A Travellerspoint blog

Tokyo 2015: Day 4: Tokyo Disneyland

Visiting the Kingdom of the Mouse

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April 6th is our wedding anniversary, so we decided to keep our day out in Disneyland until that day. It was our second time visiting the park, our first back in 2013, and we woke to beautiful sunshine. The journey to Tokyo Disneyland is a fairly easy one, taking around an hour overall, with the train taking you straight into the resort. Tokyo Disneyland is unusual in that its second park, Disney Sea, is completely unique to Japan but with our schedule being so tight we had to give it a miss this time. Maybe next time...

We're both big fans of Disneyland, having had some excellent days out at both Paris and Tokyo's parks. Tokyo is by far our favourite though, as its a good mix of the park in Paris and the one in Florida. The shops are also far better, with mostly high-quality merchandise. Plus, there's also plenty of merchandise that we haven't seen anywhere else! Tokyo Disneyland gets a bit of bad press from many people, mainly due to how busy it gets and the insane queuing times for its top rides. We've never had any problems with this, despite both times being very busy, so we've decided to include some top tips below.

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Tip One: Get there early!

It sounds like a no-brainer, right? But amazingly, many people will arrive as the park opens or just after. This is a big mistake. The Japanese know what they're doing when it comes to Disneyland, with the queues to get in already huge at least half an hour before they open the gates. This then leads to a bit of a rush at opening time as people head to their favourite rides to grab fast-passes. Our advice? Get there as early as possible and get in line, it'll make your time all the more easy!

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Tip Two: Grab a fast pass and ignore Splash Mountain!

Ignore Splash Mountain?! No, really. Both times that we've visited the park, the most popular ride by far has been Splash Mountain. Within an hour of opening, the fast pass return time is already into the afternoon and the queuing time close to three hours. It's simply not worth it. If you grab a fast pass for this ride, you're effectively sealing your fate as to the other rides as its only one fast pass at a time. It's much better to grab a pass for something like space or thunder mountain, then hit the less busy, but still popular, rides such as the Jungle Cruise or Pirates of the Caribbean. By doing this, we managed to tick off four-five rides by lunch time, leaving you time to hit smaller rides and the shops in the afternoon. Once you've used your fast pass, be sure to grab another as soon as possible. Thunder mountain had nearly a three hour queue within a couple of hours when we visited last time, with people queuing well out of the ride and through Fronteirland.

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Tip Three: Don't panic about the parades!

When we've visited other Disneylands around the world, finding a decent space for the parades has meant grabbing a space an hour before the parade. This isn't such a problem in Japan as people actually sit down for the parade, meaning that wherever you are you're going to get a good view of the show! We were amazed when we first saw this and I only wish it happened in the other parks around the world.

Tip Four: Don't miss the Electrical Parade and fireworks!

The Electrical Parade has been a mainstay of DIsneyland for many, many years and Its only gotten better each time I've seen it. Tokyo's electrical parade was simply stunning, as was the light show that they projected onto the castle after. Like the parades, everyone sits down to give the people behind a decent view. Be warned though, whilst you won't have to camp out quite as long as you would in another park, it still gets very busy very quickly so keep an eye on the situation.

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So, there you have it, our guide to visiting Tokyo Disneyland! We both hope this helps anyone planning a visit and if you've got any other tips then feel free to share them in comments section below.

Posted by Gavin_w207 02:57 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo japan disney disneyland Comments (0)

Tokyo 2015: Day 3: Ueno, Akasuka and Nakameguro

Pandas and cherry blossoms!

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Waking up at 7.30am, I took a look outside to notice that one of the offices across from us was already filled with workers! This wasn't an unusual sight by the end of the trip, yet I was always amazed to see that the same people were still there when we got back to the hotel and would still be there until around 10pm. It would seem that Tokyo's office workers really do work as hard as they say!

After a night in, we were both ready to hit Tokyo once again. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't quite so ready and this day marked the beginning of some pretty terrible weather for our trip! We woke to rain, which continued for much of the day, but we didn't let it stop us and soon made our way to Ueno park.

Ueno park is a scenic place with some great temples, an excellent zoo and Tokyo's national museum all making for a great day out. Add to that an astounding amount of cherry trees in full bloom and you're onto a winner. Unfortunately, the rain was coming down pretty hard and people were still clearing up the debris from the night before's hanami parties so the effect was lessened slightly.

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Before hitting Ueno Zoo, we visited Kiyomizu Kannon. Its a small temple, modeled after Kyoto's Kiyomizu-Dera, and overlooks Shinobazu pond. Apparently, the temple is popular with couples trying to conceive, with them leaving dolls of the children they would like to have at the temple. These dolls are then cremated on the 25th September every year. From a westerner’s point of view, I can imagine this not being the greatest advert for responsible parenting...

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Next up was the zoo, famed for its pandas above anything else. The zoo is huge, with a wide range of animals, and costs the grand total of £3.20 to enter, which has always astounded us. If this was a zoo in England you would be looking at around £15 considering what they have on offer! The zoo itself is split into what feels like two sections, the more modern area as you enter and a slightly older feeling area after this. The more modern area is fantastic, with large enclosures and a range of happy, healthy animals. The pandas are the obvious draw, but there are also gorillas, lions, tigers and an excellent polar bear enclosure with underwater viewing. The secondary area of the zoo didn't impress us last time so we decided to give it a miss this time. This isn't to say that the second area is terrible, the enclosures are just a little smaller and it doesn't have as positive a feel.

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After the zoo, we visited Toshogu Shrine, which is just off from the main park. Over the last few years, the shrine has been undergoing maintenance so we hadn't been able to visit the shrine properly. This year, however, we were in luck! The walk to the shrine is an interesting one during hanami as it's lined with street food vendors and there was a wide range of delicious looking food on offer. The shrine is intricately carved, with a walkway lined with copper lanterns making for an impressive sight. What really caught our attention was a small statue, within which is enshrined a small flame. Amazingly, the flame was carried from Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped and has been kept lit since. It’s quite an emotive symbol of both the devastation unleashed on the city, as well as the enduring spirit of the Japanese people in the face of such an event and makes the shrine well worth a visit.

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From Toshogu Shrine, we made our way to Bentendo Shrine which is located on a small island on Shinobazu Pond. The shrine itself is interesting enough, but it’s the pond that's the real attraction. Go at the right time and its filled with lotus flowers and lily pads, making for a beautiful sight.

Finally, as we left the park and headed indoors, the rain relented. Our next stop was for a bit of shopping at Yodabashi Camera. The store is split into two separate, but equally massive, sections. One deals with electronics such as computers and televisions, whilst the other caters for video games, toys and hobbies. It was the second building that we were looking for and we spend a good while stocking up on various merchandise and having a good rummage.

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Heavily laden with merchandise, we then exited through the building and straight onto Ameyoko Shopping Street. Its entrance is directly opposite the station and always filled with people. Ameyoko shopping street is like no other experience in Tokyo and walking through its main streets and winding alleys you'll find a huge selection of fresh fish, sold right next to t-shirts, sweets, trainers and just about anything else you can imagine. Its great fun, if a little crowded, and it’s always surprising to see the sheer range of things on sale.

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With the afternoon drawing to a close, we made our way to Akasuka which is home to one of Tokyo's most famous temples, Senso-Ji. Almost everyone who visits Tokyo, even for just a few days, visits this temple and for good reason, its a truly iconic part of Tokyo. The walk down to the temple is filled with souvenir shops, mostly selling a range of stereotypical souvenirs so think anything plastered with ninjas, Hello Kitty and Doraemon and you're pretty much there. You can also buy Japanese crackers and other food, but it’s all at quite a mark-up. If you're looking for that kind of snack then look no further than a convenience store, its exactly the same but half the price. The temple itself is an impressive, imposing building with a stunning interior and interesting gardens. It really is massive and normally packed with tourists. Interestingly, later on in our trip we made our way back to the temple in the evening evening and we were really glad we did. The whole temple is lit up, giving it a beautiful and atmospheric feel. Its arguable that this is the best time to see the shrine, especially considering the lack of crowds but we personally think that the busy feel is part of the temples charm. There are many roads and shopping arcades running parallel and off of the temple, giving you plenty to see and do. It’s worth checking out the streets behind the temple as well as they have a traditional style and feel that's often hard to find in the city.

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To finish off what had already been an action-packed and busy day, we decided to head away from Akasuka and visit Nakameguro. Kathy had found out that they held an annual cherry blossom festival along the river that winds its way through the area. When we arrived, we found that the river is lined with countless cherry blossom trees that are all lit by traditional lanterns. The festival must stretch a good couple of miles and was beautiful. It really was one of the highlights of our trip and well worth a visit for anyone visiting during Hanami. Many Japanese couples were enjoying flutes of champagne. We decided to opt out, considering a glass was selling for more than a bottle does in England!

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And that's it for day three. Our next post is about DisneyLand Tokyo so be sure to check back, or subscribe!

Posted by Gavin_w207 07:34 Archived in Japan Tagged ueno_zoo ueno panda cherry_blossom hanami kiyomizu_kannon toshogu_shrine bentendo_shrine shinobazu_pond yodabashi_camera ameyoko_shopping_street aemyoko_arcade akasuka senso_ji nakameguro Comments (0)

Tokyo 2015: Day 2 Part 2: Kamakura

Hasedera Temple, Hachimangu Shrine and Komachi-Dori!

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After spending the morning following the Daibutsu hiking trail, we left Daibutsu and made our way through Kamakura to Hasedera Temple.

Hasedera

Hasedera Temple is one of Kamakura's main attractions, and for good reason. Its a beautiful complex most famous for its statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, which is said to have mysteriously washed up on the shore of Miura Peninsula in the year 736. The statue is absolutely amazing and stands at 9.18metres tall, making it one of the tallest wooden statues in Japan. Unfortunately, you're forbidden from taking pictures inside the large hall its housed in so we can't share any with you, but it is without a doubt one of the highlights of a visit to Kamakura. The rest of the temple complex is just as grand and beautiful, with stunning gardens complete with ponds and a winding stairway that leads to an observation deck. The observation deck gives an excellent view over Kamakura's beaches and the area's infamous black kites which are known to snatch food from the hands of unwary tourists. The temple complex is also home to a small underground cave known as benten kutsu, filled with countless statues of Benzaiten the goddess of the sea, and is well worth a visit. Be warned though, the ceilings are very low so if you have back problems you're going to encounter some difficulties!

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Komachi-Dori

Komachi-Dori is Kamakura's biggest and most popular shopping street, beginning outside the train station and down towards Hachimangu Shrine. We took the train from the station nearest to Hasedera down to Kamakura station, which is about a ten-fifteen minute journey. Kamakura is apparently famous for its pigeon shaped biscuits, yet the only place we've ever seen them properly has been in shops within the train station. We've never tried them personally but they look pretty tasty!

Whilst many of the Komachi-Dori's shops are geared towards tourists, both foreign and Japanese, the street has retained its a traditional atmosphere with small, winding alleys and old-fashioned buildings. The Japanese have a real love of food, especially when they're on day-trips and holidays, so many of the buildings are filled with small restaurants. Walking down Komachi-Dori, we were excited to find a tiny shop selling fresh dango, a type of Japanese desert made from rice flour. There was quite a queue but it was well worth the wait, with them selling an amazing assortment of dango and toppings!

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Hachimangu Shrine

Our last stop in Kamakura was Hachimangu Shrine, the most important shrine in Kamakura. It was first built in 1063, then moved to its current site in 1180 by the first shogun of the Kamakura government. The shrine itself is iconic and a huge tourist destination for the town, the large pathway to the shrine and its grounds usually filled with people. The walkway to the shrine stretches right from the waterfront, up what is now a main road before it reaches a bridge that marks the entrance to the shrines grounds. The shrine itself makes for quite the sight, and the surrounding grounds are beautiful with its ponds and cherry blossom trees. We've found, however, that despite its grandeur the shrine itself only takes a short while to actually visit. Still, any trip to Kamakura would be lacking without a small visit to the shrine and we've found that its definitely worth a visit!

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With our visit to Hachimangu Shrine finished, we decided to call it a day and make our way back to Tokyo to take the evening off from sightseeing. It was a perfect chance to visit one of the many delicatessens that fill Tokyo's stations. We chose the one in Tokyo station, a very busy area filled with an amazing array of food. Delicatessens are great, if a little pricey, places to find food in Tokyo and the selection is huge!

Our next post will cover Ueno Park and zoo, Akasuka and the Nakameguru Sakura Festival so check back (or subscribe!) for more very soon!

Posted by Gavin_w207 07:51 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo japan kamakura hachimangu_shrine hasedera_temple komachi_dori! Comments (0)

Around the world with Pikachu!

Tokyo and Kamakura 2015

As a fun way to share our travel experiences during our trip to Japan in 2013 we began taking pictures of a small model of Pikachu outside as many major sights as we could. We then turned these pictures into a five minute video that showcased all the best parts of our trip, with a fun twist!

During our latest visit to Japan we took Pikachu with us again to create another video, this time with a cherry blossom theme, and you can find the link below! We're hoping to create similar videos of Pikachu in as many countries as we can so, if you like this one, subscribe to the channel for all the latest updates.

Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0_CD9m7Llo

Posted by Gavin_w207 04:31 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tokyo japan kamakura pokemon pikachu Comments (0)

Tokyo 2015: Day 2 Part 1: Kamakura

On the trail of Daibutsu!


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We decided to spend our second day in Tokyo visiting one of our favourite places in Japan, the beautiful coastal city of Kamakura. It’s a simple one hour train ride from Tokyo Station to Kita-Kamakura, with the station conveniently located next to Engakuji temple, one of Japan’s leading Zen temples.

The years 1192-1333 are known as the Kamakura period in Japanese history, with Japanese capital being moved from Kyoto to Kamakura by the current Shogun. It wasn’t until 1221 that Kamakura gained complete control over Japan with the emperor, still based in Kyoto, practically losing all power.

The whole period is filled with history and change with Kamakura, along with the surrounding area, reflecting this with its stunning temples and shrines.

This was our third visit to Kamakura, so we knew the area well, and decided to follow what is known as the Daibutsu (big Buddha) hiking trail. Starting at Jochiji temple in Kita-Kamakura, the trail leads through the western hills to what is arguably Kamakura’s most famous landmark, Daibutsu, with stops at a number of stunning temples and shrines along the way. The hike itself is pretty relaxed and takes about sixty to ninety minutes to complete, trailing through the forests and hills around the city.

After completing the trail and visiting Daibutsu and Kamakura’s other famous landmark, Hasedera, we followed the main shopping street known as Komachi-Dori down to Hachimangu shrine.

We’ve decided to break down this post into the main sights that we visited, along with a little bit of travel information so feel free to browse at your leisure. Again, though, we’ll be breaking this day into two posts so keep checking back for more. For more information on the trail itself, as well as some great maps, I’d recommend visiting http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2166.html. Japan Guide has been an invaluable resource for our journeys around Japan and well worth a look for anyone planning a trip.

Engakuji Temple
One of Japan’s leading Zen temples, it was founded in 1282 and should be at the top of anyones to-do lists when visiting Kamakura, especially given its location right next to the train station. The temple, and Kamakura as a whole, was one of the true highlights of our first visit to Japan back in 2010 as it gave us our first taste of Japan’s beauty and heritage outside of Tokyo.
Interestingly, the temple was built to commemorate both the fallen Japanese and Mongol soldiers after the Mongols failed second attempt at invasion.

The temple is stunning at any time of year, with grand gardens and beautiful buildings. The entire area is perfectly manicured and has a real sense of tranquillity to it. Its also, as you will see from the pictures below, a great place to enjoy the cherry blossoms and catch a great view of the surrounding area.

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Jochiji Temple
Located very close to Engakuji Temple, Jochiji Temple marks the beginning of the hiking trail. You don’t have to enter the temple to access the route but we would both highly recommend visiting due to its tranquil setting and beauty. The temple’s main hall is surrounded by gardens which contain some small caves and a graveyard.

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Kuzuharagaoka Shrine
Missing from most maps and guides for the Daibutsu trail is Kuzuharagaoka shrine which is strange, considering that it was easily one of the most beautiful spots for cherry blossoms that we found on the trail! We stumbled upon the shrine the last time we walked the trail and, having googled extensively, can still not find a great deal of information about it! What I can find is that the shrine itself is actually built on a former execution ground where Hino Toshimoto, a vassal of the then current emperor, was executed for trying to overthrow the Shogunate. On a slightly happier note are the ema boards and prayer boxes. They’re shaped like love hearts and the story goes that if you throw in a couple of coins, you’ll find love within a week. The shrine’s great for a quick visit and has both vending machines and western style toilets located just outside of it. Also, on clear days, you can get a pretty good view of Mt Fuji… Apparently!

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Zeniarai Benten
A real highlight of the hiking trail, and Kamakura as a whole, has to be Zeniarai Benten, or the money-washing shrine. Literally built into the cave, the shrine is reached by walking down a short tunnel which leads to the small grounds of the shrine. From here you can visit a small, yet pretty, pond and the shrine itself. As the name suggests, the idea is to bring your change for washing. The story goes that any money washed will double in value! (If only!)
The shrine is also notable for its rainbow assortment of origami cranes that have been grouped together and hung from the ceiling.

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Daibutsu (Big Buddha)
When visiting Daibutsu you’ll quickly realise that they’re not joking when they say big. Standing at 13.35metres tall it is the second biggest Buddha statue in Japan and dates back to 1252. The statue is absolutely amazing and a real icon of both Kamakura and Japan. When visiting, you’ll probably find the fact that the statue is not housed inside a building odd. This is because, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, many of the buildings were destroyed by tsunamis. It’s a testament to Daibutsu’s sheer size and weight that he survived both!

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That’s part one of day two done, next time is Hasedera, Komachi-Dori and Hachimangu shrine. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section and enjoy the pictures!

Posted by Gavin_w207 08:17 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo kamakura daibutsu hasedera kita-kamakura zeniarai_benten komachi_dori hachimangu_shrine Comments (0)

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