Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Tokyo Oct 2015 Day 1: Travel Day

It is the beginning of a brand new Tokyo trip and therefore (hopefully) a brand new trip report! I will be travelling for 2 1/2 weeks from the 5th to the 23rd of October. The trip will also be a bit different this time around as a) I am accompanying my brother and his partner for the first half of the trip, and b) since booking I have developed a foot condition that makes it hard to stand and walk for long periods of time! Not the best for Tokyo, but I guess it'll force me to make time to 'Stop and smell the roses' for once. Perhaps I'll even discover I like going slower, who knows?

Preparing for this trip was hard, as although I'd prepared time off, several urgent work related issues and forms suddenly needed dealing with on the afternoon before I flew out! Lucky I'd planned a strict packing list! This put me in an odd mood for the start of the trip, but I pushed through and focused on the positive.

The first day of this trip was, inevitably, a boring one - 14 hours of flying. Luckily this time I got a short flight to another local city and then only one long haul leg, which made things a bit easier to deal with. I checked in early and got a window seat, then my roommate hauled me to the airport at 3:30am (good friends = priceless!). When we got there the bag drop desks weren't open yet, so we sat in line with just one middle aged couple waiting in front of us. Next thing you know, the entire touring company of one of my favourite dance productions came barrelling in to line up for the same flight! I had just seen them perform three days beforehand! There were a lot of them though so I was very thankful I got in line when I did.

The rest of the flight was a bit of a haze of stretching my feet, trying to sleep and watching movies. The gentleman next to me was awfully fond of taking up both arm rests, but otherwise it was about as good as long haul flights tend to be.

After arriving and going through the loooooong walk and line that is immigration and customs, it was 8pm, so we had a quick dinner and headed for capsule hotel 9hours at the airport.

I must say: I adore this hotel. Although the bedding is lumpy and thin like most capsules, I have never seen a cleaner capsule hotel. Oh and it looks like it stepped straight out of a 90s sci fi! Everything is plain black and white, with simple symbols and numbers telling you where to go to put on your provided pod pyjamas, take your pod shower, and find your hibernation pod...*erm*...capsule. The rules about quiet were very strict and there was no lounge area, so it really is just a shower and a bed for the night, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

That's all for the first day, tune in next time for Day 2: Actual Tokyo.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Trip Day 7 Ikebukuro Closet Child or Bust

The next day was a Saturday, and although I still wasn’t feeling great I at least wanted to try going out for lunch (since I had very little food at the hostel) and maybe shopping somewhere if I felt up to it. So I decided to head out to Ikebukuro for some cheap, simple food and to perhaps look for their infamous branch of the second hand gothic and lolita store Closet Child. I had other plans for Ikebukuro this trip, such as exploring the Sunshine 60 shopping centre and revisiting otome road (a cluster of shops intended for female otaku, particularly the kind that like to read boys love or yaoi comics), but I figured I would see how I felt after Closet Child.

A train ride later I found myself at Ikebukuro. The main shopping area, especially Sunshine 60 street, is full of arcades and cutesy shops, making it a great date destination. Today was no exception to this and I saw many young couples wandering the shops and arcades together in their school uniforms (Many Japanese schools have a half day of school on Saturdays, making Saturday afternoon the perfect time to meet your date). Then outside one of the arcades I saw something that made me squeal like a little girl:

RILAKKUMA!!! Rilakkuma is a character originally from a children’s book whose name (and personality) are based on the words ‘relax’ and ‘bear’. He is quite popular in Japan and many people like to collect merchandise of him in a similar manner to those who collect Hello Kitty. I have a bit of Rilakkuma merchandise, as I saw him on my first trip to Japan and for reasons not entirely clear to me I just find him unbearably adorable. His little costumed form waddled around waving at people with his tiny hands. He had help from a girl in her twenties wearing tiny Rilakkuma ears and reminding people to wait patiently for their turn with him. I watched as sweetly dressed teenagers and tiny children alike went up to hug him or take photos with him, all the while trying my best not to squeal like a fangirl or spontaneously start hugging every one the area from the cuteness. Thankfully I was able to keep my ridiculousness to myself for the most part, went over and gave him a hug, then left other fans to coo over him while I looked for lunch. As I was still a bit ill I picked one of the various western pasta places and ordered something plain. As it was an underground restaurant it was quite noisy, but I was able to eat quickly and head back out to find Closet Child.

This part was a little interesting, as the directions I found online kept seeming to point to a place where there was no Closet Child to be seen! I walked up and down Sunshine 60 for a while, utterly perplexed by where else this map could be referring to, before sitting down with my phone’s internet browser to clarify my information. Eventually I was able to deduce that the store had moved a while ago and head off in the right direction, but not before wasting a fair bit of time. My advice: if you’re ever looking for this store, try La Carmina’s most recent directions.

Finally, I reached it. The store, much like some other Closet Childs, had several themed sections with lolita clothing, gothic clothing and Vivienne Westwood second hand, and I let myself slowly have a good browse of all of them. Most of the sections in Ikebukuro are fairly small and cramped, but as promised by my research, this place gets far less foot traffic and leaves better stock undiscovered for much longer. Searching through the full racks was difficult, but rewarding. I was able to find several items that I don’t think I could have at other stores, but managed to hold my shopaholic spirit in check I think mostly because I was too tired to try more clothes! 

Once I had made a couple of purchases it had become clear that I was too tired and still too sick to continue exploring Ikebukuro that day. So with a heavy heart I headed back to the hostel, stopping at the 7-11 to grab one of their suprisingly decent reheatable meals for dinner later, and spent the afternoon and evening sleeping and watching tv. 

I held out hope that my resting would give me better stamina the next day. Tune in next time to find out if it worked!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Trip Day 6: Sickness, Nerdiness and Bathhouses

Sorry that this update took so long! Life has been very good at getting in the way. I do plan to finish the report though, and I will try to steadily put out updates whenever I can. Thank you if you are still reading! I really appreciate all the comments so far, they encourage me to keep writing.

My first day after Disney, it became clear that my plan to get up early and explore Tokyo was not going to happen. The illness that I had felt coming on during Fantasmic the previous night had hit me full force, and I did not want to get out of bed. I decided to be reasonable and sleep through the morning, because if I didn’t rest I may end up ruining the rest of the trip for myself. I woke up again around lunch time, feeling a little better and desperately hungry. As the hostel didn’t have any food in it, I realised I would have to go out at some stage. Oh joy. I threw on jeans and a new shirt I had bought at 109 and headed toward the station where the restaurants are. 

On the way I stopped at the 7-11 to buy an essential product for someone coughing in Japan: the surgical mask. The Japanese find bodily functions such as coughing and sneezing quite gross, and in cities like Tokyo where people are packed close in trains and shops, dangerously contagious. Due to these issues it is considered common courtesy to cover your mouth and nose with a surgical mask if you’ll be coughing in public. It is also important to note that the Japanese find blowing your nose in public very rude. C. Coville on Cracked once compared it to pulling out an adult diaper in public because you had a stomach upset. Considering this attitude toward the show my face was currently putting on, I was happy to head for the face masks and reserve my nose blowing for the bathroom. 

I bought a three pack and put one on. Despite the fact that I had regularly seen people wearing these all over Tokyo, I felt convinced for a moment that people would point and stare. Thankfully, as I kept walking people seemed to pay me no mind whatsoever. In fact, I noticed a diminished amount of attention from the neighbourhood people, possibly because my mask was masking a lot of my pale foreign face, or possibly because they had just seen me before by this point. When I got to the station, my food choices seemed to be Burger King and Denny’s. Not the best choices for someone feeling under the weather, but I didn’t feel like walking any further so I got a table at Denny’s and ordered some fairly plain pasta. By the time lunch was over, I was actually feeling a lot better. The food seemed to give me energy, so I decided to take the subway to one of my must-see spots that I had been dying to return to for years: Nakano Broadway.

While Akihabara is like a department store for nerdery, Nakano Broadway is like a great pawn shop or antique store. It’s poky, often cluttered, and full of weird old things you don’t care about, but for most collectors it is also home to weird old things you would sell your right arm for. It is multi floor indoor mall full of tiny specialty shops hidden north of the station (Find the Sun Mall near the station exit, walk all the way through and you will be staring at Nakano’s entrance). Most of the nerdier stuff is on 2F and above. Rare manga, gachapon toys, doujinshi (fan made comics), expensive rare film cells, cutesy themed merchandise, second hand collectibles, rare doll parts, and vintage toys that haven’t been seen in America in decades line the shelves of the stores here, often hidden among old plastic bags from special events and toys that look like stuff you would give to the Salvation Army. Some of the stores are very well organised, with special items in glass cases and very carefully protected. Others will have you searching through bins of clutter to find the best items. Beware of some stores in this complex if you are easily offended, as lewd gag gifts, porn, pornographic doujinshi, and other offensive comics (gore etc) are common in certain stores. This is also the home of a couple of Mandarake’s showcase stores, where nothing is for sale unless you’re a millionaire but you can come and look at their rare items. If you are headed for Nakano Broadway I definitely suggest you have a look at the information available online or in books like Cruising the Anime City by Patrick Macias  and Tomohiro Machiyama. There are many maps available that can tell you which little store is likely to sell what you’re looking for.

Seeing as I had been there before and was ill I decided I was happy to take my time and give each interesting shop a slow look over, digging if I wanted to. I saw a lot of things that were quite cool for me (Original Strawberry Shortcake Sour Grapes figurine! Wow!) but was mostly browsing when I saw something that made me think of all my dear Duffeteers:

Several shops seemed to have large section devoted to selling Duffys, Shellie Maes and racks of old edition outfits! Seeing these sections made me wish I was more of a Duffy collector because it was gorgeous to look at. I only wished I could take orders from friends on the forums but I was ill and had no idea what I’d be looking for. Instead I took some pictures so they might make their own pilgrimages to Nakano if needed.  Continuing on my way I found myself in yet another cluttered store that I wasn’t finding much interest in until suddenly I turned around and saw a very cute looking rack:

MORE DISNEYLAND MERCH! Not only that but at its foot, POPCORN BUCKETS! Some of the merchandise was even from foreign Disney parks, although Tokyo sells quite enough cutesy collectibles for me. The shopaholic in me went mad as I searched the racks for rare or personally relevant items. As a sucker for cute popcorn buckets I rooted around in the bucket bins like a mad thing, and struck gold – the Mickey jack o lantern bucket from the Halloween that I couldn’t get to Tokyo! After some more searching I sat at the foot of the rack with a pile of things I adored, slowly weighing the cost and putting some back on the shelf like a good recovering compulsive shopper. In the end though, I couldn’t leave without a few things, especially the popcorn bucket and a little decorative Minnie to go with him.

 Here is what the store looks like from the outside, for those who might visit. 

As I brought my choices to the counter the clerk gave me a knowing smile, as he had just quietly watched my surprise Disney discovery and subsequent frenzied searches while completely unnoticed by me! Goodness knows how amusing it was to watch the crazy gaijin suddenly stop and root through all that while my eyes stayed fixed on the DIIIIIIIISSSNNEEEEEEEEEEEYYYY. I smiled back widely, as I was way too happy with my purchases to be embarrassed. After this I spent the next hour or two wandering Nakano looking through a variety of cute merch, figurines, cosplay, manga and other fun stuff.

I was careful to keep my purchases small unless they were gifts, but it took a lot of self discipline at times, especially when I saw this:

I desperately wanted to take this statue of kimono Mickey and Minnie home, but it was very heavy and bulky, and goodness knows I had a lot of other shopping left to potentially fit in my suitcase, so after a long time standing in the shop deliberating, I left it for some other collector to find and love. After this I was feeling a bit tired and was ready to leave, but I was also feeling a bit dirty and stuffy from being sick, and I realised one of my other Tokyo must-dos would fix my predicament perfectly: Oedo Onsen Monogatari, the Edo themed bathhouse.

I headed for the train and headed across the city to make my way to the man-made island of Odaiba, just off the coast of Tokyo. There are several ways to get to Odaiba, including trains and ferries, but my favourite was to head to Shimbashi Station so I could use the Yurikamome terminal just outside. The Yurikamome is a special monorail line that heads from Shimbashi over the river to most of the Odaiba stations. It goes through the city and then loops around in a circle to gain height before crossing the bridge, giving you ample time to see lovely views of the city and Odaiba, which is especially pretty at night. Odaiba was built as a sort of ‘city of the future’ and quite a few architects were given carte blanche to go crazy on the buildings here, so they are quite fun to look at. It was still daylight as I headed over, giving me a good look at the buildings, as well as a far off look at the 30 ft Gundam replica that has been built behind an Odaiba shopping centre.

From what I understand this big guy is temporary, but he’s been up for a while and is quite a sight poking out of the tree tops! Finally I made it to the station and my destination for the evening. This place is designed to offer a hot spring style experience in the city, themed around old Edo era Tokyo. You are required to wear a yukata (summer kimono), and all the common areas, restaurants and shops inside are themed to look like old Edo era stalls, only the theming is not what you’d call Disney quality. Most of it is quite obvious, plasticky and a little tacky, but that to be honest is a large part of the place’s charm. Not only that but it offers about 10-14 different baths for each gender (single sex bathing) some of which are outdoor rotemburo style, so it’s worth a little bit of tacky. 

(Enjoy my blurry, sneaky photographs of the common areas)

Oedo Onsen has a great payment system which allows you to walk around in nothing but a yukata and a plastic bracelet with a barcode you can use to pay for things. You settle your bill when you check out. This makes it much easier to relax, but it relies on you going through a farcical system of lockers and keys. Upon entering the building one of the first things you see is a locker room for your shoes. I immediately took off my shoes in the little entryway, placing them in an empty shoe locker and taking the key with me to the front desk. Key number 1. I then indicated ‘one person’ and was given my barcode bracelet, which also includes a locker key. Key number 2. The counter person directed toward the yukata rental counter, where they had 5 styles to choose from. Once I had my yukata I headed for the locker room, where I changed and deposited my clothes, valuables, and key number 1 into the locker. I then was free to wander the restaurant/shopping area with just my yukata and key/barcode bracelet, but I decided to head straight for the baths. When you get to the bathing area you are confronted with, that’s right, another locker room. The lady at the counter gave me a towel and a washcloth, and indicated for me to find a locker.

Now keep in mind that most Japanese communal bathing is done completely nude. Wearing even a bathing suit in a nude bath is a huge faux pas, as (among other things) getting completely naked and scrubbing every inch of your body first is the only way to be sure you won’t make the bath water dirty for others. Luckily I have done this a fair few times, so I was able to quietly strip down to my birthday suit, put my yukata, towel, and key number 2 into the locker, taking YET ANOTHER KEY on a bracelet to wear in the baths themselves. Key number 3. To sum up: My shoes were in a locker, the key to which was in another locker, the key to which was in another locker, the key to which was on my wrist. I find this system a little funny every time I visit, however you can’t fault it. After all, I was standing there naked but for a waterproof bracelet and felt completely confident that all my belongings were safely stored.

After all the days of Disney and sickness, I was deeply happy to get a really good clean. The hostel showers were fine, but Japanese bathing leaves you with a whole different level of clean if you do what the locals do: scrub every inch of your body, rinse, sit in the bath until you pretty much can’t handle the heat any longer, go back to the wash stations and scrub everything again now that your pores are open, rinse, repeat if needed. This much steam is also fantastic for blocked sinuses like I had, so this was perfect. A couple of hours later after trying out the rock pools, the spa jets, the cypress tubs, the salt baths, and scrubbing in between I needed to get out of the heat. 

When you go back into the locker room from the baths one of the really nice touches of this bathhouse becomes obvious. Next to the locker area there is a long hallway of lit mirrors and vanity stations with hairdryers, clean hairbrushes, and complementary moisturising products and hair products so that you can get yourself looking nice again before you go out into the common area. A lot of Japanese girls really love their hair and makeup (it is much more expected in Japan that women wear full makeup every day) so this is a great touch. I grabbed a cold drink from the vending machine (which is capable of scanning the barcode bracelet! So cool!) and took full advantage of the facilities.

Look at the cool barcode thing!

The rest of the evening I spent resting and wandering about the common areas, eating shaved ice and looking at souvenirs. I also discovered some lovely places to sit in the foot bath garden where people of both sexes can spend time together. A lot of couples on dates stroll around in their yukata and it’s adorable to watch. Although I recommend any future travellers watch out for the bath with pointy reflexology stones at the bottom. As the girl who walked through it before me put it: ‘Itai! Itai! Itai!’ You can also pay extra to have tiny fish eat skin from your feet in one pool. Some people swear it reduces their calluses like nothing else, but I decided to give it a miss this time. Eventually I decided I was tired and made my way home, falling straight into bed once I reached the hotel. 

Hopefully the next update will come faster than this one! Tune in next time for goth/Lolita shopping at Ikebukuro Closet Child.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Trip Day 5, Disney Day 3: Park Hopping Part 2

On to part 2!

I arrived at the famous Becker’s for a nice, unhealthy burger and fries lunch.  Becker’s has been mentioned in many a trip report as a place to get food that is a little more ‘western’ at decent prices, so I thought I’d find out if it was true. I picked out a set with a bacon burger, fries, and an iced tea for around ¥650. The burger was quite small and consisted of mostly beef patty, bacon, and a variety of sauces, but it was delicious in an almost convincingly American food way. The fries and iced tea were both great also, especially now that I’d been back in Japan long enough to remember how much sugar syrup I liked in my iced tea (it comes unsweetened). I sat and took a much needed break from the noise and chaos of the parks, but I was still feeling quite tired. Determined that the lessons of the previous days should not be lost on me, I decided to head back to my hotel for a while. 

By the time I pulled in at the train station I realised that I had gone through a fair bit of my Disney spending money, I expected to spend more at DisneySea, and that I had no other cash left in my purse for food and necessities. The only places that you can get cash with a foreign card in Japan, even a travel money card, are 7-11s and post offices. Unfortunately, 7-11s only take a specific kind of foreign card, which it turns out mine wasn’t. This left only the post office, which wouldn’t be open early tomorrow when I planned to leave the hotel. I decided to head there so I didn’t end up accidentally stranded in a foreign store with no cash. This led to what I now refer to as the Epic of Yuubinkyouku (Post Office).

The trouble was, although the post office was marked on the map of the area I had printed out for myself, I was having trouble finding it. Suburban post offices in Japan tend to be small, and often do no advertise their presence with anything other than the Japanese postal symbol. This is a very useful thing to learn when travelling to Japan, given the money situation, and given that this is also how they tend to be marked on maps. It looks like this:
 Occasionally, you will see this:
 If you're unbelievably lucky, you might see this:

Despite my knowledge of this symbol from my previous trip, I seemed to walk too far. I tried the other side of the street, and still couldn’t find anything. I looked on a street map on the side of the road, and it seemed to correspond with mine. I walked that side of the street again and didn’t see it. I then spent about ten minutes just wandering the general area I knew it to be in looking confused. I’m sure I would have been pretty entertaining if anyone was watching! I decided I needed help so I headed in to a convenience store, bought a bottle of water and asked the clerk ‘Yuubinkyouku wa doko desu ka’ (Where is the post office?). He seemed to understand, led me outside, and gave me some directions back in the direction I came from. Here I was incredibly thankful for my understanding of Japanese directional words, but he also gave some helpful hand signals. I thanked him, bowed, and followed what I thought I understood from his directions. These led me to a corner beauty store. I thought I must have misunderstood him until I saw a post box on the sidewalk, and next to it a tiny narrow door, with the post office sign! Finally, I walked into the air conditioning, pressed the ‘English’ button on the ATM and got my cash.

This little guy seemed cute now that he was no longer simply a landmark for my disoriented brain!

After returning to the hotel and taking a short victory nap, I realised that since I had returned to my hotel I had a chance to look for the tag from my Happiness Pendant! After some searching I found I had not yet thrown it away and I began the journey back to the parks.

By 4:30pm I was back at DisneySea. I realised that I had barely taken any video the whole trip, and since DisneySea is one of my favourite places, I should. So I pulled out my video camera and proceeded to wander anticlockwise around the park, making a few inane comments as I showcased my favourite paths and trails of DisneySea. Unfortunately my battery, which I had forgotten to charge the night before, ran flat just as I reached the American Waterfront, but I made it most of the way around. This circuit really helped me remember how much I love amount of care and artistry that was put into the theming of DisneySea, and put me in a good mood for some relaxed exploring and shopping.
I headed back to the Mermaid Lagoon, and was about to head into Triton’s Kingdom when I spotted a rare sight: Prince Eric!

Pictured here with your typical adorable park goer.

I quickly went over and joined the short line to speak to him. I always try to spend extra time with face characters (as opposed to fully suited costume characters) in the parks, as they are allowed to speak and I love seeing how well they keep any conversation in character. I also found on my last trip that because the face characters are often native English speakers, they often seem to enjoy the opportunity to try out their character acting on other native English speakers. Eric and I had some nice banter, I explained that I was on my way to take pictures with his statue, and we had a little conversation about whether the statue really portrayed his likeness. Eric maintains that as handsome as I may think it is, it is still a little too serious for his liking.

I then headed off to spend a little time in Ariel’s Playground, one of the coolest favourite free play areas I’ve seen at a park. I dared myself to stay in the dark, fake shipwreck long enough for the ‘lightening’ to flash and reveal the creepy shark staring in at you. I then watched a couple of giggling teenage girls shine flashlights from their phones in the dark to see if the shark was still there, and squeal when it was. I bounced childishly between the bouncy sails, to the delight of a couple of small children watching, and then headed into the caves to one of my favourite rooms. One of the best rooms in the playground, in my opinion, is a cave room that appears empty until a bright light flashes, revealing that the paint on the wall is photosensitive and has preserved the shape of your shadow. On my first trip, I spent a lot of time in this room creating shadow puppets, creating jump shadows and generally laughing at the results with my travel companion. This time however, I found the room full of Japanese teenagers who couldn’t work out what the flashing light was for, as they were looking the wrong way. I strolled up to the correct wall, did a crazy pose, and pointed comically at the resulting shadow as they all cried out in surprise. After this, they couldn’t wait to pose at the wall themselves, and I left them to it. 

I then headed to my other favourite part of Ariel’s Playground, the replica of Ariel’s Grotto:

This place is really fun for Ariel fans. Looking around you can see Ariel’s fire painting, her case of thingamabobs, and of course the big statue of Eric, which I like to give a manly fist bump whenever I pass by. There are also several things in the grotto designed to be interactive, like clocks that make noise if you play with them and a treasure chest with an optical illusion jewel you can never reach. Also, be sure to look up and see the people staring down at you, as the hole at the top of this room is the hole next to King Triton’s statue as you enter Triton’s Kingdom.

After exploring more caves and touring Ursula’s Lair a little, I left the playground and continued on.

 Goofy was caught scuba diving in Triton's Kingdom

My next stop was the Sleepy Whale and the surrounding The Little Mermaid themed shops. I’m a big fan of Ariel, so I was hoping to find some good merchandise here. Sadly, there was a lot more generic Disney-themed merchandise and Sebastian and Flounder themed merchandise than anything Ariel. The few things that did have Ariel were mostly for small children. I assume this is a result of the Japanese obsession with cutesy animal characters that serves me so well in other stores, so I suppose it’s fair. Once I headed over to the Arabian Coast, I found that same obsession with cutesy animal characters provided me endless merchandise options in the Agrabah Marketplace. Although he is merely the result of a cosmetic change designed to make people like the Sindbad ride more, I am quite the fan of Changdu the tiger cub. I just can’t resist his little face! The racks of different plush Changdus, Genie-themed dustpans and crazily pretty crockery were really fun to browse amongst. I was heavily tempted to buy a replica magic lamp, but it was very fragile and I convinced myself it wasn’t worth spending the money on something that could break in transit. Instead I selected a small Changdu plushie and left before I could add any impulse purchases.

On the way out, I decided I might as well go on the one ride that I’ve never been on at DisneySea: Jasmine’s Flying Carpets. I knew that it was essentially Dumbo, but unlike Dumbo it had practically no line up and it gave a fun view of a very different park. After having a bit of fun steering my magic carpet up and down, I got off the ride and headed past Indy to yet again take advantage of the single rider line. Riding one of my favourite rides again as the Disney trip was coming to an end made me a little sentimental about leaving the parks, so I spent some time afterward wandering around the Port Discovery/Cape Cod/American Waterfront areas taking photos while I slowly made my way to Zambini Brothers Restaurant for dinner. 

I had eaten at Zambini Brothers on my last trip, and I found it to have half decent pasta at reasonable prices, which was just what I needed. I ate my pasta at one of the few outdoor tables, watching people set up to watch Fantasmic! on the lagoon. After finishing my dinner at around 7pm, I went and sat down in a space on the lagoon’s edge, right in front of the restaurant, and relaxed until the show started. It was here however that I started coughing, and I realised that either I had been coming down with something all Disney trip, or I had made myself sick by not taking it easy. Either way the lesson was clear: take breaks, drink water, or you’ll pay. Luckily, the show cheered me up.

Now I should say this to start with: I haven’t seen Fantasmic in its other forms. Many descriptions of this show have been posted by people who know a lot more about it than me, so I’d recommend looking those up if you want a play by play of the show. What I will say is that what I saw was excellent. The show focuses around the power of imagination, to create both good and bad things. Ultimately of course, Mickey is able to take control of his imagination and vanquish the evil, but I did like that there was a section of the show that was a little more sinister. I liked the way the light show worked with the water, and I especially enjoyed the use of a screen of water to make a giant magic mirror that could serve as both a projection screen and an entryway for things to emerge through. It was quite the spectacle, and Tokyo’s nightly fireworks show (which has much less set up space than other parks to prepare elaborate launches from) truly pales in comparison. Oh, and like all the other shows I had seen so far, they packed up the show to a slow, soft version of the 30th anniversary song ‘Happiness is here’. I would be singing that song all trip.

I then ran around taking some night time photos, and decided to go on the Sindbad ride as I hadn’t yet. Like It’s A Small World in Disneyland, this ride tends to divide people: You tend to love it or hate it. The two rides share a lot of similarities, both being boat rides past scenes of outdated animatronic scenes set to one catchy, looping song. Much like It’s A Small World, this ride isn’t my favourite, but I guess I fall in the pro column because I definitely don’t hate it. It’s less outdated than Small World, and the facial expressions on the characters, though stylised, are quite good. I like the over the top scenes from Sindbad’s story, and although it’s corny, I really do love the addition of Changdu. I also do like the song to which the ride is set, which was apparently written by Alan Menken. Warning: this song will get stuck in your head almost as badly as the Small World song. It does however give you a nice break from 'Happiness is here' ;)

After this, I realised I had done most of the things I really wanted to do except for re-rides and shopping, so I felt free to go back to Indy and use the single rider line another three or four times. The last ride, after a trip full of attempts to do a funny photo pose (‘Aaaahh!’ ‘Need a hug?’ and ‘Come at me bro!’ were my three favourites so far), I finally got put on a ride vehicle with people who share my sense of humour. 

When they saw the photo and realised I posed too they laughed and offered me high fives. Apparently high fives need no language.

Once I was done with Indy, I went over to Port Discovery and hopped on the Electric Railway to get one last overhead view of the park and do some shopping at the other end. The park is beautiful from the windows of the railway cars, which move super slowly so there’s time to take it in. I also met a couple of friendly Australians on board. We compared our trips and discovered we shared a tendency to continue shopping despite our tiredness, as that’s what we were all planning to do at the end of the ride.

So here I was, at the very end of my Disney days, with money left to spend and shops left to browse. I won’t lie, this brought out a bit of a browsing mania. I dodged through the late night crowds in almost all the shops at the front of the park, skipping the confectionery store as it gets PACKED near closing with Japanese visitors looking to buy omiyage (obligation gifts) for their friends and co-workers who didn’t get to visit Disney. Candy or cookies are a common gift choice as they are small and disposable, but thoughtful. A general warning for shoppers who like space to browse (or breathe) while shopping is to shop (or at least check out the shops) early, as they will always get crowded at night by locals bound by their gift giving traditions.

As I wasn’t looking for candy, and as I did not have to buy a small gift for EVERYONE I know, I was happy to skip some stores and rely on the location I had scouted earlier in the trip for the items I wanted. Among other things, I bought a couple of Spring Voyage trinkets, a document folder with a cool stylised map of Disneyland and DisneySea on it, a CD of the Jubilation! Soundtrack (which reminds me of my last trip better than anything else on earth, barring the smell of caramel popcorn) and a couple of other impulse buys, but I did not succumb to my merchandise cravings nearly as much as I had on my last trip to Japan, so I declared it a success. 

I resisted the temptation to buy this, mostly because I couldn't come up with a use or even a display spot in my house for it that didn't seem hilariously silly. I did give me a good laugh trying though!

By this point I had had enough, the park was nearly closed, and I didn’t want to stick around long enough to make any further purchases. So I said goodnight to DisneySea, stopping to witness the huge crowd taking photos of the lit up 30th anniversary statue on the way out. As I left I was happy, but I couldn’t help hoping that maybe this wasn’t goodbye, and that I may be able to return later in my trip when I was feeling better.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Trip Day 5, Disney Day 3: Park Hopping

After a night of resting, I woke up on park-hopping day still feeling quite tired, but determined to enjoy my last planned Disney day – with a big break this time! This was also an important day for me, as it was my last planned day at Disney, so this was the day that I would allow myself to actually shop! I had spent a lot of time looking around the stores, so that I had seen all of the different styles and types of item on sale, and wouldn’t therefore buy one item then find a better version later. I was fairly certain I had a good grasp of what I wanted, what I could afford to buy and what I would hold off on buying (no matter how hard it seemed!). I had my full Disney shopping budget in my wallet in cash, and was determined not to overspend it. 

I decided that I wanted to try to get on Star Tours and Pooh one last time, so Disneyland was the natural choice for the morning. I arrived at the gates around 7:45-8am, sat down in line and ate the bagel I had brought with me while planning my day. The moment they let us through the gates I was off again to the Star Tours fastpass queue, and thanks to being well-rested and knowing my way around better, I was able to get a fastpass for 10am! Wasting no time, I quickly jogged out of there and headed for Pooh’s Hunny Hunt as fast as my asthmatic body would let me. The wait was still only 5 minutes, so I was able to have one last chance on the ride that always makes me smile. I knew the lines for this would be large by the time I got off and would stay that way for the rest of the day, so I did my best to sit back, smile, and soak up everything I love about this ride to remember later.

By the time I got out of Hunny Hunt, the ride lines were decently long and the park was in full swing. Since it was my last day and I’d already done all my favourite rides once, I felt comfortable now focusing on my shopping. I went back into the shop at the end of Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and had my first proper look there (there’s a door you can take to skip the shop when leaving the ride, I’d taken it or rushed through the store the other times). The shop is gorgeously decorated, simply covered in fake honey pots and honeycomb, and with Pooh related souvenirs EVERYWHERE. Pooh is a big favourite in Japan. I had a look around, but nothing truly took my fancy more than other products I had researched or seen previously, so I decided I would return and buy later if I couldn’t find better. Proud of my first attempts at frugality, I continued on.

As I left the ride and continued through Fantasyland, I noticed there was no line at all for Snow White, and the ride attendants were smiling at me and encouraging me to enter in an oh-so-cute way, so I decided I would. Snow White’s Adventures is one of the park’s older rides, so it doesn’t have much to offer in terms of technology. It does however tell a fun little story, and it serves as a fantastic reminder of how far ride technology has come when you compare it to the rest of the park. 

A WORD OF ADVICE TO PARENTS: This ride is called ‘Snow White’s Scary Adventures’ in other parks, and I feel the omission of the ‘Scary’ in this case was a mistake. [MILD SPOILER] The ride is themed around the wicked witch, who often jumps out or cackles loudly at you throughout the ride. There is also a haunted trees area that unnerves some people [END SPOILER]. The rides elsewhere toned down the scary theme of the ride a little in subsequent renovations and kept the name, whereas here the ride is in its original form and lost the scary name. In previous rides I have seen smaller children upset by the ride due to not realising it would be creepy, so please keep this in mind if you choose to ride with young children.

I managed to get my scaredy cat self through the ride and out the door in record time, emerging to see a 5 minute wait for the Haunted Mansion. Being ever the Haunted Mansion fan, I took the opportunity to give it one last ride. No matter how often I see it, I don’t think I’ll ever stop being amused by the fact that the Haunted Mansion staff are the only Cast Members that don’t smile at you like it’s their birthday and YOU just took THEM to Disneyland. Everywhere else in the park you can’t escape the smiley Japanese welcome of the Cast Members, but here they all maintain a spooky deadpan. There really is little that is more amusing than watching a cute little Japanese girl with a bob cut try to convince you she really is very spooky and doesn’t at all want to smile. I enjoyed their efforts as I went through the ride, appreciating one last time the amount they clean the Tokyo version and how you can’t see the mechanisms of the ride like you can in some versions. That and, you know, giggling like a little girl at all the attempted jump scares and singing ghosts. 

That's right people - the teacups with NOBODY RIDING. Too bad I don't have a good stomach for them.

After this I wandered in to Westernland, as I realised that it was not too long until my Star Tours fastpass window, and I was right near the Big Thunder Mountain fastpass machines. Big Thunder fastpasses don’t sell out nearly as fast in Tokyo as they do in other parks as long as there is a vaguely new ride available. As most of this park’s visitors are locals, new rides will always trump rides that are good but they’ve ridden several times before. As such the Star Tours and Monsters Inc. passes were gone by this point, but lucky me could still get a reasonably timed fastpass to one of my favourite rides. To waste time until the window I wandered through some of the more unique Westernland shops checking there wasn’t anything I needed. Most of it was either stuff that I could get later at the front of the park, Toy Story toys I could get at DisneySea later if needed, and fake ‘Western’ clothing and jewellery that is not nearly as exotic to me as it is to the Japanese. So I took some pictures of Westernland for a while, nabbed my new fastpass and started heading back toward Tomorrowland.

By this point it was 10am and the Star Tours line was huge. Luckily, my fastpass meant I could skip most of that. I took a nice brisk VIP walk past all the people waiting in the standby queue. Later suckers! I waited in the small queue after the fastpass merge point, but the line moved fairly quickly and yet again I was plucked out by a Cast Member for being a single rider and skipped a large wait at the end! The ride I took this time was different than the last one, as the ride randomises each ride from a huge amount of possible scenes (no Vader this time, but many awesome planet life scenes instead). Childishly happy with my ride and thrilled with how quickly I got on, I was back in the courtyard by 10:20am. 

At this point I could ignore the siren call of Tomorrowland shopping no longer, and I was drawn over to the Monsters Inc. shop. Monsters Inc. is a favourite of mine and I have a great weakness for the merchandise. My last trip (when I had a lot more spending money) I spent about an hour in this shop, buying all sorts of things. One thing I remembered from my last trip is that this store is one of the only places in the world I’ve ever been able to find blue Monsters Inc. hard hats in adult sizes. They’ve done them for Disney on Ice shows and promotions, but usually only in the smaller sizes. Here though, it is expected that young adults in their 20s (and beyond) will want to wear ‘cute’ things, so the hats are for us too. Last time I should have bought one, but went with a warm fuzzy Minnie hat instead as it was so cold in January, and I had regretted not getting the hard hat ever since. I made a beeline straight for the hats and tried one on. For a moment, it didn’t seem to fit on my big head, and I was about to get quite sad when I realised that it was adjustable on the inside and had been adjusted too tight. Crisis averted! My giant gaijin head only just fit in the highest setting, but it fit me darn it! I proceeded to wear the adorable, but surprisingly heavy, hat around the store while I also selected a Mike Wasowski pen, hair ties with Mike and Sully plushies stuck to them, and a few other themed products. Deciding it was best to stop there before I bought one of the hats that made it look like Mike was eating your head, I checked out with the lovely Cast Member who thoughtfully asked if I wanted fragile objects like the pen and the hat wrapped in bubble wrap. 

I then made a little tour through the other Tomorrowland stores, buying a set of Disney characters as Star Wars characters notebooks for my friends back home, who are doubly amused by the concept now that Disney has bought the rights to the Star Wars films. I also picked up a badge that proudly declared I had travelled on Star Tours, and a couple of sets of 30th anniversary pens and keyrings for friends and co-workers back home. I decided I would get out of there without buying any more Disney-as-Star-Wars merchandise, despite the temptation, as I had decided that the popcorn bucket and the badge would be enough Star Tours souvenirs for me personally, and I had bought enough Star Tours stuff for others. Once upon a time deciding that and sticking to it would have been really hard for me, so I did a little victory dance outside the store and received some ‘Hee hee, silly foreigner’ looks from passing families.

I then had to head out to Guest Relations at the front of the park for several reasons. Reason number one, I had heard that you can ask them for ‘Story Papers’ and receive an envelope of nicely decorated English language fliers about the story of each ride. I had never had real story papers in previous visits, and I really wanted to see them. Reason number two was that after returning home from my last trip to this park I had realised I lost my scarf, probably leaving it at the parade after sitting on it as a blanket. Back home I wouldn’t bother going to lost and found as the first person who saw it would probably keep it themselves, but here in Japan, the land of the honest passerby and the land of heavy cultural shame at petty theft, I thought I might have a shot. Reason number three was that I had now visited all of the anniversary ‘Happiness Spots’ with my ‘Happiness Pendant’, and I knew from reading Micechat that if you visited three or more you could collect a special prize, but I couldn’t work out where or how! Reason number 4 was that I knew there were coin lockers nearby, and I was now carrying quite a few souvenirs and a heavy hat.

I found a locker for my purchases and got in line at Guest Relations. Soon enough I had a lovely Cast Member who spoke a little English ready to help me. I asked ‘Sutori Paipasu o kudasai’ and received my Story Papers easily. I then explained (with some bad Japanese/miming when needed) that I had lost my scarf two days ago. The Cast Member then pulled out a special lost property form and proceeded to help me fill it out. She got me to point on a map to where I think I lost it. She asked, in carefully thought out English, for some descriptions of the scarf. ‘Colour?’ ‘Does it have pattern? Stripey?’ ‘Fringe or no fringe?’ ‘Square shape?’ ‘What brand?’ She then had me fill out my details, and sent the card out the back for others to look at. Finally I showed her my Happiness Pendant and how it had the right number of lights etc. She pulled out one of the tags that was on the pendant when I bought it and asked where mine was. When I explained it was at home, she told me that I need the tag to redeem the prize, and showed me a little map on the tag that shows where you can collect the prize, if you can read Japanese better than I can. She then asked me to take a seat in the waiting area while they looked for my scarf. 

Sitting there, I was a little sad that I probably wouldn’t get a chance to find my tag and get my happiness medal, but I consoled myself that the ridiculous, giant Mickey face of lights that is the Happiness Pendant is a pretty good souvenir on its own. It even talks in Mickey’s voice if you push the right button, though his voice makes it nearly impossible for me to understand what he’s saying in Japanese. I also didn’t think they would find my scarf, but it wasn’t that expensive so I told myself it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if my carelessness cost me a pashmina. Lo and behold as soon as I made my peace with this, a very happy looking Cast Member came out with my form and presented me with my scarf! She then got me to sign the form to say I had received it, and I bowed and directed several ‘Arigatou gozaimasu’s at the Cast Members as I left, a grin plastered to my face. 

Walking back through the World Bazaar I took my chance to pop in to the Disney Gallery and see all the amazing concept art for the early Disney cartoons. I took a couple of pictures before a Cast Member gently informed me ‘No photo’. I felt a little guilty after that, but I can’t say I’m not happy with the pictures I now have of some of the concept boards.

The really great find in the gallery however was not the gallery at all, but the gallery shop. The shop focuses on early Disney feature films, and while I could have spent the rest of my budget in there, I was happy to come out with a little box disguised as an old Snow White book, and a card with an ornately crafted cardboard Alice in Wonderland frame as the front, allowing you to put a photo in it, or just leave it as is with its adorable artwork. 

By now it was almost time for Big Thunder Mountain, so I headed back out to Westernland, making sure to pass as many delicious smelling snack carts on my way through as I could. That smell, more than anything, reminds me of Tokyo Disneyland even years after visiting. Just before this trip, and years after the last one, I had gone to a Japanese cultural fair in my home town where a crafty booth had decided to sell ‘Tokyo Disney-style Caramel Popcorn’. Passing by that booth and smelling that smell was like being slapped in the face with memories, and it left me smiling all day.

Once I reached Big Thunder it was time for my fastpass, so I quickly climbed the queue and waited in the small merged queue section before the ride. Directly in front of me was an American family, one of the only groups of native English speakers I had seen on my trip so far. It was a father and his two children, a girl of ten or eleven, and a boy of twelve or thirteen. They had both been on the ride before, but their father hadn’t, and they spent the entire queue telling him why it wasn’t scary, but was really cool. Their father was playing hard to get and playfully insisted he wasn’t sure it was that good, prompting even more excited hyperbole from the kids. It was cute to watch, even more so when I was put in the back of their ride car. This ride is fun on its own, but was made even more so by watching these kids throw their hands in the air and turn their father into a Big Thunder convert. As we got off the ride and out the exit, it was the father excitedly talking up the ride to the kids!

After leaving Big Thunder I took my last chance to head over to Tom Sawyer Island and explore. It’s a bit of a time warp looking at this version of the island, as all the other parks have updated and upgraded theirs, whereas Tokyo Disney maintains the original (I’m sure not in small part due to the fact that the racial issues of some of the statues and ‘Injun Joe’ are completely lost on the Japanese).

I got on a raft and was ferried across to the island, using one of the English language maps at the raft stop to find my way around. I laughed with other park goers as we stumbled across the barrel bridge, climbed the rocks, and avoided the stream of water occasionally spat by a rock that looks like a skull. I quite liked exploring Fort Sam Clemens, and although lactose intolerant me could not partake of the much lauded milkshakes sold at the canteen here, I did find some immaturely amusing signs.

Heading back to the mainland I wandered over to Toontown to take some last minute photos, high fiving a few Fantasyland and Toontown characters on my way through. I also took this opportunity to do some shopping at the Five and Dime, finding a set of pens topped with Mickey in his anniversary outfit for each celebration since opening, and a set of mechanical pencils each topped with Minnie wearing the Cast Member’s uniform for each area of Disneyland and Disneysea! 

Captain Hook's hobbies include photobombing Smee. Also this is the second time this trip that Smee initiated a high five with me!

After this I had done everything I had wanted to do at the Disneyland park, and I was feeling both tired and hungry. I decided it was about time for a break, so I wandered out of the park, making sure to say my goodbyes to everything in my mind, and headed for the Becker’s near the station to try these burgers I had heard about.

That’s all for today, but please stay tuned for Day 3 Pt 2: DisneySea Again!