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Japan

Day 4: AnimeJapan 2014 in Tokyo

Today marked the first day of AnimeJapan 2014. According to Japan Guide, up until 2013 it was previously known as the Tokyo International Anime Fair. Since Linaka and I had been to other conventions we expected something similar to MCM London Comic Con. We also considered ourselves quite knowledgable in various anime; however, after attending AnimeJapan this weekend, we realised how much we did not know.

Anime convention

Read Linaka’s great article about our day at AnimeJapan here.

Arriving at AnimeJapan 2014

We arrived at the location for AnimeJapan 2014 a little later than expected, but when we got there we thought we were still early. It did not seem full at all. From our point of arrival, it looked like people were just getting there. We took our time and took a few pictures. Since we didn’t know how to properly communicate and ask where the entrance was. We kinda guessed our way to the entrance.

anime fans

By the time we found our way to the entrance, we were shocked by how many people had showed up. There were several hundred local and foreign visitors waiting to get into the convention. People lined up in several rows and were slowly herded through blocked off winding paths that led into the main building. We stood outside for quite a while before we managed to get in.

What AnimeJapan 2014 was like

In order to explain what the convention was like, I need to explain what our experience at MCM London Comic Con was like. Linaka and I are both anime and sci-fi fans. When we attended MCM London Comic Con we expected to see lots of anime and sci-fi exhibitions as well as celebrities there. What we saw were many vendors and a heavy emphasis on merchandise for anime, cartoons, sci-fi shows and movies. Additionally, many fans dressed up in cosplay (costume play) of their favourite characters (tv shows, movies, cartoons and anime). We got to see previews of shows and movies to come as well as many comic book vendors and artist. Lastly, we also had the opportunity to get autographs from celebrities and get pictures taken with them.

cosplay girl

So when we went to AnimeJapan 2014, we expected something similar to what we had seen in London. What we saw was something completely different. The convention showcased many anime booths and many shows which neither of us had ever heard of. Many fans would cheer and queue up for anime shows we had never heard off. There appeared to be concerts, anime clips and voice actors present. The only anime we did recognise could be counted as just a small handful. Being there made us realise that the amount of anime we have been exposed to in London and the USA are just breadcrumbs compared to the vastness of the anime universe we experienced at the convention.

anime robot

We expected to see lots of merchandise, but instead the emphasis was on exhibitions and concerts. What was interesting was the fact that there were cosplay locker and change rooms available for people that wanted to dress up. It was difficult to distinguish professional cosplay people from fans. It also seems that you could rent a costume and dress up if you didn’t bring one along. There was merchandise for sale, but not as much as we had expected.

anime tank

Conclusion

Overall, the experience was great and completely different from what we thought it would be like. My advice for anyone that wants to go to any future AnimeJapan conventions is to get there as early as possible. Getting there late will mean waiting in long queues and working hard to get around the convention since many areas get over crowded. But if you like taking pictures, there are many opportunities to take them as you walk around.

Tomorrow we are going to go to an antiques market and then we will be leaving Tokyo and going to Hakone and then to Osaka. I am not sure if we will have easy access to the internet at our next location so stay tuned for my next blog update as soon as I can type and upload it. If you have been to previous Tokyo anime conventions, feel free to share your experience in our comments section.

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Japan

Day 3: A day in Nikko Japan

Kegon Falls

After spending a day with our tour guide Michiko, she informed us that today marked the Vernal Equinox Day, a public holiday in Japan. It basically meant that our trip to Nikko would be a crowded one since many people would be making the journey to the area. It was our first time taking a 2-hour train ride from Asakusa station to the north of Tokyo.

Since we didn’t know how many people were traveling to Nikko or how crowded the journey would be, we didn’t feel an urgency to rush to the train station. We got on the train fairly late and we picked the wrong seats. The trains normally have red seats for regular passengers and courtesy seats for the elderly, pregnant and disabled. We sat on the courtesy seats because we wanted to sit together. But after the first stop, the train was so crowded that we had to give up our seats to the elderly. Needless to say, we spent 2 hours traveling on our feet. Linaka was lucky enough to sit down halfway through the journey, but most people didn’t get off until the end of the line.

Nikko World Heritage Site

Nikko is a world heritage site housing many shrines, foot paths and a temple. Additionally, there are many other magnificent sites such a the Shinkyo (sacred bridge), Kegon-no-taki (waterfalls), and Chuzenji-ko (lake) up in the mountain regions. The Shinkyo is located closer to the train station, a five minute bus ride.

When we finally arrived in Nikko I wanted to spend the day locally exploring the area and visiting the shrines; however, Linaka wanted to go into the mountains to visit Kegon-no-taki (Kegon waterfalls). I was reluctant since it was another 40 minute bus ride up the mountain, but we both decided it would be the most effective use of our time. The last train to head back to Tokyo was scheduled for 5:39 p.m. which gave us about 5 hours to travel and explore the area.

Kegon-no-taki (the waterfalls) and Chuzenji-ko (the lake)

Chuzenji Lake

The journey up the mountain was a comfortable one. The meandering road made me feel a little dizzy so I had to close my eyes for part of the journey. Linaka loved the window seat and she got to experience what it was like to drive up the side of a mountain and see how far a fall would be if the bus driver wasn’t careful. There was snow everywhere and as we got closer to the top, it started to snow. We didn’t realise how cold it was until we got off the bus.

The bus station was close to Chuzenji Lake which had very few trees. Strong gusts of cold mountain air blew directly at us from across the lake. The icy wind did not deter us from taking pictures of the local town, the waterfalls and the lake. There was a fee to take the elevator 100 meters down to the base of Kegon Falls, but it was fun and worth it. At the base we enjoyed the view of the frozen waterfall. Other tourist were there taking selfies and admiring the frozen waterfall.

Chuzenji Town

Afterwards, we returned to the surface and had a hot chocolate in one of the local coffee shops. I shared a sausage on a stick surrounded by a swirl of dough with Linaka. It was also nice to get out of the cold wind. My hands had frozen over while taking pictures of the waterfall. After spending several minutes warming up, we went back out and headed to Chuzenji Lake.

Apparently Chuzenji Lake was formed from the eruption of Mount Nantai. It’s about 24 km round and 172 meters at it’s deepest point. I had never imagined I’d see a lake on a mountain. When we first arrived I thought the lake was the ocean. The winds were strong, so they formed small waves on the surface. Walking back to the lake seemed much farther than I had remembered. Time was quickly running out and we had to catch the last bus. I ran to the lake to take some quick pictures while Linaka waited for me at the bus stop. Gusts of freezing wind blew through my body but I managed to take some snapshots. Afterwards I rush back to the bus stop and journeyed down the mountain.

Toshogu and Futarasan Shrines

Futarasan Shrine

Nikko was amazing to explore. If you like mountains, streams and lots of trees, then the hidden gems (the shrines) make Nikko an awe inspiring place to visit. On our way down the mountain our first stop was Nishisando which led us to Futarasan shrine. There are two areas that require an entrance fee, but at 200 yen it’s worth exploring those ancient structures.

Futarasan felt like we were propelled into ancient Japan. At one point I felt like a pilgrim making a journey to an ancient Buddhist temples. The buildings were colourful and larger than I had imagined. Although we were there as tourist snapping pictures, there were many local people who were there to pray.

Nikko Gates

I thought Futarasan was amazing, but as we walked through some of the gateways and found ourselves at Toshogu shrine I was just blown away. I could not believe what I my eyes. The buildings were beyond belief. Large pagodas stood out from amongst the trees. The main shrine was colourful and decorated in the family crest of the Tokugawa shogunate. You could see that at some point it may have been a shrine for monks, but it was taken over by the Tokugawa and used by the shoguns.

Toshogu Shrine

We entered the main building and took the tour to explore inside. Removing your shoes was a requirement in order to enter the shrines. The tour showed us where the shogun resided. Many local visitors sat and prayed while the tour took place. Linaka whispered to me, “can’t you imagine samurai walking up and down these isles?” It wasn’t until she mentioned it that I realised how significant the place was. We had to rush through the hallways since the shrine closed at 4:00 p.m. and the inner shrine closed at 3:30 p.m. We managed to see as much as we could before we headed to our next destination.

Shinkyo (sacred bridge) and the local town

Exhaustion started to set in by the time we had left the shrines. I wanted to take a bus back to the station but Linaka pointed out that Shinkyo bridge was close by, so we explored the area further and walked to the bridge. Shinkyo was opened earlier in the day, but since it was now late the bridge was closed off. However, it did not stop us from taking some nice pictures from the main crossing path. The rest of the time was spent walking over 1000 meters through the town and to the train station. There were many nice places to see in town, but since we needed to catch the last train, we couldn’t stop to explore any further.

Conclusion

Our trip to Nikko was a full day excursion. If you are not physically fit, then I recommend keeping to one area. Trying to explore all of the locations in Nikko is very hard to do in a single day. We enjoyed our time in the mountains admiring the waterfalls and the lake and ended the day exploring the shrines close to the main town. Although it was freezing in the mountains and cold in the shrines, we still enjoyed it all.

Memorable moments

  • We ate a sausage and had hot chocolate by the waterfalls
  • Rushed to visit many places that we starved the rest of the day (we didn’t stop long enough to eat lunch)
  • Apparently, Linaka doesn’t use the toilet, she says that I go to the toilet too much LOL
  • Walked down a hill on a meandering path, Linaka was exhausted, but an old lady walked up the hill past us. She was tired and stopped for a moment to rest before continuing up the hill. She showed us how to really be fit. LOL
  • Linaka took a picture of me in a phone booth
  • We came home with more post cards
  • Almost got on the wrong train and had minutes to get on the right train before it left the station
  • The signs were all in Japanese, so it took some guess work to get around
  • Got back to the hotel and were so exhausted we went straight to sleep
  • I managed to get up to write up this post LOL
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Japan

Day 2: An Afternoon in Akihabara Tokyo

This is part of a series which records the first hand account of our first time trip to Japan in 2014. You can find Linaka’s account on her blog.

After spending our morning in Ueno, our tour guide Michiko took us to eat at the restaurants in Akihabara Tokyo. Because it was raining we only got to see one department store. Since we had never been to this area before, we did not know what to expect.

Michiko took us to Yodobashi Camera, a large department store with many floors full of technology. We spent about an hour in the food court eating some delicious cabbage and egg meals. Surprisingly, the combination worked very well. Watching the chef cook our meal on the spot was just as entertaining. Each table had a hot plate in the centre to cook a meal. Sadly, an image alone does not do the food justice, you have to eat it for yourself to know how good it is.

Akihabara Lunch

Akihabara toys, dvds and electronics

After lunch, we spent the rest of the day exploring the different floors of the store. There were so many movies on DVD and Bluray that it was hard to know where they began and ended. In addition to the movies there were many games for the latest xbox and Playstation systems. Unfortunately for us, most were all in Japanese. I considered buying a Dragonball z dvd, but there was no translation or subtitles in English and I just didn’t know enough Japanese to understand it all.

Akihabara Entertainment

A Godzilla fan

As we walked through the models section, we saw everything from model cars to ships and many different robots. There were models for Gundam, Macross Universe and many old anime I used to watch when I was a boy. The detail of these models were amazing. But what stood out the most were the miniature models of Godzilla.

Ever since I was a boy, I had always watched Godzilla movies. And when we came to Tokyo, one of my missions was to find a statue or model of Godzilla. To my surprise and happiness, there it was. Not only did I find Godzilla, but also many of Godzilla’s enemies such as Mega-Godzilla and many others. Sadly, I did not see a model of King Kong anywhere.

Besides that, I also saw models of old cartoons I used to watch on tv when I was a boy. For example there were many models of Transor-Z, the Japanese name for the model was different. Michiko told me that this cartoon is popular in Japan. There were also many Gundum and a live action film of G-force, a cartoon I used to watch.

Conclusion

We ended the day by leaving Akihabara and going to Ginza to look at some of the other shops. We actually didn’t get to see Akihabara, we only saw one department store, it wasn’t until later in the trip that we returned to properly explore the area.

In Ginza the shops ranged from clothing to tech (Apple store), but Linaka wanted to see the best stationary Japan has to offer. Overall it was a long and strenuous day.

We thank Michiko for a great day and rode the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line back to Asakusa. We got to the hotel and Linaka passed out for 3 hours. I stayed up for a while before I needed to take a nap. We got up in the evening and bought some donuts. Linaka found out that 7-11 sold corn dogs, a delicious American food that she fell in love with. It looks like we may be going back there to buy some more in the days to come.

Tomorrow we spend a day out in Nikko. I’m sure we’ll have great pictures to share for this great trip. Stay tuned for the next posting.

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Japan

Day 2: A Morning in Ueno Tokyo

Today Linaka and I spent the morning in Ueno Tokyo. The forecast was rain all day and this limited the number of places we could visit, so we enjoyed most of the day indoors; however, we did spend some time visiting Ueno Park and some of the shrines and temples in the area.

Our tour guide, Michiko from Inside Japan Tours, was kind enough to show us around and explain some of the history of the area. The area we were in had shrines, a park and there was also a zoo. Unfortunately, it was raining too much for us to visit the zoo. It would have been nice to have seen a panda. We saw some cool torii gates and we even visited a shrine dedicated to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Although it was raining, we still managed to stop and take some pictures of the area.

Ueno Tokyo Park and Museums

According to our guide, when the trees bloom in the local park there are cherry blossoms everywhere. It seems that there are local festivals in the park and performances on the weekend. Michiko also told us that the cherry blossoms only bloom for one week. This is one reason why samurai appreciated the cherry blossom.

In addition to the local park and festivities there are some museums. There was a science museum near by, but we went to the Tokyo National Museum. One thing that stood out in the park was a Starbucks. Seems like these coffee shops are everywhere.

At the Tokyo National Museum, we enjoyed the artwork and history displayed in the exhibitions. We had to be cautious in certain rooms and exhibits because photography was not allowed in certain areas. However, those areas we were allowed to take pictures in were some of the most enjoyable exhibits for myself. Linaka liked a lot of the artwork and the kimonos in the fashion sections. You can read about Linaka’s experience and view her photos on her blog post here (Linaka’s blog post).

Conclusion

It was a great morning and although it rained, we enjoyed a great time out at Ueno. After we ended our morning in the museum we then made plans to go to lunch and visit our next location on our day trip. In my next blog post I will describe how amazing Akihabara was. Stay tuned for the next update.

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Japan

Day 1: First day in Asakusa, Tokyo

This is part of a series which records the first hand account of our first time trip to Japan in 2014. You can find Linaka’s account on her blog.

Introduction

Linaka and I had never been to Japan before. The bus ride from Nartia airport to Asakusa, Tokyo was a long one. The journey from the airport slowly revealed parts of the city; however, there were sound barriers on the highway which blocked our view. It was not long before we arrived in Asakusa, a district of Tokyo, most famous for its Senjouji temple. It is also known as “low town” or “old town”.

It was beautiful as if we had found ourselves caught between ancient and modern times. You could easily imagine Samurai walking around the area. Besides the temples, there were many shops, restaurants and tourist attractions. At the end of a street we could see a small amusement park in the area.

Asakusa, Tokyo during the Day

We had a great time exploring the area. Somehow we managed to fight off our jet lag. We arrived around 11 a.m. in Asakusa and check-in wasn’t until 2 p.m.

Hozomon Gate in Asakusa Tokyo

I was amazed by the number of sword shops in the area. They catered primarily to the Kabuki theatre but also to tourist. Some shops even sold novelty umbrellas that looked like samurai swords.

Almost like a stereotype, there were many rickshaws transporting people around. For some reason I thought rickshaws were only used in China. One thing that stood out were the sales of ninja shoes. I thought of buying some.

Besides all the amazing Japanese shops and restaurants we also noticed McDonalds and Burger King. It was a reminder that the Western World still had its influence on Japan. I suppose if you really want to eat a burger you can always visit a place you are familiar with. Overall, it was great sightseeing during the day.

McDonalds in Japan

We must have been so tired that when we tried to communicate with people, we had forgotten some of the Japanese we had learned prior to the trip. The one word I kept hearing all day was kudasai which means “please”. I am sure after a nights rest we’ll start to get back on track and by the end of the trip we will be communicating fluently in Japanese.

Unfortunately, jet lag caught us by surprise and we napped for 5 hours once we checked into the hotel. Luckily Linaka woke up early enough for us to go eat some dinner somewhere and explore the night life.

The night life

I was amazed by how stunning Asakusa looked at night. I thought the lights and signs everywhere made everything look so cool. We explored different streets and stores. We even stopped by a place called Mister Donut. The donuts tasted different from those in the USA or the UK, but they were nice.

Asakusa at night

There were bars, restaurants, karaoke and super markets to explore. Not realizing what time places closed at night we accidentally stumbled into a noodle bar that looked delicious. Linaka and I went in and the chef said something in Japanese, gave us a menu and pointed us out the door. It took us a few minutes to figure out that we needed to get a ticket for the food selection from the vending machine outside.

Apparently, you make a selection from the vending machine, pay for the food, then go inside and hand the cook your ticket. Then he cooks and serves you. It was kinda strange, but interesting. However, we got there when they were about to close. Linaka managed to remember the phrase, “what time do you close” in Japanese. The cook kindly told us that he closed at 8:30 p.m. and he was kind enough to served us. We were there eating at 8:40 p.m. The food was delicious.

ramen bowel

We returned to Sensouji temple and took some night shots with our cameras. My photography skills were that great yet and Linaka was doing a great job of showing me some cool tricks. We ended the night by further exploring around Asakusa and then headed back to the hotel to get some rest.

So what will tomorrow bring

Tomorrow we will meet our local guide arranged by Inside Japan Tours. Since we were on a self-guided tour we decide what we want to do, but our guide will bring us up to speed with Tokyo, it’s transport systems and other things we do not know. So stay tuned for another interesting day in Tokyo.