Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’

Last week I went Bungee Jumping. Yes, that’s right!! Bungee Jumping!! It was scary and fun at the same time. Though I’ve seen it so many times on TV, I’ve never really thought about doing it.

Minakami

The place we did it was Minakami, a small scenic town in Gunma Prefecture. Minakami is about 150 Kilometers from Tokyo. The easiest way to get there is taking the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Jomo-Kogen which is about 75 Minutes and then taking a bus to Minakami which will be another 10 minutes. But as we wanted to go cheap, we took the local trains to Minakami.

Tokyo –> Ueno –> Takasaki –> Minakami

The travel time was around three hours and the total cost for the round trip was 5880 Yen. By Shinkansen to Jomo-Kogen it would cost you 10480 Yen for a round trip. Minakami is a really beautiful place. There are some beautiful rivers running through the area and there are also many mountains surrounding the town.

River

River in Minakami

Once you get to Minakami you can take a bus to the bungee jumping place. The cost is 320 Yen. We had booked the 1 PM slot for bungee jumping but got to Minakami by 10 AM, so we decided to walk from Minakami to the bungee jumping bridge. It’s not a long walk, it only took us about 40 minutes to get there even though we stopped at many places to take pictures.

Mountain

Mountains around Minakami

Bungee Jumping

The Bungee Jumping place is a bridge that crosses the Tonegawa river. Their website claims that this is Japan’s only bridge bungee jumping. It is a 42 metre jump (137 feet). You have to first register yourself at their small office where they will check your weight and also ask you to fill out a form that says that they can’t be held responsible for accidents. Once you’re done with this you’re ready for the jump. You have to make sure that you don’t have any loose objects in your pockets. They strap a harness to your hips and another one to your feet. The bungee cord is connected to both the harnesses. So there is double protection I guess.

Standing at the edge of the platform and looking down is one of the scariest feelings ever. Knowing that in a few seconds you are going to jump of that bridge is frightening. They again check that all the equipments are ready and then give a count down – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 bungeeeee and it’s time for you to jump. I jumped off straight away. The few seconds that I was in the air were really scary and fun. I screamed at the top of my lungs. When you’re done they lower you onto a small inflatable raft boat waiting below in the river.

Bungee Blog

Anbu – Bungee Jumping

The photo above is my friend Anbu doing his jump. Of the four of us that went bungee jumping that day, he did the best jump I think, so I’ve got his photo in my blog. Below is a photo of my jump.

Bungee 3

My Jump

The cost for jumping once is 7500 Yen and if you want to jump a second time immediately or any time within that year it is 4000 Yen. They give you a certificate in honour of your bravery. You can also get the photos of the jump from their photographer for 2500 Yen if you like. It’s worth paying them for the pictures because the photos they took were really amazing. The people who own ‘Bungy Japan’ are nice and friendly. You can find more details about Bungy Japan here.

Tanikawa-Dake

After the bungee jump we decided to go to Tanikawa-Dake.  We got a package from Minakami for 2800 Yen which includes a round trip from Minakami to Tanikawa-Dake by bus and also a round trip on the cable car up and down the mountain. The bus ride from Minakawa to Tanikawa-Dake is 20 minutes. It’s been a couple of months since the end of winter so I never imagined that there would be snow on top. While going on the bus itself we could see a bit of snow but when we got on the cable car and went up there were people snowboarding there. I was totally unprepared for snow and was just wearing my sweater so I didn’t really go out much.

Rope car 2

Cable car in Tanikawa-Dake

The view from the cable car was really nice. I think I’m scared of heights. As we went up I tried not to look down too much. On top they have a nice coffee shop where you can sit and enjoy the scenery but unfortunately there was too much mist and fog that day. While coming back it was snowing heavily. But I didn’t complain because it felt a lot safer as I couldn’t see much.

Rope Car View

View from the Cable car – Tanikawa-Dake

It was quite a fun trip. But the travel time was long. We travelled almost eight hours if you include the bus travel times also. But it was worth it I would say.

Have you ever been bungee jumping?

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Hama Rikyu Garden

Hama Rikyu is a large garden located in Tokyo. It’s a nice place to just walk around and spend time. Getting there is quite easy. It’s very close to the JR Shimbashi station. It takes about 10 minutes by walk from the station to the Park. The nearest entrance is the Otemon Gate. Admission to the garden is 300 Yen. There is nothing specific to really see in the garden but the environment is really nice as the surrounding area is full of huge buildings but the garden is green and peaceful. There are a number of small ponds in the garden.

Trees

Hama Rikyu Garden

There is a tea house somewhere in the middle called ‘Nakajima no ochaya’. It’s really beautiful to see the reflection of the trees in pond from here. If interested you can also go for a boat ride from the garden. One way to Asakusa costs 720 Yen. You can also do a round trip back to the garden for around 1300 Yen. I didn’t go for the boat ride that day as I had planned to go to the Rainbow Bridge afterwards.

Boat House

Nakajima no ochaya

The Rainbow Bridge

The Rainbow Bridge is an iconic structure in Tokyo. It crosses the northern Tokyo Bay between Shibaura Pier and Odaiba. It’s a nice walk across the bridge and there are amazing views on either side. To get to the bridge you can walk from the Tamachi station. It’s almost a straight walk of about 15-20 minutes from the station to the Shibaura anchorage of the bridge. From here you can take an elevator to the 7th floor. Admission is free to walk across the bridge. You’ll have to decide which side of the bridge you want to see. The north side has the Tokyo tower, sky tree and many skyscrapers. The south side has many shipping yards and you could see Mt. Fuji on a clear day. I walked on the north side both while going and coming back.

Bridge - Sun

The Rainbow Bridge

The span of the bridge is 798 metres but the actual walk to the other side of the bridge is almost two kilometres. Once you reach the odaiba side of the bridge there is a small garden where you can sit and relax for a bit before walking back. I went at around 5 PM so by the time I walked back it was around 7. The view of Tokyo city in the night is absolutely amazing. The lights in the buildings and the Tokyo tower are brilliant in the night. I think I’m quite privileged to live in this city.

Tokyo Tower from Rainbow Bridge

Tokyo Tower from Rainbow Bridge

Though I tried really hard I couldn’t get a single good photo of the night view of the city. My camera simply didn’t have it in it. But I got one decent photo of the Tokyo tower before sunset. It was also nice to see the boats and small ships that wandered the Tokyo bay.

Ship

Boat in the Tokyo Bay

 

Cherry blossoms (also called Sakura in Japan) have started blooming a couple of weeks earlier than usual this year. I went to the Ueno Park so I could see the cherry blossoms. The Park is just outside the Ueno JR Station and entry to the park is free. Though I’ve been to Japan many times, this was my first time seeing the cherry blossoms. The whole park was filled with these flowers. It was especially beautiful to walk through some of the pathways that have the cherry blossom trees on both sides.

Sakura - White

Sakura at the Ueno Park

There were two types of cherry blossoms at this Park. One was white whereas the other one was pink. There were a lot more of the white flowers.

Sakura - Pink

Sakura at the Ueno Park

Ueno Park is a great place to spend time. This time of the year is really good because of the Sakura. The Park also has other attractions like some Museums and a Zoo. Since I had been to some of the Museums before, this time I went to the Zoo. One thing to take note of is the fact that the Museums and the Zoo have free entry on certain days of the year and luckily for me, entry to the Zoo was free this day!

Sakura at the Ueno Park

Sakura at the Ueno Park

The Main attraction at the Zoo is the two Giant Pandas that have been brought from China. Since it was one of those free entrance days, the zoo was quite crowded and I had to wait for about thirty minutes to see the Pandas.

Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo

The number of animals in the zoo is quite limited. But it’s definitely worth paying a visit once. Coming from India, I found it interesting that they had cows and goats in the zoo. The birds section and the little mammals section had a good collection of animals.

Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo

Apart from the Zoo and the Museums there are also some shrines around this area. They sell a lot of traditional Japanese food near the Bentendo Temple. The smell of food is so amazing here.

Bentendo Temple

Bentendo Temple

Ueno Park

Ueno Park

I’m planning to go to the Shinjuku Park next week so I can see the cherry blossoms there too. Where are you planning to see the Sakura this year?

ENOSHIMA AND KAMAKURA

Posted: March 17, 2013 in Japan
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Enoshima is a small island in the city of Fujisawa and Kamakura is an old historic sightseeing area. There are a lot of beaches around this area as well. I had heard about Kamakura and when I looked up what places to see in Kamakura, I realized that Enoshima is also quite close and it makes sense to see both places in a single trip.

Getting There

The best way to see Kamakura and Enoshima is to get the Enoshima-Kamakura Free Pass. The Pass costs you 1430 Yen and it includes one round trip from Shinjuku to Fujisawa and then unlimited rides on both the Enoden Line between Fujisawa and Kamakura and the Odakyu Railways between Fujisawa and Katase-Enoshima. The pass can be bought at Shinjuku. We took the Odakyu Express line from Shinjuku to Fujisawa which is about a one hour ride. Then at Fujisawa, which is the last station we changed to the local Odakyu train and reached Katase-Enoshima.

Enoshima

The Enoshima Island is about a 15 minute walk from this station. The Katase Enoshima station has a unique structure. It is apparently designed to evoke the image of Ryūgū-jō, or Dragon Palace, the underwater dwelling in the Urashima Taro fable. The view of Mt. Fuji from the long bridge that connects Enoshima island to the mainland was amazing.

Fuji

Mt. Fuji from the bridge to Enoshima

On the Enoshima island we visited the main complex of the Enoshima Shrine. There is no entrance fee for this place. It was interesting to see people washing their money (coins) at the shrine’s pond and then offering it to the statue of a god there.

Enoshima Shrine

Enoshima Shrine

Then we walked back to the Enoshima station, which is about a 10-15 minute walk from the Katase Enoshima Station. From here we took the Enoden line (also called the Enoshima Electric Railway) to Hase. This train ride is quite nice. It is like a tram system that runs through the town and along the coast. The view of the beach from the train is really good.

Enoshima shrine statue

Enoshima Shrine

Kamakura

At Hase there is a temple called Hasedara that we visited. Admission is 300 Yen for this place. The complex is very good. It has a beautiful garden with different types of trees and flowers. There was one Sakura tree that had already blossomed. The complex also houses a huge shrine at the top. You can get a good view of the city and the beaches from here. There is also a small cave inside this place.

Hase Temple

Hasedara Garden

Then we went to see the Great Buddha of Kamakura also called the ‘Kamakura Daibutsu’. It is a bronze statue of Buddha which stands in the grounds of Kotokuin Temple. The height of the statue is 13.35 metres. This statue was built in 1252, so it is a very important national monument for Japan. Admission to this site is 200 Yen and it’s another 20 Yen to go inside the statue.

Hase - Buddha

The Great Buddha of Kamakura

Next we went to the Kamakura station. While we were looking for directions in a map outside the Train station, a kind Japanese man asked us if we needed help. I told him that we were looking for Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. Then he pulled out an English Map of Kamakura which showed all the important places that are in and around Kamakura. I later found that this map is available in this website also. We visited the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. This is apparently Kamakura’s most important shrine. The road leading to the shrine is quite nice. It’s a long road with a couple of Torii gates along the way. As with many other shrines, this shrine is also on top of a small hill.

Road

Pathway to Myohon-Ji Shrine

The final place we visited was the Myohon Ji Shrine. This was a really cool place. There weren’t many people here so it was nice and quiet. The architecture of this shrine looked a bit different from all the other shrines we had visited. The shrine complex also had a graveyard. This was the only shrine where the graveyard wasn’t blocked off.

Myohon-Ji

Gateway of the Myohon-Ji Shrine

There are a number of other shrines also around the Kamakura region that we didn’t visit. From Kamakura we took the Enoden line back to Fujisawa and then the Odakyu Express line to Shinjuku. It was exciting to see all these places in a single day but it was quite long and tiresome too. The weather was pleasant, so that was helpful.

Have you been to any of these places?

TOKYO TOWER AND ZOJOJI TEMPLE

Posted: March 9, 2013 in Japan
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Last week I finally got to visit the Tokyo tower. The Tokyo tower stands at 333 metres and is the second tallest structure in Japan. The view from there was absolutely amazing.  On route to the Tokyo tower I also visited the Zojoji temple which is a Buddhist Shrine.

Getting there

There are a few stations that are quite close to the Tokyo tower. But I took the Yamanote line to Hamamatsucho station and walked from there. It’s almost a straight road from the station to the Tokyo Tower

Zojoji temple

Entrance fee: No entrance fee, it’s free!

The Zojoji temple comes before the Tokyo Tower when you walk from the Hamatsucho Station. It is the main temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism in the Kanto Region. Interestingly, though this temple was originally built around 1400, it was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War. So all buildings except the Sangedatsu Mon which is the main gate, are re-constructions.

Zojoji 2

The Main Hall

There is a Main Hall which is somewhere in the middle and some other smaller buildings around it. When I was there they were performing some Buddhist ritual in the main hall. People were sitting in lines and they had a small drum kind of thing next to them. Then when the ritual started they uniformly started banging the drums in rhythmic manner. It was quite interesting. There was a message board that said that we’re not allowed to take pictures during the ceremony. In all other places you are free to take photographs as you please.

Zojoji

Sangedatsu Mon – The Main Gate

Behind the Temple there were some graves but access was restricted to this part of the compound. In another building next to the Main hall there were some other Buddhist statues and they were also selling souvenirs. I mostly never buy these kind of souvenirs in Japan. They are simple overpriced. Chopsticks or a small key chain for 500 Yen? – No Thank You!!

Tokyo Tower

Entrance fee

Main Observatory: 820 Yen
Special Observatory: 600 Yen (total 1420 Yen)

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower

The Tokyo Tower is just behind the Temple. To go up to the main observatory the cost is 820 Yen. Once you reach the main observatory, you can get another ticket to go to the special observatory if you want. There is a waiting time of about 45 minutes after you get the ticket at the main observatory to go to the special one. But you can use that time to take a look at things from the main observatory. The main observatory is at 150 metres and the special observatory is at 250 metres. The best time to go is probably in the evening at about 5-6 PM so you can watch the sunset and also view the city in the night. Tokyo looks really beautiful in the night. There is a place in the main observatory from where you can look straight down. It is a glass floor and you can look straight down through it. You can also stand on it. Though you know it is probably a really strong glass it does feel a bit scary because if it breaks, it’s a 150 metre drop. But the chances of that happening are nil.

Sun

View from the Main Observatory of the Tokyo Tower

On the way back I had ビーフカツカレー (Beef Cutlet Curry) at Coco Ichibanya Curry House  – one of my favourite food dishes from one of my favourite restaurants in Japan.

Have you been to the Tokyo Tower or the Zojoji temple?

RANDOM TEMPLE NEAR SHINJUKU

Posted: February 23, 2013 in Japan
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Got lost looking for Ongakukan Studio in Shinjuku today. But I found this!!

Random Temple

BACK IN TOKYO

Posted: February 22, 2013 in Japan
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It’s almost a month since I came back to Tokyo. I thought I should write about my thoughts so far. Coming back to Tokyo this time has been different from the previous three times. I usually am quite excited the first few weeks and then everything becomes normal. But this time around I think I got some sort of a culture shock and weather shock too. The usual excitement was replaced by thoughts of whether I made the right decision about coming to Japan in the first place.

Coming straight into a Japanese winter from Chennai isn’t such a great idea. It was nice and warm at about 25 Deg Celsius when I left Chennai. December-January is definitely the best time to be in Chennai. It’s not really Winter, but you can say it’s the ‘Not So Hot’ time of the year. Every month other than that is just one season to me – ‘Summer’. But it’s quite literally freezing here in Tokyo now. Windy days are the worst. It even snowed a couple of times. It’s always beautiful to see snow. It’s not very often that I get to see snow as I’m from Chennai, so I enjoy the sight of snow a lot.

Balcony

Fuji san from my balcony

My company had sent a Japanese colleague to pick me and my friend who was also travelling to Japan with me from the Airport. We got to go from the Airport to my apartment in a car on the highway. Though that doesn’t sound that exciting, it is to me in Japan. The train lines are so convenient here that travelling by car is quite rare. I’ve only travelled by car like less than five times in all the time I’ve lived in Japan.

Going back to work in a Japanese office was also some sort of a challenge. It has taken me a couple of weeks to get used to things here. One of my friends said that it was culture shock and I’ll get used to it. It’s always fascinating to see that everyone in the office is working almost the entire time that they are there. I mean I don’t know if they are working, but they are definitely staring at their computers all the time and if they do talk to each other, it’s about work. Back in Chennai, the work environment is more relaxed. The thing is, whether it is Japan or India, the work to be done is the same for me, but I’d definitely prefer chatting with friends about all sorts of things while doing the job. In Chennai Friday evenings are super relaxed. There will be a few people leaving early because they are going to their native towns for the weekend. My company usually has a one hour event like thing in the evening on Fridays where they either play a documentary or someone gives a talk about some general topic (not related to work). Nothing of that sort in Japan. Friday evening 6 PM – everyone is still in the their seats working, 7 PM – still working.. by 7 30 I was ready to leave in a bit of shock actually. But really understanding and accepting that this is how work is going to be here helps a lot in getting over the culture shock.

This type of a work culture or ethic isn’t that bad actually. They take their work very seriously and it’s mostly a good thing. At the airport while I was waiting at the immigration counter, I was the last person in line. The person coordinating the line wrote the time on a slip of paper and gave it to me and asked me to give it to the person at the counter when I reach there. I think they were actually measuring how long it took for the last person in the line to get to the counter so that they can better manage the system and people don’t need to wait forever in lines. Now compare that with the Chennai Airport – last time I was there, there was no one really coordinating anything. There was a separate counter for foreigners and the other counters were for Indians but the sign-board that said ‘Foreign Passports’ was so small and almost hidden somewhere that there were some foreigners standing behind me in the line. It’s really up to us to use our instincts to figure out where to go.

Now that it’s been a couple of weeks and I’ve started hearing from friends back in Chennai about the summer already slowly creeping in, I think I’m starting to enjoy Tokyo more. I can’t wait for it to be spring so I can start going out a lot more.

JAPAN – 日本 LAND OF THE RISING SUNJapan – the Land of the Rising Sun is a unique blend of the western and the oriental. It is a country so rich in culture and traditions and in terms of the development, infrastructure and technology they can put any western nation to shame. Here, I’ve tried to give a gist of how I felt being there – the things that impressed me and the things that didn’t.One of the very first things I noticed as I landed in Japan was the politeness of the people. The service industry in Japan is among the best in the world. You are always greeted with the broadest of smiles. Everyone is eager to help you. As I collected my luggage and walked through the sprawling Narita Airport I felt a sense of nervousness and excitement – I was in Tokyo, a dream destination for so many people around the world. It was April (Spring season in Japan), the best season to be there. The maximum temperature during the day was around 20 Deg C. It was a nice time to leave Chennai where it was slowly climbing up to reach the 40 Deg mark. No one can ever get used to the heat in Chennai during summer.My first week in Japan was something that I could never forget. The Shinagawa station where we get off to go to the office is quite an interesting sight. There are people all around you dressed only in formal clothing. You don’t find people talking to one another. Everyone seems to be focussed on their mission – getting to their office on time. The only colours you see are different shades of black and white and the only sound you can hear is the footsteps.

At the end of the week, as I was about to come to a conclusion that all of Japan was like this, a trip to Shinjiku and Akhibara, (two of the shopping areas in Tokyo) changed my perspective. People love dressing up in Japan. It seemed like everyone wanted to be a Fashion model. They were dressed to impress. I saw guys and girls with all sorts of hair styles and hair colour. There were people whose hair was pink. Girls dressed almost like Barbie-dolls were trying to lure customers into shops they represented. Weekends in these places just buzz with so much activity. The lighting in these places in the evenings with the hoardings and lights is just brilliant.

The first week of May is called “Golden week” in Japan. It is a time when four of their National holidays come on close days. A lot of people take the whole week off and travel to be with their loved ones. Since we had some days off, my friend Karthik and I had purchased the JR (Japan Railways) East Pass. Using this pass one can travel for 4 days (the days don’t have to be consecutive) on any of the JR East Trains.

We were really excited about the travel. We left early in the morning from home. We had heard so much about the Shinkansens (The Bullet Trains) in Japan. The Bullet trains travel at speed of over 250 Km an hour and are almost as comfortable as an aeroplane.

One of the best things about these trains, in fact all trains in Japan is their punctuality. If the train timing says 6 AM, it means that if you’re there at 6:01 you’ve missed the train. We had planned to visit two places – the Mogami River and Yama-Dera which is a mountain temple. We had to go from Tokyo to Sendai, and then from Sendai to Yamagata. From Yamagata we had to take a bus to the Mogami River.

There’s a nice shop at the River bank where you can buy things that are uniquely Japanese like gift articles to take back home. But one of the things about Japan is that things are pretty expensive. And if you’re in your first month in Japan like me and convert Yen to INR in your mind every time you look at the price of something, things look way more expensive than they really are. We bought tickets for the Boat ride and as we got in, the Old man who was in charge of the ride asked us – Nihon go ok? (Can you understand Japanese?) I remember Karthik replying to him saying – “OK OK” though both of us didn’t know much of Japanese. The ride was good. It was a calm river and the view around was scenic. The Old man sang some Traditional Japanese songs and also spoke a lot about the river and its surroundings. Or that’s what I suppose he talked about cause we didn’t understand a word of what he said. There were a few birds flying around. It felt so great to feed them because they would come peck the chips out of our hands with their beaks. As we reached the other end of the river, we said Arigato Gozaimasu (Thank you) to that man. We took another bus to the nearest train station and then were on the Shinkansen to Yama-dera.

On the Train we had Lunch that we had packed and taken along with us. I’m emphasizing this because the thing I missed the most about India when I was in Japan was the food. I don’t know if it was me or the Japanese food, but every time I tried something new it always made me regret it. Indian food is the most amazing thing ever. I don’t know if any Indian can ever get used to the Traditional Japanese food. It’s just so different.

Then we reached Yama-dera. Of all the places I’ve seen in Japan, I like Yama-dera the best. It’s a small mountain on which there are a few temples. The climb up is pretty steep and tiresome. As you reach half way up the hill, there is a gate which is the entrance to the temples. After this there are quite a few temples on the way up. Some of the people stop at temples and do some prayers, but from what I could see, most people don’t. They just admire the architecture and the location of the temples. When we reached the highest point of the mountain, we were quite tired. The view from there was literally breathtaking. Looking at this gives you the feeling that it was well worth the climb. We took a few photos from there. As we slowly climbed down we were still in awe of this place and the beauty of the country side of Japan.

From there we went to the next stop Omoshiro-Yamakogen. One of my friends had said that there was a waterfall there. When we got down from the train at that stop we realised that it wasn’t a big tourist attraction since we were the only ones who got off the train there. It was quite a lonely place. We walked around the place a bit but couldn’t find the waterfall. Then we were back at the station waiting for the next train. As I sat there I got a nostalgic feeling about Kodaikanal, the town I had grown up in and about how much I miss being there, especially during the summer. The quietness of the place, the cool wind blowing on your face, the sound of the birds & the insects, the sound the water makes when it flows along a stream is something that is so in contrast to the ones you hear in the capital city of our state (Chennai) – the sound of the buses, the cars, the autos, the vendors, the polluted and hot air blowing on your face, the crowded streets and the dirty rivers that you get to see.

As we travelled back from there and reached our house in Minami-Gyotoku, we were amazed by the fact that we had travelled more than 500 Kilometres that day and were still back at home by 10. We had dinner at our favourite McDonald’s near the train station.

My Experience in Japan is something I can’t forget. It is a country I highly admire and people I highly respect. It’s a country that was almost reduced to nothing during the Second World War but re-built to become one of the most developed countries in the World. There are many things I’ve learnt being there. Hope I can use them here in India.