Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’

Shibamata summer fireworks in Tokyo

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

On Tuesday 26th July 2011 I went to see the summer fireworks display at Shibamata, north east of central Tokyo. From the station I had to walk through a traditional street before getting to the park where the fireworks were to take place.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 1

I made it to the park by the river just before the fireworks started. The fireworks were very impressive – they went on for about 40 minutes, and the promotional material said that they were going to us 7000 fireworks. That works out at nearly three fireworks per second! This display was even more impressive than the Yokosuka New Year’s Eve fireworks display that I saw at the start of the year.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 4

Here are some of my photos from the event. I took about 200 photos using my cheap handheld camera. Many of the photos were blurry, but when you take that many, you are bound to get some good ones.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 2

The above firework explosion reminds me of those images that they get from particle accelerators when two atoms smash into each other.

The below sparks looks like stars in the night sky, but it is the final parts of a firework fading away.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 3

shibamata fireworks tokyo 5

They had some very intensely coloured fireworks. Here are blues and reds.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 6

shibamata fireworks tokyo 7

And a load of multi-coloured fireworks all exploding at the same time.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 8

A lot of people try to frame their fireworks photos so that they don’t get the spectators in the shot – but I like the look of the sillouettes they make against the bright lights. On the bottom right someone is taking a photo using their mobile phone.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 9

These fireworks left bright streaks across the sky.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 10

In these final two you can see someone speaking on the phone whilst the display takes place. Though with the noise of the music and the explosions I don’t know how any audible exchange could take place!

shibamata fireworks tokyo 12

shibamata fireworks tokyo 13

The display was completely free (if you didn’t want a designated seating position) and professionally organised so if you didn’t get to see it this year, I can recommend it for 2012.

Japan visa change of status and extension

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

If you are moving to a job which requires a different residency status from your current one, you will need to file a change of status application with immigration. This post talks about my experience of changing my ‘designated activities’ status (working holiday visa) to a ‘specialist in humanities / international services’ status. There is also information about extending your period of stay.

The most common changes for typical readers of my site would be ‘instructor’ to ‘specialist in humanities’ (or vise versa), ‘designated activities’ to either ‘instructor’ or ‘specialist in humanities (for WHV people who are staying longer), and ‘temporary visitor’ status to either ‘instructor’ or ‘specialist in humanities’.

By far the most common one will be changing between ‘instructor’ and ‘specialist in humanities’ as the English teaching statuses are split into two. If you work at public school you will have an ‘instructor’ status, and if you work at a private conversation company (e.g. an eikaiwa) you will have a ‘specialist in humanities’.

Although the post is mainly about changing status, I’ll include information about making period of stay extension applications as that follows a similar process.

Making the application

To change your residence status you will first need a company willing to sponsor the change. In other words you will need to have a job offer from a company.

You will then need the correct paper work. You official process for a change of status of residence is detailed on the immigration website here, and you can also find the extension process details here.

If you look at the link in this section for both the change of status and extension, you’ll see that the main difference between the two is that for an extension you have to provide ‘Documents certifying an annual income and tax payment’ whereas for the change of status you don’t. This makes the change of status simpler for you as you don’t have to go to city hall to get those tax certificates.

The paper work listed for a change of status to ‘specialist in humanities’ listed on this page is:

  1. Copies of the company registration and a statement of profit and loss of the recipient organization.
  2. Materials showing the business substance of the recipient organization.
  3. A diploma or certificate of graduation with a major in the subject regarding the activity of the person concerned, and documents certifying his or her professional career.
  4. Documents certifying the activity, the duration, position and the remuneration of the person concerned.

Here is the paper work I actually needed.

  • The application form for a change of status (for applicant)
  • Application form for change of status (for organisation)
  • Copies of the company registration and a statement of profit and loss of the recipient organization.

The first two are from this ‘Application for Change of Status of Residence’ PDF linked from the change of status page. That is 4 sides of A4, and pretty easy to fill in. You’d probably fill in the ‘applicant’ part and your company would fill in the ‘organisation’ part.

Maybe these 4 sheets of paper satisfied parts 2 and 4 of the list of required documents above for my application? Or it could be that Tokyo immigration is quite relaxed?

The ‘copies of company registration/profit and loss…’ consisted of a single sheet of photocopied A4 paper which listed the company name, gave a few details of the company profit, and had the company seal on it (photocopied – not an original seal).

And that was all I needed – 5 sheets of single sided A4 paper. The list of documents does mention needing a degree certificate, but I was never asked for mine.

Of course you need your passport and alien registration card as well.

Making the application

To apply I went to the Tokyo immigration centre which is located on an island near Tennozu Isle Station. There is a detailed description of how to get to the centre on the ‘Way Way in JAPAN! ’ blog. Or if you want the short version find the blue bridge near the station, and if you look North East you will see the Tokyo immigration building (highlighted in red).

tokyo immigration bureau

I went just before the Golden Week holiday, they were obviously expecting a lot of people as they had signs up asking people to avoid making any applications at this time if they could wait. I went in anyway, and headed upstairs to the application counter.

There was first a 10 minute queue to be seen by someone who had a quick scan of my documents. She seemed happy that I had the correct ones so she gave me a numbered ticket. It was about 2:45pm and I was given number 580. There were hundreds of other people in this area of the building. The current number on the screen was 325, so there were 250 tickets to go before mine!

It is good that they do a quick screening of your forms and documents before issuing you a ticket, as it would be terrible to wait for ages for your number to be called, only to find out that you are missing something obvious.

I had plenty of time so I had a walk around, and bought and ate some food. I was able to calculate the rate at which they were getting though the tickets. They had all 6 counters fully staffed and were getting through about 1 ticket per minute.

At 4pm they stop issuing new tickets for applications, but they will keep calling up the numbers until they have serviced all the tickets.

After about 3 hours 25 minutes my number was called! I handed in my forms, passport and alien registration card.

The lady on the counter gave me a postcard, and told me to write my address on it.

After I had done that she told me to sit down. After nearly 10 minutes (I saw her discussing something with another employee) she called me back up. She had stamped one of the pages in my passport with an ‘Application’ stamp, and had stapled in a leaflet explaining what happens next.

period of stay change of status leaflet

Here is the text of it:

A judgment on your application for change of status of residence will be made approximately within a month. Please be advised that it may take more time depending on a case.
When no notice is given after 30 days of the expiration of your period of stay, please visit the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, and confirm the status of your application before 40 days have passed since the expiration date.
(Note) Those who applied for change of status of residence may extend their period of stay until the earlier of either the date when a judgment on the application is made, or the date when two months have passed since the expiration of their period of stay. Please be advised that you are recognised as an illegal resident and subject to deportation procedures two months after the expiration of your period of stay, even if a judgement on your application has not yet been made.
Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau

I only had about five weeks left of my current residency status, so I was keen to know how long it would take to get my results. The lady though it might be about three weeks, but she said it could take longer.

I then aksed about what would happen if my current residence status expired before I got my result. I don’t think she understood my questions, even after I tried to rephrase it three times. And I didn’t understand any of her answers. Don’t expect the immigration staff to speak good English. If you need English help before or after applying there is a help centre on the ground floor with staff that have a higher level of English.

Later when I got home I tried to decode the leaflet. I worked out that it meant that you could stay for up to two months beyond the expiry of your current period of stay *if* you were still waiting for a result. But that if you don’t get any result within 30 days of your period of stay expiring, you should visit them before 40 days have expired since the end of expiry of your residence status.

And very importantly – it stated that overstaying by one day from this two month grace period would cause you to become an illegal resident. Comment 1 on my Japan visa FAQ page will give you an idea of the kind of trouble you can get yourself in if you try overstaying by even one day.

Here is some official information about the special exception to the period of stay from immigration.

Application for extension of period of stay leaflet

If you are applying for an extension at Tokyo immigration here is the text of the leaflet that they are currently stapling into passports.

A judgment on your application for extension of period of stay will be made within the following period unless any special notice is given by the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau. Make sure to visit the office of the Bureau within the specified period. Please contact the Inspection Coordination Department of the Bureau if you cannot do so.
Please bring your (1) passport and (2) foreign resident registration card with you when you visit the office. A fee of 4,000 yen is required when your application is permitted.
Period of visit:
From **/** (month/day)
To **/** (month/day)
(Note) Those who applied for extension of period of stay may extend their period of stay until the earlier of either the date when a judgment on the application is made, or the date when two months have passed since the expiration of their period of stay. Please be advised that you are recognised as an illegal resident and subject to deportation procedures two months after the expiration of you period of stay, even if a judgment on your application has not yet been made.
Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau

The dates given are about a month from the day you apply. The ‘special notice’ refers to them sending you the postcard that you filled in. So if you get the postcard you have to visit them before the date on the postcard. If you don’t get the postcard then you have to visit them between the dates on the leaflet.

They’ve made the English in these leaflets way more complicated than it needs to be. Perhaps they should ask some of those native English speakers in the waiting room to help them rewrite it in simple English.


After making the application you then have to wait. I’ve found that the expected processing times they tell you at immigration are usually the worst case times. There is a good chance that it will be done in about two weeks or less. A friend of mine went to Tokyo immigration late in the morning on Monday, and got the notification card on Saturday – less than a week!

You (probably) don’t need to worry about whether they will grant your change of status/application. If they accepted your documents, and you have a sponsoring company who wants you to work then your request should be granted.

Receiving the postcard

About three weeks later the postcard arrived! It would probably have only taken two weeks if it were not for the Golden Week holiday. Here is my postcard. As they had ticked the box to get ¥4000 of revenue stamps I was pretty sure that I had been granted the change of status.

japan visa notification postcard

If there is a problem with your application they’ll send you a letter asking for more information, or scribble something on the postcard, rather than ticking one of the revenue stamp boxes.

Visiting immigration again

I went back to Tennozu Isle Station, and walked to immigration again. I started queuing from 8:15am, and they opened the doors at 8:30am. First I went to the Family Mart on the ground floor to buy my revenue stamp.

4000 yen revenue stamp

I then went upstairs to the permission stamp counter. I waited in the short queue, handed over my passport and postcard, and was given a numbered ticket. The queue to get your numbered ticket opens at 8:30am, but they don’t start calling up numbers until 9:00am.

At about 9:15am my number was called. The lady handed my passport to me and showed me the page showing that my change of status had been granted and that I had been given a three year period of stay. They must have been feeling generous!

The application stamp in the passport had been marked as ‘USED’.

change of status application stamp japan

And here is a photo of a change of status sticker, as well as an extension sticker.

japan change of status extension permit

If you change your status the one year/three year new residence status starts from the day you collect your sticker. If you have applied for an extension to your current status the one/three year extension starts from the end of your current period of stay.

With my change of status granted I went back down to the Family Mart, bought another revenue stamp and went back upstairs to get my Japan re-entry permit (¥3000 for a single and ¥6000 for a multiple).

One year or three years?

A lot of people want to know how to get a three year residency status rather than a one year one. There are all kinds of theories floating around on the internet such as:

  • You need to have been granted several one year periods of stay before getting a three year one.
  • They want to wait for evidence of a history of having paid all your taxes before granting it.
  • The company you work for may play a factor.
  • The country you come from may influence the decision.
  • It depends on whether the immigration official is having a good day or a bad day.
  • They roll a dice and randomly select what to give you!
  • It depends on which immigration bureau handles your request.
  • The type of job you are doing makes a difference.
  • It depends on whether you tick the one or three year box on your application.

The truth may be in there somewhere, but no one really knows. For obvious reasons their criteria for deciding what length of stay to grant are secret.

I can however say that it is not always necessary to have been granted several one year periods of stay, or to have paid taxes before getting a three year period of stay.

I spent only one year in the country on a WHV (and I did no work – therefore paid no taxes – it was a pure holiday), and I was granted a three year period of stay with my very first application.

Lose ends

Don’t forget to get your alien registration card updated at your local city office within two weeks of being granted your change of status / extension. They will write the new details on the back of the card, and then put a clear holographic security sticker over the writing.

alien registration card updated

Digital TV in Japan and setting up the digibox

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

On 24th July 2011 Japan will switch to digital TV. During the build up they put a message in corner of the analogue channel saying ‘Analog’ in katakana (アナログ), and at the bottom of the screen was a reminder that the analogue TV will soon be switched off. By moving to digital you can get access to of extra Japanese TV channels of variable quality.

japan tv channels

Here is a notice that was put through our letter box reminding of the digital switchover. On the back they even had a helpful map telling you which direction to point your TV aerial in.

japan digital tv switchover notice

With this in mind I thought it was about time that I installed the digital TV box that had been left in my flat by Leo Palace. It was brand new, in its box, and complete with installation instructions fully in Japanese. Fortunately the pictures were easy to follow.

Here is the box which I successfully opened…

japan digital tv digibox 1

To reveal a black digibox, some cables, a remote control, batteries, and some instructions. The first thing I had to do was to insert the conditional access card into the digi box.

japan digital tv digibox 2

Then I plugged in the cables and connected them to the TV.

japan digital tv digibox 3

Here’s the remote control. As well as controls for the digibox you can programme it to adjust the volume, and switch on/off your TV. This was the hardest of the steps as I couldn’t work out what the instructions were trying to say, but with a bit of trial and error I got it working with the TV.

japan digital tv digibox 4

Next I turned it all on, switched the TV to the AV channel, and pressed the button to start the channel scan.

japan digital tv digibox 5

After scanning it got about 12 channels. Some are ‘proper’ channels with a channel number, and some seem to be supplemental channels that don’t get a proper number. Here is a list of the channels I got, along with a link to the Wikipedia page of each. The channels you get will vary from area to area.

Number Channel Name Details
1 011 NHK G NHK General TV from Japan’s public broadcaster.
2 021 NHK E 1 NHK Educational TV
023 NHK E 3
3 031 tvk 1 TV Kanagawa – local station.
4 041 NTV Nippon Television
5 051 TV Asahi You can visit the HQ in Roppongi.
6 061 TBS 1 Tokyo Broadcasting System. The hardest working man on TV – Monta Mino, does the breakfast show.
7 071 TV Tokyo 1 Specialises in anime.
8 081 Fuji TV Variety, drama, news, TV, sport
9 091 Tokyo MX1 Tokyo Metropolitan Television
092 Tokyo MX2
11 111 イッツコムチャンネル (jp)
112 イッツコムチャンネル
12 121 OUJ Open University of Japan

Here is the main menu screen. Selecting the first option brings up the TV guide.

japan digital tv digibox 6

This is the TV guide, which is fairly self explanatory; you scroll through it to see the programs and can jump to any of the channels from here.

japan digital tv digibox 7

In my case, I just turned the TV off.

Buying a SoftBank prepaid phone

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

SoftBank offer a range of prepaid phones aimed at people who are resident in the country for a short time. SoftBank is the phone network that is used by the majority of foreigners in Japan, so if you are intending to make calls or send messages to other foreign friends it is probably the network you should be on.

buying prepay softbank phone 1

Before going for the prepaid deal you should see if a contract would be cheaper. For most people who make regular calls, or who are going to be in the country for more than six month, SoftBank’s White Plan is probably going to be much cheaper. You can read more about SoftBank’s short and long term plans on these links.

Both deals are for Japanese residents only – you’ll need to show your alien registration card to sign up. The prepaid plan is not officially for tourists (although I have heard on GaijinPot of a few tourists who have somehow managed to get one). If you are a tourist and you want a phone you’ll have to hire one for your holiday from another company.

Getting a prepaid SoftBank phone

To get your prepaid phone you should first read in detail about the prepaid service so you are sure that the White Plan wouldn’t be better for you. Then go to a SoftBank shop. They have a list of shops with English speaking help if you need it.

I went to the SoftBank shop in Shibuya. The Japanese English speaking guy I spoke to first told me that there was only one model left in the shop, the SoftBank 731SC .

It is their most basic model at only ¥2079. I asked him if there was a digit missing in the price as it seemed very cheap for a Japanese phone. But no, that’s the price. It is very basic but has most of what you’d need. It makes calls, sends SMS, MMS and email. Has a 1.3MP camera, can play music, and is quite small.

He gave me a ticket, and I had to wait until my number was called. At the counter was a Japanese lady who spoke English. She went through the steps for buying the prepaid phone.

After convincing her that I didn’t want to go on the White Plan she checked (and scanned) my Alien Registration Card and also my Japanese driving licence. Their website lists the types of ID that are acceptable. One restriction is that you must be eligible to stay in Japan for at least 90 days after you buy the phone, so if you are in the process of extending your residence status you might have to wait until the extension is approved.

I didn’t have to fill in a form, she was able to get almost all the details off my IDs. I did have to tell her the Katakana spelling of my name, and also pick a 4 digit pin code. One extra detail they need is a landline number in Japan, so make sure you have a friend’s, employer’s, (or made up), Japanese landline number to hand. I was told that they won’t call it, but that one is needed for the application. A mobile, or foreign number won’t do!

You get to pick the last 4 digits of your phone number as well – as long as they are available which is a nice touch. One thing to be aware of is that the prepaid number is not portable to their contract White Plan service. If you decide to go onto contract you will lose your number.

In the shop they set up the phone for me by inserting the USIM card and the battery. They also changed the phone language to English.

buying prepay softbank phone 12

The cost for the phone was ¥2079 and then I had to pay ¥3000 for my first prepay card. The credit on this is valid for 60 days from activation. For full details of all the costs see the SoftBank prepaid site.

This phone doesn’t come with a charger in the box. If you already have a SoftBank charger it will probably work with this phone. Or you can pay ¥1155 to get a compact charger like this.

buying prepay softbank phone 5

If you are only ever going to be charging your phone from your computer rather than a mains socket you can buy really cheap charging cables from many ¥100 shops. Here’s an example of such a USB charging cable.

buying prepay softbank phone 6

With everything paid for the phone was mine and I could go home.

Setting up a SoftBank prepaid phone

As they had already installed the USIM and battery in the shop there were only a few more things left to do to get the phone fully activated.

But first, this is what is in the box. There are some manuals and leaflets – all in Japanese, but with an English quick start guide.

buying prepay softbank phone 2

Here is a closer look at the manuals. On the left is the SoftBank prepaid card. On the back of it is a silver area that you scratch off to reveal a code that allows you to top up the credit.

buying prepay softbank phone 3

It is well worth reading the SoftBank prepaid service guide (online) before setting things up as it has a clear explanation in English of what to do.

The first thing to do is to call the automated service number 1400 and change the voice guidance language to English.

Then you can call it again to add your prepaid credit. This number is supposed to be free to call but after adding the credit I called it again to check how much credit I had and it said that I had ¥2977. This is ¥23 less than the credit value – they make a small charge when you do a top up by phone (Update: the amount is now ¥24).

Setting up a SoftBank unlimited messaging

The next thing to do (if you want it) is to apply for the unlimited messaging service. This will cost ¥300 every 30 days. This ¥300 is deducted from your prepaid balance rather than being an extra ¥300.

You can either setup the messaging via their My SoftBank online site or from the phone direct. I set it up from the phone. The UI is a mix of Japanese and English. Sometime you have to go through the first level Japanese screen in order to get the option to switch to English. Just go through the options and you’ll find the English setting.

setup prepay softbank phone email 8

You can pick your personalised SoftBank email – the default one consists of random characters. Once you have set it up you’ll get a message sent to your phone confirming your new email.

The one problem with setting it up via the phone is that you will use up some of your prepaid credit. The smarter option is to set it up online for free. You can access My SoftBank via this link.

You’ll first have to find your password by clicking on the ‘Forgotten password’ link. It is in Japanese so if you don’t undertstand the page use Google Chrome to translate it or read this guide. You’ll need to enter your phone number and PIN code and then the password will be sent to you.

With the password you can log on, and if you find the mail button (it has an envelope icon near it) you can change the page to English. From here you can change your email address and modify some other mail related settings.

mysoftbank mail settings

SoftBank 731SC

The phone itself is very basic, but perfectly usable as a phone and messaging device if that is all you need. Here is the main menu.

buying prepay softbank phone 7

And this is a screen shot of the messaging application where you will no doubt be spending much of your time.

buying prepay softbank phone 13

Although the phone can play music the headphone port is a non-standard SoftBank slot rather than a normal headphone jack.

To lock the phone you hold the middle navigation button down, and the all important manner mode (very important in Japan!) is the button on the lower right.

Veggie ramen at Kagetsu

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Once a year the ramen chain Kagetsu produces a limited edition veggie ramen dish that is served for only a month or two. This year’s 2011 vegetarian ramen started in April, and it is delicious! As well as the ramen they have also produced a vegetarian gyoza side dish.

kagetsu veggie ramen 1

To try it visit your local Kagetsu quick before it is over. They are heavily promoting this dish right now with flags, posters and staff t-shirts. My local Kagetsu looks like this, and your local one probably looks similar.

kagetsu veggie ramen 2

To find your local one you can look at the Kagetsu ‘Shop List ’, which is all in Japanese, but if you can’t figure it out Google Translate may be of some help.

When you go in you’ll need to pay for your food and drink using one of these machines. You don’t pay the staff direct for your food.

kagetsu veggie ramen 3

Put your money in first. The machines takes coins from ¥10 and above, as well as ¥1000 notes. It doesn’t take larger notes so make sure you have enough change. On this machine the buttons for the veggie ramen and gyoza are on the second and third rows at the very left. The veggie ramen are ¥750, and the veggie gyoza are ¥300. The drink buttons are on the bottom right. It is fairly obvious from the photos on the machine. For each button you press you get a paper ticket, and when you have paid for all your food you hand the tickets to a member of staff and sit down.

They have table seating areas for groups as well as benches for people who are eating by themselves. There are various condiments on the table (soya sauce, chilli sauce, dashi, etc). If you are vegetarian make sure you don’t put the fish sauce on your food.

kagetsu veggie ramen 4

The lady in all the promotional leaflets, posters, flags and t-shirts is 未唯mie, a Japanese actress and singer. The advertising for this veggie ramen is aimed at health conscious women, rather than vegetarians. These veggie ramen dishes are much lower in fat, and higher in vegetables than traditional ramen, so the advertising pitches them as a healthier option.

After a short wait the veggie ramen and gyoza arrive. First here is a close up of the ramen. It contains about 30 different kinds vegetable! It also contains some kind of algae that is meant to be good for you. It isn’t obvious from the photo, but under all those veg are thin green noodles (the ramen). You can eat the noodles and veg with your chopsticks, and there is a spoon for the soup.

kagetsu veggie ramen 5

And here are the vegetarian gyoza. Like the ramen these are delicious. One tip – I recommend separating the gyoza when you get them otherwise they tend to stick together when they cool down.

kagetsu veggie ramen 6

Both dishes are really tasty, and it is just a shame that they don’t keep a veggie ramen dish permanently on the menu. Most people who were coming into this branch of Kagetsu seemed to be ordering this veggie dish rather than one of the usual meat ramen dishes.

Make sure you get to eat your veggie ramen before it is gone!

Cherry blossoms in Tokyo

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Is is near the end of April now and almost all the cherry blossoms in Tokyo are gone. But in the second week of April when I went to see them properly they were everywhere. I visited two well known cherry blossom viewing places, Sumida Park, and Ueno Park.

japan cherry blossoms 10

The Japanese get very excited about cherry blossoms. They get a warm up to the cherry blossom season when the plum blossoms appear in February, but the cherry blossoms are the main flowering event of the year.

japan cherry blossoms 2

First I visited Sumida Park which has cherry blossoms along both sides of the river. In the background above you can see the Tokyo Sky Tree which is being built. Below is a different type of cherry blossom to the standard ones.

japan cherry blossoms 3

Each year at this time there are cherry blossom forecasts on TV that show you the spread of the blossoms through the country, so you can pick the right time to view them. They are only in full bloom in any one area for a few weeks.

japan cherry blossoms 4

Although all the flowers are pink, there is a big range in the colours, from very light pink, to very stong pink colours.

japan cherry blossoms 5

There were plenty of people in Sumida Park, but there were even more in Ueno Park. Lots of people were taking a break from work to have a look at the flowers.

japan cherry blossoms 7

Many people and companies organise cherry blossom parties, where they will have some food and drink whilst sitting on a plastic sheet under the cherry blossom trees. These are called ‘hanami parties’ – hanami means flower viewing.

japan cherry blossoms 6

I spotted a large group of people crowding round one particular tree taking photos.

japan cherry blossoms 9

On closer inspection it turned out that there was a cat in the tree. Perhaps he had gone up there for a quite rest, and was now regretting being the centre of attention.

japan cherry blossoms 8

If you are in Japan at cherry blossom time you can’t fail to spot them. They are planted everywhere, from parks, to gardens, to government buildings. For much of the year these trees look very bare, but for just a few weeks, they are one of the most famous sights in Japan.

Staying in the Akihabara Washington Hotel, Tokyo

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

During a recent visit to Tokyo I stayed at the Akihabara Washington Hotel for 8 nights. Here are my photos and a small amount of information about the hotel.

The hotel is in Akihabara on the East side of central Tokyo. It is a three minute walk from the JR Yamanote line – this is the line that circles central Tokyo and goes to many of the main places of interest. Also from Akihabara station is the Chuo Sobu line, which can get you to Shinjuku in a more direct way than the Yamanote line.

akihabara washington hotel tokyo 1

This is what the double room looked like from the inside. The decoration is modern and functional. There is a free LAN internet connection if your bring your laptop.

akihabara washington hotel tokyo 2

In the bathroom they had one of those heated mirrors that prevents steam from forming on the central part of it after you have had a bath or shower.

akihabara washington hotel tokyo 3

The TV is compact – it needs to be as the room is quite small.

akihabara washington hotel tokyo 4

And the fridge is even smaller. It is only one carton deep, however you can still cram a fair bit in. Here I’ve got several drinks, sushi, rice balls and yogurt squeezed inside. Instead of a traditional hanging ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign, the one here is magnetic, so it sticks on the door.

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In the hotel room was a pamphlet advertising a special ‘train set’ room which they have in the hotel. The English text says ‘Railway Diorama & Railway View’. As well as getting a train set in your room, you also get a good view of the train tracks which run near the station! I’ve no idea what this room costs, but if you are into that kind of thing this could be the hotel for you!

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Here’s the view out of the window. This room was on one of the upper floors.

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Here is the ground floor lobby which just contains the lifts. The reception is on the 2nd or 3rd floor. In the lift you have to press your room key to the card reader panel and then it takes you to the correct floor. You can’t access any floors other than the common floors, and the one you have a key for.

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And finally here is a view of the hotel building from the front at night.

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If you want to compare prices for this hotel you can look at the Akihabara Washington Hotel on*.

Can you walk across Tokyo in a day?

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Once you’ve seen all the main tourist sites in Tokyo what can you do next? Why not try walking across the city! I recently did two walks across central Tokyo, one from Akihabara to Shinjuku, and one from Shiba area (Hamamatsucho station) to Shibuya. Both these walks are from East to West from one side of the Yamanote loop train line to the other. This map shows very roughly where I went and you can click on it for a (slightly) bigger version.

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Akihabara to Shinjuku walk

Akihabara was my starting point as that is where my hotel was (Akihabara Washington Hotel). Akihabara is the electronics and manga district of Tokyo and is full of brightly lit shops, and geeky looking customers!

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I headed South, walking along the canal (there are quite a few canals in Tokyo if you look for them).

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It didn’t take long for me to reach the musical instrument area with many shops selling guitars and sheet music.

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Beyond the musical instrument area is a second hand book street (lots of themed areas on this walk).

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I went throught the North part of the Imperial Palace park and exited on the West side near to where many embassies are.

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Then the walk was largely in a straight line along Shinjuku-dori, the bright lights of Shinjuku becoming visable in the distance.

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And here is the end, Shinjuku, famous for its nightlife, shops, and restaurants.

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In total this walk took about two and half hours at a leisurly pace. It shows that central Tokyo is quite walkable if you can be bothered.

Shiba to Shibuya walk

My second walk was again from East to West. This time I started at Hamamatsucho station in the Shiba area and walked to Shibuya. Again both areas are on the Yamanote JR line which loops central Tokyo. The first major sight on the walk was the Tokyo Tower.

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Next I ended up following a not very glamerous looking expressway that was going towards Roppongi Hills.

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Once the slightly scruffy looking area was out of the way I could see the new tower buildings that make up the Roppongi Hills complex.

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You can go up to the top of this tall tower (Mori Tower) to get a good view across Tokyo. The rounded building to the left is the TV Asahi building which you can also visit.

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After passing Roppongi Hills I continued following the raised expressway.

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Going through a dark tunnel (but not as dark as the photo makes it look).

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Before finally reaching Shibuya – one of Tokyo’s main shopping areas.

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This walk only took a bit over one and a half hours.

If you are looking for a new way to discover Tokyo walking across it is very good for discovering how all the areas are linked. You don’t realise how close some of these areas are if you go everywhere by train.

Viewing Mount Fuji

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Mount Fuji (known as Fuji-san) makes one of Japan’s classic and most famous images. It can however be notoriously difficult to view as clouds and mists often obscure it (see the film Cherry Blossoms for an example).

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Winter can be a good time to view it as the air tends to be clearer. I went at the end of December. Your best bet for seeing it is to go on a clear, dry day. There are webcams positioned at various places looking towards Mount Fuji. They can give you a good indication in advance of what the view will look like.

To get to Kawaguchiko station (near Mount Fuji) from Shinjuku station in Tokyo you have two main options.

1. Get the Chuo Line and then the Fujikyuko Line trains which will cost between ¥2390 and ¥3800 depending on whether you get the Chuo line rapid service (1hr 40mins + 50mins) or the Chuo line limited express (1hr + 50mins).

2. Or you can go for the Chuo Highway Bus which will get you there direct from Shinjuku in 1hr 50mins for ¥1700.

If you want to climb Mount Fuji (which you can only do in Summer) you’ll have either get a shuttle bus/taxi from Kawaguchiko station or the Chuo Highway Bus can take you all the way from Shinjuku to the Kawaguchiko 5th station.

The information we got from the tourist office estimates that it would take you about 5 hours on the way up, and 3 hours on the way down. You can also get a piece of paper from the Tokyo Tourist Information Centers which shows you all the transport options between Tokyo and Mount Fuji.

We got the bus from Shinjuju. We were able to see Mount Fuji after we had travelled about 20 minutes from Shinjuku. Once got to Kawaguchiko station we got the Retro Bus to the Mount Kachi Kachi Ropeway. We bought a discounted ticket from here which let us go on the cable car, and on the Ensoleille sightseeing boat.

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The cable car takes only a few minutes to get you to the top of the (small) mountain. On the way up Mount Fuji is not visible at all as it is obscured by Mount Kachi Kachi.

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However once at the top Mount Fuji is clear to see from the various viewing areas.

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Even today which was a bright sunny day, there was still a ring of mist around Fuji.

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There is a bell you can ring and some kind of mascot at the top (not sure who he is).

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Then we got the cable car back down the mountain and made the short walk to the lake.

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To finish off our Mount Fuji viewing we got on the Ensoleille sightseeing boat for a 20 minute sail on Kawaguchiko lake.

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The view from the lake is considered to be one of the classic Mount Fuji views.

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Tokyo New Year’s Eve fireworks in Yokosuka

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

On New Year’s Eve most of the major cities around the work have large free organised fireworks displays in the city centre. Unfortunately Tokyo doesn’t – at least not in the main city. There are several paid displays if you are prepared to travel a bit outside the centre, but if you made the journey to Yokosuka (横須賀市) in Kanagawa prefecture on 31st December 2010 you could see the fireworks for free.

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From Tokyo JR station it took over an hour to get to Yokosukachou station (needing two trains), from where it was just a five minute walk to the fireworks area. As we were there early we went for a walk around the park where there were many stalls serving hot food and drinks.

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There were lots of Japanese food stalls, and even a stall claiming to serve ‘American Food’.

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The fireworks were being launched from the Tokyo Bay near to some navy ships that had been decorated with lights.

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There were three submarines in the water. One had ‘2010’ written on it in lights, and as soon as it became 2011 the lights changed to ‘2011’.

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The fireworks display then started. Despite using an old, cheap digital camera that I was holding in my hand I still managed to get some good shots of the fireworks reflected off the water.

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The display lasted a bit over five minutes and the mostly Japanese crowd watched very politely. Unlike in many other countries where people drink to excess on New Year’s Eve, in Japan people either don’t drink, or they just have a very small amount. There was no sign of any rowdy behaviour during the whole evening.

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After the display finished there was time to get the second to last train back to Tokyo. If you hang around too long after the fireworks you’ll miss the last train, so make sure you know where you are going after the fireworks finish.

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