Thursday, October 28, 2010

Japan - Tokyo (18-24th Oct 2010)

Day 1 - Shinagawa

We took a night flight (on the 17th) out of Singapore, and arrived at Tokyo around 630am 18th Oct. The flight time was about 7.5 hours, and Japan was 1 hour ahead of Singapore.

Although I couldnt really sleep during flights, little Kai managed to sleep on the plane, although he woke up several times to voice his protest at being in an uncomfortable position.

We spent a little time resting at the airport (Macdonalds) and giving him his morning milk feed, then set off to Shinagawa Prince hotel, located conveniently next to the Shinagawa JR station. As there was a direct airport bus limousine service which goes directly from Narita airport to the hotel, we decided to take it. It cost 3100Yen (roughly $50) per adult. Fortunately, it was free for the little one!

Shinagawa Prince Hotel is actually a pretty decent hotel, and being situated next to the busy JR station, it is also highly in demand by travellers within and outside of Japan. We had made a reservation of a room in its North Tower (which offered slightly cheaper room rates compared to the other 2 - the Main and the Annex towers). When we got to the hotel, it was clear why this was so. While the Main and Annex towers were connected and shared a large hotel lobby and the associated shopping areas, the North Tower was a small standalone building at the side, and its reception/lobby can be best described as clean and functional. =P

As we could not check-in (we reached the hotel around 11am, early check-in would have cost us 3000 Yen! ), so we decided to purchase a JR Day Pass (780 Yen per pax) which allowed us to travel on the JR lines within the Metropolitan Tokyo area (this is denoted by a circular line of stations which includes the more well-known areas such as Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, etc.) and have a self-guided tour round the city.

First we took the JR train to Harajuku (原宿)and took a leisurely stroll along the shopping arcardes and fashion streets. This area is well known for its small streets lined with trendy, fashion shops and although it was a Monday, I did catch a glimpes of some japanese youths dressed in rather impressive (read: weird) wear.

Next we took the train to scout out the Tokyo station area. Seeing as our third (and final) hotel of the trip is located near the Tokyo station- and knowing how formidably large this station was - we thought it couldnt hurt to get some sense of directions first, at least then we wouldnt have to suffer the prospect of getting lost while lugging a huge suitcase around (plus the beastie, of course).
**Note: this turned out to be a good idea, as we found out later! =)
We were so glad to find out the the Yaesu Terminal hotel, where we were to be staying after returning from Disneyland/Sea, was really located very conveniently across the road from the North exit of the Tokyo station!

Finally, it was time to check-in to our hotel (we were quite tired by then...).

The first thing we thought of when we entered our hotel room was "how did they manage to squeeze so many (essential) things into such a small area?". Really, it had everything you'd need - a queen bed, a small table (plus the window ledge) to put your stuff, a small TV, a small fridge cum "cooking area", and an attached bathroom - all squeezd into a room which was even smaller than our master bedroom at home.

In the evening, we took a train to Shinjuku (新宿) to catch the night lights and to take a walk around some of the shopping arcades there. One particularly interesting mall we visited was Tokyo Hands - a 7th storey mall featuring all kinds of home and hobbies equipment. Definitely not the typically fashion stalls there!

Day 2 - Mount Fuji & Hakone

We signed up for a 1 day tour to Mount Fuji and Hakone (EP half regretted signing up for this day trip when she found out that we had to gather at the hotel lobby at 730am! Haha)

The trip started with us travelling round various hotels picking up other passengers who'd signed up for the day trip. This part proved to be the most taxing and tiring but as the bus basically travelled for like 5-10 min, stopped by 5-10 min, then resumed this routine - until all passengers were retrieved from 4 or 5 different hotels around the area. But by 9am, the trip started for good, and I was really glad to be on the way!

The bus ride to Mt Fuji took close to 2.5 hours, so along the way we were given a short toilet break (cum food break, since lunch was scheduled for 230pm! ). But finally, we reached our destination - the famous Mount Fuji (富士山). Even though we knew beforehand that the temperature here would be significantly colder than in the rest of Tokyo (around 15-20 degrees celsius), it did not stop us from wishing we had brought thicker/warmer clothes - especially for little Kai - once then wind blows full force sending chills down our bodies....

Of course, I was busy snapping pictures and videos atop the 5th Station (五合目), the highest point reachable by bus. The souvenior shop (think there was only the single one) there didnt sell very interest stuff though, mostly trinkets and very commercialised products, so we didnt buy much things from there. Guess the most valuable take-away was the photos and the experience of feeling 'amongst the clouds'. =) The only disappointment was that we could not see the famous snow-capped peak of the mountain as it was fully covered by the mist which limited visibility.

After retreating from the heights of the mountain, we headed for Hakone (箱根), a popular holiday destination for many Japanese visitors, as it is known for its hot springs and beautiful lake views.

The lunch stop was at one of the resorts in the area, and it was easy to see why this region is so popular amongst travellers - the scenary is really stunning.
We enjoyed a wonderful lunch there. Kai looked pretty happy too!

Next, we dropped by the Hakone Ropeway and took the sky gondola (actually this is just a nicer name they came up with for the cable cars :P) for a ride up the hill to reach Owakudani (大涌谷), a place famous for hot springs and black (volcanic) eggs! Again, another freezing experience for all of us - little Kai was virtually clinging on to us the whole time we were at the hill top.

The last part of the tour took us to Lake Ashi, where we were to take nice, relaxed and leisurely ride on the "pirate" boat. As it turns out, the ride was anything but relaxing! The little beastie, perhaps stressed and a tired from the day's visits (we were quite rushed in-between places, which is another reason why we didnt want to go for a packaged tour in the first place), decided that he's had enough, and did a full-blown 'Merlion' act just as we boarded the boat!
(Any parents of young children will understand how horribly messy this is. Just imagine having to clean up a load of vomit consisting of milk, water, undigested food, all over the toddler's body, as well as your own. PLUS, having to calm and pacify a crying beastie in the process.... gosh..)

Actually, thinking about it afterwards makes us want to laugh at the comical nature of the situation, but I can assure it, there and then we were really panicky and exasperated! Needless to say, I have little opportunity to take nice photo shots of Lake Ashi.. Here's about the only shots I managed.. hehe.

Initially, we'd wanted to take the bus ride back to Shinagawa, but after this harrowing experience, we felt that we needed to reach back to the hotel as soon as possible. So it was virtually no contest between taking a 3 hour bus ride, and a 30 min Shinkansen ride, even though the latter comes at a rather hefty price of another 6000 Yen.

Day 3 - The Disney Sea Experience!

We checked out from the Shinagawa Prince Hotel and took the JR train to Maihama station. There, we quickly dumped our luggage with the Disney Resort Centre personnel and quickly started with our adventures at Disney Sea! (check-in at Mira Costa wasnt until 3pm, so we decided to venture into the park and enjoy some sights and rides first)

With the little one around, it was quite impossible for both of us to take any hiong-hiong rides together (ya, you know the sort I like! The faster and higher they go, the better!). EP generously offered to keep watch on the beastie while I took a few rides by myself. Unfortunately, it took us a while to remember the trick about using FastPass, so we didnt manage to 'optimise' the 2 Park passes we had. Still, I manage to take rides on Journey to the Centre of the Earth, as well as a short roller-coaster kind of ride (cant recall the name...)

As expected, the rest of the time we spent walking around the park, enjoying the sights while looking out for the next restaurant/cafe to rest our tired feet. =P

It seems like Halloween is quite a celebrated festival here in Japan (at least in Disneyland/Sea!) as there were many Halloween-theme based decorations and characters abound in the park.

Finally, it was time to check-in to our hotel! To be honest, I have been wondering how on Earth could we have decided to stay in a hotel which charged $650/night!?! Not to mention, we are actually staying in Mira Costa for 2 nights! But after seeing the hotel especially its interior decor and room, I have to say it is mighty impressive (though still super expensive lor..). Compared to the matchbox sized hotel we've just stayed in (Shinagawa), this was luxurious beyond words...

We then came out in the evening to take in some night sights of DisneySea park.

Day 4 - Off to Disneyland!

As official hotel guests, we had the privilege of entering the park(s) 15 minutes before the official opening hours (which was 9am). This 15 min advantage may not seem like much, but it'd probably allow us to ride 1 or 2 of the more popular rides without having to 'compete' with the seemingly endless queues of people. Believe me, I witness how these guys chiong into the park once the doors open, it's really scary!

Still, we had to forfeit that little advantage as beastie took his time to consume his morning milk...SIGH.

When we exited the hotel, we saw to our dismiss that it was RAINING!! :((
That alone made it almost impossible to enjoy the park's more interesting rides. In fact, we spent much time renting a covered stroller (disneyland offers these at 700Yen a day), and then later deciding we needed to get Kai a raincoat even with the covered stroller! Basically, it was a near disaster to start the day off...

But despite all that, there was still time to take in some nice shots! Cant miss the all-too-famous Disney Castle now, can I?

We took little Kai to the Merry Go Round!

There was a nice Disney procession too...

In the evening we turned up on time to enjoy the grand Disney fireworks! Finally, some justification for the hefty park entrance fees! haha

Day 5 - Disney.. Again?

Being overly eager (and excited) on the 1st day we reached Disney park(s), we'd purchased a 3-day pass. The advantage was that this allowed us to choose which park we'd like to visit on the 3rd day - so we could either go back to DisneySea or enjoy(?) another day at DisneyLand.

In the end, having suffered so at the wet DisneyLand the day before, we decided it was better to go to DisneySea again. If nothing else, at least it is near our hotel.

Well, at least it wasnt a totally wasted trip as we managed to catch a Halloween special presentation by the Disney characters!

Finally we said goodbye to Disneyland/sea and headed for our hotel near Tokyo station - the Yaesu Terminal hotel.

Again, we're thrown back into the the shoe-box sized hotels just like the previous one in Shinagawa. But then again, if we're paying but a fraction of the price of the Disney hotels, I'd take this anytime! Afterall, EP admitted that these small rooms had everything we need - 麻雀虽小,五脏俱全.

Next, we were off to Shibuya (涉谷)to have a look at this shopping and fashion district. Indeed, the neon lights were all over and we enjoyed a cool and interesting evening stroll with the boy.

Before we left Shibuya, I made sure we took a photo with Hachiko - a statue of the dog which famously waited for its owner at the Shibuya train station years after he passed on.

Day 6 - The visit to Gendai Publication!

We bought a day pass for the Tokyo Metro, as their station were nearer the supposed location of the Gendai publication store. In the end, we still ended up a little lost, mostly due to an error on the map which I'd printed beforehand. Fortunately, we managed to find locals who were able to help direct us to the store location!

I splashed out a couple of hundred dollars on scores, DVDs and CDs. Much of the items seemed overpriced (not helped by the strong Yen, I suppose), but given the fact that I may not come back to this shop again (anytime soon, or maybe ever!), I was more than willing to pay. Pictures can be found in Guitaresque blog. =)

After a brief rest back at the hotel, it's time for our final excursion in Tokyo. We were off to Odaiba! Coincidentally, EP's brother and sis-in-law were also in Tokyo for holiday, so we'd decided to meet up at Odaiba for dinner.

The rainbow bridge is really pretty, especially at night.

Not sure why they have a mini version of the Statue of Liberty there, but it looked good against the nightscape, so we took some photos of it as well.

Day 7 - Last minute food and shopping, then back to Singapore