Part 3 – Japan – Tokyo – Disneyland (Dec-Jan 2014/2015)

Tokyo

We decided to buffer our snow trip with a couple of days in Tokyo at each end. I didn’t want to travel all that way and miss exploring such a lively place. Tokyo is a modern, fast paced city and there are treasures and interesting things to be discovered all over. We choose to stay a little out of the CBD as I feel you get a more authentic taste of what Tokyo has to offer and the city centre really is all about business with people in suits rushing everywhere and tall, commercial buildings towering over you. We did venture in and found ourselves at the Imperial Palace Gardens which is a nice walk.

It is easy to get around on the subway trains as many signs are in English or numbered/colour coded and they run on time and are efficiently managed. I also found the iPhone app  Tokyo Metro Subway and trains.jp to be of great help. There are two companies that run trains in Japan: JR (more regional express lines) and Metro (city to suburbs, stops all stations) so you need to utilise both apps (they didn’t need wifi when I used them) to find the most direct route or if you do have wifi and know where you want to go, the website HyperDia is quite useful.

Some notable suburbs worth losing yourself in are Shinjuku, Shibuya, the Golden Gai and the famous Harajuku. Takeshita Street in Harajuku is full of busy markets and quirky stores where you will find all manner of items. I go just to people watch and have glimpsed the Harajuku girls of Gwen Stefani fame a few times. There are awesome little food stalls everywhere and many are just a hole in the wall or down random stairs so make sure you keep an eye out. You can easily spend hours walking around the Tokyo suburbs and not get bored as the sometimes eccentric Japanese culture oozes from the pavement until the cityscape changes dramatically after dark.

There are a range of cultural displays in the park at the end of the Harajuku suburb. These lanterns were so intricate.

There are a range of cultural displays in the park at the end of the Harajuku suburb. These lanterns were so intricate.

The Golden Gai is a strip in the Shinjuku area. It is famous for the food and nightlife and has a range of wacky and weird shops and 'shows'. Vendors try to get you in the door at every chance.

The Golden Gai is a strip in the Shinjuku area. It is famous for the food and nightlife and has a range of wacky and weird shops and ‘shows’. Vendors try to get you in the door at every chance.

The train network is elaborate but works so efficiently. The trains aren't always this empty, and lugging our snowboard gear around Tokyo station during peak hour is one of my favourite memories as people stared at us with open mouths. I have come to appreciate how the Japanese are able to sleep on the trans and wake up just before their station. I came to call these 'Jap naps'.

The train network is elaborate but works so efficiently. The trains aren’t always this empty, and lugging our snowboard gear around Tokyo station during peak hour is one of my favourite memories as people stared at us with open mouths. I have come to appreciate how the Japanese are able to sleep on the trans and wake up just before their station. I came to call these ‘Jap naps’.

Just soaking up the sunlight on quite a frosty morning

The Imperial Palace Gardens. Just soaking up the sunlight on quite a frosty morning.

Lost in translation. Sometimes it is just as fun to point and then eat what comes.

Lost in translation. Sometimes it is just as fun to point at the menu and embrace what comes. Usually, it is delicious!

Disneyland – The happiest place on Earth

Disneyland wasn’t originally on our itinerary however, we felt that we had seen a lot of Tokyo in the first few days of our trip. So we started researching how to get there from Tokyo while still in Niseko to discover it was a viable option for the two spare days we had on our way home. It turned out to be just over an hour train ride from Tokyo and was fairly easy to get to so, we made our decision and decided to go all out by staying on site to fully utilise our two days. At Disneyland, there are two whole theme parks side by side: Disneyland and Disneysea. I felt that Disneyland was aimed at a younger audience (parades, shows, mild rides) whereas Disneysea was more for the bigger kids (like myself) and included more rollercoasters and sea/water themed rides. We seemed to luck it in with the crowds as the park was not crowded for both of the days we were there, and the longest I had to wait in line for a ride was about 20 or 30 minutes (I have waited MUCH longer at Dreamworld at home). I also took advantage of the ‘fastpass’ system which allows you to collect an advanced ticket for a particular ride for a certain time period so you can jump the queue. This is explained on the many signs and does seem to work fairly well. We did this for most of the bigger rides that had lines or if we wanted to go on something more than once. We spent our days exploring Disneyland and Disneysea, eating the many flavours of popcorn and enjoying the atmosphere like excited children. We stayed at the Disneyland Hilton, one of the affiliated hotels which featured Disney themed levels and rooms with spectacular views of the harbour. It felt overly spacious and luxurious compared to the pension lodge we had been staying at, and it wasn’t so obtusely expensive that it broke our budget. It was a relaxing way to spend a couple of days letting our sore bodies recover before flying back to Australia.

This bought back memories of watching Fantasia as a kid.

This bought back memories of watching Fantasia as a kid.

An underwater restaurant fit for a mermaid named Ariel.

An underwater restaurant fit for a little mermaid.

The only Disney character which did not have a huge line up.

The Toy Story soldier. The only Disney character which did not have a huge line up.

The famous castle from every Disney film ever.

The famous castle from every Disney film ever.

Every girl wants to be Minnie Mouse at some stage in her life.

Every girl wants to be Minnie Mouse at some stage in her life.

Our Hilton room was a slight upgrade from our pension room in the snow.

Our Hilton room was a welcome upgrade from our pension room in the snow.

That is where I will leave Japan for now. I will do another backlog blog about my second trip to Myoko, Japan a little later on. Coming soon is the Sri Lanka series.

-rocketandramble

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Japan – An Introduction

Japan

Dec 2013 – Jan 2014

As much as Australia is known for its beautiful beaches and endless sun, many Australians also love the snow. Australia does have a handful of snow resorts but even on their best seasons, they aren’t much to be desired when compared to other countries. The snow fall is sporadic and can be decent, but it usually comes in flurries and then just as quickly melts away. The cost for mountain passes, accommodation and gear hire (if you don’t have your own) adds up quickly and often it is those who live close to the snow fields or those who want to do a short, trip such as a long weekend  who end up heading to Thredbo or Perisher. Those with a little more cash usually take the short plane trip to our neighbour New Zealand. New Zealand does tend to have (in my professional snow judging opinion) more consistent snowfall than Australia, but even then, seasons vary and costs are still quite high. The next best option, and my personal favourite for snow is Japan. It’s comparable on price, has amazing food, an interesting, unique culture and history to explore and the sheer amount of snow is beyond description. (YouTube Japan powder runs for confirmation)

As a born and raised Queenslander, I had never experienced snow before I headed to Japan with a group of friends. Snowboarding was something that always caught my attention and I reasoned (foolishly before I learnt how to do it) that it was similar to surfing, which I can do. I realised that I was wrong shortly after falling off a ski lift and holding up the line as they dragged me out from underneath. The appeal of traveling to Japan was more that just the soft landing for my butt while I learnt how to snowboarding. I hadn’t skied or snowboarded before, and was quite excited for the trip.

To cut costs, I borrowed a snowboard and bindings from a friend’s sister and put it in my partner’s snowboard bag, while I took a suitcase. I purchased outerwear online to make it cheaper, after trying on brands and styles in store at Snowbiz (Australia’s primary snow gear company) to see what brands fit (Australian gear is very overpriced and has limited colours and patterns. Of course, this is problematic for a semi-fashion conscious girl like me). Even with the airfare, (also bought while on sale – make sure you check the terms and conditions for any block out dates) our budget allowed us a longer stay in Japan for almost the same budget when compared to the Australian resorts. The time of year suited us better to take holidays as well (Dec-Jan is season for Japan). So why not go overseas instead?

Japan’s ski pass prices vary depending on which mountains you go to, or whether you opt to get a three mountain pass versus a one mountain pass, but mostly they vary from AU$50-70 per day. Australian passes are often more than twice that! To fly from the Gold Coast to Tokyo takes about 9 hours. Japan’s runs are definitely not the longest and the mountains not the largest, but they are some of the most fun and they have great parks, if that is your thing. They cater to all levels with great beginner slopes topped by plentiful powder which saved some serious bruises. The snowfall on average is 13 meters per season and it is not uncommon to get dumps everyday of 20-40cm or more, with snowflakes the size of 20c coins. Bluebird (sunny) days aren’t super common, so buy/pack appropriate lenses for your goggles. However, we managed to get 2/3 bluebird days per 15 day trip.

More information on Japan to come including packing, accommodation, recommendations and onsen etiquette. In the meantime, check out some of my photos to get you excited.

-rocketandramble

Every car is a snow mobile. Most cars traveled around with at least 30 cms of snow or more on their roof.

Every car is a snow mobile. Most cars traveled around with at least 30 cms of snow or more on their roof.

The Japanese sure know how to do bakery treats. Delicious!

The Japanese sure know how to do bakery treats. Delicious!

Detailed and descriptive instructions, just incase

Detailed and descriptive bathroom instructions

Bottom of Annupuri Gondola

A view of the fields from Annupuri Gondola

When the sky was clear enough, Mount Yotei was quite a sight.

When the sky was clear enough, Mount Yotei was quite a sight.

Our pension room's view. It was like Christmas everyday.

Our pension room’s view. It was like Christmas everyday.

There is something so pretty and delicate about a snow dusted tree

There is something so pretty and delicate about a snow dusted tree.