By: Liz Leigh
The long, hot Japanese summer is coming to an end and work is finally starting to pick up with lessons beginning, speech contests just around the corner and welcome enkais ahead. As September rolls round you may also be finding yourself with some free time on the weekends as things begin to settle down and you can get into the swing of life in Fukushima a bit better.
Now that you have one blank weekend in your diary, what better way to fill it than to go on a trip?
We are lucky folk here. We may live in the boonies but we are never too far away from a weekend of fun frolicking in the cities. Just imagine if you were up in the north of Hokkaido- it would take less time for us to fly home than for them to get down to Tokyo (but at least they aren`t quite as sweaty as us southern folks).
Tokyo is my first weekend away recommendation-
It is easy to spend a large portion of your paycheck down in Tokyo but it always provides a funweekend and good memories
How to get there
If you are going from Iwaki or the coast then you can get the weekend train pass for around 7,000 yen or a JR bus. You can buy tickets in advance from the bus station by Iwaki station or from a Lawson`s Loppi machine.
From the rest of Fukushima you can get cheap cheap bus tickets from http://www.489.fm/
If you can`t read Japanese get a teacher or sempai to help you!
If you don’t have time on your hands then you can also get a shinkansen from Fukushima, Koriyama and ShinShirakawa stations.
Where to stay
There is a massive range of accommodation down in Tokyo but places we JETs tend to stay are-
Ace Inn- Quite cheap and has dorm rooms and is only a couple of stops from Shinjuku. If you stay on the “non-luxury” floors they can be a bit smelly and noisy.
Toyoko Inn- A definite upgrade from Ace Inn as it is a proper hotel but a bit more expensive. There are Tokoyo Inns all over Japan and are always a safe bet. If you stay at the Shinjuku one you will be in the heart of Kabukicho which is fun. Especially as a group of guys. Look out for the hostess bar with fat ladies wearing pearl necklesses.
Hotelmystays Ochanomizu- If you are staying as a couple or don’t mind sharing a double bed with a friend you can find cheap deals for hotelmystays (Around 8,000 yen) on their internet site. They will often do late checkout for couples and the rooms are really nice and it is a good location for accessing the East of Tokyo (Akihabara, ueno, Disneyland).
Sakura house- this place is both a backpackers and a guesthouse for longer term guests (foriegners who can’t get a house because Japanese landlords are raci…. concerned that we don’t know how to seperate garbage.) It is cheaper than Ace Inn though located a bit further round the Yamanote line in Ikebukuro.
What to do
There’s a lot to do in Tokyo but some areas I would recommend (especially if this is your first time to Japan) are
Harajuku– this is great for shopping as you will find western stores like H&M and forever 21 as well as small boutiques down the side streets. You will also find nice little cafes offering good lunch menus down the side streets too.
Over the past five or so years Harajuku has become more mainstream and there are less of those freaky Japanese girls dressed in lolita fashion. However they are still about and if you head over the bridge to yoyogi park (turn right when you leave the station, you will see the bridge soon enough) you will find a mix of crazies around, dancing to anime songs, playing frisbee and walking cute dogs. Yoyogi park is one of my favourite spots in the whole of Japan. I like to grab some kakigoori (shaved ice), find a nice spot to sit my fat ass down and people watch for hours.
Shibuya- When you think of Japan and Tokyo, Shibuya is probably one of the areas that spring to mind with the infamous crossing and dazzling lights.
A fun evening out is to be had in Shibuya- there are plenty of restaurants, Izakaya, Karaoke, bars and clubs, as well as a love hotel street, though I will let Mark tell you more about that. If you are going for early drinks (before 7pm) try and find the hub pub as it has happy hour on ALL DAY. Beer isn’t included but cocktails are very very cheap.
Also, if you head down the main street through Shibuya (the one that isn’t a road, by starbucks) all the way to the end there is the standing bar on the left which has beer for 300 yennies. In fact, there are quite a few 300 yen bars around so keep your eyes pealed.
Tokyo- The area around Tokyo station has a pretty cool feel to it- wide streets with lots of business buildings, if you have a spare few hours in the day time head here and take a look at the imperial palace. There’s also gardens by the palace that are worth a walk through too. If you ever want to visit the palace (actually inside the gorunds) it is open two days a year- December 23rd and January 2nd. You wil be ushered in, the emporerer will wave and give a speech and then you will be ushered out. They give out free flags so you can wave along and shout banzai to really get in the spirit of things.
Akihabara- Whether you are an out-there otaku or a secret geek like myself, Akihabara is the place to be. Shops and shops of games, anime shit and manga models as well as arcardes full of smokey Japanese otaku make it the mecca for all things you don’t want to admit you love (or maybe you do!).
There’s also some pretty fun sex shops around where you can stock up on things that you need (if ya get my drift). Be warned though- girls are not allowed on to all floors. I can only imagine what horrendous, filthy stuff is up there. If anyone would like to go on a scouting mission, do let me know what you find. I will give you a badge for being so brave.
Also, check out a maid cafe. You may think they are dodgey but if you stick to the big names like ‘@home cafe’ then it is nothing (too) creepy at all. The girls are pretty much Japanese girls who love ‘kawaii’ and ‘moe’ stuff and just love dressing up. You pay a table fee, have to buy a drink and are made to do some embarrassing stuff and can join in a big janken game. Good, clean fun in my opinion.
Ueno- Here, there is the massive Ueno park. It is beautiful during cherry blossom season but a little lacking the rest of the year. Don’t let the word park fool you- there’s only one patch of grass to sit on and it is probably already taken by homeless people. The park is big and worth a stroll- there is also a lake where you can hire swan boats and the Tokyo museum is right by it. If you are into old artifacts then head there- you will find displays of samurai armour, katana, and much more.
The whole area has an old school, downtown, dirty Tokyo feel to it. During the war Ueno was one of the areas where blackmarkets popped up so still retains some of that grungy feel.
About 15 minute walk from Ueno you can also get to Asakusa where there is the big golden sperm and the famous red gate leading down to another famous big shrine (the name of which escapes me). Well worth a visit if you haven’t been there before and there are lots of little restuatrants dotted about to grab some lunch and at night there is an outside drinking town lined with lanterns and drunk people.
I’m sure you got bored about a third of the way into this but Tokyo truly is huge- I have cut out about 99.9999% of the awesome things you can do there.
But for lazy people that didn’t bother to read it all and skipped to the end- head to Harajuku for shopping and chilling, Shibuya for drinking and partying, Tokyo and Ueno for some old Japanese culture and sites and Akihabara for a massive geek out.
Oh yeah- get yourself a pasmo/suica at any station. They cost 500 yen and you can charge them up a couple of thousand yen then not have to worry about paying for tickets the rest of the weekend. Though it doesn’t save money it is very convieniant, especially if you are in a rush to get the last train.
If you still don’t understand the purpose they are like the Oyster card in London, the hfhiofhiruehfire in New York and the Sheep card in New Zealand. Oh wait, New Zealand doesn’t have trains, ignore that last bit.