Friday, April 17, 2015

Our Home in Japan

I was recently told a story about a family that travelled to South America and didn’t enjoy themselves. Apparently there was an issue because they felt their living quarters weren’t American enough. For myself, as I have gotten past my 20s, I think I enjoy seeing how the locals live life. When I was a teenager, and stayed with a host family in Mexico, I hated it. I felt so out of my element as I was split from other students from our group. But, everyone has a different taste as to what they want his surroundings to be. Don’t get too excited and book quickly to “get the planning over with”. Look into where you are staying by performing your due diligence.

                                   Apartment 1 Neighborhood in the daylight

Once Eric found out about Aribnb, we were on our way to the sort of stay we wanted. Unlike the scenarios described earlier, Eric and I were set to experience life in Japan as a local (or close to it). Prior to finding out we could rent a person’s apartment, we were nervous about being stuck in a 10 foot by 10 foot hotel room, with a closet as a shower. We had heard a friend’s story about his two experiences with small rooms. We also read reviews regarding hotels we had considered. Eric and I weren’t sure we wanted to take away a similar story. 

Before we had arrived in Japan both our hosts were in communication with us. Even though our trip was in October we began our correspondence in June. Through their Airbnb profiles, we knew history, hobbies, and their personal goals for travel. In turn, our hosts knew about us and our plans for Japan. We didn’t keep in constant communication, but just enough for introductions and for planning.

Part of that planning involved our first host picking us up from the airport. (Huge convenience as we arrived at a time most buses into Tokyo had stopped running) By the time we arrived in Japan, during the tail end of a typhoon, it felt as though we had all met. Obviously that wasn’t the case. This was our first meeting, but our first host was very welcoming. Soon, I will get into the difference between our first host and second host.

As we had hoped, the car ride to the apartment felt like a familiar face picking us up here at LAX. We were very tired and in no mood to deal with train lines and bus transfers. If you decide to go with Airbnb, and the host offers some sort of transportation arrangement, take it! This was even more convenient than Magical Express at Walt Disney World. We found him just passed Customs and we were ready to go.

Getting closer to the place, our host pointed out a few businesses we might want to visit during our stay. There was a pancake restaurant that he was fond of, but I’m not sure it was similar to IHOP. It was nearly 9 PM, dark, and raining outside from the typhoon so it was hard to commit these business locations to memory. Arriving at the building, our host stopped his Prius right at the front door. He even helped us take in our luggage. He had the persona of a 5 star hotel valet as he held an umbrella over us! 

We stayed on a higher floor and had to carry up our bags while trying to remain quiet for his neighbors. This was a tad tough because although we stepped lightly, we made a stomping noise as we climbed the stairwell. We echoed all over that building. During our stay, I came to suspect that he owned the entire building and he was renting all the units to people like us.

                     Washer (soap included)

The apartment was spacious and even had two beds (one was a futon). During our stay here, Eric and I were able to really spread out. The look and layout was not a surprise to us at all because this was all revealed before we booked. We knew we would find cereal, bread, butter, milk, water, juice, and a few snacks in the kitchenette. Eric and I already knew how to work the remote controlled AC because our host sent us a “How TO” YouTube video. And of course, before we entered we were very aware that we needed to remove our shoes while in the apartment. We were set! Our host thought of everything! He had city and bus maps for us and even offered to take us to DisneySea the next morning. Unfortunately for us, he wasn’t leaving the area until near 8 AM, which was too late for us (covered in a previous post).

              Balcony of Apartment 1

                                            View from Apt 1's Balcony

During our stay we had plenty of room to get ready and not bump into one another. The shower situation was slightly different than we are used to, which was fine. One stands in the center of the bathroom to shower, and the tub is used to soak AFTER showering. We knew before to not shower in the tub because as I mentioned, it is used for a CLEAN bath. I thank sources like YouTube, and the expert, Chris from , in knowing appropriate behaviors in Japan. 

We had arrived in town on a Monday night and we left this first apartment on that following Saturday. Deep inside my being, I was a little nervous about getting from Apartment 1, near Tokyo Disneyland, to Apartment 2 in Shibuya, Tokyo. Our host knocked on our door around 10 AM that Saturday morning (moving day) and asked if this was our last day. I was a bit confused by that question. We were only booked through that day. Maybe it was a nice way of saying, “So, you guys are getting the Hell outta here, right?” To leave a good impression, we washed our towels and bedding. 

Our host really was excellent! I asked him if he could verify that eric and I had our bus route to the train station correct. We would need to take 2 buses to reach the station that would then take us to Tokyo Station. He thought that was a little too involved and offered to drive us to the station himself! In case I hadn’t yet mentioned it, We Love Japan!

                                            View Outside the Station

After being dropped off we purchased our first train tickets into Tokyo. This was an exciting moment as we finally would be able to use the skills we learned online to buy the tickets. I make it sound more thrilling than it is. It’s an easy machine to us if one knows how to switch the language to English. The next step is purchasing the ticket for the correct distance. If a passenger buys a ticket for too short a distance, the turnstile won’t let the traveler exit at the destination until the difference is paid.

Taking the train into the city and seeing the skyline from our vantage point was more than exciting! As we had learned, we didn't speak into our phones and only used quiet voices. Oh! If we had a runny nose, we made sure to not blow our noses in public. The train announcements were in Japanese and English. And, there were little electronic jingles that played at each station that reminded me of The Disneyland Electrical Parade. What’s the clichéd phrase? “It was a dream come true!”

Arriving in Tokyo station, the busiest station in Japan, we saw people flying left and right! All around us the place was humming! For some reason, at 1 PM, everyone was in a hurry and it was infectious! Although we were in a slight rush, anxious to get our trip going again, we had to find the Rail Pass office. We were sent all over that station. People were sending us to Japan Rail Pass offices, but it wasn’t until about 45 minutes later that we found the correct one. After we finally obtained our Japan Rail Pass, which would gain us access to the convenient Yamanote Line and Bullet Trains, we headed for Shibuya. It took us about 15 stops on the Yamanote Line, but we finally made it to our new neighborhood.

We had to take bridges over busy streets near our second apartment(like in Vegas). This required us having to lug our suitcases up and down many stairs. Then, we had to wheel our luggage up a lengthy incline toward the apartment. This tiring act didn’t take away from the fact that we loved our second place. It was located on a very quiet street, which had a café on the corner. This building was  a five minute walk from the noisy street that housed the famous Shibuya Crossing (five way crosswalk). We were amazed that all that excitement was so near, yet this neighborhood was so peaceful.

This time we didn’t meet our host in person. Here, we had specific instructions sent to us on how to retrieve our key. The key was left for us in the mailbox and we had been given the combination. Just like our first host, he was a realtor with a few apartments for rent within Tokyo city. Soon after our arrival, he messaged us on the Airbnb app to make sure that all went smoothly.

In the unit he also had a kitchenette with snack items, along with wine on the table! That wine would come in handy, as soon as we found the glasses. The restroom here was a little more suited for Westerners. There was a tub/shower like we would see in The States. The sofa in this place also became a bed. He had a flat screen TV that we never used (like at Apartment 1). The AC here operated easily, with a click of one button. Again, like our first apartment we had a portable WIFI device for our iPhones. It appeared that Eric and I both chose the perfect places to stay. 

During our time here, the action of Shibuya was right at our doorstep. I bet we could’ve spent a few days exploring the ins and outs of Shibuya alone. We also were fortunate to be a close walk to the train station. We could jump on the Yamanote Line and get whisked away to the major meccas of Tokyo. 

Even though we never met the owner of this apartment we were tremendously satisfied with the time we spent (and money). I slept well and I never had that tossing and turning experience. The only set back that annoyed us a bit was the WIFI was weak in this apartment. Yes I know that is something to which to roll one’s eyes, but we needed it. We were on vacation, but we weren’t ready to toss away the internet for 8-10 hours at a time!

In all seriousness, I can’t recommend Airbnb enough. As I said, there is an app that can be used easily and it is free to download. Through the messaging system, users are able to get in contact with the hosts and ask questions about their listings. I don’t at all work for this company or get any sort of “kickback” from them. I just think people need to visit Japan and make it as easy as possible. If you love using the self-checkout lane at the grocery store, you will love this. And, it gives such a feeling of living there, being a local!

There is more to come in regards to our Tokyo trip, but I wanted to get this out there. Maybe I have convinced half of you to start skipping the movies, saying no to those Vegas trips, and to start eating at home. There is a world of real life whimsy waiting for you in Japan! See you all soon with more Tokyo adventures as we explore Shinjuku, Tokyo (where I was asked if I wanted a sexual massage).


Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Dazzling Evening at Tokyo Disneyland


If you have been following along with our trip, it must be obvious that we had covered a lot of ground. So, after taking a ride on the river, leaving the park for a bit wasn’t a crazy idea. Being that this was in a way the Downtown Disney of Tokyo, we kept hearing about how huge Ikspiari is. From what I understand, there is even a basement level full of food and bake shops. The walk to get there was a tad further than we planned. We agreed to allow ourselves about an hour for this excursion, so we had to power walk.  Having been dropped off by bus near the main entrance the last few mornings, we hadn’t been exposed to the distance. The train station is adjacent to the Ikspiari facility, not the bus stop.

As we headed there, I voiced that I wanted to find the shop that carries the park soundtracks. After already seeing the “Happiness is Here” parade, I really wanted that music. I hadn’t seen it sold in the park. We also had plans to stop at the Bon Voyage souvenir shop, and find the Disney Store. The Bon Voyage store, which resembles a large suitcase, was the first one we visited.

Inside, Eric and I scoured the shop for something we hadn’t yet seen in the park’s stores. A lot of the merchandise was very repetitive. We did happen to find a few items for the nieces and nephews. The chopsticks we found, the ends had Monorails as handles, were very cute. (Why didn’t I take a photo of them?) We also found a few rare pins. Other than that, there wasn’t a lot that caught our eye. An item we kept seeing everywhere were hand towels. They sold/displayed hand towels like one would see a wall of socks or underwear. 

We wandered further into the Ikspiari area, beyond the train station, in search of the Disney Store. We had to stroll to the furthest point to find it. I also kick myself as I wonder why we didn’t take photos in the store. The only answer I have is that I didn’t want people thinking I was taking a photo of them. There were some cool iPhone cases, one of which I almost bought. The issue I had with them is that since they were irregularly shaped, they were very impractical.

As we headed back toward the parks, we had already spent close to an hour away, we found the music store. They had a decent sized selection of park music, which included the parade I wanted. This soundtrack went for almost $40 American dollars. 40! As you can probably guess, I passed on that purchase. I really couldn’t justify spending that amount on a CD that had one track on it.

The natural lighting in the next set of photos makes it look much later than it really was. If I recall correctly (this was 5 months ago) we headed back into the park around 3:45 PM. Being mid-afternoon it was definitely time for that snack we had seen earlier, pastry. We would have a nice time sitting as we awaited our Haunted Mansion FP window, 4:55-5:55 PM

We headed back to the Sweetheart Café,  located near the Monsters Inc. fast pass area. I was hungry and ready to bite into Mike Wazowski’s head….melon bread that is. Both out snacks looked a lot sweeter than they actually were. 

Although we were doing just fine, Eric and I may have now realized how tired we were. Our day had been full of such excitement that we didn’t even think about how it was affecting us. At the same time, we just didn’t care. We had dreamed of this trip for so long! Eric and I were about to get in as much as possible before the 7 PM Electrical Parade start time.

                   I also wanted this to eat, but I didn’t want to be too gluttonous.

At a quarter to 5 PM we passed near the hour long queue for Jungle Cruise and hoped aboard the Western River Railroad. For those that didn’t know, this train only circles WesternLand. (There are reasons for that which we don’t need to get into now) It sounds a little silly, but one reason I was very excited to ride this train was the fact it passes right in front of Splash Mountain. From certain angles, it appears the finale drop passes directly under the train tracks. In a way it does, but not as dramatically as I had hoped. What I did enjoy about this version of the train is that we felt to be in the middle of the action. At the US Parks, the train ride hides a lot of the park behind trees and buildings.

                                          Westernland seen from the train.

As Eric and I moved back through Fantasyland, toward Mansion, the area felt so alive. We now had “back to back” Fast Passes to use. We had acquired a Pooh’s Hunny Hunt pass earlier, but still our Mansion time was before that. In total, this would equal four Fast Passes for the day. So to anyone who thinks you can’t get more than one Fast Pass in a day at these parks, he is out of his mind. Or, Eric and I just got lucky.

                            Eric & I adored these trees lining the walkway.

This was our second time on their Holiday Nightmare (love that name)! I was a little brave during this experience and snapped a few grainy shots with my phone. We could’ve tried with the Nikon, but it has the light meter on it and I didn’t want to ruin the experience for others.

With it being about half past 5 PM, we had to fit in Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, find food, and find a spot for the parade. The easy part of executing our schedule was that both Mansion and Pooh are in Fantasyland. I was stressing a bit regarding the parade spot. Eric was more relaxed and was trying to get me to calm down. I had read too much online about how tough it is to get a spot for this parade. I decided to go along with Eric’s disposition and calm the heck down.

Of course Pooh was amazing! This would be our final time riding for this trip (sad face). Eric busted out the Nikon for this. It’s not so dark like in Mansion, so the light meter wasn’t a huge intrusion. I’m glad he decided to get a few photos.


As we exited, Eric suggested we head back to where we watched the earlier parade. We enjoyed that spot because no one could fill in our immediate area during the show. It was blocked by railings, thanks to the Dumbo attraction. There was still the matter of food. Eric volunteered to head back across Fantasyland (adjacent to the Pooh attraction), so he could get us burgers from Tomorrowland Terrace. I’m glad I married this guy!


We didn’t have a “parade mat” as most people did. About 40 minutes before the show, a family came into our area. I offered up some space to them and I sat on the ledge. This ledge runs the length of the Dumbo railing, so it definitely worked out for us. During the parade we were free to either stand or sit. About 20 minutes prior to step off time, Eric returned with our cute Mickey shaped burgers.


Since Eric and I were both kids in Southern California, seeing the Main St. Electrical Parade was sort of a park tradition. As most know, that parade has since moved to Walt Disney World, which we do get to see now and again. But, this revamp of the parade came to fruition around 2007, with a new interpretation of floats and soundtrack. When it premiered I of course made a wish to one day see it. The dream was a distant life goal that I thought would never happen. But, here it was and the lights were about to go out! Dreamlights was about to become our reality!

Just like the parades we had seen earlier, these floats were larger than life and finally passing before us. The music was even more exciting to hear as it enveloped the entire area and the lights on the floats were quite vivid.

One thing we did wonder, why did some characters speak in Japanese and others in English? Does anyone know this answer?



I can’t really choose a favorite unit or float. I think my top few floats are Cinderella as her dress transforms, Alice on the Cheshire Cat, the Genie, and Blue Fairy.

The parade was an excellent way to start to draw our Tokyo Disneyland experience to a close. I was glad we saw the alternate version two nights prior as it rained and then the actual parade. We really did get lucky during our time here.

We had arranged to meet up with Chris, he runs , near the Home Store and Waffle House. They are both located right off the World Bazaar area. To get there from our parade spot, we had to follow the parade to the front of the park. That took a little time in the crowd, but we were used to this many folks in one location. As we shuffled along, Eric and I were impressed that the guests actually listen and obey the directions of Cast Members. If the guest control person had everyone move to one side of a walkway, they all complied. Like soldiers, we witnessed the moving crowd all take two giants steps to the right. We followed suit.

After a slight wait, we finally did meet Chris. He rode about three trains from Shinjuku to come meet with us. We had been in contact with him before we left California and during the last three days. It was great to finally meet him and get his perspective on everything. Eric and I may have overwhelmed Chris as we fired questions at him from all angles. But, since the three of us were in the Monsters Inc. queue, we had plenty of time. Ride and Go Seek would be our final attraction at this park. Since it is lively and highly interactive, I’m glad this was how we closed the day. 

                                    I think Eric forgot there was a photo to be taken.

Chris, Eric, and I took a final lap around the park in those last 20 minutes of operation. I can’t recall all the specifics of our conversation, but it was definitely surrounding his living experience in Japan. So far Eric and I were fascinated by the culture we had seen, so we were extremely curious about his adjustment. Chris had lived there for a while now and he loves it. 

We had to take advantage of the third set of arms and asked Chris to snap a photo of us. Maybe next time we visit “it’s a small world” will be up and running.

The three of us tried to venture into a candy shop in the World Bazaar. Eric walked in and was swept away by the current of people. Chris and I stood and watched. The other guests were clearing out the shelves faster than they could stock them. The Japanese people are known for their thoughtful/respectful “omiyage” or souvenirs. It is customary to take back items for friends, family, and co-workers. But, what was odd was that all these tins were ubiquitous. People were still grabbing them as if they hadn’t seen these all day. Eric gave up and managed to get out from the crowd. There was no sense in trying to browse while barely breathing. I will admit that a Black Friday scenario at Disneyland was an interesting thing to see.

The time chatting with Chris went quickly and it was time to say goodbye. It wasn’t all that late, but we needed to catch one of the final buses back to our apartment. It wasn’t really goodbye forever. We made plans to meet up the next day in Shinjuku, somewhat near where Chris lived at the time.

With one last photo at the park’s entrance, it was so long Tokyo Disneyland. Eric and I had mixed emotions as we left the parks. Although our time at Disney ended, we would soon relocate apartments to Shibuya, Tokyo. The thought of being in the middle of a busy city brought on anxiety and excitement! A new chapter of this trip would soon begin.