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8 posts categorized "Colin Wee Jian Ming"

07/26/2011

Sumo in Nagoya

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The Grand Sumo Tournament was held in Aichi Prefectorial Gymnasium

    Sophia University's school semester had been shortened by two weeks because of Tokyo's efforts to conserve electricity during the summer. Thus, blessed with two extra weeks after final exams, I went to Nagoya for 3 days to relax and watch some sumo! For those who want to learn more about the rules and history of sumo, the Nihon Sumo website has an informative beginner's guide here

    The Grand Sumo Tournament is held throughout the year in different prefectures in Japan. This year, it is held in Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukuoka in spring, summer and winter respectively. I had missed my chance to watch it in Tokyo due to poor planning, but I would not make the same mistake twice! @_@

    I woke up at 7am and went to the Nagoya Aichi Prefectorial Gymnasium at 8am to buy tickets. Even then, there was a queue forming at the ticket booths. Ticket prices ranged from extremely expensive box seats (¥20,000++) to cheap, unreserved freeseating at the back (¥2800). Thrifty ol' me naturally purchased the cheapest seats.

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I woke up at 8am to buy tickets, but the professional matches don't start till 2.30pm

     At about 8.40am, the sumo bouts started, but there was literally a dearth of spectators. I garnered from the brochure that the early bouts were all low-level fights and that the high level fights didn't start until 2.30pm in the afternoon. Therefore, I took the time to go have lunch and visit Nagoya Castle, which was just around the corner of the Aichi Gymnasium. More about the castle later. 

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The top tier Yokozunas enter the ring in an elaborate ceremony.

    Sure enough, when I returned at 2.30, the stadium was packed and people were cheering loudly. The stadium got even more crowded by 3.30pm, because that was when the top-ranking sumo yokozuna-wannabes would have their bouts for the day. Before their contest, they entered the ring in rank and file, forming a circle while the ring announcer read their names out to the cheering crowd. Each sumo wrestler had their own sponsors and were dressed in brightly colored garb.

    The rituals prior to each bout involved the sumo wrestlers squatting and clapping their hands, followed by throwing powder into the ring.  Some wrestlers threw so much powder that I could have sworn those in the front row box seats got powdered as well. Bouts were generally shorter than the rituals that preceded them, but I witnessed some especially exciting fights that lasted for a long time. There were also foreign sumo wrestlers from Russia, Ukraine, and some other countries. It was impressive how some of them who were smaller could still hold their ground against the bulkier opponents.

    The sumo tournament ended with yet another elaborate ceremony at 5.30pm. This time, a rikishi entered the ring and performed a dance while twirling a long bow. This was considered an expression of satisfaction for the winning sumo wrestlers that day.

    Nagoya castle was more colorful than Himeji Castle but less brightly colored than Osaka castle. Nevertheless, it was a grand sight to behold. (I have become somewhat of a castle enthusiast now, since I have never set foot in a castle prior to my visit to Japan.) Like Himeji castle, part of Nagoya castle was under restoration and there were ad-hoc exhibitions detailing the reconstruction process. There was also a special exhibition on the ancient toys and clay dolls that Japanese used to play with.

    While exploring the area, I found tour guides dressed in ancient japanese costumes showing groups around. There was also a couple having their wedding photos taken here. The CiEE Japanese Teacher asserts that Nagoya Castle and the food in Nagoya are the most must-try things in Nagoya, and I fully agree!

    It has been fun writing for the CiEE blog and I hope readers find my posts helpful and informative. I hope these posts have encouraged you to visit and explore Japan! Ciao!

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Nagoya Castle is right next to the gymnasium!

07/15/2011

Ambling Around Asakusa

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    Asakusa is one of the most highly rated tourist traps in Tokyo, thanks to the area's high concentration of traditional architecture and temples. In addition, it is also an area frequented by chefs and restaurant owners, because of the famous plastic food street Kappabashi just a few blocks down the road. I rode the Tsukuba Express Line for the first time that weekend, from Akihabara to this Asakusa, and the weather was perfect when I arrived. I basically scoured the entire area on foot that day, and even made a short trek to the still-under-construction Tokyo Sky Tree!

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There are 5 Kappa in this picture alone @_@

      Kappaabashi was my first stop in my journey. The long shopping street was heavily decorated with Kappa themes, even though the items sold in this area had nothing to do with the mythical water beast. Rather, every shop here seemed to sell cutlery, restaurant signboards, and wind chimes. The Japan Tourism website said that this area was known for its culinery retail goods, especially the fake plastic foods that are so common at the window of every Japanese restaurant. Unfortunately, in my 30minutes there I found lots of knives and chopsticks but could not detect a single shop selling the coveted plastic food. It would have made such a great souvenir---- not really..

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Asakusa had a very rustic and traditional feel to it

    The town of Asakusa felt like a blast from the past, with traditional Rakugo/performance theaters and Rickshaw tours. Oddly enough, there is also an amusement park embedded here, which felt totally out of place. The stores sold many traditional japanese goods like Yukata, samurai swords, wooden dolls and lanterns. The crowds were not dense, at least until I arrived at Sensoji Temple, where it was like a sea of tourists. Sensoji and its nearby Nakamise shopping street were flooded with people taking photos and visiting the many different shrines in the complex. I bought my first ever Omikuji (written fortune) which involved putting a 100 yen coin into a box and drawing a stick from a lottery-like dispenser. It was a fun experience (because my fortune was good haha).

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Tokyo Sky Tree and Asahi Beer Headquarters

    At about 2pm I bought tickets for the Suijo bus (water ferry) across the Sumidagawa river all the way to Odaiba. Since I had time before the ship arrived, I visited the nearby (15++ minutes of walking) Asahi Beer Headquarters and Tokyo Sky Tree. When I reached the Sky Tree I could tell that once construction is complete, it is definitely going to be a fantastic sight to behold. It will also revitalize and invigorate the otherwise empty surrounding area through all the commercial activity it brings.

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Himiko the futuristic boat to Odaiba

    The ferry ride to Odaiba was really cool because the boat was something I had never seen before. It was super streamlined with many windows for everyone to peek out of. The boat ride also included a tour of the various bridges around the Sumidagawa river. Unfortunately, I did not get to see them in great detail because a downpour started midway through the cruise. Nevertheless, for ~¥1500 it was a memorable experience.

    Well, that concludes my tour of Asakusa. The area exudes historical flavor and is definitely worth a visit if you are in Tokyo. Seeya Next Time!

06/22/2011

東大ーTokyo University May Fair

     The nation's iconic and renowned university, Tokyo University, opens its doors to the public during its annual May Fair on the 28th-29th. Interestingly enough this also coincided with Japan's very own Oktoberfest in Hibiya Park, which I wanted to go to but never found the time or people to go with :(. I was lucky enough to have a Singaporean friend studying in Todai at that time, so I managed to coax him to take me on a tour of his university. I later realized that Todai is not only a top university but also a legitimate tourist attraction in Japan! My friend informed me that Todai conducts its own tours for groups of tourists who come mainly to see the Todai clock tower and the heart-shaped lake within the university.

    Anyway, the weather was wet and depressing that weekend, but the sea of crowds at the University would not be deterred. Todai's student societies were out in force. They were selling food from different regions (I had some yummy vietnamese cuisine for lunch), cosplaying, rocking out in rock bands, and even breakdancing / dancing in the rain. While waiting to meet up with my friend, and to get my dose of a Todai education, I dropped in on a lecture about the impacts of radiation on the Fukushima food and agriculture industry. While it was completely in Japanese, I could understand the gist of it and the speakers and guest speakers were all very knowledgeable.

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The iconic clock tower of Todai was also the stage for some wet and evocative dance performances

     My high-school friend brought me around campus, showing me the different buildings and introducing me to his friends. Many of Todai's buildings were made of brick and seemed to have been there for ages. The buildings were intimidating, but the students were all very warm and sociable. My friend brought me to the heart-shaped lake in the center of the Todai campus (which, by the way is HUGE). The lake was shaped like the kanji for heart (心), and was thus a major tourist attraction for the area. Even though it was raining, I saw large groups of tourists walking around the perimeter of the lake.

    I spent the rest of my time with my friend watching dance performances and trying out different kinds of food available in the fair. I had planned to drop by Hibiya park after Todai but I stayed a little too long in Todai for a visit to Oktoberfest to be practical. Oh well, there is always something to do in this wonderful country caled Japan!

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Todai's engineering building is a feat of architecture and engineering. They actually built a new building on top of the old one, supported only by the pillars seen here O_O.

 

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An amazing lake in the middle of Todai! It's shaped like the kanji for heart, 心

Himeji Castle: The Castle in a box

    Since it was not too far away from Osaka, the CiEE recommended that I visit Himeji-jo, one of Japan's only authentic, undestroyed castles. I happily obliged. The visit turned out to be extremely surprising and intriguing, because I arrived when the castle was having its first ever restoration since 1956. The train ride to Himeji took no more than an hour, and the walk to the castle involved passing through a busy shopping street. In this particular shopping street, I found a taiyaki stall that sold this amazing white bean taiyaki and even ice-cream taiyaki! Amazing!

    Anyway, I finally reached the castle and the outer grounds and moats were even bigger and grander than those of Osaka Castle. The granite architecture and wooden bridges were also great additions to the historic and grandiose atmosphere. I received a big surprise when the main tower of the castle came into view. Or rather, it never came into view, because there was this immense box scaffolding covering it! What was even more hilarious was that the fastidious Japanese contractors took the time to draw an exact outline of Himeji Castle on the box so as to preserve the scene for tourists as much as possible.

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The Mascot of Himeji-Jo

 

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The Castle-in-a-box, with a 2D rendition on the box!

     It was an unfortunate time for the restoration to be carried out, but I recognize that the castle has weathered earthquakes and erosion for an extremely long time and am impressed that it was still standing in the first place. I was honestly disappointed when I saw that the castle was covered by a box, but the Japanese went out of their way to compensate for this restoration. Not only were the entrance fees to the castle grounds slashed, the staff also opened to the public new, never-before seen parts of the castle! I visited the storehouses and the baileys of the castle, and learned about the many castle defences. There were triangular, circular and squareish holes cut into the castle walls to allow archers to fire arrows through to repel intruders. There were outcroppings in walls from which boiling oil could be poured out and onto any invaders below. My personal favorite were the concealed nooks and crannies within the castles from which hidden warriors could spring from if intruders ever entered the castle. As expected, the bailey and storehouses were converted into museums showing off many historical artefacts such as the suits of armor used by shoguns, farming tools, and the living quarters of princess Senhime.

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That did not make the inside any less spectacular though

     The scaffolding over the main tower also provided the rare opportunity to have "The Egret's Eye view of Himeji's Main Tower" as coined by the staff there. Lame pun aside, I was impressed at the exhibition within the main tower, as they showed videos of how workers repaired the tower. Workers had to re-lay the entire foundation for the roof, replacing roof tiles one by one, and adding subtle but necessary protection against earthquakes. The lift in the scaffolding brought us right up to the top of the outside of the main tower, affording us an jaw-dropping view of the castle grounds and the main tower within the scaffolding as well.

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I got to observe the restoration process first-hand

     I left Himeji with the sense that although I did not get the castle experience that I had expected, I had experienced something in a class of its own. I felt that Osaka Castle was really fancy and catered to the tourists' tastes very well, but Himeji Castle seemed to remain authentic and true to its historical roots to a greater extent. Both castle experiences will remain engraved in my memories for years to come!

06/07/2011

Onward Osaka: Osaka Natural History Museum, Botanical Gardens, & Aquarium

    Alas, this is my final chapter about my voyage to Osaka during Golden Week. My second day of the Osaka Unlimited 2-Day Pass involved my morning trip to Namba to visit the Osaka Natural History Museum & Botanical Gardens, and my afternoon excursion to the Osaka Kaiyukan (aquarium) near Osaka Bay.

Osaka Museum of Natural History + Botanical Gardens

    Located in the southeastern section of Osaka, Namba is a quaint town with a very serene ambience. Everything I wanted to visit was conveniently clustered together next to the subway station. They were the Namba baseball stadium, park, botanical gardens and museum of natural history. As it was about 9.00am in the morning, the air was chilly and the people in the park were working on their morning exercises.

    The natural history musem was awesome, with a gigantic fin whale skeleton hanging from the roof right outside the premises. Inside the museum, there were impressive fossils of dinosaurs, mammoths, and other prehistoric beasts. There were also large taxidermic displays of insects and birds and rocks native to Osaka.

    The botanical gardens were less impressive, but that was expected since most of the flowers were not in bloom (the rose garden was especially green >_<). The most popular attraction seemed to be a heart-shaped flower arrangement the size of one and a half people. Couples were taking photos with it all the time. For me though, the coolest sight was a pair of swans attacking trying to eat some guy's foot. He was feeding them bread pieces and the swans wanted more than what he could give hahaha...

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Osaka Museum of Natural History

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The fossils were happy to see me

 

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The most exciting thing I saw in the Botanical Gardens

Osaka Aquarium 海遊館

    Though entry to this spectacular attraction was only partially subsidized by the 2-day pass, this place was well worth the ¥1900 I paid to get in. The star attraction in the Kaiyukan is the Whale Shark, the largest fish in the world. I arrived serendipituously at whale shark feeding time (3.30pm) and got to witness the once-in-my-lifetime sight of the whaleshark guzzling food down like a vacuum cleaner. The other animals in the Kaiyukan are not to be overlooked either. The aquarium has an impressive array of penguins, capyberas, puffer fish, sharks, rays and turtles. They also have many spider crabs (native species to Osaka) on display. Add in a petting aquarium, fluorescent jellyfish, and a huge souvenir store, and I can assure you that you will have a whale of a time here.

    There was lots to see outside the Kaiyukan too. I visited during the annual kids' dance competition and thus got to witness middle schoolers perform choreographed J-pop dances. There was also a huge mall next to the Kaiyukan, with the largest ferris wheel in Japan (tied with the one in Yokohama) (And yes, the 2-day pass granted me a free ride on that too). My favorite attraction outside the Kaiyukan was the 45-minute Osaka Bay tour on the traditional ship Santa Maria. From the ship, I could see Universal Studios Osaka, Cosmo Tower and the Osaka Maritime Museum.

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If you could only visit one place in Osaka, I recommend this!!!

 

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The Osaka Kaiyukan even has it's own boat ride called the Santa Maria!

On the way home

    Unfortunately, my time in the Kaiyukan was drawing to a close and it was time to head back to my hotel. I stopped by Cosmo Tower to use my free pass to the top of the tower, but the view from the tower was nothing spectacular compared to Landmark Tower in Yokohama or Tokyo Tower in Tokyo. I also made one extra pit stop at Ebisucho to visit Tsutenkaku Tower, famous for the god of luck that resides at the pinnacle of the tower, Biliken. By rubbing his foot, you would be blessed with good luck, supposedly.

    I got home late at night and had to get ready for my trip to Himeji the next day. I exhausted 75% of the coupons on the Osaka 2-day pass, and felt very satisfied about my touring of this wonderful city. Until next time, look forward to more stories and adventures in this terrific country!

 

05/19/2011

Onward Osaka: Osaka Castle, Onsens and Ferris Wheels

    Greetings again! It's time to publish more of my Osaka Adventures! My first day using the Osaka Unlimited 2 Day Pass started off early at 9am. After grabbing the complementary breakfast from the hotel, I left to visit Osaka Castle, Tenjimbashi-suji, a public Bath and Onsen, and the HEP-Five Ferris Wheel in the heart of Umeda.

大阪城~ Osaka Castle, Gardens, and Museum of History

     Osaka Castle was located near the Tanimachi-4-chome subway station. I also visited many other interesting buildings around this subway station, namely, the NHK broadcasting station and Osaka Museum of History. The castle grounds were very busy even at 10am. Apparently, the castle was celebrating its 80th anniversary after restoration and rebuilding since the war, and there were joggers all over the place. It must be a popular exercise spot!

    Overall the natural scenery around the castle were very beautiful. The moat water was  so clear that I could see the koi swimming in it. There was also a plum grove and a martial arts dojo on site! Even the paint on the castle tower seemed new and glistening. There was also supposed to be a road-train tour ride in the castle grounds but I could not find it :( My first stop was not the main tower but the Nishinomaru Gardens in the castle grounds.     

    The ambience was serene with crisp morning air in Nishinomaru Garden.  This is apparently a favorite place for Hanami/Sakura viewing. Unfortunately, almost no flowers of any kind were in bloom when I visited, probably due to my bad timing. There were many old men with cameras lingering around here. I suspect that they were all avid birdwatchers.

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The spacious Nishinomaru garden and the view of the castle.

    Next, I was treated to a rare sight at the Hokoku Shrine in the castle. A couple was having a traditional wedding, and the priests and wedding guests formed a procession walking towards the shrine. The priests were playing a nice melody on their musical instruments (flute, if i remember correctly?). The bride had an awkward white bib over her head O_O.

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A rare sight at the Osaka Castle : A traditional wedding!

    The main tower of Osaka Castle was a hive of activity with traditional storytellers, street performers, and street artists abound, all celebrating the 80th anniversary. The inside of the main tower had been converted into a museum, which depicted the history of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, one of the daimyos that unified Japan. There was an english brochure and most of the exhibits had english titles so if your japanese is rusty like mine it's still a worthwhile trip. Little kids could also try on shogun helmets and get their photos taken. SO JEALOUS! Anyway I left the castle with a cool unsheathable samurai-sword keychain and a castle keychain :)

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Osaka Castle Main Tower!

    The NHK broadcasting station was adjacent to the Museum of History and both within walking distance from the train station. NHK was having some live idol program in their lobby with random mascots like DOMO-kun walking around. Pretty 'meh'.

    The Osaka Museum of History was not as english-friendly as the Castle museum. Many of the exhibits looked cool, with maps detailing the growth and expansion of Osaka, the Water City. What really caught my eye were the superbly detailed miniatures of society and life in Old Osaka. These miniatures were accompanied with video and vocal aids that made understanding what was going on a little bit easier. I also managed to sneak myself into a complimentary tour of the 7th floor, where the guide talked about the crops and fish that were on sale in the markets of Old Osaka.

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The Osaka Museum of History

     After an educational afternoon, I decided to ride the subway over to Tenjimbashi-Suji, the longest shopping street in all of Japan! 2.6 kilometers in length, there were a tonne of shoppes along the street. I grabbed a quick lunch from a bakery here and window-shopped my way to the next nearby destination, the "Yu" natural onsen.

    Apparently a popular public bath and onsen in the Kansai region, the Osaka 2 Day Unlimited Pass provided free entry to this building. I am still puzzled why it is called a natural onsen when the bath was actually on the 7th floor of the building @_@. Anyways, the onsen was full of... naked people and stuff so no photos for you. However, I did not realize there were so many types of onsens that you could submerge yourself in here! I did some green-tea onsen at 42.5C and some black silica onsen as well. I tried to get into another jacuzzi-like bath where the water was dyed red for some reason, as well as another bath where the water was a frigid 18C, but was deterred by the masses of naked old men there. All in all though, I left the building refreshed and my muscles were definitely more relaxed. I am now a believer of the power of Onsen!!!

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My only photo of the Onsen and public bath in Osaka. Don't want photos of naked men right?

    My night was spent in Umeda, the heart and nightlife of Osaka. The underground mall was super huge but nothing really caught my eye. The Osaka Unlimited Pass offered a free ride on the HEP-Five Ferris wheel, which was smack in the middle of the city, so as usual I obliged. This wasn't a really big ferris wheel, but the atmosphere and night skyline was really good. The carriages even had speakers with an external jack to play your own music! I'm marking this down as a romatic spot to bring a date in the future.

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The HEP-Five Ferris wheel was a really fun experience at night.

    I got back to my hotel late at night and started planning my next day of intensive tourism. In retrospect, I am astonished at how much I managed to squeeze into just one day and will have fond memories of several of these unique places for a long time!

    Next time, I will write about my trip to the Osaka Coast and the many many cool things to do there!

 

05/11/2011

Onward Osaka: Golden Week Tourism

     Hello again! I've been having a blast exploring Tokyo! Every year on the school calendar there is a set of consecutive national holidays between May 3-May5 (namely: Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day and Children's Day.) Together, they form Golden Week, and I strongly encourage travelling and exploring more of Japan during this time. In my case, I left my Tokyo home and visited Osaka!

    I had multiple novel experiences during the 3 days of May 3-5 and might have to resort to writing in parts to blog about all of them. Briefly though, I did the following: Nozomi Shinkansen to Osaka, Osaka Castle, Osaka Museum of History, Tenjimbashi-suji (Longest shopping street in Japan), My first Onsen, Two Ferris Wheels in Osaka, Osaka Museum of Natural History, Osaka Botanical Gardens, Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, Tsutentaku Tower, Cosmo Tower, Shitennoji Temple, and Himeji Castle (not in Osaka but in Himeji).

    You might think I must have spent exorbidant amounts of money on transport and admission to these sites of interest, but in fact, for most of the places I visited, transport and admission was free thanks to this handy card I purchased: The Osaka 2 Day Unlimited Pass!

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This pass is available only to foreign tourists of Osaka but costs only 2,700 yen. It grants free transport on subway lines and buses, and free admission to most of the attractions in Osaka! Read about it here: http://www.pia-kansai.ne.jp/osp/en/ . In addition to this pass, the CiEE also offers up to 10000 yen of Cultural Reimbursement to students who use expenses for travelling to historic and iconic sites in Japan. How handy!

初めの一歩 The First Step: Shinkansen

    Getting from Tokyo to Osaka is relatively easy and cheap (Night buses that take about 6 hours cost only three to four thousand yen.) However, in order to experience my first bullet train ride, I paid 28000 yen for a two-way ticket to Osaka. In my opinion, the price was steep for the awesome but less-than phenomenal experience. Indeed, the world famous Japanese Shinkansen was efficient and punctual, and the scenery along the way was breathtaking, but I did not feel the sense of speed as I expected. Well, maybe my expectations were too high. Bullet trains are not as fast as bullets.

    There are currently three types of bullet trains; The Kodama was the oldest and slowest model, and serviced all the stations between Tokyo and Osaka. The Hikari was the newer model, with a flatter cockpit. The Nozomi was the newest and fastest Bullet train. It had the most aerodynamic cockpit and stopped at the fewest stations between Tokyo and Osaka. The journey on the Nozomi was only two and a half hours.

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Kodama Shinkansen

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The Hikari Shinkansen

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The Nozomi Shinkansen

    The interior of the Shinkansen smelled like that of an airplane’s. At tokyo, workers dressed in pink would come onto the train and clean the upholstery before the next set of passengers got on. The seats had huge amounts of legroom and could be rotated 180o. I felt like I was on an airplane without turbulence, but with a good view out the window. The reserved seats were comfortable and I was happy I did not buy unreserved seats (The queue for the unreserved cars 1-3 were huge). The food and drinks sold in the station and in the train itself are expectedly overpriced, so it is recommended to bring your own bento to consume.

    Overall, I was impressed with the frequency and efficiency of trains in the Tokaido Shinkansen. While other Shinkansen lines were having problems due to the earthquake. the Tokaido line was unaffected. The punctuality and service on the trains served as a stark contrast to American infrastructure (eg. Amtrak or American-brand airlines, which are often late or cancelled.).

大阪へ到着: Arrival in Osaka

    Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised at how different Osaka is from Tokyo. Osaka is less crowded (No more packed trains!) and the buildings seemed more spread out from each other. There are multiple cultural differences too! For example, I was shocked to find that in Osaka, people keep to the right of escalators instead of the left! Furthermore, Osaka, like the rest of Kansai, has it's own special dialect. I could hardly understand some of the people I stopped to ask for directions. Also, Osaka has a very strong bicycle culture, almost everyone I saw was zooming by in a bicycle.

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    I made my way to Shinsaibashi, a popular shopping street, home to some iconic places like American Mura (An American-style shopping bazaar) and my 3-star, $80 a night, hotel: Hotel Villa Fontaine Shinsaibashi. Recommended by Lonely Planet, it was pretty decent for accomodation and included an all-you-can-eat breakfast every day. It was about 3pm upon checking into my hotel, so I explored the vicinity a little, only beginning intensive tourism the next day.

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Shinsaibashi-Suji

    There were the basic top-brand stores in Shinsaibashi; ZARA, Luis Vuitton, Chanel, and also popular Japanese franchise stores such as UniQlo and Parco. There was also a cool underground mall that was as large as the distance between two train stations. It seems Osaka has many underground malls because there were even huger malls under Namba and Umeda as well. American Mura was rife with foreigners and artsy street design, but apart from that, the place was not as memorable as I had hoped.

    I turned in for the night at 11pm, with brilliant plans for the next day of activities: Osaka Castle, the longest shopping street in Japan, and my first Onsen!

05/10/2011

Jolly Jaunts in Japan: Self Intro and Tokyo Tower

Salutations~

    初めまして、This is Colin Wee, a student gone rogue from his college in America just so he can study in Sophia University, Japan for one semester with the CiEE. I was born and raised in Singapore, and am studying Psychology and Neuroscience in the US. While I am definitely not as mean as in the self-portrait below, it is certainly more fun to draw myself that way :P ColinTeme copy

After the terrible March 11th Earthquake in Japan, The US travel warning and situation in the country compromised my study abroad program so I had to weave my way through some bureaucratic red tape to get to Japan. Now that I am here, I can say it is truly a historic time to be a part of this great country. Despite the minor aftershocks, there is a strong solidarity here and people are going through their lives while trying to save electricity.

Now, in order to do my part for the tourism industry in Japan, I have vowed to explore every tourism hotspot in this beautiful country and write about it on this here CiEE Blog. Future students considering Japan (just come you won't regret it) will hopefully find this blog a useful reference for short expeditions during breaks.

Tackling Tokyo Tower - April 24th

Where : 15 Minute Walk from Hamamatsuchō Station 浜松町駅

A sweet juxtaposition of old shrines with modern city awaits you on your journey to the tower.  P4240154

The tower itself is awe-inspiring, with exhibitions year round. This time, outside the tower, there was an exclusive Fukushima Food Expo with people trying to spread the awareness that most of Fukushima agriculture is in fact far enough from the radiation zone of the Fukushima Plant and is thus safe. On this special day, my friends and I participated in some charitable activisim by making the human hiragana character 「が」in 「えがお」which means "smile". The Pink "thing" is one of the two twin mascots for Tokyo tower, while the red radish is Radish-boya, a mascot for the organic agriculture industry.  Egao

Photo not taken by us. That's because we were in the "が"

    Inside the first floor of the tower was an aquarium and Dinosaur exhibition. The second floor was for food and souvenirs, where we had delicious overpriced katsu-don for lunch. The third floor was an arcade and a wax museum. The fourth floor held steps that would lead on almost forever to the middle observation deck of the tower. There was an elevator on the first floor but because the lines for the elevators were huge (and since real men use the stairs anyway), we decided to do things the hard way. From the fourth floor, we were 600 steps to the top. Although this was akin to a vertical marathon, the view from the stairs and the encouraging messageboards along the way made the experience very memorable and fun. Upon reaching the main observatory, we were rewarded with tiny certificate acknowledging our effort and accomplishment.

Climbing certTiny Tiny Certificate

The 360 degree view afforded by the main observatory in the tower was breathtaking. There were signs pointing to different areas in Tokyo, such as Shibuya, Ikebukuro and Odaiba. We also went up to the special observatory even higher up in the tower, but my personal preference was that the main observatory was cooler, because they had a gift shop and café on that floor. The main observatory also  had portions of glass flooring that could allow you to look straight down from the tower.

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 View from the Main Observatory

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View from the Glass Floor Panel

We left Tokyo Tower in the late afternoon, heading to the Pokémon Center Tokyo just next to Hamamatsu-cho station (Yes Japan has 6 real life Pokémon Centers!). Had we stayed past 7pm ,the tower would have lit up (albeit not as brightly as pre-earthquake times) with heartfelt messages to the people of Japan. Tokyo Tower is an iconic location in Tokyo that I thoroughly enjoyed. Complemented with a cool looking pair of mascots, Tokyo tower is truly one of the Great Towers in Japan.

 

Going to Osaka for Golden Week. See you next time~