A Travellerspoint blog

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Preparations

The countdown to Tokyo

sunny

In 91 days, I and my 15 year old son will be taking on a trip that I have dreamed of since the 1980s. Japan!
Over the past several months, I have been creating quite the itinerary. Presently, we are planning to visit for a total of 14 days during the wonderful month of June. During our 14 day, we have scheduled a tight, but reasonable number of places to visit. As of this writing, they are as follows:

Tokyo, Nikko, Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, and Hiroshima. We have a pair of day trips in there as well to the Monkey Park and to Nara.

Although this is still 3 months off, I cannot help but feel super-excited. For myself, I have been dreaming about Japan since the 1980s. There was a point where I figured I would never get the chance. My wife and I have travelled frequently, but mostly for family and towards Europe and the Middle East. That dream of Japan, had been reduced to a mere flicker... until last November, when my son decided that was where he had wanted to go.

You see, with 3 kids, hauling the whole family to Europe or the Middle East was financially brutal. We're talking 10k per trip. I could have paid off the house by now with the number of trips we'd made over the years, so in 2018, my wife and I decided that instead of hauling everyone someplace, each of the kids would get a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Anywhere they wished to go (provided that this would also serve as a learning introduction into a new culture, etc...). Last year, my eldest wanted to see and experience France in all its glory. So in 2018, she went along with my wife. It was magical for her.

Now... it is my son's turn, and he decided that Japan was the place for him. Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun! Thousands of years of culture, some of the best seafood on the planet, and technology that reduces even grown men to weeping.

So far, we have purchased our tickets (June), and we have reserved the hotels. We made a mixture of Pod hotels and traditional Ryuken. The list of sights and places is extensive, but manageable. Additionally, I have spent nearly 3 months figuring out the costs and expenses. Everything from daily eating to bus and train rides. To my surprise, I have managed to keep it under 5,000.00 (this is including the Airfare and a 7 Day JR-Rail pass for 2 people).

Next entry I'll cover the Itinerary, as we countdown to our departure day!

Posted by tmulcahey 06:21 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo japan travel vacation trip Comments (0)

The Hotel Decisions

Where to stay, what to pay


View Lebanon 1st Trip - 1999 & Japan 1st Trip - June 2019 & Lebanon 3rd Trip - 2000 on tmulcahey's travel map.

So!

As I steadily march down the path towards cultural enlightenment on my momentous vacation (much needed, as you will see me repeat ad nauseum), I have struggled with exactly where I am going to stay. This struggle is mostly confined to the glorious city of Tokyo. In particular, while crawling around on Booking.com, I had spotted a number of very reasonable prices for capsule hotels. Since my son wishes to experience both the traditional as well as the modern, why not enjoy one of these in one of the largest cities on the planet?

The list of choices is excellent. I looked over several areas in particular. Harajuku, Shinjuku, Chiyoda, and Shibuya. In particular, I was looking at the 9-Hours hotels that they have. Of course, the basis of my decision had to be on several levels. Ready or reasonable access to the nearest station (Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, etc...), whether my son was interested in it or not (Has to have WiFi, or a TV), and whether it is close to the restaurants and shopping that he wishes to experience.

Initially, I had chosen Chiyoda. The hotel I selected was reasonably priced (200$ for 4 nights) for two people, and it was close to the Imperial Palace; something I am keen on seeing. However, it was not close enough to all the things that he wished to see and do (I thought it was, but the teenager spoke). So after some more searching I discovered a 9-hours Capsule hotel in Shinjuku. This looked excellent, and even he liked it. It was right in the middle of a street of a ton of stores, and places to eat that appealed greatly to him. So I reserved it.

Then... a moment of clarity. As I marveled at the choice of location, due to its excellent spot for all the tasty foods I would be able to sample, and people watching in general; I noted that I would be a mile from the station! Oh no!

For myself, walking that distance is no issue. I walk a mile to work and a mile back on a daily basis. I've worn out quite a number of shoes doing this over the years. My son, however... has no such experience, and although he IS a teenager, and therefore filled with an overabundance of energy; given the things that we are going to be doing, I can only imagine that either he would be walking like a zombie or I would be carrying him at the end of every evening. No thank you.

Therefore, I had to pick another hotel. As luck would have it, I found one less than 500 feet from Shinjuku Station. A lovely capsule hotel that seemed, to me, that it had been built with my teenage son in mind. I looked at the many reviews that have been made about it, and it appears to be one of the best in the whole of Shinjuku. People rave about it. This hotel is known as the Capsule Anshin Oyado Shinjuku hotel. You should look it up and see it. It looks positively marvelous, and with the conclusion of this dream vacation, I will definitely be writing about the experience staying here, both on this travel blog, as well as an official review on their booking.com site.

The only downside, for me, is the price. Many might point out that the price is a steal, considering the city and the location, and I would agree with that assessment. However, I am going about 150$ over my lodging budget on this one. (460$ for 4 nights for 2 people). To be honest, I am wrestling with that. However, since this is literally the trip of a lifetime, I have managed to soothe my ruffled wallet with the knowledge that this experience is going to be singularly unique for a 15 year old boy. And I can't put a price on that.

So! With Tokyo officially wrapped up, I have now begun concentrating on double-checking my initial reservations in the other cities that we are planning to visit. Nikko, Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, and Hiroshima. Of these, the only one that is of any concern is the hotel in Kyoto. It is about several blocks from the castle grounds, which is fine, but I have not managed to convince myself that it is the optimal place to stay, considering the amount of movement and the places we will be visiting while there (also, 4 days like Tokyo). So for now, it will remain reserved, but I am still 'on the fence' about it.

In closing on this entry, I must admit something both to you who are reading this, as well as myself. I admit, that in days past, I was one of those individuals who merely looked at a hotel as a place to 'crash', and little more. However, as I have gotten older and my travelling experience (Which has covered most of Europe, and a respectable section of the Middle East) has become more … seasoned, I find that what I look for in a hotel goes beyond just a place where I can collapse onto a bed. While I never have (and still don't need) required all the bells and whistles such as a spa, or massage parlor, or room service... I do like the little things. A small continental breakfast where I can grab something quick as I hurry off to an adventure, perhaps... or one of those 'gimmie' packets with a toothbrush or some shampoo. So far, many of the hotels that I have reserved in Japan have these in abundance. Less than 90 days remaining and counting...

Next up... figuring out hot to get around Japan... JR Rail Passes, Subways, Taxi's, and those limo-buses!

Posted by tmulcahey 07:22 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo japan travel vacation hotel trip Comments (0)

4 Days in Tokyo

Where to go, what to do!


View Lebanon 1st Trip - 1999 & Japan 1st Trip - June 2019 & Lebanon 3rd Trip - 2000 on tmulcahey's travel map.

Ok!

So while I finalize many of the things that are necessary to a good and (hopefully) stress-free vacation, there is the need to plan out what exactly am I going to be doing for the 4-days I will be in Tokyo with my son. Being 15, he is too young for some things and too old for others. Its a quirky age where you have one foot in two worlds; youth and adulthood. So while I am figuring out the things to see and do, I find I am having to double-check many of the planned activities we've listed.

Day 1: So far, we are planning to arrive (around 3pm Tokyo time). That means that given Customs, and distance from Narita, we figure to arrive at the hotel sometime around 6pm. This is going to involve taking the Narita Bus (1,000 Yen and 70min.) to Tokyo Station and from there to Shinjuku Station. Hopefully once we arrive at Shinjuku we will either grab a bite to eat there, or just exit and walk to the hotel for the check-in. A shower would probably be nice given that we will have been flying for some 15 hours and in cars and trains for another 1.5. I'd like my first evening in Tokyo to be one where I don't smell like a goat! The idea, hopefully, before going to bed, would be to link up with my little brother (whose still seeing about going), and walk around Shinjuku a bit to get oriented with where we are. After a little walking around, and hopefully sampling some of the street foods, we will go back to the hotel and get some sleep... because Day 2 is full.

Day 2: Depending on whether I can get my lumpen teenager out of bed at a reasonable hour, the initial idea was to do a little daytime walking around Shinjuku during or just before breakfast. Nearby, is my son's #2 initial dream-spot. The legendary Bic Camera store. While I have informed him that he shouldn't necessarily do his souvenir shopping the day after he arrives, I know that he'll take some measure of the place. This is, so I have been told, easily an 1-2 hour experience to see this massive electronics store. And who knows how long we might be there initially, since my travelling companion is a 15 year old boy. That being said, we will spend some time there and eventually hop onto the trail from Shinjuku to Akihabara. Here, we will have some lunch before heading off to see some of the sights. There is an excellent series of YouTube video's from a gentleman named Paolo. I highly recommend them, and he offers some seriously good advice about where to go, what to see, and costs.
Also, on this day, I managed to make a reservation at the Akiba Fukurou, which is an Owl Café with about 40 different owls that are perched around. I'll write about this experience after I get back to the states.
Also, on this day, I will (because I seriously just need to get it out of my son's system), be taking him to Radio Kaikan, Gamers-Kadogema, and Radio Center in Akahabara. I figure to just let him wander all the stores and drool over the cool technology that's out there. Afterwards, a nice walk little walk around the area before we head back to Shinjuku for dinner and a visit to … (love this name) Piss Alley. Honestly... I just have to go there to say that I went there. However, I have been told that they have some restaurants there which serve a delicious Yakitori. I think I'll try some, because it is one of my weaknesses.

Day 3: I figure that my son will probably have simply crashed by the time we return to the hotel on the prior evening, so he will most likely not be overly thrilled when I am tapping his arm to wake him up for another fun-filled adventure. On our 3rd day, we will be heading out from Shinjuku to Asakusa for some early morning shopping and a tasty breakfast. I am most interested in hitting both the Nakamise Street, and the Shin-Nakamise street before heading over to the Sensoji Temple for a looksee. Since I love traditional and older things, this temple is a blessing for me. Afterwards, we will head from Asakusa to Shibuya. I simply MUST experience the Shibuya Crossing and have been told that no trip to Tokyo is complete without running that gauntlet. After this, we will have lunch at a place called Hanamaru. I made reservations, so I hope my son likes Udon Noodles! Once we've filled up with delicious noodles, we will walk a bit to find the 100 Yen Shop called 'Can Do'. This one is quite well known and respected. I figure to find some small trinkets here, and after this, we will be heading back to Shinjuku for dinner at a place called Numazukou. A conveyor-belt sushi restaurant that has come highly recommended. This is located in or near Shinjuku's Golden Gai district, which I would very much like to see and experience. If time permits, a stop into the Maruhan Shinjuku Pachinko Parlor wouldn't hurt either.

Day 4: The last day in Tokyo! A quick breakfast and we will be off to Chiyoda and the Tokyo Imperial Palace and its lovely gardens. We will take the morning English-speaking tour and this should last about 75 minutes. Although I would love to see the inner palace, my son has not been overly interested in it, so I will not bother with the reservations that are required. Instead, he will get to ruminate in their lovely East Gardens.
Its at this point, (lunchtime on day 4), where I find myself debating whether to take him to Tokyo Tower for a lovely panoramic view of the city, or haul him off to Edo Castle to look around at that. There is also another thought that had popped into my mind, and that was a trail-hike up Mt. Fuji to see the sun set. As fun as that would be, somehow, I get the feeling that he would not be overly thrilled at an 8 hour climb and 2-hour descent... If I don't do any of that, then our final evening in Tokyo would be a mixture of walking around Chiyoda, and Shinjuku.

In truth, there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of things to do in Tokyo. A person could spend months trying to see everything, and not be able to. This is a mega-city. There's a real possibility that some of these might change in the next couple of months, but so far this seems to be the plan we are going to follow. For myself, I am going to be perfectly happy strolling around the districts of Tokyo and sampling all the different street foods that they have to offer!

After Tokyo... the city of Nikko, to the north! More on that as I continue to countdown to my first vacation since 2012!

Posted by tmulcahey 10:00 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo travel vacation hotel shinjuku Comments (0)

To Shinkansen or not to Shinkansen

Trains, JR Passes, Subway's and the infamous Taxi


View Lebanon 1st Trip - 1999 & Japan 1st Trip - June 2019 & Lebanon 3rd Trip - 2000 on tmulcahey's travel map.

As the clock moves ever closer, I ask myself what to do about transport in the country of Japan. I knew early on that Narita Airport is a bit of a drive from Tokyo, so there would be no question that hitching a ride on a train would occur. However! As I studied this topic, I found there are 4 possibilities to choose from. There is the Taxi, the Limo Bus, the Train, and driving it yourself.

According to what I discovered, the Taxi is flatly out of the question, especially if there are only 2 people (such as myself and son). The Taxi is going to cost 200 - 250$ USS (which is a LOT of Yen). Unless your a group of 4, and you don't care so much about the cost, this is an option I simply cannot take. The Taxi, as I am told, takes about 40 minutes to get to Tokyo.

The Limobus runs from Terminal 1 and 2 about every 20 minutes to Tokyo Station, and costs around 10$ US or roughly 1,000 Yen. If you buy your tickets online, the price goes down to about 900 Yen. This trip will take about 75-90 minutes.

One Train that I found is called the Keisei Line. It is a regular train servicing the airport to central Tokyo, and it connects with the Toei Asakusa Subway Line as well as the Yamanote Line which takes a little over an hour. I have found varying prices for this train, so I am uncomfortable giving a specific number. However, the sites that I have gone to range the price of a ticket (1-way) anywhere from 20$ US to 30$ US. Another Train is the N'EX, Narita Express (Ltd Exp Narita Express), which takes about 45 minutes and runs upwards of 25$ US per person.

I don't know about any of you, but I am thinking that after a long flight, a nice bus would be a refreshing welcome. So, for myself, I am going to be purchasing some Limobus tickets online before we depart. That way, we won't have to worry about lines or kiosks (and if we do, they'll probably be smaller lines... its a risk, but hey... why not?).

As for getting around Tokyo, I have reserved myself a nice hotel very close to the Shinjuku Station (as noted in earlier blogs). This station is huge, and super busy, but with good reason. It reminds me a bit of an anchor point for a dozen metro lines that can be used to get to various parts of the city in a reasonable amount of time. I've toyed with the idea of getting the unlimited say passes (24hrs for about 10$ USD), but I'm still on the fence about that. Trips from Shinjuku to other areas of the city typically are running about 2$ USD per person per trip. As I won't be galivanting around the city 4-5 times a day, I don't see the need to get it, but I might change my mind when I get there. For the 4 days we are staying in Tokyo, we plan to use the Subway/Metro lines almost exclusively. No need for a Taxi, unless we are hopelessly lost.

For the rest of the country, I am purchasing the JR Rail Pass. This is a very interesting pass... and not cheap. It's runs about 257$ USD for a 7-Day Pass. I want to stress some things here about this Pass. First, the 7 days are consecutive days! I don't think a lot of people realize that, but they are. I checked and re-checked this one. Once you activate it, the clock start ticking. This was of particular importance to me as we (my son and I) won't be activating our JR Rail Pass for the first 6 days of our trip. We will activate it upon arrival in Tokyo from Nikko on Day 6 of our journey, which will mean that it will expire on the day we depart from Himeji to Hiroshima. The JR Rail pass is not cheap, as I said, but this is the bullet train. It will get you where you need to go faster than anything else. You can see the time estimates on their website. Also, the ride is nice and smooth. One of the oddest things about this Rail Pass is that you have to order it online. Yup. This means I have to order mine within the next few weeks. You cannot purchase a JR Rail Pass inside Japan. At least, that is what everyone is saying, as well as their own website.

So! With this information in hand (and finding myself 'relieved' of about 514$ USD for the JR Rail Passes (2 people, non-Green Seats, which cost a lot more... but are for the person who wishes to travel in stately fashion), I am now hitting close to 80 days out. The excitement is slowly building, and with Tokyo mostly wrapped up, I am setting my sights on the beautiful city of Nikko, which I will mention in my next entry on the countdown to my first bloody vacation since 2012!

Posted by tmulcahey 08:23 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo japan travel metro rail shinjuku narita jr Comments (0)

Nikko

and the resting place of the first Tokugawa Shogun


View Lebanon 1st Trip - 1999 & Japan 1st Trip - June 2019 & Lebanon 3rd Trip - 2000 on tmulcahey's travel map.

Currently (and about 100% on this), my son and I are going to travel for an overnight trip to the beautiful and a wee bit tourist-y location of Nikko. This is a city that is located a few hours north of Tokyo. The city is known for several particulars. First is that it is the resting place of Tokugawa Iesau, the first Tokugawa Shogun. Many people indirectly know who this guy is. If you are of my age (mid-40's), then you might remember a miniseries that was on television back around 1980 called Shogun. This was made from a book of the same title. The names of the characters are a bit different (Lord Toranaga for Tokugawa, John Blackthorn - AKA Anjin-san for William Adams). While the names were changed and some obvious alterations to locations and names of places, the essence of the story is kinda close to actual history.

Tokugawa was the President of the Council of Regents, and eventually got rid of them along with the others who stood in his way and he became Shogun of Japan. That occurred around 1603. The big battle that all but clinched this occurred in October of 1600 at a little town known as Sekigahara. Something that the miniseries and book literally mention in the last few seconds of the show, and on the last page of the book. I highly, highly recommend reading that book if you like a small (reasonably) accurate book of life in Feudal Japan... but by no means would I consider this to be a totally accurate thing.

That said, when he finally died in the early 1600s, his remains came to rest in Nikko about a year later (not his first choice and there is a minor mystery if they really are, in fact, there). However, the shrine that has grown up there, and had been built up over several generations of his progeny; it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 42 Structures, and a museum are there. Some of these are considered national treasures, so this is a very big deal!

I am taking my son here (along with my own deep interest to visit). This city of Nikko is located in the Tochigi Prefecture of Japan. There are a number of fascinating things that I am looking forward to seeing. The sleeping cat woodcarving, the 5-story pagoda (1 level for each element), the stable of sacred horses, and of course the cryptomeria.

Obviously there are so many beautiful things to see in this small city (about 100k people or so). The Edo period red-bridge, among them. While I admit that we will be spending only a day there, I plan to make the most of it. My poor son will undoubtedly need new shoes for all the walking he is about to experience!

From where we will be residing (The Turtle Inn, which looks gorgeous in the photos of it), all the locations to see are within walking distance... kind of. Since I'm used to walking for long distances, heading to these sites shouldn't be an issue. I suspect my son may not like the long walks, but this is an area that has some truly breathtaking views of mountains, streams, and forests. How could anyone complain about a long walk through all that?!

I know from the brochures and the information gleaned on websites that there is a cost for entry into the Shrine. Last I checked (3-14) the cost to go into the Tokugawa Shrine and Museum was running about 21$ USD per person. Additionally, since I want to take a gazillion photos of my son on the Shinkyo Bridge, to visit and walk across it will run about 6$ USD for the pair of us. That's roughly 2100 Yen per person for the Shrine and Museum, and 600 Yen for the Bridge.

Additionally, with some time permitting after a tasty lunch (I have been told that a place called Ramen Bonten is outstanding), if weather and time permits, I want to see a place called the Kegon Falls. There is a charge to see them, of course, and its about 5$ USD per person, or roughly 500 Yen. However, since there are not a whole lot of waterfalls like these in the islands, they are worth the visit. That, and from the pictures I saw, would make it worthwhile on a lifetime vacation... would any of you not agree with this?

So! With all this in hand, and an evening dinner at a place called Yamaga, which is reputed to have some truly excellent Sushi, the trip to Nikko should be well worth the 50$ USD tickets via the train. A final word on that. The Train, which is on the Tobu-Railway line from Shinjuku is considered a Limited Express. This train leaves every day at exactly 7.30AM. It is (duh) an express, and arrives in Nikko at 9.28AM every day. This is the line we will take to and from Nikko. At the conclusion of this 1-day excursion, we will return to Tokyo, but only in passing. Upon our arrival at Tokyo Station from Nikko, it is then that we shall activate the JR Rail Pass. Our Day 6 of our trip.

Once this is activated, and I cannot stress this enough, the 7-day consecutive pass begins. The JR Rail, also known as the Shinkansen, is the bullet train. To reach Kyoto from Nikko the trip will be to take the JR Nikko Line to Utsunomiya. From there, we take the Shinkansen to Tokyo Station and then onwards to Kyoto. Including transfer times the whole trip time should be around 5 hours in total. Hopefully, the trip will be of interest for my son. I certainly love the idea of whizzing by Mt. Fuji on this lovely train, and hope to snap a few photos.

Next: Kyoto... for 4 days as our countdown to Japan continues.

Posted by tmulcahey 07:09 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo kyoto nikko shinkyo travel vacation hotel shrine shinkansen tokugawa kegon Comments (0)

Narita, Haneda, and Nikko

Mistakes and Corrections


View Lebanon 1st Trip - 1999 & Japan 1st Trip - June 2019 & Lebanon 3rd Trip - 2000 on tmulcahey's travel map.

Ok!

So one of the reasons for planning and preparation of a vacation trip (especially one taking you half-way around the globe) is to ensure that your actual time in the place you wish to visit, goes smooth and as reasonable stress-free as possible. Part of the reason I write this blog, and pass along various things I have discovered.

To that end, I realized just this weekend that for all my preparations I made a mistake! I'm not landing in Narita Airport. I'm landing in Haneda! Oops! Super-Oops! I had forgotten what my tickets originally said, and noticed it only while I was working on whether or not to take the LimoBus from Narita Airport, which is a 75-90 minute drive to Tokyo Station.

Haneda Airport is considerably closer (and recently, 2014, renovated). I'd made the classic mistake of assuming that because Narita handles almost all of the International flights that I would be going there. However, Haneda is now taking over more of them (but primarily still handling most of the domestic flights). Oops.

So I found myself working on what to take to get to Tokyo Station from Haneda, and was over-joyed to notice that the Monorail and Metro lines from Haneda go to Shinjuku! Hurrah for the small victory, bummer for my error. There are a number of ways, like with Narita, that you can get to Tokyo. LimoBus, Taxi, Metro line, and the Monorail. Right off the bat, I exclude the Taxi. That's still going to set you back a hefty amount, so unless you're travelling in a large group, I cannot recommend it. The LimoBus runs about 10$ USD (1,000 Yen approx.). The Monorail is around the same price, as is the Metro. All sites that I have been to say essentially the same thing: They are immensely easy to get to in the airport, they are all reasonably priced, and they all can get you into Tokyo in about 30 minutes. The LimoBus takes a bit longer, but that's because it stops and occasionally picks people up, depending on what Terminal you are coming out of.

There are also a number of locations around Haneda that allow you to purchase a Bus, or Metro or Monorail ticket as well, and the kiosks are multi-lingual (I saw Japanese/English being the primary). There are a few YouTube videos where people actually walk through the airport and do this, and these can be very valuable to people who would like a 'sneak-peek' at what the place looks like. Additionally, there is a lower level in the airport that is supposed to have some truly outstanding places to grab a bite to eat if you are not in any hurry to get to Tokyo, or are waiting around for something. Paolo's YouTube channel has a vblog specifically about these places, and I highly recommend it. (I'll give him this, the man knows his stuff, and I especially love how he separates his opinions on what he likes vs. what others might like, when talking about the different places to eat).

Additionally, thanks to my continuing research, I am going to amend some of my travel plans when I head for a day up to the city of Nikko. I had originally intended to do 3 things. 1, visit the Tokugawa Shrine. 2, visit the red bridge. 3, check out the waterfalls. The 3rd one is the one that I am going to scratch off my list in favor of something new, and honestly, far more interesting (both for myself and my son). There is a place in Nikko called Edo Wonderland. It is a tourist-y place, admittedly, but one that is so cool I simply cannot ignore it. It is a small village that is right out of the Edo period of Japanese History, where all the people in the village are dressed to the time period. This is much in the flavor as Colonial Williamsburg in the United States.

People visiting can either just simply pay the entry fee (about 42$ USD per person), and walk in, or they can pay the fee and then head to an area where for an additional charge (about 23-25$ USD), and get dressed in a kimono of the proper time-period. Some outfits, such as that of a Daimyo (Noble Lord) are a little more expensive, but as I understand it, this premium dressing comes with some nice benefits (such as everyone bowing, or moving out of the way, etc...) I am going to read more up on that! For myself, I might simply try my hand at being a Samurai, and paying the respect the title would imply for a time.

This place is open from about 9AM to 5PM daily. So, I figure we probably wouldn't get there before 11AM, due to the fact that we have to check into the Hotel and hop on a bus to get there (15-20 min. ride). If we go to this place, it will easily eat up a good chunk of the day, and for the price of entry, I would want to get the most out of it. That would mean that I have to push the Tokugawa Shrine visit back into late afternoon. This is fine, because if I had to give up the waterfalls and the red bridge, I could do so (I can always get to the bridge on the following morning, before we depart back to Tokyo and then onto Kyoto). So there will undoubtedly be a little bit of priority and time juggling, but in the end it will be worth it.

So I think, given my 'oops' moment, and the discovery of something really interesting in Nikko, I am going to do a little more digging for more fascinating discoveries of this lovely Land of the Rising Sun!

Posted by tmulcahey 07:45 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo nikko japan airport metro rail shinjuku haneda narita edo jr limobus Comments (0)

T-Minus 76 days and counting...


View Lebanon 1st Trip - 1999 & Japan 1st Trip - June 2019 & Lebanon 3rd Trip - 2000 on tmulcahey's travel map.

So I made a few alterations to our schedule. Shaved a day off of our time in Kyoto for an additional day in Nikko. A little jostling around the schedule, and everything is still a go. It's little things like this that make me appreciate all the study that I have been doing for this travel. I want no headaches (or at least the bare minimum...) when I go there, so I can soak up all the culture that is possible within the allotted time.

That said, one of the few things that's been keeping me up has been the horror (and magnificence) of the Rail System in Japan. When I state bleakly at the sad and sorry state of my Metra Rail line in Chicago, I cannot help but admire whatever I run into in Japan. I practically wept when I saw how the trains operate in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Munich.

So! One thing I do know is that the Japanese system is one of the more organized railways in the world. It is super complex with overlapping JR, Metro, and Subways. It is important to realize that in some instances, people will be moving about the stations and jumping from the JR to a Metro, or Subway, or from a Subway to the JR, and so on. Fortunately, everything is color-coded and there are a number of arrows, guides, and lines that will point you in the right direction if you're going from, say, Shinjuku to Tokyo Station. Additionally, there are some nice places around the city where you can find discount passes and tickets as well. I've been hearing about the fact that I can purchase some of these online before I go to Japan for a 10% discount. I'll be researching that between this blog and report on those findings in the next.

To give you a better idea of what I am talking about in terms of the size and scope of their transportation system, there are a total of (get this) 36 lines that are run by the JR East in the whole Tokyo area. JR East covers what is known as the Kanto Region (This is comprised of the following: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Yamanashi). JR East also covers the Tohoku Region as well (This is comprised of the following: Fukushima, Yamagata, Miyagi, Akita, Iwate, and Aomori). Finally, JR East covers the Shin'etsu Region (This is Nigata and Nagano).

The most important line, as I understand it for those who are mainly interested in bouncing around in Tokyo is the Yamanote Line. This line connects Tokyo Station (the main) with Akihabara, Harajuku, Ikebukuro, Nippori, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Shinjuku and Ueno. The primary stations around Tokyo connected to this (the big stations) are Tokyo Station, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Shinjuku, and Ueno. I know more about Tokyo and Shinjuku Stations and how huge they are, than I do about the others. Shinjuku, for example, has over 200 exits and multiple floors for shopping, eating, and travel. I can't wait to experience this and I promise that I will be uploading photos to show people what it is like.

There is also something called the Chuo Line as well. I don't know much about this, other than it has Express and Local trains.

There is also the Tokyo Monorail. This is the train that I will be taking from Haneda Airport to Tokyo Station. This is supposedly a 15-20 minute trip and in operation almost continuously.

I bought a nice book from Lonely Planet for Tokyo 2019. It actually has a nice map of the whole rail system in and around Tokyo. If you don't buy this book (which I would recommend... its fantastic), then a good idea would be to print out a color map of the system online before you go. Additionally, there are a number of places all around the stations that have guides, maps, and some English-speaking people to assist you with where you are looking to go, and how best to get there. I have been told that it is a good idea to learn a little Japanese to ask these questions. A good idea would be to memorize this phrase: Sumemasen, Nihon go ga hanasemasen. This means: I am sorry, but I do not speak Japanese very well. You could follow that up with: Anata wa eigo o hanasemasu ka? This means: Can you speak English?

Japanese people deeply appreciate when you take the time to learn a little of their language, and it is good manners to learn some. After all, it is their home.

Posted by tmulcahey 08:22 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo kyoto nikko japan travel metro subway rail shinjuku haneda monorail jr Comments (0)

3 Days in Kyoto


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After my son and I have spent 4 days in Tokyo and 2 days in Nikko, we will be taking the JR Rail (Shinkansen) to Kyoto. As I understand it, we will take the JR Nikko line to Utsunomiya, and from there we will get on the Shinkansen to Tokyo station. Once we have arrived in Tokyo station, we will then make the change for a JR train bound for Kyoto. This full route will take around 5 hours, including transfer times. If we leave around 8AM (or 7AM), we should arrive in Kyoto by Lunch time.

One of the things I have noted to him is that we might want to take our time when we are back in Tokyo, so we can explore the Tokyo Station and perhaps grab a bite to eat at one of their many fantastic places, or even do a little shopping, before heading off to Kyoto.

Once we have arrived, we are going to spend 3 days here. Like with Tokyo, we will be staying in a Capsule Hotel for the duration of our stay in this city. The place is called Glanz kei Karasuma Ebisugawa. I should also like to point out that the day we are leaving Nikko, June 11th, that is when we activate our JR Rail pass for the 7-consecutive days. The actual time it will take for the JR Train to go between Tokyo and Kyoto is about 2hr. 20 minutes. Not bad!

Our hotel is smack in the center of the city, and within reasonable walking distance to the Imperial Palace. However, because we added a day to our Nikko stay, we shaved it off of Kyoto. Its a painful sacrifice, but then again, after having really educated myself on all the delightful things to see and do in Nikko, I just had to do it.

In Kyoto, there are a number of things that we are going to be doing. The day we arrive, we are going to head out to the Monkey Park, which is about 20 minutes to the west of the city. This is the place where you can walk amongst the monkey's and for a few bucks, you can buy them treats. To get there, you head to the Kyoto Station and hop on train to the JR Saga-Arashiyama Station using the Sagano Line. It is supposed to be a 10-15 minute duration. My son is particularly interested in visiting this place, and it certainly sounds like a lot of fun. We will also attempt to walk around in the Bamboo Forests that are in that area. There is a lot of opportunity for photos here! A late lunch at the Kyoarashiyama Ine. After this, we will return to the city and head to the Gion area, which is famous for its outdoor cafes and nightlife. I also hope, given time, and whether either of us are physically capable of continuing to walk, to visit the Round 1 Stadium!, which is a 7-story high Arcade and gamer's paradise, and the Pokémon Center, which is an absolute on our trip.

After a good nights' rest, we will spend the next day crawling all around Kyoto. In particular we will be aiming to visit the Kiyomizu-dera temple, as well as the Gion and Pontocho Districts. The evening, hopefully will be fulfilled with a delicious dinner at Jumbo Yakitori Torikizoku Sanjo Kawaramachi-dori. This place is supposed to have the best Yakitori in Kyoto, and is located in the Pontocho District. For myself, I am very interesting in seeing the Tea Houses and Geisha as well as the other forms of traditional entertainment here. I have also been cautioned that if you see a lady in her full traditional Geisha outfit, that she should be left alone because she is on duty and heading somewhere to work. You can take a photo of her, sure, but don't stop her and request a selfie. That would be considered rude.

On the 3rd day in Kyoto, we will be heading on a day trip outside the city to the local city of Nara, which is well known for its beautiful Todaiji Temple, Kasugataisha Shrine, and of course... the Deer Park where you can hand feed the sacred deer that roam about. With time permitting, we will also visit the Yoshiki-en Garden. Thanks to the JR Rail Pass, we will be able to take the Moyakoji Rapid Train, which is supposed to be covered by the JR Rail tickets we have. It is a 45 minute train ride. If it is NOT covered, then the cost of the tickets is about 14$ USD per person. A late lunch perhaps at a place called Mentouan, which has Udon Noodles that are reputed to be some of the best. Or, if that is not possible, than Kakinohasushi Tanaka, which has 'artistic' sushi, and perhaps even a visit to Yoshinokuzu Sakura for some sweet mochi.

The following morning we will be checking out of our Capsule Hotel and heading to the Kyoto Station to leave for Osaka. This trip, which should only last about 15 minutes and will be covered in my next blog entry.

On the whole, while we are losing a day in Kyoto, we will still be hitting some of the major places to see and visit, such as the Deer and Monkey parks, and the Gion District, etc... Plus, we will be doing a lot of walking around the city and seeing the sites. I know full well that we could probably stay in Kyoto for weeks and not see everything there is to see, or do everything we could, but the whole idea of our trip was to spend a few days in each major city: Tokyo, Nikko, Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, and Hiroshima, and sample each one of them for a time before moving on to the next. We could have just as easily spent our total of 16 days just in Tokyo, and not seen even a quarter of it, but then we would miss out on all the richness of the other areas of Japan. By spending a few days in each city, we are hoping to come away with a greater and fuller appreciation for the Japanese culture, both main, as well as regional!

Posted by tmulcahey 08:52 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo osaka nikko japan nara kiyomizu udon gion pontocho jr Comments (0)

Checklist for Travel

Make sure you have what is needed!


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Every good vacation requires planning. Going to Japan is certainly no exception to that! This is even more important, considering that I will be, quite literally, halfway around the globe from my home. So, in order for everything to go as smooth as possible, it is always a good idea to have a list to go through to ensure that you have what you need.

I have looked through a number of websites, and have looked at a series of checklists. This list is a conglomeration of all of them, which I believe is the best for a trip like this one.

1. The Passport(s). Obviously this is the most important. Without this, you're not even getting through security at your home airport. However, make sure to check its validity before you go. You should have a minimum of 6 months time remaining, and a minimum of 1 page blank per country you are visiting. Since I am only going to Japan (via Canada), I only need one page.
2. The VISA. A lot of countries require a VISA to enter. Additionally, a lot of countries will issue a VISA upon your arrival at the Airport. Lebanon does, for example (been there numerous times). Japan does as well. However, Japan does have a list of countries that they will do this for. You can find that list here: https://www.insidekyoto.com/need-visa-japan. In the instance of the USA, they will issue a 90 day VISA when you arrive.
3. Cash. Japan still uses a lot of cash. In fact, the further from the major cities, the more they use it. I have been told that the Japanese are not the biggest fans of Debit Cards, and Credit Cards like Visa are accepted (mostly in the large cities like Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, etc...), but again... the further from the main cities you go, the less likely they are to take them. I also learned that there are some Credit Cards that are unlikely to be taken, such as Discover and American Express. I should like to note here that this information is based off reading articles and information about my travel to Japan. I will be able to provide actual details after I have returned, and will post my findings here. Also, you will want to use Japanese Yen. So it would be a good idea to get some before you go.
4. Hotel Reservations! You will want to make sure you have a place to stay, obviously. There are a number of excellent sites with which to work through. For myself, I used Booking.com. I found it to be a very efficient and easy website, and the prices were reasonable. I was able to make reservations (payable upon arrival) within minutes. Also, their rating system is based on customer review with comments which I found very helpful. In all, I was able to book 6 cities in less than 30 minutes, and even able (see my Nikko posts) to re-reserve and move around my schedules very easily.
5. The JR Rail Pass. If you are going to be moving between cities while in Japan (Tokyo to Kyoto, or Kyoto to Hiroshima, etc...), then it might be a good idea to get this pass. I've spoken of this in earlier blogs. The JR Passes cannot be bought in Japan. You buy them before you go there. Also, they are consecutive day passes. That means when you activate them, they expire at the conclusion of the days. Obviously the more days you get the pass for, the higher the cost. I purchased a pair of 7-Day JR Rail passes and it set me back about 524.00 USD. They have several options for the passes. I chose the most basic (I am budget travelling), but there are others that I was very interested in. Also! There are different flavors of JR Rail Passes. You can purchase them for particular regions, and that does alter the price. Since the ones I bought were for the whole country, mine cost the most. Please keep that in mind. You can buy them from the JR Rail website. They also send you an excellent map!
6. Your plane tickets. Although I have not been as frequent a flyer as I used to be, and I do like the whole 'airplane ticket on the phone' thing, it NEVER HURTS to carry the paper tickets with you... just in case. Like the Passport... if you don't have the ticket, you aren't even going to get through the security lines, so make sure that this is ready to go, in-hand, before you even leave your home. I would also note that this part of the checklist is probably a pointless one... right up until you see the look on someone's face while waiting in the check-in line and see that they forgot theirs.
7. Maps. In today's technological world, paper maps are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Most rely on their devices (phones, iPads, etc...). While I myself use them, for a trip like this, you better believe that I am going to have a backup. In my case, I bought a small book from Lonely Planet. It contains a ton of useful information, and in the back of the book is a... you guessed it... MAP. That map will be going with me wherever I am in Tokyo, rest assured. I only have a physical map for Tokyo, but before I go, I plan to have a small paper map for Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima as well.
8. Power Adapters. If you're travelling with technology, it will need to recharge. Countries like the US, Canada use a similar electrical standard. Japan currently (as I know it) is using 100v current. Most of their outlets are 2-prong, not 3. So if you need something with 3-prong, get an adapter (this is for those of you who would be travelling with a laptop, for instance). You would also do well to bring a USB phone charger too. This is what I am bringing (with a spare).
9. Clothing. More to the point; the right clothing. Japan is a group of Islands. So their weather is going to be different, and will almost certainly change a bit faster than many other places. Chicago would probably be a comparable temperature. Like Chicago, Japans summers get hot. Hot, and humid. Like Chicago, Japans winters get cold... as in really cold. So It would be wise to add this to your checklist. Checking how the temperatures are going to be in the area of Japan you are visiting is important. Also, keep in mind that many of the places you will visit like to keep their temperatures well-regulated; so if might be cold outside and you have dressed for it, but going inside a store and after a while you are going to find yourself uncomfortably warm. The best advice I read was that one should check the weather for the time of the visit, and wear / bring clothing that is easy to put on, and take off. Since I am going in late-spring, it is probably going to be heading upward in temperature... so T-Shirts and Shorts for me.
10. Suitcase. Obviously, this is a given. However, a number of people I have known over the years never seem to quite figure out the right amount of spacing. They either pack too much or too little. Typically, its too much. When its too much, there is almost no room for any souvenirs that you may wish to bring to friends or family. Too little, and you find that you are clothes shopping whether you wanted to or not. For myself, my son and I are taking backpacks as carryon's, and a single empty (or filled with basic supplies that will be used during the trip) luggage. The mostly-empty luggage will be filled with lovely souvenirs, and the backpacks will have our rolled clothing and necessities. This, for us, is the most optimal. It also has the added bonus that one of us could even stuff the backpack into the suitcase for the flight, if needs be.

So these are my top 10 list for travelling checklist. I'm sure I missed something, and with less than 70 days now, I hopefully will discover what that will be, but I do know that without some of these on the list, you wouldn't even be getting on the plane, let alone walking out of the terminal in Japan! If I do have more items to add, I'll follow up this blog with them. As always, thanks for reading!

Posted by tmulcahey 05:51 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo japan travel vacation hotel visa trip shinjuku passport cash checklist yen jr Comments (0)

2 Days in Osaka

Less than 60 days...


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As the clock ticks down, I am still doing my due diligence and checking out the typical 'how to's' when it comes to travelling around the country. Having ensured that I reserved all the proper hotels in each city, bought a JR Rail pass for my trips between the major cities (I bought the pass that covers the whole country, so it was more costly than the ones that are by region), made sure the passports are good, and I have been scouring the internet looking at reviews of places to visit and eat, I am beginning to feel better. Of course, the purpose of good and solid planning prior to a trip is to have limited or as few headaches as possible.

I've done trips where I reviewed and pre-planned everything, and I have done trips where I literally just hopped on the plane and went with no idea where I would go except for the arrival airport. For Japan, and the fact that I am taking my son, I wanted to make sure that he has as enjoyable a trip as I can provide for him. It is not everyday that one can take a 15 year old on the trip of a lifetime!

That being said, our travel itinerary will have taken us to Tokyo, Nikko, and Kyoto by the time we reach Osaka. We should have crawled around in Shinjuku, Chibuya, Harajuku, in Tokyo; as well as 2-days in the city of Nikko visiting the resting place of the first Tokugawa Shogun, the Red Bridge, and of course; Edo Wonderland. Afterwards, heading on the JR Pass, we will have arrived in Kyoto where we will have visited the Monkey Park, Nara, and done a crawl through Gion district and a few other places. After all this, we will arrive in Osaka for 2 days.

One of the things I keep hearing about is the Dotonbori area. It is supposed to be a major hustle-n-bustle area with a fantastic nightlife and many stores and shops to visit. Additionally, there is Osaka Castle (which I have been told is lovely to look at but not overly interesting on the inside). I will learn that for myself, as part of my whole reason for going to Japan is to gaze upon the Edo period castles, crawl through them, and feel the history. I know that Osaka castle has been built, destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed, and rebuilt again... but that hardly matters to me. No one rebuilt it like a skyscraper and planted a giant 'Here once stood Osaka Castle, majestic and lovely, now here is a Starbucks' sign. They rebuilt the castle, and I for one, want to see and experience it! Doesn't matter if it is 1 year old or 1,000 years old. The place has the history. Men and women of great importance walked this place, rebuilt or otherwise. They were there. I mean to see it in all its rebuilt and renovated glory. I believe that those of us who love Japan and its amazing culture should too.

We will remain in Osaka for two days, after which we will be heading southwards again, this time to the city of Himeji. However, it is my understanding that in the city of Osaka there stands a Pokémon store. Largest in the world, with every card ever made... many of which probably never make it to the States. My son, who collects these, has repeatedly noted that this is one of the things he is most interested in visiting. A 7-story building of nothing but Pokémon. As someone who appreciates the hobby of collecting, I can hardly refuse him (although my interests are not in Pokémon cards).

Also, as I end this small blog entry for today (I've been incredibly busy of late), I am extremely happy to report that the Sake Brewery in Nikko has replied to me via email for a tour! They were very, very nice. I even offered to bring a gift, which they politely noted that our presence was all that mattered. (Too bad for them... I'm bringing a gift from America regardless, as good manners would suggest). So on June 9th, I will be taking a tour of a 200 year old Sake Factory, and will make sure to stop by their family shop and purchase a few bottles of their family label to bring back home with me.

If any of you are planning to visit Nikko; here is the information of their place:

片山酒造株式会社
代表取締役 片山 貴之
〒321-1263 栃木県日光市瀬川146-2
TEL0288-21-0039 FAX0288-22-6911
http://www.kashiwazakari.com/

Posted by tmulcahey 05:45 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo kyoto osaka himeji nikko japan shinjuku sake jr Comments (0)

And the days grow shorter

Japan is getting closer!


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Broke 50 days remaining the other day, so the countdown, while slow, is nevertheless continuing. I can feel the excitement in my bones! As I write on this blog about the search for deals, tickets, places to visit, and all the interesting things to see and do; I can't help but feel a measure of … an odd mixture of happiness and sadness at the same time.

It has been no secret of mine that I have literally dreamed of going to Japan since the late 1980s. Around that time I had fallen in love with Anime (Do you Remember Love, Captain Harlock, Bubblegum Crisis, etc...), but I had also fallen in love with the culture itself as well as the language. In particular, I had a special enjoyment about learning about the Feudal Society that Japan had during the late 1500s, and reading historical books about the man who would become the first of the Tokugawa Shoguns; Tokugawa Iesau. (Partly one of the reasons I am going to Nikko, I want to see this man's resting place and shrine).

The main reason for my sadness is that there was a man who shared this love of Japan and Japanese culture that I knew. He was my best friend. We'd met when we were kids back around 1980-1981. His name was Jon. Those who used to play card games like Magic knew him as the Man-in-the-Black-Hat. He wore a black leather hat all the time. While we were in High School together (late 1980s), we'd started watching Anime. I was picky about my Anime (I prefer well-drawn, excellent storylines), and he just became absorbed with all of it. The man had an Anime collection that would shame just about all others. I can remember well his alphabetized collection stacked in neat rows from floor to ceiling in VHS tapes, and later on DVDs. I think there was enough that had he sold them all at their market value, he could have either bought a nice new car, or put a sizable down payment on a house.

Jon loved Japan, and many aspects of it, but not in the way I did. While I embraced the historical aspects of the culture, he did the same with the modern. He loved that country, and he and I spend many an hour discussing going there one day. I can so easily picture him walking around in Harajuku, or Shinjuku. I suspect that had he gone, he would simply have wandered into one of these areas and we would not have seen him for weeks.

This is why I feel a sadness about it. Jon suffered from migraines. Bad ones. And back in 2002, just before my oldest daughter's first birthday, he died. I don't need to go into details, but it was quick, abrupt, and very unexpected. His loss, even 17 years later is still felt. There is rarely a week that has gone by that I haven't thought about him, my best friend, and his completely unique outlook. He was a Carl Sagan fan, an 80s music diehard, and a computer programming god among men (one of his hobbies was writing programs just to see what he could do). He was MENSA, and of course; a lover of HItchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. My friend.

In many ways, I feel that this trip is more than just taking my son to a country he admires and wants to see. For myself, I feel like I am fulfilling a dream that had been shared by a pair of friends 30 years in the making. Originally, I was going to go to Colorado and climb a particular mountain (June 22nd, 2:45pm). I've always found a sense of accomplishment and spiritual healing when I would do things in a particular manner. If I had climbed that mountain in Colorado on that day and reached the summit at that time, it would be 30 years to the minute in the same place that we had arrived at the top of that mountain. I'm not sure how he would have felt about that (probably would have just smiled and shook his head), but I DO know that far more importantly to him would have been something that truly mattered to him. A Japan visit.

I know that I will be thinking about him quite often while I am there; reliving the memories of his life, and thinking about what he might have said or done. Sometimes, I can feel his presence around; much my mother and father when they decide to 'check up' on me. I believe that in the old culture of Japan, such a spirit was referred to as a Kami. If I'm wrong on that, don't ding me for it; its just a bit of ignorance on my part and I'll figure it out.

Personally, I hope his spirit does decide to tag along. My best friend should go, and I can deposit his spirit over in Harajuku where he can wander around happily, seeing all the things that he and I dreamt of so many years ago over mountains of Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Jolt, Anime, and of course, some Dungeons & Dragons. I plan to get in touch with his widow (she has long since moved away), and see if there is some small token of his that she wouldn't mind donating. I want to take it to Japan. I want to do him an honor for being my friend when so many others would not. I want to leave it in this land that he loved from afar, and I want him to know that even all these years later, he is still my best friend and I love him deeply.

I don't need to 'wish' he will see me there. I know he will, and I hope he enjoys his time in Japan as much as I do. Happy Birthday Jon. (1975 - 2002)

Posted by tmulcahey 05:30 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo japan travel vacation trip shinjuku anime harajuku Comments (0)

Japan and Mother's Day

thinking sharply of the wife


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So its 25 days remaining and oh man can I feel the excitement building up. I’ve watched probably a hundred or more YouTube video’s pertaining to everything from where to find good Ramen, to walkarounds in Shinjuku, Chibuya, Haneda Airport, etc…

Just the other day I collected everything that I am going to need and put them into a single location. The Passport, JR Rail ticket, the Plane Tickets, and of course, a wad of Japanese Yen. One of the best solutions to spending I’ve found is that its best to pay cash. That way… with a little math and planning, you will know exactly what you can afford.

I also packed some emergency cash as well. This is “Oh S***” money for unseen problems, or troubles. One of the things that I plan to do during this visit, is pick up my wife’s Mother’s Day gift. To that end, I did a little searching and I think I found the perfect item!
In Japan, at a few places in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, there are specialty knife makers. These knives are considered the finest in the world. Damascus steel, hand-forged (not machine), and sharpened to a degree she’s never even heard of.

I contacted one of the makers of these knives and am getting a very special deal. He is even going to etch her name in the blade. OK… so I know what some of you might be thinking… why a knife? The answer is simple: my wife can’t stand flowers or chocolates. She isn’t a fan of diamonds either. She likes things that she can use, things that are practical. So… because she loves cooking, and preparing meals and the like; I can think of no better special gift than a handmade and personalized knife that is one of the sharpest in the world.

I know its going to set me back quite a bit (cost is not cheap at all, but was concluded over the phone), but to me its worth every penny. This isn’t some knife she’ll be able to find on Amazon (although I know she could get knives like this one). This is something from a guy who sells them out of a stall, but is actually world-renowned by chefs. Gordon Ramsey probably has knives like these, but that would be expected… he’s a world famous chef and he’s rich. I’m not famous, and I’m not rich, and certainly no one in my world has anything like it. Therefore: it’s a good gift!

Posted by tmulcahey 10:40 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo travel vacation hotel shopping shinjuku knife Comments (0)

The PLAN

A breakdown of the whole bloody trip!

June 4th (Begin Trip)
Depart O'Hare Airport: 8:05AM
Arrive Toronto: 10:41AM
Depart Toronto: 1:40PM

June 5th - Tokyo
Arrive at Narita Airport: 3:40PM
Narita to Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station to Shunjuku Station
Check-In Hotel (June 5 - June 9)
Dinner

June 6th
Walking around Shinjuku
Visiting Bic Camera
Lunch
Shinjuku Station to Akihabara
Akahabara
Yodobashi Camera
Akiba Fukurou
Akihabara Radio Kaikan
Gamers/Kadogema
Radio Center
Akihabara Station to Shinjuku
Dinner
Walking around Shinjuku

June 7th
Shinjuku Station to Asakusa
Asakusa
Nakamise Street for Shopping
Breakfast
Sensoji Temple
Shin-Nakamise Shopping Street
Asakusa station to Shibuya
Shibuya
Shibuya Crossing
Lunch @ Hanamaru
100 Yen Shop
Shibuya Station to Shinjuku Station
Shinjuku
Shinjuku Golden Gai District
Dinner @ Numazukou
Maruhan Shinjuku Pachinko Parlor

June 8th
Breakfast
Shinjuku station to Tokyo Station
Chiyoda
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Imperial Palace East Gardens
Lunch
Edo Castle
Walking around Chiyoda
Tokyo Station to Shunjuku Station
Walking around Shinjuku

June 9th - Nikko
Hotel Checkout is at 10am.
Walking around Shinjuku
Shinjuku to Nikko
Nikko
Hotel Turtle Inn
Breakfast
Shinkyo Bridge
Tokugawa Shrine / Museum
Lunch @ Ramen Bonten in Nikko
Walking around Nikko
Kegon Falls
Dinner @ Yamaga

June 10th - Kyoto
Nikko to Tokyo to Kyoto
Check-In Hotel (June 10 - June 14)
Lunch
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Gion District
Hanami-koji Street
Dinner @ Kappa
Back to Kyoto Station by Bus

June 11th
Breakfast
Kyoto Station to JR Saga-Arashiyama Station
Arashiyama
Iwatayama Monkey Park
Lunch @ Kyoarashiyama Ine
Bamboo Grove
JR Saga-Arashiyama Station to Kyoto Station
Dinner
Walking in Kyoto

June 12th
Breakfast
Kyoto Station to Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
Gion District
Lunch
Pontocho District
Walking around Kyoto
Dinner @ Jumbo Yakitori Torikizoku Sanjo Kawaramachi-dori

June 13th
Breakfast
JR Line Moyakoji Rapid Train
Nara
Nara Park (Deer)
Todaiji Temple
Kasugataisha Shrine
Lunch
Yoshiki-en Garden
JR Line Moyakoji Rapid Train
Kyoto
Dinner

June 14th - Osaka
Breakfast
Checkout of Hotel
Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka Station
Bus to Hotel
Check-In Hotel (June 14 - June 16)
Osaka Castle
Lunch
Walking around Osaka
Round 1 Stadium!
Onsen (Hot Springs)
Dinner
Pokemon Center

June 15th
Breakfast
Dotonbori
Dotonbori
Lunch
Walking around Osaka
Dinner

June 16th - Himeji
Checkout of Hotel
Bus to Shin-Osaka Station
Breakfast
Shin-Osaka to Himeji
Bus from Himejieki to Kitaguchi Bus Stop
Check-In Hotel (June 16 - June 17)
Himeji Castle
Dinner

June 17th - Hiroshima
Checkout of Hotel
Breakfast
Bus to Himejeki Station
Himeji Station to Hiroshima Station
Lunch
Bus to Hotel via Hiroshimaeki Bus Stop
Check-In Hotel (June 17 - June 19)
Walk around Hiroshima
Dinner

June 18th
Breakfast
Peace Park
A-Bomb Dome
Shukkeien Garden
Lunch
Hiroshima Peace Museum
Miyajima Omotesando Arcade (Shopping)
Aioi Bridge
Crepe de Girafe Hiroshima Chuo Dori
Dinner

June 19th (Return & End of Trip)
Checkout of Hotel
Limo Bus 1-way to Hiroshima Airport via the Hiroshima Station
Quick Lunch . Bite to Eat
Be at Airport by 10AM
Flight from Hiroshima to Tokyo - Departs at 1:05PM
Tokyo Narita Airport to Toronto, Canada - Departs at 5:40pm
Toronto, Canada to O'Hare Airport - Departs at 6:10PM
Arrive Chicago - 6:58PM, June 19th

Posted by tmulcahey 13:02 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo kyoto osaka nikko japan travel vacation hotel visa trip hiroshima shinjuku passport cash checklist jr Comments (0)

And away we go!

Off to the Land of the Rising Sun


View Lebanon 1st Trip - 1999 & Japan 1st Trip - June 2019 & Lebanon 3rd Trip - 2000 on tmulcahey's travel map.

This is the last entry until I return.

I depart tomorrow morning (June 4th), and will be back on the 19th. I plan to write extensively on what I see and experience so that others will be able to learn from my experiences. I will be able to provide, hopefully, some measure of assistance for future travelers to this land.

As I have stated previously, my information will detail based on the locations that I will be at. Tokyo, Nikko, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Himeji, and Hiroshima. In places like Tokyo and Kyoto, I will be more specific in my geographical area (such as Shinjuku, and Asakusa, etc...).

So wish me Godspeed, and I hope to begin writing upon my return!

Posted by tmulcahey 09:10 Archived in USA Tagged tokyo kyoto osaka himeji nikko travel vacation nara asakusa hiroshima shinjuku Comments (0)

The Subway System of Tokyo

The Yamanote Line


View Lebanon 1st Trip - 1999 & Japan 1st Trip - June 2019 & Lebanon 3rd Trip - 2000 on tmulcahey's travel map.

The vacation has finished. I spent a total of 16 days in the Land of the Rising Sun. As promised, I am here now to talk about the things that I saw, did, and hopefully to provide some insights about this beautiful country and its people that may help any future visitors.

Lets begin with the obvious. The Airport. My son and I arrived in the afternoon of June 5th (about 3.40-ish) at Haneda Airport. Going through customs and immigration took about 20 minutes. Three airplanes all dumped their contents around the same time, so the line was a bit long. That said, the long line moved quite smoothly and quickly. The Japanese customs agents were very polite, and very specific in their questions. They asked us where we were going, the purpose of the visit, how long were we staying in the country, and if we were bringing anything in that they needed to be aware of. After the questions, we moved on to a second area where we gave our index finger prints (digitally), and were then welcomed into the country.

Passing through the large smoky glass doors, the signage was immediate and obvious (and color coded). We had 4 options that we could see on the overhead sign. Limobus, Monorail, Taxi, and Train (metro). We opted for the Monorail. Each of these options was color specific on the sign, with arrows pointing. It took us less than 10 minutes to find the location and board with our tickets (cost about 10$ USD each, or about 1,000 Yen). It should be noted that when we arrived it was about 100 Yen to the dollar, and about 105 when we left... so keep a close eye on those exchanges!

The trip into downtown was quick. About 15 minutes in length, and we were taken to Tokyo Station. Here we got off the monorail and walked around looking for the Yamanote Line. This is the main subway/metro rail system that forms a gigantic loop in Tokyo itself. There are other lines, of course, but this is the one you would use if you were visiting places like Shinjuku, Akihabara, Asakusa, etc...

The tickets cost (1-way) about 220 Yen per person from Tokyo Station to the Shinjuku Station. The price varies based on distance from your starting point. I didn't see anywhere on the Yamanote Line that went over 300 Yen, but if you were heading to a station to transfer to a different line that might take you out of the city proper, I saw prices go as high as 1600 Yen (about 16$ US). Every line was color-coded (Yamanote line is the Green line). A note here; get yourself a Suica Card. This is a nice and very handy thing for people who want or need to travel around the city and don't want to keep feeding coins or cash into the ticket kiosks. It is a debit card, of sorts, and we got one and put about 35 USD (3,500 Yen) onto it for our trips. There is a 500 Yen fee for getting one, but if you return the Suica Card at one of the many Suica Card kiosks (which are in almost every station), you will get it back.

Above the ticket kiosks every station has the map of the Tokyo Subway system. From what I saw only the Tokyo and Shinjuku stations had anything on those maps with any English (aside from the prices, which are English numbers). Many of the Kiosks have an English button so that when you buy your tickets you are not guessing. I also saw Korean, Chinese, and I believe Hindi as well as options.

To call the Tokyo system efficient would be a gross understatement. Those are some seriously punctual trains, and they are impeccably clean.

Movement around the stations can be a bit tricky at first. I will freely admit that it took me about 2 days to really start to grasp things. As I stated before, everything is color coded, but also on the above monitors, many of the lines indicate their names, not necessarily the individual stops, so you will need to be mindful of that. As an example, on our second day, we hopped on the Yamanote line from Asakusa thinking we were going directly to Shinjuku (where our hotel was located), only to find out that we were going the wrong way on the line. While we did eventually get there, it was quite the detour as we hit about 14 stops instead of about 6... so we got to see the subway platforms of over half of Tokyo! ha! So you will need to be very mindful of which direction your train is going on the line you have selected. It will get you there, the only question is when.

One of the ways that I was able to reduce the number of errors is that from the south Yamanote Line going north on the great circle, I memorized that Harajuku was followed by Yayoga, and then Shinjuku afterwards. If I didn't see either of those, I knew I wasn't on the right line.

Yamanote.jpg

In each of the trains above the doors they have electronic displays that will tell you in both Japanese and English what stop you are at, then what the next stop is by name. Additional information that they give is the 'number' of the stop, as well as the ETA to that stop. By default its about 2 minutes between stops, except for some of the stops on the lower section of the Yamanote line which I noted were about 3 minutes apart.

One really neat aspect was that every stop had its own little 2-3 second musical chime that would let you know what station you had arrived at. After a few days you knew where you were just based on the musical jingle alone, which I thought was a fantastic addition to their system.

For the record, we (my son and myself) rode that subway system at all hours, across 5 days in total. During the rush hour as well as not, and I can tell you this; you have never seen a packed car until you have ridden the Tokyo Subway at 5pm on a Thursday! It was no joke that every station had 'people packers', who helped shove everyone into the cars. The exception was the women-only car (that seemed to be train car 5 or 6), which was identifiable by the fact that the colored lettering was pink and it says in English on the train car itself (next to the sliding doors) WOMEN ONLY. The people packers for the women only car were what you would expect... women. Not that I think it would matter much. The Japanese keep their hands to themselves.

Another interesting aspect is how well everyone obeys the intentions of the rules, even the younger generations. Many of the train cars specifically say in no uncertain terms that they are quiet cars, or not to have conversations on the phones. While just about everyone I saw had a mobile phone, while on those trains no one (and I mean that - NO one) used them for talking. They were all glued to their phones, no question about that, but they were simply texting, or looking at the news, or listening to music on their headphones... no one was having a conversation verbally with a phone. I thought this was incredible given how many times over the years I've seen jokers yapping it up on silent cars while going into Chicago.

Now, I would be remiss to not point out that some of these stations hardly qualify for that name. They're monstrous in their size, and that is not an exaggeration. Shinjuku Station is not only massive, but its split in two with a highway running between the north section and the south section. There are over 200 exits to this station, and they are on multiple levels. If you exit the station from one side and need to get to the other... good luck. You're going to need it. This station (Tokyo Station is similar in size) is a labyrinth. You could walk for hours in it and never see the sun let alone taste fresh oxygen. There are entire levels dedicated to shopping, as well as eateries. They're absolutely everywhere. I think I noted about 5 levels and sub-levels in Shinjuku Station alone. The north side of Shinjuku Station has a massive 'Lumina' sign on it. This is some large department store, or series of them. If you exit on the above ground level on the south side, you will see this building across the 6 lane highway. If you do this, but you wanted to exit 'street level', there are escalators outside the station and I suggest you take them otherwise you would have to swipe your IC card, or buy another ticket to get back in.

All of the stations that we visited have information booths, and also information kiosks. I found that going to the booth where there are very nice people, was far more effective. In my case, I would simply walk up to them, and say the name of where I wanted to go with a shrug. "Asakusa?" or "Akihabara?". The people would rattle off something in Japanese, but they would point and also add in English the number of the platform. So the conversation would be polite, brief, and informative. But keep in mind! You will buy the ticket before you get to these people (unless you have a JR Rail Pass).

If you overshoot your destination, and get off at another stop, one that was a bit farther, you will have to do a 'Fare Adjustment'. This happened to me several times. You will feed your ticket into the exit area, but the gates will not open. It will tell you on a little screen to your right that you need a fare adjustment. If this happens (and it does, even to Japanese nationals), there are fare adjustment kiosks located near every exit that I saw in every station. The adjustment kiosk... when you feed the ticket in, do it sideways. As an American, I just feed the ticket short side first. The machines do not like that. Insert the ticket long-side in. On the screen it will tell you how much you need to add. In my case it was never more than 30 Yen (about 30 cents equivalent). Once you do this, it will give you a new ticket that will let you pass through the ticket gate. You will only run into this when attempting to exit the train access areas.

As a final note, be mindful that during the rush hour times (about 3.30pm - 7.30pm), movement through the subway terminals and stations is not for the faint of heart. You have never SEEN so many people bustling about (unless you live in a city like New York, or London, etc...). If you do not like large crowds I would strongly suggest you limit your travels in Tokyo to times not corresponding to typical rush hour times on the weekdays (7am - 9am, noon - 1pm, and 4.30 - 6.30pm). On the weekends I would also be wary of a late rush around 10.30pm and then another around 1.30am, especially around Shinjuku and Tokyo Stations, respectively.

Next up, I'll talk about Shinjuku specifically as well as the Capsule Hotel we stayed at (Hint: It was awesome).

Posted by tmulcahey 05:29 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo train metro subway station shinjuku suiça ic jr yamanote Comments (0)

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