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The Yomiuri Giants & Tokyo Dome City

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The Yomiuri Giants are the the New York Yankees of Japan. You can love them or hate them, but ambivalence is not allowed. They’re by far the richest and most successful team in Japanese baseball, with 22 titles under their belts. (The Saitama Seibu Lions are in second place with 13.) We took a trip to the Tokyo Dome to see the team in action.

Before the game started, we had a couple hours to kill. Luckily, Tokyo Dome City is a great place to kill time. An entire entertainment complex has sprung up around the stadium, with arcades, roller coasters, bars, restaurants, a mall, and even a hotel occupying a towering 47-story skyscraper. We went to the top of this building for a view over the dome, and then stopped by the arcade to challenge each other to a fierce match of video game pogo-jumping.

But the game was about to start, so we raced over to the 7-11 to stock up on beer and snacks — the ability to bring in your own supplies remains my favorite aspect of baseball in both Japan and Korea. The regular seats were all sold out, so we bought standing-room-only tickets, but I wasn’t too bothered… at least the stadium would be full, in stark contrast to the Swallows game we’d seen in April. But it turns out that standing-room in the Tokyo Dome is not good. There are only certain areas in which you’re allowed to stay, and the best spots are reserved by groups who have come in early and laid down their mats.

So we couldn’t see much. We maneuvered into an uncomfortable position behind the first-base line and, from our tiptoes, were able to catch some of the action. The Giants got off to a horrible start, dropping three runs in the first inning, and the crowd wasn’t exactly jubilant. Between each inning, we moved to a different spot, but never found a place which afforded a decent view. I don’t like leaving a match early, but the standing-room tickets had been half-price, so I felt justified in going home at the halfway point. The Giants ended up losing 7-2.

As a stadium, the Tokyo Dome leaves a lot to be desired. Baseball is meant to be seen outside, and being indoors ruins the atmosphere. That said, we’d have had more fun if we had planned properly and gotten actual seats. And the entertainment complex of Tokyo Dome City is certainly worth some time, even if you’re not going to the game. Overall, we enjoyed everything about the evening, except actually watching baseball.

Location of the Tokyo Dome on our Map

Great Gifts From The Japan

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July 5, 2014 at 11:11 am Comments (2)

The Modern Side of Yokohama

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After dedicating the morning to Yokohama’s historic harbor district and grabbing lunch in Asia’s largest Chinatown, we moved farther north up the bay and spent the afternoon in the more modern part of town.

Modern Yokohama

The 1980s were an exciting time for Yokohama. At the beginning of the decade, it surpassed Osaka in population to become Japan’s second-largest city. In 1983, work began on Minato Mirai 21, a sprawling complex built on reclaimed land that was destined to become the city’s new business and entertainment district. And in 1989, Yokohama unveiled both the world’s tallest Ferris wheel (the Cosmo Clock) and the 860-meter Yokohama Bay Bridge.

Modern Yokohama

Our afternoon began at the Red Brick Warehouses, located across from Osanbashi Pier. These twin buildings were built in 1905, and managed to survive the disasters that leveled the rest of the city, thanks to the durable material with which they were constructed. Today, they host upscale shops and provide a unique setting for special events.

Modern Yokohama

From here, it was a short walk to Cosmo World, home of the aforementioned Cosmo Clock. The amusement park is free to enter and we wandered underneath a roller coaster to watch a steady procession of screaming adolescent girls splash down the water log ride. (Amusement parks in Japan seem to be popular with screaming adolescent girls.) We considered riding the Ferris wheel, but the sky was turning a strange color, so we decided to keep our feet on the ground.

Modern Yokohama

Sure enough, as we crossed a bridge into the Minato Mirai 21 district, an astounding wind storm kicked up. I hadn’t felt wind like this for a very long time, nearly strong enough to knock us both over. Umbrellas and hats were flying, bikes were being blown over, and hairstyles were being ruined all around us. This was chaotic fun for a couple minutes, but made it impossible to appreciate the architecture of this modern urban district, whose name means “Port of the Future in the 21st Century.” Soon, we were running for shelter in the Landmark Tower.

Modern Yokohama

Until being bested by Osaka’s Abeno Harukas in 2014, the Yokohama Landmark Tower was the tallest building in Japan. Completed in 1993, the tower boasts an observation deck on its 69th floor, and elevators that reach speeds of 28 mph.

Modern Yokohama

Almost two months after having arrived in Japan, it was from atop the Landmark Tower that we finally saw Mount Fuji. The wind storm had removed some of the smog, revealing the famous flat-capped mountain on the horizon. We sat down in comfortable chairs facing west, ordered wine, and stayed put as the sun went down. It was the perfect way to end an exceptional day in Yokohama.

Locations on our Map: Red Brick Warehouses | Cosmo Clock | Landmark Tower

Hotels In Yokohama

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June 26, 2014 at 6:50 am Comments (2)

Asakusa Amusements

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Its reputation as the pleasure center of Tokyo has long since faded, the Kabuki theaters have relocated and geishas mostly vanished, but the northeastern neighborhood of Asakusa still boasts a few worthwhile attractions apart from the temple of Sensō-ji.

Asakusa Tokyo

From the late nineteenth century until the 1945 firebombing of WWII, Asakusa was where Tokyo came to relax. All manner of fun could be had here, from naughty red-light pleasures, to family-friendly entertainment like dancing and recitals. In 1890, the Ryounkaku (Cloud-Surpassing Tower) was built here. With twelve floors and the city’s first elevator, it was by far the tallest building in Tokyo and instantly became a favorite tourist attraction.

Asakusa was hit hard by Tokyo’s twin twentieth-century disasters. During the Kantō Earthquake of 1923, the Ryonkaku was just the most prominent of the many buildings destroyed. And after the firebombing of the Second World War, it never managed to recover its sense of glamour. Today, Tokyo’s youth shun Asakusa, preferring instead to congregate in newer neighborhoods to the west such as Shibuya and Shinjuku.

Asakusa Tokyo

But there’s still plenty to do here. After visiting the Sensō-ji temple, we couldn’t resist checking out the nearby Amuse Museum. It was a promising name, so we bought tickets without bothering to check what might be inside. Turns out the Amuse Museum focuses on the most unamusing topic imaginable: fabric. Which is actually pretty amusing.

The main exhibit in the Amuse Museum was about enormously heavy Japanese coats called boro. In the lean years following the war, and especially in remote areas like Aomori, women would craft boros by stitching together whatever scrap of fabric they could get their hands on. They could be worn during the day, and at night entire families would disrobe and crawl together into one, to conserve body heat. This was just one of the museum’s fascinating exhibits, and from the rooftop deck, we discovered a great view of the Sensō-ji. To our surprise, the Amuse Museum had lived up to its name, after all.

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On the western side of Tokyo’s oldest temple, we found its oldest amusement park. Hanayashiki was built in 1853, and is still in operation… though the rides have thankfully been replaced since then. Hanayashiki is the quintessential Tokyo amusement park: bizarrely compact, squishing a bunch of attractions into a tiny space, and expensive. Entrance is 900¥ and, on top of that, each ride costs extra.

Asakusa Tokyo

We ambled farther west, along the Shin-Nakamise covered market street, sampling both Meron Pan (poofy, melon-shaped sweetbread) and a sweet, warm rice drink called Amazake. In these areas, Asakusa feels older than many of Tokyo’s other districts. I don’t mean “very” old; the buildings and houses here date mostly from the 1960s and 70s. But in ultra-modern Tokyo, that qualifies as ancient.

Asakusa Tokyo

Our final stop in Asakusa was at the Taikokan Drum Museum on Kokusai-dōri. We were all alone inside and, after glancing over our shoulders to make sure nobody had followed us, we grabbed sticks and started playing on the antique drums which had been collected from around the world. Soon, a horrified-looking employee entered and snatched the drumsticks away from us. “No, no, no” she admonished. “This is how!” And then she unleashed a brutally awesome barrage on the taiko which we had been gently tapping. She gave us the sticks back, and had us try again. This was great fun; it’s the only drum museum I’ve ever been to where you’re encouraged to play on the exhibits. Actually, it’s the only drum museum I’ve ever been to, period.

Locations on our Map: Amuse Museum | Hanayashiki Amusement Park | Taikokan Drum Museum

Weird Gadgets From Japan

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April 3, 2014 at 8:50 am Comment (1)
The Yomiuri Giants & Tokyo Dome City The Yomiuri Giants are the the New York Yankees of Japan. You can love them or hate them, but ambivalence is not allowed. They're by far the richest and most successful team in Japanese baseball, with 22 titles under their belts. (The Saitama Seibu Lions are in second place with 13.) We took a trip to the Tokyo Dome to see the team in action.
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