Thursday, January 30, 2020

What's in a (Business) Name? Noventa

This shop might be good for your health.
Spotted by Hannah Mercado along Claro M Recto Avenue in Cagayan de Oro City.
Thanks Hannah!

For more amusing business names, please visit Go Random.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Escape to Mount Takao

If I had to choose between exploring a bustling city or hiking in nature, I'd pick nature every time. So to escape Tokyo's urban jungle: Mount Takao (Takaosan 高尾山).

Getting to Mount Takao is a cinch. From a Keio Ticket Machine in Shinjuku Station, we bought a Keio Mount Takao Discount Ticket for 1390 yen. The Discount Ticket saved us 370 yen compared to separately buying train tickets (390 per way) and chairlift/cable car tickets (490 one way/950 roundtrip). (If you plan to skip the chairlift/cable car and just hike it all the way to the peak, then you're better off buying train tickets only.)

Keio Mount Takao Discount Ticket

Entrance to Mount Takao

The train ride from Shinjuku to Takaosanguchi Station is about 50 minutes. From Takaosanguchi Station, it's a 3-minute walk to the entrance of Mount Takao, where you have three choices to get to the peak: walk, cable car, chairlift. The latter two options don't take you straight to the peak but will cut the hike by half. Of course we chose the shortest way to the peak. We've been on a few cable cars this trip so between the cable car and the chairlift, it was an easy choice: chairlift!

We arrived at the entrance of Mount Takao around 930am and there were no queues for the cable car nor the chairlift. Although a chairlift can seat two people, my friend and I each had a chairlift to ourself. It was a serene 12-minute ride up the mountain surrounded by trees.

No bars on the lift to keep you in place! Be careful!

From the upper station of the chairlift, it was a short walk to Takaosan Sumika, a building that has a restaurant, snack shops, a souvenir shop, and an observation deck. All the shops were still closed when we arrived (it opens at 10am). But we did stop by on our way down (about four hours later; by this time the lines were really long) to try out the dango (rice balls) with walnut miso sauce (350 yen per stick) and tengu-yaki, a tengu-shaped pastry with black bean filling (150 yen).



View from the observation deck of Takaosan Sumika

On the way to the peak, we walked on paved paths surrounded by trees and passed a clearing with benches and some shops selling food and souvenirs, a monkey park (430 yen), then more trees until we were faced with three trail options: left via Katsura Forest Trail, which goes through a forest; straight ahead via Omotesando Trail, which passes Yakouin Temple; and right via Suspension Bridge Trail, a trail through the woods and a suspension bridge. All three trails have a difficulty rating of two (from a range of one to five).

It was straight ahead for us via the Omotesando Trail, so we could go see Yakouin Temple. The paved path flanked by tall trees and red lamps went on for a few hundred meters  and then split into two: a 108-step stairway on the left, and a gradual incline on the right. We chose the gradual incline for the good of our knees. The stairway and incline merged at an area with snack shops but no temple in sight. It was a few meters more of walking between tall trees until we reached another snack shop (hikers on this trail will never go hungry) and then Yakouin Temple.

Yakouin Temple

A tengu with a long nose (left), and a tengu with a beak (right)

At the temple, there were a number of tengu statues. Tengu are demon-like beings with a long nose who live in sacred mountains. Although they look quite scary, they are believed to favor and protect the good, and reprimand evildoers. Like many Japanese temples, Yakouin also has a shop selling charms, many of which are tengu-shaped.

I noticed there was a line of locals waiting to have a go at turning a stone wheel, and another line waiting to go through a stone circle then bang on metal rings. I wonder what these rituals mean.

This guy was banging on the two metal rings

This guy was turning the stone wheel many times

We went through the maze-like temple grounds, where we climbed stairs and found more temple buildings. It seemed we have left the temple grounds already when we found ourselves on a paved path surrounded by trees.

We chose to go to Mount Takao on a Friday to avoid the weekend crowd. I was surprised to find that there were a lot of people at the peak of Mount Takao! (There were many people on our hike up but I did not expect it to be this crowded.) Is every day a weekend in this country?!

People lining up to have their photo taken at the sign that says "Mount Takao 599m"

Lots of picnickers on a Friday!

At the peak, there were snack shops, a visitor center, and an observation deck (where, on a clear day, the peak of Mt Fuji could be seen). After just a few minutes at the peak, we decided to head back down via Suspension Bridge Trail.

Suspension Bridge Trail meanders through the woods. There were not as many people on this trail as Omotesando Trail and I was glad to be away from the crowds again. This was the escape I was looking for.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Sa May Kanto (2019)
Pocket WiFi: Japan Wireless
Keisei Skyliner and Tokyo Subway Tickets
Tokyo Accommodations: Oak Hostel Fuji, Hostel Owl Tokyo Nippori, Centurion Ladies Hostel  Ueno Park
Food for the Eyes and Food for the Mouth at Asakusa
A Day at Ueno Park
Tokyo Sights Using the Toei 1-Day Pass
Teamlab Borderless
Escape to Mount Takao (you're here!)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Teamlab Borderless

Teamlab Borderless
Odaiba Palette Town 2F, 1-3-8 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Daily 10AM to 7PM (up to 9PM on Saturday, Sunday, and Holidays)
Admission fee 3200 yen

We arrived at Teamlab Borderless a few minutes after it had opened and, to our surprise, the line of people waiting to go in (already with tickets) had spilled out on the sidewalk! The 200-meter long line from the entrance was down to zero meters in 30 minutes. Our turn, finally! Since I was the one who had bought our tickets through Klook (although it is the same price as when buying at the venue, it eliminates the hassle of queuing to buy a ticket, which is a different line!), I had to scan the three QR codes at the entrance and held up the line. Good thing the other visitors behind me kept their cool while I fumbled with the QR codes on my phone.

Inside Teamlab Borderless there were no maps, and we had to find your way around the dark hallways, not knowing what surprises awaited us.

The first one we found was the "Borderless World"...a room of flowers...flowing into another room with another with x-ray like bamboo and creepy-looking bunnies, frogs, and other more flowers...

In "Crystal World", a room shimmering from floor to ceiling with crystals, it felt like I was in the animated movie Frozen. We also stumbled into "Memory of Topography", a room full of "lily pads" with projections of flowing blue fish. This one made me feel like a Frog Prince. But not so much—it did not make me want to hop from one lily pad to another, but made me want to run my fingertips over the "lily pads" as I waded between them.

One room that was very popular, thanks to Instagram and social media, was the "Forest of Lamps". We had to wait in line, for I don't know how long, maybe 20 minutes? Half an hour? 40 minutes? Plenty of time to pray for the lamp color to change to the one we want by the time our turn came to spend two minutes inside. Two minutes to try and take an IG-worthy shot without other people in the background (good luck with that). Once inside, we (and everyone else, I am sure) realized how very short two minutes really is.

The "Athletics Forest" and "Future Park", I thought, were designed for the children. There were rooms where kids could climb on "tree branches" and swings, an area full of balloons of all sizes and pretty colors, another spot where kids could make art, and two or three more places where kids could slide down, pretend to cook egg, etc. There was a large space with uneven topography where big droplets were flowing on the columns and gathering in puddles, and where creatures were crawling all over the ground. I discovered that if I stood in a puddle, the water would gather around my feet. And if I stomped on the creatures, they'd go splat!

Stomping on creatures can be exhausting! We wanted to just sit and relax. "En Tea House" provided this much needed rest. But this break cost us a minimum of 500 yen each, because each one had to order at least one item on the menu: green tea (plain, or with yuzu citrus, or with chamomile; 500 yen) or matcha ice cream with a cup of tea (1200 yen).

Our respite at En Tea House turned magical when we were served our tea and ice cream: flowers started to bloom inside the cup of tea and a bush grew around the bowl of matcha ice cream. We tried to sip our tea slowly to make the magic last: the flowers would continue to bloom as long as there was still tea in our cup.

Flowers blooming on my tea

Tea on the left, and matcha ice cream on the right

Nothing lasts forever, and we had to drink our expensive tea to the very last drop and give the others waiting in line a chance to experience this magic. There was one room left—"Floating Nest"—but we decided to forgo that one because the waiting time was an hour! Three hours in the dark with tons of people was enough to make me dizzy.

Sa May Kanto (2019)
Pocket WiFi: Japan Wireless
Keisei Skyliner and Tokyo Subway Tickets
Tokyo Accommodations: Oak Hostel Fuji, Hostel Owl Tokyo Nippori, Centurion Ladies Hostel  Ueno Park
Food for the Eyes and Food for the Mouth at Asakusa
A Day at Ueno Park
Tokyo Sights Using the Toei 1-Day Pass
Teamlab Borderless (you're here!)
Escape to Mount Takao

Monday, January 13, 2020

Tokyo Sights Using the Toei 1-Day Pass

What's a Toei 1-Day Pass?
A Toei 1-Day Pass is a pass that can be used for unlimited rides on the Toei Subway, Toei Bus (including Tama area), Tokyo Sakura Tram (Toden Arakawa Line), and Nippori-Toneri Liner. And it only costs 700 yen.

What are the places to visit using the Toei 1-Day Pass?
There are many places to see in Tokyo that can be reached using the Toei Subway, Toei Bus, and the other lines covered by the Toei 1-Day Pass. But you cannot visit all of them in just one day. Or at least I can't (I am too old for Amazing Race type of trips). Below are some places we went to that are just a stop or two or three (on the Toei Subway) from each other.

Tsukiji Outer Market
5AM to 2PM, varies by shop
Closed on Sundays
Nearest Toei Station: Tsukijishijo Station

I never got to visit and observe the tuna auctions in Tsukiji. Now that this famous tuna action has been moved to Toyosu Market, is there anything to see in Tsukiji? There is still the Tsukiji Outer Market with lots of seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, wasabi, mochi, candied strawberries, and other goodies to empty your wallets for and stuff yourself with.

We visited Tsukiji Outer Market in the morning for some fresh seafood for breakfast. We picked a random eatery in one of the alleys in the market and had a meal of baked mackerel with rice and soup, different kinds of sashimi in a bowl of rice (called kaisen don), and a bowl of seared seafood with rice. Good stuff. But we saw so many other good stuff after breakfast that we just had to make room for desserts: different flavors of mochi with fresh strawberry, sticks of warabimochi (very soft, jelly-like mochi), and juicy king crab (if you can consider that dessert)!

By the time we left, Tsukiji Outer Market was crawling with people, tourists and locals alike. The most interesting of them all was the Japanese shopper with a small owl on his shoulder. (Are owls a thing in Tokyo? It's the third owl I've seen in this metropolis! One was a big white owl on the arm of a girl advertising an owl cafe somewhere in Asakusa, and the other one was a brown sleepy one in our hostel, Hostel Owl Tokyo Nippori.)

Baked Mackerel Set (1000 yen)

Kaisen Don (1500 yen) and Seared bowl (1300 yen)

Hama-rikyu Garden
Daily 9AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 300 yen
Nearest Toei Station: Shiodome Station

Hama-rikyu Garden was the family garden of the Tokugawa Shogun. In later years, it became the Detached Palace of the Imperial Family. And in 1945, the garden was donated to the City of Tokyo.

An interesting feature of the garden is its seawater pond called Shioire-no-ike. The water is drawn from Tokyo Bay, right on the eastern side of Hama-rikyu Garden. The water level in the pond changes with the tides of Tokyo Bay. I read that the pond is home to some sea bass and eel. Too bad I didn't think to go look for fish in the pond. The garden also has three teahouses. Nakajima-no-ochaya, right above the water, is open to the public, and guests can enjoy the view while sipping green tea and nibbling sweets (for a fee). The other two teahouses are reconstructions of teahouses from the early 1800s.

We went to Hama-rikyu Garden on a cloudy afternoon. A few minutes into our visit, it started drizzling. We pushed on, praying the clouds wouldn't burst into a heavy downpour. We got to see the pretty trees and the calm pond in the muted light of the dying day, accented by the glowing windows of the surrounding tall buildings. The large raindrops came just as the garden was closing.

Matsu-no-ochaya (Pine teahouse)

Shioiri-no-ike (pond) and Najakima-no-ochaya (teahouse)

Daily 10AM to 830PM
Admission fee: 620 yen
Nearest Toei Station: Daimon Station

The Seaside Top Observatory is on the 40th floor of the World Trade Center Building. The observatory offers an almost 360-degree view at 152 meters above ground. Almost, because on one side all I could see are the glass windows of the building next door. Thankfully, this building does not obstruct the most important view: the Tokyo Tower. The Tokyo Tower can be seen on the northwest corner of the observatory, and, not surprisingly, that's where all the visitors were gathered on the night I visited (and I bet every night as well). The Tokyo Skytree can also be seen on the northeast side, but it's teeny tiny from here.

Tokyo skyline and the Tokyo Tower looking like a Haribo gummy

Nearest Toei Station: Otemachi Station

When my friend suggested we eat at Tokyo Ramen Street, I imagined a street near Tokyo Station crammed with ramen shops. Just my imagination indeed. Tokyo Ramen Street is inside Tokyo Station! This "street" is on the basement of Tokyo Station and is a block composed of eight ramen restaurants. The first one we saw had a really long line. It must be really good. But we were too hungry to wait, and we picked one with a shorter queue (our quick Google search told us all the shops here were worth a try anyway).

We settled ourselves in Oreshiki Jun 俺式, where the specialty is tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen. We ordered their recommendation: tonkotsu ramen with all toppings! Slurp-licious ramen! Not a drop was left in our bowls!

Orishiki Jun's tonkotsu ramen with all toppings (1100 yen)

Other places to go to that are also near the sites mentioned above:
  • Ginza
    • Nearest Toei Station: Higashi-Ginza Station
  • East Gardens of the Imperial Palace
    • Nearest Toei Station: Otemachi Station
    • The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace is a 10-minute walk from Tokyo Station where Tokyo Ramen Street is
  • Zojoji Temple
    • Nearest Toei Stations: Shibakoen Station and Akabanebashi Station
    • If you're coming from Seaside Top Observatory, Akabanebashi Station is just one stop away.
  • Tokyo Tower
    • Nearest Toei Station: Akabanebashi Station
    • If you're coming from Seaside Top Observatory, Akabanebashi Station is just one stop away.
Tokyo Tower
Was the Toei 1-Day Pass worth it?
The minimum fare on the Toei Subway is 180 yen. With at least four rides, you can get your money's worth!

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Sa May Kanto (2019)
Pocket WiFi: Japan Wireless
Keisei Skyliner and Tokyo Subway Tickets
Tokyo Accommodations: Oak Hostel Fuji, Hostel Owl Tokyo Nippori, Centurion Ladies Hostel  Ueno Park
Food for the Eyes and Food for the Mouth at Asakusa
A Day at Ueno Park
Tokyo Sights Using the Toei 1-Day Pass (you're here!)
Teamlab Borderless
Escape to Mount Takao

Saturday, January 11, 2020

A Day at Ueno Park

We arrived at Ueno-okachimachi Station on the Toei Subway, intending to spend our day at Ueno Park. Instead of walking Nakamachi-dori straight to Ueno Park, we took a longer route via Ameya Yokocho (Ameyoko), a street market just a few steps from the station which will still lead us to Ueno Park.

Ameya Yokocho is filled with shops selling all sorts of things: shoes, clothes, beauty products, fruits, meals, etc. We survived the walk without buying anything! Congratulations!

There were restaurants along Ameya Yokocho, but we weren't feeling hungry...not until we reached the end of the street. We went looking for food at Ueno 3153, the building right beside the steps to Ueno Park. Ueno 3153 offered us some choices: Family Mart, Lotteria, Pepper Lunch, and a couple of restaurants whose names were in Kanji. We picked one which had pictures of delicious looking Japanese food: Satsuma Uosen 薩摩魚鮮 on the 3rd floor of Ueno 3153. My friends ordered 天ぷら せいろ (Tempura Seiro) which had tempura and soba, and 桜島御膳  (Sakurajima Gozen) which had pork sukiyaki, rice, sashimi, and salad. (I had forgotten to take photos of their food, but both meals looked really good!) I, myself, just felt like eating chicken, so it was just チキン南蛮定食 (Chicken Nanban Set Meal) for me.

Chicken Nanban Set Meal (990 yen)

Bentendo Temple
Daily from 9AM to 5PM

With our stomachs filled, we officially started our day at Ueno Park. First: Bentendo Temple. From the south end of the park, the hexagonal tower of Bentendo Temple looked like it was floating in the lotus covered pond. This small Buddhist temple is dedicated to Benten or Benzaiten, the goddess of luck, wisdom, and music.

Front of Bentendo Temple

Bentendo's hexagonal tower

Shitamachi Museum
Tuesday to Sunday 930AM to 430PM
Admission fee: 300 yen

From Bentendo Temple, we hopped, skipped, and cartwheeled to Shitamachi Museum. We requested for a guided tour and the old man behind the reception desk transported us to 1900s Tokyo. On the ground floor of the museum are reconstructions of a merchant home, rowhouses (one with a candy store, the other a coppersmith's shop), a well, and a small shrine. He told us a little history of Tokyo, then showed us the inside of the merchant home, the rowhouses, the shrine. He told us about what life was like in Tokyo around the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, pointed to little interesting items and details in the exhibits that I would otherwise have overlooked, and, at their little shrine, encouraged us to draw an omikuji (paper fortune).

The guided tour was only for the ground floor. We were left to explore the second floor on our own. The second floor has a collection of traditional Japanese toys, a display of a small sento or communal bathhouse, and a tatami room with a TV set, radio, telephone, sewing machine, and things typically seen in a Japanese house in the 1960s.

The museum is so small, one could explore it in just half an hour. But the guide and his stories made the visit interesting that we spent an hour and a half in Shitamachi Museum!

Oh, and before we left, he gave each of us a little origami box!

Shitamachi Museum

Inside a merchant home

A little room in one of the rowhouses

A candy shop in one of the rowhouses

A traditional Japanese toy


The Ueno Royal Museum
10AM to 5PM
Admission fee depends on the exhibit.
Check the website for the schedule of exhibits.

There are around six museums in Ueno Park, and the next one we visited was The Ueno Royal Museum which was having a Van Gogh exhibit! OMG, a Van Gogh exhibit!!! Though it would cost us 1800 yen each to see the works of this great artist, we just had to grab the opportunity. (Me thinking I would probably never get another chance to see Van Gogh's works.)

Taking photos was not allowed and we had to leave our bags and cameras in a locker. Inside the museum, we took our time looking at each of Van Gogh's 83 artworks on display. Van Gogh worked with pencil, chalk, charcoal, watercolor, oil paint. I saw Cypresses with my own eyes! So beautiful, I could cry!!! (And I found new favorites, too: the lithograph of The Potato Eaters, his Self-Portrait with Pipe and Straw Hat, and his etching Portrait of Dr. Gachet!) So glad we were able to catch this exhibit!

By the time we were done admiring Van Gogh's art, it was already dark outside and there was no time to visit the rest of what Ueno Park has to offer:
  • National Museum of Western Art 
    • Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 930AM to 530PM (up to 8PM on Fridays and Saturdays)
    • Admission fee 500 yen (Free admission for permanent collection on the second and fourth Saturday of each month and on May 18 and November 3)
  • National Museum of Nature and Science
    • Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9AM to 5PM (up to 8PM on Fridays and Saturdays)
    • Admission fee 630 yen
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
    • Open daily from 930AM to 530PM (Closed on first and third Monday of each month)
    • Admission is free for permanent exhibits (Admission fees vary for special exhibits)
  • Tokyo National Museum
    • Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 930AM to 5PM (up to 9PM on Fridays and Saturdays)
    • Admission fee 620 yen
  • Ueno Zoo
    • Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 930AM to 5PM
    • Admission fee 600 yen

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Sa May Kanto (2019)
Pocket WiFi: Japan Wireless
Keisei Skyliner and Tokyo Subway Tickets
Tokyo Accommodations: Oak Hostel Fuji, Hostel Owl Tokyo Nippori, Centurion Ladies Hostel  Ueno Park
Food for the Eyes and Food for the Mouth at Asakusa
A Day at Ueno Park (you're here!)
Tokyo Sights Using the Toei 1-Day Pass
Teamlab Borderless
Escape to Mount Takao