Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kyoto so much loverliness: GETTING THERE

Kyoto is filled with everything that you go to Japan to see and experience, temples, cafe, gardens, traditional architecture, geishas, traditional and new foods, and everything else you expect and some surprises too. There's a lot to tell for Kyoto so this will be more than one post. First things first getting there is very easy, if you're coming by way of Tokyo or Osaka. From Tokyo Go to the JR ticket center in the East building of the Shinjuku station the day before departing to get your tickets, you are buying shinkansen tickets (bullet train), this ticket will only pay for the shinkansen, but you will be taking another train first.

Getting there: Take the JR Yamanote line from Shinjuku station to Shinagawa Station (it's about a 25 min trip)this is a separate ticket if you do not have a JR Rail Pass which I highly recommend you get one in your country of origin, the voucher that is. When you get to Shinagawa station find your gate it's really easy, it's should be on your ticket. Then you find your car # on the ticket also and stand on a line to get on the train, there are electronic signs announcing the trains coming in in Japanese and english, there are train conductor's on the platform too that you can ask if you are confused. The trip is about 2hr 20mins, bring a snack or lunch, it's very common to eat on these trains and the snacks offered by the attendants are pricey and not very nutrious.. You'll arrive at JR Kyoto station, here you'll find buses, local subways, and cab stands, take a cab to find your hotel. You'll also find a tourist information center (info below). Getting there from Osaka is really easy you have a couple of options "The JR Tokaido Shinkansen requires 15 minutes and costs 1380 Yen (by unreserved seat) from not so centrally located Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station.

Almost equally fast are the special rapid trains on the JR Kyoto Line, which require about 25 minutes and cost 540 Yen from more centrally located Osaka Station to Kyoto Station.

By Hankyu Railways:

Limited express trains on the Hankyu Kyoto Line get you from Umeda Station (next to JR Osaka Station) to Karasuma and Kawaramachi Stations in central Kyoto in roughly 40 minutes and for 390 Yen.

By Keihan Railways:

Limited express trains on the Keihan Main Line get you from Yodoyabashi Station in central Osaka to Sanjo Station in central Kyoto in roughly 50 minutes and for 400 Yen." (Osaka info from Japan-guide.com)

KYOTO TOURIST INFORMATION - operated by Kyoto Prefecture
Add: 9th Fl., JR Kyoto Station, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, KYOTO 600-8216 JAPAN
Phone: 075-344-3300
Open: 10:00-18:00 daily.
Closed: 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month and Year-end and New Year Holiday.

Good Kyoto maps
map 1
map 2

Yamanote Line

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Park Hyatt Tokyo BRUNCH!!!! Oy-shi Indeed!

Dessert table @ the Park Hyatt Tokyo Hotel

Delicious food and fabulous views and you get to hang out where "Lost in Translation" was filmed, the Park Hyatt Tokyo Hotel, spectacular! Okay, this brunch will be hands down the best brunch of your life, and I've had a lot of brunches in New York, the land of the brunch. It's only on Sundays, so if you are in Tokyo on a Sunday take advantage. It's about $60 USD, and that may seem steep, but you get an unlimited appetizing table (buffet style), amazing entree (I had the steak), multiple beverages including an alcoholic one, and my favorite, a dessert table!!! With unlimited coffee and tea! It's a lovely experience altogether, they seat you in the main dining area and it's truly fine dining service, you can get up to go to the appetizing table multiple times, after your meal is complete they bring you into a different part of the bar/restaurant where a live jazz performer will be singing and playing and you are left to your own devices to attack the dessert table!!!! VERY IMPORTANT, YOU MUST MAKE A RESERVATION!!! Ask your concierge at your hotel or a friend who speaks Japanese to make the reservation for you, we were very fortunate that with one day's notice we were able to get a reservation. Don't forget to visit the lobby where Charlotte and Bob hung out :)


Park Hyatt Tokyo
3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku
Tel: +81 3 5322 1234
Fax: +81 3 5322 1288
Email: tokyo.park@hyatt.com

Getting there: map & directions

View from Restaurant
More desserts!
The swimming Pool at the Park Hyatt Tokyo
And even more desserts! Yum!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ghibli Musuem

The Ghibli Museum is a great treat for the young and old, and everyone in between. The Ghibli is Japan's equivalent to Disney studios. Ghibli studios have put out such movies as "Howl's Moving Castle" and "My Neighbor Tortoro". The museum offers a variety of activities for kids and for Adults, the architect and grounds alone our just amazing to see. When you turn in your ticket voucher you'll get a a ticket made of piece of film strip which makes a great souvenir, this ticket also gets you into a short film in the museum. The museum is magical that's the only way to describe it, but skip the souvenir shop you can get all the same stuff in any toy store in Tokyo like Kiddyland in Harajuku
I actually had booked my ticket for my very first morning in Tokyo which I thought might be crazy but it worked out perfect because it was a day of thunderstorms so it was a nice indoor activity.

First things first, tickets, you must purchase your ticket in advance at a participating agent like JTB or other Japan specific travel agency before leaving your home country. I also hear that you can get them at a Lawson, which are convenient stores in Japan, but I don't know this for a fact. Since they only sell a certain amount of tickets for a day's entrance I would probably not trust leaving the chance that there are no tickets for the time you are in Tokyo, pre-book your tickets, you will need your passport.

Getting there is very easy:

Take the JR Chuo Line to Mitaka Station (approximately 20 mins from Shinjuku station). Walk downstairs outside the station there are multiple bus stops take the one to the Ghibili museum, buy your ticket for the bus at the automatic machine right next to the line que. It's about Y300 round trip. You'll know it's the right bus because there's always a long line. You can ask the Bus driver to let you know when the Ghibli stop is but chances are everyone will be getting off with you.

There is no picture taking allowed inside the museum.

0 Yen house!

I didn't see these in my travels but I thought this was really amazing.. How these people with no homes but completely resourceful and intelligent have managed to make mini homes for themselves without spending any money.
0 Yen House

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Your own Machiya in Kyoto, Machiya, Maeniiya, places to stay

Our block where we stayed.

You can rent your very own Machiya (traditional Japanese house) in Kyoto for a reasonable price. We loved the one we stayed in it was lovely and centrally located. We wished we had a least another two people sharing the house with us since it was quite large. It was still cheaper than any hotel or Ryokan. We had a huge kitchen to make our own food if we wanted to, there were markets really close by too, including Nishiki Market which is a huge outdoor covered food market in Kyoto to by your ingredients for a try at Japanese cooking,helpful in saving money if you are on budget too.
The one we stayed in was called Maeniiya, it was lovely except for the construction next door. This was not the owners fault they actually gave us a discount on the house because of the unexpected construction noise. The house was on a sweet quiet cobblestone street that only pedestrians or folks on their bikes. It had a washer/dryer too which comes in very handy, plus a mini garden and most important a computer with internet!

Master bedroom, there's a second room with the computer which can have more futons put in.

Kitchen (birds eye view)

Shower and bathtub (toilet has it's on room)

Family room (living/dining)

The front of our Machiya

Monday, April 6, 2009

Yoshitomo Nara show in NYC

Ok this is not in Japan but I have to take you on a side trip in NYC to an amazing Japanese artist show.

Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara had his show at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York ending March 28th, luckily I got a chance to see it the weekend before it closed. It was pretty amazing, I had some heavy critics with me who didn't like the artist's work, but Nara's not for everyone. The gallery was cool enough to let people take pics of the body of work so you can enjoy it here on my Flickr

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The hidden treasures in Omotesando and Aoyama

2007©janneserojas "Opatoca"

Omotesando and Aoyama are very high class area just around Harajuku, with high end fashion shops, and restaurants. With names like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, just to name a few you'll find gaggles of young shoppers with beaucoup bucks to spend. But with the the larger designer stores you'll find gems like Usagi Pour Toi, H.P. France, with exquisite pieces of jewelry, handbags, knits and just some really unique pieces which is what a lot of foreigners are expecting to find in Tokyo.

Location:(it's listed as the Harajuku location)
150-0001 1F, GB., 5-17-24 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo, JAPAN
TEL: 03-5766-3011 / OPEN: 12:00-20:00 Open everyday, except for beginning and end of year.

A sweet little place for a snack is Opatoca which is a bakery chain, but none the less homie. Their website says they are closed as of August 31, 2008 but I was there in October and November of 2008 and they were opened. This is a japanese blog with info on it style-arena to get the more info on them.

4-26-28 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
TEL:03(3478)5890 TEL: 03 (3478) 5890

In the evening we stumbled upon this delicious izakaya, Samukawa, which you would have no idea that it even was a restaurant, there's no sign it's on one of the tiny streets off of Omotesando dori. We were the only foreigners in the whole place, but they did have a menu in english. The food was delish! But the place was super smokey, I guess you have to expect that from an izakaya, I will find out the exact location and post it later.

Address 4-28-21 1F 4-28-21 Jingumae,
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Building 1F Harajuku Harmony
TEL TEL 03-3470-3901 03-3470-3901
FAX FAX 03-5414-7671 03-5414-7671
Hours 17:00~24:00 (Mon-Fri)
16:00~24:00 (closed on Saturdays)
Getting there:JR Walk from JR Harajuku Station 5 Chiyoda Line Meiji Jingumae station walk 3 minutes

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

3 Days in Tokyo, What to Do

A very nice gent wrote me this week asking for recommendation on what to do with 3 days in Tokyo so I decided I should post my recommendations for others with the same question.

I would visit the the Tokyo Trinity, as I like to call it, no visit is complete without at least a one time stop at each of these locations in Tokyo. Shinjuku, Harajuku, and Shibuya. Yes, it's cliche' but it's still a must for a first timer,and you can do them all in two to three days.

In Shinjuku:

1.check out for night life the Golden Gai
2. for food you should definitely not miss Yakitori Alley, it's real name being Omoide Yokocho.

Both are within walking distance of Shinjuku Station, Yakitori alley is sandwiched in the alleys between the East and West exits of the Station. Take the East exit walk towards the Epson sign when you get to a very large intersection the Epson sign will be across the street from you stay on your side hange a right walking towards the train underpass, a couple of stores before the underpass there's an alley that's one of the entrances to Omoide Yokocho. I can't recommend what stall to eat at, some will not be friendly to Gaijin (foreigners) all the menus are in japanese, Yakitori is traditionally all chicken parts on a skewer plus veggies. If your stomach is adventures then try it all if not use a phrase book or draw a pic of chicken ( I did this) and point to the parts you want. I have a sensitive stomach and I was totally fine eating there. It can be pricey at some stalls, especially if you drink beer and/or Sake.

The Golden Gai (tiny alleys with tiny bars) is a bit more difficult to find but worth it. If you head out the East exit and walk toward Studio Alta(that's the large LCD screen) cross the street and head through the alleys onto a large street called Yasukuni Dori, you have to be on the other side of the street so cross over, you'll be walking along Kabuki-cho. With your back to East Exit hang a right keep walking, you have to pass a large intersection, Kuyakusho Dori, cross it. now you have to keep an eye out before getting to the next big intersection (Meiji Dori) is a small street with no name, hang a left and you should find a series of small alleys with bars, you are at the Golden Gai. If you want to orient yourself in the day you can look for Hanazono Temple it's right in front of these alleys.

* a bit of a warning, although Tokyo might be the safest of large cities to travel in the world, be careful in Kabuki-cho, especially as a man they'll try to lure you into seedy clubs, and extort lots of money from you, particularly beware of the non-japanese solicitors, mostly African*
You'll be totally fine, I walked around at night in Kabuki-cho with another woman and was completely safe I just walked away from these people, some of them even followed us around, but eventually gave up.

3. Harajuku, best to visit on weekend to see the insanity of young people all dressed up in Harajuku square, regardless if your not there on a weekend it's still a nice trip. Right outside the Harjuku train station you can find the Meiji Shrine it's worth the visit, when your done there take a trip done Takeshita Dori, with all the shops, right before you get to the end(large intersection) on your right is an awesome, Japanese Italian buffet, called Tebasa, where all the young people go. It's really cheap, fun, and delicious. For 1500 Yen you can get unlimited trips to the buffet for an hour and beverages (non-alcoholic, for alcoholic bevs pricey,don't bother). Have lunch here. Then take a walk towards the right on Meiji Dori towards Omotesando Dori, you'll find lots of little streets of both Meiji and Omotesando with, great stores and little cafes and restaurants. There are a few izakayas (these are restaurants that offer a variety of small style dishes to compliment your beer or sake in the neighborhood, so you may want to plan for dinner in the neighborhood.

4. Shibuya, is less intense during a week day, night time it's overrun by teens, but can still be a lot of fun, lots of Karaoke places (lots of Karaoke in Shinjuku too right outside the station), you can't miss them. The greatest thing to watch in Shibuya is during rush hour, the large Shibuya station crossing, you've never seen anything quite so insane (and I live in New York, and I'm still saying that). The one store I say you should check out in this area is Tokyu Hands, it's a great department store, with stuff you would never find outside of Japan. It's not far from the station.

Ok, so those are three easy things to do in 2-3 days

If you want to go and explore some less touristy areas, I would recommend Shimokitazawa, Daikanyama, Naka-Meguro, all really easy to get to from Shinjuku station, I have posted entries for the first two, but I haven't written anything yet on Naka-Meguro, it's really laid back, it's like the artist/neo-hippie area, lots of vintage stores, and cool little cafes. If you are having trouble sleeping and are awake at the crack of dawn check out the Tsukiji Fish Market.

OH! if you saw Lost in Translation you'll remember the Park Hyatt hotel, it's pretty amazing, about a fifteen minute walk from the Shinjuku station and if your there Sunday go for Sunday brunch, it's about $60 USD, but it's amazing. Unlimited Appetizer buffet, gourmet entreé, and unlimited dessert buffet, and the view of Tokyo is spectacular. You have to call for a reservation, the restaurant in the hotel is call the New York Grill. You can go for a drink at night there too, it's $20USD to get in.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Shimo-Kitazawa, a little hip, casual haven in Tokyo

Shimo-Kitazawa is a delightful area in Tokyo that is laid back and filled with sweet stores and dog friendly places. This is the place where the young Tokyoites most want to live. It has great cafes, restaurants,and music venues.

One of the attractions to Shimokita is that it has a lot of small streets and alleys where cars can't go and only small mom and pop shops line the streets, so walking around can be a real adventure.

tiny izakaya:

A favorite store of mine is Marble Sud, it's a small boutique shop carrying beautiful apparel and accessories. I got a pair of lovely wool fair isle fingerless arm warmers, and sweet mushroom key chain there, plus great pin buttons. There are also lots of vintage stores, selling from furniture, housewares, clothing, toys and lots of records. You'll be amazed that you can find some real amazing stuff for decent prices.

One of the many small store, cafe, and bar filled streets:

Another great place was a vintage store, unfortunately I can't find the business card,but it's filled with wall to wall furniture, housewares, toys and just everything you want from the 50's, 60's and 70's. I found I great Japanese ceramic dog from the 50's and my partner found a beautiful Japanese Blenko style blown glass bottle also from the same era. They owner is super cool guy.

A great way to take a break in the afternoon after weaving through all the streets is heading over to Bubbles/Cookie Lab, dog cafe for a snack, coffee, and doggy watching. This cafe is for people and their pooches, dogs are allowed inside the cafe and there is also a really nice outdoor area where you can watch the overly obsessed poodle owners pose their puffy pooches and snap away with their cameras. Next door is their grooming shop where you can look in at the pups getting primped, it's kinda sad to watch.

The train to Shimo-kitazawa

Outside the station:

Dog Cafe

Getting there: From Shinjuku Station take the Local Odakyu line to Shimo-Kitazawa station, it's two stops.

Marble Sud:
2-27-11 Kitazawa
Tokyo, Japan 155-0031
phone# 03-3481-6001

Cookie Lab Dog Cafe:
D*O*G BLD. 2-38-Kitazawa
Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 155-0031

Videos I took of Shimokitazawa:

Streets and stores:

Dog Cafe:

Cafes and stores:

***While writing this I just found out the Japanese Government has been planning on putting a large expressway through this lovely little neighborhood, please read more here and sign the petition to stop another neighborhood devastation.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This is an amazing video of Japan

This guy is really talented and the video is just spectacular!

Japan from Eric Testroete on Vimeo.
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