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Old 10-21-2011, 06:45 AM   #1
swacer
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Obake Party! Tokyo and TDR Trip Report - Sept 29-Oct 8, 2011

Hello everyone! For starters, I would like to point out that, while I have read innumerable trip reports from others on the DIS, this is the first time I have ever actually written one. I am typically a very dedicated lurker. But, considering the general scarcity of TRs for TDR (though the ones found here are great), I figured I could make an exception and give a little something back. And just maybe our trip can help someone feel better prepared for a trip to Tokyo Disney.

Who are we?

A very philosophical question. But for our purposes, I'm Jon, and along with my boyfriend of 8+ years, we are just a couple of Disney geeks from the Northeast TN/Southwest VA area. We are also big Character fans. A particular character greeting is actually the first seed that was planted, leading to our desire to visit TDR - but we will get to that later.

Trip Info

Dates: September 28, 2011 – October 8, 2011

Hotel: Hotel Yanagibasi

This is a great little standard hotel run by extremely friendly people who speak English fairly well. After many hours searching for hotels in our price range (think budget), this hotel's combination of great rate, proximity to both a subway and JR station, and consistently excellent rave reviews made it the winner. We were able to get a twin room for appx $90/night after all taxes and fees. It was not the absolute cheapest option for hotel or room type, so even if you think that is still a little steep, it can be done cheaper. If I ever get to go back, I would not hesitate to stay here again.

Basic Itinerary:
  • Sept 28/29 – Travel
  • Sept 30 – Mt Fuji, Epson Aqua Stadium, and Ikspiari
  • Oct 1 – Ueno, Asakusa, Tokyo River Cruise, Odaiba
  • Oct 2 – Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Harajuku, and Shibuya
  • Oct 3 – Imperial Palace tour, Yokohama
  • Oct 4 – Tokyo Disneyland
  • Oct 5 – Tokyo DisneySea
  • Oct 6 – Tokyo Disneyland
  • Oct 7 – Tokyo DisneySea
  • Oct 8 – Quick trip to Asakusa, Travel home

Before we get started, I feel like I should probably give a big Thank You to Lurkyloo for her super-comprehensive trip report. It was a big help when we were working on planning our trip and reading it took up plenty of otherwise boring hours at work.


First, a few planning issues

Finding a hotel -
I have no idea how many hours I spent looking at hotels. From tiny capsules to grand suites and traditional Japanese to Western, Tokyo has every type of accommodation you can think of, and probably some you hadn't thought of (the idea of someone paying to stay in the capsules just seemed crazy to me). And they can range in price greatly depending on location and, mostly, size. The Disney hotels and the Official ones surrounding the resort all seem nice and have generally good reviews, but we were looking to save on the room so we could have that much more to spend. As it turns out, we were so tired every night when we came in, we pretty much just passed out right away then woke up and showered the next morning before having a quick breakfast (that we had usually purchased from a convenience store the night before) and heading out, so we did not need a grand room at all.

From an American perspective, standard hotel rooms in Tokyo are super tiny. It is very hard for me to imagine how a family travels together unless they splurge for the more expensive rooms that are closer to what we are used to. We went for a twin room, which means there were two beds. A room listed as a “double” room means that it has one double bed. A “semi-double” has a bed that is slightly smaller than a “double” bed, but apparently it can technically hold two adults. I like having at least a little space to toss and turn, so we went for the twin even though semi-doubles and doubles can be found for less.

Also, many Japanese hotels that have English websites (or if you are Google-translating your way around their Japanese site) list their rates as per person rather than per room. It turned out to be cheaper for many of the hotels we were considering to book through a site like Expedia, Travelocity, etc... because those rates were listed per room instead of per person. I don't remember the exact amount, but for our hotel we saved a decent amount of yen by booking through Expedia as opposed to the hotel website's per person rate (we chose Expedia over others only because of a bonus rebate they were offering at the time that our booking qualified for). The only other time I have ever used Expedia to actually book a hotel (I use it a lot to compare and then book elsewhere) turned out to be a disaster and I was very nervous about using it, but everything went very well with the reservation.

I researched the different areas/neighborhoods a lot, searched through Tokyo hotels, and narrowed it down to the ones that seemed to be what we were looking for and were also in an area that we would be happy with. With Tokyo's amazingly efficient and comprehensive public transportation system, nearly anywhere can be a good location as long as you have a train or subway station nearby.

Getting Around

Nowhere in the US has a transportation system that comes even close to matching Tokyo's. The major lines run every 2-3 minutes during the busiest times and even during slower times and on the less popular lines, it is never very long before the next train comes by. They also run on time – a train being behind schedule is very rare, not something to be expected as it is here.

The train and subway maps seem daunting at first look, but they really are very simple to figure out. While there are some maps out there to download that include both the major rail and subway lines on one (which is good because sometimes you may need to use both to get where you are going), I found it much easier to study them separately. Separately, it is easier to follow each individual line, and once I had a basic idea of the stations and general layout, it was easy to match the two up with which stations they share.

Information on the subway and the route map can be found at http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ This is the website for the Tokyo Metro, one of two major subway systems in Tokyo. The other, the Toei Subway, is included on the map found here, and the two are highly integrated with each other to the point where, unless you are specifically looking for signs of it, it is difficult to know which one you are using (though Tokyo Metro lines are slightly cheaper than Toei lines, and both are slightly more expensive than JR lines).

Information on the JR train lines can be found at www.jreast.co.jp/e/ and the route map is at www.jreast.co.jp/e/info/map_a4ol.pdf (I only list this separately as I found it a little difficult to find the actual downloadable map on the site).

All three companies offer day passes good for unlimited rides with that particular company (there is also a more expensive one that can be used on all three). Usually, though, unless you plan on doing a lot of separate trips during the day, it is cheaper to simply pay as you go. I think there is only one day where, looking back, we may have saved some money by purchasing one, and even then it would only have been a savings of about 100-200yen.

To plan out routes, I spent a lot of time on this website: http://www.jorudan.co.jp/english/norikae/ It was amazingly helpful in giving multiple options for routes between our hotel and everywhere we wanted to go. When you search, it gives results for the cheapest route, the simplest route, and the fastest route. I also found an Android app called Japan Trains that did the same thing that I played with a lot as well when I didn't have my computer.

As has been pointed out before, getting from station to station is extremely easy – the hard part is figuring out which exit to use once you are at that station. The underground network is so extensive that taking the wrong exit could leave you lost and absolutely nowhere near where you wanted to be. Luckily, there are yellow signs in the stations that list which exit to take for particular attractions (some guidebooks or online guides will mention which exit to use when they list which station to use for a location). Also, in most places, especially the ones where tourists would typically want to go, there are large maps on the street once you come out of the exit which list buildings/attractions/stores/etc with a “You Are Here” marker that is very helpful.

Suica/Pasmo

Think pre-paid debit card for transportation. Very simple to use. Just touch it to the area labeled “IC” on the station gates as you enter and exit and it automatically deducts the value from what you have loaded on the card and shows you on a little screen how much is left on your card. They can be purchased and reloaded at any station from the ticket vending machines. If you are getting one for the first time, be sure to look for the machines with labels indicating they dispense cards. While all the machines can be used to add value to a card you already have, not every single one actually dispenses new cards. It doesn't matter which one you get -- both can be used interchangeably within Tokyo and the surrounding area (though if you plan on traveling within the rest of Japan, Suica is somewhat more accepted as it is the one offered through JR, which runs train lines across the country). We had PASMO, though after seeing the cute penguin mascot for Suica, I wish I had gotten that one instead (no disrespect to the PASMO robot). When the trip is over, you can return the card at any station (most likely at the airport) to get a refund of any remaining value on your card (minus a fee of approximately 210 yen for the use of the card – well worth it to not have to buy a separate ticket every single time you take a train or subway).

Be sure to have cash. Whether you are buying/reloading a Suica/PASMO card or buying an individual ticket, the ticket vending machines do not accept credit cards.

Okane (Money)

I very rarely have much, if any, cash on me at home. This won't do in Japan. While many places do accept cards, there are still many that will only accept cash (even some that you would never expect to accept only cash).

Before leaving, we had bought ¥18000 through Wells Fargo Foreign Currency Exchange. They offered the best rate I could find online and we did not want to arrive with nothing at all just in case it took us a while to find an ATM that we could use after we arrived. Turned out we should have exchanged all the money we needed with them at that time. While the exchange rate you get through a bank ATM is generally better since it will be the inter-bank rate, based on the drops in the US dollar and the rise of the Japanese yen between the time we exchanged that first amount and the time we went on the trip, we would have been much better off exchanging sooner (even including the extra fees for the exchange).

I discovered my bank charged a fee of 3% plus $5 per transaction on foreign ATM withdrawals. I was not about to pay that, so we opened a checking account with Ally Bank and put our money for the trip in there. Their foreign ATM transaction fee is only 1% and no separate fixed fee. It may be possible to find one with 0% and no minimum balance requirement, but I wasn't able to find one and Ally was really easy to work with.

Not every Japanese ATM will work with foreign debit cards. The ones that do include ATMs at 7-Eleven, Citibank branches, the airport, and some department stores and malls (there may be others, these are just the ones that I noticed). A 7-Eleven is always easy to find (they are a Japanese-based company and very prevalent in the city), so even though every ATM won't work, one that will is never too far away.

As for credit cards, Capital One offers a 0% foreign transaction fee. Since we both already had Capital One cards, that was no problem. We tried our best to use a credit card at every place that would accept one since we were getting the inter-bank exchange rate with no fee.

Rental Phone

Technically, my Sprint phone would have worked, but even when paying for the international add-on for a reduced rate, it was going to be more expensive to use my own phone than to rent one. Renting a phone in Japan is surprisingly easy and cheap.

There are many different companies offering rental phones in Japan. The rental fees and call charges vary greatly, so doing your research is very important.

We rented phones from two different companies. The first from Rentafone Japan (http://www.rentafonejapan.com/index.html) and the second from Mobal Narita (https://www.mobalnarita.com/).

Rentafone Japan charged ¥3900 for the first week plus ¥300 per day afterwards. Calls made to the US by using their discount calling dial-around number (a number you put in before the number you are dialing) were ¥45 per minute. The discount number was printed on a label on the back of the phone, so we didn't have to memorize it. They delivered the phone directly to our hotel and it was waiting for us when we checked in. They also included a prepaid envelope to return it at the end of the trip. We just put it in the envelope and gave it to the guy at the desk when we checked out and asked him to put it in the mail for us. This was the company we found with the most reasonable international calling rates. Their website is very informative and we were very satisfied with their service. Incoming calls were free, though we never had any incoming calls.

While we didn't get it, they also offer pocket WiFi for mobile internet at very reasonable rates (with a discount if you are also renting a phone from them). If I had known that the internet at the hotel was going to be super slow and only work sporadically, I would have taken one of these as well.

We also rented one from Mobal Narita. Mobal has a counter in the arrival terminal at Narita where you pick up and return the phone. Mobal offers completely free rental of the phone and you only pay if you make calls. Call charges are rather steep though, at ¥240 per minute. Since we had the paid rental from Rentafone with low call charges, we only took the free rental from Mobal so that we could both have a phone in case we were separated and needed to get in touch with each other. For calls back home, we used only the Rentafone one, but it was nice to know that if we needed it, we had a way to call each other. Luckily nothing happened to make that necessary, so absolutely no money ended up being exchanged between us and Mobal. Incoming calls were also free for this phone, so technically, if you only needed a phone for incoming calls, you could use it all you wanted and still not pay a single penny (or, rather, a single yen).



I am sure I have not covered everything, but if I go on anymore, you might fall asleep and drown in your coffee. I can't have that on my conscience. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I will try to answer...or at least make up a good answer if I don't have one.


For now, I present a public service announcement brought to you by the Tokyo Metro Foundation and this adorable kitty

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Old 10-21-2011, 08:22 AM   #2
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So far so good Jon! I've also found Lurkyloos blog invaluable for my upcoming trip and I'm sure I'll get lots of great ideas and tips from your report too!
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Old 10-21-2011, 09:03 PM   #3
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Subbing Can't wait to read about your trip!!!
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Old 10-22-2011, 12:42 AM   #4
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Can't wait for more! Brilliant so far, will really help us to plan our coming trip over New Year!

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Old 10-22-2011, 11:40 PM   #5
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Day 1...or 1 & 2...or 1 & 1/2...Something Like That

After taking a couple of shorter connections from our regional airport, we left for Tokyo from JFK. The flight left in the afternoon and we arrived in Tokyo the evening of the next day. Though the Delta itinerary stated it would take about 14 hours, it was really only around 13 hours (plus all the time that magically disappears when crossing the International Date Line).

Unfortunately, we were on a Boeing 747 with the older small shared movie screens in each section of the cabin. So no wonderful little TV with lots of choices – just a small grainy screen with a mediocre pre-selected lineup. Even worse, someone had broken off the little prong of a headset inside of the jack for my seat, meaning I could not even plug in to be able to hear anything anyway. We ended up having to separate the earpiece cords and share his. Not fun.

About an hour or so after takeoff, they served the first meal. There was a choice of beef with some sort of black bean sauce, rice, and vegetables or chicken with dressing, gravy, spinach, and carrots. Both came with shrimp cocktail, a salad, what they claimed to be a roll (I disagree...rolls are typically edible), and a chocolate chip blondie. We took one of each. Other than the rolls, both options were fairly decent. Nothing amazing, but better than expected.

The steak and rice



The chicken and dressing

Afterwards, they dimmed the lights and tried to get everyone sleeping. Many hours (or what felt like days) and no sleep later, they woke everyone up, gave us a cold moist towel labeled “Refresh Yourself,” and served breakfast. There was a choice of some sort of omelet or steak and noodles. We took one of each again and both were actually quite tasty (though they did try to pass those “rolls” off on us again).

Finally, we arrived at Narita somewhere around 3:30pm ready to plow over anyone who got in the way of us getting off of that box with wings. The process after arrival was actually pretty simple. It seems we must have been the only international flight arriving at that particular moment and a good majority of the people on our flight were Japanese, so the line at Immigration was very short. A couple of questions, some fingerprints, and a picture and we were off to pick up our luggage followed by just a couple other quick questions. Easier than getting back into the US.

The first thing we saw – Narita Terminal 1 Arrivals

We picked up one of the two rental phones at the Mobal Narita counter and headed down towards the trains.

The nearest station to our hotel was Asakusabashi, so the Airport Limousine was not really an option (they didn't go to our hotel or any hotel that we could figure out that was in the immediate area). So, we were stuck with the train and I had worried that it would be awful trying to drag all that luggage around. Luckily, the Keisei Limited Express line, which runs to the airport, also happens to stop at Asakusabashi on its way to Haneda airport (when it is headed in that direction). And even luckier, the next Keisei train to run just happened to be a Limited Express that was heading our way.

This was where we ran into our first little problem (yes, I know, kinda early on for that). I had planned all along on getting either a Suica or PASMO card right away. We found the Keisei station in the terminal and went up to one of the ticket machines. Finding the button on the touch screen to change it to English was easy enough. This is where we figured out that not all machines actually dispense the cards. At the time, though, I thought I was just too stupid to figure the machine out. When I couldn't find the option for anything other than reloading one, I went over to the desk and asked. The woman at the desk told me I could use the machines to buy one. So I went back to the machines. There were only two, and I played with both of them until I was getting frustrated thinking that it was going to be a disaster if I couldn't even accomplish this simple task after all that planning. Finally I gave in and just bought us individual tickets, deciding to figure it out later when I wasn't as tired and loaded down. After getting the tickets, we go around the corner to head towards the trains and that is when I see a whole row of other machines. Ooops! Silly me. I had wondered why, in such a busy place, there were only two ticket machines...

So, after a wait of only about 20 minutes, we were able to get a train that would go straight from the airport to the subway station only 1 block from our hotel without any transfers. Since the airport is the terminus for the train line, there was almost no one else on the train and it was no problem whatsoever to get a seat and get our luggage arranged in front of us to try to take up as little space as possible.

My first Japanese vending machine purchase while waiting for the train


Our transportation into Tokyo...Very Exciting...Almost There!

The train ride took about an hour and was pleasant enough. I wish it had been daylight so that we could have watched the scenery on the ride – at this time of year, it gets dark about 5:30pm. I have no idea why Tokyo decided to build their primary international airport so far away. I'm sure there is a good reason, but it seems very inconvenient.

After getting to Asakusabashi station, dragging our luggage out of the station (which is a smaller station *not* designed for people carrying that much junk) and following the directions provided by the hotel (including which exit from the station – A1), we arrived at our home for the next 9 nights.

Yay! No more lugging






Our View

Our other phone from Rentafone was waiting for us at the front desk. It was only about 6:30 by this point, so after the obligatory “We're Alive” calls back home, we were ready to explore Japan for the first time!

Actually, that wasn't the case at all. We had gotten to the hotel earlier than I had planned. The flight had arrived early and Immigration and baggage claim had went much faster than I had expected. Consequently, I hadn't really made a “plan” for that evening. I had thought if we arrived early enough, we might go explore Akihabara (Electric Town) since it was only one stop away, but beyond that, I had nothing.

We had been up since 4am on the 28th with maybe 1 hour at most of sleep on the plane, so we were tired. And being so dark that early didn't help. So, even though we were at the beginning of a super exciting trip that we had looked forward to for months, we gave in, went to Burger King near the hotel, and went to bed so we could be totally rested for our first real day.

Our first Japanese restaurant...we will eventually see all the sights found in this mural


This is the hot tomato sauce burger -- pretty standard, and the tomato sauce wasn't very hot. And on the right is the hot chicken snack (hot = spicy). Why don't we have these here? Delicious!

I guess I forgot to take a picture of the rest of our food. I'm sure it was some standard fast food offering that I must not have found interesting at the time.



I think that's it for today. Not very exciting...but I was definitely excited just to be there...even if I was just in Burger King and a hotel room. It was a Burger King in Japan! And a hotel in Japan! Isn't that enough? In our next episode...Mt Fuji!
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Old 10-23-2011, 05:07 AM   #6
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Brilliant!
Cant wait for more.
Really love the details, well done
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Old 10-23-2011, 08:23 PM   #7
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Loving the review . Tokyo is my favorite city in the world!
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Old 10-28-2011, 09:08 PM   #8
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Moving to Japan...

Can't wait for the next installments! Lots of great information. Thanks!
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Old 10-30-2011, 06:19 AM   #9
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This is in DH's and my "5 year plan", so I can't wait to hear the rest of your report! Love it so far!! Arigato!
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Old 11-01-2011, 06:46 AM   #10
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Also enjoying-very useful pre-arrival information thank you and look forward to your future updates. I also have taken lots of notes from Lurkyloo's report. Our trip is still "up in the air" pending airfare prices but planning is well under way-I like to be optomistic! There will be 3 of us though and yes I keep finding great hotels for my budget prices but for 2 not 3!
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Old 11-01-2011, 09:56 AM   #11
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The REAL Day 1

Today we were up bright and early for our tour to Mt Fuji. I'm not really the “organized tour” type, so I wasn't too sure about booking one, but trying to figure out the logistics of visiting Mt Fuji on our own seemed like it might be more trouble than it was worth. Plus, the tour included a bullet train, which is cool.

We booked through Viator (http://www.viator.com). They offer all kinds of tours in Japan and plenty of other countries. Their website describes all of their tours very well and also includes reviews from others who have been on the tours. The tour we took, called Mt Fuji, Lake Ashi and Bullet Train Day Trip, was the most popular tour on the Tokyo list. The reviews were generally very good. And most of the negative reviews focused on cloudy or rainy weather as the reason they gave the tour a low score...I mean, come on, really?

The tour included transportation by bus, a stop at the Fuji Visitor's Center, a trip to the 5th Station on Mt Fuji (as high as you can go by vehicle), a cruise across Lake Ashi, a ride on the Mt Komagatake aerial cableway, and a return to Tokyo via bullet train. A traditional Japanese lunch was an optional add-on that we chose not to add. The website says that tour guide would “introduce nearby restaurants or food stores but will not be responsible for seat availability or food service in restaurants customers choose on their own,” but there really aren't many options. The lunch, if purchased, is served in a hotel restaurant, so it may be possible to get a table and eat at the restaurant on your own, but I am not sure because we didn't even go inside the hotel. The only option we found was a little food stand inside a bus station next to the hotel.

Not that I am complaining because we actually ended up finding for the first time one of our favorite snacks that could be found at tons of stands in Japan – completely unhealthy deep-fried pieces of dark-meat chicken. Bigger than nuggets, smaller than filets. Definitely not something completely original or authentic Japanese, but much better than similar things found here since the US seems obsessed with making everything white meat (McNuggets have never been as good since McDonalds took out the dark meat). Not sure why I don't have a single picture of them considering we pointed them out every time we saw them afterwards. I guess we were too busy swallowing them whole to stop and take a picture.

The tour includes hotel pick-up if you are staying at one of the bigger or more popular hotels. Otherwise, the tour leaves from Hamamatsucho Bus Station (part of the JR train station of the same name). Since our hotel was not one available for pick-up, we had to make our way to the bus station.

I think this means there is a cigarette crossing nearby...proceed with caution


Hamamatsucho Bus Station vending machines...I so wish we had more of these here! I need tons of options when getting a drink.


Scenery on the bus ride to Mt Fuji.








Our first view of Mt Fuji from the bus...still quite a ways off


Our tour guide, Amy

About two hours after leaving, our first stop was the Fuji Visitor's Center. There's not a whole lot going on here. It is at the base of the mountain and there is a good view.




Otherwise, there were restrooms, vending machines, a little restaurant, and a display of children's artwork dedicated to Mt Fuji.

Mt Fuji is a very happy volcano


Except when being attacked by Bunny-zilla

Next, it was time for the drive up the mountain. It takes a while to get all the way up to the 5th station, but it is a very scenic drive.






We stopped at a little parking area at either the 3rd or 4th station on the way up just for a quick photo-op along the way.

You can see where the tree line ends abruptly looking up towards the top


This was the exact same view just a few seconds later as the clouds rolled in even thicker

Once we were at the 5th station, it was a lot colder than it had been at the base of the mountain. They gave us all a coupon for a free little good luck bell at one of the gift shops. The 5th station is basically a tourist stop with a bunch of small gift shops and a small shrine. It is also the place that most people start when hiking to the top. Hiking season for Mt Fuji is only two months long (July & August). Otherwise, only experienced or professionals take the hike because the weather conditions at the top make it unsafe for the average hiker. Even at this level, it was easy to see how the winds could be dangerous as they were already very strong.

Competition between the various gift shops must be pretty strong because as we were walking from the bus, the owner (I'm guessing) of the shop that gave us the free bell coupons was trying his best to force us all to go directly to his gift shop. We were trying to walk up to the shrine and he would not get out of our faces saying “No! Here! Here!” and pointing to his store. Finally, since he wouldn't move out of our way, we turned like we were going that direction and as soon as he moved on to yell at another group, we turned and walked very quickly in the other direction so he couldn't catch us.

The torii gate leading to the shrine at the 5th station












Looking up from the 5th station


And looking down from the 5th station




It seems I have reached my image limit...to be continued...
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Old 11-01-2011, 11:42 AM   #12
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The REAL Day 1 - Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

After about 30 minutes at the 5th station, it was time to get back on the bus and head down the mountain to get lunch. A rather quick stop, but there really isn't much to do except look up, look down, and buy the same tourist-y gifts in each shop.

Perfect example – tourist-y gifts. The grape-ish things were delicious – just little balls of sugar filled with a grape-tasting liquid (ok, so *I* thought they were delicious – the others who have tried them have all thought they were disgusting).


Probably my favorite view of Fuji – taken from in front of the hotel where we stopped for lunch. (I promise that is the last Mt Fuji shot I will subject you to)

The hotel where the add-on lunch was held was right next door to the Fuji-Q amusement park. Since we weren't having the lunch, we walked over to check it out.






Most amusement parks in Japan use the classic system of paying a small admission fee then paying a separate amount for each ride and they also have the option of a free pass or passport that allows unlimited rides. We only had 45 minutes, so we thought if they only had a small admission, we could run in and maybe ride one thing, paying a la carte, before the others finished with their lunch. Turns out, Fuji-Q has a large admission fee and then you pay a separate amount for each ride if you don't buy the free pass. It was going to end up being about $50 or so for two of us to go in and ride one thing, so we skipped that. Too bad, because Fuji-Q does have some great coasters (though they have a reputation of being a park with wonderful attractions but horrible operations).

Instead, we browsed their gift shop and played a couple of games in the attached arcade to pass the time.

My fav – you had to slide these balls up and try to hit the little monster in the stomach. He was adorable and did not seem very dangerous, so I don't know why they wanted us to hurt him.


Stitch Eat Fuji

After the lunch break, it was time for another long drive to Hakone where we would have the cruise and aerial cableway ride.

Pretty


We were on the one on the right.




We could see this building from on the lake. I wish I knew what it was.


The aerial cableway


If you have the Hakone Freepass, please give it to the staff so they can stamp on it


Our ride awaits


This ropeway received the world record for most “free paying passengers in one year.” Not exactly sure what a “free paying” passenger is.


The view as we start up the mountain


And the view from about halfway up

As you can see, the clouds had moved in. As you can't see, the wind had also picked up and we were swaying back and forth in the gondola. Needless to say, everyone was very happy to see the station where we were getting off finally come into view. Not long after we made it to the station, they closed down the ropeway for the day. Luckily, there is a road to the station as well, so our bus had come up to the top to get us.

The view from the top

That was our final stop on the tour. We definitely enjoyed the tour even though the weather did not cooperate the second half of the day. Admittedly, the vast majority of the day is spent on the bus, but all of these sights are so far apart that that is a necessary evil. I am sure there are many who would prefer more time at each of the stops, but I have never been the type to just linger in nature. Sure, it is pretty, but I just want to see it, take a picture, and move on. It was already getting dark by the time we were driving down the mountain after the gondola ride, so I am not sure it would be possible to work out a bus tour from Tokyo with much more time at each stop just given the time it takes to drive from site to site. It would either have to leave super early in the morning or something would have to be cut.

During the bus rides from Tokyo and between stops, the tour guide would give interesting facts, tell stories, or show off locally-made crafts to pass the time. She was very sweet and seemed to genuinely enjoy her job. She of course spoke English very well. The tour was entirely in English, though there was also a Spanish-speaking couple on the bus as well. They had their own personal Spanish-speaking tour guide with them. I am not sure if this was a private guide they had hired on their own or if they had just booked the same Mt Fuji tour to be conducted in Spanish and were placed on our bus with their guide since maybe there were not enough Spanish tours booked that day to merit sending a whole bus separately (my best guess is that the latter scenario is more likely).

The bus took us to the nearest station served by the bullet train and dropped us off. Some people were continuing on to Kyoto from there and some of us were headed back to Tokyo. There was also one family that was heading back to Tokyo on the bus (Viator offers the same tour without the bullet train ride for a little bit less).

Just a note if you think you might want to book a tour through Viator (any tour, this one, another Tokyo/Japan one, or anywhere else they offer), definitely sign up for their e-mail club as soon as you can. Every now and then they offer special discounts for those on the list. We had already decided to book the tour but hadn't actually done it yet and I received an e-mail for 10% off any of their tours anywhere for one day only if you clicked through the link in the e-mail. About a month or so later, I received an e-mail giving 10% off any tours in Japan. This deal lasted for about a week. They don't send e-mails so often that it gets annoying and they don't send the discounts out very often (I am still on the list...since July when I signed up, the two mentioned above are the only two special discount offers I have received), but it was worth it since it ended up saving us close to $40. The Mt Fuji tour was already listed on their website at a publicly-available discount, and the 10% from the e-mail offer was taken off on top of that discount.

Not our bullet train...but looks the same

The bullet train was nice and comfortable, though any sense of speed was lost since it was completely dark outside. I wish it had been daylight so we could watch the scenery speeding by.

We had a ticket good for the ride all the way back to Tokyo station, but we decided to get off at Shinagawa station because I had read about a roller coaster inside the Shinagawa Prince Hotel called Galaxy Express 999. It was still fairly early (about 7:10, according to my camera), so we decided to give it a try. Inside the hotel is Epson Aqua Stadium.


Aqua Stadium is mainly an aquarium and sea life shows a la Sea World Lite. There is a separate area, however, called Attractions Square with a carousel, motion simulator 3-d show, pirate ship, and our goal – Galaxy Express 999. There is no admission fee for the attractions square area, only a la carte pricing (or if you plan on doing more than one attraction, you can get a discount). Tickets are purchased at vending machines (like so many things).

Galaxy Express 999 is apparently a very popular cartoon in Japan that I had never heard of before. The coaster is completely indoors. It is a launch coaster, so no lift hill, just a shot into the dark. Before riding, you have to watch a short pre-show that is completely in Japanese. From what I gathered, we are along for a mission, something goes wrong, a couple of good-guy space pirates come in and save the day, and we are back home safe and sound. Then we go on the coaster...not quite sure where the coaster fits in the storyline because it appears that everything is ok and back to normal before we get on the ride. Nonetheless, it is an interesting ride. Short, and though the desire to compare it to Rock'N'Roller Coaster is there (being indoors with a launch), there really isn't any comparison. It is dark, there is some space scenery around you, and then it is over. The oddness of it added to the fun. Also, we had the entire thing to ourselves. I am glad we got a chance to ride it, but I doubt I would go back just to do it again.

We were finished there by 7:45, so we decided to go ahead and buy our Disney tickets. Even though it was Friday and we weren't going to Disney until Tuesday, we didn't want to worry about getting our tickets our first morning there. Also, Tokyo Disney does sometimes stop selling tickets for particular dates or particular groups of dates for multi-day tickets. While we never saw a total sell-out, we did see that, on our last day, they were not selling multi-day tickets starting on that day, though they were still selling one-day tickets (so it would not have been possible on that day to buy a 4-day passport).

We made our way from Shinagawa to Tokyo station, took the 5-mile hike from the main platforms to the platform for the Keiyo line (which goes to Maihama, the station for TDR), and eventually made it to TDR for the first time!

Woo-Hoo!

For future reference, we now know that the Tokyo Disney Ticket Center is right inside the main entrance to Ikspiari. There, we could have purchased our tickets without too much of a walk from Maihama station. Instead, we found the Welcome Center (which is *not* the same thing) closed, so thought our only option was to head over towards Disneyland, where there is a guest services window that will sell advanced tickets (advanced-purchase tickets are not sold at the regular ticket booths). We didn't discover this until *after* we had walked all the way over to the Disneyland entrance, purchased our tickets by pointing at dates on a map, and walked back across to check out Ikspiari. Also important to note is that, with the exception of some tickets available sometimes to guests of the Disney hotels, you must choose which park you will go to for the first two days of your multi-day passport. Then the final days you are allowed to park hop.

If you buy your tickets online before your trip, the Ticket Center is where you pick those up. I had toyed with buying them beforehand back and forth, but the hours of the center concerned me. They do not open until 8am, which is sometimes the same opening time as the parks. If we had not had the chance to go out beforehand and pick up our tickets, I did not want to have to be waiting for the Ticket Center to open to pick up our tickets while others were streaming into the park. Since we did have time to go out beforehand, it would have been best for us to buy them a month or so in advance because the exchange rate only kept getting worse as our trip came closer.

Ikspiari – not Downtown Disney, but serves the same purpose. It is basically just a mall with nothing Disney or special about it that I could see


All decked out for Halloween

We found the food court on the lowest level at Ikspiari and finally had dinner. I must have forgotten to take any pictures before we dove in. I don't even remember exactly what we had. But there were plenty of options. After dinner, we walked around Ikspiari a little more, picked up something to have for breakfast the next morning at a little grocery store inside, and headed back to the hotel. This time we changed from the train to the subway at Hatchobori station just before Tokyo station and took an alternate route back to our “home” station so that we wouldn't have to make the sole-draining (pun intended) trek between the Keiyo platform and the rest of the trains at Tokyo station. It was a little bit more expensive, but we would continue to take this alternate route for the rest of our trips to/from TDR.

Up next, we visit Ueno (and take advantage of Tokyo Citizens Day), Asakusa, and Odaiba.
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Old 11-02-2011, 06:50 AM   #13
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Your day visiting Mt Fuji and Hakone reminds me of visits in various countries to high up places-we always score clouds and more clouds-the cable car in the wind and mist would've been a tad scary! Waiting to hear how you found Odaiba-things I've read makes it sound a bit ho hum compared to other spots to visit around Tokyo.
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Old 11-03-2011, 11:30 AM   #14
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HA! Hi Jon,

Would you believe we were at TDR the same exact days (5-8th) except that we were at opposite parks. Very nice report I'm tagging along to relive my trip. If you are interested in mine feel free to click the link in my sig. The blog is long since I was gone for 6 weeks, feel free to read the whole thing or just the DIS part can't wait to here hoe your experience was compared to mine.
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Old 12-02-2011, 08:42 AM   #15
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Loving your report so far! I'm optimistically planning for a Tokyo/TDR trip next year and was toying with the Fuji Viator trip but I think I'd give it a miss now.

Can't wait for the next part
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