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  • Tokyo National Museum (Museums / Ueno)
  • 2007/11/23
  • Tokyo National Museum will probably have something interesting for everybody. It's the biggest museum in Ueno park, and there are plenty of maps, so getting there is easy. When I went they had the permanent exhibits and a special Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit, which drew far more people. I decided to opt for the traditional exhibits - I had seen the Da Vinci exhibit in Florence last year anyway.
    You can buy tickets at a machine in the front (yes, there's English) and simply walk in. 600 yen for adults, high school and under is free.
    Navigation is super easy, and I found the chronological lay out very helpful. The permanent exhibit starts with ancient Japanese religious sculpture, continuing with painting, calligraphy, full suits of Samurai armer, etc. The weapons exhibit was particularly fascinating - Tokyo National Museum has beautifully crafted steel swords and spears dating back more than 1000 years.
    There's a large collection of Kimono and Ukiyo-e paintings from the Meiji and Edo period.
    There's only minimal English labeling, and there are English guided tours only a few times a month - good look scheduling your trip around that. However, there's a well-stocked gift shop that contains English books as well as excellent souvenirs.
  • Hamarikyu Onshi Teien (Japanese Gardens / Shimbashi)
  • 2007/11/23
  • As with many Tokyo gardens, the busy Shiodome fade away quickly as you enter Hamarikru, while the skyscrapers are still visible along the skyline. As a busy college student, a never had much interest in gardens and parks in the US, but I find that I really enjoy a leisurely stroll on the weekends in Tokyo - it's a nice break from the constant noise and train-catching during the weekdays. Hamarikru has pretty much all you would want in a garden. It borders the bay on one side, where the Tokugawa families used to have a boat landing, and is dotted with miniature forests, hills, a shrine, marshlands, and even a tea house in the middle of a pond. A good place to take the kids or just the adults, Hamariku is seldom crowded, apart from occasional groups of elderly Japanese. There's also small concession stand in the middle of the garden.
    The pond in the middle of the garden is attached to the ocean, creating a tidal marsh in certain parts of the garden. There's quite a diversity of environment.
    Entrance fee is 210 yen for adults.
    The tea house, used by the Tokugawa family to entertain guests, costs 500 yen for traditional matcha and a small dessert. There is a simple English menu at the door.
    Overall my experience was very positive. I'd definitely go back again if I need a break from Tokyo, or if I wanted to walk and talk with friends.
  • Muji: Roppongi (Cards & Stationery / Roppongi)
  • 2007/11/23
  • Muji may be my favorite store in Japan. As a college student, its as if someone had peeked into my brain, anticipated everything I ever needed on an average day, and put it all into one store. Everything is inexpensive, minimalist, and functional. For instance, Muji has a whole range of traveling equipment, from back packs to tooth brush kits to about 40 different sizes of miniature shampoo bottles. It has socks, slippers, a complete clothing line (more expensive than Uniqlo, but still reasonable) that sticks to conservative greys and browns. If you forgot anything on the plane or back home, chances are you can buy it here.
    Smaller Muji "kiosks" abound in train stations and shopping malls. These usually stick to a few food items, stationary, and clothing. The larger stores are the ones to go to. The Yurakucho Muji is particularly large, and even has a clothing alteration service and a deli/restaurant.
    Tote bags are pretty useful here, and for 100 yen you can purchase your own plain white Muji bag and customize it with pens and rubber stamps at the register. I've found these make fun, unique souvenirs.
    Muji has a house brand of tea, snacks, etc. that are quite inexpensive. In addition, Muji also carries hearty freeze-dried soups and meals. Oh, and Muji carries bicycles and furniture too.
  • Uniqlo: Ginza (Clothing / Ginza)
  • 2007/11/23
  • Uniqlo is very popular in Japan, and, I've heard, making inroads into the U.S. via New York. For good reason: Uniqlo is a cheerful, cheap, good quality clothing store. I've bought good quality business shirts there for less than 3,000 yen! This summer Uniqlo came out with a nice line of cool max, hot weather business clothing, which has been slowly replacing my American wardrobe. Be careful though - although most guys can find their shirt size, finding anything above a U.S. 32 waist size in pants can be difficult, just like in most other Japanese stores.
    I've seen quite a few expats shopping here - maybe for the prices, or maybe because it seems so accessible. 90% of the clothing is western style, although there are also some nice summer yukatas for men and women.
    On the upper floors, Uniqlo usually carries bed and bath supplies.
    You'll grow to love this place (and Muji) if you're in Japan for over a month.
  • Epson Aqua Stadium (Aquariums / Shinagawa)
  • 2007/10/16
  • EPSON Aquarium is small, but surprisingly well stocked with kid- and adult-friendly exhibits. Located behind the Prince Hotel (the signs aren't good), the aquarium boasts an underwater tunnel where you can watch an enormous sawfish shark swim around. There are tanks and tanks of exotic fish and other sea creatures. I was very impressed at the brochure which labeled every fish neatly in English and provided a 1 line description.
    There are feeding times for dolphins, sea lines, and penguins about every 2 hours. However, they are all staggered so you'll be able to see at least one of this any time you go. For me the dolphins stole the show. The dolphin arena is quite big, and the animal handlers got the dolphins to perform some truly amazing and entertaining tricks - jumping twisting in the air, performing somersaults, throwing inflatable rubber balls into the audience.
    The penguin feeding is cool as well. You can watch the penguins above and below water as they dive to search for food or play.
    EPSON aquarium is compact, but lots of fun. Tickets are 1,800 yen for adults.
  • Times Spa Resta (Super Sentos / Ikebukuro)
  • 2007/10/16
  • Resta Times Spa is very cushy. Everything is quiet, clean, and modern. I'm giving it only three stars because there is absolutely no English and the staff seemed to dislike having foreigners - not overtly, just bad vibes. This is typical, though, for most sento, onsen, spas, etc. in Japan.
    I had a coupon for 50% off that a friend gave me, so my entrance fee was only 1,200 instead of 2,400yen (the only reason why I went). All your immediate needs are taken care of - you are given a wrist strap and a tote bag with towels and lounge wear to change into after you have bathed or received a massage. The wrist strap has an RFID tag, so your locker will automatically open when you are near it. You can also wave it in front of vending machines to buy drinks, too.
    The spa itself has 7 or 8 baths on the men's side, plus a very nice sauna. Some of the baths are outdoors, which I really like. Resta Times is on the 11th floor of a high rise so you get a lot of sunlight, with all the windows frosted for privacy. Razors, toothbrushes, shampoo, and everything else is provided.
    Water massage is offered too, although at 7,000yen and up I decided against it. There's also a normal massage center outside the spa, but it also seemed overpriced to me. Instead I opted for a cocktail in the lounge, which is quiet, cushy, and perfect for relaxing after your bath - there's a great view of the city below. Resta Times Spa also has a full-service restaurant.
    I'd only recommend going if you speak Japanese fairly well and have been to a Japanese spa before.
  • Sheesha (Bars / Roppongi)
  • 2007/10/07
  • My first impression of Bar Sheesha was very positive. The decor is tasteful and modern, borrowing from Dubai and Southeast Asia. It's dark, with lots of mirrors, a disco ball, and silent action movies projected on the walls. The music isn't bad, although you have to lean in if you want a conversation. The major problem is that it's practically deserted. I visited on a Thursday night around midnight - two tables had people around them. Bar Sheesha isn't quite conducive to larger groups because it's too loud and most of the tables are for two, but the booth seats are nice for couples to sink back into and chill.
    The shisha was very good. I ordered strawberry and received a beautiful large pipe, something I'm not used to in America. Shisha is a very reasonable 1,500yen for two people, but be careful - drinks at the bar start at least 1,000yen, and they don't bring you water.
  • Pasela: Shibuya (Karaoke / Shibuya)
  • 2007/10/03
  • Parase is a fairly typical, karaoke-kan - private boxes with booth seats around a large table, large TV, and speakers. That's about it. No "Lost in Translation" style windows, unfortunately. The karaoke system itself is pretty easy to figure out, and the electronic song selection machine has a full English mode. Servers will come huddling in and out with drinks if you want to - quite a large selection of cocktails.
  • Yamamotoyama: Nihombashi (Japanese Sweets & Cafes / Nihombashi)
  • 2007/10/03
  • Yamamotoyama is a tea institution in Tokyo, selling tea for "over 317 years," according to a poorly-written English flyer. It functions as a tea retail store and tea cafe. A long glass counter winds around the inside, displaying boxes and casks of tea, in addition to nori, seasonings, and sundry other trinkets. Yamamotoyama is slightly cluttered, and probably hasn't been fully redecorated since its original building was destroyed by the 1945 air raids.
    Yamamotoyama doesn't see the need to be particularly English friendly, so I had to walk outside and point to the tea set I wanted - the day's sencha and a slice of poundcake for 300 yen. I sat next to a few older women around a low table with a sunken range and teapot in the middle. However, we didn't use the teapot - perhaps it was for certain teas only.
    The sencha was just so-so in my humble opinion. Actually rather bitter, although it got more friendly after the second cup. I think it may have been steeped too long. I was expecting an expertly prepared tea, but it seems like the tea cafe doesn't emphasize the tea so much as the conversation. There was another bar in the back where people seemed to be tasting tea more discriminately, but I didn't know how to order and no one offered to help.
    You each order as it comes, from where you sit, so it's good to bring along some change.
  • Ginza Suehiro Kotobuki (Shabu-Shabu, Sukiyaki / Ginza)
  • 2007/10/03
  • I think of Suehiro as an archetypal Ginza establishment - luxurious, a blind imitation of the West, yet somehow Japanified in the process.
    Just off Chuo Dori, Ginza's main avenue, Suihiro looks rather run down in comparison to its modern, sterile, neighboring shops. A large menu of various cuts of beef stands next to the entrance, along with a sign advertising a "500 yen hamburger lunch."
    I came during lunch time, and was ushered to a table by servers wearing bobbed hair and 1960s style uniforms. The restaurant interior was in the same 1960s style. I'm not particularly fond of it, but that means that Suehiro hasn't seen the need to change anything for several decades.
    Upon request I was handed an English menu which was about half as thick as the Japanese menu - a little worrisome. Steak ranges from 2,000-10,000 yen; quite expensive. However, virtually everyone in the restaurant, including myself, ordered the 500 yen hamburger special for lunch. I'd probably stick with this your first time.
    The hamburger special included a hamburger patty over noodles, a plate of rice, salad, and a soft boiled egg to pour over everything. Pretty good, not fantastic.
  • Otoya: Okachimachi (Teishoku, Yoshoku / Ueno)
  • 2007/10/03
  • Otoya is a tradition Japanese tei-shoku (meal set) with a healthy twist: all items are conveniently tagged with a calorie count, and overly heavy or fatty sauces aren't used. The food was really delicious - I spent less than 800 yen and selected a chicken rice bowl from the picture menu (there's no English, the servers don't speak English, but it's super easy to point to things). The rice bowl came out with water, tea, and miso soup. I noticed lots of people ordering small vegetable and tofu side dishes as well, but this was plenty for a 20 year old college student. Otoya was filled with chatty, happy Japanese business people. The seating is a little tight, but no trouble.
    You order and pay first at the counter, before being ushered to your seat. Otoya was brightly lit, and had a casual, un-ostentatiously modern Japanese atmosphere. Great for bring family or friends along, or just going solo for a good lunch.
    Overall I was really happy with Otoya and plan on going back. By the way, it's on the second floor, but there's an obvious sign.

  • Jonathan's (Family Restaurant / Akasaka)
  • 2007/10/03
  • Jonathan's is a great family restaurant prevalent in Tokyo (I don't think it's American). It isn't Japanese, and it isn't American. I hesitate to call it "fusion" because of the gourmet connotation of the word, but that's what it is. The Japanese call it "yoshoku." I ordered a hamburg plate and salad. Traditional comfort food, but the salad was topped with dark green wakame (seaweed) and bonito (fish) flakes. Actually a good combination. The hamburger was served like a steak, in a sweet sauce accompanied by Japanese herbs, corn, and non-crispy steak fries. I was also given a large plate of plain rice. I personally liked my meal, but it's a little different.
    There's a drink buffet, where, for a few yen, you can fix yourself coffee, tea, fountain drinks, or hot soup.
    The seating is mostly booths and tables, like Denny's. I found mostly middle-aged women there during lunch time, although I bet you see a lot more families in the evenings. The atmosphere is casual. As in most Japanese restaurants, there's a large smoking section, and it's not very well separated from the non-smoking section.
    I ordered by pointing to pictures on the menu - everything's in pictures.

  • Iroha (Okonomiyaki, Monja / Tsukiji)
  • 2007/10/03
  • Monja is a traditional Tokyo dish that vaguely resembles a pancake. It's not very popular with Tokyoites since it's considered old fashioned food, but I absolutely loved it. My friend and I scooted around a small table with a grill in the center, already hot. Iraha has many different kinds of Monja; we chose kimchi, followed by an order of yakisoba. The whole atmosphere of Iroha is casual and chatty because the cooking style naturally lends itself to a good time. You cook everything yourself, making the food as crispy or as salty or as oily as you want. People all around us were making fun of each other cooking will drinking beer to supplement the monja. Anything eaten 10 seconds after it is cooked is delicious, but Iroha's monja is unforgettable. Spicy, due to the kimchi, and packed with bean sprouts, cabbage, and pork, I could not stop scraping off bites from the grill and putting them into my mouth.
    A group of high school students were sitting next to us, stirring and cooking noodles on the grill - if only they had had that near my school!
    The portions, ranging from 900-1300yen, will fill up about one person, but each dish is typically shared by everyone. "Toppings" go for about 300 yen, which include kimchi, cheese, just about anything. Our evening for two people came out at a very inexpensive 2,600, including drinks. Someone take me to Iroha, I'm hooked!
  • What the Dickens! (Live Bars/Jazz Bars / Ebisu)
  • 2007/10/03
  • I don't know how they managed to move an English pub into the upstairs of a drab Ebisu business building, but that is what this bar feels like. Lots of dark wood, vintage ale posters, and even a second floor with a balcony overlooking a small stage. When I visited What The Dickens on a Friday night, a slightly tired, pot-bellied, but rocking expat band was playing ear splittingly loud blues - they weren't bad. I kept traveling back to the bar to rest my ears, though.
    What The Dickens is located in a particularly large cluster of restaurants and bars, so the crowd here is slightly younger than what you will likely find at other Tokyo English pubs (see Footnik). Still, about 70% are expats, ages 25-30, drinking Guinness etc. There are tables on the upper floor. These are in high demand, however, so you'll probably end up standing on the first floor. I would check who is playing before you go - the live performances are what makes What The Dickens stand apart from similar pubs. Prices are average: 700-900 for a pint.
  • Muse (Bars / Hiroo)
  • 2007/10/03
  • Muse is cheap and fun. You get two drinks with your 2,000 yen door fee, which is a great deal. Muse is a medium sized club with two bars, friendly bartenders, and decent dance music. The establishment and its Japanese customers welcome foreigners. I went to Muse at about 10 on a Friday night, and it started to fill up at around 11. That atmosphere is pretty chill and friendly. A great place to take friends or come alone.
    Most people sit or stand at the bar - the dance floor wasn't particularly inspiring, but it might pick up later into the night.
  • Paddy Foley's ---- CLOSED ----- (British pubs / Irish pubs / Roppongi)
  • 2007/10/03
  • Paddy's has a very limited clientèle - British, Irish, or Australian businessmen and the occasional Japanese co-worker they bring along. I think it's fairly decent pub if that's your scene; it's not my scene.
    I was addressed in English by a genial Australian (of course there's a token attractive Japanese bartender as well). My friend and I ordered a Tequila Sunrise and a Martini respectively, and we felt our manhood implicitly challenged because we could have been the only people in there not drinking from large containers of Guinness and remarking on the cricket game on the TV.
    Cocktails are 800-1,000yen; beer as cheap as 500yen during happy hour, which ends really early at 7pm. I'm not going back, at least until I'm forty.
  • Takeshiba Pier (Night View Spots / Hamamatsucho)
  • 2007/10/03
  • Takeshiba Pier houses several large ferries that make regular trips in and out of Tokyo bay. When I went on a Friday evening, Takeshiba Pier was full of expectant people clutching suitcases and surfboards, ready for a day trip to a vacation spot. There's not really an observation deck, but you can watch the big ships come in if you want to.
  • Toyota Auto Salon Amlux (Show Rooms / Ikebukuro)
  • 2007/10/03
  • The Amlux Toyota showroom is designed for potential buyers. It has five floors with an impressive selection of all of Toyata's lines on display - sedans, SUVs, vans, etc. The first floor is more of a traditional showroom, with flashy Formula One models and short movies about production and safety. This place would be great for interested buyers, but it's not really entertainment. All five floors are well-staffed, but no English is spoken and, surprisingly, there are no English specs on the cars.
  • Odaiba Line (Water Busses / Hamamatsucho)
  • 2007/10/03
  • Perfectly blending pleasure and function, the water bus ferries allow you to sit back and view the Tokyo skyline while traveling to your next destination, which, if you are riding the ferry, is probably Odaiba or Asakusa. There are quite a few ferries to choose from; each is unique. Some look rather mundane, but one looks part bat-mobile and part submarine, and others are supposed to reflect past eras. You can find times and prices at suijobus.co.jp. The boats don't come that often (about every 2 hours from Hinode Pier) so you'd better plan ahead. Prices range from 460 yen to 1500 yen for adults.
    I purchased my ticket at Hinode pier from an automated machine. I think there was an English option, but a very earnest attendant, who spoke English, insisted on helping me and steered me through the Japanese instructions, even handling my cash.
    The ferry wasn't very crowded - a few tourists, American and Japanese. You really get to see some of Tokyo's buildings from a unique angle, though. The Asahi building (with the flame sculpture), Fuj building (looks like a space station) and the distant Disney Ferris wheels are some examples. Recommended.
  • Katsuya: Roppongi (Fast Food / Roppongi)
  • 2007/10/02
  • I wasn't very impressed with Katsuya. Katsu is ubiquitous in Tokyo - you can find it on pretty much any street with widely varying prices and quality. I found Katsuya to be expensive for such low grade Katsudon - my bowl was soggy and not very flavorful. Lunch prices are between 800-1000 yen - you can definitely get the same stuff cheaper if you look hard enough.
    Although there's no English, there's a machine with pictures - you insert your money and punch a button for a food ticket.
    All the seating is at a bar, so it's not really suitable for family or dates. The clientele are exclusively slightly overweight businessmen who look rushed.
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