. Just as we were heading back to the train station, we noticed another building to the right that appeared to resemble the library from the anime series. We entered that building and were greeted with a collection of goods from the anime series. This ranged from showcasing models of the guitars used in the anime series, figurines and cardboard cut-outs of the main girls, and a collection of cards sent by fans.

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I want those! What? No…of course I am referring to the guitars, not the cutout of Yui and Azusa in swimsuits at the back!

There was also a shop selling some goods from the anime series, such as ton-chan shaped red bean buns, plagues with designs of the main characters, and also a bowl with a very familiar pattern…

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I see what you did there Kyoani!

BACK TO THE TRAIN STATION

As we were heading out, we came across some girls cosplaying as characters from the anime series. J.C. and I were half-tempted to go stalk these girls, but Brownie got completely freaked out by the cosplaying that he demanded we return back to the train station! J.C. and I had explored enough anyway, so we headed back. Unfortunately we completely missed the school hall in the process, and just missed the train, but we had heaps of fun nonetheless!

???????????????????????????????They do look kind of cold. Japanese school girls must have it rough with those miniskirts…

CONCLUSION

Safe to say that this side trip we took is not for everyone, especially for those who are not familiar with K-on! But for those who are, I highly recommend taking some time out of your schedule and come visit, especially if you are on the JR pass so that majority of your train costs are covered. There is nothing more special than wandering around a location you have seen many times in series which you love, and being right there in person makes it that much more meaningful. I wasn’t a huge fan of the series prior to the trip (though I have seen all the episodes), but now that I have visited the school, it has climbed up my favourites list quite significantly. Anyways, I will end this post with Azunyan…just cause I can:)

Azu_nyan_by_nyanplz
…ni…~nyaaaa~