Daikanyama T-site

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My favourite find this trip was to Daikanyama T-site. It took us a while to find. Take a metro to Daikanyama station. Once you exit the station , keep to your right. At some point when you see Tenoha, cross the street and keep left. Apparently you can get there through Shibuya.

Take a screenshot of the location and ask a young person how to get there. Young, preppy and yuppy.

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Maybe it’s the trees, there’s a calm, university town feel in the air.

Hanging out in Tokyo makes us happy. Something about the ambience. Maybe it’s that feeling of being not part of the daily grind and yet fitting in.

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We went to Tsutaya bookstore and had drinks and gratin at Anjin on the second level. It’s so cool- chill out to lounge music. The staff are attentive yet they know when to leave you alone.

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The gratin was warm and delicious.

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We met Pepper the robot on second floor of the bookstore. How cool is that?  I watched  an interview with her creator on TV a month prior and here she was. Innocence in white. On the left is Starbucks which is filled on a Monday 4pm.

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Cross the road and turn left when you see Tenoha. Alternatively, just sit and have coffee in the Mediterranean style courtyard with olive and lemon trees.

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Tokyo of multiple layers

Our main destination this trip was Kyushu, western part of Japan. But as we missed the direct flight promotion on SQ, we took ANA which allowed a free transit in Tokyo. This was what we did in 2 days, 2 nights.

There’s just so much to do. Some we like to repeat. The best time to visit is April during the Sakura season. I like that very much but Himself had an official trip then and I was in London. So we chose the beautiful red maple leave season to visit.

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Japan in layers - filling up swamp

1. Another reason we stay in Shinjuku is the pilgrimage to Yodobashi, the large electronics department store with 5 levels. “Bic Camera” where Himself bought yet another latest model of Olympus. He claims that there’s lots of savings than buying it from my home country. If you pay in cash, there’s a 1% cash back and also tax free for foreigners. Bring your passport to claim on the spot. Usually it’s for around US $100 and above.

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Shopping at Uniglo is cheaper and on top of that; tax free.

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2. Tsukiji Fish Market – this time around I’m not hanging around to wash the slicing of tuna. I did that the last time. The outer market is where the action is – to enjoy really fresh seafood, so skip breakfast. We had breakfast of raw fish slices with fresh scallops and uni in a bowl of rice. Each customer must have your own order. So Himself had a bowl of miso soup. We are reserving our stomach for the scallops and egg rolls stick and coffee and mochi dessert.

Getting there:
Take the Toei-Oedo line to Tsukijishijo station. We left at 930am and reached at 10am. Keep right and walk towards the Buddhist temple. You will see a round multi-storey car park. Anyway there are so many tourists you can’t miss it

The metro line was packed like sardines even at that time. Possibly not as bad as the earlier traffic as otherwise you see staff with white gloves pushing and packing passengers.

3. Next stop: Edo-Tokyo Museum
[Journey wise, it’s also on Oedo line as Tsukiji and a few stops away. Alternatively go to the National Tokyo Museum which we didn’t visit as the Terrace Cotta warriors from Xi-An are here (Dec 2015) and we didn’t wantto squeeze with the crowds.]

Recommended museums: visit is the Mori Art Museum in Roppongyi, Ghibli Museum, Edo-Tokyo Museum and the National Tokyo Museum.

For children, it’s highly interactive.

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Trying out how heavy the load

We chose the Edo-Tokyo Museum also on the Toei-Oedo line. Exit at Ryogoku station (6 stops from Tsukijishijo station). Museum closed on Mondays. Always ask the Station staff where is the platform for the train. They’re very well informed and helpful. Screen shot the name of your venue and exit station in case they don’t understand your accent.

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Inside an uber taxi carried by 4 men

Buy your tickets at 3F, deposit your bag at 1F and take the lift to 6F for the permanent exhibition. Check out the volunteer guide counter. Proceed to 5F. You may wish to watch a sumo match nearby.

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The Museum has lots of dioramas and reconstruction of buildings destroyed by the Great Earthquake and Flood. Gives a depiction of lives during the different periods.

If you’re here to view ancient artifacts, then the British History Museum is a better bet. Here at Edo-Tokyo Museum is a celebration of the architect and people living behind these buildings (some destroyed) over the centuries.

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The Museum is next to the Sumo stadium. Instinctively, Himself bought a block print of sumo wrestlers of Edo Nishiki-e style by artists from the Katsukawa school.

Patrick Smith of “Japan, a reinterpretation ” explains that sumo is a ritual celebration of the distinction between the included and the excluded. There’s almost nothing to see and the match is over in one or two minutes. What matters is the consequence. The sumo contest produces not so much a winner and a loser as a change in status. The vanquished is the one pushed out of the circle. Belonging vs Exclusion. Revelation vs concealment.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumo

On our way to the train station after the museum, I passed by a school where students were being dismissed. Surprised to see a teacher (?) standing outside supervising the dress code as students trooped out. “Tug your shirt tails in”, he seemed to be saying to one student who promptly did so. Wow. School image to be maintained.

If you’re visiting the Tokyo National Museum, factor time to visit the Ueno Park and the Akhihabara.

The Mori Art Museum is very good too. Himself went but didn’t take any photos.

After the Museum, we took the subway to Asakusa area where the famous temple is. Although we didn’t visit the temple, the grounds are filled with Japanese and international tourists. We are reminded not to eat and walk.
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We are here because a few months back, himself was brought to Tatsumiya, a fantastic sukiyaki place by his Japanese hosts. It has a nice ambience with a fire place. But we have to each order a portion. The person in charge speaks English. A hip looking young man with a samurai air about him. Address: 1–33–5 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tokyo, Kanagawa-ken, 111-0032, Japan

I do like the Sukiyaki restaurant at Haneda airport. As well as the Imahan 今半 at Ginza. http://www.imahan.com/guide/shop/ginza_shop.html

Expect to pay around $50 per pax, with a minimum order for 2 pax. I went to a tempura prawn restaurant, which I saw advert at the subway station. It was quite good but not fantastic for S$30 per bowl of 3 tempura prawns. The prawns weren’t piping hot.

Tokyo and Japan has a very unique way of borrowing from the outside world and make it uniquely Japanese in spirit. On our last trip it was Michelin star restaurants. This time we had Japanese version of Italian spaghetti and Japanese burgers. Oishi. Yum-yum. Possibly because the sauce has something of the 6th taste – umami kick. Little Asian surprises such as sprinkle sesame on the side and nicely grilled crispy seaweed. Texture of the noodles is firm and taste home-made of local buckwheat. There’s spinach and pumpkin version. Ask for the checku and not the bill when you’re done. And Japanese cheese cakes and chocolates from Meiji and Royce.
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Back to Shinjuku, which never sleeps, for my favourite Japanese udon-spaghetti in Japanese ume sauce at 7th floor of Lumine Est. Check out the crossing at Shibuya but I think the shops seem to close by 9pm.

Japan – Happiness in a hidden corner

For someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, we have been visiting Japan every year. For some strange reason, I find Tokyo quite easy to navigate. Possibly because of my previous stay in Taiwan, a former colony of Japan, where traces of Japanese influence are everywhere. From agriculture to bento boxes at train stations and a love for onsen and beautifully baked bread.

Knowledge of Chinese characters or Kanji though is useful but not essential. The Japanese transport system for travel destinations is very well coordinated to serve local tourists.

Thankfully, Japan is now more user friendly for foreign tourism. Most train stations have free WiFi connections. But in the event of seamless WiFi connections, you could:

1. Get a SIM card (data only) from JTB. They’ve moved to Takashimaya. You can get JR and Limousine bus tickets there too. Or from “Follow Me”. Expect a long queue at JTB so bring water or some food to entertain yourself.

2. Or get a WiFi router from Y5 Buddy or Changi Airport. https://www.changirecommends.com/owifi.aspx
I got a Y5 buddy which was more expensive than the one from Changi airport. The 3 days I was at Kurokawa and Takachiho, I’d no reception. When I contacted the staff in Singapore through WhatsApp – no response. Although I doubt there’s anything they could do. Apparently this happens a lot in Australia where there are areas of no coverage. Getting a router makes sense if you’re sharing with 2 other persons or if you’re in a city. I prefer using a local SIM card as there were times when I worry if I was connecting with mobile data.

Transfer from airport – should you travel by a Limousine Bus or JR train?
https://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/information/visitor_tickets/

3. Always choose Haneda airport which is located closer to the city. A 1 way limousine bus ticket from Narita to our hotel cost $3100 but if from Haneda it’s $1800. From hotel to Haneda it’s only $1200. The bus stops exactly at our hotel (Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku) at certain times. But from Narita to hotel it starts from 2pm.

If you’re travelling to another city and transiting through Tokyo, choose to connect via the same airport in Tokyo as otherwise you can’t check through your luggage to final destination.

4. Depart from the same airport, this allows you to enjoy more of the savings bundle of the limousine bus ticket for 2 way or 1 way transfer with Metro + Toei. You can get this ticket when you arrive in Tokyo after baggage claim. Ticket counter is just after exit. The limousine bus stop is just outside the ticket counter. The JR counter is beside if you choose to travel by JR to the city. For the JR pass it’s cheaper to book in your home country and pick up your tickets or validate them inside Japan airport before baggage claim.

5. The Metro + Toei card is very convenient inside Tokyo to various destinations especially for me since there’s a station right next to the hotel. We only got a Kyushu JR pass which wasn’t valid for Tokyo so the best option was the Airport Limousine Bus and Metro +Toei pass combination.

Pros and Cons of Limousine bus
1. Limousine bus is more expensive than a JR express.
2. The Bus + Metro +Toei card is a good price
3. If the bus stops nearer your hotel than the JR station.
4. You don’t need to climb up and down stairs unlike the JR station. In some JR station such as in Hokkaido the JR station has no lift nor escalator so consider carrying your luggage up and down a long flight of stairs.
5. You’ve a guaranteed seat. The bus stop is just outsidethe arrival hall.

Cons
Bus takes 20 mins longer travel time than JR train.
It’s less frequent, has limited seats and cost more. (With the metro card combination it’s reasonably priced.)
You have a JR pass for travel across Japan which in this case, to take JR doesn’t cost more.
For us, the bus stop is nearer to our hotel than the JR station. On our departure date, there was a bus to Haneda stopping just in front of our hotel. No lugging around the luggage.

Hotels
I’ve stayed 3 times in Hotel Sunroute. Convenient for Limousine bus from airport. Get the 2 way return + 1 day or 2 day subway pass. You can get the bus tickets from the hotel counter too. It’s so comfortable. Why take the bus instead of the JR? With the JR station, you need to climb up and down stairs, look for lifts etc. Bus tickets are more expensive, but hassle free. I’ll choose hotels along the route of the limousine bus. (If you’re going to Furano in Hokkaido, be warned that the JR station has no lift and my poor husband had to carry two heavy luggage up and down 2 long flights of steps. )

Across the street from hotel is a Family Mart convenience store, McDonald’s. Nearby is Yodobashi, lots of malls.

I’m embarrassed to say I don’t leave Shinjuku except to make use of my 1 day subway pass and visit Daikanyama and OK look at the Shibuya crossing.

Rooms are new but tiny. I’ve just stayed in London for 7 days and a comparable service apartment at Citadines near the Gloucester station is much cheaper than this hotel per night. Is Japan really in recession, doesn’t seem to be the case for Hotel Sunroute. My room has no wardrobe though.

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Walkway connecting Takashimaya to the hotel. About 5 mins walk.

Convenience wins hands down. I return to the hotel a few times a day in between shopping to put down bags and recharge a bit. It is conveniently located near to subway lines and JR lines and lots of shopping and eating in Takashimaya and Isetan. I like the basement of Takashimaya mall. There’s also a Tokyu Hands next to it.

Very likely I will stay in this hotel for my next trip especially so because of the bus to the airport. If you’re up at 8am in cold December, the thought of waiting at the bus stop…

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