A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring the big metropolis of Tokyo and meeting with Julie

View Nolan's Eleven Heaven meetups & Philippine Post Easter Islands Meetup 2016 & Tokyo Summer 2015 on NT01's travel map.

large_1840343_14382622536226.jpgThe last day is usually shopping day for the ladies. And escort day for me ... but I didn't carry all the stuff they had shopped back to the hotel.

We took our time during breakfast and left relatively late compared to the normal times we left the past couple of days. We also checked out because the hotel needed our rooms by 10AM for cleaning so that new arrival guests could check in after a few hours. You can imagine how much luggage was stacked outside the reception area, not just ours, because of people leaving that day but not yet needing to go to the airport. And so we stashed aside a total of at least 5 medium sized suitcases.

The objective was the same one from the previous night - Shibuya. We traveled toShibuya Station via Yamanote Line, this time in a clockwise direction.large_1840343_14382622562712.jpg It did take a good 30+ minutes to get there, and it was still raining somewhat. The ladies headed straight to GU, which is a subsidiary of clothing giant UniQlo. After two hours they still couldn't have enough! I was falling asleep already at one of the benches and they still went on shopping!

Finally, at about 1PM, I had to excuse myself because I was meeting Julie (JulieA419) at the Akihabara [Akihabara-travel-guide-1311243] Electric City JR Station. So I traveledback to Akihabara via Yamanote and the yellow (Chuo) line. I was there a few minutes ahead of schedule so I checked out the department store nearby. Finally a few minutes past 2 PM, I saw Julie walking towards the meeting area.large_1840343_14380586153954.jpg I have included the link to the blog entry on the meetup with Julie - http://www.travbuddy.com/travel-blogs/106051/Meetup-Julie-Akihabara-22

Funny, since I didn't have Wi-Fi or any internet connection, I didn't realize the ladies were messaging me to meet them to help finish their lunch! And they had a really sumptuous lunch while I had to bear with the weird tasting curry shaped like a robot at the Gundam cafe! Never mind the meal, I had a great conversation with Julie. Hopefully I get to visit her one day in the Washington D.C. area if I get to go to the U.S. East Coast.

After I had returned to the hotel, I caught up with them and they were still packing their stash! Oh wow, it looks like they bought half the store.large_1840343_14380586177462.jpg Not only was 2 hours at GU enough, they must have spent another 3 hours at Uniqlo!

Dinner followed one last time and we chose Mos Burger for a different take on hamburgers. After dinner we chanced upon another convenience store/grocery and they started buying food stuff for their officemates back home! Another couple of bags to pack inside the luggage.

Finally it was time to leave and walk to Akihabara Station, where we would take the JR Yamanote line to Hamamatsucho Station and the Monorail to Haneda Airport. While dragging the luggage, the wheel of my 10+ year old Samsonite Spinner finally gave way! It still would roll, but I felt like a cripple with all the bumping off the frame of the suitcase wheel. Good thing the trip wasn't too far, and we were able to arrive at the check-in counter way before it had opened.

We were lucky to meet the Philippine Consul General to Japan at the airport because she was acccompanying her in-laws who were on the same plane as us back to Manila. That made for a good chat and the next time I visit Japan, I know where to run to in case I get into trouble (which I never intend to do). Sayonara!


Posted by NT01 17:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Chasing Fuji-san to no avail and saying Hi to Hachiko

View Nolan's Eleven Heaven meetups & Philippine Post Easter Islands Meetup 2016 & Tokyo, Nikko and Kawaguchi & Tokyo Summer 2015 on NT01's travel map.

large_1840343_14380616008841.jpgSt. Ignatius ChurchEver since we arrived in Tokyo [Tokyo-travel-guide-285666], we have been hounded by rain. I thought when I checked two weeks prior to the trip, rain would be minimal - that completely changed the week of our trip. Apparently the rains don't end when June ends - they continue midway through July! So everyday was a challenge managing with one automatic foldable umbrella (good thing it is golf umbrella size even though it was collapsible), not to mention a water repellant jacket but with a wet backpack.

We woke up early for a 7AM breakfast because we were to go to Sophia University and attend Catholic mass at the St. Ignatius Church nearby. Because of a lively conversation we had after we got on the JR Yamanote Line, I realized too late that we had already passed the Kanda Station and forgot to get off there! Upon realizing my misstep, we got off at the next station and waited for the next train back to Kanda Station for the interchange.large_1840343_14380616218801.jpg We got delayed by about 10 minutes but at least the wait wasn't so long and we were on our way to get off at the Yotsuya Station along the Chuo Line. There were a lot of people who also arrived a few minutes after the mass had started, and we had to sit at the back so as not to bother the services.

After the mass, we waited for our friends who in turn were having coffee at the station. Because we didn't have Wi-Fi, we only got their message more than thirty minutes after they told us where to meet them. Funny because we saw them while crossing the street, and so we walked back to Sophia University where the nephew of our friend was an exchange scholar for the summer. He would take us on a quick tour of the campus and brought us to his classroom building which offered nice views of the Tokyo Skyline. After the quick tour, we were off to the Shinjuku [Shinjuku-travel-guide-1311838] station to catch our train to Otsuki, then to Kawaguchi [Kawaguchi-travel-guide-281734]-ko.large_1840343_14380616414855.jpg We took the Limited Express to Otsuki, then waited for the train to Kawaguchi. For some stroke of luck we got the newer Narita Express (NEX) , which was configured forward seating with comfortable chairs.

Things went quite well until we reached Fuji [Fuji-travel-guide-279799]-san Station. I knew we were supposed to go to Kawaguchi Station but this was the end of the line - the railway tracks didn't go forward. And the train stopped and many people got off. So instinctively we got off, and then I saw the Fujikyu commuter line on the other side of the platform - I asked if this was heading to Kawaguchi - apparently yes....until it made a right turn farther away in the opposite direction! Only then did I realize that this was the right train, but the wrong route! So we hurriedly dismenbarked at the first station (Gekkouji), which was practically empty.large_1840343_1438061593111.jpgNarita Express (NEX)Well, except for a backpacker on the other side of the ticket gates - who I asked when the next train back to Kawaguchi would be - and he said 1PM! So about 20 minutes wait, and having to realize by reviewing my notes how I missed out the train which was supposed to go non-stop until Kawaguchi-ko station.

And then it hit me - we were on the right train, but we shouldn't have gotten off at all! The train station at Fuji is configured in such a way where trains would stop there, and leave via the same set of tracks in the opposite direction! So after we got back on the Fujikyu Commuter Line, we didn't go off anymore because it was sure to turn left heading towards Kawaguchi-ko. And then I finally remembered my mistake from last year's trip to Osaka [Osaka-travel-guide-1308577] and Kyoto - and that I should always check the schedule, the direction and whether it was express or not.large_1840343_14380621067517.jpg Many trains in Japan share the same track, but not all of them stop at every station or the station you want to get off.

Once we arrived at Kawaguchi-ko, it was another overcast day. And rain seemed that it would fall anytime. After checking the tourist information for a place for lunch, we walked down the road and inevitably got the restaurant that was advertised there. The restaurant was owned by a Japanese family whose patriach seemed to take a hand in everything even though he didn't speak English. When we scanned the walls there were a lot of photo frames of mountains, both in Japan and abroad. We surmised he was a retired mountaineer but didn't get to ask him anymore since he seemed grumpy and we were hungry. The food was so-so at best, but at least we were not hungry anymore.

Since it didn't rain anymore, we checked out the tour buses but they were charging for a whole day which we really didn't need.large_1840343_14380621508453.jpg So we decided to walk to the lake itself, knowing that it won't take more than 30 minutes. It was actually a nice walk and we were able to reach the lake shore, take a handful of photos, before deciding to embark on riding the ropeway which would bring us up to the top of Mt. Kachi kachi. The original plan was to take the sightseeing pleasure boat but that was fruitless because clouds covered practically all of what was Mt. Fuji.

Having gone up the ropeway, we saw some amazing views of the two lakes and villages by the sides. But still no Fuji-san. We climbed up higher to the top deck of the building at the clearing of Mt. Kachi kachi, but still no famous view. Even the photographer who made a living selling cartoon imprinted photos was just lazing by the side since he had no business that day...and the past few days.large_1840343_14380621682701.jpg I found out from the ropeway attendant that clouds have been over the place for the past week, so no chance of seeing Fuji-san in its fully glory.

Finally, we decided to leave since we knew it was an omen for us to return one day, and now I am already thinking what the best season should be...well obviously it would be Sakura season, but winter seems also a nice time to go. For sure no clouds because these will freeze and become snow, too heavy to stay in the atmosphere.

Walking back to the train station to catch the ride to Tokyo at about 6PM we passed by a nice cheese cake store. We got some for take out, and it was a good decision because we arrived just a few minutes before the train left for Otsuki. From Otsuki we took the Fuji line and arrived in Shinjuku before transferring to Shibuya [Shibuya-travel-guide-1311183].large_1840343_14380621874870.jpgview from Mt. Kachi kachi ropeway

At Shibuya we searched for the famous statue of Hachiko, the ever loyal Akita dog who waited for his master daily for 9 years at Shibuya station even if his master had already died. One other thing not to miss is Shibuya Crossing where thousands of pedestrians make the crazy crosswalk and yet manage to avoid bumping into others for most of the time. Having gone around the Shibuya area, the ladies already planned where to do their shopping the following day, and we settled for a nice ramen dinner at one of the shops near the shoe stores.

Shibuya is quite lively, even into the late hours of the day. Definitely a place for people who love action and night life, but not for the more elderly. Compared to Akihabara [Akihabara-travel-guide-1311243] where most activities slow down after 10PM, Shibuya could go on until the wee hours of the morning!

And so it was - Shibuya was tomorrow's shopping destination and paradise.large_1840343_14380621032986.jpg ..but I had a TravBuddy meetup to arrange.


Posted by NT01 17:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

The UNESCO world heritage site of Nikko

View Nolan's Eleven Heaven meetups & Philippine Post Easter Islands Meetup 2016 & Tokyo, Nikko and Kawaguchi & Tokyo Summer 2015 on NT01's travel map.

large_1840343_14377375289171.jpgOur ride - the YamabikoHaving planned on purchasing the Kanto Area Pass, I immediately checked with the JR website which rail lines are covered so we wouldn't have to pay extra. Aside from the monorail and local JR trains, the Shinkansen was also included (except the Tokaido Line going south). A shinkansen ticket alone would cost about 5,000 JPY one way, so with a roundtrip Shinkansen ticket the Kanto Area Pass has paid for itself. And that's just for our first day!

The choices I had were to as far as Utsonomiya and then Nikko via the Nikko Rail. The other was to Karuizawa [Karuizawa-travel-guide-1314226] is a laid back town with its own unique appeal. Finally the third option was to Nasu Kogen which is a highlands destination (not good though when raining). These were the ones that seemed far enough to enjoy at least an hour's ride on the Shinkansen, plus another JR or local train line.large_1840343_14376630197658.jpgmodern day Shogun Noran-sanBelow are the links on the JR East website with short descriptions of the places and what train lines to take:

Karuizawa -http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/destinations/karuizawa.html [http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/destinations/karuizawa.html]
Nikko -http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/destinations/ … ugawa.html [http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/destinations/nikko_kinugawa.html]
Nasu Kogen -http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/destinations/nasukogen.html [http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/destinations/nasukogen.html]

I posted this in the forums for feedback from TravBuddies (http://www.large_1840343_14368682189488.jpg travbuddy.com/forums/viewtopic.php?id=61616 [forums/viewtopic.php?id=61616]) but Francis (fransglobal) had the simplest and most straightforward advice - "Nikko is a must." So I did a bit more research on Nikko, asked my travel companions and since there was no vehement objection, decided on Nikko (no regrets but the rains eventually cut short many of our plans).

On Saturday morning, we then headed off to the Ueno station to catch the Yamabiko Shinkansen (good thing it had very few stops to Utsonomiya) and were able to manage seats not far from each other. We walked over to Okachimachi and took a JR line to Ueno. Ueno is a bit of a maze because of many lines interchanging there. But we were able to easily find the platform for the Shinkansen (they have signs you can't miss). As we arrived about 15 minutes earlier another train arrived but I knew not to ride on it since it may not stop at Utsunomiya [Utsunomiya-travel-guide-286123] (not all trains stop at every station - something I learned from last year's Osaka trip).large_1840343_14368682624051.jpg Good thing the signs are brightly lit up and there are English translations.

The Shinkansen was one of the older duckbill shaped trains, and was not as full as the one that had stopped at the station earlier. We were able to find empty seats but usually 1 or 2 vacant at the most (no three seats are empty since passengers would normally choose the empty row first). I was seated in the middle row beside locals who were either busy reading books or newspapers, or listening to their music via earphones. Anyway, the view would be mostly city since Tokyo is such a big metropolis until we reached the outskirts. Before you could really see much of the countryside, another city passes by (we had only 1 or 2 stops before Utsunomiya) so the train really wouldn't go as fast as its maximum speed.

Upon arriving at Utsonomiya Station, there were these group of elderly volunteers who would approach tourists and give them advice plus a nice schedule of trains that connect with the Nikko Line and back to Tokyo.large_1840343_14368682902333.jpg And a detailed map (which we also were able to get at the Nikko tourist office).

As soon as we stepped out of the station building, we were greeted by drizzles which eventually became a downpour as we were walking along the main road heading towards Shinkyo Bridge. Our friend spotted a shop which said "dress in Japanese costume for 1000 yen". It was too good an offer to resist, not to mention if we continued walking we would be soaking wet and could catch a cold. So we knocked on the door, and a nice lady came out and said that we could indeed dress up in kimonos. While she couldn't speak English at all, she was very jovial and we would exchange ideas via sign language and my Japanese language app on my iPhone. Ha! One of the bucket lists fulfilled - after about an hour of putting layer after layer of clothes. And then about another hour just taking photos.large_1840343_14368683441557.jpg That was a lot of fun.

After the dressing up we had to look for lunch as it was already past 2PM. Eventually some tourists mentioned there was a restaurant at the corner nearest the bridge and so we stopped by to eat. The food was fairly expensive (tourist priced) and I didn't enjoy it as much as the cheaper food in Tokyo. Nevertheless, we needed to stay warm and make sure that we were strong enough to hike up the shrine of Toshugo.

Now my friend had brought her tripod and they started taking photos way before we even reached the gate of the shrine. By the time we had arrived it was already 4PM and they only had an hour to go before it closed. We hurriedly paid for the tickets, and then took as many photos as we could once inside. Notable was the original three monkeys (see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil) which were carved above the door of a house like structure.large_1840343_14368683229989.jpg As soon as we had cellular signal back, I sent the three TravBuddy monkeys (Vanessa, Hayley and John) a copy of the photo.

The details of the painted carvings in the shrine were really intricate and the colors stood out dramatically. We kept on taking photos until we got tired but realized we didn't reach the gravestone of the shogunTokugawa Ieyasu and there were hardly any people and the guardians were already angry and irritable. They couldn't speak English but there message was clear - the place wil close in a few minutes (but it was only 430PM and not 5PM). Anyway, we made a quick round and started heading down, but we weren't the last folks to do so. In the end, we had a sizable number of photos and had to rush to get to the most convenient train ride back.

We finally made it to the train before 6PM, had a few minutes to spare, and headed back to Tokyo.large_1840343_14377385291031.jpgThe Shinkansen was running up to 265 kph on our way back home!We traveled in the reverse direction of the route going there, and the information the elderly volunteers was very helpful (one paper they handed out showed the train combinations to Utsunomiya and Tokyo on various lines). It took at least a couple of hours but at least we were back in familiar territory, and ready for a big meal before we called it a day.


Posted by NT01 17:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Preparing for Tokyo's extensive transport network

View Nolan's Eleven Heaven meetups & Philippine Post Easter Islands Meetup 2016 & Tokyo, Nikko and Kawaguchi & Tokyo Summer 2015 on NT01's travel map.

large_1840343_14368674478679.jpgArriving at Haneda [Haneda-travel-guide-280184], I immediately started doing the must-do's at the airport before going into the city. And these had to do with money and transportation.

Money changing from USD to JPY was a pretty straightforward task. The exchange rate is shown, you fill up the forms, give your dollars and they will give the yen in exchange. This time it was a little over 120 JPY to 1 USD, much more favorable than the 102 JPY to 1 USD we first encountered during our vacation last year.

After the money exchange was completed, time to get the train tickets and passes. The Japan Railways East Co. has a travel service center just before the monorail station once you exit the arrival area of Haneda. We purchased the Kanto Area pass which covers all JR trains, some local lines plus the monorail for the surrounding areas about a hundred or so kilometers from Tokyo [Tokyo-travel-guide-285666].large_1840343_14368674565256.jpgKanto Area Pass - best deal for 8300 JPY for three days!It cost us 8,300 JPY for a three day pass. If we were to go further there was a more flexible 5 day JR East Pass, but that cost 22,000 JPY. Not something we needed given the short stay of a little over 3 full days.

JR East Travel Center accepts credit card payment for the Kanto Area Pass, and they will indicate on the ticket the start and end dates. So we had the dates set from July 4th to 6th, since we only needed the monorail and the JR Yamanote rail line to get to Akihabara [Akihabara-travel-guide-1311243] Station. For the rest of our first day, a SUICA pass would be sufficient. The SUICA pass is a multi-purpose contactless card that can be used for JR fares, the subway system, vending machines, and even at convenience stores like 7/11, Lawson's, Family Mart, etc.large_1840343_14368674651899.jpg The SUICA card costs 2,000 JPY including a refundable 500 deposit for the card itself. And it is valid for 10 years, and can be customized with your name (but you have to provide a Japan telephone number for that). You can buy the SUICA card at the ticket machines or at the JR Travel Service Center.

Once those two were completed, time to head off to the monorail stop, and then from there, get off at the Hamamatsucho Station. From there we would take the JR Yamanote Line to JR Akihabara Station. Upon getting to Akihabara, we exited at the Electric Town exit. Well that was because I knew it was facing north. Now we went past the street and up to the Anime Center, but once we got down, I sort of got disoriented whether to go left or right. I asked a few people on the street and showed them the confirmation booking with the address.large_1840343_14385851968391.jpgMap of Super Hotel Akihabara. Too bad I didn't see this online prior to me getting thereMany didn't know where the hotel was exactly located. Good thing one of the guys I asked checked it with Google Maps - after a few minutes of checking (it was that complicated even for him), he pointed us northwards. We continued walking for a couple of blocks until we saw the Dormy Hotel, which I remember considering for this stay as well. The staff were very helpful and told us Super Hotel was just across the street in one of the alleys. Finally, I saw the prominent sign near the parking lot (it was still bright so the yellow sign on the top floor was still off), and we managed to walk in after being slightly soaked by the Tokyo rain.

Our friend's nephew who had been waiting for us almost 2 hours at the hotel finally was relieved when we arrived at about 430PM. He was there that early because my friend had messaged him to be there within an hour after our flight had landed.large_1840343_14368674406047.jpg I told her give it until 4PM, considering all the chores we had to do, plus chasing the trains. In the end, I had overestimated getting there by 30 minutes. Not bad for a first time visit to Tokyo after more than 40 years (where I was too young to remember 99% of what happened).

In the early evening we decided to walk further north to Ueno [Ueno-travel-guide-285965] and checked out the park. It was raining throughout the late afternoon and early evening and we had only 1 large umbrella plus a teeny one. Being a bit tired from the trip we didn't explore past the central area where the fountain was nearby, and stopped over at a Starbucks for some rest and purchases that friends asked us to do for them.

We finally walked around looking for a shoe store as our friend's feet were soaking wet because her shoes were made of mesh, thus the rain had seeped all the way into her socks.large_1840343_1436867437920.jpg She bought nice quality HiTec hiking boots which would serve her well for the hike up Nikko and in Kawaguchi [Kawaguchi-travel-guide-281734] over the next two days. We ate at a Takoyaki joint and had our first warm meal of Japanese food at another restaurant in Ueno.

Because the rain continued way into the late evening we eventually decided to go back to the hotel because we would be having a long day on Saturday.


Posted by NT01 17:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

The hurriedly booked weekend vacation to Tokyo

View Nolan's Eleven Heaven meetups & Philippine Post Easter Islands Meetup 2016 & Tokyo, Nikko and Kawaguchi on NT01's travel map.

Ever since me and the kids came back from vacation, the wifey has been envious that she hasn't had one of her own since our Europe trip in January. Work has been demanding so much of her this year that the only times she can really take a decent vacation are during holidays (no more than 4 days total including weekends), or in January when work hasn't really taken off ground for the year. It so happened that with the starting up of her company they had a sort of "moratorium" for booking business for the month of July, so she had been on the prowl for a quick vacation during the first week of July.

And then opportunity struck. We were passing by one of the malls (SM Aura in Bonifacio Global City) when we chanced upon a travel sale sponsored by BDO (one of the leading banks in the Philippines), available only to those who banked with BDO or had their credit cards. And it wasn't as crowded as the Travel Expo that is usually held in February! What drew most people's attention is the Buy-One, Take-One sale of Cathay Pacific to most, if not all of their destinations on economy class. Alas, the line had been closed only a few hours after they had opened (same case on the opening day), and they were processing over 200 ticket sales! We met our neighbor who had been lining up for almost 4 hours already and their number was only in the 80s! Imagine, no. 200 would probably been serviced at closing hours of the mall (9PM).

So we go around and see which ones are readily available - tough luck there as long lines hounded Philippine Airlines and other airlines who had cheap airfare sales. And then we decide to see if we could go to Japan again, since we already had multiple entry visas valid until 2017. I chanced upon a familiar travel agency, the same one we used to apply for our Japanese visas in April 2014, and since there was not much of a line, decided to call one of their sales consultants and asked about various airfare.

It turns out that they had relatively cheap airfare to Tokyo Haneda (most people fly into Tokyo via Narita) on Philippine Airlines, and the fare was under $400 when it normally would cost between $500-600. Not bad, considering that most travelers don't know the little secrets of Haneda (travel time is almost an hour faster into downtown Tokyo, their international terminal is not as full, not to mention transport is cheaper by almost 2,000 yen). So we got interested and eventually booked a good fare, not to mention at the same time called wifey's friend and officemate (also a friend of mine), who was also looking for a break from work. She then set up a Viber chatroom specifically for Tokyo and our friend was so excited that she dropped everything she was doing that day and drove all the way to SM Aura. As we couldn't wait any longer, we gave her the name of the travel consultant and specified that she be given the exact fare that we got. A couple of hours later, we got confirmation that she was booked on the same flight, and tagged along her son who was turning 17 first week of July.

By the time we had gotten down to serious travel planning (1 week before actual travel), our friend had informed us that her mother had also booked a longer vacation to Osaka for later this year in time for her 70th birthday. Plus a third trip back to Osaka next year with the rest of the family. Wow, talk about excitement three times over!

I love being with our friend - wifey and her have been together traveling for quite some time but always for work. This time around, it will be for vacation alone (no work machines were to be carried) - but inevitably, work again came up whenever they talk about deals and officemates, after which I had to go into tuning out mode since I have heard these stories over and over many times.

Posted by NT01 17:00 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

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