Two days in and getting into the swing of things.The first was wasted through jet lag, just a quick look around our "base camp" in Higashi Jujo, which is situated in the north of Tokyo in Kita-ku. Its nice little town with plenty of shops, bars and cheap cafes.
Today we headed off to Shimo Kitazawa, which is a short train ride from Shinjuku station. Its very much a young persons town with lots of boutique shops, restaurants of all different foods and clubs for that vibrant night life you might be after. A quick point about travelling on the trains and underground metro (if you don't have an international rail pass) get yourself a "suica" card, it costs ¥500 to buy from vending machines at every station, you just top up with credit when needed.
If there's anywhere in Tokyo to go for manga and anime including all the character dolls, you can't go wrong with a visit to Nakano, which is a 10 minute train ride from Shinjuku station. As you leave from the north exit, cross a road and pass through the town's bus station to enter a shopping arcade. This sells all kinds of things for any age and there are plenty of cafes and takeaway places to choose from. At the end of this avenue of shops is Nakano Broadway, a modern shopping mall which is dominated by a chain of stores going by the name "Mandarake" which sells everything anyone could ever want about manga and anime.  Each shop in the chain specialises in different sections of this craze. If you thought Manadarake was the only company that sold these type of goods here, there are also indivual private sellers too which means that the competition is fierce and bargains are plentiful.

Akihabara

Or "Electric Town" If you want a new pc, laptop, mac
phone or camera, there's no better place to be. Just remember to bring your passport with you then you have a chance of buying these things cheap AND duty free. I managed to pick up a Nikon S230 Coolpix camera for only. ¥19000 which is about £135

Godz

 

 
Wanna listen to your favourite metal band AND  drink some beer? Then head for  Godz in the Kabuki-cho district of Shinjuku. This area is a miriad of narrow streets and alleyways full of clubs, bars and restaurants but also the seedier side of Tokyo so go with a complete open mind. Godz is right in the  middle of this area, its only a tiny basement bar  but you can't find a better place for atmosphere. I was told whenever any band is playing in Tokyo, Godz is the place they head for after the show. Inside is the proof as the wall behind the bar is full of thank you notes from band members. As you walk in you are hit by a wall of sound as the music is played extremely loud, not deafening so you can strike up a conversation fairly easily. If there is anything in particular you want to listen to, just pick up a folder on a table, choose the song you want and the bar staff will play whatever you ask for, if you are lucky they might even play the video of the song.
Godz is open at weekends and all night long.

Trams n Things

 
would you believe you can actually take a ride on a tram or streetcar whichever you call them. At just 160 yen you can take a ride from Waseda to Minowabashi on the  Arakawa Line, we jumped on at Oji and five short stops later, we jumped off at Kumanomae which is near Sugamo. As an extra surprise, on every 4th, 14th, and 24th of the month there is a street market all the way down from Kumanomae to Sugamo station where you can pick up bargain after bargain as well as filling yourself with tasty noodles,okonomiyake and plenty of nutritious fish  As a word of warning though, be prepared to be pushed and jostled as you make your way down the street as its each person for their self and the little old ladies are definitely the worse as we found out when we took a brief stop to sample some free green tea, as soon as they see any hint of a space they take it and get in front of you and beat you to the freebies.

 

Rainy Days



don't be surprised, it does rain in Japan and if it does there are plenty of things to do. One is to spend a full day getting lost in Sunshine City, situated only a 10 minute walk from Ikebukuro station. It boasts over five floors of all kinds of shopping,  from famous names like Gucci to small time businesses selling their own personal items. It even boasts a floor dedicated to just eating with all your favourite cuisines from around the world done in a unique Japanese way and let's not forget all the tasty desserts you can enjoy at speciality restaurants too.
The best part of Sunshine City is its Namja Town play area for kids of all ages.   For just 300 yen an adult 150 yen for a child you  can explore all the different parts  like Gyoza Stadium where you can taste all kinds of gyoza and Ice Cream City which is a sweet tooth's paradise. 


The Mountains


Once you get out of the city you are hit by the scenic beauty of of the lush mountainous region of Central Japan. Villages and towns dotted around the area, where people live out their lives oblivious  of the  hustle and bustle of big city life, apart from areas where technology is rearing its head as we pass a field full of solar panels which was something quite unexpected....the search for alternative energy has no boundaries!
As we travel along a brief glimpse of the snow capped peaks of the Japanese Alps is seen in the distance. our first stop is at a lake near the town of Suwako, the breathtaking scenery juxtaposed by a Starbucks situated in a service station car park....they get everywhere, don't they! 
  Suwako itself has a few large hotels itself to cater for tourists  who come to use the onsen in the area.
Exiting off the highway. we hit the city of Shiojiri. We see plenty of the same brand stores that are common in Tokyo, the need to reach more customers reaches everywhere. Looking around we see many vineyards suggesting the area is a big wine producing area of Japan.
Back on the highway, we cruise through a valley heading towards Kiso, we turn off the main road  and arrive at our destination of Narai where our host, a relative of friends taking us on this excursion, shows us around her beautiful home and invites us to some traditional Japanese cuisine. The house is full of artifacts actually made by her now sadly departed husband from bamboo coated in Japan, a lacquer made from tree sap. Later we take a trip down part of  the Nakasendo Highway in Narai-Juku which was once one of the main trade routes between Edo and Kyoto it still has some of the old buildings dating back to the Edo period
The return journey includes a three mile tunnel journey cut through the mountains. Once back in the open air, the scenic beauty is once again amongst us  as we gaze upon the southern Japanese Alps. Before long we are back on the highway heading back to Tokyo.

Ramen Museum and Chinatown Yokohama

A short walk from Shin-Yokohama station will get you to the famous ramen museum, where you are taken back in time to 40's and 50's Tokyo and Yokohama. The museum has tried to and achieved authenticity in its approach, the murals and structures really give that feel about the place. Once you arrive down in the main place, there's plenty of choice of cafes to sample the lovely ramen being served and at only 1100 yen for a huge bowl. its a bargain. 
Another famous feature of Yokohama is its Chinatown, not for from the station of Motomachi-Chukagai station.   It is believed to be one of the oldest in the world. The area has abundant gift shops and cafes  as well  as outside stalls selling steamed dumplings with a choice of fillings.

 

Osaka


なんでやねん - Osaka, full of glitz n glam and bright lights. 
This city is a place where you can easily get lost in if you don't come prepared. There are plenty of places to eat, drink and be merry. One place is the Rock Rock Bar in American Village, which is in the Shinsaibashi distict of the city, we only managed a couple of hours in the place but it was enough to want to go again. The walls are full of memorabilia from rock concerts and there are plenty of photos of band members taken over the years. There is a regular DJ who keeps the music going throughout the night but unlike Godz in Shinjuku there is a stict no request policy.
American Village itself is a maze of streets full of boutiques, bars and clubs a point though, the majority of the stores tend to sell either hip hop style clothing or those just for the girls! 
To get around Osaka it best to use the Osaka Metro underground train system.
One of the better places to visit is Osaka Castle a massive structure built in the 16th century by Hideyoshi Hashiba aka Toyotomi,  who after unifying the whole of Japan built the castle on the grounds of the Hogani temple. A tour around the building is only a few hundred yen and once at the top the views of the city literally take your breath away.
One thing I have noticed about Osaka is that they seem to be less image conscience as those from Tokyo, you do see more larger people walking around, I don't mean obese but compared to Tokyo there is a distinct difference. Also they tend to be a little more impatient, when waiting to cross busy streets they are more likely to take a chance and cross before the indicators say it is safe to cross. On the whole though, Osaka people  come across as very warm and friendly
Osaka is a three hour train ride on the Shinkansen bullet train.

You are welcome to view more photos of my latest Japan trip at Japan images

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