7 alternative things to see in Japan

7 alternative things to see in Japan

Meguro Parasite Museum

In a rather nondescript building in Meguro, lies the slightly daunting Parasitological Museum. “Try to think about parasites without a feeling of fear, and take the time to learn about their wonderful world.” The Meguro Parasitological Museum is a research facility that was established in 1953 by the private funds of Satoru Kamegai, a doctor of medical science. The first floor of the museum presents a general overview of parasites while the second floor focuses on human parasites and their life cycles.

Meguro Parasite Museum

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum is a museum dedicated to instant noodles and Cup Noodles, as well as its creator and founder, Momofuku Ando. Admission is free; however kitchen events have a fee, and take around 90 minutes. There’s also the option for ramen tastings.

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

Robot Restaurant

The Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, and with good reason. The show is a loud, neon lit, crazy cabaret with not much storyline and even less clothing. The shows run for approximately one hour and, although your ticket says it includes drink and food, it’s more just like a few nibblies. The site says it’s fine for children, but not many parents recommend.

Robot Restaurant Shinjuku

Yoro Park: The Site Of Reversible Destiny

You know this is going to be real alternative place to explore, when the name of this park ends in “Reversible Destiny”. This experience park opened in 1995 with the intent for guests to experience the unexpected… and that’s just what you’ll do, with hazardous slopes and the option to rent a helmet at the entry gate.

Yoro Park- The Site Of Reversible Destiny

World’s Shortest Escalator

Its status as an achievement honored by the Guinness Book of World Records, Kawasaki is home to the World’s Shortest Escalator! Well, this attraction won’t keep you busy for long, except to grab a handful of funny photos with your mates. But look… it’s so cute!

World's Shortest Escalator

Maid cafes

Everyone knows what these are. And if you don’t… have you been living under a rock? While they are crazy popular for tourists regardless of nationality, I chose to still include them on this list. Because, well, it’s pretty alternative. Have you ever been to one? Its nuts.

Maid Cafe

Shimokitazawa Shopping street

“While most areas in Tokyo are well-maintained and looked after, Shimokitazawa looks quite the opposite. Street views are best described as disorderly or messy, but add character to the area. Nothing is what it first seems, so don’t rush through the neighborhood as you may miss out on the charm that exploring the narrow alleys brings with it.”

Shimokitazawa Shopping street

Special mention to …

Tobu World Square

Tobu World Square is an architectural museum with skillful reproductions of 102 world-famous buildings on the 1/25 scale, including 45 World Heritage Sites. There are several areas to explore, including the Europe Zone, America Zone and the new “Modern Japan Zone”. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, especially with kids. Tobu World Square is about a half hour train ride from Nikko – which itself is about 2 hours outside of Tokyo. The perfect way to see Tobu World Square is to include it in a weekend away from the big city, and couple it with touring Toshogu Shrine.

Tobu World Square

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Get dressed as a Geisha in Kyoto

Dressing up as a Geisha is becoming increasingly popular these days. Staff perform a complete transformation on the guest using meticulous make-up techniques, hair styling methods, and ornate kimonos. Girls may then walk the surrounding neighborhood as they soak up the authenticity of this respected custom, or take professional-grade photos in and around traditional Japanese architecture. Some studios are taking bookings months in advance, although you likely will have to pay in cash on the day. The most popular and well known place for getting made over is in Kyoto, although there are lesser known studios in Tokyo and other cities.

A little known fact, the proper term for “Geisha” is actually Geiko, and Maiko is an apprentice Geiko. Geiko and Maiko are traditional performers whose job it is to add zest to a dinner by singing, dancing, and playing the shamisen. They are also a symbol of traditional Japanese culture. Kyoto was once the capital of Japan, and is home to thousands of Shinto and Buddhist temples and shrines, the perfect setting for Geiko photo shoots!

Photo curtesy of Lynsey King

The purpose getting turned into a Geiko for the day is to experience a small part of the vanishing culture of Japan. There used to be over 80,000 Geiko in Japan in the early part of the 20th century; today there are estimated to be less than 2,000.
The other purpose of this adventure, of course, is to have fun and get dressed up. Prices for this kind of makeover range anywhere from $80 to $600, depending on where you go and what style you choose. A lot of studios offer packages that include things like the choice of minimal makeup and accessories, all the way to fully done up; the option for traditional versus sexy Geisha; couple shots (men to be dressed in traditional male garb); professional photos on disc; 1 hour walks through town; and some free photo time to take your own happy snaps.

geisha dress up at yumeyakata

The experience may not be 100% authentic, if that is what you’re after. There may be differences in head pieces and kimonos used, such as using seasonal hair clips in the wrong season. However, the overall affect will not be spoiled.

Geisha makeup

Reviews say it’s best to get a package that allows you to walk outside, and be prepared to be stared at like never before! Check sizes before you go, as kimonos are best made for people under 170cm in height (I myself will be showing my ankles).

Here are a few places in Kyoto to get “maiko-overed” (sorry, I’ve always been terrible at puns). In my opinion, Maica, the first on the following list, offers the most reasonably priced and inclusive packages.

Maica
Kyoto Maiko
Yume Koubou
Yume Yakata
And, of course, Shiki!

Have fun ☻

http://hellokishi.com/2014/01/08/40-pieces-of-japan/

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Learn to use Japanese toilets

This sort of information scares a few foreign travellers – “You need prior knowledge to work the toilets? Just how complicated are they?” By now, you’ve all heard about the high tech loos in Japan; the fancy buttons, the shooting water and the accidental dousing. This shouldn’t be a real problem for most, as they are fairly self explanatory.

Electronic toilet controls | via Shiki Book Japan

An example of Japanese toilet controls

Electronic toilet controls | via Shiki Book Japan

Japanese toilet control translations

I spent a fair bit of time trying to work out which was the flush button, only to realize there was a handle on the side like most American toilets (in Australia we have a button on the top).

Most ‘Westernized’ Japanese toilets are very similar to Australian and American loos – they don’t have the fancy buttons or touch screen panels. Those Westernized toilets are the most widespread. They are in the majority of hotels and public restrooms, along with the standard Japanese ‘squat’ toilet.

To help make your trip a little easier, learn the basic characters that will be on the buttons.

My advice for using the fancy, high tech Japanese loo’s are simple:

  1. Don’t press any of the buttons if you aren’t sure what they do. For instance, the seat heater. You’ll burn your butt… trust me. Or you may make a mess using the water stream. 

  2. Figure out the flush button / lever / cord before using the toilet. You don’t want to leave your business in there simply because you didn’t know how to get rid of it. Look for the word for flush, if unsure; either 流す ,  ながす, or the characters used in the above image, symbolizing a big or little flush.

  3. Always bring spare tissues with you, in case there’s no toilet paper available. 


Now, squat toilets! Here we go!

The squat toilet only accounts for about 10% of the toilets in Japan, so you might not encounter one at all. In a public restroom, there may be only one (or none) as opposed to the three regular ‘Western’ toilets available. If you’re in a standard hotel, you’re likely to only have the regular ones too.

squat toilet | via Shiki Book Japan

Squat toilet

A Western & squat toilet, side by side, in a public bathroom | via Shiki Book Japan

A Western & squat toilet, side by side, in a public bathroom

If you’re not comfortable using the squat toilet, don’t fret! You’re likely to go your entire trip without having to use one, as nearly everywhere has the standard Western toilet. It may only be if you travel to small country towns and use those public restrooms, that you will have no other choice. For example, on Miyajima Island, the public restrooms have no Western toilets. Though, depending on the length of your stay, you may be able to hold on until you get back to your hotel.

The squat toilet looks a bit simplistic, right? Easy to use, right? Simply squat and complete your, um, task. The way you probably intend to use it, by merely looking at the photos, is likely to be backwards compared to how you’re meant to use it.


How to use the squat toilet 

1 | Carry tissues of some kind with you at all times (I imagine an actual roll of toilet paper is hard to keep in your pocket or handbag). Some public toilets, such as ones at certain parks or outside of the ticket gate at a train station, don’t provide toilet paper, so carry it for the off chance you encounter an empty stall. Handily, the vending machines that are scattered on every street corner (and everywhere in between), may also stock toilet paper. 

2 | Get down low, and make sure you are facing the right way!

How to use a squat toilet | via Shiki Book Japan

3 | Squat with your heels flat on the ground. You might be used to squatting on the balls of your feet, with your feet close together, but this position is very unstable. You do not want to fall in. Squatting with your feet at hip-width or shoulder-width apart and with your feet flat is easier to hold for an extended period of time. You might notice people squatting like this while waiting in public. Plant your feet on either side of the toilet and squat all the way down.

how to squat for Japanese toilet | via Shiki Book Japan

4 | Once you’ve done your business, acknowledge the fact that you may not be able to flush toilet paper in this type of toilet. Most of the squat toilets will clog easily, and your best option is to put your used paper in a bag and throw it in the nearest bin.

5 | Do not flush until you are standing, lest it splash back up onto you. Like I said, this type of loo clogs easily. So you may need to flush multiple times.

How to use Japanese toilet | via Shiki Book Japan

Don’t fall in!


Other things to keep in mind:

  • If you’ve gone on a bender, some pubs and bars have a sink specially for vomiting in. They usually have a sign above them, such as a stick figure leaning over a sink (with some lovely black dots symbolizing puke), but be wary not to confuse these sinks with the regular ones to wash your hands in.
  • Some restrooms for men do not have walls or doors, in the belief that no one is interested in watching a man use the urinal.
  • You may find urinals in the women’s restrooms. These are meant for young boys who accompany their mothers to the toilet.
  • Along the same lines, you may find really tiny toilets for use. These are for kids!
  • Most public toilets have a vending machine outside the main entrance or inside near the sinks, offering sanitary products, toilet paper and stockings (tights/nylons).
  • Beware of “Engrish” and use your noodle to decipher the mistakes often made in Japanese to English translations.

Engrish | via Shiki Book Japan

Good luck!

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Tokyo 2015

Welcome to Tokyo 2015

For a little while at least, this will be my final Japan vacation, so I thought it important to share ‘the final trip’ with you all. You can catch the photos of all my adventures here.

Day 1

We toured Asakusa today, stopping at the Tokyo Skytree for photos and a spot of shopping (we didn’t go up the Skytree because it was too foggy). We attempted to get through the crazy crowds at Senso-ji temple, and after all the hustle and bustle, had a quiet lunch in a nearby cat cafe. Afterwards, we went to Akihabara to look around and get to know Tokyo’s tech mecca. I had the opportunity to meet Godzilla, my absolute favourite character! We spent the evening in Kinshicho and shopped at Daiso for snacks. Day 1

Day 2

On day 2, we got up early to head to Yoyogi Park and see Meiji Shrine. You always want to head to Yoyogi early – it gets very busy once it hits 10am! After a few hours, and after the swarms of local Tokyoites had started to fill up the park, we took the train to the next station, Shibuya. I met Hachiko, the famous dog (well, his statue anyway). We wandered around and got a bit lost looking for two things; the Disney store and the Pokemon Cafe. In the afternoon, we had some quiet time at Konno Hachimangu shrine. day 2

Day 3

Even though Yoyogi Park is right next to Takeshita and Omotesando shopping streets, we skipped them yesterday to explore Shibuya. So today we were in the same area again, this time to check out the funky stores and fashions of Harajuku. We stopped in at one of my favourite toy stores too; Kiddyland! After lunch (at Beck’s Coffee Shop!), we went to Shinjuku and headed to Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens. Unfortunately, because we were there during the cold season, most of the plants were brown and devoid of greenery, except for in the green house. While trying to capture an Instagram perfect image, I had a moment of enthusiastic jumping and my scarf hit me in the face. Classic me! Sick of bracing the cold, we headed to Ikebukuro in the afternoon, and went to Sunshine City to visit the Pokemon Centre. day 3

Day 4

We trekked out relatively early this morning and headed to the man-made island of Odaiba. I had never been to Odaiba before, and my expectations had been quite high due to a friend’s recommendation, so the day wasn’t as enjoyable as I thought it would be. Still, Odaiba was a blast. There was so much to see that we actually missed a fair bit. We looked at the wax museum but not the trick museum. We went looking around the shops in the Decks building, but not Aqua City (which apparently had an aquarium!). There’s a small Statue of Liberty and a life size Gundam mobile suit that you can take pictures with. In the afternoon we went to Palette Town to explore and took a ride on the ferris wheel. That evening we enjoyed an indoor theme park in Joypolis. day 4

Day 5

If you’ve ever been to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, then you know today was very special indeed. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the museum, so there’s only the outside shown here. I can’t even sum it up in one word. Whimsical, magical, romantic. It was gorgeous and quaint and crowded. We got there early to avoid crowds, but apparently not early enough. By the time we got to the gift shop, it was thronging with people. Bodies were pressed tight everywhere. Our intention for the afternoon was to visit the East gardens of the Imperial Palace, but today was the coldest day we had encountered to date. Aside from that, it was pouring down rain. So instead, we hoped on the next available train and headed back to Kinshicho for more snack shopping at Daiso. We never got the chance to see the Imperial Palace in the end. day 5

Day 6

Today was the day. THE DAY. I finally saw Mt Fuji, something I had dreamed of doing since first stepping foot in Japan all those many years ago. We got up early and headed to Hakone, using the 5 modes of transport loop to get around. We stopped at Owakudani station for lunch. It was such a clear, sunny day – the only proper one we had while in Tokyo. This meant we got amazing views of Fuji-san. Every souvenir shop had Mt Fuji themed gifts, and most signs had some awful form of “Engrish”. Today was such a blast, and to top it off, we had green tea ice cream on the train home. day 6

Day 7

I took the most amount of photos this day – nearly 500! I simply love Nikko, it’s my favourite place to visit. It was made all the more special this time by going in winter, because it was the only place we went that had actual snow! The train trip there from Tokyo is over 2 hours long, a tiring and tedious trip, watching the boring countryside roll by the window. Unfortunately, we missed our earlier train and ended up not getting there until after midday (we spent more time on the train that day than we actually did in Nikko). Our plan was to visit the temples and shrines, go see Mt Nantai and then check out Tobu World Square. No such luck, with our bad timing. We still had an amazing time, sticking to the shrines and temples. The best part was heading to Kanman-ga-fuchi Abyss…. and having a snow ball fight! day 7

Day 8

Today was freeeezing. Forget the cold of day 5 in Mitaka – I was certain it was below zero today and it was raining… again. We went outside regardless, heading to Ueno park to explore. We went around for a bit, but due to the cold and wet, there weren’t many people at all. Most of our time was spent at the Ueno Zoo, in the centre of the park, but we weren’t there for long either. Soon the bitter cold drove us back to our apartment so we could warm up. Despite our short time there, Ueno impressed me quite a bit. I expect that during the next trip to Tokyo (if there ever is one) I will spend a lot of time here. day 8

Day 9

Today it was finally time to visit Tokyo Disneyland. While I was less than impressed compared to when I first went in 2008 at the age of 15, I certainly had a ball of fun. Half of today was spent wandering around, and the other half spent waiting in lines for rides. It was sunnier today than most days, but there was a real chill in the air. day 9

Day 10

Annnnd we’re on to day 2 of Disney, this time visiting Disneysea! Disneysea has a lot more going for it, but I think that’s just my age catching up with me. I liked the way the park was built to resemble different time periods and parts of the world. It was bitterly cold though, and I ended up buying a Micky Mouse jumper to add to my layers (this was layer number 6). We stayed at Disneysea for about 14 hours in total, finishing off the day by watching the light show and fireworks. day 10

Day 11

Today was so boring compared to the rest of the trip. We slept in a little bit, and Jack and I went off to visit Senso-ji temple again so that we could buy some presents for people back home. On our return to the apartment, we grabbed all our luggage and headed to a nearby park to waste some time until it appropriate enough to leave for the airport. day 11

Now, of course, you can’t go to Japan without getting some Purikura (photo booth) snaps. Plus, here are some pics from the rides at Disneysea, and a caricature from Odaiba… 

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What to pack for a trip to Japan

 何パックする

It’s hard to know what to pack for trips, especially in foreign countries where things may be little different from back home, and weather can be unpredictable. This particular page is aimed mostly for women, for the simplest reason! We focus more on fashion and worry so much about what to wear without repeating our outfits, while men practically shove their whole wardrobe into the suitcase and just wear what they please.

When women and men pack | via Shiki Book Japan

The following list is meant to be versatile – adjust it for different seasons and weather, and suit it to the length of your holiday. In other words, don’t over pack. This list is best suited for stays exceeding 12 days.

Japan Packing List

japan packing list

Shiki Book packing collage

Other tips for packing:

  • Choose a common color palette for your shirts so you can mix and match ensembles. Neutral tones? Dark colours? Bright and happy? Go with your own style, but when you pack them, make sure they would all suit each other. Or opt for patterns like stripes or spots and pair them with block colours.
  • Try to bring different kinds of lengths in your shorts, like ¾. Jeans are versatile and may be worn every day with minimal washing.
  • Bring only 1 set of pyjama’s – the 1 set can be washed at any time, at any location.
  • Dresses can be versatile for nights out or dressed down for a casual stroll around town. Probably best not to bring dresses in the winter months though, as winter in Japan can be windy, bitterly cold and, depending on your location, snowy!
  • It’s recommended that shoes should be broken into already, so you aren’t coping with blisters after exploring all day. In regards to the “choose 3” rule for shoes, be reasonable – you probably don’t need to bring boots in summer or sandals in winter.

What shoes to pack | via Shiki Book Japan

  • Severely reduce the number of cardigans or jumpers you bring if you aren’t travelling in the cooler months; otherwise it’s just a waste of space.
  • The opposite to shoes; it’s best to buy new socks before a holiday.
  • You probably only need a week’s worth of knickers. Underwear can be washed any time. Bring one black bra and one skin toned bra for functionality.
  • Bring only a small amount of toiletries. This, in particular, can take up a lot of space. You can pick up refills along the way if need be. The facial wipes are for hand/face washing on trains, etc. and are an optional extra.
  • Try not to bring expensive sunnies, as the risk of damaging or losing them can be high. You’ll likely need them in whatever season you go.
  • A camera case with a lead is better, because you’ll be able to attach it to your wrist or belt loop at all times. Make sure you have a big SD card, or multiple SD cards, or you can’t take lots of photos!
  • Bring your passport everywhere with you. In Japan, you can often get discounts if you are a foreign passport holder, but also, you don’t want to leave it at your accommodation in case it gets stolen. Don’t forget your other forms of identification.
  • Don’t forget a phrasebook if your Japanese isn’t up to scratch.

frommer-s-japanese-phrasefinder-dictionary

  • Keep all maps, tickets and itineraries in a safe place with easy access, like a travel wallet.
  • Ladies (and even gents), avoid bringing a backpack. Many sites recommend it as a travel necessity, but I personally cannot stand them. You can’t see if someone is trying to reach into it, you can’t access it quickly (like if you want to get your camera out) and it’s a bulky, annoying thing to carry. My personal opinion on this matter is to bring a cross body handbag, that easily fits your camera and wallet inside.
    Tip: Obviously, you don’t need to buy a cross body purse as expensive as that. But you get the idea.
  • Keep luggage tags on everything.
  • The plastic zip lock bags can be used for any number of things; to hold receipts, wet make up brushes, currency, snacks, etc.
  • Don’t over pack make up – keep it to a minimal number of “must-haves”. Scrap unneeded things; perfumes, various eyeshadows, several mascaras.

YES: 

make up collage shikibookNO:

(unless you really, really want to)

PackingListMakeupShikiBook

  • Avoid wearing singlets and tank tops if you are visiting culturally significant places like temples or shrines.

Now, how to pack the essentials! First thing you need to do is some research! When are you going; what will the weather be like? Then gather the necessities; the tank tops, the sweaters, the socks and the jeans. Add the accessories and voila! You got yourself packed!

packing with shikibook

The best advice I can give you is to choose a common colour palette and focus on that for the entirety of the trip. Blacks, browns, whites and beige all work well together and can be mismatched in any way needed. If you want a bit more colour, pick one pop colour to focus on, one that will also go with everything else.

We always think we should pack light, and then end up over packing while somehow never having anything good to wear. But it’s easy to do, if you remain focused on only the necessities. Don’t be a ‘just in case’ person; for instance, don’t bring a pair of shorts if you are going in the middle of winter, just in case. The likelihood of the shorts being used is minimal to zero. It’s now just a waste of space and one extra thing to remember to take home with you.

Now, as long as you aren’t fussy with outfits, you can make 26 outfits using only four bottoms and four tops (plus any number of leggings and accessories you want!).

26 travel outfits | via Shiki Book Japan

Remember to pack for the right season! Bring thermals and warm jackets for winter; shorts and t-shirts for summer. Don’t pack what you don’t need just because it looks fashionable. Even simple items can be dressed up. But while you’re in Japan, what you wear just falls to the back of your mind, with so many other amazing things to focus on.

***

 Have you got any packing or outfit tips of your own?
Comment below!

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Tokyo Disneyland VS Tokyo Disneysea

Disneyland vs Disneysea

Located in the Chiba Prefecture, Disneyland and Disneysea are perfect additions to any family vacation. Each park spans approximately across 115 acres, and were the first Disney parks to be opened outside of the United States.
In Disneyland, there are seven themed areas in the park: the World Bazaar, the four classic Disneylands (Adventureland, Westernland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland) and two mini lands, Critter Country and Mickey’s Toontown.
Disneysea has an overall nautical theme to it. It was built in 2001, and unlike Disneyland, the intention was to be a more adult-like park including faster, scarier rides and shows designed for an older audience. There are also seven themed areas: the entrance to the park is Mediterranean Harbor, which opens up to six more nautically themed ports: American Waterfront, Lost River Delta, Port Discovery, Mermaid Lagoon, Arabian Coast, and Mysterious Island. There are several hotels affiliated with the parks, offering packages such as a three night stay and 2-day pass. The affiliated hotels are often cheaper than Disney Resort itself. Ticket prices average on $70 pp for adults and $60 pp for children. There are no family tickets available. Discount tickets are available for groups of 25 people or more. The experience is amazing for families, groups of friends and couples alike. The park brings with it an air of innocence and only serves to remind you of your childhood in the best light possible.

Tokyo Disneyland via Shikibook Japan

The last time I went to Disneyland and Disneysea was when I was 15, and I was delighted to go back during this trip to Tokyo. My memories were especially fond of these theme parks. At every corner there seemed to be various flavoured popcorn stalls, and I couldn’t have a whiff of hazelnut without my mind being thrown back into glorious nostalgia. It’s the same every time I smell tatami, and I think of Japan.

This time round I was a little older, and was more accustomed to the theme parks in Australia, which boast high speed rollarcoasters and giant drops like you couldn’t imagine. My memories of Disneyland were a little bit different to reality…

What I envisioned was a wonderland full of colourful characters and playful scenery; what I got was concrete walkways and big, crass plastic backdrops. What I imagined were long and fast rides with the wind whipping my hair; what I got was 4-5 hour waiting times for even the simplest of rides. I remembered the various gift shops to be filled with many different delights, each one themed according to location in the park; what I got was the same, small amount of Disney memorabilia in the form of plush toys, T-shirts and mugs, repeated over and over again in every store. On top of that, Disneyland was simply nothing like I remembered. I know I used to be younger, but somehow the park felt very small and nothing like the big fantasy land escape I had made it up to be in my mind.

Tokyo Disneyland via Shikibook Japan

We still spent all day at Disneyland – even just walking around, and not attempting to go on any rides, that still almost makes the ticket price worth it. The “big, crass plastic backdrops” are still a wonder to walk through, and as long as you don’t peer too closely, you could feel the Disney magic. Music plays throughout all of the park, making you feel as if you’re inside a cartoon.

Tokyo Disneyland via Shikibook Japan

Tokyo Disneyland via Shikibook Japan

Tokyo Disneyland via Shikibook Japan

Disneyland is definitely geared towards a very young crowd. If you come here under the age of 14, or as a family, this can damn well be the best day of your life. If you come to this park as a group of 20-somethings looking for a day of excitement, well, only if you really love Disney will this be the case. I had fun at the park, but not as much fun as I could have. I was too busy comparing it to my memories. But when I asked my travel buddies how they felt about the day, they said the same thing; it was all a little young for them. I guess it doesn’t help that the biggest attractions to the park (such as the Alice in Wonderland maze and The Haunted Mansion) were closed for maintenance.

Disneysea on the other hand, not only lived up to my memories and expectations but surpassed them. This park has been geared towards adults and children alike, and will delight even the most unenthused theme park goer. The areas to the park have not necessarily been made to look like a cartoon, but as different parts of the world or different parts of time. There’s the Mediterranean Harbor, which is so realistic you’ll suddenly feel as if you left Japan. And if you turn left and walk along for a little bit, you’ll come across a small part of Venice. You can even get a gondola ride (which I recommend taking closer to dusk). Just another 50 metres along and you’re in old time New York, with swinging bands and chic cafes. Across the harbour is an interactive pirate ship and what appears to be an active volacano (every half hour or so, it erupts!). Inside the volcano is the ride “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, which was also unfortunately closed for maintenance.

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We spent approximately 14 hours at Disneysea, and went on nearly of the rides. I’m sure we missed a few by mistake, and we even missed one on purpose (let me tell you now, there is no point in waiting nearly six hours for a Toy Story themed ride. Not. Worth. It).

I would highly recommend the Tower of Terror, which is similar to the giant drop in Australia, but makes use of story and imagery to better itself. It’s also not as heartstopping, and quite worth the wait. My advice is to get the Disneyland/sea Fastpass at both parks to avoid waiting for rides. Fastpass is like putting your place in line, going off and doing something else for two hours, and coming back and cutting the line. You can only do a Fastpass for a ride every 2 and a half hours, so I recommend getting to Tower of Terror first for this, then go off and explore.

Day 10 (29)

Some of my favourite parts of the park do not include the rides, but simply the atmosphere. Disneysea has certainly got the Disney magic down pat. The food at both parks is pretty basic; expect burgers, hot dogs and hot chips, with not a whole lot of variety. Each area might have a specially themed meal or dessert, but don’t expect anything too flash. In the New York area, we got the ‘All American Hot Dog’ and were rewarded with a plain sausage in a bun. It was minus 2 degrees Celsius when we went, but there was no shortage of matcha lattes or hot chocolate around the place. Unfortunately, there was also no shortage of ice cream (no one was buying from these stalls and I felt bad for the staff who just stood there in the cold).

Matcha latte

Recommended: I would say definitely get on the Tower of Terror, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Raging Spirits, Storm Rider (there’s a surprise at the end!) and Indiana Jones ride at Disneysea. Basically, any of the more thrilling rides are definitely worth it. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is also worth the wait and quite exciting. At Disneyland, you can’t miss the Haunted Mansion or Star Tours, which is kind of like a virtual reality ride as a cast member of Star Wars.

The best places to check out in Disneysea are Mediterranean Harbour with Fortress Explorations and a ride on a Venetian gondola.  Don’t forget Mermaid Lagoon – the rides are aimed for younger ones, but the atmosphere is unforgettable. You feel like you really could be swimming along with Ariel. I would definitely recommend exploring Toon Town at Disneyland, Tom Sawyer Island and Critter Country.

Don’t do: If you can, avoid “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland at all costs. Not necessarily because the ride is bad (you’re on a little boat that travels through a canal, going past various nationalities in traditional garb), but because the song “It’s a Small World Afterall” is the only song that plays, and the ride lasts about 15 minutes. You’ll be ready to kill by the end of it. And the song will be stuck in your head for about 3 years.

Try not to hop on any of the various cruises at Disneyland. They aren’t very exciting, and they eat into time that could be spent exploring or on rides.

If you’re trying to limit your time, don’t stick around for the float parade at Disneyland, or the light show and fireworks at Disneysea (around 8:30pm nightly). While it’s okay if there’s a small group of you and you all want to see it, don’t stick around if you have cranky children that have been up since the crack of dawn and are sick of walking for 10 straight hours.

Advice: If you’re interested in saving money, then only visit one park, and let that park be Disneysea (unless you have young kids).
Get the Fastpass to one of the biggest rides straight away to avoid disappointment.
Get to the park well and truly before it opens to avoid the crazy lines that can form, and buy your tickets online prior to going, so you can just flash your ticket and walk in.
Once inside, head straight to the back so as not to be overwhelmed by the craziness that can occur at a Japanese theme park. Over the course of the day, make your way to the front as if you were visiting the park in reverse.

So, who wins out of Disneyland and Disneysea? I think it’s safe to say, Disneysea!

Disneysea via Shikibook Japan

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Visting Hakone

Hakone is a town in Ashigarashimo District in Kanagawa Prefecture. It’s less than 100km from Tokyo, it is most known for hot springs, natural beauty and, of course, Mt Fuji. Hakone, as well as Nikko, is one of the most popular destinations for Japanese and international tourists alike.

Getting to Hakone and seeing Mt Fuji has definitely got to be one of the major highlights of this latest expedition. I had never taken the opportunity to see this famous mountain before, for various reasons. But, you know, if this was the last holiday to Japan, who knows how many years it would be before I finally got this opportunity again?

Jack, Tammy and I separated from Kai for the day to travel to Hakone (he was staying in Tokyo for a few extra weeks after we left, and was going to Hakone on his own later on). We used the 5 Modes of Transport method of traveling through Hakone – train, cablecar, ropeway, boat, bus.

Hakone Day TripWe were concerned with this suggested itinerary – how do we get to each station? How did we know which one to get on? Is it like the crazy Tokyo Metro, where there are a hundred different lines, all going in a hundred different directions?

We didn’t need to fear at all. Everything was simple. At each station, we followed the crowd. There was only one direction to go – up!

In the early morning, we went from our home station in Tokyo (Sumiyoshi) to Shinjuku station, where we could purchase the Hakone Free Pass from the Odakyu line. This pass allowed us to travel to and from Hakone, and everything in between, without paying extra for tickets. The pass included all modes of transport. The pass costs about $60, and that includes a reserve seat on the express train. Otherwise there are slightly cheaper passes that aren’t express, and don’t require you to buy a reserved seat.

Hakone Day Pass

Unfortunately, we arrived a little late and just missed the 9:10am express train. We had to wait around in Shinjuku until 10:40am for the next one. A lot of websites say you cannot do this trip in one day, and if you do, you have to get up super early – well, we beat that. We did it in 7 hours.

(Alright, alright, we did it in 7 hours but we missed out on a lot. We didn’t get to stop at any stations for museums, galleries or souvenirs, except for Owakudani. We basically did a loop and were in different forms of a vehicle for 7 hours. These websites reckon you’ll be getting off at every station to explore. We could have… if we caught the earlier train!).

The express train runs from Shinjuku station to Hakone-Yumoto, which is the first main station in Hakone. Here, you’ll find hotels, shops, restaurants and some beautiful mountain scenery. You also swap trains at this station (just a hop to the next platform!), which will now take you to Gora station.

Hakone-Yumoto

Gora station seemed beautiful – there were hotels, shops and restaurants here as well, but also Gora Park, a whimsical French inspired garden. Unfortunately, the most we did at Gora station was stop for a potty break. It’s also where you change from train to cable car – a most interesting experience! The cable car is actually built on an angle to suit the hill it has to climb. Each time the cable car stopped and started again, it would, just for a second, slowly roll backwards on it’s own weight. Eeek!

Gora Park

Gora Park

The cable car had a few stops – most of them within a hundred metres of each other. Believe me though, you wouldn’t want to actually walk between stations unless you were heading downhill. One stop, that we had the intention of exploring, was Chokoku-no-mori. We wanted to check out the Hakone Open Air Museum, a museum exhibiting sculptures, art and paintings on manicured lawns with mountainous views. Due to our late start, we decided not to stop at Chokoku-no-mori, but I did get a super blurry photo as we whizzed past on the cable car.

Whizzing past Open air Museum

The final cable car station is Sounzan, which is the first ropeway station. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Day 6 (42) Day 6 (45) Day 6 (46) Day 6 (49) Day 6 (60) Day 6 (66) Day 6 (70) Day 6 (73)

After approximately 10 minutes on the ropeway, we had reached our lunch destination; Owakudani. I’m sure you’ve all heard of Owakudani in some form or another. It’s one of the best places to catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji (if you go on a clear day, of course). The station was built atop of the massive crater that was created some 3000 years ago when Mount Hakone last erupted. It’s an active volcanic zone – which stinks of sulfuric gas (rotten eggs, my friend). There are hot springs you can try too. Taking a short walk down from the station, you can check out these spots up close, and even purchase black eggs. Black eggs, you ask? These eggs have been cooked in the water from the hot springs, and due to the sulfur, their shells turn black. If you eat one, it’s said that your life will be prolonged for seven years!

We didn’t get to check out the hot springs or steam vents – our time was still restricted and we were starving. We stopped for lunch at the buffet restaurant at the station (only ¥1600 each) and watched the scenery below us – including a grand view of Fuji from the opposite window!

When lunch was over, we quickly had a peak at the souvenir shops. We bought nothing – everything was shaped like Mt Fuji or black eggs. We didn’t want anything from this day except the photos.

Fuji View

The ropeway lead us from Owakudani all the way down to Togendai, where you hop off and soak in the view of Lake Ashi. By now, Fuji has been hidden behind other peaks. The next mode of transport is the boat. But not just any boat. A ship. Even better, a pirate ship. There’s a fake captain whom you can get photos with, and the whole thing is decked out like a Pirates of the Caribbean project. It takes about 30 minutes to cross the water from Togendai to Moto-Hakone port, on the opposite side of the shore. In the mean time, you can see some wonderful scenery, and get to explore the “ship” a little bit. There’s not a whole lot of seating available – it was very cold and windy on the boat, so everyone wanted to be seated at the back where the view was.

Day 6 (135) Day 6 (150)

At Moto-Hakone port, there’s the Hakone Tozan Bus, which will take you back to Hakone-Yumoto station or, if you get on the right one, to Odawara station. If you are returning to Hakone-Yumoto, you must be there by 7:30pm, or you will miss the last train back to Shinjuku in Tokyo. The bus ride, especially late in the afternoon, is cramped and not unlike rush hour on trains. There are people standing all through the aisle. It’s a 40 minute drive, and you can get a bit motion sick traveling the windy road through the mountains. Your ears may pop as well, as you suddenly descend.

Moto-Hakone station

We had picked an excellent day for travel – tourists often remark on the foggy, view blocking atmosphere when taking this trip, but we had sunshine the whole day. We had checked out the weather forecast for the week and had chosen the day that we knew would be fine and sunny. My best advice is not to pre-plan when going to Hakone, but pick a day once you arrive in Japan and know what the weather will be like. Unless you intend to stay over in Hakone, of course.

Owakudani

My friend Ting Ting, who happened to be visiting Japan at the same time, went to Owakudani as well. Unfortunately, the weather was not as kind to her.

Would I do this trip again? Yes.

Would I set more time to do it? Oh boy, I would.

Would I recommend this anyone? Oh, hell yes! If you get a clear day, this is definitely a highlight!

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