Sunday, April 23, 2006
This trip has been decided upon one day before departure. No bookings is needed since we are travelling by train this time round. For this trip, we will be visiting the popular environs of Tokyo. They are mostly day trips with the Saturday night spent in Tokyo central. Here is the plan:
1. Nikko (Day 1)
- Toshogu Shrine
- Rinnoji Temple
- Futarasan Shrine
(For more information about Nikko, please click here)
2. Ryogoku (Day 1)
- Visit the Sumo Stadium
- Sample Sumo food
3. Roppangi Hills (Day 1)
- Visit Mori Towers
- View of Tokyo Towers
4. Capsule Hotel overnight (Day 1)
- Stay over at Japan's largest capsule hotel in Shinjuku
5. Hakone (Day 2)
- Hakone Tozan Railway
- Hakone Open Air Museum
- Lake Ashi
(For more information about Hakone, please click here)
6. Odawara (Day 2)
- Odawara castle
Met up with my friend at 6.30am in the morning. We were planning to catch the 7am train which takes the least amount of time with only 2 transits to get from Koriyama to Hakone. While waiting at the station, I noticed an extremely enticing sight, a eat-and-go soba shop right in the middle of the station waiting area. Since we only have 10 minutes left, I decided to give it a skip and just wait till we arrive at Nikko.
The journey takes approximately 3 hours long and it is 10am when we arrived at Nikko central. We popped into the Tourist Information Center and asked them for recommendations on Nikko. They mentioned that one of the popular food here in Nikko is Yuba. A picture of a shop which shows Yuba Ryori (Yuba Crusine) as its specialty is shown below.
We went into one of its many shops. Here is what a Yuba soba looks like. Yuba is made of bean curd and to us Singaporeans, it is known as Tao Ki in Hokkien, which can be easily purchased from the cook food stalls. It is one of my favourite side orders.
We took the city bus and went off to the first stop of the day in Nikko - Rinnoji Temple. Since no photos are allowed in the temple, I will describe the main highlights of it. The Sambutsu shrine is the main attraction in the temple. It consists of 3 main Buddha/Bodhisattvas representations which is close to 3 levels high. At the centre is Amitabha Buddha and to its right is 1000-hand Kannon and its left is Bato (a horse manifestation of Kannon). The temple sells some very unique amulets and I took a snap shot of it. There is also a prayer hall in the temple grounds where a venerable will always be there conducting prayer services.
And next stop now is Toshogu Shrine. It is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Leyasu. Here is the path up the shrine.
Belong is a view of the five-storey pagoda to the left entrance of the Toshogu Shrine.
At the top of a stable in the shrine is carved the famous 'hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil' threesome.
At the upper storey of one of the sacred storehouses are imaginative carvings of elephants by an artist who have never seen the real ones before.
And now we are on the way up to the main shrine.
Since no photos are allowed in most of the sights, I shall roughly describe what is seen. Just next to the main shrine is a hall with a huge ceiling painting of a dragon. When we were there, the monk explained its significance by banging two wooden sticks together. The sounds that resonate through the hall feels like the roar of a dragon.
We left the shrine and went back to the city central. We passed by the scenic Shinkyo Sacred Bridge.
Thereafter we took a quick bite and it is off to Tokyo Central. Next stop - Asakusa.
Upon arriving at Asakusa station, we switch over to the subway and arrive at Ryogoku station 2 stops later. Here is a view of the stadium.
A great sumo leaving the stadium.
We came upon one of the shops offering a dietary special which is taken by sumo wrestlers daily.
A close up view of what is offered. And we decided to go for it. Even though it costs 3000 yen per person.
Here is their mega meal.
3. Roppangi Hills
Next stop is Roppangi Hills. Roppagni Hills is a major business and exquisite residential district, fronted by a lively night scene. The major IT company, Livedoor, that made the news recently is located at one of the top floors of Mori Towers. Here is a sky view of the tower.
The first 6 floors of Mori Towers are accessible to the public. Next to it is Hyatt hotel. We find the design of the mall to be unique. It feels like a multi-layered mini-city. From the photo shot below, it shows 4 levels at different angles in a picture. Quite confusing sometimes.
A beautiful night view of Tokyo tower which is fully illuminated at night.
Asahi TV is located at Roppagni hills. Here is a unique scene of 5 glasses with streaming videos projected onto them from the ground.
4. Capsule Hotel overnight
It is coming close to 9pm and it is time for another adventure. We will be attempting the famous capsule hotel of Tokyo for the night. We have selected the largest capsule hotel which is in the heart of Shinjuku district. It is called Green Plaza which has 660 capsules in all. Green Plaza is written in large Katakana fonts at the building's neon lightings.
The whole process of checking in feels much like Odaiba Onsen which we went the last trip. We went straight to bath and ofuro. Thereafter it is exploring our capsule. Here is a scene of our capsule section.
That's me in it. It is actually quite adequate for a quick overnight stay. There's television and radio in the capsule. Overall, I find the night to be more accommodable than Odaiba Onsen. At least I can be jumping around and doing readings on the subsequent day journey instead of dozing straight off.
We took a one hour and a half train to Hakone from Shinjuku station. Since we bought the 5500 yen Hakone Free pass, all the journeys from the station and back are free.
Once we arrived at Hakone station, we transit straight away to the Hakone Tozan Railway line. The unique feature we have observed of this line is that it will actually perform 3 switch-back. Where the train actually travel in a zig-zag manner front and back 3 times. Thus the front and back train captains will switch their places 3 times throughout the 30 minutes journey. Why does it travel in a zig-zag manner if you ask. It is because the train is travelling uphill and it only has limited space to build its railway track.
We alighted one stop before the funicular and explore the Hakone Open Air Museum. Here is a scene from the Hakone Open Air Museum, it is actually powered by the water fountains. The video of its dynamics is also recorded below.
A great overview of the journey we will be taking. From right to left, first is the train from Tokyo to Hakone, follow by the Hakone Tozan Railway line, next is the funicular up to the mid-mountain. It will be cable car to the top of the mountain - Owakudani. Then it will be another cable car down the mountain to Lake Ashi. And finally a ferry through Lake Ashi.
Here is a view of the funicular when arrived at mid-mountain. The height is around 600 metres now.
Next is the cable journey further up. It takes another 15 minutes to get to the mountain top.
At the mountain top station, we were given free samples of the famous sulplur boiled eggs. It is said to prolong life.
A paranomic view of the sulphur mountain - Owakudani. The height is around 1000 plus metres.
The whole place smell of sulphur and we were advised not to stay here for too long. Else instead of prolonging life, it will shorten it.
The river that flows through the mountain is full of rich sulphur.
And finally we are down the mountain towards Lake Ashi. Here is a splendid view of the valley from the cable car.
The ferry we will be taking through Lake Ashi. It should span around 30 minutes long.
Here is a view of the famous torii gate in the waters which we always see in some of the Japanese tourist magazines.
The town has a super mega torii gate.
Thereafter we took a bus back to Odawara. Having some time, we decided to explore the famous castle of Odawara.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
The current trip to Tokyo has been decided since a month ago and took one week in the planning. It has been especially timed such that it coincide with the Sakura opening season in Tokyo. As reservation are required for the bus ride from Koriyama city to Tokyo, the return tickets were bought on Thursday evening at a cost of 7,200 Yen. The top sights in Tokyo Central were researched and narrowed down based on information provided by Lonely Planet Tokyo, japan-guide.com and Yes!Tokyo. After some discussions with a local guide, the top sights to be visited are as follows:
1. Ikebukuro (Day 1)
- Ikebukuro (One of Tokyo's multiple city centers)
2. Ueno (Day 1)
- Ameyoko (Busy market street in Ueno)
- Yushima (Shrine for the God of Learning)
- Ueno Park (Public park full of museums and other attractions)
- Kaneji Temple (Tokugawa family temple)
3. Akihabara (Day 1)
- Electric City
4. Asakusa (Day 1)
- Asahi Breweries Ltd (Headquarters of the Asahi beer)
- Sensoji Temple (Large temple in Asakusa area)
- Asakusajinja (Traditional shinto temple next to Sensoji Temple)
5. Odaiba (Day 1)
- Rainbow Bridge (Majestic bridge linking Odaiba to Tokyo Central)
- Fuji TV Headquarters (One of Japan's main broadcasting station)
- Palette Town (Toyota City and indoor-sky shopping mall)
- Oedo Onsen Mongatari
6. Tsukiji Fish Market (Day 2)
- Tsukiji Fish Market (One of the world's largest fish markets)
- Sushi Breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market
7. Imperial Palace (Day 2)
- Hibiya Park
- Imperial Palace
- Palace East Gardens
- Yasukuni Shrine
8. Ginza (Day 2)
- Ginza (Famous shopping and entertainment district)
9. Harajuku (Day 2)
- Harajuku (Japan's teenager capital)
- Meiji Shrine (Shrine dedicated to the deity of Emperor Meiji)
10. Shibuya (Day 2)
- Shibuya (Busy district for younger generations)
11. Shinjuku (Day 2)
- Shinjuku (Large entertainment, shopping and business district)
All the places mentioned above can be summarised onto the map below. It follows a general clockwise route.
1. Ikebukuro City
We met up early on Saturday morning at 6.30am and proceed on to the bus station which is a 5 minutes walk away. The bus departs at 6.50am and is expected to reach Ikebukuro at 10.20am. There are two buses travelling to Tokyo at this time with another two more stops after Koriyama station for the boarding of passengers. The buses were almost fully-packed.
There were two pit-stops along the way for passengers to revitalise a bit. Along the way to Tokyo, we were caught in a jam and the arrival time was eventually delayed by an hour; reaching Ikebukuro at 11.20am instead. Ikebukuro is where the local guide used to live when he was in Tokyo. It is quite a busy city and is quite a good introduction to Tokyo city.
We stopped by a Tourist Information Center and acquire some maps and information about Tokyo before proceeding on by densha to Ueno station.
It is said that Ueno and Asakusa are the only two places that preserve the traditional look and feel of Tokyo. So here we are at Ueno, the second stop for the day. The station is large and equally busy. We left the station through the south entrance and on to Ameyoko market. It is a busy market which sells cheap produce and fashion wear. Vendors can be seen hawking their wares throughout the streets with the cheers occasionally broken by the sounds of densha running above.
Once the sights of Ameyoko market has been captured, we made a right (East turn) towards the direction of Yushima shrine. This shrine is a very popular shrine amongst students who come regularly to ask for blessings in their studies. In it enclose the God of Studies. It is quite off the beaten track, located in a quiet part of Ueno district.
Many people can be seen hanging their well-wishes onto the boards around the temple.
The next stop is Ueno park. It is a truly a beautiful park with throngs of people strolling around and catching the cherry blossoms. They call it hanami in Japanese, which means observing the flowers. Most of the people setup picnic areas in the park and just sit back, relax and enjoy a snack or two. The weather is splendid and feels like in a air-conditioned environment. With the park completely surrounded by beautiful blossoms, it really feels like being in paradise.
Here is a close up view of the Sakura.
We decided to join the locals and bought our lunch in the park; thereafter just sit back and observe the blossoms.
Along the way, we grabbed a few more bites from the stalls that dotted the park. The crowd increased tremendously as we made our way towards the central park which is just next to the subway exit. We have to run up to a temple for refuge. It is equally packed but much less than what we have encountered. I noticed the temple (清水观音堂) is dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion. It is not indicated on the map. A lot of people are making offerings to the main Kannon representation. I stood aside waiting for the crowd to clear and noticed a light offerings chamber to one side. I threw in a few hundred yen and lighted two candles. This is the first time I am making light offerings in a temple. The feeling is really unique. I suddenly recalled a teacher saying that making of light and water offerings is very much more positive than making of money offerings. It is till now that I realise why.
We proceeded on from the temple to the rest of the park. The paths widen into the garden square where visitors can have a good view of all the trees and museums in Ueno park. There are performance and stage plays at different ends of the square. We walked north through the park and arrived at Kaneji Temple. It is a quiet and peaceful temple that is used by the Tokugawa family. The sakuras are especially beautiful in this temple against the tranquil backdrop provided by the temple.
The next stop is Akihabara which is only a 10 minutes ride away. It is the electronics and computer shopping area of Tokyo. A must come for all technology-enthusiasts. While walking along the main street, I noticed there are a large number of hobby shops to the side. We made a round through the main streets to the back streets, delving into one of the many computer shops and checking out what is available in there. The final stop in Akihabara is the electric city, which is a 10-over storey building which sells every kind of electronic gadget and equipment. A down side to this is the incompatibility of the products to the Singapore's 240V standard. So we can only 'oooh' and 'arrrr' at all the high-tech stuff and not be able to get it.
The last stop today in Tokyo central is Asakusa. Upon arriving at the station, we proceeded on towards the direction of the ferry terminal. There is another beautiful sakura park next to the ferry terminal and from there we can get a splendid view of the Asahi building. The building is shaped like the Asahi beer.
We made a turn towards the old streets of the Asakusa temple. Walking through the recommended shopping street which lead to the temple.
Here is the picture of the famous large lantern in the middle of the temple gate.
In the temple, we noticed the devotees are collecting the heat from the extinguished incense and spreading through them.
A long queue leads to the main shrine of the temple where devotees throw in their donations.
And here we are enroute to the last stop for the day at Odaiba. It is located a distance from Tokyo central on an island paradise (as it is called by the locals). We took the Asakusa line and transit to the Yurikamome Line. The Yurikamome is something like the LRT system in Singapore and is driverless. On the carriage, we befriended a local who is very enthusiastic in showing us along the coast of Odaiba. We found out that he lives in one of the condos next to the coast and is actually a Director of a FTA Company in Odaiba. Here is a photo which I took together with him.
The night scene of rainbow bridge from Aqua City Odaiba is stunning. As the coastal winds are strong, it took us over 10 minutes to get a perfect shot of the bridge.
Here is a view of the legendary Fuji Television. Wonder is Kimura Takuya in there...
We walked through the Promenade Park to the other end of Odaiba and arrived at Palette Town. A large and futuristic shopping mall in the island. In it there is Toyota city. I was especially drawn to the Lexus series and decided to go for a test drive.
Just next to the Toyota city is a beautiful shopping mall which has an Italian theme to it. The scene belows look like the Trevi fountain in Rome. The top of the mall has an indoor sky that moves so it really gives an impression that it is still day.
It is coming close to 8pm and we decided to adjourn to the final destination for the day. It is Oedo Odaiba Onsen. We have been hearing much about this Onsen from our colleagues for a year now and we are finally here.
We were welcomed into the onsen and were given a variety of Yukata to change into.
We went for the indoor and outdoor baths. The feeling of being in a outdoor bath is really unique. Just a water surface difference, the body feels hot and cold at the same time. After an hour of relaxing bath, we changed back into our yukata and prepared for dinner. The main street in the Onsen is mirrored after the look and feel of the Edo period.
A quick snapshot of the main street and the dining area. We will also be spending overnight here. Beds have been setup for us which is good as from what I had heard previously, my colleagues have to sleep on the tatami with shared pillows.
We woke up at 6am the next morning. Went for a morning onsen bath again and going for both the indoor and outdoor experience again. Took the LRT out of Odaiba. We took another beautiful shot of the rainbow bridge again below.
6. Tsukiji Fish Market
The first stop for the second day is Tsukiji Fish Market. There are probably hundreds of stalls here selling fresh catches from the sea. It is one of the largest fish market in the world. Even at the entrance, we sense a very strong smell of fish. Here is a quick snapshot of the busy market of Tsukiji.
When in Tsukiji Fish market, the most important thing we have to do is to savour the fresh catch of the day at one of the hundreds of sushi outlets. We went to one of the shops below:
We placed our orders through the picture menus. The chef is seen carefully preparing the various orders.
Here is what I have ordered. A complete seafood crusine for the breakfast.
After breakfast, we walked down the road towards Tsukiji subway. We noticed this fascinating building to the side. From the map it says it is Honganji Temple but it looks like a church. We were greeted by signs of welcome at the entrance of the big building. The inner design also looks and feel like a catholic church. With the exception of an incense pot and altar at the front of the hall.
I sat down at one of the many chairs and read about the history of the Tsukiji Honganji temple. This temple is designed based on Indian architecture. Now come think of it, it does looks Indian. A quick peek into the main shrine below. It has a representation of Amitabha Buddha.
7. Imperial Palace
As it is still early in the day, we decided to proceed on to the Imperial Palace instead of Ginza. The first sight as we came out of the station is the beautiful Hibiya Park which is next to the Imperial Palace grounds. The flowers are blooming in this garden with a Bonsai feel to all the trees. It is nice to just sit down at one of the park chairs and just watch the flowers.
We took a 20 minutes walk through the garden and emerged straight to the Imperial palace grounds. It is a tremendously large open space as much as the eye could see. My camera could only capture that much. Being in this large open space really opens up the heart too.
We walked around the palace grounds, taking photos along the way. Here is a scene of Edo Castle.
We proceeded northwards through the Imperial Palace East Gardens. And even further north to the final destination of the Palace gardens tour, the infamous Yasukuni Shrine. This place looks like just any other tourist attraction with food stalls lining the entrance.
There is even a concert celebration for Sakura opening in between the first entrance and the second entrance. The group below looks like Morning Musume which has 14 members in all. Kawaii-desu!!! The video of the performance can be seen below.
There is a monkey show just directly outside the Yasukuni temple. haha
Here is the main shrine. It feels like just any other shinto temple. With long queues of people throwing money into a box in front of the shrine. Next to it is a museum which reveals its dark secrets. The real zero fighters, mortar guns and books advocating Japan's WWII might are displayed in there.
The posh shopping district of Japan is up next. The popular Ginza shopping district. Suitable for sophisticated and executives shoppers. I don't do much shopping myself, so we just stroll through the main Ginza area. The entire road is closed to accommodate the large numbers of shoppers.
Next stop: Harajuku. But we alighted at Omotesando as we heard it is another vibrant posh shopping area. Here is a scene at the busiest junction.
The entrance to the famous Harajuku shopping street. A place where youths check out their latest fashion wear. The inclination towards Western culture can be strongly felt in this street through songs, advertisements and displays.
The famous Harajuku Kids 1
The famous Harajuku Kids 2
We visited the Meiji shrine which is a 10 minutes walk from Harajuku station. It is another peaceful shrine where we spent another 10 minutes resting and enjoying the moment.
And here we are off down south, a station away from Harajuku: Shibuya. Showcase in the picture below is the popular junction where large crowds of pedestrians cross all over the junction. We have to be careful which direction we are walking or else a collision course will ensue. Shibuya is another great shopping area where a cool vibrancy of Tokyo can be felt here.
Finally, last stop for the Tokyo trip is Shinjuku. It started drizzling and the sun is setting. We walked around the streets of Shinjuku for an hour. Going straight to the main highlights of this place. Here is a quick shot of the popular Kabuki-cho, Tokyo's notorious red light district.
At the end of the walk round Shinjuku, we dine in for dinner at a Shapu Shapu shop.
Here is what we have ordered.