Thursday 31 January 2013

Asakusa, Kappabashi-dori (aka Kitchen town) and just over 30km walking around Tokyo

I planned my day out before I departed this morning and after getting off the train at Ueno and making my way to the metro saw a sign to Ueno Park and decided to change my plans.

There was a lot more concrete in the park than I expected but it was still a nice wander and there were temples and candle holders within it too.P1040062_002P1040061_001

Exiting the park I wandered in vaguely the right direction and then spotted the Tokyo Skytree in the distance confirming I was going the right way.P1040064_004

Before long I arrived at Kappabashi-dori (aka Kitchen town) where it seems you can buy anything you need to setup a restaurant including pots & pans, tables & chairs, clothing, crockery, ovens, plastic food, ….P1040069_009

P1040071_011I checked out the golden turd (aka Asahi Flame)

P1040072_012before wandering through the very touristy part of Asakusa.P1040073_013


I caught the metro to Suehirocho and walked through Akihabara and tried out the toilets in the Sega building I had missed on the last visit. They have a peeing game there (bizarre)!

Following a train line while walking can work in some situations but I managed to walk probably about 5 extra kilometres by following the wrong train train line on two occasions trying to get to the Ogawamachi ski shop area, which didn’t have any great deals of stuff I was looking at. The Kanda Second Hand books stores looked quite interesting, with most books being Japanese but some others too.P1040081_019

Wandering further I walked through Kagurazaka which was quite a pretty area.P1040085_022

When looking at my map and looking at the address for Mojo which I couldn’t find on it but thought it was in this area (which I’ve since found it is – maybe tomorrow) somebody asked if they could help with directions. They said Shinjuku was a long way away and to take the subway; sounded like a challenge to me, so I walked there instead via Ushigome which contained lots of apartment buildings.


Entering Shinjuku from far east meant I came in at a different angle which was great. I wandered about for a while and then decided to walk to my hotel in Ikebukuro many kilometres away following close to the Yamanote line. Once past Shin-Okubo it was mostly dull.P1040092_028

Takadanobaba and Mejiro did however have some life to them and the odd cool shop (check out all the balls and shoes (inside) stacked super high).P1040090_027

Close to Ikebukuro I was on a cool street that even had railway control signals and had to wait for a train to pass.


Dinner tonight was Korean and beer (of course).P1040096_030

It’s just past 10pm now and according to my Fitbit I’ve walked 41,883 steps today (a new record) and covered just over 30km. I should sleep well.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Capsule Hotel in Tokyo, Harajuku and a little other Tokyo stuff

Since we were in Tokyo we thought we should spend a night in a capsule hotel. The capsules were stacked two high and you could sit up in them and lengthwise even I found the length to be just ok (and I’m not exactly tall at 173cm!). These ones were stacked two high.P1040036_007

In the bed my view was as per below. The TV (as I found out in the morning had one dodgy channel if you pressed the Band button!). 2013-01-29 00.37.14_001


In terms of luggage, big items were left behind reception and everybody was given a locker with enough space to fit a small bag in. We were even provided with pyjamas which we put on after using the Japanese-style bathing room/sauna (aka Onsen).2013-01-29-1345_033

The capsules aren’t exactly sound proof, so I did hear people coming and going throughout the night, a ridiculous quantity of alarm clocks going off in the morning and people watching tv.

Earlier in the evening once we finally arrived in Tokyo after snow at Narita airport delayed our flight by a few hours we headed out to Roppongi and Roppongi Hils for a bit of a look. Roppongi is known as the place to go clubbing and there were a few seedy types around. Roppongi Hills on the other hand is quite an upmarket shopping area, where we ended up having dinner.

For Chris’s last day in Tokyo we started off by going to the opening of the day at the Takashimaya department store and all the staff bowed as we walked around. It was a really strange feeling. There were only about a dozen people waiting to go in, so it was great and we made a line to the escalators and did a lap upstairs before they got started for the day.


The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building as a free viewing platform (in fact one in each tower). It was a great day to look around Tokyo and Mt Fuji was easily to be found.


We then headed off to a bunch of places shopping and had a better look around Harajuku, predominantly down Takeshita street and the surrounding blocks. Harajuku is where you really see individuality in what some people wear.P1040045_016


In the evening I wandered around Ikebukuro and even found a cat cafe, where for people who don’t have the space to have a cat of their own can go and visit some.P1040056_025P1040057_026P1040052_021

Deep powder in Niseko

With the help of somebody who had been here previously we were acquainted with some ridiculously deep snow in Niseko. The majority of the time you couldn’t see your skis and the powder was knee to shoulder-deep high.


IMG_3191_001My tips managed to break through.


We also had some more good meals out; a Hama pot (which had lots of shellfish, many of which I didn’t know what they were) and Ramen.


Friday 25 January 2013

Skiing (inc Après skiing) at Niseko

After a couple of nights in Sapporo we caught a bus to the Hirafu Village which is one of the villages at the base of the Niseko snow paradise. In addition to the bus pass we also purchased a package for 8 hours skiing/boarding on the mountain for a heavily reduced discount.
Hirafu is the largest of the villages at the base of Niseko and the roads / footpaths can be a bit icy.P1030992_004P1030991_003
Niseko is known for having some of the best powder skiing in the world. For our first couple of days the weather was abnormal with beautiful blue skies, great visibility and semi-soft dry snow (which was still better than the snow 90% of the time at Mt Ruapehu). The majority of the people at our accommodation were however complaining about the weather though, since it meant a lack of fresh powder.IMG_3121_045IMG_3115_040
IMG_3134_055Night skiing is on every evening and it’s not a small part of the field. It is a mammoth area and there are a lot less people around. We went up when there was some light snow coming down and it was superb.P1040004_015
IMG_3147_064IMG_3149_066I didn’t bring my skis with me to Japan since they are too short and not fat enough for the conditions. This has meant I’ve been able to try out some different skis.
  • Solomon Shogun - good all round ski, little bit of lift in powder. Very small rocker. More effort to turn than I'm used to. Probably not great on ice.
  • Solomon Rocker 2 - huge rocker, loves deeper snow, manageable but not great on hard packed snow, skis quite short because of the large rocker.
On the mountain itself we have been impressed with the quality of the food which has also been well priced. I had a Chicken teriyaki set one day for 1200 yen (about NZ$17)which had chicken teriyaki, vegetables, rice, miso and a small potato salad. There are also options of tempura, sushi, ramen and more. We even skiied to the Hilton one day for lunch.
What has been really interesting is how Niseko doesn’t feel like Japan at all. It is like an Australian ski village; there are so many Aussies here. Everywhere speaks english as the first language and many of the staff in places don’t know Japanese.
Off the mountain there is an excellent après skiing scene and “The fridge” (officially known as Gyu+) is our most regular haunt. It is a great cocktail bar with drinks such as Hot Buttered Rum, Hot Apple Pie, Espresso Martini, Ume Mojito, Unpasteurised Sake. It also has a superb entrance and great ambiance inside.P1040003_014P1040001_012
Wild Bill's is more of a pub than a classy establishment, but good fun. We also found a table upstairs to play table soccer at with an old workmate of Chris’s and their other half.
2013-01-24-1330_033Moon bar is also similar but quite a bit smaller and they have a free pool table.
In terms of restaurants there are a good selection in Hirafu although you do need to book at many. We had a good Giant Red Crab meal, ramen, burgers and more. There are a lot of options.P1040008_019P1030989_001P1030998_010
P1040020_027There is an International Money machine in Hirafu at 7 Bank located at Yama Shizen on Sasayaki Ave. There is also a good Onsen that overlooks the ski field at Yumoto Niseko Prince Hotel.

Monday 21 January 2013

Lots of snow in Sapporo (and beer too)

P1030914_003We have headed up North to the Hokkaido region and are at Sapporo. It is a lot colder up North at the moment and there was even snow on the runway as we landed.

P1030912_001Walking to our accommodation it was snowing and there was lots of snow on the side of the road. The snow is super soft and very dry. P1030918_007We headed to downtown Sapporo and walked around (mostly underground since it was below zero outside). There are some funny signs on some escalators here.P1030920_008

Downtown itself is looking lovely with lots of snow everywhere but it does make walking a bit treacherous.P1030927_014

P1030930_016For dinner we went to a little Ramen restaurant on our first night near to our accommodation and had a superb Kara-Miso Chasyu Ramen. It had a nice level of spice and had lots of flavour.P1030933_019

The following day was still snowing but only about –2 degrees Celsius so not too cold.P1030934_001

We had lunch at a restaurant at the Sapporo train station with a lovely view over downtown. I had a huge meal as part of a set menu that had crab as part of the fried rice.



After lunch we headed to the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum when the Okurayama Ski Jump is that was used in the Winter Olympics in 1972. There was quite a bit of snow on the road for our 10 min walk from the bus.


We unfortunately couldn’t get up to the top of the jump since it was closed to the day but it looked mammoth.


A benefit of going here when the weather isn’t the best is that you end up having the place to yourself. Well, there were about three other people in the museum the whole time we were there which was great. We got to use several winter sports simulators which was quite exhausting.






A snow angel later,P1030974_039

we headed to the Sapporo Brewery which is a very picturesque complex.P1030977_042P1030978_043

They have multiple restaurants here so we had a meal and a couple of beers. We even tried out multiple restaurants, and the one in the main brewery complex was the most lively. The beer tasted great fresh from the factory vs drinking it out of a can. We accompanied our beer with lamb shoulder Jingisukan and vegetables that we cooked ourselves (and didn’t burn anything!)  OK, we didn’t burn much...