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Table of Content for japan2013:

More pages: May 2013 June 2013



2013/06/01 Visiting Japan Day 12: Nikko
π 2013-06-01 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
Nikko was our day trip out of Tokyo, we had to get up early to get the only direct 07:30 train from Shinjuku/Ikebukuro and got there in just under 2H. The owner of the pension nicely picked us up at the train station, took our luggage and dropped us off at the first temple to save us some time, super nice of him.


Tosho-gu was by far the most awesome temple we had seen anywhere in Japan. It's a great thing we saw it almost last, because it would have ruined all the other ones. The amount and quality of various art on the temple is just mind blowing. I'm not an art guy, but it was difficult not to appreciate this gem.

It was a bit early for Jennifer, but she was able to rest a bit in the train
It was a bit early for Jennifer, but she was able to rest a bit in the train

Ready to start our temple tour
Ready to start our temple tour

It's _that_ high :)
It's _that_ high :)


















the art is absolutely beautiful
the art is absolutely beautiful


On the way out, we went through an open market and two more temples:












We then took a bus to lake Chuzenji to see Kegon Falls, the lake, a nature museum, and some quite snack by the lake while enjoying the views:


Kegon Falls isn't bad, but if you've been to Yosemite or Maui, it's a bit less impressive :)
Kegon Falls isn't bad, but if you've been to Yosemite or Maui, it's a bit less impressive :)




that monkey was trying to scare me off. I held my ground and it left :)
that monkey was trying to scare me off. I held my ground and it left :)





The bus ride down was fun, it was a fantastic road I would have loved to drive with the right car, and went to Pension l'Escale for the night where the owner, Fujita-San (Kaz) also cooked for us. The dinner was quite yummy and he was a great person to talk with (luckily in English since my Japanese was a _lot_ more limited than his English).




We were happy that we were able to sleep there and only worry about the 2H+ train back early the next morning.

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2013/06/02 Visiting Japan Day 13: Tokyo tour with Toda-San: MET views, Edo Tokyo Museum, Asakusa/Nakamise Dori, Mori Tower, Subayashi Jiro
π 2013-06-02 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
After taking an early train from Nikko, we went back to Tokyo and went up the MET for some views. We then met Toda-San, our tokyo free guide (nice volunteer who likes to spend a day out showing the town to foreigners and speaking with them) and went to the Edo Tokyo Museum together, passing next to the Sumo arena. After that, we walked back to Asakusa via Nakamise Dori and all its shops and got to see the temple open this time. Eventually we headed back towards Mori tower for good views with our guide, before having dinner at Subayashi Jiro, one of the sons of the famous Jiro who is still serving the best sushi in Tokyo at 85 years old. We finished the night by going back to Mori tower for night views.

Pretty bullet train on our connection back to Tokyo from Nikko
Pretty bullet train on our connection back to Tokyo from Nikko

The lobby of the Hyatt we left our luggage at before going out to the MET for city views
The lobby of the Hyatt we left our luggage at before going out to the MET for city views




On our way to the Edo Tokyo Museum, we went by a sumo stadium





The Edo Tokyo Museum was a nice museum on early history of Tokyo, back when it was called Edo instead of Tokyo





nice way to get around in style
nice way to get around in style



nice little lunch in the museum
nice little lunch in the museum

with Toda-San
with Toda-San

Next, we walked towards Asakusa to see it during the day, with some views of the Tokyo Skytree on the way. This time we were able to get into the temple.






Next, we went to a nearby park before going up to the Mori tower for some great views:





you can actually walk on the roof of the Mori tower, for a great view
you can actually walk on the roof of the Mori tower, for a great view






After the Mori tower, we went to Subayashi Jiro for some very good sushi (albeit very expensive, $700 bill for two). You don't actually know how much yo'ure going to pay in advance since it depends on what they're serving that day, and there are no prices the entire time, even for drinks or options. You only get a piece of paper with a number to pay at the end. It's the Japanese way I guess :)


Subayashi's dad, who runs the famous Sushi-ya in Ginza that the movie is based on
Subayashi's dad, who runs the famous Sushi-ya in Ginza that the movie is based on



The 'apprentice' who had been there for a mere 17 years or so :) Thankfully he had spent time in Australia and spoke English well
The 'apprentice' who had been there for a mere 17 years or so :) Thankfully he had spent time in Australia and spoke English well


it looks the same, but it's not :)
it looks the same, but it's not :)

it comes from a pretty big shell
it comes from a pretty big shell


needless to say that this just melts in your mouth, no chewing required
needless to say that this just melts in your mouth, no chewing required





more sushi, oui!
more sushi, oui!







finishing with the fluffy tamago omlet
finishing with the fluffy tamago omlet

the unknown bill until the end at least includes a picture if you wish :)
the unknown bill until the end at least includes a picture if you wish :)

After dinner, we went back to Mori tower for some great night views, before heading to our hotel for some rest:





2013/06/03 Visiting Japan Day 14: Tokyo Skytree, Akhabara, Ginza, Sushi Mizutani, more Ginza and MET nice pictures
π 2013-06-03 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
On our 3rd day in Tokyo, we started by going to the Tokyo Skytree (highest tower when it was built and much higher than the Tokyo Tower), but you see there was a line to get a ticket to let you come back to another line 3H later, so that you could then stand in line for 30mn to buy a ticket that would let you stand in line to get to the elevator that took you to the middle floor where you could stand in line to buy a ticket to go to the top.
You could buy tickets online but only with a Japanese credit card we didn't have (clearly tourists lose out there). I was kind of pissed, but I took some tickets, and we took a subway back to Akihabara where I was planning on going later. Jennifer went to enjoy some noodles while I went to scour a few geek stores :)
Today Akihabara doesn't really have anything I can't buy at home, but it has lots of stores that have what you need right here, including all kinds of electronic parts, so it's generally cool :)

I'd have spent more time there, but I had to rush out to make it back to the skytree just in time for our timeslot to go stand in line to buy tickets (only 2H in Akihabara, barely enough...), and we got there by just 3mn which allowed us to go to the top and enjoy about 1H there before having to come back down and go to Ginza.
The unfortunate time pressure came from the fact that our second sushi dinner at Sushi Mizutani in Ginza was at 17:00. We got there for more hand made overpriced Sushi deliciousness (unfortunately they don't like pictures while they're working, but the chef will take one with you before you leave if you ask). That sushi bill was a bit cheaper than the previous day (we also had a little less) and it was also excellent. Mizutani was also a disciple from the original Jiro.

After dinner, we finished the evening in Ginza at the Sony showroom, and Don Quijote, a 24H store that has everything you need and don't need day or night in a super compact space. Amazing how compact it is :)
Oh, on the way back we went back to the top of the MET for a few night pictures there.


After going all the way to Tokyo Skytree just to pick up tickets to come stand in line later...

we went there first, but by the time we got there, it was already too late, there was a 3H wait. Grr...
we went there first, but by the time we got there, it was already too late, there was a 3H wait. Grr...

I elected to go to Akihabara to see a mix of anime, fanboys, maid cafes, and of course computers and electronics:

Maid cafes, we'll get back to this the next day...
Maid cafes, we'll get back to this the next day...


dual screen android phone, where have you been when I needed you? :)
dual screen android phone, where have you been when I needed you? :)


Gamers was both weird but kind of worth seeing
Gamers was both weird but kind of worth seeing

pictures in the elevator. No comment...
pictures in the elevator. No comment...

Some singer of the day, till she turns too old and gets replaced with another one
Some singer of the day, till she turns too old and gets replaced with another one



even the urinal is a video game, you play with your stream (no kidding)
even the urinal is a video game, you play with your stream (no kidding)

old consoles from the 80's
old consoles from the 80's

oh my, this brings back memories :)
oh my, this brings back memories :)

there were buckets of electronic stores with all kinds of components
there were buckets of electronic stores with all kinds of components

But before long, it was time to hurry back to the Tokyo Skytree for our ticket buying time. To be honest, I could have done without the extra running around, it was unnecessary extra stress, but we got up too late, and got there too late, so now we had to deal with the ticket buying bullshit.
We got back there in time to go stand in line 30mn to buy a ticket (with 3mn to spare), and after 30mn queueing, we got a ticket that would allow us to go stand in line with our ticket another 30mn to get up. A line to go stand in line to buy a ticket to go stand in line, yeah!



finally, we got to the top.
finally, we got to the top.






Ok, it was a pain to get up there, but the view from that high up was interesting. In theory, you're supposed to stay there and shop and do local things while waiting for your turn, but we didn't really do that:



By then, it was more than time to go to Ginza for our sushi reservation at Sushi Mizutani



I wasn't supposed to take pictures inside as I found out later, but got a few before I was asked to stop. The chef did however agree to take pcitures with us at the end:



can't argue with that outburst of happiness :)
can't argue with that outburst of happiness :)

Next,we wwent to the Sony showroom and walked around ginza some more, finishing at Don Quijote:





Before going back up to our room, we went to the nearby MET for some night pictures before going to bed:




2013/06/04 Visiting Japan Day 15: Our last day in Japan with more Tokyo touring
π 2013-06-04 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips


After packing up, we started with a visit of the Google Tokyo office, and had lunch with a couple of cowrkers as well as a quick visit of the buildings.

From there, we went to see the Emperor's palace on a 75mn guided tour. In hindsight, that was a mistake, it was totally not worth it and we should have spent more time at Google. The imperial east gardens redeemed the visit somewhat. The former imperial palace in Kyoto was much nicer to visit IMO while the Tokyo one was a Japanese only tour and the location was a bit sterile, despite the guide who actually seemed to be a comedian but his humour in Japanese got lost a bit for us :)









From there, back to Akihabara to try a maid café as recommended. It was overpriced but lighthearted fun, and we spent the rest of the time in Ikebukuro at Amlux (Toyota showroom), Sunshine City, and walked through a huge department store, Seibu, before taking a train back to Shinjuku to get our luggage and a bus to Haneda airport.






while most of their food looked bad, the ice cream was quite good
while most of their food looked bad, the ice cream was quite good









if you say so, by the way for next time, it's sympatique :)
if you say so, by the way for next time, it's sympatique :)





And that was the end of 15 crazy sightseeing days in Japan :)

2013/06/05 Visiting Japan Trip Wrapup
π 2013-06-05 00:00 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
As a wrapup for our trip to Japan, it went great. Considering I only had about a couple of weeks to prepare almost the entire trip (as you can imagine, knowing where to be, for how long, how to get there, and have everything lined up like we did, isn't done by just hoping off the plane and wondering "where should we go tomorrow". As a matter of fact, some hotels, I had to book early and in some places I got there too late, or got the last spot.

I was thankful to have learned some Japanese, and while I did not remember a lot of it, I was able to relearn a lot in just a few weeks with pimsleur tapes in just a few weeks, and have enough Japanese to survive in places where I couldn't expect locals to speak much or any English.

I'll finish the tour with a few random pictures on these topics.

Japan has hilarious signs, even if you can't read Japanese:

the very sorry sign is very sorry and sad
the very sorry sign is very sorry and sad

don't mishandle the deer in Nara :)
don't mishandle the deer in Nara :)


Japan still rules for vending machines, available almost everywhere (although that's a lot of trash and there were very few or no places to recycle containers :( ).


common sight, lots of choice
common sight, lots of choice

Orangina, score!
Orangina, score!

A fully digital vending machine (all pictures were changeable drawings on a screen)
A fully digital vending machine (all pictures were changeable drawings on a screen)

And of course, you can't talk about Japan without talking about trains:

  • The train system worked really well, especially if you have google maps with transit directions. It was a lifesaver in giving us complex routings between trains from multiple companies. We did complex trips and connections thanks to that. I cannot imagine how they would have happened without google transit navigation
  • While JR train service worked quite well and was indeed reliable and on time, the JR pass is just not worth it if you're planning on doing long trip including bullet trains, unless you have all the time in the world. Being forced to arbitrarily wait for a later train due to the "you can't take any Nozomis" restriction is just bullshit. In many cases, it will also not save you money. I was ok with that, since I bought it for convenience, but once I figured out that it made travelling harder and aggravating due to the Nozomi restriction (I wouldn't hate JR as much for this if you could just pay an upgrade fee, but they make you pay full fare, or $220-ish per ticket for Tokyo-Kyoto).
  • Note that there are competing train systems to JR and they are usually faster, so if you don't have a JR pass, you can easily pay for them instead without feeling bad (for instance Tobu for Kyoto-Nara and Tokyo-Nikko).
  • The bullet trains look and sound mean, but they are artificially limited to 280kph (290 in places maybe?), so they are slower than the TGV in France or its siblings in Germany and Italy. That was disappointing a bit. Then again, an extra 20-30kph doesn't matter as much when you have trains that leave every 10mn (like the Nozomis).
  • The train displays were colorful and clear
    The train displays were colorful and clear


    Gotta love the nose :)
    Gotta love the nose :)

    of course they had slower trains too
    of course they had slower trains too


    good luck with that if you don't have transit navigation on your phone, it's only one map out of 3 different systems.
    good luck with that if you don't have transit navigation on your phone, it's only one map out of 3 different systems.

    this one makes it easy for tourists not to get lost :)
    this one makes it easy for tourists not to get lost :)

    other train companies could learn from this, it shows you exactly where to stand for your wagon
    other train companies could learn from this, it shows you exactly where to stand for your wagon

    Other random things I noted and tips:

  • The Japanese were still super helpful and nice with foreigners.
  • For the most interesting parts of Japan, stray off the beaten path a little, we found some cool things when we started getting to hard to find temples that weren't really on the map. Of course, at that point, speaking some Japanese is definitely recommended :)
  • getting a licensed guide in Nara was a definitely worth the money. Free guides, well it depends what you're looking for, obviously they're not licensed professionals, they're volunteers. I personally enjoyed the two we saw in Tokyo, it was nice to be able to interact with locals a little bit and chat during the day, even if it meant that we'd do a bit less that day (quite frankly, considering how much we did most days, that was ok for a change). But we'd never have seen so much in Kyoto in 2 days with the electric bikes had we had a guide with us, so if you have time to prepare, and you're an efficient distance covering tourist, keep that in mind :) (yes, I know that less can be more :D).
  • If money is not object, they have really good sushi. Who would have known? :)
  • Yes, ryokans are a must do. We only had time for two since you shouldn't go to a Ryokan if you're planning on doing late sightseeing or need to leave early in the morning (ahem, we kind of did the later, but never mind).
  • For places like Kyoto and Harashiyama, you just must rent electric bikes. Bikes make getting around so much easier than taking the bus, and because it's hilly, and you'll be biking quite a bit for a full day like one of ours, electric bikes will totally make a difference.
  • Ok, apparently when we were there, it was schoolkid week, but there are definitely places where you'll be gently assaulted by school kids who will ask you scripted questions in English for their homework, and maybe take a few or many pictures with you. We played along :)
  • While Japan isn't quite the country for "you've never seen this anywhere and you'll never see it at home" electronics anymore, it still has some cool things, and Akihabara is still a must see.
  • Japanese people are really worried about cleanliness, floors especially but not only, but for some reason you couldn't find soap in virtually any public bathroom. That just didn't make sense.
  • While I'm usually fine respecting most local customs, having to remove my shoes multiple times a day, sometimes more than once in a single temple visit, was a big pain in the ass for me due to the time it takes me to take my shoes in and out and lace them properly (I have wide feet with special inserts). That was not fun... OF course Asian people cheat and have fake shoes they can slip in and out of (almost slippers) without even bending over half the time...

    I stopped counting how many of those we went through, they were my nemesis :)
    I stopped counting how many of those we went through, they were my nemesis :)

  • As Jennifer remarked there are lots of little jobs that people take seriously. Note that they usually get a uniform and even white gloves. One example amongst many.
  • to be honest, I felt a bit bad for the guy, but I guess it keeps more people employed
    to be honest, I felt a bit bad for the guy, but I guess it keeps more people employed

    And that's it for Japan. Again, we had a great time, we got to see way too much in too little time, and hopefully we'll get to go back.

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    More pages: May 2013 June 2013