March 14, 2012

Staying at a Capsule Hotel

Visiting Tokyo is not cheap. A cheap room barely larger than a closet in a business hotel might cost $6oUSD, depending on what part of town you stay in.

One option for visiting on the cheap is to stay at a capsule hotel. It’s a bit difficult to plan because few capsule hotels have English websites. Also, many capsule hotels do not allow women. The number of places that allow women is on the rise but still accounts for only a fraction of capsule hotels.

I stayed at a capsule hotel in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo for a few nights in November. The hotel had a women only floor.It was not the most glamorous place to stay, but at 2,200 yen (~$28USD) a night, it was cheaper than most other accommodations.

Front desk of the hotel. I had to check in every night and check out every morning. They did not allow me to leave my luggage in the capsule, even though I was staying in the same place. Check-out was 9:30 am. An alarm went off at 9 am every morning and then someone would come onto the PA system to inform us that we must leave within the next 30 minutes.

Inside the capsule. Just enough room to crawl around and have my suitcase sit next to my futon while I sleep. They provide linens and a yukata (summer kimono).

See more pictures after the jump.



February 1, 2012


Nikko is a city in Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo, famous for several well-known shrines and temples. 2 shrines and 1 temple are collectively a UNESCO world heritage site.

At Tobu Nikko Station. In early December, there was still a surprising amount of fall foliage to be seen.

The first stop on my World Heritage tour was Rinnoji temple.

Outside Rinnoji temple.

Rinnoji temple is currently being restored, so there is a plastic shell with a picture of what the temple will look like covering the real temple. You can still go inside during restoration.

More pictures after the jump (more…)

January 22, 2012

Asakusa at Night

During my visit to Tokyo in late November/early December, I stayed in Asakusa. I had previously only been to Asakusa during the day, so it was interesting to see the area at night. The main tourist attraction in Asakusa is the Sensoji temple and the shopping street leading up to the temple, Nakamise street. During the day, the temple and shopping area are swamped with tourists.  But at night, the shops are shuttered and the people are gone. The temple is still lit-up and the area feels quite peaceful.

Sensoji temple at night. Not a soul to be found.

Nakamise Street with all the shops shuttered.

Multilingual sign for the women's toilet.

Kaminari gate at night

January 20, 2012

Tokyo Sky Tree Rising

The Tokyo Tower (which looks rather similar to the Eiffel tower, but is slightly taller at 333 m and a different color, red) has been a symbol of Tokyo for decades. But there is a new tower coming onto the scene. It’s called the Tokyo Sky Tree and it is currently under construction near Asakusa. When completed it will be 634m tall. 634 may seem like a random number, but it’s not. One way to pronounce the numbers 6, 3, and 4 is Musashi. Musashi (武蔵の国) is the name of the ancient province that included present day Tokyo. The Sky Tree will be used as a communications tower and have two observations decks. The tower is scheduled to open in February 2012. I took the following photographs in late November 2011.

The Tokyo Sky Tree in the distance behind one of the buildings of Asakusa's Sensoji temple.

The Sky Tree next to another Asakusa landmark, the Asahi Beer HQ

It took me about 40 minutes to leisurely stroll from Asakusa to the Sky Tree.

January 19, 2012

Kit Kat Flavors 5

There are almost always new and interesting Kit Kat flavors for sale in Japan.

Gateau du Mont-Blanc flavor Kit Kats. Found at my local Convenience store. Made with "marron" (chestnut) flavoring.

Strawberry Hazelnut flavor Kit Kats. Found at my local convenience store.

Cookies & Cream flavor Kit Kats. Found at my local convenience store.

More flavors after the jump. (more…)

January 18, 2012


On a trip to Tokyo last month, I came across an interesting word that I had never heard before. The word is “smork” and I saw it twice.

The first time was at a small bakery/cafe and the word “smork” was written on a sign taped to the table that my friend and I were sitting at.

No Smorking allowed!

The second instance of “smork” was found at a clothing store inside Shinjuku Station. In fact, the store is called “Smork by Language.”

Smork by Language, a clothing store in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

I believe the only explanation for this is that the owners of the bakery have some sort of dispute with the clothing store owners. Anyone have any other guesses? 😉

January 12, 2012

Lake Biwa, Japan’s Largest Lake

Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) is the biggest freshwater lake in Japan. It is in Shiga prefecture, not too far from Kyoto.  Having grown up around the great lakes, when I hear “largest lake,” I imagine something pretty big. When you stand on the shore of any of the great lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, or Ontario), you can’t see the opposite shore. The lakes are enormous. Even the smallest of them, Lake Erie, would talk about 11 hours to drive around. (According to Google Maps. I looked up Buffalo, NY to Toledo, OH to Detroit, MI to Buffalo, NY and Google told me it would take 10 hours and 59 minutes.)

But looking at Lake Biwa last month, I was disappointed to see that even Japan’s largest lake is not large enough for the opposite shore to remain unseen. And a similar search on Google Maps told me that it would talk only 4 hours and 15 mins to drive around the lake, even though the drive around Lake Erie was mostly on highways and much of the drive around Lake Biwa was on local roads (with much lower speed limits).

Still, despite my disappointment about the size of the lake, it was very beautiful. I took these pictures about an hour after sunrise.

See that shore in the distance?

Built-up shore of Lake Biwa

The sky and water seems to fade into one color.

January 10, 2012

Anything Asian Restaurant?

Filed under: Cuisine, Domestic, Food, Tokyo places, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 12:55 am

Seen in Kameido in Tokyo. This is what happens when you can’t decide what country’s cuisine you’d like your restaurant to serve and rather than making a decision, you just toss everything in at once. This place seems quite a bit confused.

Asian food from all over Asia. The sign claims that the food is made by chefs hailing from Asia! How does the food look to you?

The countries/regions represented are Nepal, India, Tibet, Thailand, and Vietnam. It turns out that all these places have differnt cuisines. So... do they have chefs from each place on working at all times during open hours?

December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from Tokyo

Filed under: Domestic, Tokyo places, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 1:10 am

Merry Christmas from Tokyo.

Here are a few pictures of Christmas decorations I have seen around Tokyo this year.

Across from Shinjuku station, a Christmas tree made of origami cranes.

A close-up of the origami crane tree

Next to the above tree, there was an origami Santa with his origami reindeer.

See more Christmas decorations, after the jump. (more…)

December 21, 2011

Dangyou Falls (壇鏡の滝)

My time to tour around on Dogo was very limited, but I did manage to see the Dangyou falls. We rented a car to get there and while I think it’s possible to get there without a car, even with a car it was a bit of an ordeal. The road was very narrow and I would have been even more spooked trying to ride the steep narrow road up the mountain on a bicycle. With the car we rented, I was constantly afraid of another car coming from the opposite direction. The road is 2-way, but it barely fits one car.

In the end, we made it to the waterfall completely unscathed. And the waterfall was beautiful, so it was worth the trip.

Before going to the waterfall, you are supposed to toss a stone onto one of these gates. It's harder than it looks to get a stone to stay on there!

Towards the waterfall

The sign says that this waterfall is one of the top 100 waterfalls in Japan.

More pictures after the jump (more…)

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