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After finally getting to ditch our luggage at the Yaesu Fujiya hotel a couple blocks from Tokyo station, we once again had time against us as we rushed out to Gotemba, home to the Premium Outlets mall and the last day of “Golden Week”, a nation wide sale which only happens a couple times a year.

It’s a bit of a hike – made longer with the wait and change to local trains then a (free) shuttle bus before you actually get there.

Travel tip: budget about 2 hours (door to door) to be safe (should be less if you get the right connections) from Tokyo station. Once you get to Gotemba station, walk down the stairs and out to the car park, you’ll see a big sign for Premium Outlets with times for the shuttle bus, which runs about twice an hour. Remember to plan your return trip so you aren’t left stranded out in the sticks!

Travel tip: kill a bit of time at the small store which sold a bit of everything. Cool vintage cameras adorn the windows.

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The mall is very unassuming amongst the trees and mountains on the small roads leading to it. The complex is split across two sections divided by a scenic bridge and river (see first image). Two reasons why we chose to come out here, first, the Golden week sales – which were sadly disappointing, most stores had sales but nothing even close the the fire sale that’s hyped about online. The second reason was sadly also a little disappointing – to see Mt Fuji without having to go to it but thanks to the ever present haze it was completely invisible until just after sunset when its looming prescence was revealed as a silhouette.

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Travel tip: Mt Fuji is viewable from many spots around the mall and from the shinkansen travelling between Osaka and Tokyo, however its most likely to be shrowded in cloud and haze, but if you’re lucky, you might get it on a good day as seen here, photoed from the shinkansen by one of our friends, thanks Troy!

So, back to the shopping. First stop is the information booth to grab your travellers discount booklet which sports coupons for percent off or after purchase bonuses. Most excellently, these worked on top of the already reduced items. Golden Week may have let us down but these made up for it in a small way, especially at the Nike Outlet store, which was definitely a highlight and some of the best bargains we came across on the whole trip. However, being the first day we were reluctant to fill the suitcases so early on. Turns out that helped A LOT but let’s just say, next time we’re just going to bring an extra one 😉

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The rest of the stores are what you’d expect from the Premiun Outlet chain(and very similar to other branches around the world (re: Hawaii 2012)). Stand outs for us included Adidas (nice variety of stock and generously discounts); G Shock (a couple items were slightly reduced but nothing you couldn’t get online for a lot less); Bandai (all full RRP but the coupon helps a bit with the decision making, although we found quite a few items were cheaper outside of Tokyo – most noteably Den Den Town in Osaka); Lego and Sanrio are always fun to stop in, the former requiring just that bit longer with all their displays 😉 (see bonus photos below); Nikon– prices were like the G Shocks – cheaper online but it was nice to venture into a mothership, Reebok, Puma and The North Face are worthy of a quick look in as well.

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There’s also the swanky labels that put the premium in to “Premium Outlets” like Armani, Anna Sui, Burberry, Bvlgari, Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, Harrods, Hugo Boss, Jimmy Choo, Prada and Ralph Lauren but far out of reach for our modest wallets and tastes!

Finally, the foodcourt offers a nice variety of western and eastern eats and desserts covered mostly by local brands.
Note: it closes before the shops do so you may want to eat first if its coming towards the end of the day, but of course you can always count on Macca’s (off to the side of the complex) if you miss out!

Next we catch the Catbus to the Studio Ghibli museum!

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do or just want to share your own stories, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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Did they just skip a whole entry and jumped straight to #2? You betcha. You’re not going crazy, we’ve had a few requests for a review of this event so we’re skipping the prelims and are jumping straight into it!

Getting there: The website for the Tokyo Big Sight venue has quite clear instuctions and caters towards foreigners well with detailed maps and directions in English. Even without a major event on, when you arrive at Kokusai-Tenjijo station (Rinkai line) its pretty much a straight run to the venue. There’s a lot of open space and the unique architecture of the building makes it hard to miss (keep walking past maccas), but with something like the Toy Expo on the cards it was as simple as following the slews of scantily clad cosplayers. Done and I mean done!

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Travel tip: The event is a trade expo which goes for 4 days, first 2 are for resellers and the second 2 are for the general public. Getting there before doors open and beating some of the crowd is the key to maximising your viewing time.

Travel tip: Lockers – Having jumped straight off the shinkansen at Tokyo Station with all our luggage, the choice was either to spend time looking for our hotel to ditch our bags or head straight there to try and beat -some- of the people that slept in. We were already on the run so we decided to just take our luggage with us. In hindsight we probably should have just left them at Tokyo station but of course there’s never a locker when you need one! (or one big enough for our 30kg suitcases!). Not to worry, the venue has plenty in various sizes, as long as you get there before lunch you shouldn’t have too much problem scoring your choice. There is a change machine nearby in case you havent stocked up on Y100 coins.

Travel tip: Plan ahead – head to the event website before hand and find out which exhibits you want to see first. I recommend doing the big ones first then back track through the smaller vendors that don’t have any queues.

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First thing to keep in mind is that this is a trade expo, a lot of stuff you see is not for sale (yea, bunch of dirty teasers they are!) but where you cant buy, you can try. At least half the items are out of their cardboard prisons and are available for you to add your grubby fingerprints to. Ever wanted to see how that RC controller fits in your hands? Go for it, grab your fave car and take it for a spin while you’re at it. Or how about what you’d look like with a giant inflatable hat and dreadlocks? Throw it on and take a tote of your imaginery spliff, Cypress Hill style. Best of all you don’t need feel guilty or rude and you definitely wont get “the look”, in fact its quite the opposite, you’ll have someone on hand to show you how it works so you can nag your mum for it for xmas 😉

The major draw card AND biggest downside of the event is that its free. This means every man and his cosplaying kid dressed as a dog is there. Think of it like Disneyland or any major theme park for that matter, you will spend the majority of your time queuing…and queuing and just when you think you’re on the final stretch… some more queuing. The plus side is, unlike park rides, once you get in, the “ride” lasts longer than 5min! So back to the queuing, you thought Londoners knew how to queue? You havent seen anything till you add Japanese effeciency to the mix.

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Welcome to Line Town, population, you. First queue is to get in, these were reasonably short as there were several halls to enter. We enter the downstairs one first, simply put, if you’ve ever been to Japan before, its like entering a Pachinko slot arcade for the first time, or for the less initiated, think of hearing every radio station and seeing every TV channel all at once to a backdrop of a 1000 fireworks while drowning in skittles and you’ll be getting close. Take it in for a moment but don’t let it consume you, and it will, find your bearings then make a bee line to… the line.

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One of the main attractions for us and just about everyone else was the Bandai exhibit occuping the most real estate of the whole event and this is where the real queuing starts. Don’t be misled by thinking you can just waltz in the exit, even by accident, security are quite strict (it was an accident, I swear!). Tour group style signs and town criers on megaphones are most likely giving clues as to where the queues start and how long the waits are but that wont help for a second if you don’t understand Japanese, following the branding is much easier. A bit of pre-trip research found the wait was about 30-45min but finding the end of the queue with a mere 10-15m from the entrance I thought we were in luck but then the queue started to zig zag like a bank queue. No problem, 15min in and we were on the last “zag”, but …hang on why are we turning away from the entrance?? Dishearteningly the line took a tangent and headed off behind the vendor stalls and just kept going.

The distracting and time passing sights of people watching and spotting stalls to add to the “must see” list disappeared and we were left with the cold white walls of an event hall and rabbit runs for staff. Like the speeding up and changing into third of a traffic jam there’s glimpses of hope as you spot the entrance and try to estimate the amount of time left but its as much a mirage as a handicap carpark at the shops. Unless you arrived as the doors opened, save yourself a trip on the emotional rollercoaster and just go by your watch. 30-45min is a pretty good time estimate, we took around 40min, however the wait is well and truly worth it starting with a sample bag on entry, perhaps a “thank you, for not slapping the parent of that screaming kid or punching out the guy dragging his feet and staring at you the whole time” more than anything else but like a kid with ADD you’ll quickly forget those woes as the complete Bandai catalogue comes alive and tries to eat you.

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The first half of the display is targetted mostly to the younger kids, especially girls (and the occassional business man) with classics like Sailor Moon, Anpanman, Power Rangers (and other local tokusatsu style shows), Tamagotchi (and its spin offs like Dream Coffret Salon) to favourites like Monsters Inc. A lot of these sections included make and create tables for the little ones. Continuing around we crossed what you could loosely call the sporting section which housed a variety of weapons that shot, darts, water, pellets or paintballs but what I was interested in was the last sections, namely the very extensive Space cruiser Yamanto and Gundam sections. Basically if it was released or going to be released, you’d more than likely find it here from out of the box kit builds to full weathering and detailed dioramas, its all covered.

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Just off to the side of the exit there was one of our fave artists, Mr. Knucklebear himself Touma putting brush to canvas for a piece that was to be a lucky door prized. The cuter than cute Milky girl had her own section as did our favourite way of getting rid of coins, the toy equivalent of the pokies – gashapon! Just remember, a lot of items are display only so try not to get your hopes up too much if you spot that chaser you’ve been after for months!

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The rest of the event which included kids faves from My Little Pony, Mario characters, Lego and those creepy people-like mice Sylvannian Family (complete with their own stage show for the IRL creeps) to big boys toys and collectibles with air rifles, RC of any imaginable vehicle, Nanoblocks, exquisitely detailed movie characters from Hot Toys and even a stand of musical equipment from KORG all required little to no waiting. Unless of course you head upstairs to the Tomy stall, which of course had a line for the escalator, a line to get in to the exhibition hall, THEN a line for the stall. Needless to say we cut our losses and saved some time, more so because Gotemba outlet mall was calling! That’s up next…

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Travel tip: Exhibition eats: there are several “food court” areas essentially selling the carni’ equivalent Japanese food. Plenty of fried items and traditional event food like hotdogs but they also had rice dishes along the lines of teriyaki beef with kewpi and cabbage and gyozas which definitely left our stomachs with a much less weighed down feeling. Perfect to keep on running!

Tokyo International Toy Expo 2013 highlight photos

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Complete Tokyo Toy Expo 2013 gallery here

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do or just want to share your own stories, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios