Posts Tagged ‘JR Rail’

We woke up early in Beppu and started to get ready to make our way back to Tokyo. We were both not looking forward to the trip, having to wade through the chaos that is Tokyo station. We make our way to the dining hall of the New Matsumi Hotel (where we are staying) to eat breakfast that was included with our stay. Due to sleeping in the day before, we missed breakfast our first morning in Beppu but we made sure not to miss out again.

.. and we are glad that we didn’t, as this is what we were served.

Rice, fish, soup, eggs, soft tofu and then some. Both the green and white pots are for one person.

Rice, fish, soup, eggs, soft tofu and then some. Both the green and white pots are for one person.

After an amazing and exquisite breakfast, we grab our bags and take a cab to Beppu Station. Though the hotel was within a pretty decent walking distance from the train station, the handle of one of our suitcases finally bit the dust. We temporarily fixed it with some duct tape but didn’t want to test its limit before we made it to the Tokyo train station.

We reserved our tickets back to Tokyo the day before, as we didn’t want another incident like our trip to Hiroshima. The trip itself was about 5.5 hours with 2 transfers from Kokura Station and Shin-Osaka Station. We hop on the first train and we are on our way.

The last half of the trip was a bit uncomfortable, as we were upgraded to first class seats to Kokura and Shin-Osaka but we made it to Tokyo unscathed and somewhat rested. After wading through the crowds, we make it to the Ueno train platform to head to our hotel. It was approximately 19:15h and the train was packed! I didn’t remember the trains being this busy when we first landed in Japan, and worried that we wouldn’t be able to get on the train with our luggage. We cram our way on the train and we are off to Ueno. Reading the information that is updated on the train, it turns out that a handful of train lines were shut down due to the typhoon and flooding (watching the news that night, people were stranded over 8 hours at some of the train stations). We seriously dodged a bullet with our arrival to Tokyo.

After we arrive at the Touganeya Hotel, we quickly drop off our things and head back to the sushi place Jason first took me to our first night in Japan. Due to the weather, I was developing a headache and didn’t eat much at dinner. Afterwards, we head to a British Pub for a drink and for some fish and chips. If you told me a year ago that I would be eating bite sized fish and chips with chopstick in a Japanese British Pub I would have told you to fuck off, but it was done. Once that surreal moment passed, we went back to the Pachinko Hall to attempt another round and then wandered back to our hotel to go to bed.

We wake up the next day and catch the train to Tokyo Disneyland. We purchase the “2-Day Passport” so we are able to go to Disney Sea the following day. Upon our arrival, we discover that is the 30th Anniversary of Tokyo Disney and noticed that the park has been decorated for Halloween.

The first time I went to a Disney park was in 1990; I was 6 years old and my family decided that we were going to pack ourselves in a 1988 Ford Taurus and drive to California. Though my memory of the trip is hazy (my mom informed us that we protested going to Knott’s Berry Farm because we thought it was a literal berry farm) but it’s a vacation that I feel quite a bit of nostalgia for. In 2009, my boyfriend at the time and I went to Disneyworld to celebrate his 26th birthday and our “6 year anniversary”. To be quite honest, I had just as much fun at Disney as a 25-year-old woman and I did as a 6-year-old child.

… and I had just as much fun this time around, too.

Yup... I'm just a child stuck in an adult's body

Yup… I’m just a child stuck in an adult’s body

It was quite amazing to see how Japanese people love Disney. And I mean, they LOVE Disney. Everyone in the park was decked out in Disney hoodies, t-shirts, silly hats, (like the one I’m wearing in the photo above), mouse ears, and walked out of the park with bags upon bags of souvenirs.

Since Jason and I “don’t do rides” (him due to extreme motion sickness, and me due to a traumatizing experience on Space Mountain at the age of 6 [and on the Tower of Terror at the age of 25]), we mostly walked around the park and stuck to rides like “Pirates of the Caribbean”, and “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt” (which was absolutely amazing!). What I found very interesting was that the “Haunted Mansion” in Tokyo Disneyland is “The Nightmare Before Christmas” themed, which is different than Disneyland and Disneyworld in the States.

Halloween decorations outside of the Haunted Mansion

Halloween decorations outside of the Haunted Mansion

We leave Tokyo Disneyland right before it starts to shut down, and head straight to our hotel to go to bed so we can wake up early the next day for Tokyo DisneySea.

DisneySea opened in 2001 and (as you can guess) has a overall nautical theme for the entire park. They have areas that re-create Venice, Portofino, and the American Northeastern Seaboard from the early 20th century. This park was made more for adults and has some of the more “mature” rides, such as Indiana Jones and the Tower of Terror.

When I first saw this at DisneySea, it gave me terrible flashbacks and immediately made me curse my ex's name.

When I first saw this at DisneySea, it gave me terrible flashbacks and immediately made me curse my ex’s name.

Even though we didn’t ride many of the attractions at DisneySea, we still had fun and made a day of it.

Being silly outside of Toy Story Mania

Being silly outside of Toy Story Mania

Being silly at Triton's Kingdom (it's not a ride, but I just really wanted my picture on this prop).

Being silly at Triton’s Kingdom (it’s not a ride, but I just really wanted my picture on this prop).

DisneySea ended up closing about 4 hours earlier than usual and they gave us an option to return to Disneyland for an extra 2000 yen per person, but after all the walking around we did that day and the day before we just wanted to go back to our hotel and NOT do any more walking.

On our way back to the hotel, we were trying to figure out our dinner plans and decided that we would go for sukiyaki. After a bit of research, I found a sukiyaki place in the district we were staying at. We hop on the train and make our way over to Imahan in Ueno.

We get to the restaurant and immediately realize that we are extremely underdressed for the place. The prices on the website were a bit pricey but we didn’t really think anything of as we knew they were serving some quality Wagyu beef. I don’t think the staff knew what to do with us either; Jason dressed in shorts, an athletic shirt, wearing crocs and a baseball cap while I was dressed in Under Armour t-shirt and yoga-style pants, a hoodie, sneakers with my hair a mess and my nail polish half chipped off my nails.

Though we looked like a train wreck compared to the rest of the patrons, they didn’t seat is where we weren’t visible to the rest of the public (which we joked that they might do) and the service they provided us wasn’t hindered at all.

We ordered the “OGI Sukiyaki Set”, which was a 5-course sukiyaki meal and we upgraded to the “top quality beef”. Dinner was well over $120 per person but after planning to splurge over $300 per person at Sukiyabashi Jiro (which is a 3-michelin star sushi restaurant) but not being able to secure a reservation prior to us arriving to Japan (they book a month in advance and reservations were booked for the entire month of October on September 2nd), we decided we could spoil ourselves with some sukiyaki.

… worth… every… penny.

After an extraordinary dinner, we hop on the train and head back to our hotel to sleep.

Today was a very uneventful day. After about 12 hours of sleep, we slowly get ready for the day and then realize that we had no set plans. We talked about going to see the Buddha at Kamakura, or going to the Ueno Zoo but after all the walking that we’ve done over the last 2 days.. no, lemme take that back… after all the walking we’ve done this entire trip, we took the train to Shinjuku to eat lunch and did some window shopping til dinner time.

One crazy spectacle was the craft store in Shinjuku; a friend of mine from work asked me if I could bring her back a specific craft tool from Japan. I couldn’t find any stores that may have carried in the other cities we visited, so I looked on Google and found a couple places in Shinjuku. Once we found an arts and crafts store that carried this tool, we started looking.

… I have never seen so many people in an arts and crafts store in my life. Even Jason was pretty amazed to see the volume of people and the size of the store.

We couldn’t find this tool for the life of us. We searched, asked some guy working at the store (but he had no idea what we were talking about) and looked some more. After about 40 minutes we were about to give up when we finally found another employee to help us. Once Jason shows her the translation in Japanese and a photo, she walks us 2 feet from where we were standing and pointed it out.

I don’t know if we were pissed that after walking around the store 5 times we missed it or if we were relieved that the search was finally over, but I’ve never been so happy to leave an arts and craft store before.

We hop on the train back to Ueno, hit up a yakiniku place for dinner and then head back to the hotel. Jason is now sleeping after watching “Monty Python and the Meaning of Life” and here I am writing this blog and looking up random things on the internet.

Things I Have Learned During My Trip Thus Far
1. Japanese bakeries are going to be the death of me.

2. I really love Disney. Hell, I think everyone who grew up with Disney loves Disney.

3. I wondered while buying items in Tokyo Disneyland if I was buying them because it’s a “collector’s item”, or that was my excuse for being a big kid buying shit that I have outgrown years ago?

4. I don’t like Tokyo as much as I liked Osaka. Maybe it’s because Tokyo is so big but Osaka seems like a city that I would go back to over Tokyo.

5. It still amazes me the sheer level of love for Disney that Japanese people have.

Next Blog Post: Last day in Tokyo and Japan

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I think this day Jason and I slept in til 08:00h after the long days we’ve been having in Osaka. After our morning ritual of breakfast at the Dormy Inn’s restaurant, showering/using the public baths, we slowly get ready for our trip to Himeji.

We walk over to Shinsaibashi, hop the subway to head to Shin-Osaka station and purchase our reserved seating to Himeji on the Shinkansen Tokaido line. The trip itself is less than 30 minutes with multiple stops along the way. Once we reach Himeji station, we walk over to see Himeji Castle which is about a 10 minute walk to the grounds straight down the street.

Grounds outside of Himeji Castle

Grounds outside of Himeji Castle

We walk around and enjoy the sites on the grounds (also, hiding in the shade for a bit while I find a place to smoke) and we cross the inner moat to head into Himeji Castle.

View of Himeji Castle

View of Himeji Castle, minus the Main Tower (which is in the building).

Main gate leading to Himeji Castle

“Diamond Gate” – main gate leading to Himeji Castle

The construction of Himeji Castle dates back to 1333 and is considered one of Japan’s National Treasures. It was also the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites for Japan registering in 1993. Himeji Castle was completed in 1609 and since then has had over 30 documented restorations.

We were both quite surprised to see a structure around the main tower of Himeji Castle. When Jason first did this trip in 2010, he said that they were starting restoration on the castle but we thought it would be over by the time that we arrived. Back during his visit in 2010, the main tower was still somewhat visible but surrounded with scaffolding. We discovered upon our arrival that they have been starting restorations since 2009 and anticipate completion in the year 2015. Even though it was slightly disappointing, the trip was still well worth it.

We walk through the main gate and enter in one of the towers where they were showing artifacts from Himeji ranging from stone/clay work detailing the castle to a variety of armour used.

Armour display

Armour display

After walking around, we discover that we can enter the structure that was built around the main tower. After paying another small admission, we enter the building and find out that we actually get to see the process of the restorations, and they’ve turned it into an exhibit with information regarding the Himeji Castle.

On the 8th floor of the structure built around the Main Tower at Himeji Castle. They are currently restoring the roof and parts of the exterior.

On the 8th floor of the structure built around the Main Tower at Himeji Castle. They are currently restoring the roof and parts of the exterior.

Viewing the restorations, with an informative video of them documenting the process.

Viewing the restorations, with an informative video of them documenting the process.

We were absolutely fascinated with the process, detail and the amount of effort that was placed into the restoration. We spent a good hour touring around the facility looking at the various methods they used and reading the ever so detailed and intriguing history of Himeji Castle. We make a small donation to the restoration of Himeji Castle and continue walking the grounds.

Outside of the Main Tower; the building that surrounds it.

Outside of the Main Tower; the building that surrounds it.

Even though Himeji Castle is under restorations, if you’re planning a trip to Japan prior to 2015 I would still recommend checking it out. There is still quite a bit to see when you walk around the grounds, and you can still visit the West Bailey (which is where the Princess’ quarters was located) and the scenery is quite captivating.

… goodbye Himeji Castle. We will hopefully see you again soon.

Once we finish walking around the castle, we meander over to Nishioyashiki-ato Garden which is about 10 minutes away.

One of the nine gardens at Nishioyashiki-ato

One of the nine gardens at Nishioyashiki-ato

Nishioyashiki-ato contains 9 different gardens with a tea garden. The gardens was constructed and opened to the public in 1992 to commemorate the centenary of Himeji Castle.

We enter the facility and notice there is a small restaurant. We look at the menu and decide to go in to eat (you guessed it) cold soba. From there, we continue our jaunt through the gardens. We reach the tea garden and see that they also do a tea ceremony. We pay 500 yen and go in to enjoy some matcha tea and a snack.

Matcha Green Tea and Sweet Dessert Mochi

Matcha Green Tea and Sweet Dessert Mochi

Once we are done touring the garden, we walk back to Himeji station to jump on the train back to Shin-Osaka.

That evening, we meet with an old colleague of Jason’s (who also happened to be in Japan) at Yakiniku Rokko for dinner. I was initially planning on partaking in their all-you-can-drink special; however, this option is only available if all guests in your party partake (and I was the only person who wanted to get shitfaced drunk that night). After 4 hours of eating, drinking and talking, we leave the restaurant at midnight and head back to our hotels to call it a night.

Things I Have Learned About Japan
1. They do bathrooms right here. Though the public bathrooms scare me at times (due to the lack of “Western toilets”), the majority of  bathrooms in restaurants/hotels have one or more of the following:

  • Bidet feature
  • Toilet sensor (either to flush or to drop the seat the moment you enter the stall/bathroom)
  • Toilet seat warmers

At first the idea of using a bidet was slightly distressing, but after using it a few times (the first time being Jason turning it on without my knowledge [apparently me shrieking because warm water was violently being shot at my butt is hilarious]) I have grown quite accustomed to them. But I still can’t wrap my head around the non-western toilets.

Seriously, how am I supposed to use this without taking my pants off completely and not falling in?

Seriously, how am I supposed to use this without taking my pants off completely and not falling in? Which way would I even face to use this thing?!

… when I see this, I turn around thinking to myself “Well, I don’t have to go THAT badly…”.

2. The wifi sucks in Japan. All of the places that we’ve stayed at so far offer free wifi but the problems are that the signal is weak, it constantly disconnects, or the moment you think you have a good signal it immediately drops down (even though you haven’t moved or loaded anything). No one seems to say anything but I assume that most people use their data off their phones and the speed is usually faster than wifi.

3. I really could have packed less. We thought that the weather would eventually get colder depending on where we were and that there was no laundry facilities available in our hotel so I literally brought enough clothes to adjust to various weather conditions and to last 16 days.

… 2/3 places have offered laundry facilities and it’s only been hotter than balls here.

All of the places we have stayed at also have a public bath and offer the following to all guest:

  • Disposable toothbrush
  • Single serving toothpaste
  • Disposable hair brush
  • Shampoo, conditioner, body wash and facial soap
  • Hairdryer
  • Disposable razors

I usually bring my own shampoo/conditioner/body wash/face soap because I’m not always a big fan of the products that the hotels carry (and my own hairdryer because I don’t like the hotel ones), but all the blowdryers have been quite upscale and from what I’ve seen the default product for shampoo et al  is Shiseido.

… I can live with that.

4. Riding the Shinkansen and subways is a lot better and more enjoyable when you’re not dragging your luggage everywhere.

5. Alcoholic cocktails in Japan are fucking amazing but oh so dangerous. They’ll creep up on you, that’s for sure.

Currently in Miyajima right now but I will hopefully be caught up with my blog posts when we arrive to Beppu tomorrow.

Next blog post: Lazy last day in Osaka with a trip to Kobe