Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Back to Mt. Takao

IMG_1668-1 Mt. Takao was one of the first places I went to in Tokyo when I first came here in 2007.  I guess in a weird way it made sense that it would be one of the last I would go before leaving Japan (more on that later…). With the weather getting better and better last weekend I got a chance to re-hike to the top…

The mountain itself is only a short train ride from Tokyo and is pretty popular with tourists and locals alike. While there I saw boy scouts, children hiking with their instructors who explained different parts of the mountain (as well as animals, flowers, etc…), hikers from all ages from 7 to possibly 77, and even pets accompanying their owners.

You can see some of  the pictures I took here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Trip to Kawagoe

IMG_1467-1 Over the course of the Golden Week, which unfortunately ends today, I got the chance to visit quite a few different places and try a few things I had not had a chance to try before. I think I should thank Derek for his visit that gave me a reason to go around each day instead of staying in.

Kawagoe is one of the places I had not had a chance to visit before. It is actually pretty close to Tokyo – about 30-40 minutes from Shinjuku but it offers a pretty different scenery, a famous temple with a beautiful garden and 500+ unique statues, an ancient bell tower and a “sweets street”. It is also famous for sweet potatoes. I highly recommend taking a day trip out there if you live in Tokyo – it’s definitely worth it!

You can see the images I snapped here.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Panasonic’s 3D Television

image I have so much to write about but I just can’t find enough time to organize stuff to post on here. Facebook makes one lazy, I think, by encouraging “1 picture, 1 sentence” style posts. Anywho, I will post something here as well :)

I was walking around Kichijoji last week and I came across a crowd in front of the Yodobashi Camera. It turns out Panasonic had a demo set up for their new 3D Viera TVs. I knew about a new 3D format coming for the Blu-Ray but I had no idea the players were already produced, discs published, and DVR units built to handle the 3D data (as well as the TVs to display them of course). The 3 minute demo was actually pretty impressive. I think one of the reasons is that the glasses they use (yes you still need glasses which I can’t say I will ever get used to). The glasses are actually “active” – they are synced to the TV which supposedly makes for a more natural and less headache-inducing (which of course I was not able to check within 3 minutes).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Demonstration in Harajuku against child trafficking

IMG_1005-1 I was out in Harajuku today which was as crowded as usual given it’s a weekend day. Sometimes it still surprises me how many non-Japanese people seem to frequent the area.  Granted, the sheer number of people walking on the street is so high that one would expect to see “foreigners” here and there but the number of non-Japanese people was easily around 10%. That’s not what I am writing about today though – I came across an interesting demonstration which I think is worth mentioning here.

As far as I can tell “child trafficking” is not a particularly big problem for Japan, definitely not anywhere near certain East Asian countries. It was nice to see people getting together even for issues which may not be affecting their own country as much as the neighbors.  By the way, this picture was taken from the top of the Gucci building…

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Catching the last days of the cherry blossoms

This season of cherry blossoms was a bit weird in Tokyo – well, maybe unfortunate is a better word. First weekend it was all rainy and gloomy for the most part. The following weekend, with the cherry blossoms already starting to shed some of the flowers, I was at the hospital. Well, this weekend was different. I spent a decent part of my Saturday walking around the Tokyo Station, the emperor’s palace and Yotsuya. I also managed to get lost and walk from Yotsuya to Tokyo station in the process but I also had tons of fun and saw amazing scenery.

My ultra-hectic schedule continues so unfortunately I cannot comment much more. Instead I will just put some of the pictures I took on here – one picture, a thousand words I hope :)

IMG_0840-1 Around Yotsuya station

IMG_0874-1 Cherry blossoms flying in the air

IMG_0936-1 Castle moat

IMG_0898-1 Another part of the moat

IMG_0906-1 Couples in boats

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cherry blossoms are out but no blue skies…

IMG_0816-1 I am supposed to write about Sapporo but that will take quite a bit of time to plan and while I was going to do al that planning today, I could not. See, it is the cherry blossom season and this weekend is the best time to go check those out.  After all cherry blossoms are only around for two, or at most three weeks a year. Since that corresponds to only 4 – 6 weekend days you can tell how important each one of those days become if one wants to go check out the cherry blossoms.

Today and yesterday were supposed to be the days I go to check out cherry blossoms. According to the Japanese Meteorological Agency, yesterday would have been the day that the blossoms reach their full bloom. It unfortunately was not to be… First, I had to spend  most of yesterday at the hospital and today, I was mostly at home. Both days had overcast skies as well, in my humble opinion taking away from the experience.

I am hoping next week will be better and there will still be cherry blossoms to check out. Last year there were still a few trees left even 2 weeks after the peak date around Ueno Zoo. Meanwhile, I snapped this picture close to my apartment. Hey, better than nothing, right?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Trip to Sapporo and Otaru

IMG_0538-1 Ever since coming to Japan, I wanted to visit Hokkaido, the northernmost part of mainland Japan. The snow festival in February (雪祭り/Yuki Matsuri), the mountains and hills full of beautiful flowers in the spring time are just two of the biggest attractions in the region. This past weekend, unfortunately, was not the right time to experience either one of the two but the region has plenty to offer all year around!

This past Monday was a national holiday – the observation of Spring Equinox (moved to the 22nd as the original date, the 21st, fell on a weekend) and after I took Friday off as a paid-holiday, I had 3 full days to enjoy Sapporo and get back to Tokyo on Monday. Contrary to the time of Yuki Matsuri the tickets were quite reasonable too so it was quite a treat! I got to visit many places in Sapporo and even made a day trip to the famous Asahiyama Zoo (旭山動物園).

I am going to try to cover each day separately, starting this weekend. Unfortunately these days I am so amazingly busy busy busy…

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A quick visit to Hitotsubashi University campus

hitotsubashi university logo-0516 Last weekend I decided to try something different. Instead of going towards Shinjuku and ending up somewhere in central Tokyo like Roppongi or Shibuya, I went the opposite direction on Chuo Line (JR中央線)– towards Tachikawa.

Tachikawa is a relatively big city, about 15 minutes from Mitaka and it is usually possible to cut the time by a few minutes if one catches a special rapid going towards Ome or Mt. Takao. Today I won’t write about Tachikawa though, I will write about Kunitachi (国立) which is a stop before Tachikawa which is usually referred to as a university town. The main road leading off from the station is flanked on both sides by cherry blossom trees which unfortunately are not in bloom yet - I suspect it will be two weeks or so before that happens at which point I will try to go back to snap some pictures of that.

hitotsubashi university 2-0509

One nice surprise for me was the campus of the Hitotsubashi University. Following a western architecture, the buildings seem almost out of place in Japan. The campus is green and many people (that is to say, non-students) can be seen walking around it, enjoying the scenery. The logo of the school is pretty interesting too (see the picture I snapped above) with a decisive emphasis on medicine. I heard that the school is actually one of the best in Tokyo in terms of social sciences. The entrance examination, while not as hard as University of Tokyo or Keio, is also one of the hardest.


bikes -0500

Of course wherever there is a university, there are students and wherever there are students, there are bicycles – at least in Asia, based on what I saw in Taiwan, Korea, and here. There were tons of bicycles parked in front of the university campus which itself is pretty close to the train station so my guess is that some students actually leave the bicycles locked here and walk to the train station, using the bicycle to get around the campus during the day or to go somewhere further.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rain and gray skies for Tokyo


The days before things warm up and Spring is fully here always bring rain to Tokyo and these few days are no exception. It does get sunny once every few days and it actually feels better than Summer since Summers are humid, hazy and therefore uncomfortable and sticky affairs. However, this week the sunny day was Friday and for the last two days it has been raining, drizzling actually – just enough wetness to complement the low temperature. One thing the rain let me do though was to grab this picture of the little puddle on my balcony. At least Sunday was not a complete loss I guess…

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What one letter can change


Snapped this at the Mitaka Station last weekend (the night my father was here) – it’s an ad for a massage place called “Body Factory”. It follows the usual fare of Japanese pamphlets where about 90% of the text is in Japanese with a few things in English sprinkled around. Another thing it unfortunately shares with many other pamphlets around here is the fact that it is off by a single letter. Normally this would make for something completely nonsensical but in this case, the new word somehow works in this context, albeit in a very wrong sounding way…

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Venus Fort at Odaiba – Now an outlet mall

Venus Fort Fountain-0350 Well, not completely – but it seems like they did convert most of the stores into outlet/factory stores offering 50-60% off of the regular prices. Mind you, the Venus Fort is still a relatively high-end shopping mall (there IS a huge indoor fountain after all) so in some of the stores bargain prices are still in >$100 range.

It seems like this big change happened around January but as Odaiba is not exactly next door to Mitaka, it was only today that I actually saw the new mall. Outside is changed as well and the inner decor now has more lights – though, they kept the “streets of Venice” look. It used to be that the Venus Fort was worth checking out at least once just because of the design but now the possibility of finding a brand item for 60% off the price you would have to pay in Ginza/Shibuya or Shinjuku means regular visits every once in a while may well be worth it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Keeping tabs on what’s going on in Mitaka

IMG_0328Mitaka, just like any other Japanese city in the Tokyo region (and possibly in general, though I can’t say that from experience) constantly has a ton of things going on for its citizens to take part in. There are cultural events like concerts, movies, and traditional Japanese arts as well as other things like marathons, competitions, fairs, and even English or Japanese language courses. To keep track of these things one can rely on the city’s website but usually those are not the best looking or the easiest to maneuver. Instead, I pick up this little, one page, newspaper. It is published only once a month but they do a good job summarizing what will happen in the next month.  You can find them at the Mitaka Station (which is where I pick them up) or at the City Center.

Monday, February 22, 2010

And the snow comes and goes…


Winter is almost over and we haven’t had a “decent snow” covering the rooftops more than, well, once actually. So when I woke up last week I was very surprised to see the roofs covered with a nice layer of powder.

Unlike what the huge amount of snow did for my friends in the US though, this snow did not cause any problems. In fact, the whole thing was gone in an hour after I took this picture (mind you it was still snowing at this point too). I think as long as this is how it happens, you know without any dirty slush sticking around after the snow or cars/people slipping on ice, I could use more of this snow. I mean, it looks nice when you are indoors, and when you are out you can do snowball fights for that one hour (kids in my neighborhood were doing just that when I was walking to work).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Of Winter and Japanese Water Heaters

My water heater picked the absolutely worst time to break. See, if this was during the humid hell that is Summer in Tokyo, I would have probably welcomed the sudden decision by my water heater to stop working. Unfortunately though, this is the coldest part of the winter and the idea of turning into an ice cube during shower is not particularly appealing.

Old waterheater First a little background on water heaters around here… They use gas to heat up water and the heaters themselves are actually provided by the gas company. The heater consists of two parts – an outside unit which is hooked up to gas and water and does the actual heating when you turn on the tap, and an inside unit which is this nice little display in your kitchen. The inside unit lets you turn the outside unit on or off as well as set a desired temperature for the hot water.  Pretty cool, right? Now, what you see on the right here is what mine was showing Friday night. Yup – “Minus zero”. It turns out this is an error code and also explains why all of a sudden I was out of hot water.  Going through manuals online which turned out to be all in Japanese, decrypting what I can, and finally getting help from a friend, I was able to ascertain that I had to unplug the unit outside, wait for 20 minutes and then plug it back in and presumably things would work. I won’t go into the details but let me just say there was no plug outside and I had to pick which fuse to turn off and eventually the unit did work but for barely long enough for me to take a shower.

New waterheater After my friend contacted the company that handles renting apartments, they reassured us that the device would be replaced and today, I came home to find a nice man from Tokyo Gas replacing the unit with a nicer, newer one. Well, I am happy to report that things are now back to normal. I have hot water and everything which is good news since I was sure the reset trick would no longer work with the older one. Oh and I like the new LED color too – nice and green :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Stroll Through Jindai Botanical Gardens

Sorry for the delay. I usually try to update this once every few days but I bought a new camera (Canon EOS 7D bringing me to the wonderful world of dSLRs finally) and I was using my free time to try to get to know it a little bit better. It is an amazing camera (if I might say so myself) and I don’t think I even scratched the surface but I decided the best way to learn is by doing. So I picked up my camera, put on a polarizing filter, and made my way to the Jindai Botanical Gardens which happen to be pretty close to where I live.

Getting in costs 500 Yen per person and inside you find a nice, serene park complete with a greenhouse and a little pond. If you happen to be by the Jindaiji Temple, this is just a 2 minute walk from there. I also had the chance to try out some delicious handmade soba which the place is famous for. Anyway, here are some of the pictures I took :)

jindaiji-8 There weren’t too many flowers outside this being winter and all but these ones caught my eye.

jindaiji-10 The small lake in the gardens. I am pretty sure it looks even more amazing in the spring and especially during the cherry blossom season.

jindaiji-17 A water lily from inside the greenhouse.

jindaiji-31 Handmade soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) with Tempura served outside next to the fire to keep the customers warm.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Delicious Chinese food in Kichijoji

P1310622  I am a big fan of lamb and my recent trip to Hong Kong did pique my interest in Chinese food more so than before – two reasons why I was very excited to find out about X’ian, a very nice Chinese restaurant in Kichijoji serving up lamb dishes from the region of same name in China.

This little gem of a restaurant is actually located on the top floor of the Yodobashi Camera (yes in Japan even big electronic stores can have restaurants and even a floor full of clothing stores) in Kichijoji. They offer both various types of Dim Sum and a-la-carte dishes like the nice and yummy fried lamb leg you can see in the picture I took. The page I linked above has more information about the place than I can ever hope to put in there so feel free to check that out. One thing is worth noting though – watch out for the symbols for spicy food. They do mean spicy ;)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dim Sum at Roppongi Hills

DVC00070 One of the greatest mysteries for me was how none of my friends in Japan seemed to know about Dim Sum. See, after Hong Kong I must say I got an appreciation for Dim Sum and I was sure there would be restaurants serving it in a city like Tokyo. Well it turns out I was right and people does know about it – it’s just it’s called something else in Japanese that’s all :)

So here is the thing – the kanji for Dim Sum is the same in Chinese and Japanese - 点心 but the Japanese read it as ten-shin (てんしん). This particular restaurant I went to is at Roppongi Hills, called “Hong Kong Tea House”. They offer both full dishes and dim sum a-la carte but it seems like, at least for dinner, they restrict you to open buffet if you want dim-sum. Their dim-sum list has 50 items on it and you can order to your heart’s content including most of the usual suspects (for up to 90 minutes and 3 dishes at a time) though it does cost about $40 per person… They also have this statement on there (which I took a picture of) – they charge you extra if you waste food. It’s a refreshing thing to see in this day and age where usually the opposite seems to be encouraged.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cleaning robots at Tokyo’s Narita Airport


I snagged this picture of the two cleaning robots at the Narita Airport on my way to Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago. I find it amazing how pretty much all service robots in Japan share two interesting properties – they all have cute names and cute faces. These are no different – the one on the left is a guy (or actually a boy) and his name is なり太くん (narita-kun from the name of the airport) and the one on the right is the girl and her name is エポちゃん (epo-chan from pronunciation of the word “airport”). I have not seen them in action, they were both neatly parked on the side and I was running to my gate but I think it would be pretty nice to watch them. If you look a little closely you can see the sensors on them so I am pretty sure they do have an autonomous cleaning mode but I wonder how effective they are. My Roomba does OK in my small apartment but Narita Airport is slightly bigger :)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Food at Hong Kong (updated)

Hong Kong, being a pretty international city, offers yummy delicacies from both the Chinese and world cuisines. You can find good food in places ranging from cheap food vendors selling stuff outside to expensive restaurants overlooking the whole city. Here are a few I tried and what I thought about them:


Egg Tart

The Egg Tart is a pretty cheap dessert but boy, is it yummy. You can pretty much find it in any bakery but if you want to try “the best”, at least according to my amazing hosts, you should have it at the Tai Cheong Bakery in Central. It takes about 10 minutes to walk there from the MTR station, through the Escalator Link Alley. Just take the alley up until you see the small pizza place on your left then go down and walk a little to the right. You will see the small but extremely popular bakery. Alternatively you can take a cab from the station. Cabs in Hong Kong are pretty cheap (especially compared to Japan where the meter opens with about $7.50). If you are visiting Macau you can try the version of Egg Tart they have there which comes with a Portuguese twist. The full address for the HK option is:

泰昌餅家 Tai Cheong Bakery
35, Lyndhurst Terrace, Central
香港中環擺花街 35 號



Hot (Clay) Pot

Hot Pot is a pretty popular dish for locals and tourists would, in my humble opinion, do well in checking it out for themselves. Thanks to our host I was able to try out a restaurant that is very much out of the way of the typical tourist spots but is a hot spot for the locals. And why wouldn’t it be with prices around $2-$3 for each pot full of chicken/pork/beef/seafood rice all prepared by a family? Get this – the restaurant does not even sell drinks and if you ask for anything to drink they simply point you to the closest convenience store. There are no private tables, everything is connected and you sit pretty close with “strangers” but I found the experience to be enjoyable thanks to the quality of food and the friendliness of the said “strangers”. If you do go, make sure you try out the oyster omelet. In case you are interested, the place is called “Four Season Pot Rice” and it is in Yau Ma Tei. The full address is:

四季煲仔飯 Four Season Claypot Rice
46-58, Arthur Street, Yau Ma Tei



Dim  Sum

Dim Sum is a bit difficult to describe, after all it is not one single dish but rather a collection of small dishes very much like the Spanish Tapas. You can find a much better description on Wikipedia right here. There are many different places you can have Dim Sum and I heard good things about Dim Sum in Macau but the meal I had was actually right at Discovery Bay.  The image is a list of what they had on offer and as you can see there are MANY different little dishes to choose from including seafood, beef, pork or purely vegetable. If you take the ferry there you can get a free return ticket (about $4 in value) if you spend more than $10 which is actually pretty difficult since the food is as cheap as it is good.



Western Food

There are many, many restaurants to get your “western food” fix but I tried out the “Pearl” on the Peak. It was pretty good, offering various Italian style dishes and especially very tasty meat dishes. The prices are more than a bit higher than your typical restaurant in Hong Kong given the prime, touristy location and the class of restaurant but the view of the whole city below you alone is worth the cost. The staff is very professional as well.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Back from Hong Kong


And the fact that I was there is why I couldn’t post anything for this long, I swear…  It has nothing to do with me being lazy and stuff :P

I took two days of paid holidays which with the weekend and the public holiday on Monday (it was “Coming of Age Day” in Japan which I managed to miss once again) so I had about 3 full days to go around. I have lots of pictures and stories to write about the food, the city, and where I stayed – Discovery Bay. My hosts, Mei and Joe made this trip possible and were amazing hosts so I cannot thank them enough.

Tomorrow we start with the food…

ps. I took the picture above from “The Peak”. It came out pretty nice I think ;)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Women going crazy for pictures of shirtless guys at Japanese subway stations


OK, this was the scene at various subway stations on Sunday while I was making my way back home and I could not really figure out why… Can anyone enlighten me? There were actually security guards telling the women to not stop for taking pictures since they were making it very difficult for the other travelers going through the station. At this point all I can say it is something that will happen on the 9th but… that’s about it. Oh, and I think these guys are from a music group (boy band) though I am not sure which one.