Trip To Tokyo (December 2016)

It’s been 3 years since my last trip to Japan in December 2013 to attend a concert in Osaka. This time I was going to Tokyo. Was hoping to see snow since Tokyo was reported to have snow around the end of November but unfortunately it did not snow when we were there. The temperature hovered around 4-10 degrees C. It was manageable except for the day when we went to Lake Kawaguchiko and it dropped to 3 degrees. Guess we were not dressed warmly enough and we were freezing despite the sunny weather. 
This being a brief trip, I had not planned on visiting many places except for the Mitaka Ghibli Museum and Lake Kawaguchiko. Ghibli Museum had been on my itinerary list for some time but it was not easy to get tickets. Booking was previously done through the self-service machines at Lawson but with booking being opened a month in advance, chances of getting tickets were slim. Fortunately online booking through Lawson is now available for foreign visitors and with payment by credit card, it’s so much easier to get tickets.
Shortly before departure I was tempted to sign up for a day trip to see the snow monkeys but since it would be too rushed to shop for suitable footwear, I’ll keep it for my future Japan itinerary list.

Akihabara, the place to go for anime related stuff
I had booked a one room apartment under AirBnB. Though a bit small, it was quite adequate with the necessary amenities and a comfortable bed. It’s also conveniently located a short walk from the train station and there was a supermarket, convenience store and eateries nearby. The apartment owner was very accommodating and agreed to my request to deposit our luggage before check-in.

bb8
Life size Gundam outside the Gundam Cafe in Akihabara.
Bought the BB8 collectible from another store.
Crowded Takeshita Street, Harajuku.
The crepes with its large selection of filling and flavor is a popular snack here.
owls-forest
Intrigued by this sign along Takeshita street, we decided to check out the Owl’s Forest at the basement.
The place is quite small with 10 different species of owls displayed along its narrow walking path. Visitors are allowed to gently pat the owls, only on its head and back and take photos without using flash. I could not help feeling sorry for the owls as it must be rather stressful for them to be confined to a small space and being subjected to constant physical contact with visitors.

‘Harry Potter’ snowy owl


Queuing to enter Ghibli Museum
Tickets are not available on site so advance booking has to be made for the admission time slots of 10am, 12 noon, 2 pm and 4pm. There is no time limit after entry.
From Mitaka Station, we took the bus which goes to the museum. It is possible to walk but we were not very sure of the route and did not want to be late for our admission time slot. We can always walk back later. I had my confirmation email which contained a scan bar code but had forgotten to bring along my passport for verification. Fortunately the staff was accommodating when I explained that I had left it at the hotel. No inside photography allowed so I could only take some pics of its exterior.
For more info on Ghibli Museum
http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/

A colorful place with interesting features and exhibits within.
ghibli-museum-4
Lovely fresco painting on the ceiling of the reception area where we received our entry tickets in the form of a movie reel negative. I had forgotten about the ‘no photography’ rule when I took this shot so felt rather guilty when a staff politely reminded me of it.
Visitors can watch a short anime film at its ground level Saturn theater. The film of the day titled ‘The Day I Harvested A Planet’ had a unique story line about a boy who received a gem from a mole and a toad in exchange for his vegetables. When planted in a pot, the gem grew into a mini revolving planet and as he tended to it, it developed its own atmosphere with weather and life (bugs). In the end the boy released it into the galaxy where it joined other planets.

ghibli-museum-5Shot of the museum entrance, taken from the top level.
The ground level exhibit room which showcases the history and science of animation had an interesting 3 dimensional zoetrope with models of characters from Tortoro. As it spins around, the characters seem to come alive. On another level, the exhibit rooms were packed with books and toys, with tables filled with an artist’s paraphernalia, sketches and storyboard illustrations on walls ….. it was like visiting a live-in film production studio. A large glass jar filled with used pencil stubs caught my eye, representative of the many sketches produced using these.
There was a giant Catbus in the playroom for kids and in another Catbus chamber, there were comfy lounge seats for tired visitors to take a break. Love the illustration on the wall of the latter which gives one the feeling of looking at beautiful scenery outside the window. It’s obvious a great deal of effort has been put into the setting up of this place and it’s definitely worth a visit.


Of course I had to get some souvenirs from the museum gift shop located at the top level. I intend to frame up a set of postcards with the same lovely drawing of the museum at different times of the day. The admission ticket in the form of a film negative makes another unique souvenir. Think I’ll add it to the photo frame as well.

ghibli-museum-6
The 5 meters tall robot soldier on the rooftop garden, a favorite photo taking spot for visitors.
Glad we had decided to walk back to Mitaka station and did not miss the giant Tortoro in the window at another entrance.


Collecting tickets which I had booked online for the express bus to Lake Kawaguchiko.
The express bus booking counters and departure area are located on the 2nd level of the building opposite Shinjuku Station.
Online booking @ http://highway-buses.jp/fuji/

The bus journey to our stop at Lake Kawaguchiko station took around 2 hours. Along the way I had kept a look out for Mt Fuji and was certainly excited when I finally spotted it in the distance. As we drew nearer to our destination and it came into full view, I was in awe of its majestic appearance. We were fortunate that the weather was good with clear skies and we had a wonderful view of its snow capped peak.

Another lovely view of the majestic Mt Fuji at the Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center stop of the sight seeing bus around Lake Kawaguchiko.
More on the retro sight-seeing bus @ http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/fuji/course/fuji_sample01.html
For those who intend to stay overnight at Lake Kawaguchiko or enjoy unlimited stops at the various places of interests around the lake, it would be more economical to get the 2 day pass for the retro sight-seeing bus. Since it was a day trip for us and I had booked for the late afternoon return trip to Shinjuku, we were unable to visit all the places.
I had intended to alight at the stop for the Kachi Kachi ropeway that goes up to the observation deck on Mt Tenjo as one would be able to get a panoramic view of the lake and Mt Fuji. Unfortunately the ropeway was closed for maintenance that week and also due to time constraints, we had to skip it. The observation deck could still be accessed by walking up but it was much too cold for us. Since we would have a good view of Mt Fuji at the Kawaguchiko stop, we might as well alight there instead.
The sight of Mt Fuji looming in the near distance filled me with wonder. How fortunate for those who stay around this area to have such a beautiful view everyday. We were freezing despite the blazing sun and the chilly wind wasn’t helping so we had to escape into a cafe for a hot drink. Not content with the photos I had taken earlier, I went out to take more shots of Mt Fuji. The clouds around its peak were constantly shifting so each shot seemed different. If not for the cold and having to catch the bus for the return trip to Shinjuku, I could have stayed there all day. I would certainly like to come back again and stay overnight on my next Japan trip.
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