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July 7, 2004

Shop till you drop... and then some!

The Travel Channel

Japan day 5 to 7 - Tõkyõ City
After having found and booked a more suitable hotel for our next two nights in Tokyo, we walked from Shin-Tokyo to Ginza, the most high-class and expensive shopping district in the city. This is also the location of the Sony Showroom where all the up and coming electronic devices from Sony and partners are presented. I didn't see any new devices there besides a range of solid-state MP3-players and the new AIBO's, neither of which is revolutionary, but it might not be season for new devices right now as I think most of them is released during autumn. After walking around a bit in Ginza and having dinner at a resturant we located a shop selling genuine Katana swords as I really wanted to get one as a souvenir, but the prices were a bit steeper than I expected. Most were at 200.000 yen or above, which is an order of magnitude more than I had hoped for, and the owner informed me that one needs a police permit to export real swords from Japan so there went that plan. I obviously had to settle for a replica-sword instead, but the shop carried few of those so I decided to put it off for another time.

Returning to Shin-Tokyo we retrieved our luggage from storage and headed over to Ueno were our hotel was located. It was a very nice hotel with a selection of Japanese-style rooms and a nice garden.
After checking in and freshening up we went out for dinner in the Ueno shopping-district. Eventually we ended up at a really great resturant called "What's Food" (maybe, to be verified), up on the 9th floor with a nice view, good food, and very helpful waiters. After dinner we had drinks on the resturant balcony, before we went down to the sixth floor and signed up for Karaoke! In Japan there are Karaoke-bars all over and they appear to be really popular. They differ from the Karaoke we know in that you get a small private room so that you can sing with your friends without any strangers listening in, perfect(?) for romantic dates perhaps. You can order food and drinks as you go, and beeing open 24/7 you can sing undisturbed for as longs as you want. I read somewhere that people on their way home from parties occasionally rent Karaoke-rooms to sleep in as they are cheaper than staying at a hotel if its just for the night!
The songs you want are fetched from a central server so the bars can have a very extensive catalouge to select from. One of the places advertised with having more than 10.000 english songs available in addition to even more japanese and other asian songs! It was quite fun for the hour we booked, and I think it was better than the usual way where you sing in front of an entire bar. At least you only make a fool of yourself in front of your friends :-)

The next morning we headed towards the Ebisu Garden Place where there was supposed to be a great view of Tokyo from the Garden Tower. When we got up there, I unfortunetly found that my video-camera battery was empty. As I didn't want to go visit some cool places without my camera we had to return to the hotel so I could get it recharged, and because of the time lost we had to cancel most of our outher plans for the afternoon. Instead we spent some hours shopping at the Sunshine Shopping-mall at Ikebukuro before taking a train to Maihama, home of the Tokyo Disneyland Resort! We got there just in time to get full value out of the evening-passes that are valid from 6p.m until closing time, and had a great time in Disneys magic world.

Despite sounding and looking superficially like the other Disney resorts my personal opinion is that the park and the rides in Tokyo are of a lower quality than those found overseas. Another thing I noticed was that much of the merchandise and souvenirs sold in the Park and in the Disney-stores outside was not in the quality and detail that one expects of original products from an official Disney-merchant, and much of it had the distinct feel of beeing low-quality imitations. Neither the colours nor the materials used for plush-figures and other things matched the standard I've come to expect from Disney. Another thing limiting the fun for foreign visitors is that absolutely everything was in Japanese and that there were not any english speaking guides for anything, something I really feel should be available as Disney is an american company and most of the content is originally in english. And after all, foreign langugage-speaking guides are available at all the other major Disney-resorts, even the U.S. ones!
But even if I'm sounding like the visit was horrible, I had a great time at Disneyland! We got to do most of the rides we wanted to and had lots of fun despite missing out on the Disney-fireworks. Also with this visit to Tokyo Disneyland Resort I have been at all the major Disney destinations in the world; including Disneyland Paris, Disneyland California, Walt Disney World in Florida and going to the Bahamas with the Disney Cruise Lines!

Our plan was to check out the Tokyo-nightlife after returning from Disneyland, but we were both so tired and had sore feet so we went straight to bed. The next morning we picked up on the cancelled plans from yesterday and visited the worlds busiest intersection and the most hip and popular shopping area for japanese teens at Shibuya, where shopping is a lifestyle, before going to see Tokyo's largest park and the shrine for former emperor Meji in the nearby area Harajuku. Also at Harajuku is another large shopping area where teenagers and artistic types mix to form the spirit of New Japan. After much walking and long hours we returned to Ebisu for dinner, finding a awesome mexican resturant with southern-US interior decor. Really cool!
The time for the last Shinkansen to Narita Aiport and our room at Holiday Inn were getting close, so to get the last bits of amazement out of the trip we spent the final half-hour at Akihabara, a area commonly called Electric Town and the place where neon and a amazing range of electrical gadgets are for sale. It was a short but mindblowing visit, and the final thing I did was getting myself a cheap replica samurai sword before running to catch the train!

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