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Anyone want a Fish Foot Massage ?

8 Feb

I made myself a new years resolution to add more posts to this blog, and alas, have not got off to a great start for this year.
Let’s try and rectify that ! This photograph, taken in a back street of seedy Kabiki-cho, was taken outside a Fish Foot Massage   business. This type of service is known in different parts of the world, and not just in Japan, but it is a curio nonetheless.
1000 yen, to have a squadron of little fish eat away happily, the dead skin on your feet for 15 minutes ?! That is a bargain in anyone’s language ! Make sure the owners though, never mix the piranha tank with the guppies !

Capsule Hotel in Tokyo: Green Plaza Hotel – Shinjuku

2 Mar

Entrance to Green Plaza Capsule

Over the years I’ve stayed in a few capsule hotels and I am endeavouring to now write about them for folks who may be thinking of staying in one when they visit Japan. The system of how they operate is usually pretty much the same across the board, with only minor differences. The check-in and other relevant information which follows, applies to most Japanese capsule hotels.

Recently I lobbed into the Green Plaza Capsule Hotel in bustling Shunjuku. I am informed that this hotel is indeed one of the original Capsule Hotels in Tokyo. Do not immediate assume ‘old and run-down’ there as that is not the case, it just means they were one of the first. First off let’s talk about finding the place. It is very centrally located and should be simple to find, but if you are not familiar with Tokyo I’ll give you some directions. Take the East Exit at Shinjuku’s JR Station. If you’ve never been here, you’ll be surrounded by zillions of people in Shinjuku Station all scrambling for their exits, but just focus on finding the East Exit. The Green Plaza Capsule Hotel is only about a five-minute walk from here. From the station, turn left as if you are heading for the West Side of Shinjuku. Look for the corner where there is a McDonald’s Restaurant. You will see Seibu Shinjuku Station at left. Walk along this road (bizarrely  known as American Blvde) and you will also pass the stylish Prince Hotel. The Green Plaza Hotel is on the right hand side of the road. There is a sign in english which states Green Plaza Hotel so look for that ! Also easy to spot by the large arch at the base of the building. This area is technically classed as Kubikicho, which is one of Tokyo’s red-light areas.

The hotel is men-only, and again, as is generally the rule – if you’ve got some tattoos, you won’t be allowed in. The foyer is usually unattended, so go down the flight of stairs and you will take an elevator to the hotel reception where you check-in. There are small boxes with windows to the right of reception where you place your shoes (as is often with these kind of shoe lockers, there is a small button which you push to release the key). There are two check-in lines, but if you are checking in for a capsule overnight, it’s the left line for you. Staff speak minimal english, so bear that in mind. It is not that much of an obstacle if you use commonsense and if all else fails, just stand back and observe what goes on – that is sometimes the best way to follow procedures ! You will require a passport or alien registration card when checking in. You also hand over your shoe locker key. You are often asked at Capsule Hotels if you have any tatts, and here I was also asked if I was aware of the length of the capsule.  If you wish, the reception area can mind wallets, mobile phones and other valuables. After you pay, you are given a plastic wrist bracelet which includes your capsule and number, a key (to your clothes locker), and also a set of japanse style pyjamas – (traditional robe) with shorts. At left is the locker area. Locate your number (on your bracelet – which is also your capsule number). You change into your bed-clothes at your clothes locker. Usually clothes lockers are not very roomy and these ones are only thin enough to hang up your jacket, jeans and maybe a briefcase – catering for the well-sozzled salary man I’d guess. If you do have a backpack or large case, there are larger coin lockers available at the foyer before you enter the left. Once changed and armed only with your plastic wrist bracelet and a curious mind, you might want to check out your capsule. There are signs around so read carefully, but from memory the capsules are located on the 2nd and 3rd floors (the 3rd floor had a smoking or ‘lung cancer room’ as I like to refer to them as). Many westerners have an image of a capsule hotel which is often wrong. Some think they are coffin-like and all stacked up on one another, or that they are like a plastic cocoon like tube which has no turning space. The ones I”ve stayed in have always been quite roomy, but in saying that, I ain’t clausterophoic, so if you are, you might want to call the Hilton. There is also a myth that some westerners have legs too long for a capsule. Well I am nearly six foot and can fit in there (albeit only just). So now it’s bath time. Head to the 6th floor. You walk left to another group of wooden boxes where you strip off and store your clothes. I should say that if you don’t like nudity, or are embarrassed etc, again, call the Hilton. But why not lose your inhibitions and go for it huh ! Walk through naked to the bathing area. As is the japanese custom, you must wash yourself before entering the bath, so find a seat (hose it down with hot water first) and get clean. There are usually razors, and shaving foam, shampoos, body soap etc etc. When you are done, go relax in the large hotbath. It always blows my mind to think that you can lazily relax in a hot bath at the top floor of a capsule hotel, soothing your aching feet whilst overlooking the hectic mass of people, cars, trains and neon of East Shinjuku ! It’s nuts.

So that’s pretty much it folks. The hotel offers other services like paid massage, a restaurant, Sauna Room, laundry etc. You can also buy snacks and beverages from the vending machines via your wrist band (which has a barcode) which you obviously pay for when you check-out.  There was only one western toilet and most were japanese style – bear that in mind, or adopt the ‘when in Rome’ attitude. The capsule itself was quite roomy, though I found this one quite stifling – it was a warm late February day and maybe the floor heaters were still set ? TV is available but you have to purchase a charge card and headset when checking in. Ear plugs are usually a good ide as well as you often get a hammered salaryman who can snore the freakin’ house down.  A sheet and blanket are always inside the capsule as well. Pull the curtain down at the end of your capsule, lights out and I’ll see you tomorrow morning. At a tad over 4000 yen, it’s not what I’d call bargain accommodation (I’m always on the look-out for the 2000 yen price!). But it is very central, well run and quite clean. Oyasuminasai folks, and don’t forget to brush your teeth (as is common in many Capsule Hotels they provide toothbrushes with a bottle of teeth cleanser which you brush and rinse with). Good luck ! I will also include some footage on youtube.

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Also read a previous post on the First Inn Capsule Hotel in Kyobashi, not too far to walk from Tokyo Station

Video: Snow covered rice field in Ibaraki, Japan

11 Feb

The Jetstar Experience

21 Jul

That old adage ‘you only get what you pay for’ could have been penned for Australia’s Jetstar Airways. The budget arm of Qantas, they fly daily to Japan and overall, I’d rate the flying experience as ‘pretty good’.
That being said, if you live in an area of Australia which is not near a point of departure, you will have the added expense of getting there – ie Perth to Cairns. The flights I’ve taken to Japan with Jetstar were dayflights, so you either have to get up really darn early, or stay overnight at your point of departure. The sercice on the flight is adequate – not above par, just adequate. A bottle of water is placed on your seat before you sit down, and that is all you receive. Blankets, entertainment units, food and drinks can all be purchased. So here are some Japanavision tips: You are allowed 10kg of carry-on luggage, so pack a blanket and plenty of food. The flight attendants will provide you with boiling water, so why not bring coffee sachets and instant noodle packs ? As with all budget airlines, you are crammed in like sheep, so get up and stretch…walk around etc. Here is one thing I cannot figure… at Gold Coast International Airport you are required to hand over any drinks before you pass customs, but you can then purchase a drink BEFORE you get on the flight !

The stunning region of Nasu

9 Jul

The stunning Nasu region

 

If you are under the false illusion that Japan is only the neon of Shinjuku, the lightning fast bullet trains and the constant stream of traffic think again. Check this stunning photograph I just took whilst out walking in the Nasu region – Tochigi Prefecture. There is much to do here, and I will add to this post later, but for now…just enjoy this stunning scenery !

Bicycles in Japan

8 Apr

Sea of cycles at Nagoya eki

 

Japan, like most Asian countries thrives on the bicycle as a means of transport. A large part of the population use the two-wheel method to get to and from the train station, to school or the office, or to buy groceries. Personally, I fell into the first category and would race to the station, park the bike (not always locking it – I paid the price for that eventually when it was swiped) – then sprint for the fast approaching train. If you ever want to witness a unique spectacle, take a look at the parked bicycles at some of the bigger train stations in Japan. There is a sea of bicycles which seems to go on forever and ever – some have been parked for an eternity – a tangled web of spokes, forks, chrome and rubber. Many of the standard replacement parts can be found at your local 100 yen shop as well – those plastic seat covers are damn handy during the typhoon season let me tell ya. For you budding students, the nihongo no tango is ‘jitensha’. The accompanying photo was taken at Nagoya Station.

Sapporo TV Tower

8 Apr

12:22 ! I'm gonna miss that train !

Forget the Eiffel or Tokyo Towers, in my opinion, this tower overshadows (pardon the pun) both of them. Constructed back in 1957, the Sapporo TV Tower is an iconic structure which is a must-see when you visit the Hokkaido capital. Located on the ground of Odori Park – which is a leisurely 15 minute walk from Sapporo Station – the tower is open to tourists who can access the observation deck. The first time I saw the tower it was lit up on a chilly Saturday night with sleet and snow in abundance – and looked awesome. Which is one reason why I prefer it over the other two aforementioned towers. But hey, don’t take my word for it – head to Sapporo and see for yourself. Official Sapporo TV Tower Website