This is a story about my trip to Glorious Nippon - an adventure that spanned from the November 1st through to the 9th. It is a tale filled with GLORIO and FAIL all rolled into an epic holiday that I will never forget. The only thing to rival the number photos taken is the number of kilometers travelled.
Planning began with booking the flights at a massive discount (AUD$510 each return) in early August. Following that, a huge amount of research and planning went into the trip. We decided to book everything ourselves and have our own travel plan instead of booking a package. This saved us quite a bit of money, but it is a whole lot more work. We also got to see a lot more things by having the freedom of our own schedule.Japan-Guide.com
, Google and the Japanator community
was used for information on what to see and do while there, and Japanican.com
was used for accommodation.
Monday 1/11 finally rolled around after much anticipation, and we were on the way to Gold Coast International Airport at 6am. It was an uneventful drive, the car was put in long term parking ant the airport and we headed to the check-in desk. The guy there was quite impressed with my itinerary until he scanned our tickets and told us that our flight was actually booked for the next day. FAIL.
We were faced with two choices - pay another $650 to change the flights, or pay to get the car out of parking, drive home, come back the next day and loose the money for the accommodation at Narita and the trip to Fuji-Q Highland.
I'd rather lose a finger than miss out on Evangelion World, so we forked out for the tickets.
The flight was on time and we took off at 10:50 and arrived at 18:55 Japan time. For a flight of that length, I would definitely recommend NOT flying economy.
Clearing customs and collecting baggage only took about 1 hour, and we headed straight to the PIA ticket counter and bought the tickets for Coldrain at Club Quattro. Once all that was sorted, we jumped on the train to Narita station and walked to the hotel and checked in. The clerk spoke fluent English, so that was a bonus. The room was tiny, but we were only there for the night and it was ¥6800.
We wandered around Narita for a while looking for somewhere to get some food and found a dirty little alleyway full of what looked like hostess bars or gentlemen's clubs. I thought I'd give that a miss being with the wife and all...
We eventually found a place to eat and got a massive feed for about ¥2000. The staff didn't speak a word of English, and my Japanese phrasebook failed me. There was a Lawson's across the road, so we stocked up on beer, cigarettes and snack food and headed back to the hotel.
First thing in the morning we went back to the airport to get the Rail Passes. A word of advice - leave early. the line up took over a hour. The rail passes let us get reserved seats on the NEX, so the trip to Fuji-Q took about 3 hours. There was a lot of great scenery on the way out there, so time passed fairly quickly.
The wife isn't a big fan of rides and we weren't planning on staying there all day so we only paid for entry tickets, not the ride passes. I got a couple of things from the store at Evangelion World and then we headed into the display. It was well set up and definitely worth the trip for a fan.
The rest of the place was your standard theme park type of affair, with the exception of the Gundam Mania store. Mos Burger was on the menu for lunch and it was good. Tipping the ice out of your cup before putting it in the bin was new to me, but I think I managed to get everything in the right receptacle. We wandered around for a while more and headed back to the station.
The ice skating rink had a good view of Mount Fuji in the background.
To get to Kyoto, it was faster to catch the train back to Tokyo and then catch the shinkansen to Kyoto. If the train has reserved seats and you have a rail pass GET THEM. It beats standing at the end of the carriage for a hour until some people get off the train. The whole trip took nearly 5 hours with transfers, so we didn't get to Kyoto until around 20:30.
The hotel was just off Shijo Dori, so we caught the subway to Shijo station and promptly got lost. While we were standing around with the maps out looking like proper tourists, a nice couple stopped and with the help of an iPhone they gave us directions to the hotel. Turns out we were only one street back from where we needed to be. The room was a bit bigger than Narita and it was in a good location. The reviews for the hotel said there was no internet access, but there was wifi in the lobby and you just needed to ask for a (free) modem to use the internet in your room. Family Mart across the road got frequent visits and we feasted on cup noodles before going to bed.
Finding Nishiki Market took a while, and most things were closed - forgot about the national holiday. Arashiyama was the next stop and that place is definitely a tourist trap. It is still a great place to wander around. The area was quite busy because of the holiday. The mountain up to the Iwatayama Monkey Park was an epic walk, but well worth it for the view.
After a leisurely stroll through the shopping district of Arashiyama, we headed to Nijo Castle. It was very busy here as well. There seemed to be a lot of school groups and I realized that anime has been lying to me - school girls don't have unfathomably large boobs. After I recovered from the disappointment we started looking through the castle grounds. Unfortunately, you can't take photos inside the buildings. It was interesting to look around and do the tour. The place had a moat, so it was automatically win.
Walking from Nijo Castle to Shijo Dori is not recommended - should have caught the bus. We looked around the shopping district for a while and headed to one of the many Pachinko parlors on the street. One of the assistants spoke English and ran us through how it worked and set us free. I jumped on the Evangelion machine and spent some money. They rob you just as fast as the Pokies do. It was strange being able to smoke indoors while gambling, that got banned here years ago.
After we got sick of losing money, we headed down Teramachi Dori - an undercover shopping street. We went to Animate and Gamers there and I had to drag myself away before I emptied the contents of my wallet. I got a few things out of the Gashapon machines and picked up the newest copy of Young Jump for the Evangelion clock that came with it.
Food was from First Kitchen and they accidentally gave us a free burger. The food was decent for the price.
We got a bit of a sleep in the next morning and headed out to Kiyomizudera Temple
After Kiyomizudera, we just winged it and stopped in at another temple. I have the ticket for the place, but failed at translating the name of the place. The next place was a temple next to a large graveyard, possibly called Matsu Ooya (大谷祖廟).
There were a couple of girls dressed up as geisha walking down the street and let us get a photo.
A street vendor was selling taiyaki for ¥100, so I got a custard one. It was good.
Maruyama Park is a good spot to have a rest for a while. We somehow missed out on Yasaka Shrine and headed straight to Chionin Temple. The large building at the entrance is ¥800 each and you can't take photos from the balcony, but it was worth it still. The stairs are damn steep.
The main temple is huge and there were monks chanting sutra inside while we were there. All the buildings have extremely intricate carvings. This photo made me LOL.
We got back to the hotel fairly early and went to Family Mart to grab a late lunch. I decided to brave a katsu curry. It was cheap and edible, but far from good.
The wife was sick of walking, so I took the opportunity to jump on the train to Kohata Station and go to KyoAni. It really is an inconspicuous yellow building.
I walked to the KyoAni shop down the road and had a chat to the clerk there. He was very friendly and happy to have someone to practice a bit of English with. Most of the stuff there was K-ON, so I settled on a couple of Haruhi prints and headed back to the hotel.
After some intense googling, we decided on Living Bar for dinner. It was tucked away down a side street, but easy to find. One of the waitresses spoke a bit of English and gave us a quick rundown of the menu. We settled on yakitori chicken, sauté pork with a fabulous sauce and a tomato and garlic pizza. I got a shochu with ocha while I was waiting I was amazed by the table of teenagers next to us that had the entire menu on the table. The food was excellent and so was the presentation. Desert was a grapefruit sorbet and cheesecake. All the food and a few drinks each came to a total of ¥7700 - well worth it for the quality and service.
The next morning we checked out of the hotel and headed to Fushimi Inari. Inari Station only has a few small coin lockers so we had to lug the suitcases around. After looking at endless tori gates we headed Nara.
All the coin lockers at Nara Station were full, but the tourist information building just outside had a bag check for ¥400. Across the road from the station was a small food place where you ordered from a vending machine. I got katsu curry and a beer. It was good.
Check in for the hotel was at 16:00, so we caught the bus to Horyuji Temple and looked around there. We spent a while looking around the outer gardens and the headed back to central Nara to get our suitcases and find the hotel. We got lost (again) and a shopkeeper pointed us to the tourist information center that ended up being around the next corner. While the staff were working out the directions, they were having a bit of a giggle. We didn't know why... yet. The hotel ended up being a 2 minute walk from Kofkuji - down the big stairs and at the end of the seedy looking alleyway. We were greeted by this. Classy.
After checking in and seeing the lit up board with available rooms we started to get the feeling that it was a love hotel. We were correct.
The room was actually really nice, with a huge bath and sauna, internet and all the cable channels for ¥10,000 a night. The massive bed was also a nice change.
After a good soak in the bath we headed out into the shopping district and had a look around. There was a shop called Gotendo that sold a lot of old and obscure anime and scifi merchandise. Perfect for cheap souvenirs for the friend that thinks anime = Dragonball.
The meal for the night came from a shop that had and extremely elaborate display out the front - it was the best plastic food I've ever seen. The place was called おしゃべりょ (oshaberyo?) and had the most mega mega rice omelette meal ever. Rice, omelette, hamburger steak, tonkatsu and some sort of fried potato ball.
The next morning we went to Kofkuji, Todaiji and Isuien Garden. The garden next to Isuien is free for foreign tourists but we didn't see the sign until we were leaving. We had to check out of the hotel soon so we didn't have time to go in. The Nara deer were everywhere and went crazy over the crackers.
Todaiji was one of the only buildings you could take photos indoors - just no flash or tripods allowed.
Isuien gardens would have been better a few weeks later when the leaves had changed more, but it was still quite beautiful.
After we checked out, we headed to Nara station to get the free shuttle bus to Heijo Palace. The free busses didn't leave from the bus terminal - they were on the opposite side of the station. The palace site is massive and it was packed. Due to taking the wrong bus and entering from the wrong side of the site, we missed out on a lot of the things I wanted to see. We got the train back to Nara station and began the journey back to Tokyo. We actually found this hotel without getting lost.
When we checked in there was a problem with our room and they had to change it for another one. It was a tiny bit smaller, but they gave us a 25% discount which was a bonus. After a quick shower, we headed to Shibuya to see Coldrain at Club Quattro. The crossing outside Shibuya Station has to be seen to be believed. Photos don't do it justice.
Wild turkey was the house bourbon at Club Quattro, so I got into those as soon as we got there. The venue was backed, and the bands were all really good. I think we were the only foreigners there. After the bands wrapped up, we went to Curry House CoCo for a feed. The curry is on a scale of 1 - 10 and with Japanese curry usually being pretty mild, I went for a 7. It was hot. Very hot.
We headed back to Nakameguro and found a Don Quijote close to the hotel. The booze in Japan is cheap. A bottle of 8yr old Turkey was only ¥2080. I want to move to Japan.
I found OreImo on TV, watched it and then went to bed.
After a well deserved sleep in, we headed to Harajuku and looked around Takeshita Dori.
For a Sunday, there wasn't as much of the crazy fashion as I expected. The next stop was Meiji Jingu. After the huge crowds of Harajuku, to cross the road and immediately transition into a forest was spectacular. It is a fair walk to the actual shrine, but very peaceful.
There was a wedding procession just as we arrived.
The long awaited trip to Akihabara was next on the agenda. Oh My God. It is the best place. EVER. I left my big map of Akiba in the hotel, and couldn't find Cure Maid Cafe so I settled for @Home 4F.
The line up to be seated was about 30 minutes. The food was average, the prices were ridiculous, but it was awesome. The photos happen on stage in front of everyone and so do a few of the games. The meal with a drink and a photo or game was ¥2800 each including table charge. We got free moe candy for being tourists. We got an English speaking maid and she made us say things like "nyaa" and "moe moe kyun". I got the curry rice (if you haven't noticed, I like curry) and got a cat drawn on it. It was fairly embarrassing wearing cat ears and posing on stage in front of everyone, but it's not like I'll ever see them again.
Unfortunately my wife lost her purse not long after we got back and it had the photo from the maid cafe in it. Luckily I took a photo of the photo.
If it's your birthday when you got you get on stage with all the maids and they sing you happy birthday and you get a group photo.
After the maid cafe, it was time to shop.
We went to Gamers, Animate and a few other shops. After 6 levels of each shop you think you've seen everything. Then you go next door for another 6 levels of different things. You could spend a week there and still not see all the shops. I was in heaven.
It is wise to stay away from the UFO Catchers - those things are rigged beyond belief and if you look around you can find the prizes in shops. Don't got spending ¥3000 to try and get something worth ¥800 like I did.
There are maids handing out tissues and fliers everywhere. I didn't want to lug my camera around so I couldn't get any photos.
Freshness burger was on the menu for dinner. It was one of the more expensive fast food places, but the food was good.
The next day we headed to Shibuya to look around and let the wife see some shops that weren't "full of that anime shit". I still don't know why she agreed to go to Japan with me. Obligatory Hachiko photo.
We had some maccas for lunch just to say we had it. It was what I expected.
On the way to Yasakune, we ended up on the wrong train and were heading in the wrong direction.
After eventually making it there, we had a look through the war museum as well. It was one of the most memorable places on the whole trip. The atmosphere is so powerful.
Somehow, we messed up the train AGAIN heading to Akihabara. I went and bought all the things I'd picked out the day before. I had to restrain myself from buying the Mizuki Nana album - Discotheque was playing everywhere you went.
After I got dragged away from the shops, we headed towards the Tokyo Metro Government building. We got lost again. At Shinjuku station, there was one coin locker left that worked and we managed to cram all the loot in there. All coin lockers in Tokyo had to be emptied my midnight due to APEC and most of them were already out of order.
Once we eventually arrived at TMG, it was photo time. I really wish I had my tripod and another lens, but I had to keep the weight down in my luggage to bring back more stuff.
On the way back to Shibuya we somehow ended up on the wrong train AGAIN. After dropping off all the stuff at the hotel, we went to Freshness Burger and watched the city go by on our last night in Japan.
Due to APEC and the coin lockers being out of order, we ended up hanging out at the airport until our flight departed. We were planning on going to Asakusa for the day, but were exhausted from an epic week.
Overall, we had a great time and will definitely be going back. This ended up being a lot longer than I expected, but I hope that one of the readers can gain something from it. I know I learnt a lot from the trip.tl;dr Japan = WinEDIT: some of the pics were broken, fixed now read