Saturday, November 29, 2008

A stroll through beautiful Ebisu (恵比寿) (part 2)

As promised this will be about the Yebisu Garden Place but I think I will try a new style with this post - more pictures less words :) Oh and before we start, you might notice the discrepancy between Yebisu and Ebisu. Incidentally they stand for the same thing but the sound "ye"(ヱ) is not used commonly in contemporary Japanese so it is instead replaced by the sound "e" (エ). Ok enough with the trivia, onto the pictures....

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This is the entrance to the Ebisu Garden Place. Getting there from the station is pretty simple since there is this "Sky Walk" thing, an automated walkway that actually is pretty long so those who don't like to walk much will definitely appreciate it.

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These days there are two big attractions added to the Ebisu Garden Place in the spirit of Christmas. The first of two is the Christmas tree. While it is by no means a huge tree, it is adorned by decorations made by crystal maker Baccarat. There is a nice walkway flanked by rows of smaller trees and a little stream of water on the sides.



At the end of the walkway is an atrium which in the summer months holds a big screen where movies are projected for the visitors to watch for free. During Christmas time though, Baccarat provides the space with a huge (and pretty) crystal chandelier.

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Of course first and foremost the place is for shoppers and that means not only can you find clothing stores but you can also find stores selling random stuff like Bonsai trees shown here. There are also lots of restaurants including an oyster bar.



Right by the back of the "place" is Westin Tokyo. While it is not situated in Shibuya or Shinjuku one can easily get to Shibuya in 5 minutes (since it is only one station away) while staying in the much more peaceful Ebisu. The hotel seemed very nicely decorated for Christmas and there was even a wedding taking place (you can see the bride in the picture :)).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A stroll through beautiful Ebisu (恵比寿) (part 1)


Ebisu is one of these "gems" that require searching for. You can spend years living in Tokyo and may not even be aware of its existence even though it is just one stop away from Shibuya (渋谷) on Yamanote Line (山手線) and is home to a lots of cool restaurants and stores for those interested in shopping. The Westin Tokyo Hotel is here too for travelers looking to stay a bit outside the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku and Shibuya but still be able to get there in 5 minutes by train.

PB220014 One of those cool restaurants is Partenope - an Italian restaurant serving pasta and pizza and certified by "Verace Pizza Napolitana" which gives certification to restaurants preparing Naples style pizza. There are only a few of these in Japan and the pizza actually tastes pretty good. The prices are reasonable too which I guess is part of the reason why there are lots of people getting in line to eat here. Making a reservation, especially for the weekends, is really important.

PB220020 This one was an interesting find... アメリカ橋 - or America Bridge. Apparently the bridge here has been called that since 1926 when it was sent to the US for one reason or another. I think it was built in 1904 though unfortunately my friends and I could not make sense of the text by the bridge (well, it was definitely well above my level of Japanese though my friends who are Japanese could not really make heads or tails of the story either...)

Ok well that's it for now. Next will be the Ebisu Garden Plaza which definitely deserves its own post - you know, with the giant crystal chandelier, the big Christmas tree and all...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Want a bottle of water? It will cost you just $120 in Tokyo...


So I was strolling through Ebisu (which I am going to write about soon - I just have so many things to mention and so many pictures to sift through that I cannot bring myself to start writing. Yes I am lazy...) and I came across a store in Ebisu Garden which just sells water - Luxury Water to be exact.



PB220054 Yes, apparently there is a brand of water called "Fillico Beverly Hills" which calls itself "Jewellery Water". Each bottle, which has 3/4 of a liter, sells for between 11,000 and 13,000 yen - about $120 to $140 with today's exchange rate.  So what's so special about them? Well, the selling point seems to be the bottle which has embedded Swarovski Crystals and can be customized with the name(s) of the owner (names if a couple bought it for example).  After drinking the water, the bottle can be used as a candle holder too with the crown on the top being replaced by a candle. Talking about the crown - there are two designs: A queen crown for women and a king crown for men.

Now here is an interesting bit of information about this company that you can find with a quick Google search... They have nothing to do with Beverly Hills or the US in general. They are a Japanese company and the water comes from Kobe. Now I am not saying it is definitely not worth the price - I have never tried it but I can at least say that it is probably a bit overpriced ;)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The lady with a "clock-embedded" bag

F1000038 I have seen lots of interesting products in Japan but I was still surprised when I saw this lady walking down the stairs in Kichijoji Station (吉祥寺駅).  As you can see she had a full size clock in her oversized bag - pretty nice one too with stones around the circumference. And the kicker? It was not just a design, it was actually functional. Now I don't know whether or not this is a popular item here but I can tell you that to me, it feels like a Japan-only design....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Canceled trains create a (bigger than usual) mess in Tokyo

PB150003 See, today was supposed to be a simple day. I was going to take the express Chuo Line train from Kichijouji to Ochanomizu - a maximum 20 minute trip, followed by hopping a station over in a local train to Akihabara for my bi-weekly stroll through the capital of electronics and software in Japan. How was I to know that something very very unexpected would happen and the whole day would turn into an experiment of how many bad coincidences can occur in a given day without my head exploding...

PB150005 The first surprise was seeing the two guards in front of the express line entrance in Kichijouji with a clear sign (if you speak Japanese) explaining something was up (in case anyone thought jumping over the metal cable that they pulled across was a good idea). The image is from Shinjuku by the way where a similar scene was taking place in front of the entrance for the express train for Chuo Line, but I get ahead of myself... Where was I ? Ah, yes, still at Kichijouji. Not being able to read the sign I had the bright idea of taking a local train back to Mitaka (which is in the opposite direction) and then finding an express train from there towards Ochanomizu but nope, there were guards and a sign there too. So I gave up and hopped on a local train which actually turned out to be going the opposite direction - not good. Finally, at Musashi-Sakai I managed to get onto the local Chuo line train going in the right direction (which was of course very packed thanks to being the only Chuo line in service). Result? A very uncomfortable journey of about 45 - 50 minutes.

PB150007 After re-charging at Akiba, thanks to the very yummy  food of Star Kebab, I was ready for the next stop - Shinjuku for picking up something quickly from a store there. I am not even going to mention the train trip which was similar to the first one. This time I had the extra bad fortune of running into a free open air concert of this music group called "Gazette" which I have never heard of before. Now if this meant getting to listen to some nice music for free it would have been just fine but no - it just meant having to force my way through a bigger-than-usual ocean of people who were more intent on just walking slowly and listening / taking pictures than getting from point A to point B.

When I finally made it back home I think I appreciated that, just being home, a little more than usual... It will take me a day just to get rid of the stress I think. I am glad it was a Saturday and not a Sunday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pocky Day!

Do you know what Pocky is? It is those little stick thingies - you know, like a sort of stick candy with chocolate around the tip. It is pretty popular in Japan and it turns out 11/11 (11 November) is called Pocky Day around here because  I guess 1 looks like a stick.... Funny :P

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mitaka City Hall - Vegetable Festival?

I took this picture yesterday night in front of Mitaka City Hall (三鷹市役所). I am not exactly sure what was going on exactly but it seemed like there were lots of signs about vegetables and potted plants for sale. In the middle there was a boat made out of vegetables - pretty interesting huh? :) Well, I took the picture with my cell which does have a 3.2 MP camera but its still a cell phone so cannot expect too much.

If anyone knows what exactly was going on please let me know...


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

University Festivals in Japan

PB020498 This last weekend I was invited to a university exhibition by a member of my research lab who is attending the university part time working on his MA in design. What I found at the university was more than just an exhibition but a full on festival with students cooking/selling food, a small flea market and even a costume ball.



PB020502 The university itself, Tama Art University, is a pretty small one, though I was told recently they built a bigger campus in another location. This original campus hosts 7-8 buildings with a pretty nice "garden" of sorts in the middle with trees. The buildings hosted the artwork while the garden was hosting the flea market in the center and the student's cooking and selling food around the sides.



PB020505 The displayed work of the students seemed pretty interesting and even though I must admit some of it escaped my understanding, I enjoyed some quite a bit. There were very smart pieces which after spending a few minutes you do take a step back and say "Aha!", "I get it!" (and actually mean it ;)).  This one is called "Intrinsic Beauty".



PB020504 Ok I must mention this one too - the food was pretty good. I had some yakitori/焼き鳥 which was both cheap and yummy. Yes I had to wait quite a bit - they are not professional cooks after all - but I enjoyed what I received in the end and each skewer cost around $1. Doesn't the picture look sooo appealing? :)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Layover in Dubai

PA110307Well, it has been a week since coming back to Japan and finally things are starting to get in order and I am catching up on my sleep - thanks to being able to get over jet lag finally. See, it is never as bad as traveling to the US where the  time difference is 13-14 hours (with EST) but still, it takes a while to get one's body in synch with the local time zone...


PA110304 In the last few weeks I went back to Cyprus (as I have mentioned earlier) but also I had a chance to see a little bit of Dubai around the airport (for this I need to thanks Emirates Airlines for their 7 hour layover between the flight from Osaka and flight to Istanbul). The Dubai airport is pretty modern and big though the construction still goes on in parts of the airport as well as outside it. There are so many duty free shops selling things ranging from the typical (alcohol, fragrances, cigarettes,...) to very unlikely to be found at an airport (big ticket electronic items for example). I guess this layover thing is common (or may be there are lots of delays?) that you see people sleeping in big groups on the floor sometimes, flanking moving walks or escalators.

PA110293  Of course UAE did not make my life easy. If you are like me it turns out you need to pay a certain amount of money in order to get permission to enter the country. Since it would be "too convenient" to pay this in cash, it turns out one needs to get this special e-Dirham (UAE currency) card with this much money on it. The immigration lines are ridiculously long and slow which discouraged me a lot and served to kill all the anticipation - but I digress...

PA110292Once I got a chance to get out the airport which was ridiculously crowded in so many ways, the hot Dubai air welcomed me. It was early in the morning but still it was pretty warm. On the way to the hotel which Emirates put me up in I caught a glimpse of different things including the amount of construction going on in the area. The hotel did not have a single English channel on its TV or a hairdryer which was a first for me. Still, I think that even though certain things (the way people at the immigration treat visitors for one thing) discouraged me from ever coming back to Dubai, I believe I would enjoy another trip to Dubai for a longer period of time that would let me see more of the city.