Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review of Chisun Grand Akasaka, Tokyo

When we got back to Tokyo, we went to Akasaka to find our hotel. Upon arriving at the hotel we were told that we were too early to check in so we decided to leave our bags there and return later in the afternoon. Fair enough. Some hotels let you check-in early and some don't. No worries.

When I arrived back at the hotel in the afternoon though I was told that there were only the one non-smoking and one smoking room available of the two rooms' reservations. Yep you read it right. They told me that their non-smoking rooms are allocated on first come first serve basis and these are the only rooms available. So I told them that I had reserved these rooms two-three months ago and was greeted with the same response. They then told me that they did open the windows in the smoking room and have sprayed air fresheners throughout to freshen up the room so I decided to take a look at the room first. When walked in the room was still quite the stinko that it was when it was classified as a smoking room.

Not pleased about this I went back to the reception and told them that I wanted two non-smoking rooms as reserved. Initially they were trying to accuse me of booking smoking rooms instead and if I walked out that day they would not refund me the payment. Furiously I quickly jumped online to the original company I had booked these rooms to retrieve my reservation details and showed them that I had booked for non-smoking rooms.

Completely lost in translation I then proceeded to call the reservation company, to resolve this issue. I explained the situation to them and the funny thing is that they too tell me that I had not reserved non-smoking rooms. They were accusing me of lying and I was just flabbergasted. They were telling me that when reserving these rooms, the option for non-smoking was not available and that if it was a special request then it is up to the discretion of the hotel establishment to provide these requests. After 10 minutes of explaining and for the most part arguing, I hung up and had enough of that company.

The hotel staff then approached me with a note saying that the two non-smoking rooms that I had originally requested are now available. WTF!!! Luckily it was just for the one night! If I had decided to pay slightly more I could have booked with Park Hotel Tokyo which would have had a completely stress free atmosphere. I did asked them if there is anything they could do to smoothen the earlier situation by providing complimentary breakfast in their café or something but instead was told that the café is not part of their hotel which again was a pack of lies.

When the others arrived, we checked-in to our non-smoking rooms. We went out for dinner and managed to get some sleep in the cubic room booked.

This was by far the worst hotel that I had booked for our trip to Japan and would definately not recommend it and also not recommend booking with because if there is a problem with your reservation they would not accept any responsibility with it. You are better off booking with!

Trip to Japan, Day 7+ (Tokyo and Home)

Back to Tokyo we go today. Osaka is a great central city to stay in if you're planning to travel around the lower half of Japan or even up to Tokyo.

We initially tried to book for accommodation in Kyoto but had no luck as every single one that we had checked was booked up during the cherry blossoms season. So next best was Osaka and staying at Hearton Hotel Nishiumeda was an excellent idea as it is located just 5 minutes' walk away from the train station. The rooms that we booked were comfortable. Nothing fancy at all but was great. One of the rooms faced the railway tracks and you could not hear the trains go by at all. Also you get a good view of the Umeda Sky building.

So anyway, on the way back to Tokyo I was trying to catch another glimpse of Mt. Fuji. The weather that day was slightly overcast so by the time I could make out the outline of Mt. Fuji I quickly grab my camera and managed to only grab a few photos but without its peak. Luckily we spotted Mt. Fuji the first time round when on our way to Osaka. Perhaps next time we will make the trip and stay in a Ryokan near Mt. Fuji.

When we arrived back in Tokyo we decided to split up and went on our separate ways for the day. Not everyone has the same interests as you so best that we all do and see what we want then meet up later on to check-in and have dinner etc. For me I wanted to head back to Akihabara Electric Town because that was one of my main places that I wanted to check out and we didn't spend that much time there the first time round.

@ Akihabara Electric City

@ Akihabara Electric City

As this was my last day I said to myself that I wouldn't buy too many things but sadly once I got there, immediately I walked out with two Gunplas from the first shop I popped into and that was the Yodobashi-Akiba store. I simply could not resist. The price was great and the selection was plenty. Next stop was the Radio Kaikan/Kotobukiya building which is just a short walk away from Yodobashi-Akiba.

@ Akihabara Electric City

This place is supposed to be the holy place for anime and manga lovers and they were correct! The building is full of the latest pop culture items. Kotobukiya is located on the first floor and has a large variety of figures, as well as Ghibli characters. When I got there the place was absolutely decked out and packed. Lots of goodies to check out and it was near impossible to move around with so many people covering almost all areas. If you have the time, you can easily spend a good few hours here checking out all the figures/ toys they have on display and which to buy... :) I had to tell myself to refrain from impulse buys. It was very hard to do.

My next stop was LaOX AsoBitCity 2. This place would be my second favourite place next to Yodobashi-Akiba. It's slightly smaller than Yodobashi but I think they have better discounts on slightly older items. At that time I was comparing the 1/144 HG OO Gundam Seven Sword (GN-0000 GNHW/7SG). Price difference was ¥400 which is enough to have a cheap lunch really. So yeah definitely pays to shop around and between these two places first. Also another thing in these two places is that prices quoted do not include tax so it's added on at the counter.

@ LaOX AsoBitCity 2

After this I just roamed around the area and landed myself at the Bellesalle Akihabara building where they were hosting the Street Fighter IV Japan National Tournament 2010. Whoa! A bonus for the trip! I only stayed long enough to watch them finish the semi-final round before I left. They were letting people play the new Super Street Fighter IV on the rows of arcade machines there for free too. After this it was getting close to our meet-up time so headed back to Akasaka to our hotel.

Street Fighter IV Japan National Tournament 2010 @ Bellesalle Akihabara

Next morning we woke up to catch the N'EX aka Narita Express from Tokyo Station to Narita Airport to catch our flights back to our homes. A most enjoyable holiday and saw lots of things most loved while growing up. I would thoroughly recommend going to Japan to see the cherry blossoms and everything else in Japan. Would definitely recommend a longer trip as well as we found that eight days was just too rushed.

If you're after a map of Akihabara Electric Town click here. Otherwise if you have the time check out these guys for a free tour of the area. Or even just general duty-free shopping shops around this area click here.

For more pictures head over to the Tokyo link by the Snapshot area on the right.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Trip to Japan, Day 6 (Hiroshima)

On day 6, we had originally planned to go to Nara to attend their 1300th Anniversary of Nara’s Heijo-kyo Capital celebration but decided to visit Hiroshima instead to see the historical sites of where the atomic bomb had landed and also go to Miyajima Island to check out the Itsukushima Shrine and it's Torii gate.

It took us less than two hours to get from Osaka to Hiroshima via Japan Rail. Once we had arrived at Hiroshima, we caught the local Hiroshima Electric Railway aka streetcar (don’t get confused with the company StreetCar in London) from the train station to Miyajima where we then had to catch the ferry across to Miyajima Island. The train from Hiroshima to Miyajima was approximately 45mins and then the ferry ride to Miyajima Island was about 30mins. You will want to be either standing or sitting or standing by the port or starboard side when you’re heading to the island. That is where you’ll get great views of the Torii Gate of Itsukushima Shrine.

Itsukushima Shrine and the Torii gate @ Miyajima Island

Once docked and exit the ferry terminal, the first thing you will notice is that there are plenty of deer on this island and they all roam freely. There are plenty of food options on Miyajima Island. There are just endless stalls selling oysters (Miyajima Island delicacy) and most are cooked over a makeshift barbeque grill. Super delicious! It would have been a short 10-15mins walk from the ferry terminal to get to the Itsukushima Shrine if we didn’t stop at all the food stalls. :)

Deer all over Miyajima Island

Grilled Miyajima Oysters

Food & Craft stores @ Miyajima Island

We didn’t take the cable car or any attempt to hike up to Mount Misen but was told that you get a great view of Hiroshima from up there. Oh well. I think we were more tempted by the food than anything else so we went back for more. LOL!

The Mayajima Maru docking @ Miyajima Island

After this we took the ferry back to Miyajima then back to Hiroshima to the atomic bomb site, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The original Genbaku Dome aka A-Bomb Dome is still there and is left in the same post atomic bombing condition to serve as a memorial to the people who were killed. It is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The A-Bomb Dome @ Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

The condition of the park is surprisingly well kept. There were loads of locals having picnics in the riverside park and all sorts of activities were going on. Surprisingly when walking around the riverside park and reading the memorial plaques there were no mention of the Japanese being at fault of the war. Anyway history is history. If you have the chance to visit Hiroshima and are able to make it to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park then you definitely have to see the A-Bomb Dome, Peace Memorial Museum, Eternal Flame, Children’s Peace monument and the Gate of Peace. All of which are within few minutes of each other.

Eternal Flame @ Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

As the day started getting late we headed back to Hiroshima Station to catch the train back to Osaka. All in all it was a good day trip.

For pictures taken in Hiroshima and Miyajima Island, click on the Hiroshima link by the Snapshots area on the right.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Trip to Japan, Day 5 (Kyoto)

On day 4 we visited the sites just on the edge of Kyoto's prefecture and so on day 5 we focused on sights in the main city area. As we arrived @ Kyoto JR station, our first sight to visit was the Tōji Temple in Kujōchō area. The walk to from the train station to Tōji Temple is not a very scenic one but it's only a 15-20mins walk away and there were more cherry blossoms on the way so it was ok. If you don't feel like walking you can always catch the train from Kyoto train station to Tōji station, which is just one stop away for ¥150 and then a very short walk to the temple grounds.

Walking towards Tōji Temple

Once we got to the temple grounds, we roamed around its vast area admiring the exteriors of the temples. To get to the actual area where the Tōji temple was, there is a ¥500 entrance fee. Once inside the gated area, you can walk around the area and get up close to the temple itself. There is a pond with some ornaments placed inside but also lots of variances of cherry blossoms around the area.

Tōji Temple

Next stop is to check out the Kiyomizu-dera Temple "Pure Water Temple". But first we needed to find a place to have brunch and so we ended up back at the Kyoto Station as there were plenty of options there. After brunch we got back on track to head to the Pure Water Temple and the easiest way to get there is by bus.

With traffic the bus trip was only a short commute and once we arrived at our stop we walked up Matsubara Dori "Street" to get to the Pure Water Temple. There is a lot of the small tourist and snack shops along the way so if you've decided to skip lunch or want to get some local ornaments then you can get them here too.

Matsubara Dori "Street"

Kiyomizu-dera Temple "Pure Water Temple"

The Kiyomizu-dera Temple is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. The temple dates back to 798 and is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site. Another one added to my UNESCO World Heritage visited sites ticked! There is an entrance fee also which is around ¥500-600 I think. If you are cheeky enough, you can walk to the same areas but enter from the exit instead. We didn't even notice this until we were leaving the area and saw other tourists entering from that way. Anyway I don't recommend you do that!

After this we headed towards Gion district, which is also referred to as the geisha district. Not the red-light district type but was sure interesting enough to see the traditional old-style Japanese houses/establishments in the area. From this point we started getting hungry as it was getting late in the evening so we walked all the way to the other side of the Kamo River to have dinner @ Mishimatei Restaurant, which is renowned for the sukiyaki and shabu-shabu in town. The prices are abit pricey but I can tell you it is all worth it.

Dinner @ Mishimatei Restaurant, Kyoto

Dinner @ Mishimatei Restaurant, Kyoto

After dinner we headed back to Kyoto Station to catch our train back to Osaka. This was our last day in Kyoto itself and I have to say that because of time, we had missed most of the other sights that I had originally planned to see but at least I got to check out the Pure Water Temple. My advice is that if you wish to check out Kyoto and have limited time then give Tōji temple a miss.

If you wish to have a look at what sights I had originally planned to see then check out my Kyoto Google Maps link.

Kyoto Tower at night

For pictures taken in Kyoto, click on the Kyoto link by the Snapshots area on the right.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

German designer brings Wipeout racing game to life with an R/C car

For a video of how all this was put together, check out the vimeo link.

Documentation of the demo setup of "RACER" -
an interactive video game installation
featuring a racing arcade, rc cars, and lots of cardboard.
This is an ongoing (if underfunded) project.

concept & design: Malte Jehmlich /
electronics: Matthes Mikysec
production assistance: Artur Gerz, Eleni Giannakoudis (plus many many more... thank you!)
documentation camera & edit: Anton Korndörfer
music: STA$D400


GUNDAM in Shizuoka, Time Lapse Video

How I wish I could be in Japan to see this. Missed the last one when it was standing at Odaiba and 4 months after my trip to Japan they've built this. Hope this one stays abit longer.

Monday, August 02, 2010

DC Universe Online Exclusive: Who Do You Trust Trailer

WOW... If this was made into a movie it would be awesome!