japan

Sunday Funday

First up today was browsing through Family Mart, which I found out as I explored is the Japanese Walmart. The only reason I was browsing a grocery store at 10am was that I needed to kill some time as I waited for the rest of the shops to open.

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I wanted to go to the Uniclo right near my hostel to buy the winter jacket I saw the other day. I decided I really liked it and is worth shipping home. I managed to grab a couple of boxes from a local 100 yen shop (Dollarama type store) and hoped it fit (it did). Got the jacket and won a scratch and win prize of 500 yen to use in the shopping centre I was in, and used it to buy an assortment of Japanese candy to ship home as well.

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I wasn’t planning on sending anything back, but I want some of the cool stuff I’ve seen.
After wandering around for bit, I dropped my stuff off at the hostel and headed for Ueno. There is a giant park here along with a place called Yanaka Ginza that’s known for the wandering cats that hang by the Yuyake Dandan staircase. Sadly I only saw one cat, so that was slightly disappointing. However I did manage to have some delicious crispy snacks from a local shop, along with some street side dim sum. So tasty, I just love trying random foods everywhere I go here!

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Next up was Ikebukuro, home to Sunshine City entertainment complex and about a billion arcades.Sunshine City is home to a couple of mini indoor theme parks, J-World Tokyo and Namjatown. It is also home to a Pokemon store, which was the most insane crazy crowded store I have ever seen. The line must have been 250-300 people long and wrapped around the whole place. Just for Pokemon!Pokemon Store Sunshine crazy lineup
As I wandered the streets, I popped into a couple of the arcades and pachinko places. These people mean business. There were so many types of games I have never seen, and their favourite is called the UFO, or as we call it in North America the claw game. The prizes are stuffed toys and action figures, but people treat these games the same way as gambling. Interestingly enough, gambling is illegal in Japan so this fills the void for people since they cannot win money, prizes are given out instead by trading in your tokens or balls.[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-WYyD9VTg6UA/VI08jfMUF3I/AAAAAAAAMqQ/5tPHB34Djlw/s144-c-o/IMG_20141214_161742.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141214?authkey=ORypHgJ55F0#6092592451268384626″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141214_161742.jpg” ]

My next destination was something right up my alley called Tokyo Dome City. It is an entertainment complex that has an amusement park, stadium, hotel, shopping and other awesome stuff. Totally my thing. As I wandered around looking at all the attractions at the park, I was awestruck about how cool Tokyo really is. I know I keep saying it, but there is so much to discover here. My style of travel is to do a lot of research before my trip, then as I venture around I find even more things to see. I like to be flexible and just wander, which is how the best experiences always happen.

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Since I was at an amusement park, I had to ride something. I didn’t want to pay for a full pass as it was around $40, so instead I picked one attraction that was very unique: The Big-O Ferris Wheel. It happens to be the worlds largest centreless ferris wheel. Tickets are 820 yen, so about $8, but the experience was priceless. Not only do you get an amazing view of the city for 15 minutes, there is a built-in multimedia screen that lets you select music for your ride. I listened to some incredible J-Pop as I made my journey up and around. How cool is that? I’m totally terrified of heights, but this was so much fun.[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-E71nUoQbYN4/VI1ngsNL1SI/AAAAAAAAMsk/e_3j9UCbmHU/s144-c-o/IMG_20141214_182319.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141214?authkey=ORypHgJ55F0#6092639682222085410″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141214_182319.jpg” ]

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I also managed to visit the 45th floor of the Tokyo Dome Hotel. FYI I always walk through the front door of many hotels like I am staying there and never have any problems wandering around and exploring. You can have some awesome experiences this way, like incredible views of the city and super nice bathrooms, all for free! Tokyo Dome Hotel view

Finally my last stop was to visit Akihabara, home to a million electronic stores and a large hobby shop filled with awesome comic and manga fan-boy things. I don’t know about 99% of the popular anime, manga and other things here, but I plan on getting into it more in the future because it’s all so cool. I keep overusing the words cool and awesome because I really don’t know how to describe everything im seeing. Sensory overload. That is how I would describe this whole experience. Akihabara fun prizes

As always after my 12 hour day, I am exhausted. Off to bed in a bit and spending my last half day tomorrow heading to Tokyo Skytree before flying to Bangkok tomorrow night. I know I’m going to miss the magical toilets here, along with about a million other things. It is all good, because I come back for 24 hours on my way home to Calgary! God I love this place!

Lost in Translation

Woke up early again today with plans to head off and explore the real Tokyo. On my way to the train to start my journey, I took a stroll through the Sens?-ji Temple and market area as everyone was setting up their shops for the day.

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Grabbed a One Day ticket for Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway so I could traverse the city.

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For 1,000 yen it let me travel around the city all day on the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines. I must also mention the Tokyo Tourist Guide has been a life saver, I’ve literally used it at every turn to find my way around and also decide where I want to visit. Grab it at the airport!

My first stop was in Ginza to check out the Tsukiji Fish Market, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. What could be better than a market visit early on a Saturday Morning? Also famous for it’s fish auctions for which people wake up at the crack of dawn to witness. Walking through the market was a voyage of discovery. Men zipped around in electric carts delivering styrofoam containers of fish in ice as fishmongers sliced up tuna and shucked oysters, all fresh from the boats. The smell of seafood permeated the air as I avoided puddles of water and navigated through the massive terminal, passing buckets of fish guts around every corner. It was definitely a cool place I would highly recommend on a trip to Tokyo.

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After traversing through the giant market and terminal, I took a quick tour of the main road in Ginza, which is basically a high-end shopping area like Bloor St. in Toronto. I then headed for Shibuya. [pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-tLD9sgPXLSs/VIulVXNaNWI/AAAAAAAAMcg/B_dfOC1uxKQ/s144-c-o/IMG_20141213_113013.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141213?authkey=jfYRJW3iEzA#6092144707374822754″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141213_113013.jpg” ]

Shibuya is most well known for its crazy scramble intersection, which can be seen in countless movies and music videos. People watching is the name of the game here, and I found the Starbucks to be a great place to get a nice view.

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After spending some time wandering through the stores here and having McDonald’s for lunch (yes I had to try it once!), I headed up the road to Harajuku. Sadly, I did not see any Harajuku girls as promised by Gwen Stefani, however I did find an amazing candy store where you can watch them make the candy right in the store. I was fascinated, so I ended up buying a couple of bags.[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-Swrsf43c9eY/VIwFqRsBCbI/AAAAAAAAMhs/DSLRGFnjkC0/s144-c-o/IMG_20141213_160424.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141213?authkey=jfYRJW3iEzA#6092250619786103218″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141213_160424.jpg” ]

Another highlight was an amazing store called Kiddyland. It is a 6 storey toy store, filled with tons of random amazing products that I have never seen before. I wanted to buy everything, but managed to leave with nothing. The place was packed with people, so it was difficult to navigate a bit.[pe2-image src=”http://lh6.ggpht.com/-2JbvYI4CLzQ/VIv3Y9ZTZqI/AAAAAAAAMgo/mxbY6N6BsLA/s144-c-o/IMG_20141213_151754.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141213?authkey=jfYRJW3iEzA#6092234929118340770″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141213_151754.jpg” ] [pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-CQMX4sJG40E/VIwFzk20_zI/AAAAAAAAMjA/ub0k9ojxh4I/s144-c-o/IMG_20141213_150113.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141213?authkey=jfYRJW3iEzA#6092250779550547762″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141213_150113.jpg” ] [pe2-image src=”http://lh4.ggpht.com/-HypGyMWvhTo/VIwFyN-P69I/AAAAAAAAMi0/ew9vlR7H_5I/s144-c-o/IMG_20141213_145930.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141213?authkey=jfYRJW3iEzA#6092250756227787730″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141213_145930.jpg” ]

 After Kiddyland it was getting dark out, but I took a stroll through Yoyogi Park to take in the atmosphere before heading to my last spot for the day: the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku.[pe2-image src=”http://lh5.ggpht.com/-e8gOJEPSodI/VIwEFoTezJI/AAAAAAAAMhE/VQpSi5OOJL0/s144-c-o/IMG_20141213_163102.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141213?authkey=jfYRJW3iEzA#6092248890690423954″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141213_163102.jpg” ]

It has a free observatory on the 45th floor with views of the city in all directions. It was incredible to see how spread out Tokyo is in all directions, I just wish I had come in the day so I could see Mount Fuji.

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While I descended I remembered the Park Hyatt Tokyo was in this part of the city, and it was on my must see list of destinations. If you’ve seen the movie Lost In Translation then you are familiar with the amazing view from the bar at the hotel, where scenes from the movie were filmed. It really is a gorgeous hotel, unique in that the lobby is on the second floor of an office tower, and everything else is way up on the 42nd floor and higher. While I didn’t have a drink at the bar, if you have an extra 1800 yen I highly suggest it for the view alone. [pe2-image src=”http://lh4.ggpht.com/-7dk25KjchsE/VIwtfPxHW4I/AAAAAAAAMlU/0B8Wj5nEs10/s144-c-o/IMG_20141213_190817.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141213?authkey=jfYRJW3iEzA#6092294410757168002″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141213_190817.jpg” ] [pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-vOvzP1Prm1I/VIwN8PNedsI/AAAAAAAAMkk/MbDjssBPBiQ/s144-c-o/IMG_20141213_185906.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141213?authkey=jfYRJW3iEzA#6092259724451804866″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141213_185906.jpg” ] [pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-61brzhhqWDM/VIwNroh4wjI/AAAAAAAAMjw/eTp3NoAikGE/s144-c-o/IMG_20141213_185506.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141213?authkey=jfYRJW3iEzA#6092259439190524466″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141213_185506.jpg” ]

 After venturing through the hotel and wishing I was staying there, I headed back to my hostel. I ended up on the wrong train so had to backtrack. I was impressed that this was the first time I got lost all week on the train. The walk home was beautiful, with everything lit up and still bustling.[pe2-image src=”http://lh5.ggpht.com/-dDbkH2wplpU/VIwttswOTXI/AAAAAAAAMl0/usTfLzTw3qE/s144-c-o/IMG_20141213_205506.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141213?authkey=jfYRJW3iEzA#6092294659056225650″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141213_205506.jpg” ]

I needed to do laundry so I just chilled out at the hostel and got that finished. I would say it was a very successful and crazy busy day. Just the way I like it! Tomorrow is my last full day and I still have a long list of things to do. I have also decided to buy a bunch of things and ship them home. There is so much cool stuff here I just cannot leave without taking a few things!

Tokyo Disney Sea

Brad Disney Sea

Yesterday, I woke up at the crack of dawn to make sure I was at the park for opening time. I anticipated it would be much busier than it was, as I’d heard people get to the park entrance an hour or more before it opens. After taking the three trains and hour long journey to the park, I walked right up to the ticket counter with no wait to purchase my 3 Day Magic Passport.

Tokyo Disney Park 3 Day Magic Pass

Unlike other Disney resorts, you can only park hop on the third day or later. I decided to visit Disney Sea first as its the only one of it’s kind in the world. It only took about 10 minutes to get into the park after the brief bag check, and it was very smooth despite the volume of people. As all the other people ran to Toy Story Mania (or full on sprinted in some cases), I grabbed a Fastpass for Tower of Terror then headed back to ride 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Tokyo Disney Sea Tower of Terror Fastpass

Both rides were fantastic and despite me having no idea what the story-lines were due to me knowing zero Japanese, they were both awesome! As I walked around the park I kept saying “WOW” over and over again. At every turn this place is the most gorgeous theme park I’ve ever visited. I had high expectations and they have been exceeded in every way. I can’t convey enough how amazing the park is, you just have to see it in person. You can tell they spent a billion plus dollars on this park, and didn’t cheap out on anything like some of the parks in other parts of the world (cough, California Adventure, cough). To be fair California Adventure is now way better than it was, thanks to Disney spending a billion dollars to fix it!

After snapping pics and video while I wandered around, I headed to get the famous Goyoza Pork Bun that I heard so much about. It was delicious, and I’m glad I got there first thing as the line was at least 50 people deep when I walked by again later. It is basically like a giant dumpling, but the most amazing dumpling I’ve ever had. I ended up eating two that day!

Headed off to ride Tower of Terror, followed by a quick walk through Mermaid Lagoon, through to Arabian Coast to ride the carousel, followed by the amazing Sinbad dark ride. It’s very similar to It’s A Small World, but with more advanced animatronics and a unique storyline. The song that plays is infectious, despite the fact it’s in Japanese.

I headed over to The Magic Lamp theatre to check out the show there, some sort of Aladdin themed magic show. They have iPad touch like translating devices, which helped me understand what was going on. Think of the show as a mix of live actors, effects and a 4D movie. Hearing the Genie speak Japanse was the highlight for me! While waiting in line I ended up chatting with an English guy who happened to do the International College Program at Walt Disney World and is also moving to Vancouver from Australia. What a small world!
I could go on for days about Tokyo Disney Sea, but I’m going to save that for when I get back. My full review and coverage of the park will be on my other site, Theme Park Canuck.
Now I’m going to finish my green tea and head off to Tokyo Disneyland for today. For the record, it’s 6:17 am on Thursday, December 11.

The Surreal Life

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After successfully navigating to my hostel using the very complicated yet super easy to use train system, I decided to head out and explore a bit before I headed to bed.

It’s was very strange sitting in a Japanese style quick service restaurant last night and realizing I’m actually in Japan. As I was walking down the street and looking at all the shops and signage, I kept thinking I’ll turn a corner and see the CN Tower in Toronto. I popped into what the nice girl at the hostel dubbed “Japanese fast food” after I asked for a place that is quick and cheap. The cool thing is you use a vending style machine to select and pay for your meal, then hand the ticket to the server at the diner style seating area. I ate a delicious pork & rice dish, along with tofu soup…I think. I attempted using chopsticks, but quickly got frustrated and used my spoon. I’m sure this is the case with many westerners!

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I wandered around the area and walked into this Japanese arcade filled with Pachinko machines. It smelled of smoke and reminded me of the slot area in casinos, but much louder with a billion times more flashing lights. I have no idea what was going on, but it was really energetic and exciting!

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I don’t know if it’s jet lag, the uncomfortable bed, excitement, or a mix of all three but I cannot get back to sleep. It’s 4am! After tossing and turning for the past hour, I’ve given up on the sleep thing and am now here on the computer in the common room sipping green tea. I was planning on getting up at 6:30am, so I’m only up a couple of hours early. Tonight I should be able to pass out after a 14 hour day at Tokyo Disney Sea.

In unrelated news, I finally got the notification to update my phone software to Android Lollipop. That took about an hour last night and I thought everything was ok. It is not, my phone is totally janked up and I now need to factory reset it. Don’t do the upgrade on your phone, especially if you’re on a trip! I’m currently working on erasing and resetting my phone. Maybe it’s a good thing I’m up early?