A 2013 Trip to Japan

This last February ET and I took another trip to Japan, our previous one having been “only” in September 2010. ( see Kyoto; Kobe; Hakone and Tokyo from 2010). This time the focus was skiing with JK, and Tokyo!

After an afternoon re visiting Uneo park, the lily pads (Shinobazu Pond), and the Ameya-yokochō street market the market under the tracks.
Uneo Lily Pads, in Shinobazu Pond, the Winter edition

That evening we tracked down the bus, just west of shinjuku, for our first ski trip and joined JK to Nagano! One thing that made his easy was by joining the Tokyo Gaijins, a travel event company which organized this and our other ski trip. Tokyo Gaijins is partially made up of expat professionals living in Tokyo. Rick, the owner, operator made it easy to join the trip, even for us in Canada. It was a pleasant bus trip – not as fast a the bullet train / Hokuriku Shinkansen trip you can do to Nagano (90 minute trip in the morning for a day of skiing, and return that evening!!) – but fun meeting people before residual jet lag claimed us. We were staying at Hotel Shinya in the village of Hakuba, was Japanese style : tatami mats and onsen.
Hotel Shinya , in Hakuba, Nagano

A brief trip to the Hakuba 47 ski hill in the morning and the fun begin! Sadly the weather sucked : rainy on Saturday and icy the next day. But despite that – including my hardest fall in a decade and 2 slams 1) me into snow wall and 2) a skier into me – we had fun. A big part of that was people like JK, Suma, Chris M, Angelina P, Jeff D, Joshua , Madi, and Shane the snowboarding god.
Hakuba 47 ski hill, Nagano

After getting back it was time to do more exploring to Tokyo from the basecamp of JK’s apartment.
Tokyo Tower

Which of course meant that the first stop was Akihabara Electric Town! Ground Zero for all thing electic and nerdy.
Akihabara Electric Town
Akihabara Electric Town

Thanks to Jeff D, I figured out how to get mobile data for my Nexus 7, via a B-Mobile micro sim, which was ~$30 for one month of 1 Gig of data, but you had to call from a Japanese phone number (JK had one of those!). For travellers to Japan, I believe you can pre-order a card and pick it up at one of Narato airport’s two post offices on arrival. (I picked up my at the Yodobashi-Akiba store) Being able to use the exocortex that is the internet while traveling around Tokyo made things so much easier. – but I still had paper back ups! 🙂
B-Mobile data card

One place to visit is The Imperial Palace East Gardens, the one part of the imperial palace open to the public and for site of Edo Castle
The Imperial Palace East Gardens
The Imperial Palace East Gardens
The Imperial Palace East Gardens
The Imperial Palace East Gardens

We also visited “the” Tokyo Station, both the original red building and a modern entrance
Tokyo Station, old
Tokyo Station, new

on Tuesday evening we joined the monthly Meat Meetup at a Yakiniku, a Japanese restaurants that specializes in beef. Not a steak house! We had something like 14 different cuts of beef.
Meat Meetup at a Yakiniku
Meat Meetup at a Yakiniku

Even a exotic raw beef liver. (yum)
Meat Meetup at a Yakiniku
The Meet Whispher at Meat Meetup

But I think we may have over done it, just a bit. Even the Beef whisperer had too much.

To recover, the next night we had Eel, served 9 ways :
Eel Necks!
Eel backbones, roasted?!
Eel Necks

Thursday morning we went to Tsukiji market visiting the market after having sushi and sashimi. (some of the store had huge line ups!)
Tsukiji market
Tsukiji market Tuna

Friday in was Ski Time, again! This time flying from Haneda Airport to Japan’s northern island Hokkaido, and Sapporo before going on to Niseko. Sapporo was doing it annual Winter Festival which meant lots of ice sculptures and food vendors.
Sapporo Winter Festival
Sapporo Winter Festival
Sapporo Winter Festival, Ultraman!!
Sapporo Winter Festival
Sapporo Winter Festival
Sapporo Winter Festival

and then it was on to Niseko and the land of deep deep snow!!
Skiing in Niseko
Skiing in Niseko, Pension Anne
Skiing in Niseko
Skiing in Niseko, Swinging Monkey Lift
As a demonstration of now much snow, I give you : Suma vs the Tree
Suma vs Tree
.
We were very, very, sad to leave 🙁

Sapporo airport, the New Chitose Airport, had many great features but I will not 2 in particular : Ramma World and the in-airport onsen which was amazing
Raman World

Back in Tokyo, we visited the Tokyo Sky Tower.
Tokyo Sky Tree
Tokyo Sky Tree

One strange thing to note is that you need to line up in order to get a ticket to get a time slot to buy you actual ticket to go up (Huh?). I expect it is because it can get very very busy.
Ticket to get a Ticket for Tokyo Sky Tree

I would suggest getting a ticket on-line and the actually going up in the morning so you get the more interesting view with the sun in the east.
View from Tokyo Sky Tree
View from Tokyo Sky Tree

We learned Odon noodle making that night (lots of fun) at the Buddha Bellies Cooking School.
Doing the Udon Dance
Udon Noodle making

Lots of fun and If I can be taught, anyone can!

We stumbled above the Sengaku-ji Temple with the resting place of Lord Asano Naganori and his 47 Samurai. I had heard of this event in Japan history, but it was a nice discovery.
Lord Asano Naganori of the 47 Samurai
Grave Stones of the 47 Samurai

There was a nice small museum on site that gave lots of back ground, and had videos in english if you ask.

Update : I forget to mention her imperial highness Hello Kitty, of whom you are never far from one of her incarnations, in this case the “47 Hello Kitty Samurai”
47 Samurai Hello Kitty Style

We also did trip to the Tokyo Teleport Station on the man-made island of Odaiba, visiting the Gundam Front Tokyo, a “Gundam Theme Park” and see the Gundum suit in front; and then National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) which has lost of fun stuff. There are also a large number of other attractions and shopping centres nearby.
Gundam Suit

Maybe next time we will make it to the Ghibli Museum, even though we did see the wonderful Inokashira Park in Mitaka, a western suburb of Tokyo, were it is.

Update: Boing Boing reports that Tickets from the Studio Ghibli museum are made from snips of film. Oh Man! I’m really regretting not getting my act together on the first day. You really need to reserve your spot a week (or more) in advance. You can get tickets at Loppi machines at Lawson convenience stores, even thought the ui sucks.

There are more Photo’s from this trip in the Set : Tokyo 2013, until the next time I get back. Soon, please let it be soon.

You can also enjoy this video Suma put together, with soundtrack!!

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