A morning in Yokohama's Chinatown

On a cold, overcast, occasionally-rainy Sunday morning, I found myself in Yokohama's Chinatown for the first time. 
 Chinatown in Yokohama is the largest in Japan, and a tourist destination by itself. This particular trip, I focused mainly on the architecture.
There aren't really any attractions in Chinatown. There's plenty of Chinese-inspired architecture, and a lot of gifts to buy in stores.
 Japanese tourists are generally interested in the food, and Yokohama's Chinatown has lots of restaurants. Most of them serve the same items with just a bit of difference in the price. The real important part of your visit's meal is the quality. Do your research before you go and find a place that has good reviews. Most of the highly-themed restaurants serve crappy food to tourists who don't know any better, especially in their all-you-can-eat deals. These are similar to buffets except the food is freshly cooked and brought to your table as you order it, and sometimes is for only a certain period of time (i.e. 1 or 2 hours). While Chinese buffets in America run about $10 or less in most areas, these will cost you 2000 yen or more, so quality is very important. On a return trip, we ended up with a decent place, though I couldn't tell you how to find it! Even then, it's not fantastic.
 The only places to see that don't involve shopping or eating are the two temples. This is the most famous one: Kantei-byo Temple. This gate is very impressive!
 And the temple is just as ornate.
 I believe this is a fortune-telling booth. Insert money, take a fortune, enjoy. (If I'm wrong, someone correct me.) Temples make their money for upkeep on donations and purchases of religious items like fortunes.
 People actually worship at this temple, as you can see. I'm guessing this temple doesn't have much problem getting donations from all the visitors to Chinatown.
 The insides of temples tend to be very beautiful, and this is no different. Lots of gold, plenty of idols and artifacts. The grate in the front of the picture is a donation box where you can toss coins as an offering to the temple.
 Here's another view of the temple's gate, this time from the temple.
 Continuing on, a small, very busy side street has another signed gate. Note the street vendor in the lower left. In addition to restaurants one can buy plenty of street food, including egg rolls/spring rolls (harumaki) and steamed buns filled with various kinds of meat. I had an egg roll and a steamed bun on my first visit, which was enough to fill me up and relatively inexpensive. Despite being located every 10 feet down most streets, several had long lines. Unless you want to pay a lot of money to sit in a restaurant and do the all-you-can-eat option, I recommend just picking food up from the street vendors. A single steamed bun, egg roll, and drink should be enough for most people.
 Here's the other temple, though I don't know its name. Because of time constraints I didn't wander inside.
Steam pours out of a pot full of steamed buns down another side street.

As I said earlier, one could spend an entire day browsing through Chinatown, sampling food and looking in stores. Most will want to be there for just a morning. Note that Sundays are very crowded any time of year, even on drizzly wet days like you see above. Street food can be had for about 500 yen for a filling meal with a drink, while sit-down restaurant bills will come to 2000 yen or more per person! Remember that Chinatown is a tourist destination, and plan accordingly. It's worth a visit for the sights and smells alone. And you can buy some Chinese-style souvenirs while you're there.

Trip Report: Sea Paradise, Yokohama

I'm not sure why, but I believe you'll be getting multiple theme park trip reports in a row this month. Maybe I went to a bunch of parks in a row (and forgot about it). Today's post takes us just south of Yokohama to Sea Paradise.
 The sign is nice enough, if a bit rusted (what do you expect next to the sea?). However, the weather wasn't too inviting. The train station drops you off near the entrance over a long bridge. There's a drop tower hidding just next to the sign, and is that a roller coaster I see off in the distance too?
 I arrived around opening time to find a fairly empty park. Here's the carousel.
 It has horses. Some move up and down, some don't. How... ordinary! It looked nice enough, though. Apparently, it's a world-class carousel. Okay, it does have those nice paintings in the middle, good lighting and wood flooring. Maybe it's a classic.
 For those who don't like horses, the PowerPuff Girls can be your pilots in these old fighter planes.
 Maybe you feel like getting sick. The Drunken Barrels are just right for you!
 Despite the park being nearly deserted, there was a nice crowd of riders on the swinging pirate ship. I don't know who the characters are in front of the ride.
 Blue Fall is a really high drop tower. Like, 100 meters high. That's really high. I didn't ride (too cold, and too expensive for a drop ride!).
 From a distance, you can see how it towers over the rest of the park. Hey, that's right, there is a coaster in the park too...
 Oh, but there's a game room themed to look like a circus tent (well, from the outside, mostly). Lots of crane games in the middle, crane games around the lower outside wall, and pachinko and other adult games on the upper floor. Not much worth playing on this trip... let's keep walking around.
 It's an ice house! And it's freezing cold outside! No thanks. I didn't try the haunted house either.
 I'll have to come back to check out the aquarium sometime. They have dolphins.
 See? I could watch them devour fish from the viewing window outside the aquarium. There were a couple visible in the tank, and they seemed to like having fun. There's a scuba diver doing some cleaning or something.
 Moving right along, there's a bunch of these freaks. You can get right up next to the birds, and they look for food. Watch your fingers!
 Hey! I found the coaster! Surf Coaster is all by itself in the back corner. There's a very large field in front of it which was being used for marching band practice and other sports-like activities.
 For those of you who like this sort of thing. The coaster goes right out over the water for a short time.
 Lots of twisted metal. It's not a bad ride! Fairly smooth when I rode, though like pretty much all jet coasters there isn't much excitement to the ride itself. You just go high and kind of fast. However, there are nice moments of airtime and the helices have some good forces.
 Going down the first drop...
 Most of the riders are actually scared. It's really not that crazy.
I inadvertently made the people on the ride wait while I took this picture. I didn't think I was going to get to ride on this train. That's my seat in the back - empty and waiting. Since I made everyone wait (a couple seconds - I didn't spend a long time composing my shot) I figure I should post it. It's only polite.

Sea Paradise has a fairly small collection of rides - you saw pretty much all of them. There is a really fun-looking boat ride that's somewhat near the coaster, but my photos didn't come out (ugh, weather). Check out TPR's report with pictures!

If you're headed to Yokohama, you can go the extra 30 minutes or so to Sea Paradise (Hakkeijima Station). Admission to the park is free, and you pay per ride. Plus, the aquarium is supposed to be good. I'll have to save that for another trip, I guess. You can get an all-day pass for 4900 yen, or twilight tickets for 2700 yen, that include the aquarium and rides. Individual rides are 300-1000 yen. More details are available at the park website!

Trip Report: Galaxy Express 999 at Aqua Stadium

Tetsuro Hoshino, a 12-year-old street urchin, is on a journey to the Andromeda galaxy to get an indestructible mechanized body, so that he can live forever. His trip takes place on Galaxy Express 999, a once-per-year train that travels from Earth. You are about to join him, but first, you must take the shuttle...
 You have to find the place first! I had some pretty good directions so it wasn't too difficult. Head towards the Shinagawa Prince Hotel from Shinagawa Station's west exit. You can follow the signs - you want to generally keep to the right side of the complex in the mall area until you start walking up a hill for a while. Head for Epson Aqua Stadium, and go in the entrance you see here.
You're transported to the sea, and this blue carousel.
You can ride a sea creature if you'd like (500 yen), or head to the right towards the Port of Pirates.
Are you sure you don't want to ride on the belly of an otter? Or saddle up for a sea adventure on a dolphin?
 You could just be as cool as a sea cucumber and take a clam cruise.
No? Alright, head past the swinging pirate ship in Port of Pirates (700 yen to ride) and look deep in the back of the crowded, not-so-large complex.
 Ahh, here we are. You are at Shinagawa Prince Station! Your shuttle to the express leaves soon.
 While you're waiting in the first entrance area, take a look at the props and souvenirs. I'm told some of those are original paintings from the creator of Galaxy Express 999.
 There are costumes to stare at, too.
Ahh, you're on your way! These security officers will brief you in Japanese about your ride, and you're off! But you're intercepted by an evil queen, shenanigans ensue, and finally you're saved and you arrive at the train. It's all in Japanese, but you can get the general idea as you watch the pre-ride film.

It's time to board Galaxy Express! Stow your belongings, have a seat in the coaster and pull down the belt.

This was my first coaster ride in Japan, so it gets some minor sentimental bonus points, but overall the coaster ride is pretty short and not terribly exciting. It's pretty dark on the ride to simulate traveling through space, but it's just not dark enough, so some of the excitement is lost. And at 1000 yen, it's not exactly a cheap thrill, and rerides shouldn't be part of your plan. However, I doubt there's ever really much of a line and it's probably the easiest coaster to ride in Tokyo since it won't close for weather (yay, indoor rides!). There is supposed to be a gift shop for fans of the anime, though I didn't even notice it when I went fairly late in the evening - it could close early or not even open at all. Keep your eyes peeled while you're there.

English website.

Location: Shinjuku and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

On a mostly cloudy afternoon, I found myself making the short trek out to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, a two-tower monstrosity in Shinjuku's Skyscraper District.

Basically, head straight west out of the station and down the large pedestrian passageway for about a kilometer. Eventually, you see the two-pronged plug sticking into the outlet called the sky.
 Once you see the building, you have to find an entrance. There is one right along the walkway, but you can get in from the monstrous plaza as well.
 Facing the building is this curving other building. The plaza is very large and serves as a good meeting place if it isn't crowded.
 You can ride the elevators to the top of both towers and enter the observation areas for free. They will check your bags for weapons before you get in line. And then, you run around taking as many pictures as you can. This shot shows you the road and pedestrian walkway leading from the station to the building (running along the right side of the picture). As you can see, the west side of Shinjuku holds a lot of office buildings and thus a lot of office workers.
 If you look closely (or enlarge the picture by clicking on it), you can see the Tokyo SkyTree off in the distance to the left. It wasn't open when I took this picture, so nobody's looking back taking a picture of me.
 Again, towards SkyTree, but now it's near the middle of the picture. The clouds decided to disperse a bit to give me a nice sky in my photos.
 Another SkyTree image? This time I tried to zoom in a bit with my little green camera. And I think I'm in the second tower now.
 There are more skyscrapers here, though not as many.
 The park in the distance is Yoyogi Park, and Shibuya is just beyond.
 Looking off towards the west, the sun tries to peek through the clouds. The street in the foreground bordered by taller buildings is Yamate Dori.
 Shinjuku is a fun place to visit with friends, but since it's mostly full of offices and shops there aren't many things to actually do there other than spending money. By day, it's fairly nondescript.
 Once the lights come on, though, it can be quite mesmerizing.
 Looking back towards Skyscraper City and the Government Building (somewhere behind the other skyscrapers)..
Shinjuku's most notorious area is Kabukicho, a seedy, crowded nightlife district. Touts stand waiting for suckers tourists looking for some fun. You'll find the place crowded almost 24 hours a day; most of the streets are closed to cars due to the large number of pedestrians. Food, drinks, host clubs, game parlors, karaoke... you name it, you can find it here. This picture was taken along the road between Shinjuku and Kabukicho, called Yasukunidori. The Don Quixote penguin can be seen on one of the buildings. Some day I'll spend some real time in Kabukicho with my camera, and do a full post about it.

The Government Building is completely free and usually open 9AM-11PM, though one tower or the other might be closed on a Monday or Tuesday. The South tower closes at 5:30PM if both towers are open, and both towers are closed around New Years Day (but open on January 1). Through November 2013, the elevators are under maintenance and the lines might be longer due to less service, but if you visit on a weekday when school is in session you should be fine. Exit to the west from Shinjuku Station and follow the signs to Skyscraper City and the building.

Kabukicho can be found by following the exit signs from Shinjuku Station (towards the northeast), and then following the crowds. You can visit anytime, though the nightlife kicks off around 6PM.