We had a fun time exploring Akihabara in the morning, but now it was time to visit Harajuku. I had heard so much about this area and I never dreamed of visiting it, but today was another fun day of sightseeing.
Harajuku a place for fashion and food
I had seen music videos and programs on television about Harajuku but this was the first time I was there. When Linaka and I arrived at the train station we had no idea what to expect. We did know that the area was famous for fashion, but we weren’t sure where to begin.
So we looked at the local map, couldn’t read it but assumed that the main areas to visit were down the main street from the metro station. We then followed most of the crowds to see where they led us to. Our initial experience was seeing the major brands and department stores. I was searching for the backstreets that sold clothing and I’m sure Linaka was looking for the same. Our first thought was to go into a large department store. Linaka’s thoughts were, “since we are here, might as well see what the stores look like”.
It was interesting to see, but after we explored the department store, we found our way to Takeshita Dori. This is what we were originally looking for, the main backstreets with small stores selling all sorts of fashion. Apparently, this is where many of Japan’s fashion trends come from. In addition to the clothing shops there were many food places selling unique foods. Something else we learned was that Takeshita Dori’s shops are targeted to a teen audience while the main streets in Harajuku are targeted to a more adult audience.
Visiting Harajuku was a quick and final visit on our last day in Japan. Unfortunately, we missed the big dress up day. Seems that each Sunday teenagers meet up and dress up in unique outfits. The first week we were in Tokyo we missed this and this time around, we also missed it. But it was still fun to visit Harajuku and see what it was all about. Besides fashion and food there are other things to see, such as temples. For anyone that likes fashion then Harajuku is a must stop place on any Tokyo trip. Tomorrow we leave Japan and return to merry old England. It has been a great trip, a great adventure and a destination we will probably return to again in the future.
This morning we returned to Akihabara and to see what we missed out the first time around. When we first arrived in Tokyo about 3 weeks earlier we decided to visit Akihabara. At that time we had a tour guide who was walking us around certain parts of the city. The weather rainy so we spent most of our time in one department store with many floors. I believe the store is called Bic Camera. It was a great experience, but nothing like today.
The first time Linaka and I went to Akihabara, it was cold and raining. We went to the first building visible from the subway station and we spent the rest of our time in that store. The great thing about it was that it was so big that you could easily think that all of the electronic stores would fit there. However, this time around we visited on a bright and sunny day, the weather was warm and we explored the streets of Akihabara.
The signs in Akihabara are welcoming. As soon as you start exploring the streets you see a rainbow of signs advertising anime, manga, toy robots, maids and much more. Walking from store to store, you see model toys, robots, all types of electronic parts as well as computers. There are many places to buy anime (dvd and comics) as well as many cafes including several competing maid cafes.
The Maid Cafes
Since we had never been to one, we decided to visit one of the local maid cafes. You could see maids on the street advertising and trying to lure in customers. Lucky for us, we wanted to see what it was all about. A maid led us into the nearest cafe. The actual place we went to seemed a little small, but there were several tables and stools. The smaller tables had a fee to sit at. There was also a stage for taking pictures with the maids and I think to karaoke at night. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but if we wanted a picture we could buy a photo with a maid. All the servants inside were dressed as maids and if you wanted to order something, you needed to make cat sounds to request a maid.
It was funny, but the point of the maid cafe was to make things look cute and fun. Oh and if you wanted to order something, you could not order for just one person, every person in your party was required to order something. All in all, it could get expensive if you don’t know what you are getting into. We did have fun, ordered some french fries and a milk shake. The milk shake looked cute. Once we had our fill of the maid cafe we went on exploring more of Akihabara. Not surprising, there were other maid cafes competing for customers in the back streets.
Toys, anime and robots
Exploring Akihabara can be a lot of fun. Every other store carries toys, models, electronic parts, and entertainment such as Playstation and Xbox games. The first building we saw when we came out of the train station was a big red building with the word Sega on it. But what was more interesting was going to a single shop that sold models or toys and seeing several floors, each representing different shops specializing in different types of models. For example one floor may specialize in selling Gundam toys, while another floor sold Dragonball Z or other anime characters. Exploring these buildings you never know what you are going to find out there.
Initially, we went to Akihabara to find robots. Linaka and I were interested in either buying a robot or buying parts to build a robot. Our first guide did not know what we were looking for, but she did point us in the right direction. The first time around we did not find real robots, just toy models. But this time around, we found “Robot Center”, your one stop place for finding robots and robot parts. It was a small store, but it was a fascinating place to visit. Unfortunately for us, it was our last day exploring Tokyo and we had already purchased most of what we wanted. Visiting the robot store was one of our highlights we enjoyed about Japan.
Walking around Akihabara can be an all day event. In my opinion, exploring properly could take a few days. Unless you know in advance what you want to get out of Akihabara in advance. The best way to explore the area is to research online and find out what stores you can find there. If you like anime, there are plenty of stores around for it. If you are looking for collector dolls or models, again there are plenty of stores that specialize is just those items. A bit of research can help save you a lot of time. But at the same time getting lost in Akihabara can be fun.
So our second time around Akihabara was much more fun. The weather was nicer and we explored various streets and stores. We never expected to see so much, so many colors and so much entertainment in one area. If we visit Japan again in the future, Akihabara will definitely be one of the places we will most like return to. Once we were done exploring in the morning, we spent the afternoon in Harajuku (the next article).
Kanazawa was a nice city to visit and if we had more time it would have been nice to stay there a little longer. It would have been great to explore the local area and tourist sites some more. Although it was a short visit, it was a great place. Today we made our way back to Kanazawa station to take a train back to Tokyo, Shinjuku district.
Traveling by train was nice, especially when on the Shinkansen. The journey from Kanazawa to Shinjuku, Tokyo took over 4 hours. That was quite amazing considering the Shinkansen is a very fast train. The fact that it also took so long to get back to Tokyo also indicated how far away we were.
As we made our way back, we passed by many cities and towns. Off in the distance you could still see mountains. Perhaps the best part of this journey was seeing Mount Fuji once more. Speeding on the train made it difficult to take pictures out the window, but many of the passengers had to take those final epic photos of Mount Fuji. It looked so close, yet so far away. Lucky for me, I was able to snap a few pictures before Mount Fuji was finally out of view.
We left early in the morning and arrived in Shinjuku in the afternoon. It was not long before we recognized the buildings and area that we had seen just a couple of weeks before. But the difference now was that we were more educated and familiar with many of the stores which we had seen along our journey. Seeing Shinjuku again was exciting and at the same time a little sad. We knew that our journey in Japan would be coming to an end soon. Still, we made our way out of the station and found our hotel. After settling in, it was time to make one more journey to visit the Ghibli museum.
A trip to the Ghibli Museum
It is hard to describe how amazing the Ghibli museum was. Both Linaka and I are big anime fans. We have seen many of the movies from Ghibli studios and visiting the museum was another highlight of our journey. Unfortunately, photography was restricted here, so we could only take pictures outside of the museum. There were many amazing exhibits inside. We saw live animations, movable models and plenty of artwork on display.
We got an opportunity to watch a short film inside the museum. It was about 20 minutes long, but it was a nice film. Although it was completely in Japanese without subtitles, I got the main meaning behind the film. Most of the museum showcased the many characters developed by Ghibli. Additionally there was a shop and book store inside which was way over crowded. Earlier on our journey we visited a manga museum which was not very crowded, but compared to the Ghibli museum, you could see the contrast in popularity. Ghibli was extremely pack with many visitors. At the end of the day we left the museum and had a leisurely walk to the local train station to take us back to Shinjuku, Tokyo.
We had a great day. It was a long morning with a journey that took over 4 hours from Kanazawa to Shinjuku, Tokyo and a great afternoon visiting the Ghibli museum. For any fan of Ghibli, then the museum is a must visit. Afterwards, we returned to our hotel in Shinjuku and relaxed for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow we spend our last day exploring a few more sites which we missed on our first visit to Tokyo.
Today we checked out of our hotel (the Richmond hotel) in Asakusa and made our way to Shinjuku in search of the Hanazono antique market. It was our last day in Tokyo and Linaka was in search of a kimono. I was in search of a scarf because my neck was feeling cold. It was not difficult getting to Shinjuku station from Asakusa. We took the subway (Japan Metro) to Kanda and then changed over once to make our way to Shinjuku. Once there we struggle a little to find our way, but after asking for directions, a kind young man showed us the way.
Hanazono antique market and shrines
The main point of visiting the antique market this morning was to look for a kimono for Linaka. I was mainly sight seeing and being a tourist. I also wanted to find a scarf for my neck, but sadly none of the vendors there sold any.
The great thing about market is that it was located in Hanazono-jinja. In other words, there were several shrines in the area as well as several torri gates. I wasn’t expecting to see people praying at the shrines since there was an active market, but people would come and go to each of the different shrines. At some point, someone would rattle the long rope of the main shrine and make some noise while they prayed. At another shrine, someone would bow before walking through the torri gates and then pray at the other end. Each shrine seemed to have it’s own ritual before approaching and praying.
One of the shrines appeared to have the figure of a fox with her cub. I am not sure what the story is behind this shrine. But it was interesting watching people praying at it. It didn’t matter what age the people were, young and old, they all prayed there.
The market was fairly active with several vendors in the area selling mostly antique and second hand goods. Interestingly most of the people visiting the market were foreigners. Linaka whispered to me saying she thought it was a tourist market. We were looking for a kimono and there were several people selling them. A few people were selling newer kimonos. Linaka found an old lady selling more authentic kimonos by one of the colourful shrines. She wanted to haggle with the lady, but she seemed to be very kind and although Linaka tried to communicate in Japanese, the lady was kind enough to speak in English to help her understand.
I was surprised that she spoke English. I assumed that the older generation of people did not speak much English. However, since it was a market and most of the visitors were foreigners, it would make sense that the vendors at least knew some English to help sell to them. Linaka was so pleased by the pricing of the kimonos that she purchased 3 of them with 3 obi’s. The old lady was very grateful for the purchase and she even gave Linaka a free bag. Linaka smiled and walked away a happy customer.
After that we looked at the other vendors and although there were interesting items for sale, we did not have much room in our travel bag after Linaka packed away her 3 kimonos. We soon left the area and explored Shinjuku. I was surprised to see a KFC, a Baskin Robin’s and a few other stores that are common in the UK and US. As we explored the back streets we found a comic store.
I thought the comic store was a comic book store, but instead it was an anime store. They sold manga, candy, food, magazines, videos and much much more. Outside were small coin operated machines which gave you trinkets. Inside the store was big with many aisle of books and merchandised. The store was so popular with many young people crowding the isles. Across the street was another comic store but that one was pretty empty. The one we walked into seemed very popular. We ended our morning by having some drinks and cheese cake at Starbucks in Shinjuku station.
Hanazono antique market was nice to visit and a great bargain place for kimonos if you find the right vendor. Additionally, you can find many other antiques, books and scrolls. Besides the market place, if you are interested in shrines, there are plenty of them there. If you are interested in exploring Shinjuku there are modern stores everywhere. So there is always something to see and places to go in Shinjuku. One thing that stood out in Tokyo was the number of bicycles everywhere. While in Shinjuku you could see them on the sidewalk. But the thing that stood out more than the bikes was the fact that none of them were locked down. In London, people are constantly securing their bicycles, but in Tokyo no one secures them. They just leave them. Seems like there is no need to secure the bike because no one takes them. It’s quite a different culture here. In my next post I will talk about our trip from Tokyo to Hakone and the lovely accommodation in a traditional ryokan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.