Archive for January, 2018

Nihon-Koku 2017
(Day 5)

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Today would be different from the past days because we would just be taking our time going around places we hoped to see ourselves. As we prepared for the day, we left our lodging and headed for Ohanajaya Station, but before taking the train, we got some snacks along the way and entered some shops, then took the train at Ohanajaya Station, heading for Nippori Stations where we transferred trains and headed for Tokyo Station.

Tokyo Station is not Japan’s oldest station nor even its biggest, but it does have the beautifully restored Meiji era station building on the Marunouchi side and it’s undoubtedly important as a terminus for the high speed Shinkansen lines that head north, west and south. After years of planning and delays caused by various wars, construction commenced in 1908 . Designed by Tatsuno Kingo it was a restrained celebration of Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War and was rumoured to have been styled after the Amsterdam Central Station, although Kingo denied this. The station opened in 1914 with two platforms for electric trains and two for the non-electric ones. It has been the site of many events, including the assassination of Prime Minister Hara Takashi in 1921 and was heavily damaged during the bombing of WWII. It was soon fixed, but with only two levels rather than the original three, and simple angular roofs instead of the original domes. During renovations which ended in 2012, the historic Marunouchi side of the station was restored to its pre-war design.

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Arriving at Tokyo Station, we looked around for a restaurant where we would be eating our Lunch, and this would be T’s Tantan Vegan Restaurant.

T’s Tantan is located inside of Tokyo Station on Keiyo Street (yes, the station is so huge it actually has its own streets inside). Keiyo Street is near the South Yaesu Exit, so follow signs toward that exit until you see signage that says “Keiyo Street”. If you are at the far end of the station, you may have to follow signs toward the Central Yaesu Exit until signs for the South Yaesu Exit appear. As is the case for all Tokyo Station restaurants and shops, you need to enter the station with a JR Rail Pass, Suica Card, or an individual train/subway ticket. Once you find T’s Tantan, don’t worry if there’s a long line outside…turnover is quick.

T’s Tan Tan offers several types of ramen, including “white” (sesame, bean sprouts, and thick green onion in a spicy broth: this one is my favorite, it really clears out your sinuses!), “green” (ramen piled high with fresh greens and includes some kabocha squash), “shoyu” (soy-sauce based broth), “red” (tomato base) and more. A bowl of ramen will set you back about 850 yen. They also have salads and curry rice, and can provide a “big helping” for a few hundred yen more. Everything is vegan, as the pictures and text on the walls proudly proclaim.

One striking thing about the shop is that they seem to come from all walks of life, not just yoga-pants-wearing folks with dreadlocks or crunchy thrift store types (guilty). When I asked the manager about the clientele, he estimated that about half of them come to the restaurant specifically because they are vegetarian or otherwise healthfully-inclined. “There aren’t that many vegan restaurants in Japan, so people come from far away to eat here,” he says. But the rest are just people who just happen by during their commute, enticed by the good smells and sights coming out of the store.

An English menu is available for those who want it, and the menu is illustrated so it’s easy to pick and point. The staff also speaks a little English (and some speak Taiwanese). Beer and soft drinks are available.

We ordered a bowl of Shoyu Ramen with Deep Fried Vegie Dumplings and a Rice Curry Bowl, and when our food arrived, we took our time savouring and enjoying our food.

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After lunch we took out time around the station to look at the shops there, then boarded the train heading for Nakamo, and visit Nakamo Broadway, where i wanted to visit and look at some stuffs.
Although Akihabara is more commonly known as the otaku centre of Tokyo, a lot of shops have had to leave as the area becomes ever more developed and rents keep rising. Fortunately many of these shops have found a new home in Nakano Broadway, an old mall with four floors of tightly packed shops. The majority are tiny mom-and-pop types packed with glass cases and narrow aisles.

Nakano Broadway is a shopping complex in Tokyo famous for its many stores selling anime items and idol goods, including more than a dozen small Mandarake stores, which specialize in manga and anime related collectibles. The shopping complex is a short walk from Nakano Station, which is a five-minute train ride from Shinjuku via the JR Chuo Line.
There are four levels of shopping at the Nakano Broadway. The second and third levels are where the many anime and idol related shops are located. Here, shoppers can find manga, magazines, collectors’ items, animation character figurines, idol merchandise, game consoles, video games, animation/idol related CDs, as well as little souvenirs to take home, such as idol playing cards or key chains.
The ground level of the Nakano Broadway has shops selling clothes, shoes, tidbits and second hand goods. The basement level is a marketplace, where the locals shop for their groceries. Products on sale range from fruits and vegetables to meat and seafood.
Leading to the Nakano Broadway from Nakano Station is the Nakano Sunmall, a 225 meter long, covered shopping street with a wide variety of shops, including food joints, cafes, watch dealers, jewelers, fashion boutiques, pharmacies, game centers, book stores and others.
On the side streets branching off from the shopping street are food alleys with various restaurants, including many izakaya (Japanese style pub/eatery), that serve all different kinds of food. Here one can experience the atmosphere of the bustling food crowd while taking a break from the shopping.
With all the diecast cars around to choose from, all I got was a vintage Lesney Ferrari F1 and it was even missing the driver but for all the Lesney diecast there, this is the one I chose maybe because of the red color.

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Having the time of my life going around Nakamo Broadway, we headed back to Nakamo Station and took the train heading for Shibuya Station and would visit the famous crossing at Shibuya .

Many cities have iconic landmarks: New York City’s Statue of Liberty, Paris’s Eiffel Tower, Beijing’s Great Wall. Tokyo has some unique features, of course, such as Tokyo Tower and the SkyTree, but to me the most identifiable landmark to the city will always be Shibuya Crossing.

It is an unquestioned must-visit for any trip to Tokyo.

The sprawling scramble intersection just outside Shibuya Station is an embodiment of Tokyo itself: action in all directions. Three huge television screens mounted on the buildings facing the intersection flash all day, while the rest of the area is covered with lights, advertisements, and more lights. And that’s just when you’re looking up. Look down, and you’ll see the most remarkable feature of the area: the people. People are constantly pouring across the street from all directions going to even other directions. They all meet in the middle in a frantic mess, bumping, side stepping and swerving around each other as they try to cross.

Then, for a few minutes, it stops. These are some of my favorite times to be an observer at Shibuya Crossing: while the traffic gets its turn, each little corner of the intersection steadily fills up, up, up, and just as the people begin to spill out into the street, the crosswalk lights turn green and the mayhem starts all over again.

The intersection is a popular location for movies and media taking place in Tokyo. It has appeared in the films “Lost in Translation” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” while making appearances in numerous music videos, newscasts, and animated programs. As a famous representation of modern Japan, photographers and videographers are almost constantly circling the intersection, climbing on guard-rails and perching on subway entrances in an effort to find the best vantage point.

While fighting your way through the havoc in the center of the intersection is something any visitor to Tokyo should experience, Shibuya Crossing is also one of the most soothing and peaceful things to watch from a distance. The businesses facing the intersection all take advantage of their scenic position and have tables and windows facing the crossing. One of the most popular is the giant Starbucks located across from Shibuya Station. In addition to being a constant contender for the busiest branch in the world, its second floor seating area has a counter across its floor-to-ceiling windows, perfect for overlooking the intersection.

The surrounding area of Shibuya is a lively, popular destination for people of all walks of life. It is a popular nightlife spot filled with bars, clubs and izakaya, and weekend revelry is a common sight. It is also a trendy shopping district. Shibuya Station itself is a large hub of Tokyo trains and subways. Its Hachiko Exit (Exit #8), which leads to Shibuya Crossing, is enormous and always bustling, and is one of the most popular meeting points in the city. Many other subway exits of the station also surround the intersection.

While Shibuya Crossing may never receive the international status of other cities’ landmark buildings, towers and bridges, it is an undeniable representation of the City of Tokyo itself: lots of people, lots of action, and lots of fun.

Hachiko Square (sometimes called Hachiko Plaza) is perhaps the busiest and best-known meeting place in Tokyo. Named in honour of the famous statue of “Faithful Dog Hachiko”, it is fenced in by a department store, two train stations and the well-known Shibuya pedestrian scramble crossing that is said to be the busiest in the world.

This plaza is usually teeming with people, especially during the evenings and on weekends. Even though there are no benches to sit on and only a few metal railings to rest against, it is considered a prime people-watching spot and a very popular meeting place. Most people, locals and tourists alike, gravitate toward the statue, a bronzed Akita Inu, referred to as Hachi or Hachiko (sometimes Chuuken Hachiko, or “Faithful Hachiko”). The original statue was erected in 1934 to honour the dog, who met his master, Professor Ueno Hidesaburo, every day at the station after work. When Professor Ueno died in 1925 and did not return, Hachiko continued to wait for him daily for the next nine years, appearing exactly when the train was due.

Hachiko’s story gained attention, and his loyalty was renowned. He died of cancer and a filarial infection the year after the statue was unveiled, but his story has continued to be told and the 2.4 million people who use Shibuya Station pass by the bronze dog each day.

The Square has few features aside from Hachiko. The main Shibuya police box is to the south, adjacent to the JR Shibuya Station Hachiko Exit. Directly to the northeast is the famous scramble crossing that has been featured in many movies, such as Lost In Translation. A glass smoking area is near the statue. In the center of the square you’ll find an old-fashioned Setagaya Line train car that serves as a small museum.

Hachiko Square is vibrant at almost all hours, in all seasons. April 8th is the day to celebrate the faithful dog, if you wish to see the elaborate Chuuken Hachiko Matsuri (festival) held for him every spring. The rest of the year, sit on the railings by the statue and people-watch, or in the daytime, browse photos in the museum of Tokyo days gone by. The policemen in the box are happy to provide directions (the Japan Times once reported that they received up to 2,000 requests per directions per day, about one every 43 seconds) and keep the peace. Flower beds line the perimeter of the square behind Hachiko and the other fixtures also rest here, including area maps. At Christmas, there is often a business-sponsored tree among the flowers. However, rumor has it that the west side of the JR station will see renovations in the coming years, and as it has with station expansions in the past, the statue may move to another location and the face of Hachiko Square will change yet again.

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Having taken a lot of photos around Shibuya, we headed back to Shibuya Station and took the train for Ueno Station, where we walk around a bit at Ameyoko Market, then we headed to a building near Ueno Park and entered a restaurant named Torimitsukuni, which serves not only Yakitori and Sake but a lot more, which was filling even though I just ate all plant based foods.

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With dinner done, we headed back to Ueno Station and took the train back to Horikiri-Shobuen and headed back to our lodging to rest for the night but not after we celebrated the birthday of our host.

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TIP: Japanese People are so disciplined that when using the escalator they always stay on left side when standing

TIP: learn some Japanese words like:

Thank you: Arigatou

Thank you (This is more polite than Arigatou.) : Arigatou gozaimasu

Excuse me or I’m sorry: Sumimasen

TIP: download the apps @cityrailmap and Google Translate, and you will never get lost

Note: all time stated are Philippine Standard Time, unless otherwise stated

Note: I am a vegan and do not condone killing or eating any meat products, photos taken are for documentary purposes only

All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.

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Today we would be up early and would leave our lodging to catch the early train going to Odawara, and head for Hakone, took the train at Horikiri-Shobuen, then transferred lines at Nippori, heading for Shinjuku Station, where we bought our tickets for Hakone Day Tour, which is called Hakone Free Pass, we had the option of choosing between the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku Station (central Tokyo) or the Romance car which was a bit expensive but faster, and we choose the former getting to Hakone. The trip was relatively quiet (as for any train ride in Japan) except for the rush hour at the train station in Nippori and Shinjuku, and the occasional children riding the train going the some fieldtrips with their teachers.

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Hakone (Hakone-machi) is a town in Ashigarashimo District in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. As of June 2012, the town had an estimated population of 13,492 and a population density of 145 persons per km². The total area was 92.82 km². Hakone has been designated as a Geopark by UNESCO.
Hakone is to a great degree regarded as a traveler destination where you can see Mt. Fuji when taking a day trip from Tokyo. The area isn’t solely a place loaded with hot springs, museums and other recreation offices however, it is a district where you’ll appreciate the four seasons while seeing Mt. Fuji. Particularly during fall, the excellence of nature is astonishing with the changing hues on the mountains and the sensible Japanese grass spreading out like a blanket.

Hakone is the location of a noted Shinto shrine, the Hakone Gongen, which is mentioned in Heian period literature. During the Genpei War, Minamoto no Yoritomo prayed at this shrine for victory over his enemies, after his defeat at the Battle of Ishibashiyama, which was fought in neighboring Manazuru. As with the rest of Sagami Province, the area came under the control of the late Hōjō clan of Odawara during the Sengoku period. After the start of the Edo period, Hakone-juku was a post station on the Tōkaidō highway connecting Edo with Kyoto. It was also the site of a major barrier and official checkpoint on the route known as the Hakone Checkpoint (Hakone sekisho), which formed the border of the Kantō region. Under the Tokugawa shogunate, all travellers entering and leaving Edo along the Tōkaidō were stopped here by officials. Their travel permits and baggage were examined to enforce Tokugawa laws that restricted the travel of women and weapons.

After the start of the Meiji Restoration, Hakone became a part of the short-lived Ashigara Prefecture before becoming part of Ashigarashimo District in Kanagawa prefecture in August 1876. Hakone attained town status in 1889. The imperial household established the summer Hakone Imperial Villa close to the lake.
After merger with five neighboring towns and villages in September 1956, it reached its present boundaries.

Reaching Odawara, we transferred to Hakone Tozan Railway, which is a funny little train that takes you on a funny little ride around and up and down the mountain. The Hakone Tozan Line (Hakone Tozan Tetsudō-sen, lit. Hakone Mountain-Climbing Railroad Line) is a mountain railway in Japan operated by the Hakone Tozan Railway. This company belongs to the Odakyu Group, and also owns the Hakone Tozan Cable Car.

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The section of the line from Odawara Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station operations in 1919, with current terminus at Gōra reached in 1930. Since 2006, only Odakyū Odawara Line trains run on the previously dual-gauge section from Odawara Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station. From Gora, visitors can continue up the mountain on the Hakone Tozan Cable Car.

The railway is capable of climbing one meter vertically for every 12.5 meters of horizontal distance, a maximum gradient of 8%. The line traverses Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, so the line was carefully designed to limit the impact on scenery. Due to the difficult conditions, the line has three switchbacks used to ascend particularly steep sections.

This is the only mountain railway in Japan. The train departs from Hakone-Yumoto station (at 96 m above sea level) and takes about 40 minutes to arrive at the final stop, Gora station (at 541 m above sea level). Halfway up the line there are switchbacks, where the driver and the conductor change shifts and the train switch to reversed travel direction. It is a special experience that can be enjoyed only with the Hakone Tozan Train.

Arriving at Gora, where we alighted and looked for a place were we could eat, and a place we chose was a quiet place, which serves authentic ramen, which is what I ordered together with vegetable tempura.

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After our meal, since the ropeway was still closed due to weather conditions, we just went around and looked at some small items to buy, and when the ropeway was opened again, we cued ourselves to the cable car going up the ropeway. We left Gora on the allotted time and headed up to Sounzan Station where we would ride the Hakone Ropeway.

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The Hakone Ropeway service operates at approximately one-minute intervals, and the 30-minute journey from Sounzan Station to Togendai Station, which nestles on the shore of Lake Ashi, allows visitors to take in such spectacular views as the crystal-clear blue waters of Lake Ashi, the rising volcanic fumes of Owakudani and the grandeur of Mount Fuji on a fine, sunny day. We are sure that you will enjoy your stroll in the sky, as you find yourself surrounded by some of the most famous sights that Japan has to offer.

Arriving a Owakudani Station, where we alighted and went around taking photos of the place. Owakudani (Ōwakudani) is the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago. Today, much of the area is an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced. Additionally, Owakudani has good views of Mount Fuji on clear days.
A short walking trail (about ten minutes one way) leads from the ropeway station into the volcanic zone to a number of steam vents and bubbling pools. Here you can purchase eggs, cooked in the naturally hot water, whose shells are blackened by the sulfur and which are said to prolong one’s life by seven years.

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For the more adventurous, a hiking trail leads from the ropeway station to the peak of Mount Kamiyama and continues on to Mount Komagatake from where you can catch the Komagatake Ropeway down to Lake Ashinoko. The hike takes about 2 hours one way and can be rocky or slippery as well as quite windy. Proper hiking shoes and rain gear are recommended.

Alternatively, about 30 minutes past the peak of Mount Kamiyama a trail splits off down towards Lake Ashinoko. It leads down the mountain and along the lakeshore, ending at Kojiri not far from Togendai, from where the Hakone Ropeway connects back to Owakudani. The round trip takes about 4.5 hours.

By 1230hrs, we were at Ubako Station to ride the next part of the ropeway, this time going down to the Lake Ashinoko. Lake Ashinoko (Ashinoko) was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano’s last eruption 3000 years ago. Today, the lake with Mount Fuji in the background is the symbol of Hakone. The lake’s shores are mostly undeveloped except for small towns in the east and north and a couple of lakeside resort hotels.

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The best views of the lake in combination with Mount Fuji can be enjoyed from Moto-Hakone (a few steps south from the sightseeing boat pier), from the Hakone Detached Palace Garden and from the sightseeing boats cruising the lake.
Note however, that clouds and poor visibility often block the view of Mount Fuji, and you have to consider yourself lucky if you get a clear view of the mountain. Visibility tends to be better during the colder seasons of the year than in summer, and in the early morning and late afternoon hours.

Two companies, Hakone Sightseeing Boats and Izuhakone Sightseeing Boats, operate boats between Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi at the lake’s southern shores and Togendai and Kojiri at the lake’s northern end. A boat cruise from one end of the lake to the other takes roughly 30 minutes and costs 1000 yen. The Hakone Free Pass is valid on the pirate ship shaped Hakone Sightseeing Boats but not on boats operated by Izuhakone.

After a good wait in the line, we were allowed to board the boat and headed up to the upper decks and took photos. The Hakone Pirate Ship began operations in 1920 and is a sightseeing ship that cruises Lake Ashi. In order to attract tourists, in 1964 the ship donned the pirate ship decoration and became a famous attraction at Lake Ashi.

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All of the ships are very large, can be boarded easily and does not sway very much, which makes them comfortable for visitors. The surrounding area can be viewed 360 degrees from the observation deck , and great views can also be seen through the large windows inside.

The cockpit of the ship can be viewed through a glass window. Visitors can stand behind the cockpit and get a feel for what the captain’s view would be. The Hakone Pirate Ship is a great experience for families with children and is a must see for visits to Lake Ashi.

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We alighted at Hakonemachi-ko, where we decided to walk through the Ancient Cedar Avenue. Cedar ave. of Hakone Old Tokaido Road is a great historic pass located in Hakone on the side of Lake Ashi. About 500m between Motohakone town to Onshi-Hakone Park, there is a beautiful Cedar ave. 

Cedar trees were planted by Matsudaira Masatsun in 1618. Those 400 Cedar trees are over 400 years old now and still remains the great view of Tokaido as it was used to be. 

It is registered as the national historic site.

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With the rains starting to fall we decided to head back to our starting point which is Odawara Station, we waited for the bus to arrive and then boarded it and left Hakone heading to Odawara Station, and decided to take the Romancecar heading back to Shinjuku. Odakyu’s Limited Express train is known by the name of “Romancecar”, but there is no record of when or how that name was established. One theory is that the term is derived from an old trend in places such as movie theaters for two-person seats, which were called “romance seats”. Direct trains between Shinjuku and Hakone-Yumoto started operating in 1950, and by the following year the name “Romancecar” had been established.

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It was around 1730hrs, when we arrived in Shinjuku and a bit hungry, so we decided to look for something to eat and meet up with the other group, but since they decided to eat at Ikinari Steak, we looked for a place where we could eat and found CocoIchibanya where they serve vegetarian food (Vegan), and we ordered Vegetable Curry with Eggplant and Vegetable Curry with Mushrooms, and had a grand time eating eat.

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After eating our meals, while the others are still eating, we headed towards Piss Alley and checked the place out. Just outside the west gate of Shinjuku station lies Omoide Yokocho (literally “Memory Lane”), or as it is known among the Tokyo locals, “Piss Alley”. A collection of small bars, yakitori grills, and food stalls, the history of this seedy alleyway dates back to post-war Japan.

Starting out as an illegal drinking quarter in the late 1940’s, the narrow side street quickly became a prime spot for cheap drinks, yakitori, and cabaret style hostess bars. Due to the lack of restroom facilities, patrons were known to wander off and relieve themselves on the nearby train tracks, and it did not take long for Piss Alley to earn its name. The area provided a social space for local residents who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford such luxuries as meat and alcohol in an impoverished, post-war economy.

The atmosphere remained largely unchanged until 1999 when a fire tragically destroyed most of the restaurants and shops in the alley. Fortunately, the local government decided to rebuild the area exactly as it had been, preserving the “old Japan” vibe that had come to be cherished by locals and travelers alike. To this day, a visit to Piss Alley feels like stepping back into the Showa era.

Visitors are hit with the smell of barbecue smoke and charcoal the moment they step into the alley. Yakitori is king here, served by almost all of the restaurants in Piss Alley and nikomi, a thick, hearty stew made of beef tendon, intestines, and vegetables is a close second. Vegetarians are advised to eat something before arriving, as meatless options will be quite limited.

In case the name “Piss Alley” doesn’t make this obvious enough, this is not a place for fancy cocktails or imported wines. The booze here is bountiful and cheap. Japanese beer, highballs, sours, shochu, and sake are available at every restaurant for a reasonable price.

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And a short walk from Piss Alley, we headed to Godzilla Road. Each neighborhood of Tokyo has its own unique feel, but it’s hard to top Shinjuku. Located in the heart of downtown, Shinjuku has just about everything you could ask for in a modern metropolis, boasting such attractions as a beautiful garden, extensive shopping options, an uncountable array of restaurants and bars, and the RocketNews24 offices.

And now, there’s one more reason to come to Shinjuku. A big one in fact, as the King of the Monsters, Godzilla himself, is literally watching over the district in the form of a life-size replica of the creature’s head peering down from one of its skyscrapers.

Shinjuku’s most densely packed section of entertainment options is the subsection known as Kabukicho. While the long-ago promised kabuki theater, from which the area took its name, has never materialized, Kabukicho will be getting a new movie theater soon when the currently under-construction Toho Cinemas opens.

While Toho runs a chain of theaters in Japan, the company’s primary business is film production, with its most internationally famous property being the Godzilla franchise. So to help the new building stand out in the crowded urban landscape of Shinjuku, Toho decided to recruit the movie icon’s help.

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We entered Don Quijote, and looked around a bit, and since it was getting late, we decided to head home to our lodging to rest for the night

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TIP: Japanese People are so disciplined that when using the escalator they always stay on left side when standing

TIP: learn some Japanese words like:

Thank you : Arigatou

Thank you (This is more polite than Arigatou.) : Arigatou gozaimasu

Excuse me or I’m sorry: Sumimasen

TIP: download the apps @cityrailmap and Google Translate, and you will never get lost

Note: all time stated are Philippine Standard Time, unless otherwise stated

Note: I am a vegan and do not condone killing or eating any meat products, photos taken are for documentary purposes only

All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.