A brief stop at Kegon Waterfall in Nikko

 Nikko is one of the most popular cultural destinations in Japan. It's a couple hours from Tokyo by train but is a completely different world, set in the mountains and full of old temples and natural beauty.

Up a windy mountain road, you'll come to Kegon Waterfall.
 The waterfall's entrance is near the top of the mountain along the windy road, but after buying your admission ticket you take an elevator down the cliff (inside the mountain) to a viewing area across from the falls themselves. You can see the falls from a free observation deck higher up the mountain, but the best views are from below.
 It's quite beautiful, and when the skies are clear I'm sure it's even nicer. The fall is a popular destination in autumn, when surrounding trees are changing color adding some variety to the surrounding foliage. Also, the waterfall freezes completely in the winter, which should be pretty cool as well.

Kegon Waterfall is 100 meters high, and is considered one of Japan's three most beautiful waterfalls.
As with all "important" and well-known sites in Japan, the waterfall is fairly crowded, though in the afternoon you should be able to get a good view on one of the two viewing levels. And while the falls are beautiful, know that there is pretty much nothing else to do at the falls themselves. Most people will probably be in and out in about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how long the wait is for the elevators.

The elevators to the lower observation deck are open from 8 AM to 5 PM, with a 530-yen admission fee. Access is best by bus from the Nikko train stations (JR or Tobu), and takes about 50 minutes - get off at the Chuzenjiko Onsen stop.

The one-way ride is a steep 1100 yen, though a 2-day bus pass is 2000 yen. A great half-day-or-longer trip would add the hike through Senjogohara Marshland, as the bus that stops at the waterfall continues on to Yumoto Onsen (a good starting point for the long hike).

Note that a pass that goes all the way to Yumoto Onsen will probably be more expensive, though my 4400-yen pass included round trip transportation from Asakusa and four days of bus and train rides around Nikko. Details about different pass options can be found at Japan-Guide's website.

And speaking of multi-day passes at Nikko, I think it's easy to spend at least three days there visiting the shrines and temples, natural sights like Senjogohara and Kegon, and the two "theme parks" in Kinugawa. Those looking to relax and take things slower or enjoy the hot springs will easily spend 4-5 days in the area!

Meanwhile, somewhere in Osaka...

I was wandering the streets of Osaka earlier this year and I came across an office building with an interesting sign out front.

It's good that Japan realizes that its residents have a problem, and that 12 Step Programs and Alcoholics Anonymous-style groups have been established to address the addiction Japanese people have to Starbucks coffee. There are over 1000 Starbucks in Japan now. 

It's only a matter of time before more of these support centers are opened in other parts of Japan, and perhaps it will open centers for other addictions as well - small cute things, high heels, and cheesy variety shows on TV.

OK, so this is probably just a regional or national office. But you gotta love the implications! And this is probably not an only-in-Japan thing, but I saw it first here! (P.S., I like Starbucks coffee drinks.)

Today Is Closed

Today is closed.

I'm not sure if tomorrow will happen or not either.

But we'll be waiting for you next time.

This sign was seen outside a bar in Shinkoshigaya a while back, though I think they just use the same sign every time they close because I remember seeing it at least a couple more times in the past few months. I recently found out there are a few foreign-run (British/Scottish) bars/pubs in the area, and I might visit them sometime in the near future.

It's been over a week since my last post, but I continue to go through busy times. Despite "not doing anything" this weekend, I did quite a lot of personal stuff - cleaning, errands, etc. And I just spent the last couple of hours or so sorting through the past year's photos so I can upload and post more about my travels. I hope to start that this week.

Saturday is a holiday here, so I'm taking a weekend trip to Matsumoto. I've been looking forward to it for the past two months (since returning from Sapporo)! We also have some changes at work - my foreign coworker of the past 18 months is leaving on Friday, though she'll be teaching at another school nearby in a couple weeks.

Anyway, for friends and family, things are rolling along here in some way or another...

Until next time!

"Only in Japan" - Booksellers in Shinjuku

Do you like reading Japanese books and magazines, but don't want to pay off-the-rack store prices? Well, reading material in Japan can be expensive, but I'm not sure I'd resort to this.

The guy in the jeans is a bookseller. Sort of. Usually, when someone is finished with their cheaper book or magazine, they'll leave it on the train or throw it in the trash. These books end up in the hands of resellers, who I'm sure get books from other sources as well, and then sell them on the street.

In Shinjuku especially, the reading material tends to be more adult in nature. This guy seems to be quite organized, with several actual boxes and a makeshift table. I wonder about the legality of this, but at least the guy is taking something perfectly useful and putting it back into circulation.

I will mention that there are actual used bookstores in Japan, most notably BookOff. Normal reading material is usually pretty cheap at BookOff, and I've bought a few used books from stores here just as I did in America. In general, used or outdated goods are frowned upon here - there are a handful of secondhand shops but they can be hard to find.

But buying used pornography on the street from a homeless man is just freaky.

That said, this may be considered an "Only in Japan" occurrence, but there are similar situations in America - I can easily think of at least one flea market in the San Francisco area that is known for having found and stolen goods, and you haven't experienced New York or Atlanta until a guy comes into your subway car, opens a big duffle bag, and announces he has movies to sell. Not to mention all the homeless guys in America begging for spare change, and the guys on the sidewalk along Mission Street with their curbside "sales" of goods probably stolen from a nearby car or from a stolen backpack..

Maybe next time I'll buy a magazine just for the experience. On second thought, no.

A Chiba Lotte Marines Game at QVC Marine Field

Baseball season is over on both sides of the Pacific, but that doesn't mean I can't post about my favorite pastime.

The first game I was able to go to this year was an early-summer match in Chiba. I attended the game with friends and their families.
The stadium sits next to the bay, a long way from the station. You can expect to walk for about 15 minutes or so. Along the way you'll pass some places to eat, a small team souvenir store fairly close to the station, and at least one convenience store. There are buses to get you to the park, too.

It officially opened in 1990 with a Madonna concert (thanks, Wikipedia) but the Marines didn't move in until 1992.
 Across from the stadium, in the plaza, is a building that I'll visit at the end of the post. Or you can enlarge the photo and ruin the suspense.
 Despite the scary-looking skies, it stayed dry the entire game. The stadium has a circular shape, though it has multi-level seating only in the infield.
 The outfield has a big wall and some outfield seating along with the giant scoreboard.
 The stadium seats 30,000, and it was pretty full by mid-game (here you see first pitch).
 Like most NPB stadiums, you can bring your own food and drink. They didn't check us for bottles or cans on my visit, though if they saw you with a bottle they'd make you get a cup. You see, you can't bring in bottles or cans, and instead they give you a paper cup to pour your beverage in.

Anyway, the food selection inside the stadium didn't seem too nice, but there are a bunch of food trucks and stands in the plaza out front. We got our hands or tickets stamped,  and I was able to get a kebab sandwich that was pretty good - there are other selections as well! Also in the plaza is a monument with hand prints of several former Marines.
 So, you remember that building across from the stadium? It holds the main team store and the Marines Museum. What I thought at first was a small collection of exhibits turned out to be so much more.
 In the entrance was a bunch of memorabilia and this giant autographed ball.
 A trophy from years past.
 More trophies.
 Game-used spikes.
 Exhibits on successful players and years.
 In the back, on the first floor, there are some stadium-like areas to play around in. Here you can stand in the batter's box. Nothing really happens, but it's a good photo op.
 See a real locker. Those things are pretty big!
 This locker has uniforms and game memorabilia from the WBC.
 There's an outfield wall at the same height - kids were jumping to try to touch the top, though it isn't so high... not like the hefty bag in Minneapolis. The old ball/strike/out sign randomly cycles through various combinations.
 After you finish playing around here, head upstairs for some legacy and vintage artifacts.
 The team's history starts in 1950 as the Mainichi Orions.
 You can see old photos, programs, and memorabilia.
 The throwback uniforms are pretty cool.
 The upstairs serves as a sort of Hall of Fame too.
1974 is one of four years when the Marines won the Japan Series (the others being 1950, 2005, and 2010).
 The Marines (Orions) won the Pacific League pennant in 1960 and 1970, and have won various other awards (First Half or Second Half champions, for example).
 I'm not sure what the significance of this exact jersey is (it probably belonged to Bobby Valentine) but the Marines seem to have actually worn pink jerseys at some point.
 There is a collection of autographed balls near the end...
So we'll close with one of the greatest foreigners in NPB - Bobby Valentine, who led the Marines to a Japan Series title in 2005.

The stadium isn't too hard to get to from Tokyo Station - a couple lines go direct in 40-50 minutes. I'd like to visit again for the museum and to explore the stadium a bit more. Since I went with friends, I'm not sure I was able to get a great idea of all the Marines have to offer, though I had a great time.