December 31, 2014

Tokyo Trip 2014

My first time in Tokyo was meaningful and quite an eye-opener. I was following the lives of overseas Filipino workers for work and got a lot of insight about Japan post-big earthquake. That was memorable.

This second trip was a no-brainer. Went to touristy places, met a lot of people, and went with the flow. Typical maybe, but loads of fun! The trip also came in the right time when I needed to de-stress and let loose the most. The result, one of the most memorable trips I've had!

Roppongi Hills
I had my high school classmate Cherry May as company for the first 3 days of my trip. She had been traveling South Korea & Japan for 3 weeks. I joined her in her Tokyo leg. This was our first Tokyo lunch together in a katsu restaurant in Roppongi Hills.

After lunch, we explored Ginza, Tokyo's main shopping district.

Believe it or not, this was at 4:30 in the afternoon. They have longer nights during winter. I'm a tropical boy so darkness around this time is unusual to me.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office observatory
We then went to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office observatory for a free bird's eye view of the city. It was a bit disappointing because the observatory was crowded with shops selling souvenir items and there's even a restaurant at the center. It also didn't provide a 360-degree view of the city. But hey it's for free!

The film geek in me got excited when Cherry May suggested we eat dinner in Gonpachi. This was one of the film locations of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. This was definitely a highlight! Didn't care much about the food. All I thought was I was effin eating dinner in Kill Bill's location.

Looks familiar, Kill Bill fans?

Hachiko Statue
I just realized my Day 1 in Tokyo was sort of a cineaste day. We went to Hachiko's statue next, Tokyo's most popular dog immortalized in a film.

Shibuya Crossing
Next to Hachiko's exit is the famous Shibuya crossing. Lost In Translation fans are for surely familiar with this one. It's Tokyo's version of New York's Time Square. The Crossing wasn't too crowded that night but they said that when it's really crowded, you will find yourself walking around in a daze.

Imperial Palace East Garden
We started our second day by walking to the Imperial Palace East Garden, which is just near our hostel. It's the only part of the palace area that's open to the public.  The garden was huge with many exits. We found ourselves lost and could not find the exit that will give us a glimpse of the palace. Or can we really glimpse the palace from the East Garden? That is something I still do not know. :)

Next stop was Sensoji, Tokyo's famous temple in Asakusa. So what's the difference between a temple and a shrine in Japan? A temple is Buddhism's place of worship. Shrine is for Shinto.

Nakamise Dori
Before reaching Senso-ji, you'll have to walk along Nakamise Dori. It's 200 meters of stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs. Smart businessmen!

Sumida Park
From Senso-ji, we walked our way to Tokyo Skytree. On our way there, we passed by Sumida Park which has a good view of Tokyo's newest landmark.  When we arrived in Tokyo Skytree, however, we were told to wait for 2 hours to be able to buy entrance tickets. We couldn't wait for long since we're meeting some people in Harajuku station. No luck with observatory towers so far!

We arrived a little early in Harajuku station so we decided to stop by Meiji-jingu Shrine, another famous Tokyo landmark near Harajuku. This is the entrance to the path leading to the shrine.  It turned out to be a very long path. We decided to head back to Harajuku station so we won't miss the meeting. Mobile charges are expensive and there are only a few free wifi spots in Tokyo. Meiji next time!

The people we met in Harajuku were Carey (2nd to the left) and Ryo (rightmost). Carey is a fellow Sillimanian living in Yokohama and was referred to Cherry May by a mutual friend on Facebook. Ryo is a Japanese Couchsurfer who studied English for 2 months in Quezon City. We met them for the first time that day and they guided us in exploring Omotesando Hills. We were joined later by Carey's half-Japanese friend Hero (2nd to the right) for an afternoon of kwentuhan and chikahan.  Instant friendship thanks to technology!:)

Come night-time, Cherry May and I joined fellow backpackers in a Couchsurfer's meet-up in Hub, a British pub in Shibuya. This was another highlight as I got to know people of different nationalities with different stories to tell. Hub was just the starting point of a crazy, fun night with these Couchsurfers!

You do not go to Tokyo without experiencing karaoke! From Hub, we transferred to a karaoke place in Shibuya where we sang the night away and drank more alcohol.

n the end, only four survived the karaoke party! LOL! French Vincent (2nd to the left), Finnish Arttu (3rd to the left) and Two Filipinos (represent! :D)

Yoshiba Chanko Nabe
We started Day 3 by eating lunch in Yoshiba Chanko Nabe. Chanko Nabe is sumo wrestler's food (see big pot) and Yoshiba is a hole-in-the-wall resto owned by a former sumo wrestler.

Yoshiba Chanko Nabe
There's a sumo ring inside the restaurant. How cool is that?

Ryogoku Kokugikan
Unfortunately for us, it wasn't sumo tournament season.  So we just contended ourselves taking pictures in front of the mural of Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo's sumo stadium.

Gundam Cafe
We then explored Akihabara, Japan's anime and electronics center. Our first stop was Gundam Cafe. The cafe shows non-stop Gundam videos but other than that, it's just another typical cafe.

We also went to Yodabashi, Akihabara's biggest electronic department store. It has 5 or 6 floors of electronic products. If I had the money, my lazy self would buy the robot vacuum cleaner from that store. I haven't seen anything like that!  A fellow Korean backpacker from the hostel joined us here.

We also went inside M, a 5-floor sex shop. We weren't prepared to see the different sex toys that the store is selling. Hahaha! Visiting the shop was quite an experience, I should say. No, this is not M but one of the busy streets in Akihabara. Taking pictures are not allowed inside the shop.

Kyusyu Jangara

Carey met us again in Harajuku and she brought us to her favorite ramen place Kyusyu Jangara Ramen. I love their ramen too!

Takeshita Dori
After dinner, we explored Takeshita Street in Harajuku and ate in Marion Crepes for dessert.  We also went inside the biggest Daiso store in Takeshita and in the biggest toy store in nearby Omotesando that is Kiddyland. I was able to buy some affordable One Piece items in Kiddyland for my godchildren.

Robot Restaurant
Cherry May and I then went to watch a show in Shinjuku's famous robot restaurant. I think I first saw this restaurant on TV in an episode of The Amazing Race.  The show was a tacky, cluttered and weird musical variety show but once the robots came out, it didn't matter anymore. The robots stole the show!

Robot Restaurant
Robot and I!:)

Tsukiji Market
Day 4 was the day I started touring Tokyo alone. My first stop was Tsukiji market to eat in the best sushi place in town, Sushidai. This was me falling in line outside.

Finally got in after 3 hours (yes sir!) for an authentic sushi experience! The chefs prepared the sushi in front of the customers. They also taught us the best way to eat sushi. That is, you eat it with your hands.  My favorite sushi in Sushi-dai was the eel and fatty tuna sushi. Nomnom!

Ginza Kabukiza Theater
I then watched a one-act play in Ginza's Kabukiza theater. The play was in Japanese language so I rented the English audio guide. Must be because I was tired or maybe because I didn't understand/feel a thing, or maybe Kabuki is not just for me, but I slept through the play after a few minutes. I will  charge this to experience.

New Otani Hotel
Dinner time, Cherry May and I met with our high school classmate Cris Jude. We only found out Cris Jude was in Tokyo during the trip through her friend Chrissie who saw our pictures on Facebook. She treated us to dinner in a revolving sky restaurant on top of New Otani Hotel. It was classy! :))

5th Station, Mount Fuji
I went out of Tokyo on Day 5 and joined a Viator tour to Mount Fuji in Kanagawa Prefecture. We were lucky that Mount Fuji showed up on the day of the tour (Para rin kasi siyang Bulkang Mayon, di nagpapakita minsan). However, we were not prepared by the strong winds and cold temperature (-2 degrees celsius) in the 5th Station of Mount Fuji (the highest station accessible to transportation).   It was so windy and cold, standing outside to take a picture with Mount Fuji in the background was sooo hard because you needed to maintain your balance.  Opening your eyes was also a chore because of the strong winds. This was already my best shot with Mount Fuji. Hahaha!

Hakone-en Aquarium
The weather was so windy that day, our tour decided to do a detour from riding the cable car to visiting Hakone-en Aquarium.  Honestly, if you've been to Manila Ocean Park, this one was rather underwhelming. There were only a few species of fish and most of them can be found in the Philippines.

Lake Ashi
The next part of the tour was the Lake Ashi cruise. Can you actually be in a cruise that lasts only for 20 minutes? I want my money back, Viator! :)) I'm charging this again to experience.  La

Odawara Station
I guess the tour saved the best for last. Last part of the tour was the shinkansen/bullet train ride from Odawara to Tokyo. We went to Odawara from Tokyo riding a bus for 3 hours. Riding the shinkansen back to Tokyo, it only took 30 minutes. Wow!

I was supposed to leave for the Philippines already on Day 6 but i had sooo much fun, I decided to extend my vacation upon finding out our film shooting was cancelled. Yep, that's me, very impulsive! Thing was, I had to find another accommodation because the hostel was already fully booked. Thankfully, I found one in Roppongi through Air BNB. This was it, a sample of a small apartment unit in Tokyo.

Mori Art Museum
I decided to explore Roppongi and my first stop was the Mori Art Museum where there was an exhibit by Lee Ming Wei and His Relations. It was my first time to enter an exhibit that's participatory and my first intro to relational arts. Everything in that exhibit was interactive. One exhibit had visitors giving old clothes to the artist who then repaired the clothes while visitors shared their personal stories. At the end of the exhibit, he would have an installation of all the old clothes. :))

Mori Art Museum
I was also lucky that the Tim Burton exhibition was still ongoing in Mori Art Museum. As a cineaste, the exhibit was just marvelous and insightful. I appreciated my work more after seeing the exhibit.

Mori Tower Observation Deck
One goal that day was to see a bird's eye view of Tokyo in the open-air observatory atop Mori Tower. However, the rainy weather was not cooperating and so I had to contend myself in the closed-window observation deck, which was like a lover's deck. No luck in Tokyo observatories still! Haha!

The late afternoon view, to be fair, was amazeballs! This observation deck was better than the one in Shinjuku because it provided a 360-degree view.

Mos Burger Roppongi
Had Mos burger for dinner. It's their Jollibee daw. Nothing fancy. Just your regular burger with tomato sauce.

Oedo Onsen Monogatari
I then went to Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba to experience Japanese onsen for the first time. I wasn't prepared to see a big onsen place. It was like a mall inside. There were restaurants and boutiques in the common area.

Oedo Onsen Monogatari
Found new Japanese friends inside the onsen. Weird, noh?! Hahaha! Seriously, nudity there was no big deal, no pun intended.:)

Day 7 had a sunny weather. I went back to Mori Tower and the 52nd-floor rooftop sky deck was open!!! I finally got lucky! That's the Tokyo Tower in the middle. They said it's bigger than Eiffel.

Mori Tower 52nd Floor Rooftop Observatory
That's Mount Fuji in the far background. It showed up again!

Esprit Dior Ginza
My designer friend and frequent Japan traveller Tracy recommended the Christian Dior exhibition ongoing in Ginza. Like I said, I'm no fashionista but I'm a curious person so I went!

Esprit Dior Ginza
Classic Dior gowns worn by celebrities. The leftmost black gown was worn by Marilyn Monroe. JLaw wore the gown in the middle when she won the Oscars. The blue gown on the right was worn by Princess Di during the House of Dior 50th anniversary.

Bar Speak Easy
There was another Couchsurfer's meet-up that night which means, more travel friends!

Meiji Kinenkan
While doing work for PBB Unlimited in Tokyo back in 2011, I ran out of Japanese yen. It was a scary feeling. It was my first time in Japan, I was alone, lost because of the seemingly complicated train system and needed the money to be able to go to my next destination. I asked a few locals where the nearest money changer was and they couldn't answer me. Good thing, I met this good Japanese samaritan. He said I had to go to a bank to be able to exchange money. (Money changers are not common in Tokyo that's why the other locals didn't understand my query). Maybe realizing i'd get lost searching for a bank, he accompanied me to the nearest bank even if going there was a 15-minute walk and was out of his way. I was sooo grateful. But my misfortune didn't end there. When we arrived in the bank, it was already closed. I honestly didn't know what to do at that point. Then this guy told me just to give him my dollars and he'd exchange it to his own money. Till this day, I will never forget that act of kindness. That was when I decided i'd pay it forward and be helpful also to other travellers in my country. I think that was the point when I took Couchsurfing seriously.:) Flash forward to 2014 and I met the good samaritan again. It was good to see Muneo!

Meiji Kinenkan
Muneo brought me to Meiji Kinenkan, a beautiful restaurant with a big garden. He said this restaurant is a popular wedding reception. In fact, he and his wife had their wedding reception there.  True enough, there was a wedding reception that day and got to see a Japanese bride and groom in real life.

Landmark Tower
I went outside Tokyo again, to Yokohama, upon the invitation of Carey. (Or I think I invited myself! Haha!) Here we were with the Landmark Tower, Yokohama's tallest building, in the background.

Carey brought her Filipino friend Mark who was too happy to serve as our photographer. 

An outdoor ice skating rink! The first time I saw one!

There was also Christmas market near the rink. It was also my first time to be in one!

I love Yokohama City! I love Tokyo!  I love Japan and I can't wait to go back! :)