Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tokyo Part 2 - Ueno

After a week in Hakuba, we headed back to Tokyo to spend another week there. This time, we stayed in Shinjuku at Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku.

Shinjuku has a huge train station that most train lines run through, so for us it was the most convenient place to stay. The hotel was only a 5 minute walk (as opposed to a 20 minute walk from last year) which made it easy to get to and from the station with our luggage.

We went across to Takashimaya Times Square to our favourite little Mexican restaurant that we discovered the trip before and had a really good meal. If you are anywhere near there and feel like Mexican, the restaurant is called El Torito. The prices are standard (cheaper than Aus) and the food is really good.

On to Ueno...We spent two days in Ueno because we didn't get everything done that we wanted to on the first day we went there. If you visit Japan and want recommendations on where to go, I would absolutely recommend Ueno.

In Ueno there is a huge park that is surrounded by museums, cafes, restaurants, shopping centres and a zoo. The Ueno zoo only costs 600 Yen per adult (about $6.50). I originally thought the zoo would be quite small but was pleasantly surprised at just how huge it was. There were so many animals I'd never seen before, so it was a really good day for me.
A big lonely bison
The duck house
Ueno also has a few different museums and an art gallery that each cost around 500 yen ($5) to get in to. This time, we managed to see the National History Museum and the National Museum of Western Art. The museum had some truly amazing displays and we could have spent the better part of a day discovering new rooms to look in. Unfortunately for us though, we got there an hour and a half before close, so we were in and out.
When we visited the art gallery, the Rodin exhibition was on display. The sculptures were amazing and it was such an experience to be able to see such fine works of art. I also got to see a Picasso painting in real life for the first time. Breathtaking! 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hakuba - A video

S has recently started to make short films. He made this one of our time in Hakuba, Japan.

Hakuba: Silver Paradise from Sven on Vimeo.

Music is "Ég anda" by Sigur Ros

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The first two days in Japan

I blogged about Hakuba here. This post is the two nights before Hakuba and was written just after we got back, but I have been waiting on pictures from S's laptop...and I am lazy.

The first two nights we spent in Tokyo. We stayed at the Metropolitan Marunouchi which was amazing! S upgraded our room to a corner suite and since we were on the 47th floor, we had sweeping views of Tokyo. At night, with all the lights lit up, Tokyo is just incredible!
The hotel is located in Central Tokyo and is close to Ginza (the upmarket shopping district of Tokyo), so we walked along the streets checking out the designer stores and just took it all in. We also saw the 'Tokyo Illuminati' which is the annual display of Christmas Lights. We noticed that on Boxing Day morning, all Christmas decorations had been taken down (apart from the lights which are there until end of Jan) and replaced with 'Happy New Year' decorations. The Japanese are certainly efficient.
During these two days, we also went to Tsukiji fish markets and Odaiba. Tsukiji fish markets are recommended by many people but I think it is something you can miss if strapped for time..It's just..lots of fish. Also, lots of people! There are a lot of stores and each sell different things. After you have seen so many though, they all look the same.
Odaiba is located near Tokyo Bay. We went there just to see what it was like and also because S read there was a Suntory factory (which ended up being offices, not a museum or anything). We were amused to find a 'Statue of Liberty' near the shore, too. We didn't spend too much time here, as it was nearing the evening and we had walked about 7km from our hotel to get there so were exhausted.
Odaiba seems to be a bit of a tourist trap with a shopping arcade, restaurants etc by the water. One thing that we found really strange was a pet shop that had a room people could pay to go in to, to play with the cats. I suppose with such small living areas a lot of people can't keep pets. Still though...only in Japan!

Next up - Tokyo Part 2.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Skiing in Hakuba

I am going to start with the snow as S is yet to sort out all his photos and these are the only ones on my computer.

Before we went to Japan in 2011/2012, I was not thrilled with the idea of spending a week skiing. I thought it would be more of a trip that S would enjoy and I would just tag along. Then I realised it was just Australian snow I didn't like. The snow in Japan is powdery, deep and hardly icy. We were home a week before we decided we'd head back again 2012/2013...and head back we did.
This time, S and I spent a week in Hakuba and skied for 6 days. To say I was exhausted at the end is an understatement!
At Hakuba, there are 4 or 5 different areas you can choose to ski/snowboard. Around the little villages, there is a free shuttle that runs every morning and afternoon to drop you off and pick you up. Such a convenience! Each ski area is so unique to the next so even after a week skiing at the different areas we still felt like there was more to discover. I definitely recommend skiing/snowboarding in Hakuba if that is your thing.

S and I stayed at B&B Koyuki. We wanted to try Japanese style accommodation and this was the perfect mix of Japanese and Western. We chose the Japanese style room with a loft. Downstairs, we had a tatami floor living area and up the ladder/stairs, was the bedroom with futon mattresses. The room also had plenty of storage (for 2 suitcases!) and an ensuite toilet. The accommodation only has 5 rooms and there are three shared bathrooms (that you can lock the door in).
Our view
Most restaurants in the area are Japanese with the exception of a few Western style. We went to one pub and ended up paying the most for our meal (lasagne, a pizza and drinks about $85) than we did in any meal for the rest of the trip. Lesson learnt - when in Japan, eat Japanese food. 

One of the best dinner experiences was at a restaurant called Sumo Tei. It is run by a retired Sumo who serves a traditional dish that Sumo's eat called Chanko Nabe. Basically, you are served a pot of dashi (stock) which boils on your table and a huge bowl of meat, veg and udon. Once you have cooked and eaten the meat and veg, the leftover dashi is used for the udon. It was healthy and so tasty.

The week skiing was so so worth it. I am now much more confident and by the end of the trip was confidently skiing down intermediate slopes. The steeper and more powdery, the better!

Have you been skiing in Japan?