Japan 2016 – Day 5

Tokyo SkyTree, Ginza, Tsukiji Fish Market, and Odaiba

My last day in Tokyo. How will I spend my day after Mt Fuji, relax? Nope. I decided to get on the subway and “stretch the legs” and walk by the Sumida river.


Once I got to the blue bridge, I decided to cross over and head straight to the Tokyo Skytree. Believe it or not, it’s the tallest tower in the world (634m/2,080ft) and the second tallest structure in the world (the first is the Burj Khalifa in UAE). Cool. You can go up to the observatory deck, but there is a long line of tourists. I just decided to walk around the base and proceed with the day.


Ginza (銀座) was next on the list; a popular upscale shopping area, like 5th avenue in NYC. There was one building I was planning to check out from the start, the Sony building, the home of the Playstation. After speaking with a customer rep there, I heard that the whole building will be demolished along with several others to prepare for the 2020 Olympics. Nan desu ka!? They must be planing something big.


If you continue to walk on the main street, Harumi Dori, you’ll eventually reach the infamous Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場) after making a right at Jonathan’s. Ha, its like the Japanese were expecting me to visit by building diners in my name!


So the Tsukiji market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind. I heard great things about the sushi here and absolutely had to try it out. One thing I found out is that the fish market closes at 5pm and almost all restaurants/shops close at that time. We got there at 4:30pm, whew. The restaurant area consisted of a few blocks and so many places to choose. I stopped once I saw a giant crab. This was the place for me. Instead of sushi rolls, I ate sushi ‘bowls’!


Whoa, that was good. Ok, it would be a 15 minute walk to the Shiodome station passed the football field sized Tsukiji area to get on the Yurikamome (waterfront train) line to Odaiba (お台場), the artificial island of Tokyo. You get great views of Rainbow bridge (Tokyo’s version of Golden Gate bridge) right before you eventually cross it.


Odaiba is bigger than I expected, and definitely requires a whole day to check out everything. There are restaurants, malls, and other interesting places like an aquarium, giant Ferris wheel, Fuji Television HQ, the “future building”, man-made beach, etc. There is even an area by the pier that felt too close like being back home in NYC, strange…


There is a place called Sega Joypolis which I totally regret not checking out due to time and Fuji fatigue. It is a massive building dedicated to games, games, and more games. It’s not an ordinary arcade as many of the games are simulators and rides somewhat. Even the toilets have an aiming game. Next time, grrr. So anyway, we headed to the mall for some last-minute souvenir shopping in a building called Diver City with a 1:1 scale Gundam in front, whoa.


The night arrives before you know it. And before you know it, it’s time to pack and think about catching your flight the next day. Sayonara Japan, you are ichi-ban (#1)!

Lessons learned:

  • You need at least a week to feel satisfied with exploring Tokyo. I literally had 3.5 days.
  • Tokyo is hot/humid in the summer and even the shoulder summer months like June and September so if you don’t like being a hot sweaty mess while walking around for hours, try the Fall, I hear its pretty during that time.
  • Don’t jaywalk. For some reason, nobody jaywalks even when there clearly are no cars coming. Perhaps the rules are more strict here. But the traffic lights take sooo long to change.
  • Learn more Japanese. The more the better your experience can be.
  • Make sure you are allowed to take photos/videos before taking photos/videos.
  • Get out of Tokyo. There is a whole country to see: Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama, Nikko, the north, the southern islands, and the far east.
  • Do the research before going to avoid feeling regret about missing out on stuff. Personally, I don’t have much regret since I must go back soon. Maybe during Olympics 2020???

Thanks and Arigato to all who got this far. I’m not good at this blog stuff, but I try. I think it’s best to summarize and document our travels so that we can all remember the times when we escaped the usual and the day-to-day. Also, to share with others so that we can spread ideas and gain new ones. It’s a small world, but sharing experiences illuminates the unknown and makes the world bigger.


Japan 2016 – Day 4

Mt. Fuji, standing on top of Japan!

Ugh, didn’t sleep well, and the mountain gets really cold at night. It’s 4am and I probably got 4 hours sleep tops. Well, at least it’s not raining. I took one last glance hoping to see a sunrise, but alas, the sun was shy and hid behind the clouds.


1000m to ascend today; almost 3 Empire State buildings. Since Fujisan is conic and gets steeper as you get further to the summit, it gets tough real fast. Especially since the air becomes thinner, like you can’t catch your breath even when you are idle. Hypothermia is the #1 killer on this volcano, and we were reminded of the realities of off-season climbing when passing by memorials.


After a few 100m, we arrived at station 7. It felt good to take a nice break. There will be quite a few of these until the summit. Also, it was our first sight of ice.


From station 7 to station 8. Ok, I’m starting to feel it now, maybe it’s not such a small mountain. I may have underestimated the size. Once we reached station 8, I can recall just needing to drop my bag and laid down on the ground for a few minutes.


From station 8 to station 8. Huh, what!? Nan desu ka!? It turns out that there is no 9th station on the Subashiri route, but there is 3 8th stations. Ah, of course, makes sense. So anyway, we pass another memorial, and a small shack that is station 8b, and then to station 8c. Mt. Fuji is starting to look like a volcano now, like Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings. Hardly any plant life, just a lunar landscape with some ice here and there.


My legs are toast now. We’ve been climbing since 4am and its 10am now. I cherish all the breaks and the non-rainy weather thus far. Every step I take requires effort, 2 seconds per step. Why am I so exhausted? Oh, I’m climbing a mountain, hehe. We are now at a point where we have to walk over ice without slipping, yay, fun time! Starting to lose my mind with the lack of sleep, air, and sushi.


For hours, I was looking up at the peak every 5 minutes with a little less to climb each time. I started to doubt myself. Maybe I couldn’t make it. I can’t catch my breath, ugh. This is when you have to dig deep and just borrow reserve energy from tomorrow. Step after step, I could see the final Tori gate. I know it’s just minutes and not hours (the signs actually tell you that there is X minutes left). Always a happy moment to get to the top because you get to stop climbing! Or is it the peak?


Yosuke told us that the real summit is across the crater. Another 50m ascent to go. The crater is like a mile across and to deep of a bowl to go directly across, we must go around the rim. Just when you think it’s over, it’s not over. And then there’s the descent. The crater is an amazing sight, photos can’t capture the size and the Mars-like look to it.


The final push to the summit is a nasty 45 degree uphill 10 minute climb to Kengamine, the actual 3776m peak. The wind was blowing hard and it began to snow. So yea, mini ice-balls hitting your face. Every step was 3 seconds apart. I had to growl like Goku to push me through this section. Sorry, I wasn’t able to take photos because both of my arms were occupied pulling myself up and grabbing on the bars and railings. Can’t believe Mt. Fuji kicked my butt this bad. And I’m almost out of water with one granola bar left, oh no. But who cares, I’m at the summit! I’m on top of Japan!!!


Feeling awesome and accomplished, we all celebrated for 5-10 minutes only to see the biggest cloud move into the crater.

The ice-balls became pouring rain. Time to descend! I may be out of steam going up, but going down is my specialty. Yosuke led us off-course to a tractor trail which was usable only because it is off-season, otherwise we would have to descend the way we ascended. This was good news, the tractor trail was sandy/rocky and muddy due to melting ice and rain. In summary, almost 8 hours to get to the true peak, with a lot of photo breaks, and 4 hours to descend. With the heavy fog, it was cool to see teammates disappear and reappear through depending on how far away they are.


Going downhill for hours can get a bit tiresome, so you just gotta have fun whenever possible.


By 4pm, we were all at the parking lot of station 5, where it all began. That was crazy, arigato Mt. Fuji! I leave a part of me on every mountain I climb.

Please note, that although the sun never showed itself, and it was the cloudiest day I’ve ever had, I still got sun burnt pretty bad. Wear sunblock on these mountains! Ok, time to eat some sushi and get some rest, there is still one more day to explore Tokyo, with noodles for legs.



Japan 2016 – Day 3

Mt. Fuji – Subashiri route (off-season)

From the Tokyo madness to the silence of the mountain. Mt. Fuji (富士山), the highest mountain peak in Japan at 3,776 meters (12,389 ft). This conic active volcano is a well-known symbol of Japan. How could I travel to Tokyo and not sign up for Fujisan when it’s less than 2 hours away from the city? After my 2014 Mt. Rainier summit experience, I was looking forward to another mountain adventure.

So as they say, there are many paths up a mountain, in this case, there are 4. Some are longer/steeper than others. We ended up taking the 2nd longest route; the Subashiri route which starts at 2000m (6562 ft).


The popular route typically taken is the Yoshida route which starts at 2,305m (almost an Empire State building worth of vertical less); however, it was off-season, and only the Subashiri trail was available to us. I learned about the news of the route last-minute and totally didn’t train as much as I should have. Who is us? I decided to book this trip with MyTokyoGuide. 7 other people booked it as well so we all climbed as a group: 3 from Japan, 2 from Guam, 2 from NYC (me), and one from Tasmania. And what is off-season? In-season is July 1 – September 10, when all the ice has melted and weather conditions are the best for ascending to the top. However, during the summer, the huts are packed (I’ve heard horror stories) to capacity and there are 1000s of climbers on the mountain which can cause traffic jams. In June, although it’s the rainy season and freezing at the top, you get to have the mountain to yourself (I saw less than 10 people on the mountain the entire time). Also, although its possible to summit Fuji and get back down in one day, it doesn’t always work out due to altitude sickness or fatigue. Regardless of when you decide to climb, this mountain has taken many lives so it must be respected and taken seriously. Our group decided to break the climb into 2 days: a casual 700m ascent for day 1 and 1076m ascent + 1776m descent for day 2.

We all met in Shinjuku, dropped our bags in the van, and headed straight to Mt. Fuji. The mountain is divided into 10 stations; however, the trails start at the 5th station. People don’t really start the Mt. Fuji climb from the base of the mountain (Station 1), but our team had the chance to visit it. It has the biggest Tori gate I’ve come across thus far and a shrine.


We also made a quick stop at Oshino village where you can get a good view of the mountain. Unfortunately, it was a very cloudy day and you could not see anything, not even the base. There are plenty of souvenir shops as well. Bathrooms were the prime target though. One thing I forgot to mention is the toilets in Tokyo; they are ahead of their time and have several buttons, not just a flush button. If you are a lady, beware the bidet button. Also, many toilets have a sensor which heats up the seat when it detects someone sitting on it. And it took a few days but I finally came across an “Engrish” sign.


So, the time has come… the trailhead at the 5th station. We met our tour guide Yosuke. He climbed Mt. Denali twice and seen the Aurora so many times, quite impressed. Plus, his English is pretty good. Here is the before pictures before all of the rain, mud, ice, wind, fog, snow, and everything else on Fujisan kicked our butts.


The goal for today was to ascend 700m to the Seto-kan hut around the 6th station. Not many huts were available since it was off-season; however, this one was available, and pretty good. It was mostly a journey through foggy forest and rock. The sun never came out as we were inside a cloud the entire time getting rained on. Which brings me to the ‘preparation list’ for a June climb:

  • a large enough backpack (waterproof ideally) to carry the following
  • at least 3 liters of water
  • good boots with several socks to change into
  • rain jacket and rain pants, maybe gaiters (I didn’t need them)
  • gloves, cap, warm hat, head lamp (with batteries)
  • more food/snacks than you think you’ll need to keep you energized
  • hiking poles, your knees will be very thankful
  • extra top layers for the frigid nights
  • and of course a camera to take the memories with you and to post on blogs


Once we got to the Seto-kan hut, we took a much-needed break. 700m is something like almost 2 Empire State buildings. Did we get anything for it? Yes we did. Almost perfect timing. The rain stopped and the clouds cleared. We saw Mt. Fuji for the first time all day. Photo time!

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Dinner in the hut was included, the curry rice was quite tasty. We got to know each other a bit more as the sun began to set, wherever it was. There is something amazing about being above the clouds. A few more pics of this moment before going to bed early. Our summit day start at 4am.


The clouds totally dissappeared at night. You could see the city lights from 2700m high. But still, no stars due to the clouds above. Let’s hope the weather is good to us tomorrow…




Japan 2016 – Day 2

Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, Harajuku, and Shibuya

It was great to have a clear day for once after all the rain from the previous day. A great day to get a view from one of the towers in Tokyo. There are several buildings/structures which can give you a great view of the city; however, there is only one that I found which gives you the view, minus the glass panels blocking your view. I headed to Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills.


Roppongi is another one of Tokyo’s popular spots especially for night life. However, it was early in the morning, and I came to Roppongi for the Mori Tower observation deck which is actually a helicopter landing pad on the roof; an unbeatable unobstructed 360 degree view of Tokyo.


Although you can always get a similar city view from Tokyo Tower (looks like Eiffel Tower) or the Tokyo Sky Tree, I personally preferred Mori Tower because you have a view of those structures as well. You can even see the artificial island of Odaiba. Unfortunately, Mt Fuji was under the clouds as usual, but you should be able to see it on a clear today. I didn’t mind though, since I’ll be on top of it soon enough. Speaking of Tokyo Tower, if you are a One Piece fan, they have a theme park dedicated to One Piece there, ugh, should’ve went, next time then.


It can get quite hot in Tokyo. June felt like a NYC summer day as it is hot and humid, the temps were in the upper 80s most of the time. But that doesn’t stop people from coming outside. Speaking of people, my next stop was Harajuku (原宿), a district within Shibuya and a short walk from the Meiji shrine. Harajuku is considered to be the center of youth culture and fashion. The main artery would definitely be Takeshita Dori where all the shops are and the occasional oddly dressed individuals. It’s quite crowded for a Tuesday afternoon, I can’t imagine the weekend.


Before heading down this street to check out the shops, there was something I had to do. In the above photo, to the right of the main street sign, you’ll see Laser Trap Room. Yep, had to check it out. $5 gives you 90 seconds to get through a laser trap room. The goal is to touch lit-up buttons on the walls in random spots to complete the challenge. There are 4 difficulty levels and it looks just like you would imagine (not me in the photos). I took a shot at Medium and did pretty good for my first time. My advice would be not to wear baggy shorts like I did.


Once you get through Takeshita Dori, you make a right and go straight for a few blocks until you end up on Omotesando Dori which has even more shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants. It kinda resembles Champs Elysees in Paris. I stood at the overpass to get a few photos.


You’ll notice that cars drive on the left lane, driving wheel is on the right of the car. The only reason I didn’t end up driving Mario Karts down the streets was because you needed an international driving license to drive them and it was too last-minute, meh (check it out on “http://maricar.com/”).

Once you reach Aoyama Dori, it’s a long 20 minute walk to the heart of Shibuya (渋谷区) and the infamous Shibuya intersection. You’ll know when you get there. I must’ve crossed this street 100 times. Check out some video on Youtube to see the dynamics; it’s quite impressive how people don’t collide. The best place to observe the crossing is the Starbucks on the second floor in the building right on the intersection.




Once I crossed the street 100 times, I walked through the surrounding areas and came across the coolest sushi restaurant ever. Genki Sushi, an automated sushi restaurant. You walk in and get a number, and then go to your assigned seat. You use a Tablet to order your sushi and then in a few minutes, your sushi arrives via a conveyor belt track. I ordered enough food to create a plate tower and it only cost me $20 to eat so much sushi! Jon recommends this place.



Shibuya is bigger than I thought, and would definitely use it as home base next time. I headed back to Shinjuku to take a quick break.


Recall that our home base was the Gracery hotel, where there is a giant Godzilla. After finding out that the eyes light up at night, it was time for a photo shoot:


From the hotel, we took a walk through Shinjuku via Meiji Dori toward the Square Enix building. Square has been making some of the best video games I’ve ever played especially when I was a teenager. It just made sense to stop by. There is a cafe called Artnia with a video game theme and gift shop. If anyone played Final Fantasy 7, check out that Materia ball drink.


So again, we dined like kings, and got some rest. The next 2 days were going to be quite different and I’ll need all the sleep I can get. Mt. Fuji awaits…


Japan 2016 – Day 1

The Tokyo subway, 2 shrines, Akihabara, and Shinjuku in pouring rain

You can surely expect rain during the June rainy season so make sure to bring a rain jacket or umbrella. I decided to be brave and take the subway… from Shinjuku station, the busiest train station in the world! It is like Grand Central station but multiplied by two. Also, there are 3 train systems that overlap: Toei Line, Tokyo Metro Line, and JR East Line. Each train line has many color coded routes and fairly straightforward to navigate and make transfers when needed. Also, Tokyo trains are much cleaner and dependable than NYC’s MTA. One of the most useful routes is the Yamanote line on the JR East which covers most of the touristy spots within central Tokyo. First stop… Meiji Jingu (明治神宮), shinto shrine. From Shinjuku, one could actually walk for 20 minutes or so to the north entrance, which is what I decided to do. This would be my first site of a Tori gate, the first of many during my stay in Japan.


After a 10 minute walk via a scenic path, you reach the shrine area.


On a rainy morning, it was rather quiet but its better that way. It’s nice to experience a moment of peace throughout the sensory madness that is Tokyo.


There was an other shrine that I wanted to check out before lunch, so back on the subway I went. Next stop, Asakusa (浅草). Asakusa is a part of Tokyo which is by the Sumida river; Japanese version of the NYC Hudson river. Also, this is where you can find the Sensoji (浅草寺) shrine/temple. Once you exit the Asakusa subway station, you immediately notice the entrance to the temple, the Thunder Gate (Kaminarimon). Unfortunately, it was under scaffolding for repairs or something but I managed to squeeze my camera through the openings for this shot:


After you enter, it’s about a 10 minute walk to the inner complex via Nakamise Dori (仲見世通り). The 10 minute walk can easily take 30 minutes or more due to the shops which tempt you left and right.


The Treasure House Gate (Hozomon), is quite impressive.


Behind this gate was the Hondo; the main hall. Also, on the left side, you can see the Sensoji 5-story pagoda (which was also under repair; scaffolding, grrr). This is Tokyo’s oldest temple.


Next stop, Electric town, AKA Akihabara (秋葉原). Although it was still raining hard, I didn’t care because there was not a dry spot on me by this point; I couldn’t get anymore wet. Once you exit the train station and start to walk via Chuo Dori, and once you look up, the little kid inside takes over. If you like electronics, anime, and video games, then this is your Mecca. One can easily spend hours here going through all of the stores and shops. I went through as many buildings and floors as I could before completely exhausting myself as I normally do. There are several worthy mentions such as Club Sega, Taito Game station, Mandarake, Animate, Retro Game Camp, Super Potato, and Gundam Cafe.


So much to see and buy, so little time. My favorite would have to be Super Potato since it is multiple floors filled with everything related to old school video games from the 80s and 90s. Even the staircases in Akihabara are amazing.


Just like a kid not wanting to leave the playground, I had to drag myself back to the subway. The body needs sustenance or it will pass out. Back in Shinjuku, we ate like kings. Regarding restaurants, you are greeted with “irashaimase!”, meaning ‘welcome’. And even if you can’t read Japanese on the menu, most meals have a nice picture next to each item. The people are so much nicer here compared to NYC. I tried to order in Japanese whenever possible and I’ve been told that my Japanese if good from quite a few people. Like I said in a previous post, knowing the language helps a lot especially if you are not accompanied by a native speaker. If you like green tea, then you are in the right city! Sushi is one of my favorite foods and I must say, the Japanese do it best.

Before heading back to the hotel, we checked out the Taito Game Station on Yasukuni Dori to play some video games. Multiple floors of video games. It’s too easy to spend all of your yen coins here. With a stomach full of rice and fish, I crashed for the night. Gotta rest up for Day 2…


Japan 2016 – Day 0

Konnichiwa (こんにちは) and Ohaiyo gozaimasu (お早う ございます)! Japan (日本), the land of the rising sun.


To me, almost everything that is awesome comes from here. Just think about all the things.

  • Anime/manga: Dragonball, Bleach, Death Note, Attack on Titan, One Piece, Sword Art Online, Code Geass, Tokyo Ghoul, Gundam, Berzerk, Full Metal Alchemist, Naruto, Baki, Pokemon, etc…, I like anime.
  • Video games from the 80s to the present: Nintendo, Sega, Sony Playstation, etc.
  • Electronics: Panasonic, Toshiba, Hitachi, Sharp, Casio, Canon, JVC, etc.
  • Cars: Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Mazda, Nissan, Yamaha, Kawasaki, etc.
  • Martial arts: karate, judo, jujitsu, aikido, kendo, sumo, etc.
  • Food: sushi, sashimi, hibachi, ramen/soba/udon, tempura, tofu, sake, etc.
  • Weaponry: katana, nunchuku, bo, sai, naginata, tonfa, kama, etc.
  • Musical Instruments: taiko drums, shamisen, koto, shakuhachi bamboo flute, etc.
  • Other cool things: ninja, samurai, origami, karaoke, sudoku, Japanese game shows, godzilla, haiku, etc.
  • Words that we use in English like: tsunami, emoji, sensei, hancho, etc.
  • And Mt. Fuji (富士山)! Sign me up!

It was a last-minute decision to book a flight to Tokyo in early June 2016. I only had a week to cover as much as possible. This may be the first country which I was thinking about my second trip before even going once. When my friend Justin and I were teenagers watching Dragonball Z and 100s hours spent on RPG games, we already spoke about going to Japan one day. 20 years later, it finally happened.

Back in 2001, I took 2 semesters of elementary Japanese which covers basic grammar/conversation as well as the hiragana and katakana characters. Tochika sensei was the best Japanese professor anyone could have, ありがとう ございました. With the basic foundation, it was enough to get by in a non-English speaking country. Yep, Japanese people typically don’t speak English conversationally so it is very handy to meet them halfway when communicating. It’s easier now more than ever to learn basic Japanese as there dozens of phone apps to help strengthen your vocabulary, grammar, verb suffixes, and Kanji character memorization. Some people might disagree and think that konnichiwa, arigato, and hai is all you need to get by, but if you take the time to learn the language as well as the culture, it actually enriches the experience, trust me. Phrase books aren’t very effective when asking questions because you won’t understand the answer in Japanese. Also, many signs are not translated in English. Ok, enough intro, minnasan ikimashO!

Day 0 – Arriving in Tokyo (東京):

Who would’ve thought that Japan is only 13 hours away via a straight flight from NYC. From Narita airport, I think the most convenient way to the city center is to book a round trip bus (Airport Limousine) for around $40. Its takes a little over an hour to get to Tokyo. Tokyo is divided into 23 wards, and I would say central Tokyo covers 10 of them.


We chose to stay in a central location and one of the busiest areas in Tokyo called Shinjuku (新宿). In particular, the Gracery Hotel in Kabukicho (歌舞伎町) was our home base for the next 5 days (east of Shinjuku station) which has a huge Godzilla head peeking out of the 8th floor. This is the view from the hotel:



Already being awake for 18+ hours, I figured I’d make it a record and go for 24 hour so that I could change clothes, take some photos, eat a sushi meal, and get a bird’s eye view of the city. Kabukicho is a red light district within Shinjuku and full of bars, night clubs, pachinko, and even a robot themed restaurant for tourists ($80 for a crazy show and dinner, Youtube it if you are curious). After my first official Japanese sushi meal, I headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building which was a 15 minute walk. Why? Because its free to go to 45th FL observation deck and get a view of the city. You can already see that Japan is getting ready for the 2020 Olympics.



At night, the building signs light up and its all quite overwhelming at first since there are so many people (coming from a New Yorker) and so many things to look at. One thing to notice is how every floor has something that may interest you, not just the ground floor, which is why you should also pay attention to the vertical signs as well.


I think a few hours of sleep is long overdue. Day 1 officially begins tomorrow…