Friday, January 15, 2010

Guide to Tokyo

Now that I am safely back home, I though I would write another post to look back at our journey in Tokyo and list all the things that stood out the most, whether they be good, bad or neutral.

Initially this was going to be just a simple reflection, but it has now grown into a fully fledged guide to Tokyo that includes all our major cultural experiences.

I didn't plan on creating such an elaborate guide, but I enjoyed looking back over the trip and writing about it and thought I may as well publish this to the world. You never know, maybe it might help someone one day.

I would recommend reading this if you plan on going to Tokyo, for two reasons.
The first is just to be prepared for the Japanese customs and the second is to get you even more excited about going to this amazing city!


The train system in Tokyo is so much more advanced than ours in Melbourne and is one of the first things you notice upon arrival.
In Tokyo, the train lines are all owned and operated by different companies, including "Tokyo Metro", "JR - Japan Rail" and a number of private lines. Just the map of the Tokyo Metro lines by them selves is enough to give any Aussie a bit if a surprise. It is a mesh of lines going everywhere which is what makes it work so well. You would think that this mass of train lines would mean there would be delays and confusion, but you would be hard pressed to find a train more than one minute late.

Everything is made to be efficient. In peak times, they even have staff members to push the people on so the doors can close on time. There are plenty of doors and 10 times the amount of hand rails inside the carriages. There are also marking on the floor at the platform so you know where to stand to line up with the train doors!

The ticketing system is great. There is a list of stations at every train station that outline the cost of getting anywhere from where you are. Generally it will be one of about 4 prices. Once you know this, just go to the touch screen ticket machine, press English and then the price of the ticket you need, give it some cash and it'll give you your ticket.
Once you have this, put your ticket through the gate and collect it as you walk through, then at your destination station, put it through again and it will keep it.

If you happen to get the wrong ticket, at every station there are "Fare correction machines". Where if you didn't pay enough (and the gate doesn't let you through) you pay the machine the left over in order to get out, and likewise if you paid too much, the machine will give you a refund - too easy!

Navigating the spaghetti map of train lines is actually pretty easy by just looking at it, but if not, at every gate there is a staff member to help out with ticket problems and directions (these stations are normally massive!). Also, if you get lost trying to exit the station, just look for the little green exit signs on the floor, walls and ceiling - there everywhere.

It is pretty common for a station to have alot of levels under ground, as alot of stations will service around 4 lines! This means alot of stairs! The stations are generally part of shopping complexes owned by the train companies too, which just adds to the size of these places.

Anther good thing is that instead of buying a ticket for every trip, they have a number of prepaid travel cards. The one we used was "Pasmo". This card can be loaded with cash at a ticket machine and then all you do is touch on and touch off, just like the proposed MyKi system for melbourne will most likely be.
The card costs 500 Yen (where most of this can be refunded when you're finished with it) and you can even register your name on the card from the machine and it will print it on the front for you - which makes for a pretty cool souvenir.
These cards can not only be used at train stations, but also at vending machines (for just about anything) and places like FamilyMart and shopping centers!

Another small note is that the gates will generally stay open and only close if  someone tries to walk through without scanning their card or ticket first. Which is so clever compared to Melbourne - if anyone has seen peak hour at Melbourne Central!

Heat Packs ("Hokkairo")

We discovered these thanks to Sarma's extremely low threshold for cold and some friendly Japanese locals at new years eve.
These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including some for the soles of your feet, little bean-bag like packs and sticky packs for the inside of your clothes.
There is no need to do anything to these packs, all they need is a bit of warmth from either your own body heat or some friction and eventually they get so hot that sometimes they are too hot to hold! For people like us, not used to the cold, these were used heavily. Everyday we would stop at the local FamilyMart to get some more, and they were relatively cheap at around $1 each when you buy a 10 pack.

Crazy Fashion

The heat packs brings me to my next point - fashion!
We went to Tokyo over new years eve, which is their Winter. On new years eve, the temperature was about 2° and while we were rugged up in alot of clothes and heatpacks and still shivering, the local Japanese girls were still running around in miniskirts!
Naturally, I'm wasn't complaining, they all seem to dress either really well (in terms of fashion and looking good) or absolutely bizarre (see "mamba" from Shibuya, or "cosplay" from Harajuku). But all trip I just could not get over the fact that we were all freezing and they were baring leg!
I hope too many people didn't see my jaw dropped reaction to these girls, they might have got the wrong impression, lol.

Bidet Toilets

One of the other things that westerners first notice is the crazy control panel on the side of the toilet. This is a pretty new concept for most Aussies, but if your not too freaked out by it, it is actually really good.
Instead of wiping your backside, when your finished, you set your water pressure and press the "wash" button. A warm jet of water cleans you and all you have to do is dry yourself with some toilet paper. It sounds weird to us, but once you get used to it, it is much cleaner, faster and softer than using toilet paper. There is also a "bidet" button, but guys, don't push this button as its intended for females ;)
The more advanced bidet toilets will dry you and have seat warmers built in.
Some even play music or water sounds in case you want to mask your own noises, lol.

Vending Machines

As mentioned earlier, you can get just about anything out of a vending machine. Theres the usual cold drinks (including a cool little aluminum coke bottle), but vending machine are also used for hot drinks (hot coffee in a can), noodles, ordering food, buying admission tickets into tourist attractions and parks, magazines, comics, porn, ice-cream, train tickets, cigarettes and just about anything you can think of. I have even read that you can buy used school girl panties in some of the more seedy parts of Tokyo.


One thing that we didn't expect is how hard it was to find a good restaurant. We expected the language barrier while ordering, but with the pictures in the menu and the 3D wax models out the front, that was not too bad.
Unlike here, the streets aren't always filled with options to choose from for dinner, you have to search a bit. Alot of the properties in Tokyo take up a fairly small ground area, but then go 10 levels high, with a different business on each floor, so the signs out the front are the only key to if there is a restaurant inside.

We went to a few places that looked well priced, but when the meals came out, they were very small and reminiscent of a Tapas experience - not great.
Train stations are a good place to look for food places as they are normally big complexes with lots of different shops, but in our experience, you dont get alot of choice unless you find a food court or a really busy area.

Also, it is not uncommon to have to take your shoes off at a fancy restaurant, we were given a locker for our belongings at one particular Japanese place. Alot of places also have buzzers under the table or on the wall, where when you press it, your waiter will run over with an electronic notepad to take your order.


Speaking of restaurants, it is also important to note that the Japanese smoking laws are somewhat opposite to here in Australia. You are not allowed to smoke in the street, unless in a designated "smoking area" but you are allowed to smoke indoors and in restaurants! Alot of restaurants don't have a non-smoking section, or if they do, are not always really separated from the smoking section (which kind of defeats the purpose). If you are a smoker, you might even like this, but for us non-smokers, it is really annoying!

Also, being a non-smoker, I wouldn't know too much about this, but I believe the smoking vending machine may require Japanese ID. You may need to do a little research with that one, but I'm sure it wont be too hard to get smokes over there.

Local Japanese people

The Japanese people are so friendly! We had quite a few times where some random people would notice we are foreigners and just come up and starting talking (broken) English to us. These people welcomed us to Japan and wished us good luck. I think alot of these people liked an opportunity to practice their English.

While we were waiting to see the Emperor of Japan amongst a crowd of thousands, a Japanese Nikon enthusiast next to me noticed I had the same camera as him. We ended up speaking for about 45 minutes, but the funny part is, I was speaking English (that he couldn't understand) and he was speaking Japanese (that I couldn't understand). But with alot of guessing, smiling and pointing, we managed to convey the points we needed to hold a conversation.

The moral of the story is that even of they don't understand English, they all try to help out as much as possible, even if it is as simple as pointing to a meal and saying "pork", they will do their best to help out.

Even in shops and restaurants, if the person serving you cannot speak English and is struggling to help you, they will try to get the staff member that has the best English skills to take over - even if they aren't always that much better.

Another example of the friendly locals is during our stay in Ginza. We were trying to find a decent, cheap restaurant (which was pretty hard in Ginza) and ended up asking a local Japanese lady and her mum for directions. This lovely lady ended up speaking very good English and regardless of what she had to do, walked our group through Ginza to a place that could be suitable, even came in with us and helped us order. We were so impressed with this kind gesture, we ended up exchanging details and meeting again so we could buy her dinner in return.


There is actually a surpring amount of dogs in Japan, but unlike places such as Vietnam, we didn't see any wild dogs. Infact, it was very opposite, these dogs are spoilt! Everybody seemed to walk their dogs all the time and we even saw alot of dogs in clothes (yes, dog jeans, jumpers, shoes, etc.). There are even department stores for dogs and some cafes are dog friendly. This isn't one of the things that stood out strongly, but day-after-day you start to realize this more and more.

Convenience Stores

One thing we didn't see too much of were full grocery stores like Coles/Safeway/etc. Instead there is a great store called "Don Quijote" which is a multilevel store that sells just about everything!
The few that we visited had everything including food, clothes, sexy costumes, bikes, electronics, home goods and much more.
However, these are normally situated in the more busy parts of the city, which we were lucky to be fairly close to, but otherwise, on almost every corner you will find a "Family Mart", "AM PM" or "7-11" (7-11 actually has a slightly different name over there, but I cant remember what it was).
These places stock bread, fruit and veges, alcohol, batteries, cd's, hot food, magazines, heatpacks, smokes and alot more. They normally even have vending machines out the front and you can generally use your Pasmo at the register.

Everything is "cutified"

Another minor thing we noticed, which was kinda fun, is that everything is "cutified"! Everything from the street signs, warning signs, advertisements and construction signs to the anime, the way the girls speak and act, and the costumes warn in the streets are all made to look "cute".
I doubt you would ever see Connex (or now "Metro") use a furry cartoon critter in a sign to warn people to watch their fingers on the trains, but in Tokyo you cant avoid it, its everywhere!

Mobile Phones

I am so used to having a mobile phone that going to Japan was one of the first times in a long time I had to go without.
If I really couldn't live without it, I could have enabled roaming with my provider and taken my phone and SIM card with me, but at least for my provider, this is a really expensive exercise, and on a student wage, not really an option.

I did bring my phone for other reasons, such as the local time and Aussie time, currency converter, alarm clock, calendar, phonebook, wifi, etc. but left it in offline mode the whole time.

In other countries, like Thailand and Vietnam, normally I would bring my phone and buy a prepaid SIM card to use during my trip, even if just for local calls to my friends doing the same thing.
Unfortunately (at the time of writing), in Japan, the process for a foreigner to get a SIM card is far to complicated (and apparently expensive) to warrant even trying.

So our group attempted to do it old school! When we were going to split up, we set a meeting place and time somewhere familiar, and in the worst case scenario, we all knew how to get back to our hotel, or at least had the name and address of our hotel to get directions back.
Thankfully, we did pretty good and didn't need to revert to meeting at the hotel.

There was another option and that was to rent a mobile. There were rental services that were foreigner-friendly, but quite honestly, we didn't really need it.
... Weird for me saying that, but at the same time, there were a few instances where it would have been helpful.

Day 14 - Going home

Today is the day go home, which is both good and bad.
Tokyo is an amazing city and I absolutely loved it. There are so many things I liked about this place that I plan on writing a separate post on all the great things that we came across during our journey.
I will miss Tokyo, but at the same time, I am looking forward to coming home and seeing the familiar faces of family and friends.

This morning we made sure we got our last breakfast in (which closes at 10:00 AM) and went back to our rooms to finishing packing so we could check out by 11:00 AM.

Our flight didn't leave Tokyo until around 8 at night, so I asked the hotel staff roughly how long they think it would take to get to the airport and also if we could stow luggage somewhere so we could still go out before we had to leave for the airport, which they were happy to oblige for both.

Our plan was to go back to the Asakusa markets again, then get back to the hotel to get our luggage and from the nearby Aoyama-Itchome station, take the Ginza line to Ueno, then the Skyliner to Narita Airport (the same way we got in, except this time we know the train system better).

So once again we were off to the Asakusa markets, this time I needed to grab a couple more gifts, and Lee and Sarma wanted to get swords like Anthony.
We went there and looked around, eventually get everything we needed. In hindsight, I wish I got a few more little gifts, but between my bad memory and the manic nature of our trip, it slipped my mind.

As we were all pros and navigating the train system and the Asakusa markets, were in in and out pretty quickly and before you know it were at our station about to walk back to the hotel to get our bags.

Just as we exited the station, Sarma (very casually) said "Hey, theres Asimo". To our surprise, right across the road to the station we used everyday was a Honda showroom! Through the windows, we could see Asimo walking around. We were all amazed at how lucky we were to have this timing!

We headed over to see that Asimo did about 3 shows a day here (not sure if that was just for today, or everyday). We had just walked in about 5 minutes into a show!

For those who dont know, Asimo is the "humaniod robot" developed by Honda that is meant to act just like a human, and can actually manage its weight well enough to be able to run (i.e. fast steps where in one instance both feet are in the air). Asimo can hand people objects and will loosen its grip as you would expect a human to when someone else hands you something. It even has reflexes to correct errors, such as tripping over.

We watched the demonstration, where Asimo did a dance, walked around and even ran across the room and then was stopped with a pose for people to get photos with.

Photo courtesy of Rob

We headed back to the hotel, where we did a final check of our luggage and ended up shifting other peoples items around to balance out the weight before thanking the hotel staff for all their help and started heading out to the airport.

It was a little tricky getting 6 of us onto the little trains with all our luggage, but we managed ok. On the Skyliner, there was a group of 3 guys that we ended up catching the train and both planes all the way back to Melbourne with. Even though we called them stalkers, they had a bit of a laugh of with us.

We allowed plenty of time to get to the airport, and its a good thing we did. Once we got to Narita Airport, the queues were huge! Just to check in took us ages. Then we had slight issues with the Samurai Swords, but they just wanted to open up the (freshly sealed) boxes to examine them and ensure they fit regulation (not sharp, under a certain length, etc.) for security purposes.

After a long flight (that I actually managed to get some sleep on... amazing) we finally got home to 35° Melbourne heat. Sarah and Michael, Rob's girlfriend and friend, were waiting there to pick us up as we waited around the luggage carousel to pick up our bags. Apparently the day before was 44°, the hottest day on record and we just missed it, instead we were freezing in Tokyo, wearing 3 tshirts, jumper, jacket, beanie, gloves, a neck warner and heat packs, lol!

Got home, handed out a few gifts and fell asleep, before waking up to have dinner, then falling back asleep. The next day, didn't wake up until 2:00 PM - back to my old routine :)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day 13 - Harajuku

Today, being a Sunday, we planned on going to Harajuku, famous for the "Cosplay" - the teenagers who dress up in crazy costumes and just hang around with friends near a famous Harajuku bridge every Sunday hoping to be snapped up by magazine photographers.

Of course, this is our last full day in Tokyo, and Anthony still wanted to get his samurai sword and some other gifts, so first stop today was back to the Asakusa markets. Anthony got his sword and Amy bought a Kimono.

We tried to keep it brief at Asakusa, as we didn't want to miss the Harajuku Cosplay. We caught a train to Harajuku and found the famous bridge amongst alot of people! Initially we thought the crowds were for the Cosplay, but there really wasn't that many costumes around, which was a little disappointing.
Here is a glimpse of what the streets were like:

We saw two girls dressed up getting there photo taken by some professionals and once they were done, we went up and asked for a photo. They made it clear that we could not take their photo by themselves, but if we were in the photo it was ok. So we all jumped in and I asked one of the pro's to take our photo.

This photographer saw my camera and started adjusting settings and then attempted to see if he could fit his Canon flash on my Nikon (which wouldn't work) and then took our photo.

As there weren't many other dressed up people, we decided to follow the crowd to see what was happening, which lead us into Yoyogi Park where the Meiji Jingu shrine is situated.
As we followed the massive crowd through the park, we found a gift store, so we quickly ducked in before continuing through.
The further into the park we went, the more people there were. Eventually we came across alot of ice sculptures! There were at least 50 of these massive models that were taller than me.

We slowly made our way through admiring all these extremely intricate carvings and eventually got to the Meiji Jingu shrine in the middle of the Yoyogo Park.

Just outside of the shrine, there was a clearing that looked like it was roped off and there were a group of people all in what looked like traditional kimono getting there photos taken. We think this was a traditional Japanese wedding.

Inside the shrine gates, there were alot of people congregating in the middle and it looked like the crowd was slowly making its may into the shrine to pray and donate, so from here we started heading back out to the streets to see if anymore Cosplay were out and also to get some lunch.

As we got out of the park, there were more costumes around, but they were mostly gothic looking, where Sarma was hoping to see Anime costumes, so we took a few more photos and started the search for somewhere to eat.

Eventually we found a little alley way with what looked like a Japanese version of an Aussie Wendy's. I ordered a "Oreo Shake", a hotdog and a "Brazilian Pie" - which was like a long skinny pastry with tomarto sauce, cheese and bacon in the middle, then folded over and cooked. The meal was actually pretty good, but it took forever to be prepared! I was waiting in the little shop for around half an hour! Then to top it off, the little alley way was a wind tunnel full of smoke, so we were all waiting in the cold, smoky alley way while we ate.

After this we decided to give the Square Enix shop another go. We spoke to some locals at the Harajuku station to work out where to go, as none of us could even remember the name of the station we needed to go to.
We got there and looked around, it was actually fairly small, but they had a lot of gear in there. None of the stuff there really interested me as I've never even played Final Fantasy, but Sarma, Anthony and even Amy were loving it!
Anthony bought a ring and a necklace and Sarma bought a massive figurine.

A while ago we, while we were trying to find somewhere to eat in Ginza, we got the help of a local by the name of "Kazue" (pronounced Ka-zu-eh) and exchanged contact details, well a little a couple of days ago we planned on meeting up again one more time before we head home, which was tonight. So from the Square Enix shop we headed to Shibuya to meet at the famous meeting place - Hachiko.

We arrived a little before 7 and waited around for Kazue and her friend (that we hadn't met yet). After a little while Amy spotted them and we headed out for dinner.

After I had mentioned that we have had trouble finding places to eat, and then when we did find places, the meal sizes were really small, Kazue decided to take us to an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet, which was actually fairly well priced.

We got to know each other better and met "Aya" (not 100% sure with that spelling). She was also very nice.

During dinner we went through some photos of our day in Harajuku and we now think all the commotion in Yoyogo Park was for "Coming of age day".
Coming of age day is to celebrate when children reach the age of 20, thus allowing them to drink, smoke, etc. We knew about coming of age day, but this wasn't until tomorrow, but it seems they did this celebration on the weekend while the actual ceremony is on the Monday (where foreigners are not allowed)

It was great going through the photos with locals, we had seen these lines with small bits of paper tied to them quite a few times now, including new years eve, and we knew it had something to do with fortune, but thanks to Kazue, we now know that when you receive your fortune, it is good fortune you keep it and if it is bad, you tie it to the line.

We also saw these big decorated barrels, which we thought we just for show, but it turns out they are full of Japanese Sake - thats a lot of sake!

After the buffet, we insisted on paying for Kazue and Aya's meal against their will, and then they insisted on paying for dessert. We got very nice crepes in a back alley of Shibuya somewhere, luckily we had our very own tour guides because I was lost!

After talking about our Cosplay experience today, they also took us to a place where we could see and possibly buy some costumes, which ended up being Don Quites. We had seen the Don Quites in Roppongi, but not in Shibuya. None of us bought costumes, but we did buy some normal clothing. I bought a Akihabara jumper and a tshirt with the Japanese characters for "Tokyo Shibuya Store" - I'm glad we had translators!

From here we started heading to the station and on the way we stopped at a typical Japanese arcade to get some photo booth shots taken to remember the night. These photo booths are very popular in Japan and have a small room where a group of people can stand in while the screen tells you how to pose. Once you get about 6 different poses taken, you go around the back and decorate them, then it prints them out and you cut them up to take with you. We divided them up and the end of the night. These is actually a place like this on Swanston street, but they are not nearly as popular in Melbourne as they are in Japan (as far as I know)

Aya caught a different line to us and so when we got to the train station, we said our goodbyes and she exchanged email addresses with Amy and headed for her line.
Kazue walked us to our line, as she needed to catch a train nearby (possibly the same line in the other direction).
We said our farewells and she waved us off as we headed home.
We were given star treatment by these lovely girls and offered to pay back the favor if they ever come to Melbourne.
They made our last night in Japan very memorable and we all had a great time!

Thank you Kazue and Aya!

Day 12 - Odaiba

After the big Mt. Fuji day yesterday, we had a bit of a sleep in this morning,then discussed what we all wanted to see today.
Today was planned to see Odaiba. One of the main attractions I wanted to see was the Tokyo Sea Life Park (an aqarium) but it turns out this place wasn't actually in Odaiba as first thought.

Odaiba is a small artificial island that is joined to the mainland with the famous "Rainbow Bridge", it also has a replica of the Statue of Liberty, a ferris wheel, the indoor Sega themepark called "Joypolis" and lots of impressive architecture for buildings such as FujiTV studios and the Telekom building. It also has a lot of shopping, including a large shopping center called "Aqua City", a themed shopping town called "Palette Town" (I think that is a reference to Pokemon). Also, there used to be a 1:1 scale model of a Gundam (a big anime robot) which Sarma and Anthony in particular were looking forward to, but has since been pulled down.

As there was so much to do, we ranked the attractions and I asked our friendly hotel staff for some help with directions. After looking at maps, brochures and websites, we planned to go to the aquarium first, then head out to Odaiba for the rest of the day.

From our hotel we had to catch a couple of trains to get to KasaiRinkaiKoen  station, which was one stop before DisneyLand. Our train was actually express and went straight past our stop, and to DisneyLand.  For a split second there, I saw Amy's face light up, but then we jumped on a train going the other way and got off at the right place.

This place had a ferris wheel too and was a really nice waterfront area. We headed towards the Aquarium and saw some street performers setting up, but they weren't ready yet.

We got to the aquarium and it looked pretty cool from outside, it was like a giant glass dome that looked like it was sitting on the water.

We went through and saw everything from penguins and sharks to jellyfish and starfish.

After spending alot of time here and getting some lunch from the food court, we decided we better get going if we were still going to get to Odaiba. On the way out the street performers were actually doing a show, and even though they were speaking Japanese, their jokes were still funny. They were juggling knifes and plenty more for a fairly big crowd that had gathered around. At the end, people left them money and got their photos taken. Robert got his taken with him and Anthony left him a nice generous tip.

When we got back to the station, we got some really nice ice-cream from a vending machine and got on a train to go back to Tokyo to get yet another train to one of the coolest sounding station names we had heard - The Tokyo Teleport.

We finally got to Odaiba and were welcomed with another ferris wheel and the really cool architecture we had heard about.

After a little bit of walking we came across the FujiTV building that had a massive dome observation deck (which we ran out of time to go see) and the telekom building which looked pretty cool too.

First stop was a science museum. It took us a while to walk there, but it was pretty cool. They had lots of robots, including one which we think was a prototype for a transport machine.

They also had a little robot with cameras that was connected to a cinemotion room, where when you sit in the chairs in the room, it looks as if you are sitting in the cock pit of the little robot outside. The robot would move and look around and the people inside the room would see and feel everything from the perspective of the robot. This exhibition closed before we got a chance to go in.

There was also a mechanical representation of the internet that had these huge machines to represent routers with marbles flowing between them to represent messages and would eventually get to terminals where people could receive the marbles and send others to other terminals.

The other cool exhibition was a 3D cinema where you wear 3D glasses and look into a box that had video projected on each side. You could then take a controller and fly around Odaiba in a Google-earth like world.

They also had these straight lines of lights that when you move your head from one side to the other, formed an image, which was pretty cool!

In the middle of the museum they had a huge globe made from LED panels and appeared to spin. This globe was visible from a few levels of the museum.

After looking around for a while, we ran out of time to see the other levels of the museum which had other themes (such as space, nature, etc.) but we left and headed for the Rainbow Bridge not that it was dark.

After walking for a while we got to "Aqua City" the big shopping center, but before we went it we all took photos of the near by Statue of Liberty and Rainbow Bridge.

By this time we were all hungry and we went to the food court to eat. Here they had a McDonalds, which I almost went for, but instead I went with something a bit more Japanese. I attempted "Okonomiyaki" (which I could not remember the name of for the life of me, thanks Sandra!). It was like a pancake, with meat and noodles on top and then covered in an omelet and sprayed with Mayonaise. I asked the chef (who spoke pretty good English) to leave out a couple of ingredients and it actually wasn't too bad. Only thing is, I could not work out how to eat it with chopsticks!

Another attraction on the list was a light display which supposedly happened every hour along the beach, we wondered up and down the beach asking people for directions with little success, then in the distance we saw some lit up jets of water and ran down there.
This looked so cool! There were these really tall jets of water being lit up with multicolored lights and in the middle there was a huge flat spray of water that formed a screen for a projector. They projected small videos and moving images onto the screen and the whole area had speakers hidden away in the bushes - it was really nice.

After this, we went back to get some more night shots of the bridge from the beach perspective and headed back to the main road where the Sega Joypolis theme park was.

We got to Sega and I just payed to get in as I am not much of a rides person, but after seeing the prices they charged per game/ride, I ended up upgrading my ticket to an unlimited passport, which covered just about everything.

When we got there Lee and I went on an "Initial D" racing car simulator which had what looked like full cars that actually moved around and had a massive screen attached to the windshield. While ee did this, the others went on the indoor roller coaster and then a snow boarding ride (in a mechanical half pipe).

There were a few pretty cool rides/games here that even I liked. They had these 3 simulators that where like a roller coaster seat that held about 12 people at a time, you sit in it, and it takes you into a dark room where the doors shut behind you. Then the room lights up  by this huge screen that covers the majority of your peripheral vision and gives you a sence movement - between the seat moving, wind blowing at you and sprays of water, it actually felt like you were moving.

There were 3 of these rides where all the stories were linked up, one in a plane, one in a water raft and one in a jeep (that could fly).

In the second one, there were these young Korean girls laughing they're heads off and clapping, which was so entertaining, that the next time we went on we made sure we went on with them. in the end we asked for a photo with them and they came along with us around the park.

The next ride was one I wasn't really keen on. You sat in a chair of some sort of little rocket ship and it drive it around a course, but it actually barrel rolls 360°.

After this, we found out that these girls thought Lee was really hot and so naturally we planned on going out with them after the park.

We went to the station where they taught us some Korean games while we waited for the train. After some conversation, it sounded like their hotel was in Roppongi, so we all headed there to go to a karaoke bar.

It turns out that they didn't actually have a hotel in Roppongi and it was actually fairly far away, but our little trip out to Roppongi meant they missed their last train. They looked quite worried so we ended up finding them a taxi and Lee shouted them a fare back to where they were staying. We were all going to chip in, but Lee insisted that he would pay (for his girlfriends, lol).

It has been a really long, but very enjoyable day. There has been something for everone and we even managed to fit most of our list in, which is not bad consiering we had such a big day yesterday, and we had to travel from Akasaka (our hotel) to the aquarium, then out to Odaiba, then to Roppongi and then back to our hotel!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 11 - Hakone

Today was our only actual structured tour. We paid ¥16,000 for a 1 day tour to Mt. Fuji and Hakone (a famous town at the foot of Mt. Fuji).
To be on time, we had to meet at the closest pickup point for the tour company, which for us was 1 train stop away at another hotel called "The Grand Price Hotel". We had to be there by 7:50am, which for me is quite early.

Yesterday, we had all decided that it would be easier to buy some breakfast stuff from Family Mart and eat on the run, so we all had some breakfast while we were waiting at the very fancy reception of The Grand Prince Hotel.

From there we met a representative from the tour company and boarded a bus bound for Sunrise Tours Headquarters. When we got there we each paid ¥16,000 took a toilet break before we hoped on the big coach bus to go to Mt. Fuji.

We got on the bus and met our friendly tour guide we started our 1 hour and 20 minute trip over to the Mt. Fuji Visitor Center. On the way we went past Fuji-Q High Land - a theme park with a massive roller coaster and a view of the mountain. We stopped at the visitor center which had memorabilia and information about the history of the area, including a video of how Mt. Fuji was created. It was actually a merge of three smaller volcanoes!

We eventually reached the fourth station on Mt. Fuji after quite a few windy roads. If the weather was better we could have gone higher, but in Winter even fourth station is pretty good. At this stop there was a great view down into what looked like a canyon and a view upwards to the rest of the giant mountain. There was also snow and ice everywhere. Anthony had never been to the snow and loved, everyone was throwing snow around and taking photos. Robert also thought it would be a good idea to run into a huge clump of snow that Anthony was holding, except he did it head first!

From here we headed to a restaurant for our Japanese-style lunch. It was a Bento-box with raw fish, a crumbed prawn, a couple of shrimp, a piece of fried chicken, a few different types of tofu, a berry, and slice of egg with salmon in the middle, miso soup and rice. There were some more little Japanese bits and pieces, but I cant remember them all. I actually tried a few new things there and surprisingly ate more than I thought I would, although I still don't really enjoy raw fish.

The next stop was for our boat cruise. The dock for this had a gift shop and we were given a little bit of time to shop around. On the bus beforehand, our tour guide showed us these "Secret boxes". It was just a wooden cube with no obviously way of opening it, but then small pieces of wood move here and there and you have to get the right combination of moves before you can get inside. Apparently these boxes were invented over 200 years ago. I had to buy one :)

After buying my souvenir we boarded our boat and cruised for about 15 minutes on the top level with the cold wind on our faces, but it was a nice view along the lake.
At our destination there was another gift store and we saw a ropeway that went up the hillside. We went inside to get our ropeway tickets and decided on a meeting time.
The ropeway was cool, as you climb up this hill the view just got better and better. Unfortunately Mt. Fuji was covered by fog and clouds, but the rest of amazing. In the distance there was a great view of the lake and a town with a mountain range surrounding the entire area. At the top of the ropeway was a small temple and a observation areas.

Naturally we all took lots of photos and just as I was about to head back down the ropeway, it started snowing! I tried to get a photo of it snowing, but it was too hard. This was the first time I had seen snow fall from the sky!

This brought us to the end of the tour where we hoped on our bus again to head to the next town where we could catch a bullet train (Shinkansen) back to Tokyo. We got our tickets and all boarded at the same time. This bullet train was not the fastest as it didn't go very far, but it still travelled 200 kmph whereas the train that links Osaka and Tokyo goes closer to 300 kmph. Inside the bullet train, it felt like a very spacious aeroplane. The seat were wide with enough room infront of you for people to walk past and they all had tray tables. When it took off you could not even feel it moving, it was the smoothest train I had ever been on and when it reached its top speed was no different. The only give away was the speeding lights outside were going past pretty fast!

We got back to Tokyo and once again tried to find somewhere to eat. After looking around we decided to head back to the station near our hotel and get something there. Rob went home and we ended up trying a place that looked like a pub and had decent prices. The best part of this place was the ceiling, it looked like the night sky with LED stars with a couple of LED shooting star trails too. It was once again a bit of a rip off as the meals were fairly small, and the English was terrible on the menu. For example, I ordered a "Park cutlet with beer hall style" thinking it was a pork cutlet. It came out as a single piece of beer battered fish on a stick and was hardly filling enough. Luckily I also order a "six cheese pizza" which looked and tasted like only one cheese - basically just a small Margarita.

Anthony and Lee went to the small vending machine dinner place to get some more food while Amy, Sarma and I went to FamilyMart and AM-PM to try to find a blank CD to load windows onto Amy's new disney eeepc.
I also tried Sarma's "Cherry blossom" KitKat - which started off nice, but left a horrible aftertaste which could only be cured by buying FamilyMart donuts, so I did :)

We then all headed home to eat our dessert and went to bed. I think we all glad to pay the price for this tour as it was such a great experience and there was no way we could have got the same thing by trying to do that ourselves. It was a great day.