Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Japan: Day 10b - DisneySea - merchandise

I'm pretty averse to buying stuff at places like this. Usually it's hideously overpriced and not something you'd ever use again. But it wouldn't hurt to try some on and take photos.

In the end, I relented - they were only around Y2,400 (under $25 each).
Jos, particularly, was stoked with his hat. Ky's had ears with LED lights that flicked on and off. JD is from "The Nightmare Before Christmas"

I chose a wee pink top hat, and later a Toy Story Little Green Men headband. You can only see my hats in a couple of selfies I took.
On a purple Genie on the two-storey merry-go-round
Waiting at the spinning teacups ride
JD also bought a Tower of Terror t-shirt (he'd been running low on cheesy/ironic t-shirts), but I haven't got a pic of that.

Japan: Day 10a - DisneySea: Getting there and getting in

We went to DisneySea on Thursday. It was the first Disney thing any of us had been to, and we all really enjoyed it.

From Em's place we walked to her nearby station, Azabu-Dejan, taking the Oedo line, changing at Tsukishima to the Yurakucho Line. This took us to Shin-kiba, at the end of that line. From there, we switched to a non-subway train to get to Maihama, where we could then change to the Disney Resort line. Pretty straightforward really.

The line we'd been taking most of the time (from Hiro-o) is one of the oldest lines. Not only are there no escalators, let alone elevators, they are only a little way underground. The Oedo line is one of the newest ones, and is unmanned. It has full-height barriers similar to those we saw in Singapore, and is a built way deep. The Yurakucho line is someway between - it has half-height barriers, which are well-manned.

Tsukishima station, Yurakucho line

On the Mickey Mouse monorail. Note the eared handles and windows.
Em was really worried that the queues would be horrendous - she'd been there and had to queue an hour just to get tickets, which indicates how bad the queues for the key attractions inside would be. The car parks visible from the monorail suggested it might not be quite as bad as she feared, but she was still really concerned.
One of the DisneySea carparks. Clearly jam-packed.
Once we arrived, we could go to either the north or the south ticket gates. I don't think it would have made much difference. The queues there were pretty awful too.
Queuing area for the ticket gates. Also jam-packed.
Why, I think we had to wait two whole minutes to be served.

Japan: vending machines (and a Happy Can)

We've all heard the stories that you can buy practically anything from vending machines, including once-worn schoolgirls' knickers (Google auto completes from "Japanese vending machines ...").

So I haven't seen those (we're in a very wealthy, respectable, expat part of Tokyo), but there are hundreds upon hundreds of drink vending machines, including by the back door/laundry of our apartment block. The prices do vary a little by location, but typically are Y100 to Y150 for a small can of soft drink/green tea/hot coffee. If the price is shown as white text on blue, then it will be cold; if it's on red, you'll get a small steel can of hot drink.
This one pinched from the net, because I can't find the ones I took.
Almost always, the display is made up of empty (or possibly full) bottles and cans. Occasionally, the display is purely electronic, with helpful pop-up ads and weather updates.

Cigarette vending machines are not quite as ubiquitous, but there are still plenty around. And gobsmackingly cheap - around $5 for a small pack. They seem to congregate mainly around tobacconists.

(In Australia, not only is there no cigarette advertising anywhere, not even at point of sale, we've now gone to plain packaging. And a small pack costs more like $15. I think.)

Similarly, you could buy cans of beer and other alcoholic drinks from vending machines. Often these were sited near bottle shops, but not always.
Again, pinched from the net, as I can't find my pics of these.
Helpfully, we also saw a battery vending machine (in Nagano). Now why aren't they more common?

And occasionally, they give you just that little bit extra.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Japan: manhole covers

In Australia, manhole covers are viewed as strictly utilitarian. Here, they can be both useful and beautiful.

Here are a few I spotted about the place. (And yes, taking photographs of manhole covers makes me feel like a proper gaijin (outsider).)

Ueno park, with its avenue of cherry blossom trees
Arisugawa Park, with the tea house in the middle of the pond
In the street where we're staying
A smaller version, also in Hiro-o
Near Kanbayashi Onsen, walking to the monkey park

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Japan: Day 11b - Atelier de Joel Robuchon

For our last night, JD and I went out for dinner to Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Roppongi (I can't remember how to do acutes, so you'll just have to imagine them being there). The food was wonderful, although perhaps a touch on the salty side (not surprising, given most Japanese food is pretty salty to our palate); the service was very good (but not impeccable - our water glasses remained empty too long, to the point of having to ask for a refill, ditto for the bread). It wasn't excessively expensive (~$140 pp for food; a bit less for grog - doesn't take much at ~$18/glass).

We were seated at a table (service is reputedly not as good at tables); most were seated at the bar. Much of the kitchen is on full display

We considered the degustation menu, but could do almost the same thing, with a degree of choice (and for less) by going for a 'set menu' - Menu A included an amuse bouche, an appetiser, a soup, two mains, cheeses, a dessert, and tea/coffee - it was the only one with cheese, so that's what we were going for. You'll have to make do with pictures, and reading the menu below (full size here) for more details.
Set menu choices
Amuse bouche
Some ?salmon thing (Camille says it's pork rillette) on crisp toasty things. Tasty!
Bread basket - the long ones are sourdough, the pale cupcake shaped ones are like croissants, and the round ones at the back are a strong white bread.

When I asked for some extra bread, to sop up the juices from the second main, we were brought this strong crusty baguette slice, and a soft white bread roll
All breads are made on site, and were very good. The restaurant also has a boulangerie (bakery) and patisserie (cake shop) on site, where you can takeaway a little bit of posh.

JD's tomato mousse, with confit shrimp and avocado
My scallops in seaweed butter - wonderfully meaty scallops, even JD liked them

Japan - higgledy piggledy posts to come

The next few posts will be out of sequence, but you can follow the day numbers, if you want to enjoy them in the order that we did. Or you can just read them as I post them, which will be all over the shop, depending on what mood I'm in and how much text I get done on the plane/at Changi.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Japan: Day 8c/9a - Korakukan, Jigokudani

Korakukan is an example of a minshuku, a family-run ryokan. (If you use the link, note that they don't do online bookings. Or take credit card.)

Korakukan, from the monkey park
Rooms are laid with tatami matting, with a low table in the centre for tea. Beds (futons on the floor) may be in an adjoining room, or laid out in the same room (and table moved to the side).  Dinner and breakfast are included in the tarriff, as well as time in the rotembura (outdoor hot bath). For this ryokan, in the still snow-touched mountains, the rooms are well-insulated. For example, there are no windows directly into the room - all are protected by a paper screen and a one to two foot gap, which acts as a thick thermal layer. With no heaters on, the room did get chilly by dawn, but not really cold, and the bedding provided was plenty warm enough.

The rooms (I think there might be twelve?) are accessed from multiple levels, and squirrelly passageways. Most rooms seemed to be for couples - the tables were set up with only two chairs - but could accommodate more. Bathrooms are shared, and unisex. The one nearest our room had three urinals, two squat loos and one western loo. As well as sinks in the bathrooms, there are troughs at various places, for brushing teeth (at least that's what we used them for). At each sink, there is a sign saying (in both Japanese and English) "Please keep the water running", presumably to stop the water freezing in the water lines and bursting them.

Japan: Day 8b - Snow monkeys!!!

One of the main reasons tourists go to this part of the world is because of the Jigokudani Monkey Park. This is where some members of a certain troop of Japanese macaques choose to bathe in onsen. This makes them the northern-most living primates, other than humans.

This old dame shooed everyone else out (macaques live in matrilineal societies)
She don't look so tough out of the water

There were a couple of young monkeys playing around
Any bars are monkey bars when you're a monkey
Grooming is important - these girls were doing a very thorough job
Young 'uns often stuck close to their mums
They essentially ignore humans, walking over you to get where they're going (that's JD's foot)
At night, they return to the mountains, where they often sleep in trees.
And yes, that's a great lump of snow behind the boys.
JD got some great video too, but I'll need to edit it a bit before posting.

Japan: Day 8a - Tokyo to Kanbayashi Onsen and Korakukan

Today we successfully navigated three different train systems: firstly the Tokyo Metro, to get from Hiro-o (H03, our local subway stop) to Hibaya (H07); we walked the couple of blocks to Tokyo Central Station to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Nagano; finally, we took the NagaDen (local train) from Nagano to Yudanaka. From there is was a taxi for the five minutes or so from Yudanaka to Kambayashi Onsen, and a 20 min stroll through a forest to the ryokan where we're staying, adjacent to the National Park.

The Shinkansen traversed the 224km in a very pleasant hour and a half (11:24am to 12:51pm, precisely to schedule, of course). We travelled at a modest pace, perhaps 80km/hr, until we were clear of the city and the last of the urban pick ups, then the pace picked up to perhaps double that (but probably faster). We banked around bends, hurtled through tunnels, glimpsed Mt Fuji (we think, but too faint to photograph well), and arrived in Nagano. Cost was about $80 per adult, half that for kids, including the $5 premium for a reserved seat (rather than take our chances in the unreserved carriage). There is oodles of legroom, the seats recline, and the armrests fold up - far more comfortable than economy plane seats.

Like others on the train, we immediately tucked into our bentos that we bought at the station (chosen from the very helpful plastic models). Interestingly, there wasn't the usual vast array of food shops at Tokyo station - they were all either bento shops or little kiosks with drinks/magazines/papers etc. They were all cold food, so didn't fill the carriage with food smells, which kept it pleasant.  [Later research revealed these are "eki-ben", where "eki"means "station" and ben being short for bento, takeaway food."]
Each is beautifully boxed, and comes complete with chopsticks and napkin

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Japan: Interruption to your normal service

We got back from our overnight trip to Korakukan and the snow monkeys late afternoon. After a brief downtime to catchup on email, FB and BW, we then had a lovely few hours at Em's - salad & BBQ meat wine & friends (to whom we happen to be related). My netbook is now doing a virus check - apparently I've spammed a few people recently, so I'm doing a malware check - and I'm about to flake. We're doing Disney Sea tomorrow, so there's a good chance I'll be too pooped tomorrow night to update you, so you may have to wait until Friday. I've partly written a few posts: getting there; the ryokan itself; snow monkeys (some great pics); and getting back, with a stopover at Nagano and a visit to the Zenjo-ki temple. And of course, Disney Sea, tomorrow. I'll update when I can, but right now, I need sleep - not the best night last night in the ryokan & big day tomorrow. Cheers ab

Japan: convenience store takeaway food

Tokyo is a bit like New York, in that the cost of land is sky-high, but the cost of eating out can be incredibly cheap.

There are hundreds of small eateries, many not much more than a hole-in-the-wall, offering sit-down "sets" - including a coffee or bowl of soup, and the main, possibly plus a salad - for $8 give or take a buck or two. Most locals do eat sitting down, even if it's only a quickly scarfed-down lunch.

However, supermarkets offer an impressive range of pre-prepared meals, such as these photographed at a nearby "Family Mart' convenience store.

Detail from above image - these meals are Y398, around $4
The adjacent cabinet (there were four in a row this size)
If you want something hot, you can pick it from the bain marie.
The menu/price list with photos is above - most items are around $1
You can buy a beer or soft drink to go with your meal. (Liquor is not separated out in supermarkets either.)
Soft drinks on the left; alcohol on the right (albeit with yellow-tag warnings, presumably against underage drinkers)
And if you want a soft-serve ice cream to follow, why you can buy that too.

Better than the tired egg-and-lettuce sandwiches and meat pies you get in our neck of the woods!