Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Kidd's Top 3 Tokyo Spots (Part 2 of 2)

Ghibli Museum

You know when they say "save the best for last"? Well, there's a reason why I put Ghibli Museum on the last of the list. I am a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, it was such a fulfillment to finally come here. I can't remember how long have I been looking at pictures and videos on the internet before even coming. A friend told me that I'm gonna miss the "surprise factor" and I didn't care, still the feeling I felt when I made it inside the museum is something I can't explain. It was magical.

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I know Totoro is the superstar here, but can you find the soot balls?

It was probably, no, definitely my favorite part of the trip, that even though this is a compilation of my trip's highlights, I decided this one should get a separate post.

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The entrance door of the museum

Let me just say, for one thing, getting a ticket to the museum is not easy for somebody living in the Philippines who has no close friend or relative in Japan. It's not sold in the museum, you have to purchase it on a kiosk called Loppi at Lawson combini (only in Japan). I thought of getting one when I get to Japan but the museum is very popular, it limits 200 visitors a day, I probably won't get a slot for the time I'm staying if I do that. I could make it easier by joining another tour but it's way more expensive and I didn't like my visit to be time-bounded so I looked for other options. I tried to ask the staff of the hotel I booked if it's possible to buy a ticket on my behalf and I'll just pay when I get there. They politely decline as it is something beyond what they can do. Thank God for the internet, I found a better option -- a shopping agent! Bridge.Jpn offers a proxy buying service in Japan, they bought the ticket for me for a fee but still a lot cheaper than joining a tour. I asked them to send the ticket to my hotel then I picked it up when I checked in. You don't get the actual ticket by the way, instead you get a reservation ticket, when you get to the museum, you hand it to the entrance counter then they'll give you the actual ticket. The complexity of the ticket procurement process was worth it, the ticket itself is a keepsake. It has frames of an animation film as ornament, lucky me, I got one from my favorite anime film!

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I remember this scene

Photography inside the museum is prohibited and I am not sorry for this policy. The principle behind is for one to enjoy the experience through eyes and senses rather that a camera's lenses. To take the unique experience as a special memory not even a camera would capture.  I have so much respect for Miyazaki I gladly abide the rules.  It's okay if I can't take images with me, because I'll definitely see it again.

The building and the interior of the museum was designed by Hayao Miyazaki himself using drawn storyboards, and I know he's a genius, but oh my God, when I think about the interior and the landscape of the museum, I have no words. Just like his films, there's a strong European architecture influence. Everything in the museum is intricately decorated, you know when I say that Japanese put art into everything, well, this one is taking that notion to the next level. I don't know if I have stressed this enough but I have no words, that's how amazing this place is. And let me tell you, I've never seen a more beautiful and elegant toilet in my life.

The first floor showcased different animation techniques. Be prepared to be enchanted and get some goosebumps. I looked at the display and suddenly I understood why I prefer the traditional animation than CG animation. The gallery is graced with Joe Hisaishi's amazing music. It really gave me that feeling of being transported in another world. Some displays are interactive, child and adults alike are welcome to play. It was so fun, it would surely bring out the child in you. The Saturn Theater features Ghibli short films, you can only watch once, the film I saw was Hoshi Wo Katta Hi. My only dilemma here was the absence of subtitle. I am not that fluent in Nihonggo. I did get the context of the film through the scenes and few familiar words I caught, but I still would want to understand everything.

The second floor features a mock-up animation studio to show how Ghibli animators work, this is also the part where artworks of Studio Ghibli films are exhibited. Another wing of the second floor is for the special exhibition. This year they are featuring "The Lens at Work In the Ghibli Forest". Basically it's a showcase of functions of lens and the magic they create. I was so fascinated and inspired by it, I started collecting small viewfinder toys (not to mention I own a view master and a stereoscope prior to this trip).

The third floor has the Museum Cafe, Mamma Aiuto (souvenir shop), Trihawk reading room/bookstore and surprise, surprise, the Tonari no Totoro catbus. It's still inside the museum, but this I couldn't resist taking a photo. The only disappointing part here is, adults are not allowed to get in or play with it. Strictly for kids only. How unfair is that?!? I heard there's for-adult version of this one somewhere in Tokyo, but I didn't really have the time to check it.

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I didn't get to taste the delicacies at the cafe because of the long queue, I didn't want to spend too much time waiting for my turn to buy food. But there was a hotdog and ice cream counter for express orders, I lifted all my diet restrictions for this trip so I settled with hotdog and ice cream.

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They do allow pictures outside the building, The most photographed part of the museum is probably the robot soldier, the sculpture in the middle of lush vegetation is perfect. There's also a replica of Laputa's floating block. It was cool, but it's the not really the best spot to hang out on a sunny day.

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The museum grounds view from the roof top

I didn't really anticipate spending too much and I was doing great the first 3 days until I entered Mamma Aiuto, the museum shop. A lot of Ghibli novelties here are not sold anywhere, Ebay sellers make a lot of money out of it, they mark up the prices too much. I figured, it's better to seize the opportunity to buy souvenirs. They were expensive but still cheaper than buying online. I bought cookies, t-shirt, a glow-in-the-dark Kodama flower vase, a stereoscope and of course a music box.

Princess Mononoke music box and a Kodama flower base (no flowers yet)

I wanted to stay longer but I had to go as it was getting late. I've already said it early on, but I'll say it again, this was my favorite experience in Japan, I highly recommend it to everyone, even if you are not a fan of Ghibli works or anime. As for me, I can't wait to go back!

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Kidd's Top 3 Tokyo Spots (Part 1 of 2)

First things first, a disclaimer - the title does not necessarily mean that these are my ultimate favorite spots in Tokyo, I can't really decide on that one yet when I haven't fully explored the metropolis, but when I decided to go to Tokyo this year, I immediately identified 3 destinations essential for my first visit. There are many places that I want to go to, but given the time and financial restriction that I had, I thought of 3 places that I MUST set my feet on at all cost. You might have thought that it would have been easier if I came up with a title that would describe the context of this post but the creative juice isn't really pouring right now, thus, a disclaimer.

Anyway, on to my top 3...

Tokyo Tower

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Tokyo Tower behind Zojoji Temple

I don't really want to start with negative stuff, but this needs to get out of the way. During my research, I've read a lot of bad reviews about Tokyo Tower. It's not because the place sucks, but because going in the observatory is expensive (JPY820 on the first deck and additional JPY600 on the second deck), and they are pretty reasonable (the reviews). I mean why would you spend that much when you can actually get a bird's eye view of the city at no cost. There are skyscrapers with open-to-public observatory deck for FREE. But, I'm no ordinary traveler, I don't just visit a site for it's beauty and historical importance. I also take pop culture references into consideration. Huge consideration, I must say. The main reason I wanted to go there was because I'm a huge fan of CLAMP and we all know that Tokyo Tower plays a significant role (landmark that is) not only on many works of CLAMP but other famous anime and manga like Please Save My Earth and Sailormoon, plus, Always Sanchome no Yuhi is one of my favorite films, there's no way I'm gonna miss it just because some budget conscious tourists think it's not worth the buck. Seeing it in my favorite movies and anime made me want to go there and recreate similar scenes. I also see Tokyo Tower as a symbol of the Japan's impressive rise to power after the devastation of World War II. It's just one of the many things I really admire about Japanese people.

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Always Sanchome No Yuhi is a nostalgic film about life at the time Tokyo Tower is being built

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Diorama display of the setting of Always Sanchome No Yuhi

There are lots of attractions inside the Tokyo Tower, at the base of the tower is a four-story building at the called Foot Town. There's an aquarium, wax museum, hologram gallery, and more. They have separate admission fees so I didn't try them. I only get to see souvenir shops and nothing really appealed to me. In the main observatory, there's a cafe, souvenir shop, a stage for musical performance with a DJ and you can request songs too, and a Shinto shrine. I tried the soft ice cream at the Cafe because I remember Sakura Kinimoto and friends having that when they went to Tokyo Tower. It's not bad, but I don't find it spectacular either.

Collaboration between Tokyo's night scene and music

Now let's talk about how I feel about my overall experience. Let me just stress the fact that I love Tokyo Tower. It's an impressive structure and I really think one must not miss it when going to Tokyo. But some things were missing and they could have made my first visit a perfect experience.  For one thing, there was an ongoing maintenance work. When the tower lights finally lit up, there was a portion unlit, so from afar, it looked like some sort of a gap. It kinda disappointed me.

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Beautiful but the gap was a disappointment

Another thing is, The place is a popular spot for couples. Being single doesn't really bother me, but sometimes, when I go to places that are obviously invaded by couples, I can't help feeling a little bit out of place and lonely. When I hopped in the elevator on the way up, I was accompanied by 4 couples, each pair was occupying each corner of the elevator, while I was in the middle all alone. At the observatory, seeing the city night lights shine like stars, again I can't help but think how romantic it would be to watch it with someone special.

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A Shinto Shrine inside the main observatory is said to be responsive to fulfillment of love and school success

But those things I mentioned were minor stuff. I will definitely definitely go back to Tokyo Tower someday. I would love to see it again in daytime and fully illuminated at night time. I'll have to think twice if I'd go inside the Foot Town and the observatory again. Maybe when I have more pocket money or if I have someone special with me hehehe.

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Tokyo Tower is celebrating its 55th year

Mount Fuji

Another disclaimer, Mt. Fuji is not really located in Tokyo, it lies about 100 km southwest of Tokyo, but it's part of my "Tokyo trip" and it is visible in the city on clear days. Now here's another huge symbol of Japan. I anticipated Mt. Fuji just as I anticipated Mt. Mayon last year. I kinda think of them like a pair of maternal twin sisters. I booked a day tour to Mt. Fuji through Japan's largest travel agency JTB. The package I got included a stop at Oshino Hakkai, Shiraito Falls and Shengen Taisha Shrine. This is the nature leg of my trip, I was really excited for this one, unfortunately, Typhoon Wipha made a landfall the same day my Mt. Fuji tour took place, it rained all day so it didn't turned out the way I anticipated it to be. Funny how I imagined Mt. Mayon to be Mt. Fuji when I was in Albay, but looking at the clearest image I got of Mt. Fuji, one can easily mistake it for the other. I wanted to see it with an ice cap, but the weather betrayed me.
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Summit view from Fifth Station

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The clearest picture I got

Mt. Fuji is divided into 10 stations, with the 10th station being the highest. The tourist buses can only go as far as fifth station. Climbers can go further but climbing season is only on summer (July-August) due to severe cold weather. At that time, the temperature in 5th station was 2°C, it may not be so much for some, but for someone living in a tropical country, that is COLD (the coldest I've ever been, in fact). Our tour guide, Emiko-san, told us, that if somebody questions us for claiming of having been to Mt. Fuji, we can always show our picture with the marker, and in my case, this is it:

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I may have not see Fujisan in its full glory, but I did get to enjoy it in other aspects. Ever wonder where the melted snow cap goes? Of course it goes down in all places and it is beautifully laid.

Oshino Hakkai is a set of (8) pristine fresh water springs of melted snow that has sunk into the ground over long years. It was absolutely gorgeous. A tranquil ambiance dominated the rain, the thatched roof farmhouses were lovely. A fine weather would have made a perfect experience.

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With Claire, a British woman who was traveling alone, some of my pics on the tour was taken by her

Another snowmelt fed site is the Shiraito Falls. It is said to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls of Japan. It is 200 m wide and 20 m tall. I love waterfalls, the bigger the better. I crave the idea of swimming in cold water, if only I could take a dip. But it's a protected area, I think they don't allow allow people to swim there.

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The last leg of the my Fujisan tour touched the religious aspect of the mountain. The Sengen Taisha shrine deifies Mt. Fuji itself, and its okumiya, or "inner shrine", is located at the very peak of the mountain. The main shrine is a registered important cultural property.

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Omikuji tied in a wire surrounding a Sakura tree to repel bad fortunes

Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha is located in Fujinomiya City in the southwestern foothills of Mount Fuji. Originally built over 1000 years ago for the protection from volcanic eruptions, it has become the region's most important shrine and the head shrine of over 1300 Sengen and Asama shrines (a type of Shinto Shrine centered on the worship of the god of volcanoes) nationwide. The grounds has about 500 Sakura trees and is a popular hanami spot during spring. I could have taken better pictures but I was already tired at the time and the weather started to intensify, also my camera's battery got drained so I switched to my phonecam, most of my pictures here are really not blogpost-material, but heck!

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Meet Yuu-chan, a very cute Akita dog, I couldn't resist

At the end of this tour, Claire asked me if I think I wasn't meant to see Mt. Fuji, all I said was, "I think I am meant to go back". Oh I will definitely go back, maybe I'll try another season, spring perhaps. I am not one with you yet Fujisan!

To be continued...