Tokyo Where to Go: Tokyo Dome City

The Tokyo area (let alone Japan) has so many must-see attractions, amusements and places to eat I worry that even if I stay here for years I won’t see them all. But last week I went out with a friend and  added another notch to my traveler’s bedpost: Tokyo Dome City.

I love this place. From the moment I stepped out of Korakuen station and saw a giant roller-coaster snaking its way among the Tokyo skyscrapers, I knew this was a fun place to be full of exciting things to do. The main attraction is (of course) the Tokyo Dome Stadium. Maybe it’s the white, egg-shaped dome, that reminds me so much of Toronto’s own stadium affectionately known as the Sky Dome, that makes me like the place so much.

Or maybe it’s the amusement park next to it. There is a little girl inside of me that will never grow up — a follower of the church of Peter Pan. And that girl loves the sight of a roller-coaster or carousel or Ferris wheel. And a roller-coaster that twists among the buildings, literally passing through a hole in the nearby LaQua shopping centre — how fantastical is that? With God as my witness, I will ride that roller-coaster!

Unfortunately the rides at the amusement park weren’t the focus of my trip that day, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a blast! It started out doing one of my favourtie things — eating good food — at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

 

It’s not exactly Japanese food: If you haven’t guessed from the name, this is a Forrest Gump themed restaurant. There’s a recreation of the famous bench outside, Forest Gump’s white suit is inside a display case, and they’ve got the movie playing on screens around the restaurant. When you sit down you’ll notice there’s a sign on the table that says “Run Forest Run,” to let waiters know to give you some space, but if you want their attention you just flip the sign up to say “Stop Forest Stop”. Genius right?

It’s a bit expensive, but what do you expect of a theme restaurant within an amusement park? Lunch (baked salmon and rice with shrimp) cost about 1200 yen, but it was a set that came with soup and a drink.

The food was actually pretty good, especially the garlic bread appetizer. If you like shrimp, this is a where to go.

We had to walk off all that food, so we took off for a leisurely stroll around Koishikawa Korakuen Garden. The word that comes to mind when I think of this beautiful garden is “wonderland”. It’s an oasis of calm and green right in the middle of the city. The trees shut out the noise and it’s so easy to lose yourself inside the secret world the garden creates. It made me want to play make believe, pretend I was a princess in a fantasy world.

I was really moved, and inspired by the by the fusion of art and nature, and I got camera happy. Would you like to see?

And I wasn’t the only one. We saw one couple dressed in kimono taking pictures with the pond and cranes as their backdrop.

I had a fantastic time at Tokyo Dome City, and I would go back in a heartbeat, especially to check out the Spa LaQua — a spa/hot spring inside the LaQua centre. The hot spring water is brought up from underneath the building. Sounds like a great way to relax after a fun-filled day exploring the thrills of Tokyo Dome City.

Eden is in Tokyo

As the weather gets cooler and I see more and more people outside in long sleeves and jackets I can no longer live in denial: summer is on it’s way out.

Lately the weather had been perfect. Not too hot with cloudless blue skies, and the kind of quality fresh air that’s like a fillet mignon for your lungs. I decided to visit the small but charming Mejiro Garden. Here are some pictures.

Mejiro Garden 1

Mejiro Garden 2

Mejiro Garden 3

Mejiro Garden 4

Mejiro Garden 5

Mejiro Garden 6

Mejiro Garden 7

Mejiro Garden 8

Thailand and the Fish that Ate My Feet

 

So back when I was in Thailand last month, some fish ate my feet.

It happened when my room mate, her good friend and me went to one of the famous “fish spas”, where a bunch of little fish with an inexplicable jonesing for dead human flesh will eat it all off of your feet if you give them a chance…which I did.

Dinner Time

First you have to wash your feet, and then you dunk them into a tub where hundreds of fish are swimming around. At the place I went to, there was a tub with small fish, and then you could work your way up to the tub with the bigger fish — although even the “bigger” fish weren’t that big. We’re not talking catch of the day or anything… that would be terrifying.

No, these are tiny little fish with tiny little sucker mouths, and the second I put my feet in the tub they were all over me like my feet were a cheesecake on the set of “The View”. Have you ever had your feet tickled? Oh my Lord I thought I would go mad from the sensation. I wanted to pull my feet out, but then they wouldn’t be baby soft, and my room mate said I would get used to it.

Sure enough, after a few minutes I was able to relax and enjoy being slowly but surely devoured. Until another customer showed up. The man walked in, said a few words to the dude at the door, then took off his shoes and socks. The three of us stared at his feet, then stared at each other in horror. He was going to put these discoloured, diseased-looking things into the tub with us. Oh no, Oh no no no….

The guy running the place must have seen the panic on our faces because he basically told the guy to get lost. I felt bad for old fungus-foot, but I also really did not want to catch whatever it was he had going on there. This story has a happy ending because I walked away on baby-soft feet sans horrible foot disease.

 

My Little Slice of Tokyo

I’m all moved in to my own apartment here in Tokyo and I’m pretty pleased with myself, I have to say.

I got a whole bunch of appliances for a fraction of their price at sayonara sales. For those who don’t know, a sayonara sale is the frantic garage sale expats in Japan put on before they leave in an attempt to unload all the stuff they’ve accumulated. See there’s a fee to dispose of big stuff like beds and shelves and appliances. A lot of the time people even give away appliances for free!

I still have a lot of work to do, but I’ve been skipping merrily through housewares stores in Japan picking out my perfect decor. It’s kind of a pain to get the stuff home on the train, (I almost dislocated my shoulders lugging home a microwave in a suitcase) but that is the level of my dedication to home decor.

My new neighborhood is quiet, and residential, but near some major shopping and entertainment meccas in Tokyo, so I feel like I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Here it is, my urban castle.

Let’s call this the before picture. If it looks small, that’s because it is. The price of living in central Tokyo. But just the fact that there’s room to walk around my bed means it instantly owns the other place.

 

The place came with a blue fridge, cool right? You  can also see the microwave that almost cost me my arms…literally.

 

Here's my ginormous kitchen. "Where's the stove?" You may be wondering. See that square thing holding up the frying pan? Yeah, that's it. I could buy a two burner plus grill range, but I don't really need it. I'd rather have precious counter top space.

And here's my cheerful orange bathroom. I made it orange because I hate getting up early, so I'm hoping the orange will be like a proverbial wake up slap.

Thailand and the Belch Therapy Massage

On my second night in Bangkok I went to get one of the Thai massages my room mate kept raving about.

“They’re only like, 200 baht ($6 dollars or 600 yen),” she’d say, “and it’s an hour long and they do such a good job.”

You’d think she worked for the Thai Tourism commission with all that endorsement, but I was curious, and the price was right. So that night we walked the strip of massage parlours, nail salons and Indian restaurants that led up to our hotel. We stopped at one where a delightfully friendly and obviously gay man waved us in.

“Come massage, it’s good! What kind massage you want?”

There was a good selection: Head and shoulder massage, foot massage, leg massage, aromatherapy…all for under 10 dollars –  both Canadian and U.S. We both went with the full body “Thai” massage. We were led inside, told to take off our shoes and given questionable plastic flip flops. It took us like five minutes to climb the stairs to the massage room because my room mate was trying to make as little contact with the flip flops as possible, walking like a cat whose claws had grown too long or something.

When we did finally get upstairs we were taken to the massage beds, separated by curtains. We had to undress and put on some flowy pajamas, which were comfortable. Then I lied down to wait for the masseuse. By this time I was really getting into it. The atmosphere was relaxing: the lights were low, and there was some soothing Dido playing in the background. My masseuse came and told me to relax, and began expertly massaging my calves, really working out all the kinks with just the right amount of pressure. When she worked her way up to my back I started to drift off. How could I not? The massage was soothing, the music soft and calm…I was experiencing extreme chill factor. So my eyes drifted closed, and then I heard it.

“BRAAAAP!”

My eyes snapped open. Was that…was that a belch? Everyone stated giggling. Apparently the back massage helps relieve gas, as someone on the other side of the room was demonstrating. We all had a good laugh and I got back to relaxing, but not long after my eyes closed again,

“BRAAAAP!”

Um, OK, that’s kinda nasty and distracting. I’m trying to relax over here. But I guess it can’t be helped. I’ll try to ignore it.

“BRAAP! BRAAP! BRAAAAAAAAP!

What is wrong with this person? Did they drink a whole two litre bottle of coke before coming here? Or maybe they have some kind of horrible gastrointestinal problem.  Dammit!

Yeah. The loud belching ruined to mood to say the least. But it was OK, since I went back a few more times after that and thankfully Belchy MacBelcherson wasn’t there.

 

 

 

 

Thailand and the Worst Toilet in the World

Bangkok and Tokyo are about as different as two cities can get, and yet when I arrived I felt a distinct sense of Deja Vu. It was culture shock again, it was the sense of embarking on a whole new adventure.

As soon as I exited the train station delicious smells drifted to my nose. There are so many food stalls and street restaurants lining the roads of Bangkok it’s like the whole city is one big wonderful buffet with an endless selection. I really love Thai food, so when I got a whiff of that sweet/sour/spicy aroma I had to smile, imaging the pigging-out that was to come. And pig out I did, but the funny thing is eating a concentrated amount of chilli peppers in a short amount of time has consequences, dire consequences…

But I’ll tell you more about that another time. First, gather ’round and I shall tell you a tale, of the worst toilet in the world (probably). I encountered this masterpiece of waste management engineering after a great meal at a street restaurant on what my room mate called “the food street”.  I ordered beer with dinner and instead of the usual bottle they brought this huge bottle that I had to drink on my own, because my room mate doesn’t like beer. So I chugged it back and not long after I felt “the need”.  When I asked for the bathroom the waitress led me to a dingy little alcove where a man was washing dishes — that was when my misgivings began.

Thai Street Food

The food that led to the beer that led to...the toilet...

“Sorry, sorry,” he said as he scurried out  and I walked through the puddles of water on the floor to a door in the corner, opened it, and froze. In the middle of a soppy floor made of dingy blue tiles was a little hole. The room had that gas-station-piss scent and there was no flush in sight. God, this was going to be just horrible but I really, really had to go. So I prayed to the gods of sanitation, dropped my pants and got into squat formation. A little white lizard peeped at me from the wall while I went and I nervously eyed a big spider web. Finally, the longest pee in history was over and I got out of the as quick as possible, only stopping to furtively wash my hands.  And toilet paper? What do you think this is? No, that was one luxury I  had to do without. On the bright side, using the squat toilets in Tokyo is now a walk in the park.

Look out for more posts about my exciting and enlightening trip to Thailand.

 

 

My Secret Tokyo Paradise

Shimokitazawa

Everyone needs a place they can escape to when that ruthless steamroller called life has left you flattened on the sidewalk. For me, this place isn’t a peaceful temple with a quietly gurgling fountain, or a park with a path lined with bamboo trees.An Alley in Shimokitazawa

One of my favourite places to unwind in Tokyo is loud, flashy and busy, yet intimate too. It’s a trendy neighbourhood you’ve probably never heard of unless you live here. It doesn’t have the claims to fame of Shibuya, Shinkuku or Harujuku, but what it lacks in notoriety it makes up for in sheer charm. The area consists of one bustling main street that splits off into numerous skinny alleys that beg to be explored. There’s a vibrant, artistic and bohemian energy about the place that never fails to bring me back to life. It’s chilling on the cute designs decorating the doors of closed shops.

Door Design in Shimokitazawa

It’s glowing at you from the neon signs and the lanterns that line the streets.  It’s dancing in your ears as the laughter of impeccably dressed Japanese youth lounging on a bar patio. It’s tickling your nose as the smell of Japanese curry, Italian pasta and Thai soup.

I’m talking about Shimokitazawa, where you can always find a talented young musician on a street corner looking for, and often finding, an appreciative audience. That is, before they move on to live performances at one of the many clubs in the area. If you’re looking for up-and-coming J-talent, this is where you need to be.

Club 251

Cute accessories store in Shimokitazwa Tokyo

If it’s fashion that sets your heart racing, Shimokitazawa has — hands down — two of the cutest accessories stores I’ve ever seen. And there are quite a few second-hand clothing stores where you can get really stylish stuff for less than half of what you would normally pay. Trust me when I say you’ll lose hours browsing these places.

 

 

Or if you like games, there are blaring, colourful arcades that beckon you inside with their beeps, clicks and dings, promising fame and glory if you can beat the latest high score. Or you can try your luck at winning a prize in one of the game centres. I’ve seen everything from stuffed animals to cookware to perfume in these machines. I haven’t had much luck, in fact there’s an adorable teddy bear I’ve so far spent 2000 yen (about $20) trying to win with no success, but don’t let that stop you. After all, the chase is half the fun! And there are of course the obligatory pachinko parlours sprinkled around the place, for those who want to trust their fortunes to lady luck.

One day, Rilakkuma, you and I will be together.

The restaurants and bars in Shimokitazawa are some of the most exciting and beautifully designed I’ve ever seen, and judging by the crowds inside the food is just as enticing. Whatever you’re craving you’ll probably find it here. There’s traditional Japanese, Thai, Italian, and even a jerk chicken stall tucked away in a corner, with smooth reggae beats playing as customers sit at outdoor tables while a blue disco ball flashes over them.

In fact, disco balls seem to be a theme here, but you won’t hear me complaining because somehow, in Shimokitazawa, it works.

 

 

This post is part of the July 2011 J-Festa “Places in Japan”, over at Japingu.

The Cherry Blossom Post

Well, I said I was gonna do it. Didn’t I say I would do it? Well I did it! I experienced the delicate, tragic beauty of cherry  blossom season in Japan.

It was a close call, as I’d left the country only a week before cherry blossom season began, but I’m really glad I came back in time. I think cherry blossom season was extra special this year, because Hanami and the beauty of the sakura really helped relieve some of the stress we’ve all been feeling in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake. It helped us remember there are still things to look forward to and enjoy here. It’s harder to feel down around so much beauty.

Spring is here and it’s more than welcome!

 

Hanami in the Park

The sun peeks through the sakura trees

Sakura City!

What a gorgeous sight. I like the way the trees make an arc, like a gateway.

Sakura Arc

I love how pretty and pink these ones are

Shadowy Sakura

I like the shadowy feel in this one.

Dark and Light Sakura

Great contrast here between the dark and light blossoms.

Sakura Tree Super Model

There's something very regal and haughty about this tree, like she belongs in a pretentious asian-themed restaurant in Manhattan, even though she doesn't have many blossoms. I like it!