Friday, January 27, 2012

24 Hours in Tokyo

After a 4 day skication in Hakuba, we had 24hours to spare in Tokyo city itself before 'Home Sweet Home'. Got ourselves the 1-day pass on All Metro Line for 710YEN each, and we can travel unlimited times on ONLY the Metro Line. Note that there are many many lines in Tokyo.

Initial plan was to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction at an ungodly hour of 430am, we scrapped that idea in the end due to 1. Bad weather (snowing heavily the night before) 2. No train service that early and a taxi will cost upwards of 5,000YEN (Almost SGD100). So we decided to sleep in a little bit more in the comfort of Sheraton Miyako Hotel (redeemed FOC) and head to the market after it's open and in operation.

Fresh Tuna!!!

Didn't see the auction, but it was still a good tour of the market, where we saw lots of really fresh and HUGE fish and seafood. Also, it was fun walking around the local market looking at really interesting food there.

The heads of the tuna
After walking around for around 1hour or more, time to feed our stomach!!

I caught a tuna!

Lots of stalls around selling sashimi and sushi, but I don't eat raw food, so those are out of question, and they're not cheap. Upwards of 2000YEN per bowl of rice with some sashimi.

Spotted a small stall that sells NO FISH!! Only simple chicken+egg+rice and it was featured on TV back in 2010! So we got 1 bowl to share. It is really simple at 800YEN (SGD13) but the flavour was there and the stall was manned by 1 old couple. The husband is actually quite a charming man!

1 bowl of rice is not enough to feed 3 mouths. We went on in search of more food and found this little local stall with a vending machine outside. You have to buy your coupon outside using the vending machine then head into the stall to submit your coupons.
This is the cheapest food you can find. We got 2 combo set for a total of 1,200YEN (includes 2 small bowls of ramen, 1 plate of curry rice and pork cutlet rice) Quite value for money!
After food, it's time for BEER!! Our 1st stop was Asahi Beer Headquarters (Asakusa station). There's no beer factory in Tokyo itself, so we couldnt actually tour the beer production. But still we can get to taste beer! The building has a Gourd structure at the top.There's no factory but you can enjoy Asahi beer at the Sky Bar on the 22nd floor where u can have a view of the city!

At 600YEN for a pint of beer, so we ordered 3 different grades of beer

The light and dry, the dark, and the slightly sweeter Asahi. I like the dark Asahi!

Me and my beer


After some beer, shopping time! We headed to Ginza, the Orchard Road of Tokyo. being a weekday, it was very quiet and not happening at all. Went into the department stall and oggled at the food department.

The food in japan are all very nicely packaged and looks really appetizing..But so are the prices!! Like 10SGD for a bun!!! What? Made of gold?? And the soft serve ice cream like the ones you get in McDonalds? It's like 300YEN!!

Not interested in shopping (prices are too expensive), we headed to our next Beer tasting - Sapporo Beer Station, or better known as Yebisu Beer Museum.

Actually Yebisu and Sapporo are same same, but different. Yebisu is produced by Sapporo Breweries but apparently there is Sapporo beer as well. So not sure what's the difference. Cos we only had Yebisu beer.

They have a tour but it's only in Japanese. Fortunately, they have the history of Yebisu beer in English, so at least it was not a boring Musuem.

And the beer is alot cheaper! At 400YEN a pint! So 3 different types again!


Conclusion - Yebisu beer is NOT nice! Too bitter. Asahi is still the best!!

Edric had too much to drink...

All those beer in our stomach when we're feeling a little peckish! So we went in search of food in Ebisu! Walking around and around trying to find those small alley with small, quiet food stall that makes it most authentic...

And we happened to chance upon this very local stall! Contempating whether to go in or not when the owner signalled enthusiastically for us to enter! None of the staff could speak english, but fortunately the owner could speak a little English. So with our splittering of English, mixed with Japanese, hand gestures and actual ingredients being shown, we ordered our dinner of Fried Rice, Fried Vegetables with Pork and rice!

Us at the dinner place..

The food tasted good! But they really put a lot of MSG. And the portion was too big to finish! And we were actually quite lucky! Cos they close at 5pm and we entered at slightly before 5pm!

After dinner, we headed to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for the night view at the top. North Tower is good for night view, while south tower is good for day view. We though the tower was closed cos we couldn't find the entrance until we chanced upon a security guard who pointed us to the right entrance.

The entire observatory is enclosed and the view is pretty nice!

Then, it was onto our last stop of the trip - Shibuya! The reason - to witness the organized chaotic crossings!! It was really quite cool to walk in heaps of people, not actually being able to see what's in front of you. Just follow the crowd! When lights turn green you just walk anywhere across the road. Being a weekday, I'm guessing less people so the impact was not as great but still it was pretty cool!

Exit Shibuya Station at Hachiko Exit (No8) and head across to Starbucks at Tsutaya Building. You'll see the starbucks when you come out of the Hachiko Exit. That's where you get a good view of the crossing.

And that ends the skication and 24 hours Tokyo tour! Back to Singapore where I concussed on the bus to the airport and on the plane. Never been so exhausted before in all my travels but I was really spent this time.

Skication in Hakuba, Japan

1st Skication over the Chinese New Year, finally I can skipped the CNY :) JJ suggested skiing in Japan, in a place called Hakuba, which hosted the winter olympics. So I thought, yea why not. Though no in the slightest bit interested in skiing. So we roped in Edric and the 3 of us went on a skiing trip, 2 beginners with no knowledge and only JJ with skiing experience.Red eye flight from Singapore to Tokyo Haneda, then a long distance bus (5hrs) to Hakuba that cost 8,500YEN return (if you buy one way, it's 700YEN more expensive). Japan is expensive, everything is expensive. A 40min train ride within tokyo costs 590YEN!! That's like SGD10!
Anyway, when we reached Hakuba, we found that we were not checked in to our supposedly booked hostels. And the owner was closed in the afternoon. So we decided to go for a walk, look around and snow fight!
The snow scenery was fantastic and the snow was so white and powdery!!! Couldn't help ourselves but to make snow angel! Snow Fight! And build Snow Man!!!Always envy those snowman you see in movies/dramas, so perfectly round and proportioned. But it's almost IMPOSSIBLE to get that level of perfection!!! I mean, you have to keep rolling snow balls to accumulate enough snow into a snowman! And the snowball weighs TONS!! Bloody heavy!!

We finally managed to make a 2 layer snowman and he looks pretty charming!! Edric made an especially large nose for him.
I love my snowman!!
Shortly after our photo session, Edric karate-chopped the head off.....And then, the snow fight begun!! It was 2 against 1. Obviously I was the odd one out, and I must say I didn't lose too badly.....

And I made my snow angel!!At 4pm we went back to the hostel to check in and guess what? They Fucked up our booking and we didn't have any beds to sleep in. The owner, realizing his mistake, called up a local homestay (Pension Nostalgia) and got us rooms there for the same price! So we actually got upgraded!!! How cool! Turned out, the owner thought we prepaid but we actually didn't pay anything before we arrived. Haha, who cares! We got upgraded!!
It was a really nice house at Nostalgia. JJ and Edric shared a room while I have 1 room by myself! The husband goes by the name Yuki-san and he helped us sourced for cheaper ski lift tickets!
1st day of skiing, we started small - Minekata. The owner comes to pick you up and send you back anytime you want. 3,000YEN for 1 day pass + lunch. And it was snowing on that day! Good for beginner!The resort is really small. Only 2 lifts, but only 1 working. And 7 slopes only.Yes, I had some training in Beijing, but this was different. Was wombly at the beginning. And the slope looked pretty scary at 1st...
Fell down a couple of times though.... But the scenery was beautiful!Lunch was simple affair of ramen. Chatted with the owner and we were the 1st customer of the ski season!!! Nice!
Us with the owner!
After lunch, attempted the Intermediate slope which was a disaster!! Literally tumbled and rolled my way down the slope. COuldn't manage the S ski down and forever fell on my left side. Bruised my left butt...
At the end of the day, one of the ski instructor commented that we survived! Haha...

We were smiling happily, we really really were!

Dinner was home cooked by the owner's wife with ingredients we brought all the way from Singapore! Food is very expensive in Japan. Even buying raw ingredients would cost a ton!!The room is really neat. Heated from 630am to 11pm and towels provided.

Our dinner of rice+ vege and noodles+vege+luncheon meat and daily RUM+APPLE JUICE

2nd ski day, we went to Goryu for 3,900YEN include Lunch. This is a lot bigger ski resort with many more lifts and slopes.Off we went to the 1st beginner's slope all the way up the lifts. Halfway through the downslope, with Edric leading the way, he suddenly made a right turn and I followed behind. That was the very 1st disastrous mistake!! Turned out, the left turn led to an intermediate slope which was steep steep steep! Edric immediately fell and i was shocked to be faced with a fast zooming speed all the way down, with no control on stopping of slowing down! And within seconds, I tumbled and rolled several metres down the slope, not knowing where is top and bottom. Couldn't get a footing to stop myself and kept sliding. At that moment, my heart literally jumped out and I thought "Die, what is happening". Really scary! Luckily I managed to tumble till my legs pointed downwards and immediately ramped my skis into the snow and stopped.

Stopping was only the 1st step. AFter I got up, I literally wanted to give up and not move. But I was stucked in the middle of the slope, with nowhere to proceed. There was only 1 option - DOWN! Deep breathe and let go, tumble tumble, get up get up, tumble, roll, crawl up, roll. FInally I made my way down. Great exercise for the butt!

This is the slope that we accidentally turned into...

The super foggy day and the FOGGED up mask made visibility very poor and that was so terrible! After that unfortunate incident, we kept a straight line forward.After a few rounds at the lower beginner slope, we took the lifts up to the higher grounds yet another beginner slope.Who knew, that was a advanced beginner slope! The slopes were pretty steep and tons of turns! Tumbled and fell more times once again! After what seemed like forever, finally reached the end point! It was so damn tiring!!!!THe view up there was pretty amazing though but the ski was too hard for me as a beginner. Halfway through, we lost Edric but ended up meeting him at the crossway!! After which, Edric and I stuck together while JJ went for greater challenges.

After lunch, Edric and I stuck to the lower beginner slope and kept trying and trying and trying.
3rd day, we went Happo One (Or-Nay) for 3000YEN (Yuki-san gave us their seasonal ski pass). This is a really big and crowded ski resort.
As usual, we went for the beginner's slope. All the way up again, this time the view was even more amazing!
At 1 point, we missed a turn once again and had to go up again.
Then we reached another slope that was supposed to be beginner but looked way too steep. Edric and I stopped and sat down to rest, contemplating whether to go or not. But there is no choice!! So we slowly went down trying the A ski to brake the speed, but it was NO USE!! We zoomed down, bumped a bit and fell....
Of cos, not going to stop us! We got up the lifts and tried again and again and again.

We ended up doing the slopes many many times to practice and train up our S ski and it was really good practice! FInally we were able to slow down the speed and brake in the slope!

Skiing was fun and happy but at the end of the day, because we were on the other side of the resort and the shuttle bus was at the other far end, we had to go from left to right of the resort, which is not near! WE had to rush up the last lift to the top, ski down to the middle part of the resort and try to catch some lift up the other route and down. Turns out, that middle part is intermediate and the slope down was waayyyyy scary for Edric and I. We wanted to sit on our butt and skid down the slope but dear old JJ said 'You should walk up to the opening, it's quite near'. So we took off our skis, and started climbing up the slope. WRONG DECISION!!!! It was bloody FAR UP!!! Edric and I were literally pulling ourselves up with skis and poles in hand! Terrible decision! Worse than 3 days of skiing.

After what seemed like forever (JJ already skied down and took the lift up), we finally reached the start of the slope and started skiing down. By then Edric and I were way tired, and on our way down (beginner slope BTW) just felt like sitting down and not ski.....Ultimately we made it down.. Way tired...

Given that it was our last night in Hakuba, we went for Onsen (hot spring). 400YEN. IN japan, you have to go FULL MONTY! Which means nothing, all off when u step into the hot spring! ANd they have an open air hot spring! It was pretty relaxing but too hot for my liking! Almost fainted in the hot water.

THen we went in search of a soba place but that was closed, so we wandered around and chanced upon a nice little local Japanese ramen stall! The owner knew only very little English, and it took us forever to try to communicate to him that I'm a vegetarian. It's called Begitarian in Japanese, and Just say Yasai (means vegetables). The ramen is cheap 500YEN and pretty tasty! But the soup was too salty and I couldn't finish it. In japan, you're supposed to finish the soup as all the essence is in the soup.

Last half day in Hakuba, we went to Sanusaka, a much further ski resort but with amazing view!! Cost us 3000YEN for half a day!Really nice ski place, not crowded. THe slopes were ok..and we have trained up the past 3 days. All the way up to the top and you get a magnificent view of the lake!!From the top, it was beginner's slope down, but not an easy one...Fell down a couple of times but got the hang of it ultimately...
Then we went on to challenge the carving slope - Intermediate!
This is called the Mogul, very very difficult
It was a very tiring down slope. At the end of the 2nd try, was so tired I tumbled head 1st at the very end...
Last run, did a couple of ramps (not jumping high up though) and succeeded! Pretty fun.

How do I find skiing? It's ok. Not my absolute favourite but don't mind trying again. Yet again, not on my top list. Diving or skiing? I choose diving anytime!! Sun, sand, sea or snow? Sun, sand sea!!! Hahahah. Was it tiring? Yea, at the point of skiing. And knee hurts sometimes. But my legs are not sore, were not sore and still not sore!! Hahah, JJ couldn't quite feel his legs after the 1st 2 days! I expected much more soreness in my thighs but they're not anywhere near sore or muscle ache...
That ends my skication...Another 5hrs of bus ride from Hakuba to Tokyo and henceforth starts my 24hours in Tokyo (in another blog)