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Seifu Al-Midhadi

Herz Omotesando Tokyo Japan 1

The strong scent of worked leather is immediate. You walk down the stairs into the shop, and are immediately struck by the multitude of leather bags, row after row of them, arranged on the tables. There is a Classic-style influence to the store design, with a wonderful combination of wood and leather, as well as country music filling the room.

Herz Omotesando Tokyo Japan 2

But the store’s most arresting feature is its unorthodox layout. The leather workshop where the leather goods of Herz Omotesando are made is open to the store. You can stop and watch the leatherworkers, cutting and sewing as they practice their craft. Every Herz store (Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sendai) is laid out in this fashion, so that all the customers can see the production process for themselves and smell the leathery atmosphere. This link between the shop and the workshop, where the freshly finished leather products are then placed for sale, lends credibility to the items in the store.

Herz is a Japan-based upscale leather goods company that made a name for themselves with their finely-crafted leather bags. Designer Kondo Akimasa founded Herz in 1973, naming the company after the German word for “heart” (herz), as he wanted to create “products with heart.”  And there’s no doubt that Herz certainly puts a lot of passion and heart into their leather products.

Herz Omotesando Tokyo Japan 3

Herz Omotesando has twenty leatherworkers, and each leather bag is handmade solely by one craftsman in the Tokyo store. This is a fundamental principle of Herz, as it ensures each bag has its own characteristics and qualities backed with the pride of the local craftsman who created the product.

There are no chief designers for Herz Omotesando. All the craftsmen are encouraged to create new products and bag designs. The open environment of the store is reflected in the working environment, where craftsmen brainstorm among themselves and come up with new innovative ideas. Due to this design-friendly approach, Herz currently offers over 600 bag designs, and new designs are always in development. By being located in the center of Tokyo, the craftsmen can absorb and reflect new trends as inspiration for their ever-evolving products.

Herz Omotesando Tokyo Japan 4

Although expensive, it’s easy to see the value a customer gets for their money from a Herz Omotesando bag.  Herz bags are strong and durable, constructed from thick and sturdy Italian leather and sewn with thick thread. The bags have a smart and casual look and are good for any occasion. Herz Omotesando also makes an exclusive randoseru (Japanese school bag) for students. All bags sold by Herz have an aftercare policy in which they may be brought back to the store (even decades after they were sold) to be repaired.

Herz Omotesando Tokyo Japan 5

Herz always has a wide range of bags on display, but special orders can be accommodated. Some of the in-store staff can speak English, but ordering online is difficult as English is not supported and there is no overseas shipping. With no division-of-labor system and an aversion to outsourcing production, the delivery times for built-to-order bags take 7-8 weeks. All of these factors make it difficult for short-term visitors and tourists to order a customized bag, but don’t worry! Herz Omotesando makes excellent products, and one of the handsomely-made bags on their tables will catch your eye. Visit them during your trip to Tokyo, you won’t be disappointed!

Herz Omotesando Location Information

Website | Facebook (Japanese only) | Twitter (Japanese only) | Online Store (Google-translated; only ships domestically)

Nearest Station: 7-minute walk from Omotesando Station

 

Hours of Operation: 11:00AM-7:00PM. Closed on Wednesdays.

Estimated Price:  Bags range from ¥25,000- ¥90,000. Smaller items (keychains, pencil cases, etc) are also available.

“Why Go?”: To find unique elegant leather products that will last you many years.

Click on one of the tags below to explore other shopping options in Tokyo–

 

July 24, 2016 0 comment
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Urawa Red Diamonds

Saitama Stadium

Japan might be known for its baseball popularity, but there is also a very strong football culture (Japan has qualified for the last five FIFA World Cups). Football games in Japan aren’t like with those in other countries in Europe or South America where there might be a dose of hooliganism. J1 League games (the top professional football league in Japan) are festive events where family and friends get together to cheer their teams, but not in a tribalistic manner. Indeed, the ratio of women attending Japanese football games are around 40%, which is higher than most countries such as in England, where female attendance is generally 20%. Japanese football fans are passionate, where throughout the game you’ll hear chants, people jumping up and down, and supportive flags waving feverishly. Moreover, there is a low-entry barrier for football games in Japan as ticket prices are much cheaper than those found in Europe (prices generally range from ¥2,500-¥5,000), as well as easy transport options to reach the various stadiums.

Apart from the atmosphere of the games themselves, Japan also has fantastic stadiums for watching Japanese football. Saitama Stadium particularly stands out as one of the best, with its lack of a running-track around the field, ensuring more excitement and closer proximity to the action. Saitama stadium was built in 2001 in preparation for the 2002 Japan-Korea World Cup, and is one of the largest football-specific stadiums in Asia, with a total capacity of 63,700 spectators. The stadium dominates the landscape of Saitama, a satellite city just one hour by train from Tokyo. The scale and design of the stadium is impressive, walking up to it, you would think that it’s the Emirates Stadium in London. The stadium makes for especially interesting match viewings as it is home to the Urawa Red Diamonds, the most supported league football team in the country with an average home crowd of 37,000. Watching a home game here with the Urawa Red Diamonds is lively experience, with passionate fans filling the huge world-class stadium.
Urawa Red Diamonds
In 2015, the J1 League changed its system where it became a multistage arrangement, with the year split into two principal seasons. The winners of the first and second season, as well as the highest ranking club on the league table (apart from the first and second winners) will qualify for a Championship Stage.  This system is not seen in Europe, and makes the J1 League a much more exciting league to follow. With this system change, as well as with the unpredictability of the J1 League, viewing a match will most likely top your expectations, and could certainly be a highlight of your visit to Japan. The next stage starts July 2nd, so look at the schedule below and plan your football outing today!

Saitama Stadium Location Information

Website (Find out about J1 League match schedules here) | Facebook
Nearest Station: 21-minute walk from Urawa-Misano (Saitama Rapid Railway Line)


Estimated Price: ¥2,500-¥5,000 for J1 League matches.
“Why Go?”: If you want to watch Japanese professional football in a world-class stadium.
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June 30, 2016 0 comment
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Robot Restaurant Shinjuku

Robot Restaurant Shinjuku

The Robot Restaurant Shinjuku is insane. There is nothing quite like it in Tokyo, nor anywhere else. I don’t even know if we can refer to it as merely a restaurant–the Robot Restaurant is an energetic, robo-centric show located in the Kabukicho district of Shinjuku. And you certainly can’t miss it, seeing that it is a huge building with large flashy lights and robot techno music blaring from the speakers.

The Pre-Show Experience

The Robot Restaurant is touristy–they know it, and they love to flaunt it. From what we saw, more than 90% of the guests were foreign visitors, mostly North Americans. All the signs are shown prominently in English, and there are a number of foreign staff that speak native-level English.

A single ticket is a hefty ¥8000, though you can get ¥500 off when buying tickets in advance from their site, or 15% off through Voyagin. A bento to eat during the performance costs another ¥1000, which must be reserved before the performance, and beers and soft drinks are another ¥500-¥600 each. There are three shows per day during the week and a fourth on Saturday (showtimes), and each show runs for 90 minutes. However, you must be in the building at least 30 minutes prior to the performance, meaning that you should set aside a minimum two hours for the experience.

As soon as you enter, you are struck by the outrageously tacky décor, designed with a wink-and-nudge of giggly self-awareness. All guests are funneled to the third floor waiting room, and from there are directed to the bar and the seats by the English-speaking staff. There was a robot-costumed saxophone and guitar player playing jazz while we waited for the start of the performance, perfectly setting the mood for the wacky night ahead. Food and drinks could be ordered from the waiting room, and the prices are what you’d expect for such a tourist-heavy establishment (Eg. ¥600 for beer and ¥1400 for an American-styled “Mega Burger”).

Robot Restaurant Shinjuku

The Show

When it’s time for the performance to start, the staff leads the guests down a staircase of lizard sculptures and tactile paintings to the performance area. The seating is cramped, a tight spot to sit for a 90-minute performance. If you pre-ordered a bento during reservation, then you’ll collect them here, or you can purchase popcorn and drinks from the staff circulating through the room. There are three bento options available–grilled boneless short ribs, ginger-simmered beef in sweetened soy sauce, and sushi. All three bento are on the small side, but you aren’t actually here for dinner, are you?

Robot Restaurant Shinjuku

The show itself is excellent. The action is loud and flashy, with a surprisingly large and varied cast of robots appearing throughout the performance. The first segment is an eclectic taiko performance, fusing a traditional Japanese drum with—well, robots, obviously! The part we liked the most was the “Robot Wars” segment, which tells us the laughably wacky story of a war between animals and the “Robot Empire.” The action-packed story between the animals and the robots was funny and familiar, almost as if the action figures from my childhood came to life off of my bedroom floor and played out their battles in grand fightin’ robot fashion. The scale of the performances is quite extraordinary, and the performers are well-rehearsed and had lots of energy.

There is a 15-minute intermission every 30 minutes so the set pieces can be changed for the next performance. During intermissions the staff circulates through the audience, selling souvenirs and refreshments. There’s plenty of time to get another drink or make that bathroom trip without missing the action, not to mention the opportunity to get one of those sweet Robot Restaurant T-shirts!

The Robot Restaurant might be a touristy thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile. It might be pricey, but you are guaranteed a fun night full of battlin’ robots!

Robot Restaurant Location Information

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Reservations Online | Get 15% off with a reservation through Voyagin!

Reservations by Phone in English: 03-3200-5500

Nearest Station: 8-minute walk from Shinjuku Station (click on the map for walking directions)

Showtimes: 4:00PM (Sat only), 5:55PM, 7:50PM, 9:45 PM. Shows are 90 minutes in duration; guests must arrive 30 minutes prior to showtime.

Estimated Price: ¥8000-¥10000 for tickets, drinks, and bento; more for souvenirs

“Why Go?”: Watch the crazy fun robot performance!

Click on one of the tags below to explore other shopping and entertainment options in Tokyo–

June 28, 2016 0 comment
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Mount Asama

Karuizawa nature

Introduction

Karuizawa is a resort town located in the mountainous Nagano prefecture, well-known for its nature and relaxing ambience. Just one hour from Tokyo Station by the Hokuriku Shinkansen, Karuizawa is the perfect place for an excursion from the hectic megalopolis that is Tokyo. Karuizawa has become increasingly popular among Tokyoites, especially in summer, but the town has always had a history of accommodating foreigners as well. Karuizawa began its development in 1886 when Alexander Croft Shaw, a missionary and diplomat, introduced the town to his colleagues as the perfect place to escape the summer heat, where many British expats compared it to Scotland. This legacy has been maintained, with Karuizawa becoming the holiday location of choice for John Lennon and Yoko Ono, as well as hosting the world in 1964 and 1998, for the Tokyo Summer Olympics and Nagano Winter Olympics respectively (the only place in the world to host both Summer and Winter events). With the town also hosting the G7 Transport Ministers meeting in September 2016, Karuizawa continues to be a town that punches above its weight. From staying in a traditional ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), to staying in upscale luxury hotels such as the popular Hoshino resort, there are many places to stay in this slice of woodland paradise. Come and visit this town, and you will discover what the fuss is all about.

The next station is Karuizawa, please mind the closing doors…

Shinkansen Karuizawa

Since the launch of the Nagano Shinkansen (bullet train) in 1997 , there has been a convenient high-speed rail link to Karuizawa, ensuring a transport time of just over one hour. Within that time, you’ll be teleported from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo Station to green nature, with birds chirping and a much cooler and clearer air. Just recently, the service was rebranded into the Hokuriku Shinkansen, with a more spacious train and services departing every 30 minutes, making this hour journey relaxing, enjoyable, and highly efficient. I’m sure the G7 transport ministers will be highly impressed when they take this high-speed service to their summit in Karuizawa come September.
One-way fares to Karuizawa from Tokyo via the Hokuriku Shinkansen start from ¥5,500.

Things to do

Trekking
Hoshino trail The nature is the primary reason why you should visit Karuizawa. There are a number of woodland trails available for trekking, where you will constantly hear the chatter of birds. There are some great trails available near Hoshino resort.
Karuizawa Trail You can easily spend a few hours of your day on these trails or even spend an entire day, just be wary of wild animals such as monkeys, boars or bears. You can trek up mountains as well, such as Hanare-yama, a relatively small mountain that takes around one hour to ascend, or trek up Mount Asama, the tallest mountain in the area and the most volcanic mountain in Honshu, which dominates the landscape of Karuizawa.

Mount Asama

View of Mt. Asama from the Hanare-yama summit (taken during winter)

With the cooler temperature and the vibrant nature, trekking through the forests of the area feels a world away from the sometimes choking crowdedness and noise of Tokyo.

Ginza-dori/Kyu Karuizawa
Kyu Karuizawa
The foreign history of the town is most evident in Ginza-dori, a lively but relaxing shopping street in the historic part of the town (Kyu-Karuizawa). Here you can find several unique boutique shops, restaurants, cafes, as well as great bakeries that serve quality bread and coffee. Specifically check out the “French Bakery”, which is where John Lennon and Yoko Ono frequented to buy their daily baguettes when they holidayed in the town.
French Bakery Kyu Karuizawa
If you’re into John Lennon, also check out the Mampei Hotel nearby, a historic Western-style hotel where Lennon stayed regularly, as well as countless prime ministers and foreign dignitaries. There is a piano here in the bar where Lennon played from time to time.
Mampei Hotel Karuizawa

Onsen
A visit to Karuizawa is never complete without a visit to an onsen, a perfect afternoon activity which washes away all the stress of city-life. There are plenty of nice hot springs in the town, particularly the Sengataki Onsen, Hoshino Onsen, and the Shiotsubo Onsen. Entry to these hot springs range from ¥1,000-¥1,500, and are certainly worth it.

The Hoshino Onsen is especially recommended,as it is known for its skincare benefits,making it highly popular among female visitors. The hot spring was founded in 1915 by Kunitsugu Hoshino (the current Hoshino Resorts president is the fourth generation of the family) and a hotel empire grew out of this enormously popular onsen, where today Hoshino has luxury resorts throughout Japan, as well as in Bali and Tahiti. The Hoshino Resort in Karuizawa was one of the first in Japan to become classed as a Small Luxury Hotel, a rare club, considering only 11 are in Japan. The hot spring is the most upscale in the town, with its modern but traditional design. The main hot spring (Tombo-no-yu 8:30AM-11:00PM) is open to non-Hoshino guests, and offers both indoor and outdoor baths, with the excellent low-alkaline mountain waters that made Hoshino so popular. There is another hot spring, with a more contemporary design called the “Meditation Bath“, exclusively for Hoshino guests and open all day. This onsen is indoors, where guests dip into a combination of carefully managed well-lit and dark rooms (Bath of Light and Bath of Shadow) to “release tensions and stimulate the tenses.” You won’t have to worry about energy consumption while spending time in Hoshino. The resort and its onsens are eco-friendly, with the entire complex being zero-emissions, powered by a combination of geothermal heat from the nearby volcanos and hydroelectric power from mountain streams.

Hoshino Onsen

Hoshino Onsen

Food
The food in Karuizawa is worth mentioning. There has been a boom in restaurants opening up in the town to accommodate the rise in tourism, and include Italian, French, Scandinavian, Chinese cuisine, and much more. The local jams and honey are well-known in Japan and go great with the fresh bread from the local bakeries. Soba noodles from Nagano prefecture are famous for their taste, and you can visit a number of soba establishments in Karuizawa. Moreover, the vegetables in this mountainous part of the country are terrific too. Check out the newly created vegetable market (Hotchi Ichiba) where you can purchase fresh vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and konnyaku from local farmers.
Karuizawa vegetables

Outlet Shopping
If you are craving for a retail shopping experience, akin to what they offer in Tokyo, then definitely check out the Prince Outlet Shopping Plaza, which is located right next to the JR Shinkansen station.
Karuizawa outlet shopping This is the perfect place to spend your final few hours in the town before hopping on the train back to Tokyo. There are a wide range of upscale brands available, with particularly large Burberry and Gucci outlets, and the pricing is reasonable compared to Tokyo.
Karuizawa Outlet shopping

There is much more to do in Karuizawa, such as golfing, horse-riding and birdwatching, and it is a place for all seasons. For example, in winter, there are opportunities for skiing and snowboarding if that is your thing. Regardless of which activity you want to do, this serene town nestled near the Japanese alps is the perfect place for a Tokyo excursion and will most certainly make you relaxed.

June 15, 2016 0 comment
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Air Travel

Air Travel
Japan is a terrific place to visit, a country roughly the size of California, but with the geographic diversity of the whole United States. Japan is also however a great springboard to visit other tourist hotspots in the Asia-Pacific region, with Taiwan, Hong Kong and most of South-East Asia in close distance to the country. Recently, there has been a boom in low-cost carriers (LCCs) storming the market and disrupting established carriers in the region. Today, there are many LCCs that fly to and from Japan so you can go abroad without breaking the bank.

Significantly, on May 16 this year, a new airline alliance called “Value Alliance” was established. Unlike the existing full-service airline alliances of Oneworld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam, the new Value Alliance is made of low-cost airlines only, focusing primarily in the Asia-Pacific region.
The alliance consists of eight LCCs:

AirlineCountry
Cebu Pacific AirPhillipines
Jeju Air South Korea
Nok AirThailand
NokScootThailand
ScootSingapore
Tigerair AustraliaAustralia
Tigerair SingaporeSingapore
Vanilla AirJapan

The major benefit for customers is that it will be possible to book flights with any of the eight airlines on any one of their websites, whilst allowing routing options to new destinations under one booking. This crucially means that your bags can be interlined through to the final airaidestination, even when operated by two different member airlines. With a total possibility of 160 destinations due to the integration between these low-cost airlines, you are spoilt for choice. Moreover, with the alliance expected to result in increased profitability for the airlines, ticket prices should become cheaper eventually for travel within the region. The only Japanese carrier in the alliance, Vanilla Air, which on its own only flies internationally to Hong Kong and Taiwan, is preparing to implement the Value Alliance ticketing system by this fall.

The alliance will ensure frequent air links to the following Japanese airports, operated by a range of LCCs:
– Narita Airport (Tokyo)
– Kansai Airport (Osaka)
– New Chitose Airport (Hokkaido)
– Amami Airport (Okinawa)
– Naha Airport (Okinawa)
– Chubu Centrair Airport (Aichi)
– Fukuoka Airport (Fukuoka)

Non-Alliance LCC profile

The alliance misses out on some key LCC operators in the region, and depending on your destination, some of these airlines offer very cheap fares with frequent flights.

Peach
Peach’s main hub is at Kansai International Airport in Osaka, so most of their flights depart from here, but they also have strong links in Okinawa and are heavily expanding to Tokyo Narita. They fly all over Japan, and fly internationally to Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Domestic fares are frequently under ¥5,000 one-way and international flights under ¥10,000. Make sure to check out their website as they frequently offer promotions.

Jetstar Japan
Jetstar Japan is a part of Jetstar, an Australian LCC that is the second largest low-cost airline in the region. Jetstar Japan has its hub in Tokyo Narita and Osaka Kansai, with routes across Japan as well as international flights to Hong Kong, Taipei and Manila. Jetstar Japan is also integrated with the wider Jetstar network, ensuring a huge variety of destinations with great fares. Direct flights to Australia can be as low as ¥23,000 each-way and domestic fares can be found for less than ¥5,000 each way.

AirAsia
AirAsia is the largest LCC in the region and operates flights all over Asia and Australia. Flights depart frequently from Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur, its hub. From there, you can catch cheap flights all over Asia, including Bangkok, Singapore, Bali and Sydney. Flights to Kuala Lumpur can start from ¥12,000 yen each way but they also frequently have promotions where the same route can cost less than ¥10,000

Eastar Jet
Eastar is a Korean budget airline that operates flights from Tokyo Narita, Osaka Kansai, Naha (Okinawa) and Fukuoka (starting 22 July) to Seoul Incheon Airport. Eastar is well-known for its highly frequent flights to the resort island of Jeju, and also flies internationally to China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand. Fares are usually around ¥15,000 but they often have heavily discounted fares, as low as ¥4,000 each way (not including tax and fuel surcharge).

June 9, 2016 0 comment
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English Taxi Travel

English is not widely spoken in Japan, so it can be difficult to navigate the streets and get to your desired location. Despite the fact that Tokyo has four times as many taxis (50,000) as New York City, there are two main problems for visitors. First, it can be difficult to give the correct directions if you cannot speak Japanese. Second, long lines and lengthy waits are common in popular areas such as Ginza or Shinjuku. Although Tokyo has an excellent public transportation infrastructure, taxis become a necessary mode of transportation after midnight once the trains stop running.

But never fear! We here at EnableJapan have done the research so that you don’t have to worry about getting stranded in an unfamiliar town. Below is a list of the most convenient companies for English taxi travel in Japan.

JapanTaxi App (Android)


The most convenient and efficient way to reserve a taxi for English-speakers in Japan is the JapanTaxi app, which was launched in 2014. JapanTaxi agglomerates Japanese taxi operators across the country, and has coverage over all of Japan’s 47 prefectures with 29,625 cars available from 163 taxi companies. Simply download and open the app, and tap “Call taxi here” to hail a cab from the various companies available.


Main page
Companies on offerThis is especially useful when facing a long taxi queue, or at night when taxis are sparse. There is no registration required, but keep in mind that unlike Uber, you have to pay in cash directly to the driver. The app essentially connects you to a driver from a registered cab company, and you can set your destination within the app.

Nihon Kotsu

Nihon Kotsu is a well-established taxi company in Tokyo with over 3,200 taxis. Nihon Kotsu operates a 24/7 English line where reservations can be taken for English speakers. The taxi bookings are taken efficiently, and cash and card are accepted in all Nihon Kotsu cabs. A typical taxi ride starts at ¥730 for the first two kilometers, plus ¥90 per 280m thereafter. There is also a late-night surcharge of 20% between 10:00PM-5:00AM.
English phone line (24/7): 03-5755-2336

MK Taxi

MK Taxi is an upscale service, offering premium cars with chauffeur service. All of the high-end automobiles are fitted with free Wi-Fi and offer a 24/7 telephone interpreter service, ensuring that you can communicate accurately with the driver. Fares start from ¥640 for the first 1.72 kilometers, plus ¥90 per 280m after. There is a late-night surcharge of 10% between 11:00PM-5:00AM, and if you request for a luxury vehicle, a flat fee of ¥1,000 is added.

Make sure you check out their special promotions, where you can book taxis to Haneda or Narita at a significantly reduced fare. MK Taxi is great for airport transfers as they also offer a 10% discount for charges over ¥9,000.

Uber

Although Uber is popular in other major cities like London and New York, the company has a comparatively small presence in Japan.  Tokyo is the only Japanese city where the service operates, and there is a lack of operators in the city. Wait times are significantly longer than for its competitors, not to mention more expensive. UberBLACK fares start at ¥103, and is ¥67 per minute plus ¥309 per kilometer. This means that the fare quickly adds up, and you’ll generally pay more than Uber’s competitors. The only advantages of Uber in Tokyo are that there are no late-night surcharges and the cashless fare system.

Special mention:

Line Taxi is a relatively new service integrated with the popular LINE app and could very well become the “Uber of Japan”. It’s a good service, but not geared towards foreign customers. Line Taxi utilizes Line Pay for payment, which requires the user to have a Japanese driver’s license or insurance card, as well as a Japanese credit card.

June 7, 2016 0 comment
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