Shopping at Nakano Broadway

Hello from a cloudy Tokyo! Yesterday a storm came through and dumped a large quantity of rain on the city and surrounding areas, which meant one thing… shopping! We went over to Nakano Broadway in the afternoon since it was indoors and out of the rain.

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It’s a great little shopping center with plenty to see. Mandarake operates most of the stores in the 3rd and 4th floor and many of the other shops deal largely in second hand goods. It’s typically less crowded than Akihabara and is completely indoors. Since it’s a bit less traveled, you can often find some interesting little gems!

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Food of Japan – Part 3: Kyoto

In the last two installments, I covered most of the food that I came across in Tokyo. On Friday morning, we departed for Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan. After a two and a half hour ride on the Shinkansen and settling into our hotel, we decided to venture out and find some dinner. There wasn’t much in terms of restaurants around our hotel and we ended up wandering some of the neighborhood streets. We eventually stumbled upon a local street festival, filled with all sorts of tasty goodies! Excuse the quality of the photos, I only had my cell phone camera on me at this point in time. 😦

Party time!

The neatest part about the festival was that it was for the locals, by the locals. We were probably the only tourists around, so there were a lot of really interesting things to look at.

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Reflections on Japan

It has been a week since I came back from Japan and I’ve had some time to reflect on my experiences there. I got a good dose of the day to day operations in one of the largest cities in the world, as well as a large helping of Japanese culture.

Busy Shibuya crossing

There was a lot to learn and absorb, so here are some of things I took away from the trip…

  • There is an expected code of behavior for everyone who is out in public: No one does anything to inconvenience another human being
    • Everyone is extremely courteous
    • Drivers let pedestrians cross in front of them at the cross walk
    • There is almost no litter anywhere
    • Things like smoking in the streets is almost non-existent; everyone uses designated smoking areas
    • Despite the courteousness of society, the Japanese have almost no sense of personal space – they will cram onto trains, busses, elevators, shops, and try to use space most efficiently
      • Because of this, there are train cars specifically for women to use during peak times
  • The whole of society is very rule abiding
    • Almost no one crosses the street when the light is red, even if there are no cars coming
    • Drivers are conscientious about the speed they are driving, each lane on a motorway has an implied speed that everyone travels at
  • I felt extremely safe in Tokyo, I had no fear of being pick pocketed, mugged, or otherwise fall victim to crime
  • No one talks on the phone on public transport (trains, busses) as it is considered extremely rude and infringes on others’ senses (texting is the norm on trains)
    • I’ve seen conversations end as people come on to the train with “I’m getting on the train, I’ll call you later or text you”
    • Those that do have to take a call on the train do so in a very discrete manner
  • Every single store clerk, from major department store to street vendor greets you when you come in… “irrashaimase~!”
  • It’s pretty easy to get help in a store or train station, just yell out “sumimasen!” and someone will typically come to tend to your needs
  • Store clerks are very transparent during a transaction, they will acknowledge that you’ve given them money, count the amount out loud, announce that you will be receiving change, and then proceed to count out the amount of change out loud
  • It is still a very cash oriented society, most places (save for the big department stores, big electronics retailers, fancy restaurants, and hotels) do not take credit card
  • Everything is extremely punctual – the train system is almost always on time to the minute… you can set your watch by it
    • You can plan a rail journey from one side of the country to the other, make multiple connections, and know exactly when you will arrive
    • In 2003, the average delay on the entire Shinkansen network was 6 seconds (source)
  • Technology, while pervasive, doesn’t stand out
    • Mobile devices are built into everyone’s daily lives
    • Devices aren’t necessarily more advanced than what is in the rest of the world, but the infrastructure and capabilities are
    • Most phones are connected to data, but I saw very few full featured smart phones
      • Flip phones are extremely popular
      • Data is extremely pervasive, and easy to access on a mobile device
      • With something as simple as a phone number, someone could look up all the relevant information about a business (such as a hotel)
    • Broadband speeds are pretty amazing, wired and wireless; the wireless broadband is faster than my home internet connection, while costing the same or less
    • GPS units, on the other hand, are very advanced… streetview with rendered buildings and landmarks, ftw!
  • Being a tourist (especially somewhere like Tokyo) is extremely easy; If you are recognized as a foreigner, the locals understand and will try to help you out
    • Conversely, if you look Asian (like I do), it is assumed you speak Japanese… this caused no end of problems and amusement in stores
    • Many restaurants in Tokyo (and other tourist hot-spots) have English or picture menus for tourists to use

That’s all for now, I think. I’ll finish this up with one of my favorite souvenirs from Tokyo: printouts of all the local rail trips I took using my Suica.

Suica!

As you can see, I’d been to Akihabara a few times, though my favorite of all was when I went to Washinomiya. The rail fare for that trip cost about 1000 yen in total one way.

A day in Kyoto – Shrine visits

Greetings from 34000 feet above above the Pacific Ocean! Please excuse the poor quality of the picture, the built in camera on my netbook can only do so much in such low light!

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It has been an awesome trip culminating in an eventful side trip into Kyoto. With Saturday being the only full day we had in the historic capital of Japan, we set to work visiting several shrines in the area. Our first stop was the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is most famous for it’s numerous gates along the walkway built into the mountain.

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Since schools are in session on Saturday in Japan, we ran into several large groups of students out on school trips. The main street leading up to the main entrance was crowded with locals and students. Compared to some of the other places we visited that day, there were far fewer tourists in the area. First though, a quick stop for some breakfast at a small restaurant along the way.

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Tokyo Day 6 – Ghibli Museum in Mitaka

It looks like it’ll be another cool and cloudy day in Tokyo today. There wasn’t any sign of rain when I woke up this morning, so hopefully it’ll be a dry day for our excursion into Saitama.

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Breakfast this morning consisted of a choco coronet that I bought yesterday in Nakano along with some coffee in a can from the vending machine. Jiji decided to join me as well this morning and he enjoyed looking out the window at the commuters going to and from the train station.

Speaking of Jiji, he decided to come home with me after I saw him at the gift shop at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. It was a bit of a journey to get out there, but it was well worth it.

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Tokyo day 3 – Harajuku and Shibuya

It’s another beautiful day in Tokyo! After yesterday’s entry, I went out for a walk to take some photos around the hotel. What resulted is a beautiful 314 photo Photosynth set of the plaza outside of Shinjuku station…

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It was off to have a quick lunch at the station and then off to the Harajuku area. It’s known as one of the trendier districts in Tokyo and is full of boutiques, clothing shops, and some of the most interesting fashion I’ve ever seen. Sundays are typically the day when the younger folk get dressed up and go hang out in the streets. Cosplayers are no exception here, and they typically hang out on the bridge next to the station…

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Tokyo day 2 – Tokyo Game Show

Good morning from Shinjuku! I’m happy to report that the jet lag is slowly going away, and I slept most of the way through 6am this morning after going to bed around 10pm. After a quick run to the convenience store for some breakfast items (I had no idea what I bought, to be honest), I’m ready to do a quick rundown of yesterday’s events!

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Yes, that is Saber Lily, more on her later. ^.^

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Counting down to Japan

With a little over a week left until I leave for Japan, everything is falling in place. I got an email a few days ago from my travel companion with the following picture attached:

TGS tickets!

Thanks to his friend in Tokyo, we have our tickets for Tokyo Game Show 2009, which opens to the public on Saturday! I’m a bit sad that I won’t be able to make it there for the industry keynotes, but the public exhibition should still be awesome with all sorts of interesting characters showing up. I wonder if I can sneak myself into the Microsoft booth using my badge… ^.^;;

Our itinerary for the week has pretty much been nailed down as well, with only a few loose ends to work on. Here’s a rough outline:

  • Thursday – Depart United States, land Friday late afternoon JST. Go to hotel and crash.
  • Saturday – Tokyo Game Show
  • Sunday – Harajuku
  • Monday – Lunch with some Microsoft Japan folks, exploring Tokyo
  • Tuesday – Akihabara
  • Wednesday – Saitama for Washinomiya Shrine, Do As Infinity concert (hopefully)
  • Thursday – Ghibli Museum
  • Friday – Train to Kyoto in AM, do sightseeing
  • Saturday – More sightseeing in Kyoto
  • Sunday – Train to Narita and return to US
  • Monday – Taking day off from work to recover

It’s going to be a very packed trip, I think, and I’m getting pretty psyched about it. With our hotels booked and itinerary made, all that’s really left for me to do is pack and get on the plane next week!

Planning a trip to Japan – Part 2

Just as a quick update to my last entry about Japan, I now have confirmed dates and have booked my plane tickets! I’ll be leaving Charlotte on September 24 (arriving on the 25) and leaving October 4. Now that my airfare has been booked, it’s really going to happen! All that is left is to find a hotel, plan an itinerary, and pack.

…now, which camera equipment should I take, and should I bring a Figma along…