Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Visiting One Piece themed places in Tokyo.

If you are a fan of One Piece, and are planning to make the trip to Tokyo, then here is a 2 day suggested itinerary for you to consider.



Day 1: J-World / Nakano Broadway / Mugiwara store

J-World
J-World (Sunshine City at Ikebukuro)
<<Go to my visit to J-World back in Oct 2013>>
J-world is an indoor themed attraction inside Sunshine City shopping mall. It has attractions (and themed food) for mainly One Piece, Naruto and Dragonball. 



Nakano Broadway
Between Nakano Broadway and Akihabara, I somehow prefer to go Nakano Broadway if I want to look for One Piece related collectables. I was so lost when I was at Akihabara and didn't really know which stores to go to look for One Piece stuffs. That said, if you were to do your research online beforehand and would rather go Akihabara over Nakano Broadway, then by all means go ahead. :)

When you reach Nakano Broadway, you would probably be surprised to find that the shops on the ground level do not sell anime products, so for a moment you might think you have gone to the wrong place. Fret not, the shops that you would be looking for are on the 2nd level.


Mugiwara store
Mugiwara store (Shibuya Parco Part 1, 6F)
<<Go to my visit to Mugiwara store back in Dec 2012>>
This is the official One Piece store, located about 7mins walk from Shibuya station. 
They sell a wide variety of One Piece products here, t-shirts, keyboard, figurines, stationary...and more.


Directions:
(I will use Tokyo station as the starting point for these 2 days since this is the most centralized station in Tokyo. 
All you need to do is to figure out how to get from your hotel to Tokyo station and you will be able to follow my directions to get to these places.)
- Tokyo station to Ikebukuro station via Tokyo Metro Marunouchi line subway (17mins, 200yen)
- Walk about 10mins from Ikebukuro station to Sunshine City shopping mall.
- Visit J-World indoor themed attraction (opens 1000-2200hr, 800yen admission)
- Walk about 10mins back to Ikebukuro station.
- Ikebukuro station to JR Shinjuku station via JR Yamanote Loop line (6mins journey)
- JR Shinjuku station to Nakano station via JR Chuo line (5-7mins, Ikebukuro to Nakano costs 170yen)
- Walk 5mins from Nakano station to visit Nakano Broadway (stores usually open from 1200-2000hr)
- Nakano station to JR Shinjuku station via JR Chuo line (5-7mins)
- JR Shinjuku station to Shibuya station via JR Yamanote Loop line (6mins, Nakano to Shibuya costs 170yen)
- Walk about 7mins from Shibuya station to Shibuya Parco Part 1 building (6th Floor). 
- Shibuya station to Tokyo station via JR Yamanote Loop line (23mins, 200yen)




Day 2: Tokyo One Piece Tower, Jump store, Baratie restaurant
Tokyo Tower
Tokyo One Piece Tower (at Tokyo Tower)
This is a new One Piece attraction in Tokyo, located at the base of Tokyo Tower. 
It will be opened in the spring of 2015 (13 March 2015).



photo taken from Baratie's website
Baratie restaurant (Fuji TV building at Odaiba)
Baratie is a One Piece themed restaurant located at Odaiba. 
I've yet to have the chance to visit Baratie restaurant though.


Tokyo station's Jump store
<<Go to my visit to Tokyo station's Jump store back in March 2013>>
Jump shop sells products from different Shonen Jump mangas, such as One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Dragonball, Slam Dunk...etc... 
They have a few different outlets scattered across Japan. 
For Tokyo, they have 1 outlet at Tokyo station, and 1 at Tokyo Dome City.

Directions:
- Tokyo station to Hamamatsucho station via JR Yamanote Loop line (5mins, 160yen)
- Walk 5mins from Hamamatsucho to Daimon station
- Daimon station to Akabanebashi station via Toei Subway Oedo line (2mins, 180yen)
- Walk 5mins from Akabanebashi station to Tokyo Tower.
- Visit Tokyo One Piece Tower attraction at Tokyo Tower (opens on 13 March 2015)
- Walk 7mins from Tokyo Tower to Kamiyacho station
- Kamiyacho station to Ebisu station via Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line (9mins, 170yen)
- Ebisu station to Tokyo Teleport station via JR Saikyo/Rinkai line (17mins, 330yen)
- Walk 5mins to Fuji TV building
- Eat at Baratie restaurant (located at Fuji TV building at Odaiba)
- You can probably also visit nearby Divercity shopping mall for the life-sized Gundam if you want.
- Walk 5mins to Tokyo Teleport station
- Tokyo Teleport station to Shin-Kiba station via Rinkai Line (7mins, 270yen)
- Shin-Kiba station to Tokyo station via JR Keiyo Line (10mins, 170yen).
- Visit Jump shop at Tokyo station basement's character street.




-----------------------------

Although there are quite a number of One Piece related attractions within Tokyo area, however, my favourite is one that is located outside of Tokyo. 
It is Huis Ten Bosch in Kyushu (about 7 to 8hrs by train from Tokyo, or 2hrs domestic flight).
If you happen to visit Kyushu, then you wouldn't want to miss boarding Thousand Sunny for a short cruise. 

Thousand Sunny at Huis Ten Bosch in Kyushu

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A guide on planning your 1st Free and Easy trip to Japan

Many people might think that it is difficult to plan your own Free and Easy trip to Japan, especially if you don't understand any Japanese.

However, with the many available informative websites out there, planning your own trip might be easier than you thought it would be.

Since I've been getting emails from people planning their 1st trip to Japan, so here is just to share how I go about planning my trips:


1) Decide which season would I want to visit Japan for my upcoming trip. 
Generally speaking, March to May is considered Spring, June to August is considered Summer, September to November is considered Autumn, and Dec to Feb is considered Winter.

Sakura (cherry blossoms) at Ueno park
If you want a moderate climate and wishes to see Sakura, then I'd go recommend going Japan sometime between late March to 1st week of April (for cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto).
Since it is difficult to gauge the exact blooming dates, so this period quoted here is just a guide line as an average.
Occasionally, for example my March 2013 trip, sakura bloomed 2 weeks earlier than average (16 March), so I was lucky to be able to caught the peak blooming period since I was already at Tokyo in mid March.

Scenic train at Arashiyama Kyoto
Summer time in Japan is usually when there are matsuri (festivals), and is also a good time to catch the popular Lavender blooms at Furano in Hokkaido.  
My only time visiting Japan during summer was in July 2011 and I found the weather to be really hot and humid, kinda like how Singapore's sunny days are like.
Which is why from then on, I choose to only visit Japan in Spring, Autumn, and Winter...because I preferred a more cooling (or freezing cold) weather over scorching hot weather.

Autumn at Sapporo's Hokkaido University
For Autumn season, it is a good time to catch the beautiful reds and yellow colors of autumn leaves (usually from mid Nov to 1st week Dec for Tokyo/Osaka/Kyoto), especially if you are into photography.
However, bear in mind that this is also typhoon season.
So if you are planning to visit Japan during between Aug to Nov, please check Japan's weather website for any upcoming typhoon's info.
Usually, if typhoon happens to pass by an area, most of the train lines will be suspended, until the typhoon passes by.
I once encountered typhoon when I was at Kyoto, so I just spent a couple hours shopping at indoor shopping mall while the typhoon passes by. By the time I left the shopping mall, the rain had already became slight drizzle.
November (esp late November) for Kyoto is an extremely popular destination due to autumn season, therefore, expect hotel rates to be more expensive for this period, as well as most of the hotels would be fully booked way in advanced.

Winter scene at Hokkaido
Winter is probably my favourite time to visit Japan. 
Since we don't have any snow in Singapore, so I prefer going to Japan during winter to play with snow and experience snow activities.
However, it is not guaranteed to see snow in places like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto though, since these places are known to only experience snow rarely.
If you really want to see snow, best bet is go places like Hokkaido, Tohoku, and some parts of Niigata, Nagano and Gifu (Takayama/Shirakawago) during late Dec to end Feb.
My visits to Japan during winter season are back in Dec 2010, Feb 2012, Dec 2012, Feb 2014, and upcoming Jan 2015.



2) Look out for good airfare deals

Once I have decided which season to visit Japan, I'd start to keep a lookout for any promo deals for airfares.
Every couple of days, I'd go check out websites of airlines like Singapore Air, ANA, JAL, Delta, Scoot, Jetstar...etc...to see if they have any promotions going on.

Once the flights are booked, then comes the start of hotel booking process.



3) Booking of accommodations 
There are various types of accommodations in Japan, which can be catered to different types of budgets.
A private room with shared toilet facilities where I stayed in Sep 2012 at Rakuza guesthouse in Kyoto.
If you are on a tight budget, and don't mind staying at backpacker's hotels, hostels, guesthouses with shared toilet facilites (usually there will be a toilet at every floor of the building), then you can usually be able to get cheaper accommodations. 
You can find some of these accommodations on this list which I've compiled some time back.

The Toyoko-Inn hotel room which I've stayed at in Tottori in Oct 2013
However, if you want a private room with your own toilet in your room, then the most common budget hotels are business hotels, usually run by hotel chains like Toyoko-Inn, Super Hotel, Chisun Inn, Smile Hotels...etc... Their rooms are usually pretty small, but they are fairly inexpensive.

Keio Plaza hotel at Tokyo where I stayed during my March 2013 trip
If you are willing to spend a more for a more spacious room, then there are hotel chains like Washington Hotels, Sunroute Hotels, as well as the other international hotel brands like Hilton, Hyatt, and etc...

Our room at Nakajimaya ryokan at Nozawa onsen in Nagano during our Dec 2012 trip.
Other than regular hotels, you should also try to at least stay 1 overnight at a ryokan (Japanese traditional inn) with hotspring.  These are usually more expensive than the usual hotels because they often come with dinner as well as breakfast.

Capsule hotel Kua House at Kobe where I stayed during my Sep 2012 trip.
Or for something different, you could try 1 of the capsule hotels? But do take note that most capsule hotels are only available to men, and they don't accept female guests at all. However, there are some which do allow women to stay overnight. I'm a female and I've stayed at Kua House capsule hotel in Kobe before (note: they don't speak much English here though since they are catered mainly to domestic Japanese tourists), and I will also be staying overnight at nine hours capsule hotel at Narita airport on my upcoming Japan trip next month.  First cabin is another "capsule" like concept but more spacious than the regular capsule.

I also use websites like Booking.com, Japanican, Rakuten, and Jalan.net to do a search for hotels.



4) Deciding on where to go
For starters, japan-guide's wesite is a good place to start off with. You can find tonnes of information about the various places in Japan, including directions on how to get there, operating hours, railpasses info...etc.  I use this website alot when planning my trips.

The different areas in Japan also have their own tourism/travel websites, with more detailed info regarding their respective prefectures.
Here are some examples of the various websites:
Hokkaido, SapporoTohoku, SendaiNaganoTokyo, Yokohama, Fuji Five LakesHakone, KanazawaGifuOsaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Hiroshima, Shikoku, Kyushu, Okinawa...

One website which I like to use to check out festival/events details is the japan-attractions website. Just enter the dates of your trip, and you will see a list of events (illuminations, fireworks, workshops, festivals, exhibitions...etc) happening during that period of time.

1 problem with many 1st time travellers to Japan planning their own trip is that they tend to overpack their schedule with too many places to visit, thus having to keep rushing around so as to be able to visit more places within 1 day.
I do not recommend doing this because sometimes a location looks near on the map, but when you start walking in reality, it might be further than you think.
You might also come across interesting shops/cafes which you would be tempted to visit along the way, but if your itinerary is too tight, you might be less willing to enter to explore since you have to keep to the schedule and thus, missing out on certain things which you might otherwise enjoy.

Here are some other guides which I've posted previously, hope these might be informative too.



5) Planning transportation details for travel within Japan.
If you plan to travel long distance between 2 cities (eg. between Tokyo and Osaka), then you have the usual 3 options. Domestic flights, trains or buses.
My domestic flight on Peach from Osaka Kansai Airport to Hokkaido's New Chitose airport during my Oct 2013 trip
For domestic flights, the more commonly known flights are the ones operated by ANA and JAL. However, other than those 2 airlines, there are also a few other domestic airlines which you can consider. They are Skymark, Peach, Airdo and Jetstar.

Shinkansen (bullet train)
However, my favourite way of travelling within Japan, is by trains. Japanese trains are extremely punctual, comfortable, and convenient. 
I usually just buy 1 of the Japan Rail (also known as JR pass) passes and then take Shinkansen (bullet train) over long distances all across Japan, and then subways/local trains within each city/town.

Other than the nationwide-valid JR Passes, there are also other cheaper versions which has less coverage than the nationwide version. Here is a list of the various railpasses.

JR Pass
Although most of the railpasses can be purchased when you arrive at Japan, however, some of them, especially the nationwide JR pass have to be purchased from OUTSIDE of Japan.
They don't sell that particular railpass in Japan. Here is a list of places where you can purchase the exchange order for the nationwide JR Pass.
I believe there are also some websites which sells this railpass online, but I've not personally used these websites to make my purchase before.
I usually go to either JTB or Pricebreakers or Prime Follow Me Japan offices in Singapore to get mine.

Even though the trains within major cities like Sapporo, Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka have pretty frequent train departure timings (usually 1 train every 5-15mins or so), but in many parts of Japan, it is common to find that there is only 1 train departing every hourly or even every couple of hours.
Which is why, I cannot stress enough the importance of planning your itinerary for your train journeys.

For this, I use the hyperdia website for checking train schedules, durations, frequency...
If you are kinda lost on how to use this website, JPRail website posted a guide on how to use the hyperdia website which you can take a look at.

Long distance buses and overnight buses is a good option for those on a budget but are planning to travel long distance between major cities. The Willer Express is 1 bus company which I find that's popular with foreign tourists.



6) Data usage on your mobile phone
I used the Bmobile's 1gb data-only SIM card for my Sep 2012 trip
On my 1st visit back in 2010, I assumed that it would be relatively easy for me to find free wifi signal in Japan, but I was wrong.
Some times, even if the hotel states that they have wifi, but you might only get wifi signal only at their lobby area. Other times, even if they assure us that the rooms have wifi signal, but all I could get was weak (and intermittent) wifi signals from the room.
While out walking, it is also not that easy to find free wifi whenever you want to.

Therefore, from my 2nd trip to Japan onwards, either my hubby or myself will always get a data-only SIM card to use.
Since these are data-only SIM cards, so you cannot make/receive voice calls.
If that is an issue, u can just rent a portable wifi router or just rent a phone.

Here are some websites where you can get data-only SIM cards and/or rent portable wifi routers or rental phones:
- Bmobile
- eConnect
- PuPuRu
- So-net



Hopefully, this guide is able to be of some help to those who are planning their trip to Japan for the first time.

Would be good if you could let me know if this guide have helped you in any way, as well as if there's any other information which you wished I could have included in this post.

Enjoy your trip!  :)



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Penang (Sep 2014): Day 5 & 6 KL, KL to Singapore

Day 5 (28/9/2014): Kuala Lumpur


Link to other posts for this trip:
Day 1 & 2 Singapore to KL, KL to Penang
Day 3 Penang
Day 4 Penang
Day 5 & 6 KL, KL to Singapore

(Itinerary for this day)
0540 Arrival at KL Sentral station
0600 Checked in at hotel, and rested in the room.
1200-1215 Took taxi from hotel to Mid Valley Megamall
1215-1645 Lunch and Shopping at Mid Valley Megamall
1645-1700 Took taxi back to hotel
1700 onwards, relax at hotel room.

Even though I was hoping that our train will arrive at KL Sentral station late (because arriving at 0540am would be way too early for attractions/shops to be opened), I was surprised that the train actually arrived pretty much on schedule at KL Sentral station.

So, even though our hotel for the night (Aloft hotel) is conveniently located just opposite KL Sentral station, but with my past experiences with hotels is that most hotels usually don't allow check in that early. 

Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised that we were able to check-in to our hotel room at around 6plus in the morning, even though it was a slightly cheaper room on a lower floor. By then, both of us were pretty tired due to not having a good sleep from the overnight train ride, so I happily agreed to the "downgrade" to a lower floor room (even though the room size is the same) in order for us to be able to immediately check-in as opposed to waiting for an available room located on a higher floor.

Mother-in-law loved the room, since the room was pretty spacious and the beds were really comfy. 
I volunteered to go out and buy some breakfast back while she takes a shower. 






Since it was only 6am plus, so only McDonald's was opened at KL Sentral station (since I assumed that the shops at NU Sentral shopping mall would still be closed) and that's what I got for our breakfast.

Had a relaxing time eating breakfast while watching tv in our room, and then we subsequently dozed off for a nap. lol. Even though she woke up around 10am, but she very thoughtfully let me continued to sleep since I was sleeping really soundly. It was nearly 12noon by the time I finally woke up. 




I hurriedly went to change, and we head out to catch a short 10mins cab ride to Midvalley megamall to do some shopping as well has have our lunch.

First stop, lunch. Since mother-in-law didn't had any preference (and she knows I'm the fussy eater), so she let me choose where to eat. I chose Thai food. Had a nice and not too expensive Thai meal at a Thai cuisine restaurant at Midvalley megamall. 




After a couple hours of shopping where I finally found a bag for myself as well as some souvenirs for my hubby and sister-in-law, we decided to head back to the hotel since we had already gotten our fill of shopping and eating for this trip already. KL was more of a stop for us to take a break rather than shopping and exploring. 

So it was early evening when we took a cab back to our hotel. Bought some dinner from NU Sentral shopping mall back to our hotel room to eat, and then called it a night.


Day 6 (29/9/2014): Kuala Lumpur to Singapore


(Itinerary for this day)
1200-1300 Lunched at NU Sentral.
1300-1400 Collected our luggage, went to buy some snacks and lunch for the train ride.
1445 Train departed from KL Sentral station
Around 1600 Train stopped for nearly 4hrs due to engine problems.
Around 1950 Train resumed.
Around 0115 Arrival at Singapore's Woodlands checkpoint railway station (originally supposed to arrive around 9pm plus)


Had a good sleep, and woke up late morning to have early lunch at 1 of the restaurants at NU Sentral. Since I didn't really enjoyed the food, so I won't blog much about it.


After lunch, we went back to the hotel to collect our luggage and buy some snacks and food for our long train ride back to Singapore. 

This train which we took was EXTREMELY COLD. Kinda like the one which we took from KL Sentral to Butterworth a couple days ago. My mother-in-law used 1 of the sofa seat covers which she bought in Penang to cover my arms while I was asleep as it looked like I was shivering (and I was wearing a cardigan as well!).

The premier seats carriage which I was in. Seems to be a newer one than the other Premier carriage on the same train.

My seat. The legroom was extremely spacious. My legs nearly couldn't reach the foot rests in front.

The other Premier carriage. Seems to be an older version since the seats looked worn. I think it is probably depends on luck as to whether your cabin is a new or old version. I wasn't able to see any indication of it when making my booking.
The regular (and cheaper) seats. Seems pretty comfy too. 

toilets.








 About 1 and half hours into the train journey (around 4pm), the train stopped. No one seems to know what's going on, as the train just stopped in the middle of nowhere. It was more than 1hr later then we heard from some staff that there was some issues with the engine, so they are waiting for another one to be sent from KL. 

Stopped for 4hrs in the middle of nowhere while waiting for anther engine to be sent from KL.

Therefore, it was about 4hrs later at around 1950hr when the train finally started to move again. 

In the end, it was about 1:15am when we arrived at Singapore, when we should have arrived around 9pm. That's a 4hrs delay.

All in all, had an enjoyable trip with my mother-in-law


Link to other posts for this trip:
Day 1 & 2 Singapore to KL, KL to Penang
Day 3 Penang
Day 4 Penang
Day 5 & 6 KL, KL to Singapore


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Penang (Sep 2014): Day 4 Penang, Butterworth to KL.

Day 4 (27/9/2014): Penang, Butterworth to KL


Link to other posts for this trip:
Day 1 & 2 Singapore to KL, KL to Penang
Day 3 Penang
Day 4 Penang
Day 5 & 6 KL, KL to Singapore


(Itinerary for this day)
Visited Clan Jetties of Penang.
Walked through Lebuh Armenian street.
Had lunch at Joo Hooi Cafe
Shopped at Komtar and Prangin Mall
Took taxi to hotel to collect luggage, then to ferry terminal.
2040-2100 Took ferry to Butterworth
2150-0540 Butterworth station to KL Sentral station


Since our train from Butterworth to KL Sentral is in the night time, so we practically had almost an entire day to spend at Penang before we had to go catch our ferry to Butterworth.

For breakfast, we went to a coffeeshop near our hotel where I finally managed to have a decent bowl of Hokkien Mee (since I wasn't too satisfied with the one which I had for dinner the night before). 


Our Breakfast. I don't take beansprouts and don't like meehoon, so my bowl is a "plainer" version.






 After breakfast, we ended up walking to Chew Jetty where I felt my mother-in-law might like that place...and I was right. She enjoyed the rustic and "kampung" feel of the place. 
Since I wasn't sure where exactly was the entrance to the Chew Jetty, so I followed a group of Japanese tourists whom I assumed were also heading for the same place...and yup, finally managed to find the entrance. :)

The entrance to Chew Jetty 
 Many households are still living here till this day, and often, they sell souvenirs and drinks in front of their home. 
Advisable for you to bring along a hat when u visit Penang since it's pretty hot and humid.














Used to play with these when I was young.


 After visiting the jetty, we just followed the crowd and walked down Lebuh Armenian street. 
Found some street art as well as some pretty interesting shops too.










Muah Chee








Since it was getting closer to the time where we had to check out of our hotel room, so we decided to head back to our hotel for a quick shower before checking out of the room.

Although we could have walked to Joo Hooi Cafe from our hotel, but it would probably take us about 25mins to walk there under the scorching sun. So we took a cab there instead.

Joo Hooi cafe is a popular coffee shop with foreign tourists, and is located along Jalan Penang. Expect long queues (especially for their chendol stall and Char Koay Teow stall) for both food and table.


Chendol stall outside Joo Hooi cafe
Lunch at Joo Hooi cafe

Yeah, it was packed

Char Koay Teow stall


Chendol.
What my mother-in-law had...think it was some sort of meehoon. Can't remember.

Lor Bak (again)

Char Koay Teow for me (yes, again)
 Since we were still planning to look for some souvenirs to buy for my hubby and brother-in-law, so we decided to head for the shopping mall for some light shopping as well as to enjoy the aircon since we have a long overnight train journey ahead of us later in the night.

First, we headed for Komtar...to be honest, between Komtar and Prangin Mall, I prefer Prangin Mall since the shops there had more variety and the building seems newer too.
Back at Prangin Shopping mall.
 We enjoyed the snow ice which we had the previous day so much, that we came back again for a second round. :)
I think this was mango snow ice

Chocolate snow ice. The darker bits tastes like oreo.


My dinner at Prangin mall
 Around 7plus in the evening, we managed to take a taxi from Prangin shopping mall back to our hotel to pick up our luggage, and then head for ferry terminal.
I believe we boarded the ferry around 8:40pm and arrived at Butterworth around 9pm.

Upon arrival at Butterworth train station, we were being directed (follow the directional signs) to a somewhat makeshift waiting area with some seats and toilet facilities to wait for the announcement of the arrival of our train. 
Waiting room at Butterworth train station.
But when the train's departure time starts to approach, we still didn't managed to hear any announcements, so we followed some Malaysian passengers out to see if we could find out our train platform number.  Since my mother-in-law speaks a little malay, so she managed to ask for the platform number from another fellow passenger, so we then went to look for the train platform, where we then managed to board the waiting train. Along the way, I used what little japanese I know to help explain the direction to the train to a Japanese couple who seemed pretty lost. 


It would be morning 5:40am the following morning when we arrive at KL Sentral station.


Link to other posts for this trip:
Day 1 & 2 Singapore to KL, KL to Penang
Day 3 Penang
Day 4 Penang
Day 5 & 6 KL, KL to Singapore