Nagano

After Kyoto, my next stop was to stay in an Onsen (Japanese hot spring) hotel called Koishiya in Yudanaka, which is in the Nagano prefecture.

This area is most famous for its bathhouses, hot springs, and it’s location is near areas to go skiing and to see snow monkeys. The town itself is small, and not much is in the town in terms of a night life. However, the architecture is of traditional style, and the look of a more feudalistic/classical Japan vibe that the city gave off was too much to pass up on. Also most of the hotels in the area gives their guests yukatas and wooden sandles to walk around in. A great place to come, relax, and slow down. While in Kyoto, I found myself always moving, and this was the first time since my trip began where I was finally able to stop, take a deep breath, and truly the fact that I’m in another country.

If you are familiar with Asian bathhouses, then these bathhouses and onsens will not be new. If you’re not, then this may be an uncomfortable experience as you do get naked to go into the bathing areas. They are gender separated though, and it’s ok if you don’t feel comfortable doing something like this. However I will say that from my experience, the  culture there doesn’t have a shame or humiliation feeling about being naked in that way. In fact, some of the locals living in the area don’t have showers in their homes and so goes to these bath houses to wash themselves. Everyone minds their own business and no one stares/glares at you because to them it’s nothing new.  I would say give it a try at least once in your life. You may find that it’s not as bad as you may have thought.

The Snow Monkeys were cute to see. The walk up to Snow Monkey park was a bit of a trek, but it was still an enjoyable walk. Again I’m just amazed at how clean the path was and Japan’s custom to to not liter. A good time to see these monkeys are in the Winter time as there will be snow, and they will all bathe themselves in the pond/hotsprings. Do dress warm as the weather tends to be on the colder side.

I also spent some of my day in the Nagano area itself, visiting Zenko-ji temple and looking at some of the shops nearby. Nagano is famous for it’s apples, and if you find yourself in the area during the Summer seasons, look out for apple festivals. This is also the only location where you can find apple flavored kit kats.

Overall I loved my stay in the Nagano prefecture and I enjoyed the downtime that I was able to get here. I only stayed 2 nights myself and felt that that was all that was needed. Since my trip was only about 2 weeks in length, I did not wanted to stay too many days here otherwise I would feel that I didn’t see enough or do enough on my trip. One night wouldn’t have been enough to enjoy the area, but 2 nights was perfect.

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Tokyo

Tokyo was a beast of it’s own to behold. There was so much to do and to see in the city itself that one could easily make a week long trip staying in just Tokyo itself and still feel that there’s a lot more to do and to see. This city pretty much has everything to accommodate everyone’s interest. What made me really fall in love with the city though, was for all the anime themed attractions. As a fan of anime, and Japanese animation, I couldn’t help but to feel really at home here.

Disneyland

Starting off this list of things in Tokyo is the Tokyo Disneyland. While smaller in size to America’s Disneyland, the amusement park was still very nice to see, housing a lot of similar rides as to it’s American counterpart. One of the few differences was Japan’s love for Stitch and Monsters Inc. Not only were there more merchandises of these two franchises, but Japan’s Tiki Room sings songs from the Lilo and Stitch soundtrack, and their Monsters Inc ride was more interactive. People on the ride had flashlights that they use to shine on the monster’s helmets to get them to do things and move. They also had the country bears, which was removed from the US Disneyland many years ago. Great to see, once you get over the fact of seeing western country bears singing and speaking in Japanese. And best of all, it was a lot cheaper to get into the park than in America. The Disney castle here is based off of Cinderella’s castle. I did not know this beforehand, but the castles in the Disneylands around the world are all based of different castles. i.e. Disneyland California is based of Sleaping Beauty’s castle.

There is also the Disney Tokyo Sea amusement park, which is their version of America’s California Adventure in terms of being another park sitting next to Disneyland. The theme of Tokyo Sea was more aquatic themed rides, a huge emphasis on Duffy the Bear, and also has the Tower of Terror and Indiana Jones rides.

A definite must for any Disneyfans. The only downside is that once you leave the train station that takes you to the area, you have to take the Disney Monorail to get to the park itself, which is separate from the train pass that you may have. Although it’s inexpensive anyways. I stayed at the Hilton in Tokyo Bay, so I ended up purchasing a 4 day pass for the Monorail since I needed to take the monorail constantly to get to and from my hotel anyways.

J World and Pokemon Center Tokyo 

Located right next to each other, the J World is a mini amusement park all themed around the comic books found in Shonen Jump. (Dragonball, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach to name a few)
Japan loves the anime One Piece, which I love as well, so this place was perfect to feed my anime nerdy needs. You have the option of paying to get into the park or going in for free, but any rides/mini games you have to pay separately. If you want to go just to see the place and maybe buy some souvenirs or eat at the anime themed restaurants there, then there’s no need to pay. However, if you want to try some of the mini games, then pay the admission fee for it will definitely be worth it.

There is also a cheaper ticket if you come into the park in the evening, after 6pm I believe. However, one thing I discovered about Japan is that even if a store says it is closed at 10pm, pretty much 9:30 is when people start leaving and the workers may try to hurry you up to leave. It’s different than here in the States where if a business closes at 10, they essentially will stay open right until the last minute and don’t rush anyone out until closing time itself. I suppose it is a courtesy aspect of the Japanese people.

The Pokemon Center in Tokyo, for some reason, I thought would be bigger. It was a descent size, but I would say it didn’t feel too much larger than the Pokemon Center in Osaka. Some of the Pokemon centers do sell different products than others, and I thought that the Tokyo one would be the largest and house pretty much everything. I bought myself a mini snorlax plushie I found back in Hiroshima Pokemon Center, which I didn’t see here at the Tokyo one. So my suggestion is that if you see a product from one of the centers you like, best to get it there than think “oh another location will have it” because there is a chance that it will not.

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Ikebukuro 

This is located near the J World so I decided to walk over to this area. It was only about a 15-20 min walk. There are a few anime malls in the area you can check out as well, though I would say I prefer Akihabara for it’s atmosphere to do anime shopping.

One thing you should stop by here near the Ikebukuro train station is the KitKat Chocolatory store. It took me a little while to find it, but if you find yourself at the station and seeing a lot of make up stores, then you are on the right track. You just have to find an escalator to go one floor down, to where you can see a lot of food being sold. The KitKat Chocolatory is on that floor and this is where you can go buy more high end flavors of KitKats such as Passion Fruit Chili, Maple Strawberry, and Butter to name a few. They make great gifts for people. I myself bought two sets of multi flavored Kit Kats for a friend and for my coworkers. As strange as this may sound, my favorite flavor is Butter. It’s a white chocolate KitKat but testes richer and was suprisingly delicious.

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Akihabara

Often called the Electric City. Filled with lots of department stores, multiple stories tall, selling anything from beauty products, suitcases, and clothes to anime figurines and models. There are also a lot of maid cafes here with ladies dressed up in maid outfits advertising for you to eat at their location. It is up to you if you want to go for that or not. There are also a lot of arcade machine games to win anime figurines or plushies that are open fairly late. This town is big on the anime and collectibles community as there are tons of shops specializing in trading card shop, figurines, plastic models, and anime collectibles. And this is all within a block away from the train station. Those who are a fan of Gundams can eat or purchase gundam related products, minus the models, at the Gundam Cafe located just outside the station.

Studio Ghibli Museum

I will describe how to get tickets to Studio Ghibli in another post, but for now I will say that visiting the museum was magical. A definite must if you are a fan of Hayo Miazaki and his work. Upon entering, you are given a 3 picture film reel from one of his films as your “ticket” into the museum. The entire place is themed around his work. There is a giant Totoro Standing in front of the museum, a giant robot from Castle in the Sky located on the rooftops, lots of pictures and decor relating to his films as well as a theater area where you can view six animated shorts that Miazaki created for the museum. You can not see any of these elsewhere, and they are randomly chosen on the day you visit as well. The short I got to see was of 6 sumo wrestling mice. Very kawaii.
There is a gift shop here as well, selling many Ghibili related products such as plushies, cards with ghibli artwork, pins, stationaries, models, and much more. Though it may get crowded at times. There is also a restaurant and to go eating area just outside the museum to eat as well. I decided to get a beer there that the label was designed by Miazaki’s son. A great novelty gift to take home with me to remember my visit there, even though I wasn’t the hugest fan of the beer. It was too hoppy for my taste.

You are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum though. So please be respectful of their wishes. You can take as many pictures as you want of the outside of the Museum though.

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Odaiba

If you watch anime at all, this is where you can find the Odaba TV Station and giant Ferris Wheel is. This is also where you can find the mini amusement park Gundam Front, which is all themed around Gundams. And also where you can see the giant, lifesized Gundam. If you are a fan of the franchise, definitely stop by here and enjoy the view. You can also find a lot of Japan exclusive Gundam models here as well for it’s retail price. Trying to purchase them outside of Japan usuall means there’s a price increase of anywhere from $40-80 since you can only find it in Japan. To get here, you do have to take a different train station, which is fairly pricey in comparison to the other train stations. But definitely worth the money for true fans. There’s also a One Piece themed restaurant on the 7th floor of the TV station based on the character Sanji’s first restaurant the Baratie. Unfortunately for me, they were closed for a private party so I wasn’t able to try the place out.

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Kobe Beef at Kaiseki 511

My final night in Tokyo and in Japan and I decided to spoil myself by eating Kobe Beef, something that you can only authentically get here in Japan. The Kobe beef in the States is apparently just called Wagu, which is just Kobe Beef style beef, but is not the authentic thing. From what my waitress told me, there is a lot of marbling, fat, and tenderness to the meat, so it is very hard to export the beef. Though it was pricey, it was definitely worth my money as not only was the beef so tender, so well cooked, and was essentially butter in my mouth, but there was so much flavor and depth to the meat. Because of the price tag, I may not eat here the next time I go to Japan, and I do know you can buy kobe beef foods from street vendors and other food shops as well for a fairer price. If that is something that fits your budget better, or if you’re only slightly interested in trying Kobe Beef, then that should be fine. However, if you want to try something that you really can not get anywhere else, and try food that will truly lift your taste buds, then I would recommend going to a fine dining restaurant to get the Kobe Beef. Even though my meal was on the pricey side, around $200 since I wanted to get the larger steak portion, I know that if this dish was in America, I’d be paying $500 for the dish. Overall, I am very happy with the price I pay for food in Japan. I never once felt that I was being over charged for anything, plus the service I receive is always amazing. I may not have been the richest guy to walk into the restaurant, but I never once felt that they treated me any differently than their richer customers, and was given exceptional service from beginning to the end of my meal.

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Don’t worry, it was a 4-5 course meal, so don’t think I paid $200 for just the steak.

 

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And that pretty much sums up my trip to Japan. I had an incredible experience and was able to explore so much of Japan. From cultural to the modern, countryside to city, and from sushi to kobe beef, I loved every single minute I was there and can not wait for the day that I return. There were a lot about my trip that I did not posted up, mainly because I didn’t want to write too much. Hopefully my posts will help people get ideas for their own trip and if anybody ever has any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment or just send me an email and I’d be glad to help. I also think the site links to my facebook, so you can always shoot me a message there too. Just put Japan in the message so I know. Happy Traveling!

 

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