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Japanese manga and anime are definitely awesome! Because it is the Big City, many scenes in popular anime are set in Tokyo. Of course, for all anime fans would like to go to places where they can buy figures or key chains in Akihabara and Ikebukuro, or maybe spend an afternoon singing their favorite anime songs. But there are more places for you to go in Tokyo – real places that appeared in anime! And guess what? We can tell you where they are!

 

Real Anime Places in Tokyo: The Cat Returns (猫の恩返し)

The Cat Returns is an animated film of Studio Ghibli, which is a story about a girl named Haru who saved the Prince of the Cat Kingdom Lune from being hit by a car on a road. After that, she was invited to the kingdom, and the King wanted her to marry the Prince. But Haru rejected the offer, and the Baron has to help her escape from the soldiers.

Real Anime Places 1

 

The sweets shop MYNT in Shin-Koenji Station is where Lune bought a gift (fish cookies for his lover) before he was saved by Haru. And the shop really sells fish cookies!

 

Real Anime Places Fish Cookie

MYNT information

Website (via Google translate)

Nearest Station: 6-minute walk from Tokyo Metro Shin-Kōenji Station (Exit 1)

Hours of Operation: Mon, Wed – Sun 10:00 a.m. – 07:00 p.m.

 

Your Lie in April (四月は君の嘘) : Nerima Ward

The second part of our real anime places tour takes us to Nerima Ward. Your Lie in April is a very popular and touching anime in Japan, and has also been produced into a live-action film! The main character Kousei Arima was a child piano prodigy, and his mother was very strict to him because she wants him to become a famous pianist. But after his mother died in an accident, Kousei cannot hear the sound of his own performance, so he stops playing piano. One day, he meets Kaori Miyazono, a girl freely plays violin, who gradually changes his mind. The Nerima Culture Center appeared in the anime several times, where piano contests are held. Kousei often comes here.

Real Anime Places Narima Culture Center

Nerima Culture Center  (練馬文化センター) information

Website (via Google translate)

Nearest Station: 1-minute walk from Nerima Station (Central North Exit)

Hours of Operation: Everyday 09:00 am – 10:00 pm

 

Real Anime Places Park

Outside the Nerima Culture Center is Heisei Tsutsuji Park, where Kousei and Kaori met for the first time. Kaori was playing melodica on the top of a play structure (which does not exist in reality) for a group of children, and Kousei was touched with her performance.

Heisei Tsutsuji Park (平成つつじ公園) information

Website (via Google translate)

Nearest Station: 1-minute walk from Nerima Station (Central North Exit)

Hours of Operation: Everyday 09:00 am – 10:00 pm

 

THE iDOLM@STER CINDERELLA GIRLS : Sangen-Jaya Cho

My favorite anime! The story mainly focuses on the growth and changes of the idol project “Cinderella Project” in 346Production, and how they overcame their difficulties on the way to stardom.

Real Anime Places Flower Shop

This flower shop is another one of the real anime places you can visit. It was owned by Rin Shibuya, one of the main characters. In episode 1, another main character, Uzuki Shimamura came here and bought a bouquet for herself to celebrate her debut. It was also the place where Rin and Uzuki met for the first time.

Yayoi Gardening (やよい園芸)  information

Nearest Station: 2-minute walk from Sangen-Jaya Station (North Exit)

Hours of Operation: Everyday 10:00 am – 08:00 pm

Holiday: Wednesday (Irregular), 3 days in the beginning of the year

 

Real Anime Places Park 2

Setagaya Maruyama Park appeared in the anime twice. In episode 1, Rin was attracted by Uzuki’ s smiling face under the cherry blossoms here and decided to join the project.

The second time was in episode 23. Rin and Mio took Uzuki, who had lost confidence in being an idol, here and poured their hearts out, “You said here, right? ‘Being an idol is my dream.’” This is definitely the most touching scene among all the episodes!

The picture of the bench has become the cover of their CD “Story,” too! One of he many real anime places you can go to strike a pose! Great for your Facebook page!

 

Setagaya Maruyama Park  (世田谷丸山公園) information

Website (via Google translate)

Nearest Station: 7-minute walk from Sangen-Jaya Station (North Exit)

 

Love Live! (ラブライブ!) : Akihabara

Love Live! is a super popular anime in Japan, which is abouta  high-school girl named Honoka Kosaka forming a nine-person idol group “μ’s” in order to save their school from being closed down. After they succeeded, the group set the goal of getting the championship in the “Love Live,” a school idol competition for the best groups in Japan.

 

Real Anime Places Kanda Shrine

Kanda Shrine is the place where a member Nozomi Tojo works as a miko (“Shrine maiden”). The main characters often come here.

 

Real Anime Places Otoko

Don’t forget the staircase on the right hand side – Kanda Shrine Otoko Zaka (神田明神男坂)! In the anime, when the members have to do some training, Nico Yazawa suggested that they climb this staircase.

Kanda Shrine (神田明神) information

Website

Nearest Station: 6-minute walk from Ochanomizu Station (Exit 3) or 7-minute walk from Akihabara Station

 Real Anime Places Wagashi

And don’t forget Takemura! This old wagashi shop (a place that serves traditional Japanese confections with tea) appears as Honoka’s home in the anime.

Takemura (竹むら) information

Nearest Station: 3-minute walk from Awajichō Station (Exit 3) or 7-minute walk from Akihabara Station

Your Name. (君の名は。) : Suga Shrine

It’s the most famous anime in 2016! Your Name took Japan by storm–you can hear its theme song Zenzenzense (“Previous Previous Previous Life”) everywhere. The story is about Taki Tachibana and Mitsuha Miyamizu, two high-school students who switch their bodies intermittently. Their memories fade after each swap, and they cannot even remember each other’s names. One day, Taki realized Mitsuha actually died three years prior and he tried to save her.

 

Real anime places your name

Although the real anime places from Your Name are mostly located in Nagano and Gifu Prefectures, there are some spots in Tokyo! The scene in Suga Shrine is the most recognizable one, because it’s on Your Name’s poster! It is the last scene of the film, where Mitsuha and Taki met on this staircase and asked each other, “I think we have met before. What’s your name?”

Suga Shrine (須賀神社) information

Website (via Google translate)

Nearest Station: 6-minute walk from Tokyo Metro Yotsuya-sanchōme Station (Exit 3) or 12-minute walk from Yotsuya Station

Have fun in taking photos in the real anime places in Tokyo!

April 7, 2017 0 comment
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Roppongi Hills Observatory Tokyo Tower

After a long day traversing through the city of Tokyo, there’s no better way to wrap up a day of sightseeing then to go to an observatory and overlook the streets you walked and the buildings you passed. At Roppongi Hill’s, Mori Tower, the only rooftop sky deck in Tokyo lies waiting for you to see the beauty within this city from a bird’s-eye view!

Roppongi Hills is located in the Minato district of Tokyo. There are shops and restaurants, a movie theatre, the Mori Art Museum, and of course, the Tokyo City View Sky Deck! With the inside observatory on the 52 floor, and the outside sky deck on the rooftop, you can see the entire city from both indoors and out!

Despite it’s name, there is no hike required when venturing to Roppongi Hills. This, however, is just the name that one of the largest property developments in Tokyo was given.

Roppongi Hills Observatory upwards

Depending on where you may come from, the idea of an open-air observatory may seem a little new to you. While some countries have more than others, Japan’s list of these rooftop observatories is limited. Making the trip over to Roppongi Hills is definitely recommended during your stay in Japan!

Unlike many cities, Tokyo is not a city with skyscrapers on every block. Fortunately, this makes the views from observatories in Tokyo even more breathtaking!

Also, within the area, there is much to do! With hundreds of restaurants, shops, cafes, and bars, the Roppongi area will keep you entertained, whether its 3pm or 3am!

 

Get Involved at the Roppongi Hills Observatory

If you’re a long-time visitor of Tokyo, you may be interested in attending one of the seminars and workshops Roppongi Hills has to offer. Every fourth Friday of the month, there are events open for the public focusing on astronomy. These events do not require any special membership, so everyone is welcome to participate!

If you’re not interested in astronomy, or even if you’re not in Tokyo for very long, Roppongi Hills Observatory is also hosting a photo contest that only requires one visit to Roppongi Hills and one outstanding picture that will stand apart from the rest.

With multiple periods to enter, there are also multiple winners! You can find details about the contest here! Photos taken at the observatory as well as photos of Tokyo’s landscape including Roppongi Hills, will be accepted!

Roppongi Hills Observatory tulips

Website

Nearest Station: Roppongi Station

Hours of Operation: 10am- 11pm

Price: General admission is 1,800 yen. Discount rates for children, students, and seniors are also available: Seniors 1,500, Students 1,200, and children 600 yen.

March 22, 2017 0 comment
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samurai museum

samurai museumThe cultural hub in Shinjuku called “Kabukicho” is home to the many different stores and buildings that embody a section of Japanese culture. Among the shops and attractions is one that stands out to tourists and those interested in the warrior culture of medieval Japan. The Samurai Museum is dedicated to these brave warriors, and inside are fantastic displays of their armor and weapons. Each artifact has a history behind it.

samurai museum shinjuku 3The Samurai Museum offers tours in both Japanese and English. They delve deeply into the samurai culture, and visitors can learn a great deal about their lives and how they fought.  Though the museum may seem small, it contains five different exhibits which displays the different parts of the lives of samurai.

samurai museum 9The Samurai Museum also offers “Tate and Iai,” a showy instruction that demonstrates the Japanese “Way of the Sword.” It is very engaging and, because of the small area of the room, and you are very close to the demonstration–so close that the blade may sometimes be only inches from your face! The Samurai Museum instructors offer bolder visitors a chance to try the “Tate and Iai” along with the instructor and experience a small Japanese battle scene! But you shouldn’t go into battle unprotected, which is why you should don the o-yoroi samurai armor before engaging the enemy. Also, make sure you get your picture taken! The demonstration occurs four times a day, at 13:00, 15:00, 17:00 and 19:00.

samurai museum 4

samurai museum 7Even if you end up in a rush and can’t take the time to explore the museum, stop by the gift shop when you pass by! They offer items such as replica swords, armor, shirts, mugs and other items as souvenirs or gifts.

And since you’ll want to upload your photos right away, they have free wi-fi!

samurai museum shinjuku 8

Samurai Museum Shinjuku Location Information

Website (English) ||| Facebook (English) ||| Twitter (English) ||| Instagram

Nearest Station: 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station (click on the Google Map for walking directions)

Hours of Operation: Open Daily 10:30 am – 9pm (last entry 8:30 pm)

Entrance Fee: 1800 yen for adults, 800 yen for children under 12, children 3 and under free. Plus souvenirs!

“Why Go?”: What? I can’t believe anyone would have to explain this to you! Weren’t you ever a kid?

Click on one of the links below to explore more of Tokyo–

December 14, 2016 0 comment
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Kasai Rinkai Park Tokyo Japan

Kasai Rinkai Park

Kasai Rinkai Park Tokyo Japan

Need to get the family away from the city for a while? Kasai Rinkai Park in Edogawa might be just the place to visit! This enormous park has plenty of green space and benches to host your picnic. Or you can make a getaway to one of its two man-made beaches to relax and take in the view of beautiful Tokyo Bay.

Kasai Rinkai Park Tokyo Japan

Kasai Rinkai Park Tokyo Japan

After a nice picnic or a stroll on the beach, head on over to the Tokyo Sea Life Park Aquarium. Host to a variety of exotic fish and sea-life from all over the world, the aquarium features a penguin viewing area where you can watch the birds swim and play. (Tokyo Sea Life Park Aquarium – Adults 700 yen, Middle Schoolers 250 yen, younger children free. Open 9:30 am – 5:30 pm, closed Wednesdays and December 29th – January 1st).

Are you interested in birds? The eastern end of the park hosts a walk-through bird sanctuary. Paved paths guide visitors through the sanctuary, and tall walls protect our feathered friends. Be sure to stop at one of the many observation points to catch a glimpse of the sanctuary’s residents, and stop at the Sea Bird Center to learn more about the sanctuary’s inhabitants.

Kasai Rinkai Park Tokyo Japan

Top off your visit to Kasai Rinkai Park with a ride on the Diamond and Flower Ferris wheel, the second-largest of its kind in all of Japan. From this lofty vantage point you can see Disneyland, Tokyo Bay, and on clear days even all the way to Mount Fuji! At night, the Ferris wheel’s bright neon lights display elaborate patterns for viewers to enjoy. (Diamond and Flower Ferris Wheel – open Weekdays 10:00 am – 8:00 pm, Weekends 10:00 am – 9:00 pm. 700 yen per rider).

Kasai Rinkai Park is a perfect place for anyone wanting to escape the noise and crowds of central Tokyo on a gorgeous day off!

Kasai Rinkai Park Location Information

Website | Facebook (visitor reviews)

Nearest Station: directly off of Kasairinkaikoen Station ( JR Keiyō Line or Musashino Line)

Hours of Operation: Park – 24/7; Aquarium – Open 9:30 am – 5:30 pm (Closed Wednesdays); Diamond and Flower Ferris Wheel – Weekdays 10:00 am – 8:00 pm, Weekends 10:00 am – 9:00 pm

“Why Go?”: Amazing views on a beautiful Ferris wheel, fun aquarium for families and beautiful scenery away from Central Tokyo craziness!

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

July 8, 2016 0 comment
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Gundam Cafe, Odaiba, Tokyo

Listen man, I know your secret.

How? Because it’s not really a secret. I have a kid too. And I love the little guy, just like you love your little guy or girl. But we all know that some kid activities are excruciating. Yes, it’s for their development, bless their dear little hearts. So we go to dance recitals and school plays and soccer games that look like a greased pig chase.

Which is ok, when you’re home. You can sit on the sidelines and wave in between emails, or chitchat with the other parents. And when someone finally catches that greased pig, you can escape back to the homestead and relax in familiar surroundings.

Well, that’s not what’s going to happen here. Maybe the Big Meeting is over early; maybe you’re on vacation or an extended layover. Whatever the reason, you are in one of the most exciting cities in the world with your spouse and your 2.3 children. You’re in Tokyo, darn it, and you’re going to do something fun. Together, as a family! And you are going to do something that you cannot readily do back home. No, Mom and Dad (or however you organize yourselves), there’s not going to be any waving from the sidelines on this trip. Put on your walking shoes, we’re gonna do Tokyo!

 

WHO WANTS BREAKFAST?

Who wants breakfast? You want what? A Japanese breakfast?

No. No you don’t. Trust me on this one. Your kids are thinking “Anime-Os” with a Giant Robot Prize inside the box, but that’s not what they are going to get. A Japanese-style breakfast comes with things like baked fish, rice, pickles, soup, and other assorted unidentifiables. I’m pretty open-minded about what I eat, but fish and pickles is too much culture for that early in the morning.

For a Western-style breakfast, your hotel will be the most convenient spot. But if you must go somewhere, you can try Anna Miller’s in Shinagawa (visible across the street from the Takanawa exit; open daily 0730-0300) or the Terrace at the Westin Hotel in Mita (closest train station is Ebisu on the Yamanote line, and you’ll have to take a taxi from there; breakfast 0630-1030 daily).

But we’re traveling with kids here, and we all know how this goes. You pay a wad of cash for the buffet, and all the kid will eat is a single forkful of eggs and a half-bowl of cereal. Past experience tells you that he or she will be hungry in half an hour, but the little ankle biter adamantly refuses to eat anything else. Until, of course, you encounter the first McDonald’s after you leave the restaurant, at which point they begin howling about how hungry they are. Thus, the big fight begins.

If you suspect this is about to happen to you, avoid the stress and go to a bakery. They are everywhere in Japan—in department stores, in front of train stations, and in their own little shops on the street. Japanese bakeries have breads, donuts, croissants, pastries, and all kinds of other baked breakfast goods. Some of them even have coffee, mom and dad! And even if the kids don’t want all of whatever they get, you can put it in the bag and save it for later. Or eat it yourself, which is my recommended solution.

 

AKIHABARA

Akihabara Stores, Akihabara, Tokyo

This is where your nerd children want to go. If they’re older, coming here is probably the only reason they will risk being seen together with their parents in the first place. Akihabara is on the Yamanote line, is very easy to get to, and is foreigner-friendly.

If you are into anime and video games, you will be in heaven. Akihabara is the place where good nerds go when they die. Shops selling toys, figurines, video game paraphenalia, t-shirts, and related items are located here. There is no one best place to shop, so browse everywhere! Half the fun is souvenir-hunting through the bins and the little shops. The back streets are also a treasure trove of oddities, full of ¥100 bottle holders for your backpack, keychain bubble-wrap popping simulators, and possibly your very own camera drone. It’s worth a look.

Akihabara duty free shopping, Akihabara, Tokyo

Thanks to the huge duty-free shops, souvenirs of other kinds are also available. Everything from ninja t-shirts to fridge magnets all the way up to cameras and household appliances, the duty-free shops have them here. English-speaking staff are available at all locations to answer your questions. If you must have an appliance, buy it here. Items from the duty-free stores are adapted to work in your country of origin, which likely has different voltage/amperage requirements than Japan. This may not be the case if you make a last-minute stop at a department store before getting on the plane to go home. And many of the duty-free shops deliver to hotels!

Then there’s Don Quioxte. I have no idea what this store’s connection is to the literary figure, but it is a must-see. The best way to describe this place is as a cross between Wal-Mart and Spencer’s Gifts. It has the mundane (snacks, drinks), the strange (poo-shaped hats, Engrish-printed clothing), to the outright bizarre (boob pillows, maid outfits). The top floor is the AKB48 theater, where you can watch members of the famous all-girl pop band perform (for tickets, go to http://www.akb48.co.jp/english/overseas/index.html).

Don Quijote, Akihabara, Tokyo

Arcades are also a big part of Akihabara. They may be as common as dinosaur stampedes where you’re from, but Japan’s arcades know what they are up against–few games here are something you could get on a console at home. UFO Crane games, a taiko drumming game, Puzzles and Dragons Battle Tactics (which is apparently a thing), multitudes of fighting games, and head-to-head Gundam battle arenas were the highlights of my visit. Go inside and check out the card game/video game hybrids so you can see what your grandkids will be wanting for Christmas in 2040. Drop a few coins in the newest gee-whiz game or play a few of the classics. What kid doesn’t want to tell his friends at school that he played video games in an actual Japanese arcade?

Here’s another fun thing to do at the Sega arcades. The bathrooms have “peeing games” at the urinals (sorry ladies, I have no idea what’s in your powder room–couches and “Gone With the Wind” on continuous loop?). The screen is over the urinal, and to play you just step right up, no coins needed. Walk around, load up on liquids, then go into the arcade and do your business. I played one with a full bladder and ended up filling four and a half cans of pee. I don’t even know what that means or why you should be impressed, but there it is.

There are places to eat once you get hungry, but Akihabara is a grab-and-go kind of place. For fine dining, look elsewhere. If you are not planning to go to Odaiba (see below), there is a Gundam Cafe here (outside the Akihabara JR Station Atre1 Gate), where you can get lunch and some souvenirs. The Gundam Cafe is right next to the AKB48 Cafe, if you are more into the girl band than you are into giant robots. There are several coffee cafes in the area that offer sandwiches, and of course, two area McDonald’s for your picky eaters.

CAUTION NOTE #1: If you want to purchase anime, video games, or other electronic material, make sure that they will be compatible with the media systems you have back home. The small store owners will tell you, but it might be safer to buy that sort of material at one of the many duty-free shops in the area.

CAUTION NOTE #2: Ok, I know you’ve heard of it, so here it is: anime porn. Keep the kids away from anyplace that is bright pink, has the “No Under 18” sign, or has artwork of improbably-proportioned anime models over or around the door. The shops that sell these kinds of items aren’t ubiquitous and are usually subtle in their sidewalk advertising, but you could encounter them. Forewarned is forearmed.

CAUTION NOTE #3: “Not smoking indoors” is not a thing that has caught on in Japan yet, and arcades are particularly heinous. Check the floor signs to see if smoking is allowed on that floor. If your kids are particularly sensitive to smoke, going into an arcade that allows smoking may not be a good idea. If they can take it, have fun, but it’s always a good idea to limit your exposure to secondhand smoke.

 

ODAIBA

I am a married man. Women want to shop. Therefore, it is inevitable that I (or maybe you) will get dragged on a shopping trip. It’s a cliche for a reason. Are you done not laughing? Good. Let’s continue.

It will do no good to explain to your significant other that (beyond the obvious regional variations) they have the same stuff at Japanese malls that they do in the malls where you come from. The same stores, even. That just makes her mad and even more determined to get her retail therapy on. But I am here to help! With a little mental judo, convince your one-and-only that Odaiba is the place to go for all of her shopping needs. That way, you and the kids can do something besides drag yourselves through the same jeans store you have back at your local mall.

GETTING THERE

At Osaki station (on the Yamanote line), change to the Rinkai line (dark blue; get on the train going towards Shin-kiba). Eleven minutes and ¥330 later, you will be at the Tokyo Teleport Station, in the middle of the Odaiba shopping area (what, you don’t have teleport stations in whatever backwater you’re squatting in? You poor dears). From here, you can walk or taxi to any number of malls. Here are the highlights–

AQUA CITY

Ramen restaurants, Odaiba, Tokyo

What? You’re going to Japan, and you are going to eat at McDonald’s?!?!? I think not. The Me-Matsuri Food Court on the fifth floor of the Aqua City Mall specializes in ramen and is easily accessible to English speakers. There are actually several different styles of ramen, all reasonably priced (¥600-¥1100, depending on what you get). All menus are in English–just choose, point, and pay. If the weather is nice, you can even sit outside and get a view of the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower. I remarked that I saw a blue shell fly across the bridge to knock out the leader; my son rolled his eyes. No one likes the blue shell. (open 1100-2300).

For the picky eaters, there are a couple of American fast-food places in the food court on the first floor. But maybe you can convince them to try Kua’aina Hawaiian Burger place (same food court) or the Longboard Cafe on the third floor. It’s worth a shot.

Sony Explora, Odaia Tokyo

After lunch, you can occupy the time of younger children at the Sony ExploraScience Museum. Obviously, the “science” focuses on Sony products, but the interactive exhibits are a lot of fun and it’s a neat thing to do for an hour or two. My son and I enjoyed the voice pitch-switcher and the motion-capture puppet screen (I got a robot to dance the Robot!). Be sure to compete in the electronic Smile rankings and try to get the best smile of the day! (5th floor, open 1100-1900; Adults ¥500, Children ages 3-15 ¥300, under 3 years old free).

Sony Explora, Odaiba, Tokyo

DECKS TOKYO BEACH SHOPPING MALL

Alright, Lego fans, here’s your spot. Decks Tokyo Beach Shopping Mall is right next to Aqua City. And inside on the third floor is Tokyo’s Legoland Discovery Center! Even if you’ve been to one of the other Legoland theme parks, you can come here to see Japan-specific brick sculptures, like a Lego sumo match, or a room-sized model of Tokyo. Stop in the shop; even though the Lego is waaaay more expensive where you are from, you can snag a ¥350 minifigure from the current collector’s edition set, or a ¥700 keychain of your favorite Lego character. Singing an awesome song is optional, but if you forgot the words, don’t worry–it’s playing constantly while you’re in the store. I’m sure the clerks love that. (open 1000-2000 on weekdays , 1000-2100 on weekends; admission for all ages is ¥2200 walk-up)

Legoland, Odaiba, Tokyo

Decks also has a Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, so older children who may not Lego-inclined can go inside and have their picture taken with their favorite celebrity. (Open daily 1000-1900; Adults ¥2000, Children ages 3-15 ¥1500, discounts available online.

If you want to see both a Lego Tokyo Tower and a wax Angelina Jolie, you can get a discount on a combo ticket pack.

DIVER CITY TOKYO

This mall is a little farther away than the other two, but don’t worry; you can see it from Aqua City or Decks. It also gives you time to spin a tale. This one requires a little bit of prep.

Seed this dad joke with a few episodes of the Gundam anime series in the months before you come to Japan. You can find it on your Netflix. Before you get to Diver City, make sure the kids know that you flew a Gundam and had all sorts of interstellar adventures before settling down and becoming their dad. “Yep, all that’s over now,” you might say. “I parked the old girl around here somewhere before I walked away. I wonder if it’s still here…”

Gundam Statue, Odaiba, Tokyo

Then you take them behind Diver’s City, and look! Dad’s old Gundam is still here! The 18-meter tall attraction is constantly surrounded by people taking pictures, and surely no one would mind helping out the former pilot by taking a picture of him with his kids in front of his old rig. Afterwards you can stop by the nearby Gundam Cafe and pick up a souvenir or two (I recommend a coffee cup). There is a Gundam Front trailer outside near the Gundam, where you can pick up a model if you feel inclined.

Gundam Cafe, Odaiba, Tokyo

On the seventh floor is the gold mine–there is a Round1 Stadium and the Gundam Front Tokyo, right next to each other!

The Gundam Front Tokyo contains a museum of Gundam figures (free to enter), a shop, and a clothing store. You can also visit the inner areas and see the art museum and some awesome dioramas (open daily 1000-2000, Adults ¥1200, Children ages 3-15 ¥1000, you can buy in advance for ¥200 off)

Round1 Stadium is an indoor amusement park/recreational facility. You and your kids can play some indoor basketball, try a batting cage, go roller skating, and even ride a mechanical bull. There are video games all over the place, including a four-player Pac-Man machine and a strange game in which the objective is to do as much damage as possible by rage-flipping a table. There is a rest area with massage chairs (great for worn-out adults) and a classic video game arcade with hits from the 80s and 90s. The pricing scheme for all of this entertainment is rather bizarre (if you can make heads or tails of it, you are a better man than I), but the mall has an interpreter phone service you can use to figure it all out. As you can see from the price list, it can get expensive, but I never had a bad time there. Also, the odd hours mean that if you are suffering from jet lag at a nearby hotel, you can sneak out and get in a few rounds on the mechanical bull. (Open 7 days a week. Monday – Thursday 1000-0600 the next day; Fridays and public holidays 1000-all day; Saturday 24 hours; Sundays and holidays open until 0600 the next morning. The facility will not allow children aged 15 and under in after 1800 or 16-18 year olds after 2200).

Have a little extra time to spend in Odaiba? Check out our photo tour of Odaiba for some more ideas on things to do. 

For  more tips on traveling in Tokyo with kids, visit our article Getting Around Tokyo with the Family.

36 Hours in Tokyo: Touristy/Off the Beaten Path Mix has even more ideas for you!

June 13, 2016 0 comment
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Karaoke in Tokyo FI

Hi, I’m Tracy! I love karaoke!

It’s Friday night, you’re out with friends, and one of them brings up a crazy idea: “Hey! Let’s go to KARAOKE!!” We all love Karaoke, but can we tell the difference between the different types of karaoke shops? Which one offers more English songs? Which one offers a student discount? Which one doesn’t smell of “teen spirit”?

For those of you who love Karaoke and can actually tell the difference between the establishments, go forth and sing your heart out. But for those of you can’t, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in our comprehensive guide to the most popular karaoke spots in Tokyo.

 

Utahiroba (歌広場)

UtaHiroba watermark tokyo karaoke shopsOne of the most popular karaoke chains in Tokyo, Utahiroba can be easily identified by its logo—a big smiling pink face, usually wearing yellow gloves.

Utahiroba is regarded as one of the cheapest, major chain karaokes in Tokyo and many of their stores stay open 24hrs depending on location. Their food menu is quite extensive as well and you can expect the usual fried snacks and dishes that you can easily get at any low-end izakaya.

Utahiroba Information

Website (via Google Translate) ||| Facebook (via Google Translate) ||| Twitter (via Google Translate)

Store locator (via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥140 – ¥500 every 30 minutes, with all-you-can-drink (non-alcoholic) (depending on time of day and day of the week)
  • ¥1,000 – ¥1,980 for free-time (Open – 8:00pm / 11:00pm – 5:00am), with all-you-can-drink (non-alcoholic) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Time slots may be different depending on branches

Tips to save your money:

  • Making a reservation in advance can get you a discount of 10% off the room charge
  • Lunch Pack: ¥580 with a meal, all-you-can-drink (non-alcoholic) and 2-hour karaoke (Prices are different depending on branches) *Only for entering rooms before 2:00pm

 

Karaoke-kan (カラオケ館)

KaraokeKan_watermark tokyo karaoke shopsKaraoke-kan is another popular karaoke chain, with branches across Japan. Famous for its appearance in Lost in Translation with Bill Murray (the Shibuya branch, 6th floor), Karaoke-kan is one of the most recognizable karaokes in Japan due to their big blue neon signs with its name in red.

Karaoke-kan offers a variety of rooms, from VIP to party rooms, as well as an extensive variety of food and snacks including everything from “Italian” pizzas to Japanese snacks and desserts. A few of their locations even have a darts bar separate from the karaoke rooms if you want a break from hitting the high notes.

Karaoke-kan Information

Website (via Google Translate) |||  Facebook (via Google Translate) ||| YouTube

Store locator (via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥100 – ¥800 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1 drink is required
  • ¥1,200 – ¥1,800 for free-time (11:00pm – 5:00am) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1 drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches

 

BIG ECHO

BigEcho_Watermark tokyo karaoke shopsBIG ECHO is yet another popular sight on the streets of Tokyo. BIG ECHO offers a variety of services that a lot of chains seldom do. For example costumes for cosplay, free Wi-Fi, and popular anime songs for the anime lovers out there.

They also offer a large selection of rooms and often do “Colabo Rooms” (コラボルーム)where the entire room is themed in styles of popular anime, J-Pop or K-Pop groups, and even baseball teams.

BIG ECHO Information

Website (via Google Translate) ||| Facebook (via Google Translate) ||| Twitter (via Google Translate)

Store locator(via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥100 – ¥800 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1 drink is required
  • ¥1,200 – ¥3,500 for free-time (Open – 7:00pm / 11:00pm – Close) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1 drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches

Tips to save your money:

  • Showing a coupon with your smartphone can get you discounts (10% off room charge for 1-drink course, 5% off total bill for all-you-can-drink course)
  • Party Course: From ¥2,000 with a food course and 3-hour karaoke (Prices may be different depending on branches) *Order of minimum 1 drink or all-you-can-drink is required *Reserve in advance can get an extra 5%off discount

SHIDAX

Shidax watermark tokyo karaoke shops

SHIDAX is known to be a bit more upscale compared to the former three, and rightly so as SHIDAX specializes in more than just karaoke.

SHIDAX is a bit pricier, but you pay for what you get, as the food and drinks are of a higher quality. Rooms are also nicer, with less tobacco burn stains on the tables and comfier couches. That being said, SHIDAX caters more to a Japanese audience, therefore you might not be able to find your favorite underground title from your home country here.

Shidax Information

Website (via Google Translate) ||| Facebook(via Google Translate) ||| Twitter (via Google Translate)

Store locator (via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥200 – ¥500 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • ¥1,200 – ¥2,500 for free-time (Open – 7:00pm) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches

 

COTE D’ AZUR

Cote D'Azur watermark tokyo karaoke shops

This is another somewhat expensive, fashionable karaoke, with well-furnished modern rooms. The food menu here is restaurant quality.

From ‘Ladies Rooms’ to ‘VIP party rooms’ and even children play rooms with karaoke machines inside, Cote D’Azur can cater to a girls’ night out or husband and wife with children in tow. And when you want a break from singing you can always go throw some darts and even play billiards.

As with Shidax, Cote D’Azur caters to a more Japanese audience, so English song selections are rather limited.

Cote D’ Azur Information

Website (via Google Translate)

Store locator (Japanese)

Average price:

  • ¥70 – ¥500 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • ¥1,000 – ¥2,300 for free-time (6:00pm – 5:00am / 11:00pm –5:00am) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches

Tips to save your money:

  • Early bird discounts with a reservation in advance
  • Show a coupon with your smartphone and get discounts (20% off room charge for 1-drink course, 5% off total bill for all-you-can-drink plan or free-time course)
  • Party Course: From ¥2,500 with a food course and 3-hour karaoke (Prices maybe different depending on branches) *Reserving one week prior can get a ¥500 discount

 

FIORIA

Having 3 branches in the upscale districts in Tokyo – Roppongi, Ginza and Shinjuku, FIORIA is a restaurant provides luxury private rooms and high-quality food that fit your wants. Rooms are all furnished with different themes such as Botanical Saloon, Star Dust Saloon and Grotto Saloon.

My most recommended room is the SPA Saloon in Roppongi branch, where you can sing your favorite songs while enjoying a warm footbath. FIORIA is the most costly one in these 10 karaoke shops, but the food and environment worth the price with no doubt.

FIORIA Information

Website (Languages can be changed at the top right corner)

Store locator (Japanese; use the “English” button on top to switch languages)

Average price: From ¥3,500 for 2hours (depending on courses)

 

PASELA RESORTS (カラオケ パセラ)Pasela Resorts akihabara showa-dori tokyo karaoke shops

PASELA RESORTS has been rated highest in customer satisfaction among all Japan karaoke shops for 2 years. As what its name stated, PASELA RESORTS are furnished like tropical resorts and amenities are well prepared—just like what hotels do.

Akihabara Showa-Dori branch is definitely the most special one that rooms are designed in an early Showa style, where you can enjoy karaoke in retro Japan rooms like Sento (Japanese communal bath house) and old-style train.

Besides making you feel like being in a resort, “Colabo Rooms” of popular anime are also one of the most attractive points here. Listen, all fans of “Monster Hunters”, “Evangelion”, “Sengoku Basara”, “FF Series” and “Hakuoki”, coming here to take lots of photos and “Check in” on Facebook is a must-do in Japan!

PASELA RESORTS Information

Website (via Google Translate)

Store locator (via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥200 – ¥600 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • ¥1,500 – ¥2,800 for free-time (11:00pm – 7:00am / 10:00pm –5:00am) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches

 

MANEKINEKO (まねきねこ)

Manekineko tokyo karaoke shops

Another popular karaoke chain in Japan! MANEKINEKO is the cheapest karaoke chain in the morning time. Guess how much is it? It’s only 10yen (≈$0.09USD) every 30minutes! If you are going to burn off your calories or blow off your steam in the morning, come to MANEKINEKO!

MANEKINEKO Information

Website (via Google Translate)

Store locator (Languages can be changed at the top right corner)

Average price:

  • ¥10 – ¥500 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • ¥500 – ¥2,500 for free-time (8:00am – 8:00pm / 4:00pm – 12:00am / 10:00pm – 5:00am) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required *Only for ten first-come groups in each time slot *Time slots may be different depending on branches

 

ROUND1

round1 tokyo karaoke shopsRound1 is the amusement shop chain of the highest sales in Japan. Being a multi-purpose entertainment center, Round1 offers sport games like bowling, billiard, as well as karaoke. Round1 caters to families that you may bring your kids here to karaoke and game center after doing some exercises.

Round1 Information

Website (via Google Translate) ||| Facebook (via Google Translate) ||| Twitter(via Google Translate)

Store locator (Japanese)

Average price:

  • ¥200 – ¥600 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • ¥1000 – ¥2,200 for free-time (Entering between 6:00am – 1:00pm / 1:00pm – 6:00pm / 6:00pm – 1:00am / 1:00am – 6:00am) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Until 6:00am of the next day *Order of minimum 1drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches

Tips to save your money:

  • Morning free-time discount: Weekdays ¥580 (Entering between Open – 11:00am), Sat-Sun-Holidays ¥880 (Entering between 5:00am – 9:00am) *Until 6:00am of the next day *With all-you-can-drink *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • Weekdays free-time campaign: ¥780 (Entering between 11:00am – 1:00pm) *Until 6:00am of the next day *Order of minimum 1drink is required

 

Karaoke Adores (カラオケアドアーズ)

adores akihabara tokyo karaoke shops

Adores is one of the largest game center chains in Japan. The 2 karaoke shops under the company is similar to the Round1, where you can play arcade games, UFO catchers and sing karaoke in one-building.

The Akihabara branch is a little different from the other game centers in Akihabara that it is the only game center equipped with karaoke rooms. 6 concept rooms including “Princess Rooms”, “Gothic Rooms” and “Live Stage Rooms” are offered, catering to not only karaoke singers, but also the cosplayers who want to take beautiful photos in the rooms.You can also borrow free cosplay costumes of idols, maids or popular anime here!

Karaoke Adores Information

Website (via Google Translate) ||| Twitter (via Google Translate)

Monzennaka-cho branch (via Google Translate)

Akihabara branch (via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥90 – ¥800 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink may be required
  • ¥1,400 – ¥3,500 for free-time (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink may be required

Tips to save your money:

 

The times you’ve wandered into a strange karaoke building only to find out they don’t have or offer certain services are over. Go forth, and “rock the mic” at which Karaoke fits you best.
Happy Karaoke-ing!

June 12, 2016 0 comment
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Moving is stressful enough, but moving to a different country with young children can be even more harrowing. Where will they go to school? Who will they play with? What can we do on the weekends?

Several of our interns, staff members, and freelancers have either attended or currently have children attending one of the  International Schools in the Tokyo. Our picks for the top Tokyo international schools from preschool all the way through law school are–

Top Tokyo International Schools : The Top 5

 

The British School in Tokyo

In our opinion, the best international school in all of Japan. They accept students with British and Commonwealth passports, which means that students with two Japanese parents likely won’t be enrolled.

The British School has two campuses. Students up to Year 3 will attend the Shibuya campus, and high-level students will attend the Showa campus. There are rumors that a Roppongi campus will open by 2022.

Age Range: Nursery School through Sixth Form (ages 3-19)

Area: Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (Nursery to Year 3) and Showa (Year 4 to Year 13) (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

The American School in Japan

A popular choice for international couples, this large school is located in Chofu and offers bus service from central Tokyo. Emphasis is on individuals rather than groups, as befitting the source country.

Age Range: Nursery School to High School (ages 3-18). Offers an English Immersion program.

Area: Roppongi and Chofu, Tokyo (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting).

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

 

Tokyo International School

Next to Temple University’s Japan campus, TIS is another top school regarded to be the equal of the British School in regards to academics. And they are just as hard to get into; they have strict entry criteria that ensures that only the best students get in. They are centrally located in the Minato  ward and have a small campus (though larger than the British School and Nishimachi).

Age Range: Kindergarten through 8th Grade (ages 5-15)

Area: Minami-Azabu, Tokyo (map and contact information available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

Nishimachi International School

This is a top school for producing bilingual students–homework is given both in English and Japanese. Although they have a small campus, their longstanding commitment to bilingual education makes them a desirable school. The student body has a high percentage of Japanese mothers.

Age Range: Kindergarten through 9th Grade (ages 5-16)

Area: Minami-Azabu, Tokyo (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

International School of the Sacred Heart

Although boys can attend the kindergarten program, Sacred Heart is one of the top Tokyo international schools for girls that is located on the Sacred Heart University campus in Hiro-o.

Age Range: Kindergarten through High School (ages 5-18)

Area: Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (Map available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

 

Other Top Tokyo International Schools

Aoba-Japan International School

AOBA International school has two campuses –  one in Meguro Ward, near Daikanyama and One in Nerima Ward. While Meguro campus is very small (two houses converted to school), the Nerima campus has large area, as it was converted from a regular Japanese elementary school.

Age Range: Kindergarten through High School (ages 5-18)

Area: Hikarigaoka and Meguro, Tokyo (Maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

 

Canadian International School of Tokyo

Age Range: Preschool through High School (K3 – 12th grade)

Area: Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information

Happy Days International Preschool

Age Range: Preschool (15 months to 6 years old)

Area: Ebisu, Tokyo (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information | Tuition

India International School in Japan

Age Range: Kindergarten through High School (ages 5-18)

Area: Tokyo and Yokohama (Maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

 

K International School Tokyo

Age Range: Kindergarten through High School (K1-12th grade)

Area: Koto, Tokyo (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition (2016-2017)

KAIS International School

Age Range: Elementary through High School (1st-12th grade)

Area: Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

Kanto International Senior High School

Age Range: Senior High School (9th-12th grade)

Area: Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information

Lycee Francais International de Tokyo

Age Range: Kindergarten through High School (ages 5-18)

Area: Takinogawa Kita-ku (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information

 

Montessori School of Tokyo

Age Range: Preschool to Middle School (2-14 years old).

Area: Minato-ku, Tokyo (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

 

Poppins Active Learning International School

Age Range: Preschool (11 months to 6 years)

Area: Ebisu, Tokyo (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

 

Sesame International Preschool

Age Range: Preschool (6 months to 6 years old)

Area: Hiroo, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information

St. Mary’s International School

One of the top Tokyo International schools for boys. There is a high percentage of Japanese students, and a focus on Japanese culture and language.

Age Range: Kindergarten to 12th grade (ages 5-18)

Area: Setagaya-ku (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information

 

Summerhill International School

Age Range: Preschool (15 months to 6 years old), daycare for babies 3 months to 12 months old. Conducts Japanese classes daily.

Area: Minato-ku, Tokyo (map available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information

Temple University, Japan Campus

Age Range: College (Undergrad through Masters/Law School available). A branch of the main campus in Philadelphia, PA.

Area: Minato-ku, Tokyo (maps available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information

 

Willowbrook International School

Age Range: Preschool (15 months to 5 years old). Offers both an English program and a dual immersion (bilingual) program.

Area: Minato-ku, Tokyo (map available; please make an appointment before visiting)

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

Yokohama International School

Age Range: Early Learning, Elementary through High School (ages 3-18)

Area: Yokohama (35 minutes from Shinagawa station in Tokyo, map available; please make an appointment before visiting.

Website ||| Contact Information ||| Tuition

April 27, 2016 0 comment
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Ueno Zoo is a top-notch Tokyo destination great for families and couples alike. It’s easy to get to, it’s not expensive, and they have pandas! The Zoo is also in Ueno Park, which is home to many of Tokyo’s other cultural attractions (such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum).

But what if you’re new to Tokyo? You don’t speak the language, you’re afraid of getting lost, and you’re not even sure if you can get tickets once you get there? Well, that’s where we come in! My trusty camera-woman and I went to the zoo and filmed the entire process. All you have to do is watch the video, and there’s no way you’ll get lost!

 

GETTING THERE

Ueno Station is on the JR Yamanote Line. Once you arrive at Ueno, you will depart via the Ueno Park Exit. Once outside, you will cross the street to enter Ueno Park proper. From there, the Zoo is only a few minute’s walk, and you will see the entrance almost immediately after entering the park.

GETTING TICKETS

The very front of the zoo has a number of electronic ticket machines, similar to the ones at the train stations. Here, you can select English (or a number of other language options) and buy tickets. Adults (age 16+) are 600 yen, Students (age 13-15) are 200 yen, and children 12 and under are free! After that, you get your ticket stamped, go inside, and get your English-language map of the Zoo. And now you’re ready for your day!

Ueno Zoo, Tokyo Japan

…AND THE REST

Go and see the pandas right away. They are to the right of the Main Entrance Gate, and that line isn’t going to get any shorter. Beyond that, let your map and your interests be your guide. Don’t miss the Children’s Zoo–you may get the chance to pet some bunnies and guinea pigs!

Ueno Zoo, Tokyo Japan

As you can see on the Zoo Map, the Zoo itself is split into East and West Gardens, connected by a bridge. Ueno Zoo can be quite a hike, so be ready with your water bottles and snacks. If necessary, you can rent strollers (300 yen) or acquire a wheelchair (free) at any of the entrances. If your feet get too tired, you can take the monorail back and forth between the Gardens (150 yen for age 13+, 80 yen for age 12 and under).

There are no language barriers at the Ueno Zoo–every exhibit, sign, etc. is subtitled in English. Even if you are struggling with the local lingo, you’ll find no problems here. And if you are studying the language, let the zoo help you learn the names of the animals in Japanese!

Jackass Penguin Sign Ueno Zoo Tokyo

Even better, the Zoo can be your gateway to the other attractions at Ueno Park, which are just as English-friendly and easy to get to. So don’t just sit home on another long weekend! Plan your trip to the Ueno Zoo today!

Ueno Zoo Information

Ueno Zoo (English site)

5 minute walk from Ueno JR station (click on the map pin for directions via Google Maps)

 

Hours: 09:30-17:00, closed Mondays (or Tuesday if Monday is a public holiday). Last tickets sold at 16:00.

Ticket Prices: 600 yen for adults (age 16+), 300 yen for seniors (age 65+), 200 yen for students (age 13-15, free if living in or attending school in Tokyo), Free for all children age 12 and under. Does not include concessions or souvenirs.

“Why Go?”: It’s an inexpensive, easy outing for families and lone travelers. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Not to mention pandas, and penguins, and lemurs, and…

Rhino Ueno Zoo Tokyo

Ueno Zoo, Tokyo Japan

 

February 11, 2016 0 comment
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Matsuri Featured Image, Tokyo, japan

If you’re in Japan for any length of time, you’ll see it. Period costumes. Beautiful ladies in equally-beautiful kimonos. Perhaps someone dressed as an oni, scaring children into behaving. Packs of drunk Japanese people in festival clothes yelling, bouncing, and carrying some huge object down the street. And streets lined with food booths. You’ve wandered into the middle of the big street fair/party known as a matsuri!

Everyone seems to be having a good time. But what about you? Finding yourself in the middle of all of this might be a bit awkward. Is there something you should be doing? Or maybe something you are supposed to be wearing? Are you supposed to help with carrying that huge object?

Don’t worry! I’ve been to more than a few matsuri, so I can help! So let us eat, drink, and be fat and drunk, because it’s time to get in on the block party to end all block parties! And if you’re lucky, you might even get press-ganged into carrying a mikoshi!

Portable Shrine, Tokyo, Japan

In this article, I’m going to use my local dual-matsuri as a guide. The Kita-No-Tenno-Sai Matsuri (Shinagawa Shrine) and the Minami-No-Tenno-Sai Matsuri (Ebara Shrine) combine yearly to form one giant sprawling matsuri (hereafter called the Shinagawa Matsuri) for everyone to enjoy!

 

What is a Matsuri?

Matsuri” is just the Japanese word for “festival.” As opposed to holidays, matsuri are not held on specific dates throughout Japan–each neighborhood schedules and holds their own matsuri. Matsuri are usually held anywhere from late spring to fall, and it is possible to attend several matsuri throughout the year.

There are many large and famous matsuri. The larger festivals are usually visitor-friendly, but you should go with a Japanese friend in order to get the full experience. But the smaller ones–that’s what we’re getting at. No big touristy stuff for you!

Matsuri Preparation

Not all matsuri are the same. Yes, there are common elements, but thinking that each one is a carbon-copy of the other is sort of like thinking that Halloween, Christmas, and St. Patrick’s Day are all celebrated the same way. Each neighborhood does their matsuri their own way–what may be a central element in one festival may be completely missing from another. Even for the smaller ones, having a Japanese friend (preferably a local) will help you navigate the peculiarities of a matsuri.

But even if you don’t have a Japanese friend, don’t worry! Matsuri is a fun time, and everyone is in a good partying mood. If nothing else, you can always come sample the food booths and people-watch. Just be friendly and not only will you have a good time, you’ll probably make new friends!

Matsuri, Tokyo, Japan

The Mikoshi

Many matsuri are centered around neighborhood Shinto jinja, or shrines. During the Shinagawa Matsuri, mikoshi (portable Shinto shrines that look like miniature temples) are carried throughout the neighborhood. Shrines house the kami (gods or spirits) for the duration of the festival, and the locals celebrate matsuri by carrying the shrines through the streets, drumming and chanting and bouncing the whole way. In between bouts of eating and drinking, that is.

Portable shrine, Tokyo, Japan

And for the Shinagawa Matsuri, “portable” is used in the very loosest sense of the word. These shrines are huge and very heavy, and they require a dozen or more people to carry. And you could be one of those people!

 

Getting Dressed for the Occasion

If you’re just going to matsuri to people-watch or for the food booths, you don’t need to wear anything special. You can come just as you are! You’ll see plenty of adults and children (and more than a few pampered dogs) in festival clothes or kimonos, but it’s not required.

Kids in matsuri clothing, Tokyo, Japan

But if you want to help carry a mikoshi, you’ll have to get dressed for the part. Please note that you cannot just jump into the mikoshi-carrying mix–if you want to participate, let someone in festival clothes know (either through your own language skills, that of your Japanese friend, or the tried and true “point at my own chest and make the up-and-down shoulder-lifting motion”). If it’s okay, they will likely lend you a hanten (a light jacket) to wear.

If you are really lucky, you may be able to borrow a full set of festival clothes, called matsuri-issho. These clothes consist of a light jacket (known as a hanten), a pair of trousers, an undershirt, and a pair of tabi boots. The hanten is held in place with a sash, and there is a small man-purse (or just a purse, for the ladies) for your money. I live in Shinagawa, so I bought my own set of matsuri-issho (pictured). But if you’re just visiting, a borrowed hanten or matsuri-issho will be just fine.

Matsuri-issho, Festival clothing

Carrying the Mikoshi

Now that you are properly attired, get ready to get in there and lend your back to the cause! A few cultural notes–

  • Be sure to ask before joining a mikoshi carry in progress. Most matsuri are rather casual affairs, but some mikoshi have significant religious significance and are not to be touched by outsiders. In truth, there are very few mikoshi under that sort of restriction, but it pays to be sure.
  • In the past, women were strictly forbidden from touching certain mikoshi. This is not completely true today; some places are fine with it, some places are not, and other places allow women to touch some shrines but not others. As always, check with the locals before touching a mikoshi.
  • Other traditions may apply in different areas. My wife remembers a time when people were not allowed to look down at a mikoshi (“looking down on a god from above”) during the Shinagawa Matsuri. Windows over street level had to be closed and bridges over rivers were cleared when a mikoshi passed underneath on a boat. Other locales may have similar traditions, so please be observant and do as the locals do.

Once you get in, brace yourself! Mikoshi can be very heavy. Most people simply shoulder the load, but I always wuss out and use a towel to cushion the wooden beam. Also, you want to stand as straight as you possibly can and keep the wooden beam on your shoulder. Not only is this the easiest way to carry your part of the load, it also prevents back injuries. This may be easier said than done–I am 5’8″, which is about average Japanese size. If you’re one of those really tall people, make sure you get in next to people who are about your size.

A few other things might happen during your stint as a porter of the gods. At the Shinagawa Matsuri, people yell, “Washoi!” when carrying the shrine. The closest translation to English would be something like, “Heave ho!” and is used as encouragement to your fellow mikoshi carriers. Feel free to join the chant!

Another thing you may encounter is a difference in mikoshi-carrying styles. The Shinagawa Matsuri uses the Jōnan-style carry, in which mikoshi carriers lift from both the parallel and perpendicular beams that support the mikoshi palanquin. The mikoshi generally travels forward, but often stops and bounces, moves from side to side, and sometimes may go backwards. In other places, you might encounter the Edomae-style carry, in which the mikoshi carriers stay on the parallel beams and move forward at a measured, marching pace.

There are other styles, but these are the two most commonly seen in Tokyo. I am looking forward to one day seeing a Kenka Matsuri, such as the one in Nada. Kenka means “fight” or “conflict”, and in a Kenka Matsuri, mikoshi shrines “fight” by crashing into each other. Exactly how this honors the gods is somewhat mysterious, but it appears that even spiritual beings enjoy a good demolition derby. You may want to stay away from these; people get injured and even killed while participating in a Kenka Matsuri.

Another thing that might occur is something I call the “bouncing challenge.” In the bouncing challenge, the person on the other end of your beam will bounce his end up and down, which will cause your beam to smash up and down into your shoulder. This is painful! The only thing you can really do is hold on tight and keep your shoulder to the beam to lessen the impact. Once they stop, you can respond in kind, but you may want to consider that you might not know that other person, nor how they will take a dose of their own medicine. Best to just leave well enough alone.

Finally, you do not need to carry the mikoshi for the full duration of its travel. You can take breaks, rotating responsibility for the load with other participants. Just be sure to give nearby revelers an indication that you intend to bail–it’s considered bad form to just leave your part of the carry without warning, suddenly shifting the weight to someone else’s shoulders. Once you’re out, you can rub your sore shoulders, walk along for awhile and then rejoin, or move on and do something else. If you borrowed a hanten, be sure to return it before you leave

 

…and the Rest of It

Even if you don’t get the chance to carry a mikoshi, there is still plenty to do at a matsuri. There are lots of people to see, kimonos to admire, and many kinds of carnival-style games for children and adults. Street entertainers perform at some matsuri–I have seen trained monkeys, taiko drum players, Vegas-style street magicians, and even a karaoke contest. Stick around and watch, and have some coins ready for when the hat gets passed around.

And then there is the food. There are so many good things to eat during matsuri, and you’ll want to try them all. You can choose cultural favorites like chilled cucumbers or grilled squid on a stick, old standbys like karage (fried chicken) and shaved ice, or even chow down on imported ideas such as pizza pockets and cotton candy. My personal favorite is the yakkitori-style meats, such as steak and salted pork. And you can wash it all down with one of the many nearby beer stands.

Matsuri food stalls octopus, Tokyo, Japan

Octopus, Matsuri food stall, Tokyo, Japan

Meat on a stick, Matsuri Food stall, Tokyo, Japan

So there you have it–a basic how-to guide for enjoying a mikoshi matsuri in Japan! There may be regional or neighborhood differences for each matsuri, or maybe even a restriction or two. But matsuri time is supposed to be a good time, for both the locals and for visitors. So get your pocket money and your camera ready, get out there, and have a great time!

Shrine during a matsuri, Tokyo, Japan

 

August 28, 2015 0 comment
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Odaiba Onsen Featured Images, Odaiba, Tokyo

Onsens in Japan date back thousands of years. Thousands of these hot springs can be found throughout the country, but the cultural barriers to entry can seem high to outsiders. Where do you go? What do you do? Do you really have to get naked around a bunch of strangers?

Never fear! I have been to several onsens throughout the country, and in this article I’ll show you the do’s and don’ts of the onsen experience. For this article, I use the Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Tokyo. Not only is it a great onsen, it is easy to get to from any number of local train stations and hotels.

And should you decide to visit the Oedo Onsen Monogatari, Voyagin can help you out with a discount!

A Note on Tattoos

Japanese people have an aversion to body art due to its long association with criminal elements. Some onsens outside of Tokyo allow them, and others will allow you to enter if you have some way of covering them up (usually with a flesh-toned bandage).

The Oodeo Onsen Monogatari does not allow tattoos at all. Yes, they are aware that not everyone who has a tattoo is a criminal. Your tattoos may very well be innocuous (your kid’s names, etc) or have some deep, personal meaning. But sorry, you will not be admitted. Please do not be the ugly foreigner who shows up and makes a scene by arguing with the staff.

NOTE: I have heard that some people have gotten around this rule by covering up with a t-shirt or leggings, but you will still not be able to get into the baths. And if you can’t go to the baths, why bother going at all? Also, I don’t know what happens to you if you get caught, but I’m sure it will cause quite a bit of embarrassment.

 

Money Matters

Onsen trips can be expensive. The Oedo Onsen Monogatari has a reasonable price of entry (2500-2900 yen per adult, 1000 yen for children ages 4-12, under 4 is free), which includes the bath, the yukata robe (more on that below), towels, and facility usage. But that’s not all–there are plenty of good things to eat and drink, games for the kids to play, and wonderfully relaxing massages.

You do not carry money at Oedo Onsen Monogatari–they have a computerized system that keeps track of your purchases via a barcoded bracelet that you will receive once you go inside. Therein lies the danger. Since money isn’t changing hands, you may have no idea how much you have spent until you get to the checkout counter. For your estimation purposes, my last trip with my wife and son cost 12,000 yen (baths, food and drink, etc). Make sure you have enough to cover your trip!

 

Other Things To Consider

Medical conditions and pregnancy. If you have high blood pressure, are pregnant, or are otherwise susceptible to high temperatures, complications could arise from using the baths. Please check with your doctor before you leave home if you are thinking of going to an onsen.

Bring a change of clothes. You will want clean underwear after you leave the baths, and clean clothes to change back into once you leave the onsen.

Know your height in centimeters, so you can get an appropriately-sized yukata (below).

 

The Oedo Onsen Monogatari Experience

Once you enter the onsen, you have to take off your shoes and place them in one of the lockers to the left of the entrance. You can wear socks if you want, but make sure they are clean and not-holey ones. Keep the key, so you can get your shoes back at the end of your visit.

Next, you will check in at the service desk. Here you will give your credit card number and you will receive a barcoded bracelet that doubles as locker key and wallet. The barcode bracelet is used to pay for food, drinks, and other extras inside the onsen area.

The third step is to get a yukata from the counter. A yukata is a thin robe, worn with a sash, which you will wear for the duration of your trip to the onsen. As it is with the case of tattoos, this is not negotiable–this is what is worn inside the onsen area. Go to the counter and choose your size (in centimeters), a pattern, and one of the sashes. Oh, and make sure you get one that is the correct size. Too long and you are wearing a wedding gown that trails everywhere. Too small, and everyone will wonder where the flood is.

 

Wearing Your Yukata

At Oedo Onsen Monogatari, there are separate changing rooms for men (blue curtain) and women (red curtain). The changing room is essentially a locker room. Find the locker that matches your key, and you will be ready to change into your yukata.

Wearing a yukata is just like wearing a bathrobe. When you put it on, you will cross the left side of the robe over the right. Ladies have additional strings on the inside of their yukata in order to prevent “wardrobe malfunctions.”

Why is it left over right? Well, the explanation I got was that swordsmen drew their katana with their right hand from their left hip, and having your yukata on right-over-left could possibly entangle your sword hand, which would likely get you killed.

“But I don’t have a sword,” I said. “Also, I’m left-handed. If I did get into a quick-draw-and-slash contest, I would be just as screwed.”

“Shut up and put it on right,” was my wife’s answer.

There is another reason. Wearing the yukata right-over-left is reserved for the dead at their funeral. No one will actually think that you are dead, but it is a social faux pas. On the other hand, you now know how to identify Japanese zombies should the dead rise during your vacation. If you forget which side goes over which, there are plenty of signs in the changing area to remind you.

Traditionally, people wore nothing at all under their yukata, but modernity has allowed for some modifications. First, you will wear underwear beneath your robe. Ladies, a bra is also appropriate. If you like, you can also wear a t-shirt and socks with your yukata. If you intend to go to the baths immediately, put on your fresh gear. You don’t want to take a bath only to put your dirty underwear back on.

Also, there is a small pocket on the inside to keep your cell phone or camera. You can take a camera inside the onsen, just be mindful of where you are taking pictures. In the common areas, it’s ok, but (for obvious reasons) no pictures are allowed in the locker rooms or bath areas.

 

To the Baths!

First, please refrain from taking a bath when you are dead drunk (see sign).

Thank you for not embarrassing the rest of the visitors. Now lets get to it.

Once you leave the locker room, you enter the common area, where all of the food booths, games, etc are located. Oedo Onsen Monogatari is built like a miniature hot springs town–in other onsens, all of these food stands, bars, games, etc. aren’t this close together. To get to the baths, go left and follow the signs.

Older onsens were mixed-sex bathing, but those have fallen out of fashion. Oedo Onsen Monogatari splits the baths into men’s and women’s sides. For this portion, please realize that I am a guy, so I only know what’s in the men’s baths. (My wife assures me that it is essentially the same over on their side, but you never know…)

After entering the bath area, you will first enter another locker room. Right inside the door you will receive two towels–one small, one large. With these, choose a locker and strip down. Everything goes into this locker–your yukata, underwear, socks, cell phone, and even your bar code bracelet. You cannot wear any clothing at all in the onsen–no shorts, no swim trunks, whatever. Naked as the day you were born, as the saying goes. The locker has a key on a plastic band. This goes around your wrist, and is the only exception to the “total nudity” rule.

The larger towel you got at the entrance also goes into the locker, because it is for drying yourself off after you get out of the bath. The smaller one (a washcloth, for Americans) is what you take into the onsen with you. If you are modest, you can use it to block the view of your junk, which no one cares about anyway. If you want to go like a native, you’ll use it to wash your face and dry your sweat in the baths. Please do not dip this cloth into the bath water–it is considered unsanitary to do so. While in the water, you can put it to the side or fold it up and put it on your head, just like in the cartoons.

 

Once Inside the Baths…

The first thing you do in the actual bath section is to take a shower. It may sound odd, but the purpose of the onsen is to relax, not bathe. You are going to soak here, and hopefully not in a bath of oily scum left by previous bathers. Inside the Oedo Onsen Monogatari, there are two options. Once you enter, there is a traditional “bowl bath”, in which you simply douse yourself in water. If you look behind you, there is a Western-style shower. Either way works.

If you are especially grimy, please use one of the shower stations that are on the left side of the indoor section of the baths. The stations all come with a stool, body soap, shampoo, conditioner, and a bowl and shower head combo. Get your pretty man on! Just make sure you get all of the soap off of your body before going to the baths. That’s another faux pas to avoid.

After that, there are several pools to choose from. They vary in temperature, as per a nearby thermometer. There are baths, and there is even is a whirlpool. Not bad, right? Be aware of the temperature and don’t force yourself to get into a bath if it is too hot.

And once you are there, relax. Nice, isn’t it? Some people bathe alone, and others gather in groups and chit-chat. If come by yourself, you will probably stay that way. One time during one of my earlier trips, some guy sat next to me to practice his naked English, which was rather awkward. But that was just that one time, out of dozens of trips.

 

Nude in the Great Outdoors

After your initial stride into the waters of a Broader Mindset, see if you can go outside. Yes, there are bathing pools outside, along with benches and other spots where you can lie down and flap about in the breeze. The high wall surrounding the area protects your privacy, and will protect the general public from your bad jokes (Q. Why did the bald man go outside at the onsen? A. He wanted to feel the wind in his hair). You can soak in the outside pool or take a nap if you like. Beware of sunburn on your sensitive bits.

Once you are done soaking, take another shower at one of the shower stations before exiting the bath area. You’ll leave the onsen feeling fresh, relaxed, and very clean. Time to see what else is here!

 

The Foot Baths

The foot baths at Oedo Onsen Monogatari are outside, in the Japanese gardens. Here, there is a long, winding walking pool. If you are feeling bold, hike up your yukata and wade right in!

I have to admit, this is not my favorite thing to do. The water is nice, but the walking path (both in the water and on the dry parts of the path) are studded with rocks. The rocks are supposed to “massage” your soles, for increased blood circulation or some other ancient Eastern medicine reason. I think that the larger rocks are ok for this, but walking on the smaller rocks is like finding missing Lego while going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Painful! Overall, I’d rather just sit on one of the benches that line either side of the pool and dangle my feet in the water.

There is another peculiar pool in this area, full of tiny fish. For a fee, you can soak your feet in this pool, and the fish will eat the dead skin off of whatever they can reach. The very idea sorta grosses me out, but some people seem to like it.

The Rest of Your Onsen Experience

The Oedo Onsen Monogatari is a great place to go for your first onsen experience. It is foreigner-friendly and easy to get around. All the signs are duplicated in English, and most of the staff can help you in areas related to their expertise.

There are lots of things to eat and drink. Just about every Japanese dish is represented here at one food stand or another, along with desserts (I liked the strawberry ice topped with condensed milk). We went with a group and had lunch with them (pictured), but you don’t have to do that. Just find what you like, point at the menu, and use your barcode bracelet to pay. Easy!

And there are other things to do. Near the bathing area is the spa, where you can get everything from a massage to skin exfoliation to a reflexology treatment. There are plenty of carnival-style games for the kids (and me, because I like throwing ninja stars). There is even a reclining chair area for you to take a nap, in case all of that relaxing wears you out.

And don’t forget to go to the gift shop before you leave!

In Short…

Going to an onsen is one of those “very Japanese” things to do, and will make for a great story when you return home. I used the Oedo Onsen Monogatari as a template for onsen trips–if you go somewhere else, the particulars may vary, but probably not by much. Also, Oedo Onsen Monogatari is inside Tokyo and is easy to get to through any number of methods (see below). If you are staying at a hotel, they can likely arrange a trip for you. Highly recommended!

Still not sure if you want to go to Oedo Onsen Monogatari? Maybe Voyagin’s discount can help you decide!

Oedo Onsen Monogatari

Oedo Onsen Monogatari Location Information

Website (English) | Facebook (customer reviews and photos)

Access: There are multiple ways to get to Oedo Onsen Monogatari, best explained at http://daiba.ooedoonsen.jp/en/#access

Hours of Operation: Open 7 days a week, 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m (next day), last entry: 7 a.m.

“Why Go?”: For a relaxing soak, good food, and an unforgettable experience!

Click on one of the tags below to find other experiences in Tokyo–

July 17, 2015 0 comment
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