Saturday, June 23, 2018

Getting Around Tokyo

Tokyo is a metro with population exceeds 13 millions. The streets are packed with high rises, and the subways are interconnected with many different lines commuting thousands of people at the same time. We would like to share our experience in accommodation, food, transportation, and shopping for our 6-day trip in Tokyo.

Accommodation

Room can get very expensive in some of the places. Lucky we found a nice apartment via Booking.com. The price was very reasonable- three rooms, one small kitchen, laundry facilities, two toilets, and one bath room, with around RM 450 per night. The 2-storey apartment is located in Ikebukuro, 10 minutes by foot from Ikebukuro Station. There are several convenient shops nearby, and the major shopping malls at Ikebukuro are around 10 - 15 minutes away by foot. The nearest food street is just two blocks away (around 5 minutes by foot).

Outlook of the apartment (behind the blue vending machine).

Peaceful neighbourhood.

The kitchen with cooking tools (upper left), small dining area (upper right), laundry washing machine with detergent (lower right), and three bed rooms with air conditioners.

The north entrance of Ikebukuro Station (upper left). From the station, we can access to most of the places in Tokyo. We can see Tobu Mall with the blue signage from afar (upper right). Tobu is one of the big malls that sit right above Ikebukuro Station. The streets around Ikebukuro were busy. Mega Donki with a blue penguin sign provides huge range of local products. The shop can be reached via east gate of the station.

Night market and food street at Ikebukuro (upper row). The street is located outside of the north gate of Ikebukoro Station. If you wish to have a night stroll to experience the busy marketplace in Japan, you can explore the shopping area and pedestrian streets opposite of the east gate of Ikebukuro Station. 

Ikebukuro is relatively quiet and peaceful compared to the city center of Tokyo. The station, however, is the second busiest station in Japan. It is the second busiest station in the world as well. The station converges several railways and Metro Lines, thus it is very convenient for us to travel to other places in Tokyo from the station. 

Food 

We like Japanese food. Japanese food like sushi and sashimi are unique, but no more indigenous due to globalization of Japanese cuisine. Is there any difference between Japanese food in Malaysia compared to Tokyo? Not much difference for us, except for sushi and ramen. 

Ramen in Tokyo really different from what we have in Malaysia. First, the noodle is more elastic, and the broth is more concentrated. We have various of choices as well, such as beef, anchovies, and pork. We visited three ramen shops in Tokyo, all of them had their own ramen with special flavour. The ramen shops were small, with only one single row of seat like a bar (upper left). We have to select and pay for our food at the payment machine before entering the shop  (upper right). Ramen was served in soup (lower right) or dry. Ramen is definitely a must try food in Tokyo.

Sushi is another must try food in Tokyo. The fish used for sushi in Tokyo was more juicy and creamy, and the rice ball tasted better and less sticky compared to what we had in Malaysia. We tried sushi at Ikebukuro (upper left), where sushi were served on rotating conveyor belt (upper right). The price was determined by the colour of the plate (lower right). We bought sushi from the supermarket as well. The taste was good as well. The taste of sushi bought from convenient shops however, was disappointing. 

We tried rice with salmon sashimi (upper left), red tuna (upper right), fried chicken (lower right) and pork chop at Shinjuku. The dishes with sashimi were good.

We tried beef rice (upper left), rice with seaweed (upper right), takoyaki (lower right), and dry udon with onion and egg at Solamachi food court. 

Beside eateries and food courts, we tried the food purchased from Tobu Supermarket and convenient shops as well. These food required preheating with microwave. Some of the food we tried- stir fry squids with vegetable (upper left), rice with sashimi (upper right), rice with pork (lower right), and dumplings. The price, around 300 to 700 Yen. 

We had a buffet lunch at Buffet Restaurant Supreme (upper left). The restaurant located at 11th floor of Tobu Departmental Store, right above Ikebukuro Station. The atmosphere was relaxing (upper right), and the variety of food was good (lower right). The price was 2200 Yen per person, with time limit of 90 minutes per session. There was an extra charge of 200 Yen for soft drinks.

We tried many street food and snacks as well, including the grill beef and pork at Shibuya (upper left), kibi dango at Asakusa (upper right), Hello Kitty popcorn from Hello Kitty Shop (lower right), and dorayaki from convenient shop. The grill beef and pork were nice. The rest, well, you can just try it for fun.

One good thing about eatery at Tokyo- many of them have the food display outside their shop. The portion of the real food was more or less the same.

Transportation

In Tokyo, there are two choices for transportation. Either we use the metro transit, or we walk. The taxi fee is really expensive and we just want to save the money for anything else. Staying somewhere nearby Metro Station or JR Station will make our life much easier to travel around Tokyo. We stayed at an apartment nearby Ikebukuro Station, which we could access to both Metro and JR lines.

Tokyo Metro offers 3-day hop-on-hop-off unlimited pass, with the price of 7200 Yen. However, there is a better deal. We bought Tokyo Subway 72-hour unlimited pass from Haneda Airport with just 1500 Yen! The pass is valid for 72 hours, for Metro subway and Toei Subway in Tokyo. We can buy the ticket from the Tourist Information Center at Haneda Airport.

We can buy the unlimited pass for subway from Tourist Information Center at Haneda Airport (upper left). The ticket will be activated upon our first usage. We didn't want to activate the ticket for the first day, so we bought one-way ticket from airport to Ikebukuro (upper right). It cost us 260 Yen per person. Boarding on the right train was challenging at first, as English signage was limited. It turned easier after a few rides. The couch was filled with advertisements, mainly in Japanese (lower right). It took us around one and a half hour to reach Ikebukuro.

The subway system in Tokyo is integrated with shops, stalls, supermarkets, and connections to shopping malls and offices.

Eateries at the underground level of shopping mall, which can be accessed easily from subway station.

The walking underground is a comfortable choice in Tokyo. We can move from place to place without exposing ourselves to nature elements. However, we will miss the scenery on the surface. 

Exit to the surface brought us the view of Tokyo Railway Station. We would have missed this historical building if we continued to walk underground.

Be mindful that our destination might not be exactly on the top of subway station. We might need to walk for 10 - 20 minutes to reach there. Lucky, the street was safe and friendly for pedestrian.

Shopping

We didn't do much shopping in this trip. Anyway, we found that Shibuya was a good place to hunt for fair price items, especially at Mega Donki and Daiso. There is a Mega Donki store in Ikebukuro as well. We found that overall price for the food and souvenirs were cheaper in Ikebukuro, compared to Shinjuku and Shibuya.

We shopped a lot in convenient shops- snacks, rice, noodle, sushi, coffee, milk, fruit juice, sandwich, fresh vegetable, fruits, yogurt, Coca-Cola, and many more. Beside well-known 7-11, we could find Moles and Lawson Store around Ikebukuro. Lawson 100 is the one we like- most of the items were sold with 100 Yen.

Another shop with all the items sold with 100 Yen is Daiso. The shop is located in Shibuya. From the station, we need to brave ourselves through the Shibuya-crossing to reach Daiso.

Daiso is located at the end of the main street at Shibuya. Compared to the Daiso stores in Malaysia, the items available are a bit different, and the price, cheaper.


Mega Donki is another store that we would recommend in Shibuya. The store is available in Ikebukuro as well.

Shops with cute items, toys (upper left), special cartoon brand (upper right), comics in Japanese (lower right), and even shops for clip-doll-machine (or claw crane, skill crane, teddy picker) are available along the street. Of course, there are stores selling tech gadget, such as Bic Camera, stores selling various of objects like Tokyu Hands, clothes such as Uniqlo, scatters along the street.

Last but not least, Tokyo has various vending machines, selling various items, from drinks, snacks, toys, to many more other things that beyond our imagination. 

Most of the people we met in Tokyo could merely speak in English. However, we could still communicate with each others using photos, body language, translation apps, and a lot of expression. The people were friendly and polite. 

We might share more  about our experience staying in Ikebukuro, well, stay with us :)



Ueno Zoo and Tokyo National Museum of Nature and Science

Fourth day in Tokyo. We decided to visit Ueno Zoo and Tokyo National Museum of Nature and Science. We traveled to Ueno Park via Ginza Line (we didn't use the fastest Yamanote Line, because we had 72-hour unlimited ride ticket for Metro Lines). The zoo is located some 500 meters away from the station. 

Ueno Zoo is the oldest zoo in Japan, which starts operational since 1882. The zoo operation hours are from 9 am to 5 pm, and closes on Monday. The entrance fee was 600 Yen for one adult, and 300 Yen for senior citizen.

Ueno Zoo is divided into two different zones- east and west gardens. We can see most of the nice exhibits and animals at the east garden- tiger, gorilla, polar bear, crane, seal, birds, primates and many more. West garden consists of a big lake with a lot of water birds, a few animal houses, and several big animals, including rhino, giraffe, and okapi. Some sources state that the zoo currently contains more than 2600 animals. That's an enormous number for a small zoo. More information about the zoo is available at Ueno Zoo official website.

Our main target in Ueno Zoo were polar bear, gorilla, and okapi. The last time we saw a walking polar bear was 20 years ago in Singapore Zoo. We had not seen a real okapi and gorilla before, except through National Geographic and Animal Planet. We reached the zoo at 11:30 am and left around 2 pm. We took a short rest and walked to National Museum of Natural and Science.


There were limited choices of food and drinks in the zoo, so bringing our own snacks could be a good idea. The resting area were packed with visitors. If you wish to stay in the zoo for a longer time, a comfortable footwear and an umbrella is a must. By the way, it was our first experience to queue up in front of several exhibits in the zoo to see the animals. Frankly, we were amazed by the ability of Japanese zoo to squeeze so many animals into a single place, but at the same time, quite sad to see the animals being packed in small exhibits.



Ueno Park is big, which consists of several museums and a zoo. It is located on the other side of the road, outside of the metro station (upper left). We need to cross the road, turn right and walk straight to the main entrance of Ueno Park, which is located opposite of JR Railway Station. Then, turn left after the JR Railway Station and continue straight till we reach the entrance of the zoo (upper right). The ticket can be bought outside of the zoo (lower right). The junction to the east or west is located nearby the entrance.

Gorilla (upper left), polar bear (upper right), and okapi (lower right) were the animals that we would like to see in Ueno Zoo. We were lucky to meet them all (although a little disappointed that okapi didn't turn its face to us). We saw some interesting indigenous primates in the zoo as well.

A beautiful local bird.

 A few exhibits had nice landscape and design, but the animals couldn't be found.

We visited the zoo on Friday. 12:30 pm. The whole zoo was crowded with school kids. Well, children have free entrance.

We had to line up to see some popular animals, such as panda and tiger.

It is fun to see kids with different colour of hats.

Monorail connecting the east and west gardens is a big tourist trap. First, we had to beat the long queue (best estimation, should be more than 15 minutes), then paid for the ride (yes, it was not free), and board on a few minutes ride. There is a sky-bridge connecting two gardens. We need only 3 minutes to cross the bridge.

West garden from the bridge. We can see the lakeside is full with visitors.

The seat under shades were all occupied nearby food trucks (upper left). There were two trucks, selling grilled beef and rice, and takoyaki (upper right). We tried takoyaki (lower right). The taste was good, and the price was reasonable- 5 takoyaki with 500 Yen, just a bit more expensive than takoyaki in Malaysia. We could see the queue at monorail station from the food truck. The queue line extended to the outside of the station. 

National Museum of Nature and Science is located beside National Museum of Western Art, some 300 meters from Ueno Zoo. The museum was established in 1871.  It is divided into two parts- Japan gallery and world gallery. Japan Gallery is interesting, but the Global Gallery is more attractive. We would recommend to spend more time at world gallery. We stayed in the museum for two hours and left at 4:15 pm.

Normal entrance fee for the museum was 620 Yen for adult. The operation hours are from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays, and 9 am to 8 pm on weekends. The entrance were free during our visit as it was their museum day. Lucky, lucky!!

2 pm, the walkway in Ueno Park was crowdy (upper left). The entrance is beside the old museum building (upper right), with a clear sign in front of it (lower right). There is a big whale statue in front of the museum.

Free museum admission for all! Theater 360 is an attraction in the museum, with long queue. It was not very attractive for us, especially after we visit DisneySea. The narration was in Japanese. Anyhow, it still worth to take a look.

Hachiko, a white Akita dog which waited for its master at Shibuya station for nine years following its master's death. It is a true story of loyalty, which has been depicted in a few movies. Behind Hachiko are the real bodies of two dogs- Taro and Jiro, which had survived in Antarctica for 11 months, after being abandoned by the research teams. The story was screened by the movie Eight Below.

Hachiko statue marks the place where the loyal dog waited for its master. The statue is located in Shibuya.

Skeleton of a plesiosaurus in Japan Gallery is displayed on the top floor of Japan Gallery.

The global gallery is amazing. Massive dinosaur skeletons, such as T-rex and apatosaurus are available. These dinosaur skeletons were imported from other countries.

Triceratops skeleton. 

There are other skeletons, such as whales, elephants, and even saber tooth animals available in the exhibition halls.

A Zero fighter plane is exhibited in science hall.

National Museum of Nature and Science is worth a visit. Our advice, breeze through Japan Gallery, and concentrate our time at Global Gallery. Japan Gallery is located in the same building with ticket counter, with older design. Global Gallery is in another building behind the Japan Gallery. There are not many resting area in the exhibition halls, but seats are available outside. Food were available at the canteen, but we didn't buy anything there. 

We took our late lunch at a ramen shop nearby Metro Station. Then we went to Shibuya after our visit. We bought some cheap items at Shibuya. Follow us next to know more about our accommodation, shopping, and how we moved around Tokyo.




Friday, June 15, 2018

Tokyo Tower and Imperial Palace

Third day in Tokyo. We visited Tokyo Tower, Imperial Palace, and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building at Shinjuku.

Tokyo Tower is no doubt a landmark of Tokyo. Built in 1958, the 333-meter tower, however, has now been surrounded by skyscrapers. The tower used to be the tallest structure in Japan, until the completion of Sky Tree in 2012.  

We initially planned to visit the main observatory deck of Tokyo Tower. However, at 150 meters, it has not much view to offer. So we took the advice from a few travel bloggers to visit Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building at Shinjuku with free observatory at 202 meters. Nevertheless, Tokyo Tower is still worth a visit. Tokyo Tower and Zojo-Ji Temple complex is around 10 minutes walk from Akabanebashi Station on the Oedo Metro Line.

Taking photo with Tokyo Tower from a distance away is easier. Once we get closer, the view of the tower will be seriously blocked by other buildings. We went to Kochiyasanaeundo Park just to take photo with the tower. It was not an ideal place at all. The best place to take the photo should be somewhere around Shiba Park (Zojo-Ji Temple area).

We took our morning tea at the complex below the tower, grabbed our opportunity to take photo with Giant Hello Kitty, and roamed around the area nearby (including moving blindly without clear guide into Kochiyasanaeundo Park) for around 40 minutes. Then we continued our journey to Imperial Palace from Onarimon Metro Station.

Tokyo tower can be seen clearly from the exit at Akabanebashi Station. Cross the road, walk for 500 meters, and we can see Zojo-Ji Temple Complex on our right.

Tokyo Tower is nice to see from afar. Grab the opportunity to take photo with the tower while we were far from it.


The closer we go towards the tower, the harder we can squeeze the whole tower into our photo.

The ticket counter and the lobby area with very few visitors. It was around 11:30 am.

This is the misleading sign that leads us to another park.

Tokyo Imperial Palace (Kokyo) is the current residence of  Japan Imperial Family. It was the site of the castle of ruling Shogun. The Shogunate was defeated by the Emperor in 1868. The imperial palace was destroyed in World War 2, but the buildings were restored with the same style years later.

Of course, we couldn't enter the palace. We could however take a leisure walk around Kokyo Gaien- the large park in front of the palace entrances. The park is enormously big in the middle of skyscrapers. It is a must visit site in Tokyo. The park is located 500 meters away from Tokyo Station. We walked around and enjoy the green surrounding for 1 hour.

Kokyo Gaien is surrounded by moats and stone walls. These defensive structures are now decorations in the middle of Tokyo.

 Beautiful lawn and green trees around the park.

The lawn was so nicely maintained that we could sit, or even lay on them (and it was officially allowed).

 Bronze statue of Kusonoki- a samurai and strategist who was loyal to the Emperor family.

The gates and the palace buildings which we can see from the park.

This is the scene that we like the most- the heart of Tokyo city from the gate of the palace. Click on the photo for a bigger view.

Tokyo Station is located opposite of the imperial palace. We went to Shinjuku from Tokyo Station and took our lunch at Shinjuku.

Shinjuku is a great place for shopping. However, we visited Shinjuku for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building- where we can access to the observatory at 202 meters.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building can be reached by underground passages, so we can avoid the traffic on the surface.

It took us 15 minutes to walk from Shinjuku Metro Station to the foot of the government building (we took around 5 minutes to find our way).

From the hall at ground level, we can choose to go for north or south tower (upper left). Again, it was lucky for us as the queue was short (upper right). We were required to go through security check before entering the lift. Guides were provided around the observatory (lower right). Souvenir stalls were available, selling cute and anime related items. A free water fountain and a few vendor machines were available on the observatory.

 Nice view from the tower.

 On a clear sunny day, we should be able to see Fuji Mountain from this place.

The observatory of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building offers nice view with fully air-conditioned deck and plenty of chairs for resting. Is it really better than Tokyo Tower? Well, if you wish to take a bird-eye view on Tokyo, then the higher the better. For us, Tokyo Tower is still a place that we should visit, at least to take a photo with it.

We reached Ikebukuro at around 6:30 pm. We shopped around the shopping area there before we went back to rest. Next, Ueno Zoo and Tokyo National Museum of Nature and Science.