Friday, November 09, 2007

ショーン&メーバル:東京から帰りました!

And we're back! Time is indeed relative, as the last 6 days seem to have just flown by within the blink of an eye. And as promised, we have tons of pictures to show, and I'll be uploading the pics onto my facebook account's photo album, so check it out soon. For those who have a facebook account and yet to add me, you can do so by adding my email address, psyke0808@yahoo.com.sg. Most of the pics will be added into a new photo album, and you can find some of the photos from the previous trips there too.

This is the 3rd time that we've visited Tokyo. The first one, 2 years ago, was part of an organised tour. Although we had fun, it was really rushed and we didn't really get to do much on our own. The second time last year, we went together with some friends. It was a much better experience, but still pretty much on a planned track as we were being guided most of the time. This time wise, I did most of the planning myself, and also created a detailed itinerary of the places to visit, the things to do, and most importantly the means to get to the right place on time. And indeed, this experience was a very enriching and also a very fulfilling one. Thankfully, we didn't meet any hiccups during the trip, and also managed to clear all the places planned in the intinerary. Being able to converse in Japanese helped a lot. I used signboards alot, and also asked a lot of the native for help. Although my Japanese is far from fluent, I could make out most of the written text and also ask questions and understand the replies. Having my dictionary beside me all the time helped, but there's usually little time to refer especially when you're stuck in the busy Tokyo stations during peak periods.
The flight took around slightly less than 7 hours, and we reached Narita airport around 2pm. There was a need to adjust our watches, as Japan was ahead of Singapore by an hour. We took the airport limousine bus to the Ikebukuro area, which took around 50 minutes. As luxurious as the name implies, it was simply a coach which brought us to a hotel, from which we made our way on foot to our own hotel. I made a reservation around 2 months ago, and also called the hotel 2 weeks ago to personally confirm the reservation. It was a budget hotel really, but still more convenient compared to a traditional ryokan because we didn't have to share a common toilet this year round. The room wasn't big, but enough for us to store our stuff and comfortable enough to rest our tired legs and bodies for the nights ahead. We quickly made our way to the Sunshine City area, and scouted a restaurant to have dinner before shopping around in the area.
Day 2 was actually the real start of the tour. We made our way to the Harajuku area early in the morning. The plan was to visit the Meiji Jingu (明治神宮), and also the various shopping streets in the area such as the Takeshita Street (竹下通り). And because we were too early, most of the shops in the area wasn't opened, including the restaurants. We then took a slow walk towards the shrine, and also managed to check out the flower exhibition along the way. The shrine was surprisingly full of people as well as small children, who were there for the Shichi-Go-San (七五三). It is a traditional rite of passage and festival day in Japan for three and seven year-old girls and three and five year-old boys, held annually in November. As Shichi-Go-San is not a national holiday, it is generally observed on the nearest weekend. We saw lots of small little girls dressed in kimono - many for the first time - for the visit to the shrine. Three-year-old girls usually wear hifu (a type of padded vest) with their kimono. Western-style formal wear is also worn by some children. A more modern practice is photography, and this day is well known as a day to take pictures of children. We didn't really get a chance to take pictures of them, because most of them were really busy and were also guarded by their parents whom seemed really strict...
We paid around 600 yen for a prayer plaque, on which I wrote our prayer in Japanese. I didn't have time to check, so I'm quite some I had some of the text written wrongly. I usually refer to my quick Katakana reference chart in class, so I'm sure the Gods won't blame me for that. Anyway, if you're curious, my prayer was that me and Mabel's family would be safe and that we would be blessed with happiness. Simple words due to the fact that I can't write the harder kanji. Haha~

We then made our way into one of the nature parks in the area. It wasn't free and we had to pay an admission fee, which wasn't too cheap. But as small as the area was, it was truly a beautiful and a peaceful place to have a morning stroll in. The air was freash, and the scenary magnificent. The river was full of lively fishes, and the vegetation full of life including bugs and butterflies. There was also a well in the area, abeit not a wishing nor a drinking one. We took around 25 minutes to explore the area, and took quite a few photos too. The most amazing thing about this park is that you don't feel like you're in the city while you're walking in the park. As busy as the streets just outside it, along with the crowds emerging from the train stations, you get a feeling that you're far away from the stressful city life, and you can't help but feel relaxed there.
After walking out of the shrine, we went back to Takeshita Street to have breakfast. Most of the meals we had in Tokyo didn't come cheap, but they were really worth the money. Almost all of the meals we had during the trip were truly fantastic, and although the prices were high, the after-meal satisfaction meter was also rocketing. The Japanese take pride in their meals, and they tasted as good as they looked. Mabel was attracted by one of the many crepe stalls, and I got her one of the banana flavoured ones. The displays were really well done up, and the crepes really looked delicious. I'm not much of a cake or sugary food guy, so I had to give it a pass. The rest of the time spent in Harajuku was mainly on getting gifts in the form of cosmetics or food for our friends and colleagues back home. The thing about going for a trip is that most of the time you've got to worry about what to get for the folks back home. It's hard to create a win-win situation, so you got to search for items which don't seem too cheap and won't take up too much space or money......
We then headed for the Shibuya area, where we took pictures of the famous dog, Hachiko (ハチ公). Hachiko was an Akita dog and is remembered for his loyalty to his master. In 1924, Hachiko was brought to Tokyo by his owner, Hidesamuroh Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo. During his owner's life, Hachiko saw him off from the front door and greeted him at the end of the day at the nearby Shibuya Station. Even after Ueno's death in May 1925, Hachiko returned every day to the station to wait for him, and did so for the next 10 years. Hachiko's devotion moved those around him, who nicknamed him "faithful dog". Some kind vendors who saw the dog waiting every day would give him small bits of food and water. This has caused some people to say that he only returned to the station in order to receive these treats, but this does not answer why he would return only at the time his master's train was due, and not remain begging after. Mabel then had a great time in Shibuya 109. Shibuya 109 is a trend setting fashion complex for young women with more than one hundred boutiques on ten floors. I had an agonising time waiting, but at least I had some fun translating her requests to the Japanese salesgirls.
The next stop was Shinjuku. All these 3 places was planned to be covered in a single day due to their close proximity, which was as close as a single station away. Shinjuku was yet another shopping area targeted at the younger generation of the Japanese. We shopping around the large shopping complexes which were interconnected either through the subway station or through bridges and walkways. We got ourselves some jackets and Mabel promptly wore her newly accquired purchase, as the weather got significantly colder in the evening. The sun sets very early during this period in Tokyo, and it gets almost totally dark by 5pm every day. The weather was cooling, around 15 degree celcius, so we didn't really need extra thick clothes as we were mostly walking around in the shopping complexes or in the subway stations most of the time. In the left picture, you get to see Mabel disguised as a prawn. Delicious, ain't she?
Our friend William decided that he wanted to try some of the donuts from the famous store in the area, and led us on a wild goose treasure hunt which saw us walking and looking for over an hour. In the end, we had to ask passerbys which we spotted with the donuts. They gave us directions, but still it was hard to find the place because we were facing the wrong direction and was blocked by multiple buildings. In the end, we did manage to find the place and William finally got to taste his beloved donuts. Mabel benefitted from the event too, having ate half of the dozen donuts within a day's time.
Day 3 was spent almost entirely in Tokyo Disneyland. It was the second time there for us, so we knew most of the stores and restaurants within the amusement park. We also knew which characters to look for first. Upon entry into the park, we directly went for one of the 2 "hotspots". There were 2 distinctive queues which were immediately visible once you step in. One of the queue was for Winnie the Pooh, and the other for Micky. We decided to go for Winne first, as he was closer. The queue took longer than expected, due to the little children was had a short attention span and required more time to get ready. By the time we finished our business with Winne and also the lesser known characters (yes that's you, pig), the queue with Micky was too long, and we had to give up.
Well, there were still many other characters to chase down in the area, so we went for the easier targets which didn't require a half hour waiting time. Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Chip & Dale were all targetted by Mabel and me, and she was good at grabbing their arms and demanding that her photo be taken. It was a chaotic affair really, trying to take pictures with these guys in stuffed suits. There were lots of people trying to take photos with them, and most of the time there wasn't any queue lines. So basically, you really need to grab them and push the rest of the people away. Not easy, but since Singaporeans are usually more kiasu than the Japanese, they let us win most of the time. Victory came at a price though, as Mabel got her head knocked by Goofy on one occasion and boy did it sound painful. Headbutts from large plastics noses aren't exactly pleasant. Especially when you still need to smile for the camera afterwards. Personally I pity the guys in the suits. It looks like a tough job pretending to be a cartoon character the entire day. Well...... you know that you've lost your innocence when you see these guys as chaps in suits rather than live cartoon characters. :)
Rather than actually buying the toys and the accessories, Singaporeans usually get by with taking photographs instead. Haha at least we got something to show that we've been there. Ok at least we're not completely cheap. We bought loads of food and presents back too, ok? :p
We missed the Halloween season, but even better was that we were just in time for the Christmas mood in Disneyland. Most of the goods and the shows, characters were already giving off a Christmas vibe, and the mood was certainly flowing in that direction.
The day was a very tiring one as expected, and I really hope that Mabel's had her fun there. While I don't think we'll be back in the short run, I still wish that if there was a next time, we can go to the Sea based Disneyland instead. We got ourselves some items to display in our living room, so perhaps I'll take some pics and show them in future entries.
Next day on the itinerary was Odaiba followed by Asakusa. We've visited these 2 places already in our previous 2 visits, but there's a reason why these 2 have become a staple on our plans. For odaiba, it's a city within a city, with large shopping complexes which boasts stores ranging from retro goods to designer fashion labels. As mentioned in the previous blog entry, I was hoping to find my baseball jersey here. But that was not meant to be, as 2 hours of searching proved to be fruitless. Mabel, on the other hand, was the big winner again, having bought yet another Adidas jacket which was supposed to be a limited edition. This year I seem to have very little to buy, and even at the large Toys'r'us store I didn't have much to go for, and only had 2 Kamen Rider Den-O Candy toys when I went for the cashier eventually. Heck, even Mabel bought more stuff than me there, can you believe it. She also got to taste her McWrap there, in full prawn flavoured glory. Expect this item to hit our local McDonald stores soon, given it's popularity there in Japan. For my meal, the counter actually gave me a wireless transmitter which beeped when my meal was ready, signalling to me that my meal was ready for collection. Innovative, and we should have such services in Singapore too.The second part of the day was to be spent in Asakusa. We took one of the cruise packages there, which took us on a ride under many of the famous bridges in the Asakusa, Hinode, and Daiba areas. It wasn't cheap, but the sea breeze and the view made the money's worth. Thankfully there wasn't a lot of people on the 2 ships which we boarded, so we could run around without having to bother the rest of the passengers. I could have also taken a short nap there if not for Mabel's excitement which kept me awake. Although it was really cold having to brace the winds on top of the ship, we could take photos of the famous Rainbow bridge without any obstruction, and also have a clear view of the Odaiba area from the sea. Having took the train across the Rainbow bridge earlier in the morning, it was a refreshing turn of events witnessing the same trains cross the bridge from another angle, which was from the boats.

There were some time delay during the transition from boat to boat, but we made full use of the time buy taking more pictures with cruise ships, and also other interesting backdrops in the Hinode Pier area. Next stop: Asakusa.

As planned, we reached Asakusa and made our way to the Nakamise street, where the auntie's store was (refer to the last blog entry to find out why we're visiting her). And obviously, she didn't recognise us at first, as she probably sees a few thousand visitors every day. Expecting this to happen, I loaded last year's pic into my handphone, and showed her the picture. Her face instantly lit up, and boy was she excited to see us. I even showed her my tour book, which to her surprised, featured her store in the Asakusa section. Turned out that she didn't even knew that her face was in the book! She was really surprised, and looked happy to find out from us about her "fame". She was really chatty, and I had a great time talking with her in Japanese. I told her of my interest in the language, how I'm taking classes, and even our plans for the next trip. Amazingly enough, I had little problems understanding her, and it seems that with each passing year I'm starting to get better in speaking and understanding everyday Japanese. She was kind enough to give us extra paper bags as gift packages, and even stuffed some free goodies in our bags. I promised her that we'll be back to look for her whenever we're in Tokyo, and I even got her to sign for my book. This was one of the better experiences I had in the entire trip, and it brightened my day and would be listed as one of the more memorable events in all the Japan trips. Thank you, Yoshimi-san!

We also had a chance at the Omikuji (御神籤) within the shrine. Omikuji are random fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines in Japan. Literally "sacred lottery", these are usually received by pulling one out randomly from a box that one shakes, hoping for the resulting fortune to be good. The omikuji falls out of a small hole, scrolled up. (Nowadays, these are often coin-slot machines.) Unrolling the piece of paper reveals the fortune written on it, which can be any one of the following:
  • Great blessing (dai-kichi, 大吉)
  • Middle blessing (chū-kichi, 中吉)
  • Small blessing (shō-kichi, 小吉)
  • Blessing (kichi, 吉)
  • Half-blessing (han-kichi, 半吉)
  • Near-blessing (sue-kichi, 末吉)
  • Near-small-blessing (sue-shō-kichi, 末小吉)
  • Curse (kyō, 凶)
  • Small curse (shō-kyō, 小凶)
  • Half-curse (han-kyō, 半凶)
  • Near-curse (sue-kyō, 末凶)
  • Great curse (dai-kyō, 大凶)
The omikuji predicts the person's chances of his or her hopes coming true, of finding a good match, or generally matters of health, fortune, life, etc. When the prediction is bad, it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree in the temple grounds. A purported reason for this custom is a pun on the word for pine tree (松 matsu) and the verb 'to wait' (待つ matsu), the idea being that the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach itself to the bearer. In the event of the fortune being good, the bearer should keep it. Though nowadays this custom seems more of a children's amusement, omikuji are available at most shrines, and remain one of the traditional activities related to shrine-going, if lesser. And luckily enough, me and Mabel got a 大吉 and a 小吉 respectively. Woo hoo~ talk about good luck! I also managed to get my Morning Musume 10th Anniversary album..... so that's one thing off my list. :)
Asakusa and the shrine there means alot to me and Mabel, because we believe that our prayers to the Gods there have been answered year after year, and we've been blessed with good luck these couple of years. As much as possible, we will definately return and make our prayers there again.
Day 5 was to be another packed day. First up, a visit to the famous Tokyo Tower. There are two observatory floors, the main observatory (at 150 m) and the so-called "special observatory" (at 250 m); both offer a 360-degree view of Tokyo and, on clear days, Mount Fuji. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, neither observation deck at Tokyo tower is located near the top of the structure. We decided to go for the 150m one as the other option was a tad on the expensive side, and we didn't really want to spend to much time there anyway.
And as you'd expect, the view there was amazing. Although we were only about half way up the tower, the amount of distance our eyes could cover was magnificent. We headed for the binoculars aimed at Mount Fuji, and I could make out a the outline of a mountain though I'm not 100% certain that it was Mount Fuji. After buying a souvenir from the gift shop, we decended and made our way back to the train station. We made a pit stop at the Mos Burger restarant, but didn't waste too much time in heading to the next stop: Akihabara. Finally, a place which I truly wanted to visit. It was bumped twice on the itinerary to become one of the last places, due to Mabel's insistance that we cover the other places first. Well, at least I can spend more time and money here. All I need to do now is to get lunch out of the way......
Akihabara is best-known as one of the largest shopping areas on Earth for electronic, computer, anime, and otaku goods, including new and used items. New items are mostly to be found on the main street, Chūōdōri, with many kinds of used items found in the back streets of Soto Kanda 3-chōme. It's name is frequently shortened to Akiba in Japan. And as much as I really wanted to visit one of the many Maid Cafes there, I eventually decided to pass on the idea. Why? After chatting for a while with the maid in the picture, I realised that it wasn't too worthwhile for Mabel and our 2 non-Japanese speaking friends to visit the Maid Cafe. After all, the maids do chat with you and make you feel like you're their goshujin sama (ご主人様), and for high exorbitant prices too. She recommended a cosplay cafe for me instead, and when I went there I realised that it wasn't exactly cheap, and that photography wasn't allowed, and so decided to pass on the idea. At least I had a lengthy chat with that maid, whom was very friendly and gave advice on the navigation aspect. Mabel was also kind enough to secretly snap some pictures of me and her... hehe.
After Akiba, we visited Ameyoko in Ueno next. Ameyoko is a busy market street along the Yamanote line tracks between Okachimachi and Ueno Station, the site of a black market after World War Two. The name "Ameyoko" is a short form for "Ameya Yokocho" (candy store alley), as candies were traditionally sold there. Alternatively, "Ame" also stands for "America", because a lot of American products were available on the black market. Today, various products such as clothes, bags, cosmetics, fresh fish, dried food and spices are sold at bargain prices along Ameyoko. More stuff and goodies were brought here, and I had a hard time bringing all those bags back to the hotel. At least all the gifts have been covered for.
For myself, I got more figures at the Akiba stores and also the Yamashiroya store in Ueno. All my purchases during the 5 days so far can be seen in this pic. Not a lot, and definately pales in comparison to my other hauls the previous years. This year I've gotten mainly the imagins from the Kamen Rider Den-O series, and the rest of the Gekiranger figures. I've decided to get Gekiyellow, even though I've already ordered it through Szehuat. Just in case, I thought, because I saw that many stores in Japan didn't carry it anymore. Rest of my harvest include the Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Ultimanium, which was value for money because I would need to pay double the price in Singapore. More candy toy stuff too, including some Ultraman figures and candy.
Day 6, the last day. Nothing fancy, so we woke up to a late morning, went to the nearby convenience store to buy some drinks and to expend the rest of our yen. The Japanese convenience stores are nothing like the crappy ones we have in Singapore. They have tons of food and drinks and it'll take months to try all the different breads and instant noodles, sushi, etc. We then headed for the hotel to book our rides back to the airport, deposited our 4 bags there and went for lunch. We tried one of the nearby stores, and was pleasantly surprised by what we received. The ramen, which came in servings of 200g, 300g, and 400g tasted great and were cheap to boot. We ordered the 300g noodles, and were so stuffed at the end of the meal we were surprised at how people can finish the 400g serving by themselves.
And soon, we were on the plane flying back home. It's been a really satisfying trip, and made even better because we spent so little on food, accomodation, and transport, and yet get to go everywhere we wanted to. From now till our next trip, me and Mabel will definately be doing our homework. For her, more places to visit and the cheap bargains to go for, and for me preparing for my JLPT 3 this year and JLPT 2 next year would take priority. I've had fun this trip, and I'd like to thank our 2 companions William and Huiming too for being great mates. Sorry if I didn't understand all the Japanese, but I'll definately get better. Until the next entry, do check out the full photo albums which will be uploaded shortly. There's simply to many photos to show (over 800), so I'll upload the worthy ones only. Till then, ja!

5 comments:

Nicole said...

You guys had such a lovely time, which tremendously increased my desire to visit the Land of the Rising Sun soon!! Aww... That was a really great and detailed entry, and I'll be sure to refer to that when my time to visit Japan comes! Thanks! :)

Psyke aka Sean (ショーン) said...

Thanks~

Kraco said...

Your tale of the journey was just as excellent as last time. Such a long stretch of text but every sentence was interesting. Sounds like it was a great and succesful trip. Jolly good.

Nice pics as well, though I wouldn't object if you uploaded more.

Psyke aka Sean (ショーン) said...

Yup it was a great trip! Though I didn't get to find many of the stuff I wanted to buy....

The rest of the pics can be found here:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=28721&l=10b01&id=536385288

*~*~Tones-Of-Pink~*~* said...

subarashi neh!! steady pom pee pee! its obvious that u guys had fun in japan! upload more fotos yah! =)