02.25.2015

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If you’re looking for a day trip while staying in Osaka, Kyoto is an obvious choice being only about 30min away on a regular train or if you splurge for the shinkansen add-on for the JR pass it only takes 15min, in fact, you could easily spend a few days here but of course we were still whirlwinding and only had a day so we kept to a couple of the highlights.

Fushimi Inari-taisha

Getting there:
Directly across the road from Inari station which is about a 5min ride from Kyoto station. The giant torii is hard to miss!

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We chose to check out probably one of the most well known Kyoto landmarks first, the shrine at Fushimi Inari-taisha as it, like many “nature” based sights, opened before anything else. The large shrine is located at the base of the mountain which is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and sake. Food and booze? Sounds like a top bloke 😉 From the shrine there is a few kilometers of walking track up the mountain through several thousand “torii” ie. the big orange arches. The path is mostly easy but with a modest 2 hour approximation to reach the top its best you budget the better part of the day, if however you have a crammed itinerary burning through your hidden waist pouch you can take a detour just before half way which leads to obstructed views of the city and paved paths through residential buildings and a couple little tucked away souvenir stores.

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Foxes, said to be messengers, feature heavily through out the main shrine and the smaller ones up the mountain path. What does the fox say? It says its time to get back to Kyoto station and catch a bus…

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Travel tip: being a mountain hike, make sure you wear suitable footwear unless you’re a fan of stubbed toes and rolled ankles! Exposed rocks and natural paths get very slick under the slightest bit of water so take it easy either way. A light weight spray jacket and some water wouldn’t go astray either.

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The Golden Temple
Ok so on the way to the Golden Temple we may have gotten off the bus a little too early, mainly because everyone else got off so instead we saw…

…The Silver Temple
Second place isnt that bad right? Well unless it’s a temple then its not really the same, especially after seeing photos of the Golden Temple before hand :( That said, it was still a nice stop with some picturesque scenery, a short wilderness walk, sand garden and coy/wishing pond. However if you want the first place, stay on the bus! Don’t get out at the first major stop where everyone gets off.

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Getting there:
Take bus numbers 101 or 205 from Kyoto Station to the Kinkaku-ji Michi bus stop…easier said than done since its difficult to see the name of the stops so this is where our help ends and you adventure begins! 😀

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Shopping on Shijo-dori
Here you get the best of both worlds, higher end stores with brands like Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Lauren on Shijo while a block away the Teramachi and Shin Kyogoku Arcades run parallel to each other with stores along the lines of everyday items with a scattering of vintage clothing stores, “urban” stores and the odd store that sells only walking sticks! While not the shopping mecca for most tourists the unique items in some of the smaller boutiques is worthy enough for a “quick” (it goes on for awhile!) walk through.

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There is also a smaller street section dedicated to food markets called Nishiki Market adjacent to these with fresh food, produce and meat along with a bunch of eateries. At around 7-8pm we noticed they were all closing up so remember to get there a bit earlier if you’re after some grub.

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Getting there:
We chose to catch the train to Karasuma station and walk towards Kawaramachi station. Note: your JR pass is not accepted on most of the local lines here as they are privately run. You’ll also find a lot of the stations and maps at the ticket machines have no English so get acquainted with tracking train routes by colour and matching Japanese characters of the stops of your origin and destination.

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Next up, we make the most of our JR pass and catch an early shinkansen back to Tokyo in an attempt to attend at least one flea market, the mission, the large one at Yoyoji park in Harajuku.

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, 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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Some words that regularly get thrown around a lot for Osaka are “smaller” and “laid back” in comparison to Tokyo, which of course could easily be misconstrued as it being some kind of little beach town, not so. Its still a large city with plenty of hustle and bustle, to put things into perspective, Melbourne is Australia’s most densely populated city at 430/km2 while Osaka crams in over 12000/km2! So while it may only have a population of Brisbane its shoe horned into the space of the Cook Islands. That said, the only real difference between Tokyo is they stand to the opposite side of escalators. Tokyo = left, Osaka = right. Weird since they both drive on the same side of the road, either way, we’re just glad there’s -some- etiquette and commonsense! (Yes I’m looking at you Australia, get your act together! :p )

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Travel tip: In Osaka, we chose to stay at the Hearton Hotel (Nishi Umeda), a short walk from Osaka station with the majority being undercover thanks to a short mall which joins the station. The mall is pretty much all restaurants and cafes (bar the token electronics store) so its perfect to grab a bite at the start or end of the day. There is also delis, fresh fruit and bakeries/dumpling huts(with some of the biggest pork buns we have ever seen!) along with Auntie May’s Pretzels (not as good as Wetzel’s but a worthy substitute) and McDonald’s inside the train station.

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Ah the wet season, always just enough rain that you need some kind of protection but its too hot and muggy to wear a hardshell so a brolly is the way to go. $5-10 from just about anywhere or just borrow one from the many that are left at entrances of the train stations, just remember to pay it forward 😉

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Nipponbashi aka Den Den Town

Our original plan was to stop off at the Shitennoji Temple markets, one of the biggest in the area but with the rain unrelenting as we exited Tennoji station (closest to the temple) we made the executive decision to turn straight back around and head to back Nanba. This is where the JR pass pays for itself, no need to worry about paying again on a failed mission.

Walking out of Nanba station had a instantly strange small town feel, gone were the towering skyscrapers of shiny glass and metal and in its place, a “main drag” of a small town…comparatively. Not to the point of only a fish and chip shop and a pub but awning covered footpaths, a two way street that wasn’t as wide as it was long and far less signage and neon lights bearing down on you. Many buildings were still about 6 stories tall so there wasn’t a chance of seeing a horse and carriage. The best part, there’s no need for any kind of navigation, it basically just one long street centered on Sakaisuji Avenue.

Travel tip: Walk out of Nanba station East exit (follow the signs to Den Den Town) then turn right into Sakaisuji. One of the first shops is tourist info if you need a map or extra help getting around.

Den Den town is Osaka’s answer to Tokyo’s Akiba, it’s an electronic and toy haven… just on a smaller scale, but what it lacks in variety it makes up for in savings. Prices were all noticeably less here, a quick scan of the Bandai model kit section saw most kits $5-10AU cheaper than their big city counterpart.

Laox and its countless clone stores handled the electronics side of things but it was the toy shopping that tweak our interest with Super Kids Land leading the charge. Five floors of specialties from general collectibles to model kits to air guns and RC vehicles to trains and a whole floor dedicated to Tamiya. If you have any sort of passing interest in any of those things, you may want to budget a bit of time here 😉

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Other stores of mention, Herogangu: very similar to Mandarake, a big variety of toys, collectibles and memorablia. Check out the “best Optimus Prime halloween costume everrrr”, and Astro Zombies (of rockin toyland), worthy of a look on name alone, but there’s much more to this store.  One of the more quirkier stores we’ve come across, it not only sports the usual fair but takes a hard left into pop culture and movie related items from resin casts and busts to masks and props. For those not able to make it to the states, there’s also a big selection of vintage Americana related toys.

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Used camera stores are also plentiful but contrary to belief f1.2 lenses aren’t just thrown away, most of the good/usuable stuff has already been picked through or can be found cheaper online (and new!).

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Dotonbori

If like us, you walked down one side of Sakaisuji Av and up the other you’ll end up with the dilemma – do you keep walking to Dotonbori or walk back to Nanba station to catch a train to the next station and walk back from there? We figured since we were already walking to just keep going. It was only a km or two and we found a nice little spot for lunch along the way. The shops and scenery however dies off and it’s a rather uneventful walk till you get to Dotonbori which is hard to miss with all the giant sea creature signs on the front of shops! It’s a shopping and eating mecca and basically the go-to destination for all Osakian travellers. You could easily spend a day exploring both sides of the canal and the long covered shopping mall that runs perpendicular to it. Nike Osaka is also nearby if you’d like to try your luck for some regionally exclusive items.
On a clear day, jump aboard the mini ferris wheel to get a higher view of the area.

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Photo tip: The Glico sign (makers of one of our fave snacks here and over there, Pocky) can be clearly seen from one of the major canal bridge crossings and is common tourist attraction.

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Heading a little further north you’ll come across Amerikamura, known locally as Ame-mura is kind of like a little America-town, doesn’t quite have the same ring as Chinatown though and its relativity to America is pretty much only in the form of clothing shops with a hip hop angle (closest “wrong” American style food was probably the ice cream/cream filled hotdog bun. We passed, something just not quite right about it… tho if they threw some bacon on it… 😉 ) so again, if you’re missing out on travelling stateside then this could very well be the stop for you, if of course, your wallet agrees. With the some what implied exoticness of all things American, clothing prices reflect that. Basic Adidas tees were around 4-5000Y and just like Harajuku there are plenty of guys of African persuasion trying to jive talk you into their store to give you the hard sell.

Travel tip: If you’d rather not be bothered or would like to browse in peace, give them a blank stare to imply you don’t speak Japanese or English, they give up pretty quickly and move on to the next person 😉

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The stand out for the area however will please the sneakerheads out there, there are several sneaker stores sporting the higher end models, namely Jordans but also a selection of local releases. There are even stores which have larger sizes for those that normally don’t have much luck when travelling through Asia. Fine Crew Osaka was one of the stand outs and clear lovers of the Jumpman.

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Caps and head gear is covered by New Era dealer, On Spot which is conveniently on the way to our must-stop sneaker spot, K Skit. Sadly though, many of their shelves were bare with remaining stock spread out, quite possibly waiting for their next shipment. It was definitely a stark contrast to their brimming Kichijoji store, none the less, its rather easy to find being above GStar Raw.  Just hope you don’t catch them on an off week!

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With the rain unrelenting we made our way back to the hotel for some much needed rest and crossed our fingers it would give us a break the following day when we head to Kyoto!

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

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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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Nissan HQ

Having just parted with my faithful old 180sx, a close companion of nigh on 15 years, mere weeks before this trip it was a fitting tribute and just a little coincidental that Nissan’s Global headquarters was on the way to Yokohama bay, just a short walk from Yokohama station.

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Travel tip: The PDF on the Nissan site gives you all the info you need to get there.

Needless to say, the place is impressive as it is sprase, not to say its empty, just very spread out with a sizeable selection of current models from pocket sized kei cars to the ugly duckling Juke (regardless of how many Nismo parts you throw at it) and the business man terroriser, Godzilla aka the GTR. They even have a balls to the wall and extremely rare Lemans R390 GT.

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The best thing is, even though it is a showroom/dealership, there are no pushy salesmen or any obligation at all, its actually quite the opposite. You are free to sit in, adjust and play the open and close game to your heart’s content. Assistants are only too happy to show off a feature like the Swiss army knife seats of the Cube, nod with a smile then leave you to “how many combinations can we do now?” 😉

Of course no attraction is complete without a gift shop and this one doesn’t disappoint with more branded merch than Hello Kitty. Ok, maybe not that much but there’s still more than enough knick knacks, memorabilia and clothing to deck out any fan and their house, car or work space.

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Update: Reports since our visit sees the space expanded to include sections and information along the lines of a museum with accompanying vintage cars and artwork being swapped in and out regularly, all the more reason to check it out :)

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Yokohama Bay area

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As this was just a day trip for us, Queen’s Plaza was a logical choice for a centralised jump off point. The train stops at Minatomirai station below the mall which makes its easy to get around and a good spot to ditch accumulating shopping in one of the many available lockers.

Landmark Plaza and Queen’s Plaza (and now MARK IS mall) are all within a short walk of each other sporting a higher end feel, with accompanying stores, from your regular Westfields. Kids (and our 😉 ) faves, Hello Kitty, Studio Ghibli and Pokemon stores are abound but the stand outs were Snoopy Town, Lego store, The Disney store and… Mister Donut 😉 Early evening, about an hour before closing they start clearing stock so donuts and other desserts can be had for some great prices, of course we had to try some (:

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It was well into the evening by the time we made it outside to the waterways around the bay unfortunately being the wet season it rained more days than it didn’t and this day was no different. But all was not lost, the view and lights around the bay still looked beautiful and it wasn’t heavy enough to make the walk to the World Porters mall unpleasant.

Along the way you’ll come across the Cosmo World amusement park, however also due to the less than ideal weather it had closed up early. The Cosmo Clock 21/ferris wheel however was still lit up and looked very cool against the night skyline.

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The Cup Noodle Museum is also down this end of the bay but we missed that by a good hour (!) so that left the Red brick Warehouse and World Porters malls. Maybe it was just the wind down to a rather long day but both malls were rather uneventful, on the plus side however, they’re open late so you can pretty much have the place to yourself if you venture out after dinner.

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Travel Tip: There are a few pedicabs around the area if you want someone else’s legs to get you back to the train station.

Next up, we’re back on the shinkansen and heading to Osaka!

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, 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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Ramen museum? Thoughts instantly conjure up 1000 year old petrified noodles and perhaps a fossilised bowl fashioned from half a coconut. While there certainly are elements of a history lesson involved here, there’s also so much more to enjoy… and we’re not just talking about the ramen!

Getting there:
It’s only a few blocks from the station but it takes a little longer due to having to take the spaghetti of overpasses to cross the large intersections. It’s a rather uneventful walk but nothing too strenuous.

Outside its rather unassuming, pretty much a corporate looking building tucked away in a business district, the giveaway however is ticket box office. Inside, its kind of what you’d expect, a reasonably spacious art gallery style layout of items and history relating to the past, present and future of the delicious noodle and broth combo. Accompanying plaques are all in Japanese but there is still plenty of visual stimuli and a gift shop section selling a wide variety of ramen related souvenirs and cooking utensils if you’re so inclined.

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What you wouldn’t expect is a mini coin op games arcade, a sizable slot car race track and a shop selling a huge range of scale model kits (mostly cars, vehicles). But that was quite alright with us! Ok, so maybe you were expecting some side entertainment Japanese style but take a trip downstairs for the real wow factor and to get your slurp on.

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Travel Tip:
This shop and the race track operate under shortened hours, best to check with the venue if you want to add it to your day.

What we discovered was some kind of time warp! Teleporting us back to 1958, the year instant noodles hit the shelves and paved the way of the future. Views from the mezzanine level show a perfectly recreated Tokyo street scene complete with authentic hustle and bustle of busy chefs and hungry customers to grimey walls and signs and even props like old coke machines and stores. Some of the stores are actually functioning businesses selling vintage items like old film cameras.

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The ambient sunrise to dusk mood lighting across the painted ceiling seals the deal and sets the mood for eating regardless of the weather or time of day outside.

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To the stores, there are about a dozen famous ramen restaurants from all over Japan and to help with your choices, most sell a snack sized version of their meals so you can try a few rather than filling up at one place. If you’re travelling in a group that wants to try a bit of everything, there’s a central common courtyard area so you don’t need to all buy and eat at one place. The space also plays host to entertainers and musicians, during our visit a magician had the crowd in stitches. I’m sure it would’ve been even funnier if we knew what he was saying!

After a brief assessment of the selection on offer we locked in our choice at Ikemen Hollywood, not just for its American 50’s diner decor but for its infamous “Dip Ramen”. That’s right, the noodles and ingredients are separate, have as much or as little of the broth as you like! Verdict? An ear deafening slurp, will eat again! …except you cant. As of June this year they have closed that store! No idea why but perhaps it was drawing in too many greasers and Elvis impersonators who disrupted other guests? :p

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Travel Tip: Placing your order – all orders are placed via vending machines at the front of each shop. Simply punch in the code or press the button associated with your meal, insert cash and take your receipt. Don’t worry if you get confused, the friendly staff/host(ess) will be more than happy to help you.

Next up, we stop in at Nissan HQ and do a quick run through Yokohama’s bay area.

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, 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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Zoorasia is one of Japan’s newest and biggest zoos… so when in Yokohama…

We chose to head to the zoo first thing in the morning to avoid some of the crowds and with the hope of maximising our time in Yokohama since it opened earlier than the other sights/shops we wanted to see.

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Getting there:
Coming from Tokyo its just a matter of catching the shinkansen (which run very regularly from Tokyo Station) to Shin-Yokohama. Make your way to the bus stop at the front and wait. There’s a sign listing services for Zoorasia but we found that wasn’t necessary as the bus was clearly marked on the front and with a small sign and logo on the side. While you wait there’s a nice little bakery and a KFC across the road if you’re after a bite to eat.

As with any smaller local services your JR pass may not be accepted so keep some coins handy. The ride is less than Y200 so its not going to break the bank.

The trip takes about 20-30min on the eco-bus (eerily quiet when it shuts down when stopped at lights!) which takes you through smaller suburbs and a little bit of country side. Stay on it till the end, it’ll drop you off right at the door.

Travel tip: More details of how to get there can be found on their site, specifically this PDF (requires PDF reader or a supported browser/add on)

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Getting there early definitely paid off, not a person in sight at the entrance, no line up for tickets and freedom of choice for lockers to lighten our load.

With free reign of the grounds bar a few other tourists it was easy to get the photos we wanted and move at a steady pace without getting frustrated with feet draggers and tour/school groups!

The animals are roughly divided into regions of origin, Asian Tropical, Subartic, Oceanic Grassland etc. Most of the “wow” animals are on the west half of the compound so head to the left after entering. Their enclosures are all very large, natural and well kept, a far cry from what we saw in Beijing previously. Viewing windows above and below the water in enclosures for animals like the penguins are an added bonus to watch their transistion in and out of the water.

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Getting about does take a bit of time due to the expansive size so if you go at busy times be prepared to add a lot more time to your schedule.

Travel tip: There are eateries through out the grounds to take a rest, Aussie Hill restaurant provides a psuedo taste of home, just don’t expect billy tea and damper 😉

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"I said I'll get to you in a sec..."

“I said I’ll get to you in a sec…”

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ORLY?

ORLY?

YA RLY.

YA RLY.

Like any zoo, the time you take is purely up to how thorough/interested you are (or how many kids you have) so it can take anywhere from a couple hours to the whole day. The place was filling up by the time we left (around lunch) as the school excursions started arriving.

Did someone say lunch? Time for a ramen break! Up next, The Ramen Museum!

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, 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

Tamiya HQ
If you can’t make it out to a model kit factory (if you do, just make sure they still have tours! many don’t anymore) then popping into Tamiya HQ in Shimbashi is -almost- the next best thing. Its essentially a store but don’t let that discourage you, their range is extensive covering thousands of their latest model kits, paints and building materials on the ground floor; an RC haven in the basement and a social build event space upstairs. The street level also has a solid selection of built kits on display and a generous helping of branded merchandise including clothing, stickers and nicknacks. The longer night hours (10pm) during the week (and 6pm on weekends) are useful for planning your days when you lose track of time!

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Diver City Plaza

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Diver what? Located in Tokyo bay, Koto, its not exactly a place that comes up in the Tokyo “must see’s ” list and if youre only going for the shopping you may even miss the best (and biggest) attraction, a 1:1 scale Gundam robot! Those that aren’t interested in all things anime/manga are probably already rolling their eyes but trust me when we tell you its as awe inspiring as the Eiffel Tower (and almost as big!…almost :p). The real treat is making your way there after dark when it puts on a light and sound show complete with accompanying movie, CO2 bursts and a bit of movement! Yes movement, sadly not in the walk around, baritone voice, making girls swoon Optimus Prime kinda way but we’d like to think that if Japan did come under attack Pacific Rim style they’d already have a substitute Jaeger secretly ready to lay it down 😉

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Best thing is, the full length show runs hourly and there are teaser previews on the half hour. Times are displayed on a sign. There is also a merch demountable office at its feet with a modest selection of Gundam related items and Gunpla kits. Most however are available at countless other stores (and at better prices depending where you look) so you can give your carrying arms a break and just enjoy the show. Here, you can also buy tickets to the small “Gundam Front” exhibit which houses some scaled real life props from the series and other points of interest.

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Photo Tip:  As you can see from the photos, this guy is huge, so an ultra wide angle (around 12mm on crop, 20mm on fx) is a must.  A mid zoom will help get some close up details.  A tripod is handy but not a must unless you decide to shoot some night city scapes, not much on this side of the bay however.

Afterwards head inside for some food and shopping. If, like us, you got a bit carried away and watched the full show twice before you realise the shops close at 9, you don’t need to worry, just head up to the top level. Thanks to Round 1 – very similar to Timezone in Australia with arcade games, claw machines (skill (aka patience) testers), bowling and karaoke – shops stay open a bit later on this level with a selection of international fast food and local restaurants. We were looking at a menu only to realise the place had closed, but of course, in true Japanese hospitality, the owner came out and asked if we wanted a table and that it was no problem to cook us something. How could we say no? The bento set was delish btw 😉 We also now find it very difficult to go back to fried items sitting on the plate instead of on a mini rack to stay crispy!

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Travel Tip: There are a few ways to Diver City from Tokyo station but there is no direct route so you will need to change trains and do a bit of walking between stations.  Allow about 30min all up and remember to keep some change on you for the local trains that don’t accept the JR passes.  Full list in english on the Diver City webpage.

Next up we hit the shinkansen early for a day trip to Yokohama, you know, the place where all those tyres come from :p

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, 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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Aki’ba, THE geek mecca (and mecha!) of the world. We covered a few spots on our last visit but its one of those places that you can continually go back to and not only find something new every time but you’ll never cover all of it! It’s a bit hard to reference each store, especially when a lot of them don’t even seem to have any obvious naming (having rubbish Japanese reading skills doesn’t help!) but know that if you work your way north from the station keeping within a block or two of the main drag you cant go too wrong. The best part is uncovering hidden treasures in stores that, at first glance, don’t look like they’d have what youre looking for.

A couple of our fave stops include:
The Gundam Café – exactly what it says on the box. A café celebrating all that’s Gundam with Gundam referenced food and drinks and nifty décor. Also a good place to grab a couple café related souvenirs – mugs, biscuits etc. as well as a small selection of Gunpla. Next door is AKB48, the girl band, the theatre, the hourly shows. Sick of waiting years to see your fave act or missing them because they didn’t come to your city? AKB48 has you covered where you can go to them and see them play any day of the year and even in different parts of the country on the same day! How is this possible? Well having 48 members (now into the hundreds!) helps. Though if you’re not a tweenage girl or business man it may not be your cup of Miso.

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Mandarake – Big black building. Toys. Cosplay. Old, new. Lots. If you’ve read any of our posts about Japan previously, you’ll know how much we champion this place, go there.

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Gashapon store – A whole shop just for gashapon! While the thrill of the hunt is always fun, I’m finding I’m more inclined to just pay a slight premium to get the “discovered” pieces and either cherry pick or buy the whole collection that someone else has taken the time to collate. If this sounds like you as well, the rear of the store and upstairs has display cases and shelves full of the ones you’ve been chasing, didn’t know existed or have been out of production for years.

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Sega – There are plenty of multi storey gaming buildings but none stand out quite like Seee-gahh (cue sparkly shine). Many hours and thousands of Yen can be spent without blinking an eye. But of course if you cant master the “giant metal nail punching holes in the paper” or “push the pig through the bars” technique, there’s always the cop out of simply finding a store that stocks the prize you’re after and buying it 😉

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Super Potato – Wall to wall retro console gaming, even if you’re not after a cartridge or console there’s plenty of items that would make great wall/desktop display pieces.

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Robot Robot – Thankfully this was one of those times judging a shop by its name paid off! With no street frontage and only a sign to go by, it was always going to be a gamble but the trip up the elevator was worth it not just for Robot squared with its extensive range of Hot Toys style high end collector products with leanings towards horror movies and gore in general …and vagina-like monsters (why are they always vagina-like??)  but for the smaller accompanying stores on the same floor with a great selection of new and used toys and collectibles. Want to see a fair chunk of Coca Cola’s history as a yoyo? Yep, you see that here too!

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Of course there’s also the plethora of electronics stores like LAOX which really need no description, if it’s a new gadget, they’ll more than likely have it. Pricing is however average or slightly better with greater bargains to be had online but finding a JDM only model or colour can be worth it.

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We stumbled across a “Rollertarg” a bit further down so lunch was an easy choice :) continue walking and you will end up in Ueno. However, unlike last time the market gods were not kind to us and a lot of stores that we previously come across had moved on, though its always a good place to walk through, you’ll never know what you’ll find and the nearby park is more than worth the trip.

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, 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

Kichijoji

In true Japanese fashion of revamping and renewing just about everything every couple years, Kichijoji had copped a bit of a touch up in parts and is in the process in others. Our main reason for coming out this way last time, Skit, had also changed or more precisely, moved a couple blocks away – actually not too long after we were there. Their new store now sports a street shop front and actually looks more like a store than a hoarder’s cluttered apartment! But never fear, Its still wall to wall, floor to ceiling of shrink wrapped sneakers of all kinds from super rare to garden variety and brand new to turning-to-dust just minus the creepy slum factor.

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I struck it lucky last time with a pair of Baltimore AF1’s in mint condition and as it turns out, that same strike of lightning struck again years later for the same pair but $20 cheaper! Perfect timing since the previous pair are on their way out.

Shopping tip: The website is still the best place to start with a mostly up to date inventory of stock and prices for a pre-visit recon mission. You can also check out stock in their other stores to see if its worth the trip out to them.

LA Avenue aka Napsize was another great place for us to stop last time but it too had moved, all the way to Harajuku! So the only other place left that sparked our interest was one that was missed the first time round, PX Megastore. There’s a few reviews online that speak rather highly of the place but unfortunately, to us it seemed a bit junky, kind of like rocking up to a garage sale a day later, its all been picked through, the half decent stuff is gone and you’re left with stuff you could easily do without. Its not a complete loss though, there is a large range of new and (mostly) used brand name street wear including sneakers, G Shocks, endless amounts of Supreme branded items and a huge selection of clothing, a lot of which can be viewed on their website. There’s also racks of clothing and sneaker basket bins at clearance prices at the front.

Prices were very hit and miss, more along the lines of miss which didn’t help, but if you like a rummage sale in a bad-part-of-town discount store feel and are in the market for some vintage street wear then its worth the several blocks walk from the station.  You may however have better luck at one of their other stores.


Nakano

From a tourist’s point of view, Nakano for all points and purposes is just Nakano Broadway mall, which is pretty much all there is at this small station but if you want a toy, electronics, games and anime mecca outside of Aki’ba then this is the perfect stop. In fact, you wouldn’t feel too bad if you had to miss out on the latter after spending a fair portion of the day here.

Travel tip: take the north exit from the station and its just across the awning covered street.

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The first section of the mall is actually Nakano Sun mall, over 200m of branded shops and restaurants in a similar vein to the B grade retailers from your regular Westfield. Uniqlo is there for some well priced basic clothing along with a range of mobile phone and small electronic shops. Continue along till you reach the escalators, this will take you up to level 3 and is where the fun begins!

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So in the vein of Aki’ba its an anime and toy heaven and judging from the number of Mandarake stores it really should’ve just been called the Manadarake centre, seriously there’s more than 12! Some aren’t branded or are focused on only one type of product but the price tags all have the name. So basically if you want any kind of model kit, anime figure, manga book, RC toy or general electronics, you’ll be hard pressed to not find it here. The catch slight however is a fair portion of the items are used or of vintage status which is a blessing and a curse for some (actually if you’re looking for latest and greatest this is probably not the best place to start). There are also a large number of gashapon hoarding stores (basically they collect (possibly by buy, sell, trade) pretty much every gashapon “prize” new and old and individually package them) so if you’re after that chaser you’ve spent forever looking for, more than likely they’ll have it here, usually at a premium. Its better than having to pour money into a machine on a prayer but granted its not nearly as much fun.

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The stores themselves are reminiscent of the multi level bargain market style buildings in China, no real décor or order other than shelves to hold stock, usually floor to ceiling. It took me hours to get to the point but eventually they did start to all blend together, only the odd few with something different to sell (or a big strip of mech-waste bolted to the store front) stood out. But again, if you have the time and love the hunt there’s plenty of treasures to be found.

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Stairs take you to adjacent levels with more of the same with a change in ratio of cutesy clothing shops to toys and vice versa.

There are also little electronic stores that sell bits and pieces of computers and radios etc. and vintage consoles and games. I’m not too sure on how they go with haggling but a couple stores automatically gave discounts for multi buys, one even slipped in an extra game cartridge with a wink and a “shhh”! Nice one! 😀 FYI, Fonzy’s “eeyyy” finger guns have the same “you’re awesome!” translation in Japanese as well 😉

Travel Tip: stores open till around 7 but many begin closing from 5 or 6.

The supermarket on the lower level is a good spot to grab some supplies of fresh fruit and veg and snacks before heading back to the station.

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Part of the haul ;)

Part of the haul ;)

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, 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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If you don’t know what Studio Ghibli is, stop reading and head down to your video store and at the VERY least hire out Ponyo. Its one of the most readily available works and is easily digestable with some big name Hollywood actors lending their voices to the characters. For the uninitiated it’s a good place to start for a peak into the world of the creations from co founder, animator and director, Hayao Miyazaki and Japanese anime in general (that doesn’t involve Mecha or demon tentacle rape).

Yes it’s a kids cartoon but it and the Studio Ghibli philosophy of wide eye wonder and innocence is something many would say is missing from today’s society. Where Disney portrays a lot of things happen by magic, the SG way of things is much more whimsical in a simple acceptance that there are many worlds and realms within our own and characters from each interact freely.

This simplicity and untainted wonder can be traced directly back to what some might say “eccentricities” of Hayao Miyazaki. Very much a traditionalist in the art of animation with most bar a couple of his recent works being all drawn, coloured and animated by hand and he has on many occasions voiced his displeasure with technology, not owning a computer or DVD player and even going as far as saying people using iPads are making masturbation gestures (though isnt that just Apple users in general? 😉 ). This rejection of technology is imposed at the museum where absolutely no photos are permitted. Some (including myself at first) will think this is a bit of a jip feeling like you’re back in an 80’s theme park without film and stuck having to resort to buying your overpriced memories from the giftshop! As true as that may be it adds to the wonderment and for once in a long time (apart from those nights where you’re too drunk to take photos (or ones worth keeping)) many will not have a minute by minute running commentary of their outing and will have to rely on their other body’s sensors not the one in their camera. So this reduces our usual story by pictures account of events but it just means you’ll have to go experience it for yourself 😉

Travel Tip: All tickets are prepaid and are limited to a certain number each day to maximise your experience and comfort (if only all tourist spots did this!). For international tourists, the best way to secure a ticket is to purchase them through authorised dealers/travel agents in your home country, they are also available via some convenience stores in Japan but this choice would be for those with a flexible schedule. Tickets go on sale 3 months in advance so you have plenty of time to plan your stay if you’re on a tight schedule like we were. In Brisbane we used H.I.S. travel in the city.

Getting there:

The website suggests a couple different ways of getting there, namely shuttle bus, but we recommend leaving your hotel a little earlier, catching the train to Kichijoji station and walking. Head south out of the station, through some lanes of boutique stores and follow the signs to Inokashira park (a highlight from our previous visit, with a rather different look in the summer), then on to the museum. The walk takes about 30-45min which includes regular stopping for photos through out the park but once you hit the major road it’s a straight run to the unmissable destination.

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Unmissable in the sense that…well, it’s a castle! Despite this, with help from plenty of wall crawling natural follage, it blends well into the surrounding cityscape bar the pseudo ticket booth manned by everyone’s favourite keeper of the forest, Totoro. Its not until you head inside does it feel like you’re truly stepping into one of his films. Descending a grand stair case like royalty lands you on the ground floor which houses a cinema and an open floor where you can see up three stories to skylights and a ceiling fan made of airplane wings.

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Rooms branch off from the center with one housing a selection of basic animation techniques. A large carosel houses a fully detailed scene with Totoro figures sequenced like stop motion but more like a flip book where the preceding “frame” is a short distance behind the current. The characters come to life as the wheel spun and a strobe flickered. These types basic principles and methods used in animation are displayed in varying forms of timed live “shows” and hands on exhibits as you work your way up to the top level.

Here you’ll see a re-creation of several of his work areas, which looked pretty much like a fair portion of his house. Anyone who’s dabbled in anything artistic in the way of painting or drawing would instantly recognise the chaotic yet “I know exactly where that is” layout of clutter over desks and shelves. An airbrush sits at the ready like a six shooter, sketches with annotations, scrawls and correction sit to the side of a current half completed work, piles of loose pages are on top of sketch books propped up on big jars full of pencils which have been sharpened down to a “roach” sized nubbin in amongst ash trays full of butts surrounded by shelves of coloured paints of all kinds of mediums while every last inch of wall and shelf space is covered with all matter of completed works, art, figures, toys and other kinds of inspiration. The room exhibit themselves being a work of art… in a haphazard Hoarders TV show kind of way. All that was missing was a framed “Bless this mess” cross-stitching to tie it all in together 😉

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Also on this level you’ll find the kids play room with a third scale Cat Bus and Soot sprites! (only for kids tho ): ). Before you get too bummed about that or embarrass yourself by yelling “My turn! My turn!” before pushing them out of the way, head out the door and climb the spiral stairs to the roof to visit another friend you might know from Castle in the Sky. Hes sneakily hiding amongst the trees (quite a feat considering his size) and is barely visible from the ground. Grab a photo of him by himself then get the person behind you to take one of you together. It was pretty much an unspoken production line for those waiting. People behind would shoot for those in front, it worked out quite well and the line moved quickly for the most part. Note: the path behind the sculpture goes no where.

Finally, if you’re chasing refreshments, there is a coffee shop and restaurant on site however the restaurant had a long queue the whole time we were there and getting a table inside or out was pretty much impossible. Better to just pack some snacks and pop into one of the restaurants back towards Kichijoji station.

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That pretty much wraps it up, though you could easily go here 10 times and spot something new each time in the restrooms alone! (seriously check them out) The best part is that its not just a collage or library of the studio’s work but a homage to the art of traditional animation, the man behind it and the inspiration he and his work has had on numerous movies and big Hollywood animators.

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Travel tip: Like most museums, your outing can take anywhere from a couple hours to the better part of a day if you choose to read all the info plaques and watch whatever is screening in the cinema but generally budgeting half a day including the walk out and back is enough time to get you back to Kichijoji station for a late lunch.

Travel tip: While there are literally hundreds of choices to eat, we found a chain store (only because we ended up seeing the same restaurant everywhere) that had the perfect balance of variety and value for money. Not having any skills in reading Japanese we aptly named the place “Rollertarg”. Why? Because the first symbol in its name looked like a rollerskate, very similar to the Chinese character “ma” for horse and about ¾ along there was a red target just like the logo for… Target. Ingenious! Yea we thought so too 😉 It was quite distinctive and made it easy for many last minute decision makings through out our trip. You want value? Try this on for size – 2x Miso soups, a meat and vegetable dish, a fried rice dish and a side of Gyozas …for around $14AU! Yep we were completely stuffed after that effort and no Cat Bus anywhere to be seen to chauffer us around! But it was welcoming to have the strain was on our bellies and not our wallets! Note: this particular restaurant (and many others in Japan) allow smoking. Its usually in a separate section or designated tables but this place had it after a certain time in the evening.

So with the extra Yen we saved burning a hole in our pockets we waddled off for a wander around Kichijoji.

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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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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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