22
Dec

Sailing The Disney Seas

By: muttler

Sunday December 11th

look out!

look out, it’s giant woody!

Our last main day in Tokyo was to knock off another Disney park for Mads, this time DisneySea. We had been fortunate to even be going, as it seemed with Christmas approaching the parks were jam packed and selling out on weekends. But we had tickets so a VERY early morning got us to the park by about 7:20, in line for more craziness. 

looking bright eyed and bushy tailed for 7am

looking bright eyed and bushy tailed for 7am

 

fuji!

fuji!

And craziness it was indeed. There was already a massive queue of people waiting to get in and Kate’s research had suggested there was no way we would be able to do all rides in the park. So we had to be even more strategic. So as the park opened I ditched the gals and ran for fast passes for the most popular ride, Toy Story Mania. It is the most recent ride built (a clone of the California Adventures one) and routinely has wait times of 3-4 hours which is just nuts. So everyone tries to get a fast pass which means a queue just to get those first thing. But about 45 minutes of waiting meant we would get to ride it so we were all sorted. 

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After that it was a matter of juggling the rides to maximise how many and minimise wait times. It seemed the combination of weekend, Christmas and smaller park meant we were going to be fighting crowds all day. Oh well. Over the course of the day we managed to knock off everything we wanted, with only one long wait, which was for the best ride, Indiana Jones. We managed to get on lots of the others as well, including the story themed ones like Sinbad, the most excellent Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and 20000 Leagues Under The Sea and even see a show or two. Toy Story Mania was just as fun as I remembered too, especially scoring a pretty high score too thanks to my sharp shooting. Sadly I missed out on the Tower of Terror, but I wasn’t prepared to (nor have the time) wait 2.5 hours. So we just ran around the park having fun, being befuddled for the insane lines for popcorn and turkey legs, being confused by Duffy the Disney Bear, and just soaking it up. 

Rather than have a typical parade, here at DisneySea it was all based on the lagoon in the middle of the park. The show here was Fantasmic, one I had seen in California many years ago, but one Kate had not seen. So on dark, we settled in in a good spot and kicked back.

 

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It was finally time for us to get on to Toy Story Mania, after the epic chase for fast passes at the start of the day. Kate and I had been on this in California Adventures and is definitely one of my favourite rides. Like Astro Blasters you get to compete and try and score points as you move through, this one decked out like a carnival with different games of skill. The 3D actually makes it pretty great. Worth the 4 hour waits many people are doing? Probably not. But it is still rad.

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all duffy'ed out

all duffy’ed out

Like Friday, next thing we knew it was approaching 10pm and park closing time, so we got a least couple of gifts and trained it back again. Another night getting home after 11pm having been up since 6. I don’t think I had managed more than about 6 hours sleep a night, combined with all the walking so I was exhausted. We all were, but it was just as we wanted it. 

22
Dec

Shopping Our Way Around Tokyo

By: muttler

Saturday December 10th

look out!

look out!

We were resigned to the fact that there would be no sleep ins and we would be perpetually exhausted but that is how it goes when you only have one full day in Tokyo, which was mostly up to the girls what they wanted to see, especially Mads given it was her first time. In the agenda was some sight seeing, but also quite bit of shipping (of course). 

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We started though with the Imperial Palace gardens which were fairly close by. So we jumped out of the train station and wandered in. Sadly, it probably best representation of Japanese gardens for Mads, as there was very little autumn foliage still left and so they were a bit barren. It also didn’t really afford views of “Japanesey” buildings like other areas, so we did a bit of a wander and then kept moving. 

king of monsters

king of monsters

 

he wasn't that scary really

he wasn’t that scary really

We were heading toward Ginza when my good fortune prevailed again. I had completely forgotten about it, but we were near the small statue of Godzilla that resides in Tokyo! Score! I was so excited to see it… I had even watched the latest Godzilla movie on the plane on the way over. He was quite small, but you could get some good angles to have him residing menacingly in the neighbourhood. 

The visit to Ginza was to mostly to visit the main flagship store of Uniqlo. Yep. Decided to visit 12 floors of Uniqlo. We all bought a few things, with Mads especially loving the options here in Japan. Time flew by as we explored, with me picking up just a few cool tees that I was unlikely to see back home. 

Next we headed in the direction of Roppongi, as Kate was keen to visit a more traditional arts and crafts type store. We had read about one that focused on designing and crafting just in Japan so it was good to get a sense of the traditional craft goods. We had seen quite a bit in Kyoto, and so explored this a bit but didn’t feel compelled to take anything away. 

poor lil hatchiko

poor lil hatchiko

We seemed to be doing a loop of Tokyo, as we then headed to Shibuya. Mads could not visit Tokyo and not visit the famous Shibuya crossing. So emerging out of the station at the Hatchiko exit (poor little puppy) we made our way across the crossing and up into the Starbucks that overlooks, just as many do. It was nice to sit and have a drink and watch the craziness. 

While in Shibuya I ditched the girls for a quick bit. I could not be in Shibuya and not visit my favourite record store, the Disk Union outlet that specialised in punk and metal and well, everything really. 4 small floors of LPs that always make me drool. I didn’t have hours so just spent half an hour picking through the LPs. Nothing jumped out at me so for the first time I left empty handed believe it or not. I met back up with the girls and we kept moving, this time to Harajuku. 

harajuku invader!

harajuku invader!

It was dark, so we weren’t really able to explore the park, so just wandered down the shopping area to see what we could find. We knew two places we wanted to pop in to. Mads was keen to visit the Adidas flagship to see what unique things they had, while I wanted to pop into Kiddyland… 6 floors of toys. We didn’t spend too long in there as I wasn’t intending to buy, but it is always good to see the strange Japanese exclusive things. A small Snorlax for my desk was all I left with. 

back to radio kaikan!

back to radio kaikan!

It was getting later so we headed back across town towards Asakusa. We decided to pop into Akihabara for another quick bit so we could visit the stores we had missed on our first night. It was cool to wander through all the little shops and see what unique things they had. I managed to find some more Kit Kat so it was well worth the visit 🙂

only in japan

only in japan

On our travels, I picked up one of the christmas coke bottles that they had here. I had seen a video showing the magic label that was on these bottles and had to try it (you can youtube it obviously). Bt the gist is you peel off one side of the label and pull a tab… and keep pulling… and keep pulling. And slowly the label folds up into this sweet bow, without you doing anything else! Why don’t we have this at home?

Anyway, a detour back to Uniqlo to pick up some things that were being embroidered for the gals and then it was back to the hostel. Boy had we walked some miles and we were were all pretty tired. We needed our rest for our last big day in Tokyo. 

22
Dec

Running Amok In Disneyland

By: muttler

Friday December 9th

the three stooges go to disneyland

the three stooges go to disneyland

I think this entry will be a little shorter than the last entry that seemed to pack in a lot. Not that we were not about to be busy, but that it was going to be focused on just one thing… Disneyland!

loon

loon

This was one significant reason for our trip and the primary reason for Mads to visit, so we left the hostel nice and early to make it out the in time for opening. Only having one day meant we needed to plan, and Kate had done a big job of scouting out popularity of rides to work out our plan of what to visit, when, what fast passes to get and the like. So as the gates opened, we sprung into action. I ran for fast passes for the newish Monsters Inc ride and secured those quite quickly. Then it was off to the second most popular ride in the park to do it nice and early

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Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was a bogie ride for Kate, not having been able to get on it when she had been here in the past. But with our planning paying off, we were on it in no time. And I still think it is one of the best rides at Disneyland, just the way the carts move around in the space, with us sitting in a hunny pot that moves on hidden magnetic tracks independently of the other cars in our group. The girls were very happy by the end of it. 

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is this why it's apparently the happiest place on earth?

is this why it’s apparently the happiest place on earth?

 

no dancing allowed sadly

no dancing allowed sadly

The rest of the day was about trying to visit as much as possible. We all had the benefit of having visited numerous Disneyland’s before so we knew the rides and park layout well. So we just kept scouting around for the shortest queues and what fast passes to get. Over the day we rode all the usual rides… Astro Blasters, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion (twice) and all the story rides. The girls were rocking their Disney head gear and loving it all. 

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Crowds were pretty manageable so we got to do everything we wanted, even getting a great spot for the electric parade in the early evening. Throwing in some shopping we managed to get to closing time at 10pm. A long day having gone in at park opening at 8:30am, but awesome to run around the park with Kate and Mads, both of whom were truly in their element all day. 

22
Dec

Best. Day. Ever.

By: muttler

Thursday December 8th

the first of many robots

the first of many robots

Today was the day I was most excited for, for a number of reasons. We had a bunch of things planned and ticketed already, some revisits and some brand new. So let me get to it…

i love you mitaka

i love you mitaka

 

we're off to see totoro!

we’re off to see totoro!

 

totoro's bus stop

totoro’s bus stop

First thing was something I had been on the ball with before coming over, and that was tickets for one of (if not) my favourite places in Japan… the Ghibli Museum! It had recently reopened after a minor restoration (mostly new coats of paint) so tickets were in high demand. I managed to snag some and so Kate was going to get to experience it for the first time, and me my 3rd. Yep, I think I will try and go every visit I make to Tokyo. So early in the morning, we jumped on a train out to Mitaka to visit. 

so excited!

so excited!

 

waving good morning

waving good morning

I have written about the museum quite a bit in the past, so no need to bang on. Needless to say the walk to the museum along the water and through the park was glorious in the sunshine and at about 9:30am we arrived. A handful of people were already lining up, so we jumped in the queue and waited for 10am to arrive. The doors opened and in we went!

It was so good visiting with Kate, who had not been before. She got to experience the delight of Miyazaki’s work room, the Cat Bus room, the dioramas and maquettes, and all the other magic. We even got to sit on a Cat Bus, which was the same one I had sat on 5 years earlier. It was the best. 

 

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Their no photos policy means you can do nothing but just enjoy yourself which we did. On the rooftop though we could bust the camera out and Kate was stoked to get photos with the robot from her favourite Ghibli movie, Laputa. The beautiful sunshine meant it was turning out to be a perfect day. A trip to the gift shop was our sat stop before heading back to Tokyo. I made a purchase I had been wanting to make for years but not seen the right one. Well this time, they had a hand painted cel of Kiki from possibly my favourite Ghibli film, Kiki’s Delivery Service. It was a bit pricey (not too pricey) but this was to be my one big souvenir from this trip and something I would always stare at fondly back at home. 

With that were were done, and we were on the clock to make to back to Tokyo Station by 1pm as we had an important person to meet. Kate’s sister Madeline was joining us for 4 days! Tokyo Disneyland was under last Disney park to visit, so she decided to join us. Shenanigans!

It was great to see Mads waiting for us at our planned meeting spot in Tokyo station. She had also been delayed but not nearly as bad as us, so all was good. She needed a coffee to keep going for the day so I took the opportunity to introduce her to the joys of canned coffee… and she was hooked 🙂

skytree!

skytree!

We made our way back to the hostel so she could drop off her bag. We didn’t rally waste much time there as we had to make the most of our few days, so we decided to head to Tokyo Skytree to get views of Tokyo and beyond. The light was fading so we had to leg it for any chance to see Mt Fuji. 

A quick diversion…. So as much as I didn’t want to spend too much time staring at an iPad, I was determined not to leave Japan without their region specific Pokémon. Farfetch’d was waiting to be caught but I had yet to find the little critter. Well, just near Skytree, there he was! Escaping one pokeball made me nervous, but with the second ultra ball he was mine. YES! Mission accomplished. I could leave Japan extra happy now. 

fuji as the sun sets

fuji as the sun sets

hi from tokyo!

hi from tokyo!

It was about 3:30pm when we were heading up Tokyo’s biggest structure. It was relatively quiet so we could head straight up and soak it all in. And there waiting for us was Mt Fuji, in the yellow fading light. I forgot to mention we had actually seen Fuji fleetingly on our train out to Mitaka so we were certainly having a charmed run. Here it was a little hazy, but we could see it there staring back at us.

gotta catch 'em all

gotta catch ’em all

 

i don't know either

i don’t know either

We spent some time as twilight settled in, but decided it was time to move in as there was another scheduled activity to make. On our way to the train station my good fortune kept rolling… Pokémon Centre! The girls rolled their eyes as I bustled in very quickly. I asked an attendant if there were any Porygon items about, but sadly there wasn’t. Oh well, he’s hard to catch in the game and seemingly hard in real life too. 

Next thing we had arrived in Shinjuku where at 6pm we were meeting more people! Yay! This time in a crazy coincidence of timing, we had a chance to meet up with my pals Craig and Erin for a night of fun. Meeting friends in foreign places for good times is just the best thing ever. And boy did we have some fun planned. 

robot-o!

robot-o!

strapping in for robot action!

strapping in for robot action!

But that was not to start for another hour so we headed into the nearby Golden Gai bar area to grab some eats and a drink. Sadly many bars had not opened yet, but we found one cozy one (big for the area, holding about 12 people) and had some drinks and skewers for eats. But it was 7, and time for the main event! Both my previous trips to Tokyo I had thought about visiting our destination, but just had not done it. But this time there were five of us so it was time… to visit the infamous Robot Restaurant! I picked up tix for us all before coming over so we were super excited. I had read and seen lots about this, and the reviews were either “it’s ridiculous and overpriced” or “it’s ridiculous and it’s awesome!”. So we were in.

if it's good enough for guy...

if it’s good enough for guy…

 

daft punk have hit low times

daft punk have hit low times

 

the gang is ready!

the gang is ready!

It is hardly a restaurant, as the best you can do are some snacks and maybe a bento box, so we just opted for our included drinks. We knew as soon as we’re in the waiting area that we had chosen wisely. There alongside the girl playing piano was two robots playing lounge music with their bass and guitar. Imagine Daft Punk but slightly more gaudy and low rent. We were all beaming. Next it was into the main arena for the fun to commence. 

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The main arena was fairly small, only being about 4 rows of maybe 40 people along each side. In the middle was an open area where the action was to take place. Showtime! What followed is not indescribable, however words and pics will not do the sheer awesomeness and joy of it all. We were tested to a series of short acts that either involved robots or small float-type vehicles being suitably robot themed, as well as people dressed up in sci-fi garb and generally acting it up and dancing. The first act was a “traditional” drum type performance, but with suitably garish sci-fi costumes. We then got a bizarre mini story involving some forest based creatures being invaded by evil robots and we had totally outlandish robots and fighting go in. Looking over at everyone we were just having the best time. It was even funnier to think this was Madeline’s introduction to Japan!
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The final act was a Christmas themed performance that was just more over the top robot action (compete with audience glow sticks) and a barrage of neon and lasers and robots and music and just everything that makes Japan my favourite place in the world. And then at a bit after 9pm we were done. We made our way out of the bright cavern and into the Shinjuku streets. I looked at the others. We all had looks of utter bewilderment and joy on our faces. We all LOVED every second of it. We couldn’t believe what we had experienced, and to do it all as the 5 of us will be one of the great travel memories ever, it was just so over the top and unique. 

rad times!

rad times!

I was still relatively early, so we found another nearby bar for more drinks and eats. This one was slightly smaller again, holding about 8 people and the proprietors were very welcoming and we ate and drank and laughed some more. They even had Back To The Future 2 playing on a tiny TV in there which just added to the insanity of the evening. 

this bar could seat 8 people. yep.

this bar could seat 8 people. yep.

Sadly, with the laughs still flowing it was time to say farewell to Craig and Erin, so we could catch one of the last trains back across the city to our hostel. So with that, Kate, Mads and I left our buds and went hunting for our train station. As can be the case in Tokyo, it is not always easy to find your station. For example, there are two Shinjuku stations, and the exit we used arriving was now closed. Oh dear. But that is to Google Maps we sorted out our new best way home and legged it back, arriving back to Asakusa around midnight. We were exhausted but it was one of the best days ever.