The world is my home so here I am exploring different parts of it as much as I can. Currently residing in Tokyo, Japan.
New Year's celebrations typically consist of late-night parties, drinking, countdowns and fireworks. In Japan, however, it's a more spiritual holiday. If I am not mistaken, the locals give importance to this event the most. It's the time of the year when families gather and visit temples.The first time I celebrated New Year's in Japan was just last year and I welcomed 2015 in a very cultural way. This experience goes way back but I think it's still worth sharing. For New Year's Eve I joined a couch surfing event. I had some drinks, met a lot of cool people and had a countdown in Shibuya (I was quite disappointed that there weren't any fireworks but it's all good). My real New Year's celebration, however, did not start until 2 AM when I set off for Mount Takao to catch the first sunrise of the year, which is very important to the Japanese. I fell in love with this perspective the very first time my friend told me about it. Initially, I did not know who I was going to go with on this adventure. I was mostly told that I was crazy to want to hike a mountain when I should just be celebrating under the influence of alcohol. Luckily enough, I found outliers who wanted to try this cultural experience. On regular days, the last trains are around 12 midnight but since New Year is very special in Japan, trains are open for 24 hours from December 31st to January 1st. Isn't that cool? At least you wouldn't have to worry about partying all night and getting stuck somewhere since you can grab a train home any time. As expected, the train bound for Takao was packed.We arrived at Takaosanguchi station at around 3:30am and, of course, there was a huge crowd. It was also very, very, VERY cold. To save time and energy, we opted to take the cable car. For adults, a one-way ticket cost 490 JPY while a roundtrip ticket costs only 930 JPY. Note that there are separate queues for ticket-purchasing and for the entrance of the cable car ride. Also note that the cable car doesn't take you directly to the summit so expect about a 40 minute walk upon getting off. You won't go hungry on the mountain as there are various food stalls open around the clock for the holiday. Prices aren't that bad but, of course, you can also opt to bring your own snacks and drinks with you. From the cable car exit, you'll find a beautiful view of the city. Wee saw a crowd of people already seated on their own chairs and picnic mats around 4am. We assumed that the sun would rise from that direction but we were ambitious and really wanted to see it from the summit. We had time anyway as sunrise is expected at around 6:45am. Maybe less than a kilometer away from the summit, guards were stopping everyone from moving forward. They said that it's already too crowded at the summit so they can resume entrance only AFTER sunrise. I was a little heartbroken. It was then that I realized why there were already a lot of people gathered by the cable car exit. They knew better. At this point, it was 5am and -2 degrees Celcius. I badly needed to go to the toilet but then the nearest bathroom was also blocked-- another set of guards were stopping other people from moving towards my area. Lesson learned: If you really want to see the sunrise at the summit, go earlier than 2am. Perhaps the early birds camped out by midnight. We found a spot by the stairs. People already started sitting in rows so we joined in. It was cold; as I've mentioned, the temperature was already at -2. We waited for more than an hour. Although the sun hasn't risen yet, the sky was already turning into different hues and colors. And then, finally, a majestic sunrise!A picture is worth a thousand words but being there was-- hands down-- a priceless experience. In spite of the cold, lack of sleep and the dire need to pee, being there was worth it. It was definitely a wonderful way to start the year! I was thankful for clear skies.The crowd started moving and lines were formed once again. A lot of people gathered by the shrines and temples to pray. The entrance to the summit finally resumed and it did not take very long until we reached the top, where another one of nature's wonders was waiting.Mount Fuji! What luck! This was a big deal for me as it was my very first time to see it after so many failed attempts. We had some soba before descending the mountain as I heard that it's the traditional New Year's day dish in Japan and that it also brings good fortune. PS: I love photography even if I'm no pro. If you like my photos, you could follow me on Instagram @perched_elsewhere. :)
It’s Christmas season once again! It’s that time of the year when winter winds cut through our skin and our bodies get so stiff from contracting because of the cold. It’s also crunch time for most at work as the year is about to come to a close. Tokyo’s generally a busy city and people are stressed and exhausted enough from commuting and long hours at work, but because of such conditions that come with winter season, everyone becomes more vulnerable to sickness. Heck, even I have been getting the case of the sniffles, to think winter has just begun. A friend of mine has also been, on and off, feeling under the weather the past week and so she suggested we go to an onsen, which was an awesome idea.As I live in Central Tokyo, I couldn’t really think of public baths nearby except for Hakone and Yokohama. I then googled “Onsen in Tokyo” and the top two results included Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba and Spa LaQua in Tokyo Dome City. Both looked really nice and had really good reviews but the prices were quite expensive. I would love to try them out someday, but I just want something simple and easy on the pocket (considering it’s Christmas season and I have to save up for other things). The touristy things can happen later on. Since I’m a resident, I might as well go local, right?My friend then suggested that I we go to Shinjuku. I thought, REALLY? SHINJUKU? With all the bars and booze? She said someone once told her that they do have public baths there. I was quite doubtful but I was ready to explore anyway.We went to the Kabuki-cho (red-light district) area and found different kinds of hotels and decided to go in some of them to ask if they had their own onsen. Unsurprisingly, all of them said yes. One, however, told us that we can find one nearby! She gave us a map and told us to look for “Teruma-ya”.I didn’t expect much but when we finally found it, I was impressed.It was a big building! In fact, this place has SIX floors.There are lounges, saunas, locker rooms, massage rooms and a restaurant. Once you enter the building, you have to pack away your shoes in a locker first and then proceed to the reception. We were attended by a pleasant woman who could speak English. She explained everything that we needed to know, and we were quite pleased with the reasonable prices. The general entrance fee is 2,364 JPY. Since it was a weekend when we went, we had to pay an additional fee of 324 JPY. Also, we wanted to stay overnight so we had to pay an overnight fee of 1,836 JPY. In total it costs 4,524 JPY, taxes included. This wasn't bad because 1) we didn't have to travel far; and 2) as compared to the touristy places this was cheaper-- if we had gone to Odaiba or Tokyo Dome, it would cost us more than 5,000 JPY.The lady said we pay when we exit. She also gave us a wrist band that has an IC reader, which we can use to open our designated locker and purchase from vending machines. This meant that we did not have to bring cash around therefore, all expenses would be paid upon check-out. Robes and towels are provided, and toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, body soap, make up remover, toothbrush with toothpaste) are available for free consumption. You can also buy things such as facial masks and eye masks if you want. I bathed for heaven knows how long! The water is natural spring water from Nakaizu, and there are different kinds of baths, including a jet bath which had bubbles to massage your back and legs. There's also an outdoor bath, which I tried out, too, but only for a while as the air was too cold. I also tried the aroma sauna, which was very relaxing as well. Usually, when I'm in a sauna, I find it a little bit difficult to breathe after a few minutes, but this particular one was fine for me. There is another sauna area for healing but you have to pay separately for it, and it's open only from noon to midnight. After bathing, I got a little hungry so I got some food from the restaurant and also some milk from one of the vending machines. I went up to Venus Lounge, which is exclusively for women, past midnight to get a good night's rest. Each reclining chair had it's own TV set and an outlet for charging your devices. I didn't watch any TV anymore though as I was ready to go to bed. I had such a wonderful time and my body felt so much better! I was very happy to have given this to myself as an early Christmas treat.I highly recommend this place, especially this Christmas season! It's easy to find, prices are reasonable and amenities are very clean and spacious. How to get there: Address: 1-chome 1-2 Kabuki-cho Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0021It's around 9 minutes on foot from the JR Shinjuku Station (East Exit); 9 minutes on foot from Higashi Shinjuku (Fukutoshin Line, Exit A1); only 2 minutes on foot from Shinjuku San Chome (Shinjuku Line, Exit E1).Website: THERMAE-YUJust some disclaimers though! It may be a good idea to go to this spa after a night out of drinking around Shinjuku but they will not allow drunk customers to enter the premises. Also, unfortunately, tattoos are prohibited. If anyone knows of other good onsens around Central Tokyo, please comment below!
Tokyo, if it's not obvious to most yet, belongs to the top 5 most expensive cities in the world, alongside Zurich, Hong Kong, Singapore and Luanda. Expensive as it may be though, it is a beautiful, clean and efficient place to live in, plus you know where taxes go. I have only lived here for almost two years. My first year was a bit of a struggle in terms of finances. Aside from the fact that living costs are quite high, I love Japanese food, I am always itching to discover new places, and I find everything around here kawaii. I somehow found my groove though, so now I would want to share 10 ways on how to save money in Tokyo. 1. Check the voltage consumption of your appliances. Hair dryers, air-conditioners and microwaves usually consume a lot of energy, and your electricity bills may shoot up insanely if you are not careful. Getting a portable heater would be a good alternative this winter as opposed to choosing the heater mode on your air-conditioner. It also pays to be mindful of appliances that you leave on. I know someone who left her heater on for a month (deliberately), and her electricity bill shot up to 20,000 yen. No kidding. Now, you wouldn't want the same thing to happen to you, would you?2. In need of a snack every now and then? Go for the pharmacy. Convenience stores are everywhere but so are pharmacies, and these are much cheaper. Better yet, buy snacks from the supermarket beforehand and just bring them with you to work. I started doing this recently and it really helped me in cutting my daily expenses. I also try to stay away from vending machines.3. Buy only what you need. Especially when it comes to furniture and electronics. Otherwise, you will also have to pay for disposal when you realize you don't need them anymore. Space is limited in a place like Tokyo. If you keep buying things for your house, sooner or later, it's gonna get too cramped!4. In line with #3, opt for second-hand items. Being an expat, I don't want to invest too much on things when I am not even sure of how long I'm going to be here. I have been told that second-hand items are screened first before being sold in shops so we should not really worry about them breaking easily. Most of my appliances (such as my rice cooker, steamer and kettle) are from Book-Off and they work just fine. You can also look into Sayonara Sale or Craigslist Tokyo for cheap second-hand goods. Some even come for free! 4. Cook your own meals. This may seem very obvious but even I am guilty of just choosing to eat out because sometimes I have to stay late at work. I would definitely want to get dinner over and done with, especially since I wouldn't have enough energy to cook for myself. Or in cases of cold weather, it's hard for me to get up early in the morning and cook. There are always ways around it though. My favorite go-to instant but healthy meal would be natto and kimchi with rice. I also get some packed microwaveable food from the supermarket. Another friend of mine thought about getting a slow-cooker, so at least the food will be ready once she gets home. Cooking your own meals also means that you can bring your own food to work, which similarly cuts costs. 5. Planning to go around during your weekends? Take advantage of subway passes. I do this if I am planning to go to more than three places in one day, especially if I have guests who want to do some sightseeing around Tokyo. I recommend planning where you want to go beforehand so that you are aware of which trains to take-- Tokyo Metro, Toei subway or JR. (For more tips on transportation in Tokyo, you can see my other write up here)6. Consider getting a bicycle. I have not done this but I have been thinking about it for some time now. Stations are usually close to one another so it would definitely cut your subway costs. At least you get some exercise done, too! 7. Speaking of exercise, if you are the type who wants to stay healthy and fit, get to know your neighborhood. Gyms may be quite heavy on the budget but parks are everywhere and they usually have some equipment that everyone can use... For free! This particular random workout space wasn't in a park though (refer to photo above). It was under the train tracks! I was just walking around before doing my groceries and spotted this. There are pictures on how to use the equipment, too. And, again, this is for free. I also heard that there are sports centers in each ward and they offer cheap group classes and even have swimming pools. I have yet to find one near me though. 8. Make budgeting a habit. I bought a plastic envelope with dividers with labels such as "PASMO" (for my commuter pass), "BILLS", "GROCERIES", and "TRAVEL". Every month, whenever I receive my salary, I immediately withdraw the amount that I will need to put in each category. For example, I automatically set aside 5,000 yen for my PASMO; 20,000 yen for my bills; 10,000 for groceries; and 20,000 for travel. 9. Have a second bank account. Aside from putting money in my little plastic envelope, I also transfer a specific amount of cash from my company bank card to another personal account, which contains my savings, monthly. Even if you just put 10,000 yen a month, it would still go a long way. 10. Choose your battles. Japan is crazy beautiful. Places are so accessible thanks to efficient transportation modes, there are so many festivals and sights to see depending on the season. Plus, there's good food everywhere. As I've mentioned earlier, it was quite a challenge for me to save money at the beginning because I wanted to try and do everything. I've learned though that I have to take things one step at a time, and that I should also consider getting some rest at home during weekends.What do you think of this list? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to share your own ways to save money in Tokyo as well!
Happy Halloween! I sure hope everyone had a spooktacular weekend! So it's my second time to take part in this seemingly important event in Japanese culture-- or at least, in a fashion city like Tokyo. I had the shock of my life (a good one) when I first witnessed it last year and I could not wait to do it again this year. I celebrated Halloween for two consecutive weekends. The first one, which was just last week (weekend of the 22nd), I participated in a pub crawl hosted by Tokyo Gaijins in Roppongi. I wore my costume from my house all the way to the venue, and it felt quite awkward as I knew it was too early to play dress up. I'm just glad that people don't generally care about what you wear in Tokyo, and it was a relief to see everybody else dressed up at the bar though. So this pub crawl event requires you to RSVP and pay a fee of 1000-2000 yen (depending on where and when you signed up), which includes free shots in all of the three bars for the night plus happy hour prices for certain drinks, and, of course, the chance to mingle with people from different countries. It was very convenient for all of us as we didn't need to worry about which bar to go to, and since it was an official event and the bars had to be booked previously, we had the luxury of chairs and tables (well, most of the time).Moving forward to the night of the 29th, I made my way to Shibuya of course. Last year, I was there around 5pm and the place was literally SWARMING with Halloweenies in amazing costumes. Last night, however, I was quite disappointed because I arrived at around 6:30 and there were only a number of people dressed up. It wasn't that crowded (yet) either. It was quite impressive that there were police officers everywhere though. The scramble area started getting tight around 8pm and I was getting excited because more and more people in costume started to pour in. Some interesting characters I found this weekend: I noticed there were a lot of Harley Quinns, too! But for some reason, I did not take a photo of a single one. Also, I have a friend that found someone dressed as the Pen Pineapple guy. It would have been epic to see him myself (even if I don't like the song... Sorry). I later discovered some of the streets around the scramble that have been blocked to accommodate Halloween, and it was nice to have so much space. But again, for some reason, I felt like last year was more intense because it seemed as if there were more curious civilians than cosplayers this year. Everyone was pretty calm, too. Last year, I remember some people standing on top of vending machines, really massive groups of the same costume (like for example, I ran into a group of 20 zombie nuns clumped together) and boisterous laughter all around. Could it be because of all the police officers patrolling the area? Or is it only because the 29th is a tad bit too early? I had just a few drinks around the area. Most of the places were crowded and the prices were quite high. I dropped by Shibuya again earlier today to meet some friends and was surprised to see people in costume yet again. So it got me wondering, will the main event be tomorrow, the 31st? If so, that's pretty interesting as it will be a Monday, a work day!For this Halloween season, I came up with the following insights:1. If you want a more local feel of Halloween and just want to see all the interesting costumes, head down to Shibuya.2. On the other hand, if you would like a more international feel, head on to Roppongi. I also recommend going with a group or saving a spot for a particular organized Halloween event so you don't have to worry about where to go as everything will be packed and you may just end up in expensive bars. 3. Locals base their costumes on trends. For example, there were tons of Sailor Moon characters last year and I was expecting to see them again this weekend but didn't. Then I realized it was the show's anniversary last year. This year, the trend is Pokemon and Suicide Squad. 4. Mario, Wally and zombies of all shapes and sizes will always be a staple.5. As I have been told, it's either you dress up sexy or creepy in Tokyo, but in reality, it's not limited to that in Shibuya! You'll be surprised by all the creative ideas people come up with. As early as now, I'm already thinking if I would do Shibuya again next year. Or maybe it's time to give Halloween in Japan a little twist. Anyway, how was YOUR Halloween weekend? Will you be out and about on the 31st? Hope you could share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
Halloween in Shibuya is WILD. So wild that it took me about 30 minutes to cross the Shibuya scramble from the JR station. If you don't mind crowds and if you want a taste of Halloween culture in Japan, this is one of the places to be in Tokyo during this season. People really take their costumes seriously, and you will find quite a variety. I didn't have to go into any bar; I had quite a ball watching people and checking everyone out. Just to share the kinds of cosplayers I encountered:There are the creepers...The cross-dressers...The anime cosplayers...The anonymous...The singing groups (they would sing "Tomorrow" every time someone would snap a photo of them)...The animal lovers...The Disney cuties...The adventurous...And the hentai...So what will YOU be this Halloween season?Just a note on Halloween parties, it's hard to just randomly drop in a bar. I would recommend finding a group beforehand with reservations to bars and clubs. As for me, I'll be in a pub crawl tonight. Let the Halloween festivities begin!
I'm not much of a shopper, and even if I do shop for myself, I would rather pay for it at once instead of impulsively hoarding stuff and just paying later on. However, I do like spending on travel tickets and booking my hotels online... And those things require a credit card. I do have one but it is from my home country. I don't think it's a good idea to use it as conversion rates are quite high. Also, using it for purchases would mean that I would have to send money back home just to pay for it, and that comes with extra fees as well. So I thought the most practical solution would be to get a credit card in Japan.Frankly, I had to face a lot of rejection. I tried Mizuho Bank twice with the aid of my company but I never won. I asked for help in applying for a credit card on Rakuten (again, twice) but never received anything. The same results happened when my friends and I saw a credit card stall in front of a skating rink; we applied right then and there but never heard from them after. Then, I was told it's easy in Marui (OIOI); I just have to practice writing all my information in Japanese, which I did. I unfortunately ended up being attended by a girl who barely tried to help me out just because I knew minimal Japanese. Of course, she rejected me after all my hard work. I became really frustrated. I thought that it would be easier as I have lived in Japan for more than a year and my visa won't expire until after three years. But, from what I have gathered from my Japanese colleagues, it is really hard for foreigners to apply for a credit card, especially if you are not a fluent speaker and/or reader. It is quite a pain. I have a foreign colleague who arrived just last month and she is having a hard time acquiring a Japanese cellphone number because Softbank's new policy states that you MUST have a credit card to apply for a line. The good news here is-- although it really is difficult for foreigners to get a credit card in Japan, it is not impossible. Some are luckier than others. You just have to gather options and keep trying. So my very last attempt was in Marui (OIOI) in Shinjuku. It was a sudden decision and I didn't practice writing. Luckily, I was graced with a very nice lady who patiently waited for me to figure out how to write my address in kanji (it took me forever to get it right). She couldn't speak English at all but somehow we were able to communicate. At some point, she looked at me with a worried face and asked what will I do since all letters and phone calls from the credit card company will be in Japanese. I just told her that I have Japanese colleagues that can help me out. She eventually gave me my brand new, precious credit card, and I wanted to hug her for it.In a nutshell:1. Practice how to write all your personal details in Japanese. You have to write these things on a tablet, so you have to know the proper stroke order for it to register. 2. Bring your passport, residence card, bank book(s), health insurance card, company ID (if you have one)3. It's harder to get approval from banks. It's easier to get from malls like Marui, and I think it's better to apply in foreigner friendly areas like Shinjuku. 4. Keep trying.Hopefully, Japan will be more accommodating to foreigners especially if they want more of them (or us rather) to come in for the Olympics.Anyone care to share their experiences as well?
Last year, I was in the Hokkaido food festival in Yoyogi Park and unexpectedly found myself here again today. Food choices are so varied, how I wish I could try them all. There are huge crabs, oysters, ramen, melons, beer (of course), soft cream and a whole lot more! No entrance fees for this one but be warned, lines are long. A lot of people are here especially since it's only for the weekend. I think it's still worth going to though! If you have time to spare, give it a try. It's open until 7pm tonight and until 6pm tomorrow (Sunday). The address is YOYOGI PARK, 2-1 YOYOGIKAMIZONOCHO, SHIBUYA-KU, TOKYO.Here are some photos from the festival:
Summer is a very lively season in Japan as there are festivals everywhere practically every week. It's a great way to see how much the Japanese people value and keep their culture alive.You'll hear it through music and cheerful laughter, taste and smell it through the delicious street food (and, not to mention, lots of beer), and see it through the beautiful fireworks and the crowds wearing traditional yukatas and kimonos. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture experience than to dress the part, too?Having your own traditional Japanese wear is a great souvenir idea. They can be easily bought from various shops and department stores, and they are everywhere during the summer. Prices vary depending on the design and material. On the other hand, there are some of us who think it's a great idea but find it impractical as we wouldn't wear it very often anyway. So if you still want to play dress up without having to buy your own yukata or kimono, you could opt to simply rent one.All around Tokyo, a lot of shops offer kimono and yukata rentals all year round. Some shops offer packages that include hair and make up, a pictorial, and even a rickshaw driver-slash-photographer-slash-tour guide. Each has its own conditions, such as limited time frames and designated areas to walk around in. It's just a matter of finding the right package that suits you.As for my personal experience, I tried Koto Kimono Rental Shop in Asakusa.You can find my full review here on City Cost but basically, I would recommend this shop because 1) they have a lot of designs to choose from; 2) it's easy to make reservations and if you ask questions via email, they respond quickly (in English!); 3) it's close to the Sensoji temple so it's fun to have pictorials around the area; 4) the shop closes at 5:00 PM (which is actually later compared to other shops) and if you didn't make it to closing time, you can just pay an additional fee of 1,000 yen per night (so that way, you can wear them to the festivals and just return it the following day); and lastly, 5) it's cheaper compared to other rental shops. Prices are usually around 3,500 but there are times when they lower the prices to 3,000 (and that is actually right now!). The price already includes your obi, sandals, bag and hair styling! The catch is, you must reserve online, which is easy to do. If you book in groups of 4 or more, you can avail of a group discount. Note also that you can bring your own undergarments and tabi socks, or pay an additional fee of 300 yen for either one.For more information, you can visit Koto's website here.
No, it's not Disney Land.The first time I went to Tokyo Dome City in Bunkyo-ku, it was pretty mind-blowing to see a roller coaster smack in the middle of a concrete jungle. It is of course right next to the Tokyo Dome, which holds major concerts and baseball games all throughout the year. I simultaneously found it pretty cool because it is easily accessible and there are no entrance fees. If you just want to unwind or have a good time with friends and family but do not want to go too far or spend much, Tokyo Dome City would be worth looking into. There are a lot of really good restaurants around the area, and they vary from coffee shops and desserts joints to fast food and fine dining. There's even a supermarket within the area.Or, if you're really on a tight budget, you can simply bring your own bento and find shade beneath the trees and watch a fountain show!You will also find a lot of rides and activities for kids and the kids at heart. There are usually mini events around the area, too. It's rowdy, it's lively... It's fun! There are roller coasters and other rides that will allow you to see the city from up high. There is also the Wonder Drop, which is a water ride, to cool things down during hot summer days! Again, there are no entrance fees for the actual amusement park but you do need to pay if you want to ride. There are also various passes that you can choose from, such as a day/ night pass, which allows you unlimited access to rides; Ride 5, which is basically a ticket that lets you on 5 rides (of course); and a skip pass for the Thunder Dolphin roller coaster, which is like a priority or a fast pass to get in quickly .If you have kids, there is a special summer water play area called MAGICAL MIST. It is open ONLY until the 31st of August. The kids can run around like crazy in their swimming suits and play with water to keep themselves cool and even meet some new friends!"Magical Mist" is open for elementary school students and below (I know... I wanted to go in as well. It was actually an open attraction last July but they now closed it off, probably to manage the crowd), and runs from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. It costs ¥1,000 for 60 minutes and if you want to extend, just pay ¥500 for every 30 minutes. The passes that I mentioned earlier (day pass, night pass, ride 5, etc) do not apply here. Parents must accompany their kids if the latter are not of elementary school age yet. There are actually a lot of other fun things that you can do and see around Tokyo Dome City. You can go to this website to see a full list, or better yet, check it out yourself!Tokyo Dome City Access Points: Suidobashi Station/ Korakuen Station/ Kasuga Station
Japan is a wonderful country to live in, as you really get to experience all four seasons. The tough part, however, is that your body has to deal with the changes in climate. Generally, it's hard enough getting sick, more so if you live abroad and you have to find a way through language barriers. Health is of prime importance and it's best to have regular check ups, too. It can be tough finding a clinic with staff and doctors that can communicate effectively with you, especially since most services in Japan are, well, in Japanese. Luckily, there's a website that serves as a search engine for your medical needs, may it be hospitals, clinics or pharmacies.It's pretty neat because you can dig into specifics. You can indicate which station or location you would want to look into to make your trip to the doctor convenient. You can even state which language you prefer.And select which type of medical help you need.You can find the website here! Stay healthy, everyone! Was this helpful? Tell me what you think in the comments below!
A 24-Hour Gym for Busy Fitness Folks
Fitness is something very important to me. Working in a fast-paced city makes it quite difficult to make time for the gym. Luckily though, I discovered Anytime Fitness and I can work out any time I want. There are around 90 branches all over Tokyo and they usually have promos like pay 0 JPY for the first two months and get a half of on your 3rd month (not a bad deal at all). Once you are a member, you can use any branch around Japan; just make sure to bring your card.I registered at the Kagurazaka branch (Shinjuku-ku) and I was glad there was somebody who could speak English. This particular branch is mostly filled with machines and free-hand weights, plus a mat area where you can stretch. There are dressing rooms, lockers, a vending machine and shower rooms, which have shampoo, body soap and a hair dryer. Also, if you forget to bring a towel, you can rent one for only 100 JPY. Though there are a lot of machines and equipment, the place is quite tight. It gets full usually after work (from around 8PM-10PM) and I've experienced not being able to get on any treadmill as they were all occupied. Sometimes, lines get too long for the shower, too. Recently, management addressed this by allowing women to use the men's bathrooms, just as long as there are 2 other vacant bathrooms (there's only 1 for women and 3 for men).Nevertheless, I am satisfied with this gym. The staff that helped me with my registration was moved to a different branch, but even if the rest of the staff cannot speak English, they are all very friendly and try their best to communicate. I guess they are used to it, too, as a lot of foreigners work out here. Other things to take note of if you plan to sign up at Anytime Fitness:1. They allow foreigners but if you have tattoos, make sure to cover them to respect Japanese culture. 2. Bring your gym shoes and change only upon arrival. They will not allow you to use your outdoor shoes in the gym area. 3. Although the gym is open for 24 hours, the staff are around from 11 AM to 8PM only. If you want to sign up, come over during those hours only.4. If you have a friend who is not a member but would like to use the gym, they can pay 500 JPY a day, given that they come during staff hours.5. Not all branches offer the same things. I went to a different branch and I was surprised that they did not have shampoo, soap and towels. If you're going to sign up, have a look first before you decide.5. It's pretty flexible even for your own membership. If, for example, you are going on vacation for a month, you can freeze your membership during that time and pay around 1000 JPY. And even if your membership is frozen, you can do the same as previously mentioned in #4-- come by during staff hours and pay 500 JPY.
Fluffy Pancake Goodness Worth Lining Up for
Some pancakes are dry; some pancakes are bland; some pancakes taste better once you smother them with butter and maple syrup; and then there's Gram's premium pancake.I first knew about Cafe Gram through a Facebook post of a friend living near Osaka. It was a very enticing video of a fluffy and bouncy pancake. I craved for it instantly then lo and behold! I saw a sign just this past June that it just opened in Harajuku. Imagine my excitement! I wasn't able to go until this month when I finally found time to go with some friends and treat one of them to a birthday surprise. We arrived there around 12 noon but no seats were available. It was okay as the birthday girl wasn't there yet so we said we could wait. While waiting, a line started to build up. Good thing that I had a Japanese friend with me as she could hear the waitress telling the others that the premium pancakes already ran out! So she went over and asked about it. Apparently, they make SIXTY pancakes A DAY and serve only TWENTY pancakes at certain times-- 11 AM, 3 PM and 6 PM; moreover, you have to line up an hour before these serving times to be able to get a meal ticket. Isn't that crazy? Well, if you don't plan on ordering the premium pancakes, you can come any time as there are other desserts in the menu. But then again, why wouldn't you want to try, right?We waited for 2 PM to get our tickets then just strolled around Takeshita while waiting for 3 PM to arrive. When we finally got inside, we were told that they had a short circuit and so the lights were not working in the dining area (the toilet was fine). It was kind of strange that they didn't even have candles to lighten up the place even just a bit. It could have been a better dining experience with some light but it was a good thing I had great company to keep things positive. The first bite of the premium pancake was DIVINE. It is very soft, fluffy and tasty, and it melts in your mouth. It was completely satisfying! Just a note though, it is better eaten upon serving-- so take those photos and videos quickly before they get cold. The coffee wasn't bad either (I had cafe mocha). Before our meal ended, the birthday girl was served with a special birthday pancake, and it was pretty cool because it came with a birthday song (which I barely recognized) and sparkling candles! She was so happy! We were already full but we managed to finish the birthday pancakes, which weren't bad either; of course, they're not as fluffy as the premium pancakes. Again, it would have been a better dining experience if there were lights. But generally, I would definitely come back!
Traditional Japanese Beer Matches Tucked in the Alleys of Harajuku
I often times have friends from different countries come over and visit me in Tokyo. At the beginning I barely had any idea where to take them out for lunch or dinner. Only recently did I discover Sakura Tei, and it's been my go-to place ever since.LOCATIONSakura Tei is pretty hidden in the alleys of Harajuku. I basically google mapped my way to the restaurant but it's basically past Takeshita street, and you have to cross Meiji Dori and go through the little streets from there. (btw, there are a lot of other finds along the way) You may refer to the photos so you have an idea how the front looks like.SPACEThis place is big and it's great for groups; it can actually fit up to 170 people. The ambience is very chill and there are a lot of art works on the walls. Pretty hipster to me actually and I love it.MENUSakura Tei's main dishes are okonomiyaki and monjayaki. Most people know about the former but rarely hear about that latter (myself included). If you haven't heard about monjayaki, to put it simply, it is the Kanto region's version of okonomiyaki, only thinner and stickier. Sakura Tei has its own sauce and creations for these two main dishes (I've tried a bunch from the menu and I've enjoyed each one). Aside from that, they also have yakisoba, teppanyaki, and other appetizers and even desserts. Another awesome feature of Sakura Tei is their All-You-Can-Eat lunch (with 1 soft drink) which is available on weekends and holidays from 11 AM to 3 PM for only 1,250! If you want bottomless soft drinks with that, it costs only 1,750. Of course, in Japan, buffets are timed, so in this case, your all-you-can-eat lunch is only for 90 minutes. If you prefer unlimited alcohol, it's available any time for 1,500 yen up to 120 minutes. You may refer to the photos to see what drinks they serve. GENERAL DINING EXPERIENCEThe staff are very nice and most can speak/understand English. There are some foreign staff as well. If you do not know how to make your monja/ okonomiyaki, they can help you out. It's really fun when you do it yourself though. Cooking our own food right there on the table is something that my friends really enjoyed. Try it! I would definitely recommend this place to everyone. The restaurant is open from 11 AM to 12 midnight all year round. If you want to see the detailed menu, here is their official website: http://www.sakuratei.co.jp/en/index.html
A Garden for All Seasons
Last year, I went to one of the most beautiful gardens in Tokyo. I was told that it is beautiful for all seasons. As autumn is already here and the leaves are starting to change, I remembered this beautiful garden and decided to share my review with everyone. This garden's name is Rikugien. It's pretty cool that you can find such a peaceful place amidst the concrete jungle that is Tokyo. Usually, I go out of Tokyo for flower and herb festivals. But little did I know that I didn't have to go too far. I went to Rikugien garden three separate times last autumn season. The first time it was raining (but still beautiful), the second time it was during the day (plus it was sunny), and the third time was night time (so I could see the leaves illuminated and reflected on the water). I mostly did photo walks here of course. It's a great place for people who like taking photos of nature, especially since there are some beautiful birds fluttering about, too! The park is pretty big, and you can spend maybe half a day there just exploring. There is a teahouse there, too, if you would just like to sit and observe your surroundings. The park looked different every time I visited. It was particularly packed when the illuminations are long but, knowing the Japanese, it's very systematic and organized as people line up properly to be able to go through the park. If you live in Tokyo, Rikugien can be easily accessed via train and is a 5 to 10 minute walk from Komagome Station (JR line/ Namboku line). It is open from 9 AM to 5 PM (last entry at 4:30 PM). Once illuminations are up for autumn season, however, the park is open until 9 PM. Surely, lines will be long so it will be best to come early. Entrance fee is 300 yen.
Dress, Train and Move Like a Ninja!
Oshino Ninja Village in Yamanashi prefecture opened just last year, 2015. Not a lot of people know about it yet I believe. I only found out about it through a flyer I received at the Shibazakura Festival earlier this year.The first thing you have to go through is a souvenir shop, where you purchase your ticket. You can also rent a ninja costume (which I did of course) so you can play the part and really immerse yourself in the experience. Once you go out into the real park or "ninja village", you'll see quite a breathtaking view. On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji in the background (please refer to the photos). As you go along, you will see some sort of training ground with various tasks, such as going through wires without making any bells ring as well as throwing shuriken (not real ones though but still pretty cool). The tasks may be challenging for kids but quite easy for adults. There is also a scheduled mini performance with a ninja showing his tricks through a short story. There is a dojo, too, but then I was not able to try this anymore as I ran out of time and the line was pretty long. I had lunch there and it was a pretty big meal. They also serve ninja beer and it was a great way to wrap the day up. The entire experience at the ninja village was great. However, it seems that the only way to access this area is by car or by bus, which was very confusing especially for foreigners. There are scheduled times for the bus but they are not on time. I was supposed to catch the highway bus at Kawaguchiko Station but missed it because the bus in front of the Oshino Ninja Village took forever to arrive and I wasn't even allowed to board because the bus was full.
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