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Last Days in Tokyo

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Tokyo is expensive.  I’ve been lucky enough to have friends offer places to sleep on quite a few occasions.  Other times I stayed in the cheapest accommodations available; internet cafes, hostels, and even bumming it on the metro.  I’ve managed to eat a few free meals, but usually have been dining at the most economic restaurants.  Most of the attractions visited were either free or fairly cheap.  Yet this city finds away to drain my wallet faster than I can feel comfortable with.  At least I’ve had a great time, stayed active and thoroughly entertained.

In part I blame the transportation system.  The Tokyo Subway and JR Lines are extremely efficient and by far the best way to get around town without a motorbike.   However, they are also fairly expensive.  Hopping from one side of the city to the other on a regular basis has ripped my budget apart.  I also blame the vending machines.  They are everywhere imaginable, offering a selection from ice cold electrolyte water to hot coffee in a can.  It is too easy to succumb to whim and drop a dollar here and there to satisfy instant cravings.  Yet, after all I still managed to stay longer than anticipated.    [read on]

True Homeless Style

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

After the excitement this morning I really didn’t feel too comfortable with my original plan to pass out anywhere public. I called Kanako, and she offered me a place to crash for a few hours. I boarded a train bound for her section of town, but never made it. At some point I fell asleep on the train and woke up an hour outside of Tokyo. I stumbled around the station for a few minutes before finding another train heading back… where I passed out again.

[read on]

Roppongi Madness II: Yakuza!!

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

Disclaimer: Every so often a story is going to come along that will scare my parents and leave friends in doubt of my sanity. For the rest of the world, this means something exciting! Here is one of them.

The day started off fairly unassuming. I showered, washed my clothes, and hung out at Mihye’s while she cooked us another delicious Korean lunch. Eventually, it was time for her to leave for work so I spent a few hours catching up on email and blogging at an internet café. By the time darkness set in I was well rested, refreshed and ready for a night of partying. I took the opportunity to spend time with a couple friends that I had been neglecting for the last week. [read on]

Anime at Ghibli + Korean Culture

Friday, June 1st, 2007

I spent the next couple days hanging out with Mihye. She took great pleasure teaching me about her Korean culture in attempt to acclimate me before my upcoming trip. Amongst the home cooked meals, and samples of her mother’s delicious kimchi, we also dined at a yakiniku (Korean BBQ). She taught me a few helpful phrases, most importantly how to say “Cheers” before drinking! Seriously, drinking is apparently a big part of their culture, or maybe she’s just an alcoholic!

On Friday, we visited the Ghibli Museum. For those of you who do not recognize the name, Studio Ghibli is an anime production company that has been releasing hit after hit since the 80s. Maybe you have heard of Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, or Kiki’s Delivery Service? [read on]

Umbrella Dodging

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

I spent the day and night in constant fear of losing an eye.  When the clouds come out, the streets here explode with umbrellas.  There seems to be a fear against being hit with a single drop of water in every Japanese soul.  Maybe they don’t like covering up their style or endangering their gelled hair-styles with a hooded raincoat.  I don’t know the real reason why, but it puts any 6’4” gaijin in danger.  Thousands of umbrellas whizzing by your face, as the metal support rods keep coming close to scraping out your cornea.    [read on]

Pleasure Gardens

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

One unexpected delight that I’ve found most enjoyable about Tokyo is the various pleasure gardens scattered throughout the metropolis.  I’m not talking about a mere public park or the stereotypical Zen rock garden.  Rather the scenic, nature sanctuaries, secluded from the chaos outside the walls that protect them.  Today, Mihye and I met again to spend the afternoon visiting two of the most famous.    [read on]

Conveyor Sushi + The Japanese Movie Experience

Monday, May 28th, 2007

At ¥2700 a night, the Hotel New Koyo is definitely not the cheapest bed in Tokyo, but for the private room and friendly expert advice offered by the staff it is worth it.  I decided to stay another night, and set off to Asakusa.  I had a few hours to kill before meeting Mihye for lunch, so I spent the morning taking photos and wandering the temple area.    [read on]

Ueno-Koen and the Omikoshi at Ameyokocho

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

One night in an internet café is tolerable.  Not so comfortable, but sleep is possible.  You can get computer work done and then easily pass out in your oversized recliner when you are ready.  Very helpful for blogging, uploading photos, and staying in touch with out a ketai (cell phone).  It is a worthwhile experience, and definitely a must for a budget traveler in Tokyo.  However, two nights in a row is too much.  In the few times I’ve stay in one before I never realized the quality of sleep wasn’t as good.  Compound two nights in a row and you simply don’t get enough rest.  None of my friends could put me up for another couple days, so I decided to seek out a cheap bed.  I found a ryokan in Minowa.  Hotel New Koyo is only ¥2500 per night for a private room and located near Ueno and Asakusa, two areas that were on my itinerary before coming to Tokyo.    [read on]

A Walk in the Park II: Yoyogi-Koen

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

Since the internet café didn’t have a shower this time I started my day heading to Roppongi to find a cheap sento (public bath only… not a full fledged onsen) recommended by Lonely Planet.  The ¥400 sento turned out to be closed, so I broke down and used the upstairs onsen for an outrageously expensive ¥1280!  

I was even more surprised to find that this place was an overpriced dump, unlike the elegant onsen I found in Yamanashi!  The faucets hardly worked; if it wasn’t spitting out scalding hot or freezing cold water it wasn’t working at all!  The sauna and bath were both unbearably hot.  I couldn’t stand more than a few seconds of it before getting out and regretting the shocking sum I spent to endure this unpleasant experience.  Please heed my advice and avoid the Azubu-Juban onsen like the plague.  It is overpriced, dysfunctional, and if it will give you the worst impression of this sacred part of traditional Japanese culture.   [read on]

On the road again!

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Today is the first day I start my true travels through Japan.  The time I spent at the Solar Cafe in Narusawa was an exciting experience and provided a different type of life than I’ve been used to, but it was too easy to make myself at home.  By the time I left I had friends that were like family, 2 pet dogs and a rooster, a bed of my own, a favorite grocery store, a bike and even an SUV at my disposal (not to mention an office with a great view).  Strapping on my daypack and taking weekend trips to Tokyo was exciting, but not much different from short hops to NYC or Phila back home.  I never really felt like much of a vagabond… but that is all changing.  Now I leave to begin my nomadic lifestyle.  For the next six weeks left of my visa, I’m backpacking and hitchhiking south west through Japan bound for South Korea.    [read on]