Money saving tips for Tokyo: Transportation

Tokyo is the most expensive city to live in but there are still many ways to make the trip less expensive.

As I was writing this money saving guide for Tokyo, I realized that there is just too many sub-categories so I split the tips into three different posts.

This post is about saving on transportation. There is another on food and drinks as well as accommodation and sightseeing.

Transportation in Tokyo is crazy. A short trip would cost 180 yen (US$2.3) on the train which is very expensive compared to Singapore.

From Narita Airport: Get the Suica & N’EX package

Suica & N'EX package

Suica & N’EX package

I picked up the Suica & N’EX package for 3,500 yen when I reached Narita airport. It includes transport into the city (and slightly beyond) as well as a 2,000 yen Suica.

The package also good value because the N’EX limited express train to Tokyo is 2,940 yen (gasp!).

There’s also a package with return fare.

From Haneda Airport: Get Monorail and Yamanote Line Discount Ticket

Monorail and Yamanote Line Discount Ticket

Monorail and Yamanote Line Discount Ticket

Only available on weekends

If you arrive at Haneda Airport during the weekend, remember to pick up this discounted ticket.

For just 500 yen, you can take the monorail and leave at any stations on the Yamanote Line. If you are exiting at other JR stations, just pay the extra at the counter.

Free one-way day trip with Suica & N’EX package


If you have a day trip planned to either Yokohama or Kamakura, I recommend doing it on the day you arrive if you reach before noon.

I was planning to visit Yokohama but when I found out that the package covers Kamakura, I changed my plans immediately.

A trip from Tokyo Station to Kamakura would cost 890 yen. So in theory, I’ve saved a little by heading straight there instead of taking the day trip on another day.

Transfer rebate with Suica

Buying tickets for Tokyo trains
If you are using Suica to pay for your transport, it automatically gives you rebates when you transfer from trains of the same company.

Stick to the same company on trains

Tokyo Metro

Tokyo Metro

Planning your transport within Tokyo is really tricky. There are just too many lines and too many different train companies.

Many times, I had to transfer from one train line to another to reach my destination. I accidentally took different train lines for a ride and it cost me more than it would if I had transferred from the trains of the same company.

So, I suggest taking trains from the same company when you travel. This might mean an extra 5 minutes, but it’ll cost 200 yen less.

Check the rest of money saving tips for Tokyo:

tsuke men

#FoodFri Glutton in Tokyo 2

This is a follow up of Glutton in Tokyo part 1 which I posted last week.

On Day 2 of my Tokyo trip, I walked around Shinjuku waiting for the day to end so I can spend the night at Ooedo Onsen Monogatari’s hot springs.

Tsuke-men

I visited the Tokyo Municipal Building around noon. As it was a Sunday, most of the shops under the skyscrapers were closed.

Luckily, the noodle shop was still open.

Naoku at Tokyo Municipal Building

Naoku at Tokyo Municipal Building

Tsuke men, or dipping noodles, is another way of eating ramen. Instead of a noodles in a bowl of hot soup, I got cold noodles and a small bowl of thick stock.

Take the noodles, dip into the stock and slurp loudly. I find this way of eating ramen fun because I rarely get this type of noodles back in Singapore

Tsuke men


Tsuke men

For an extra 100 yen, I added on an iced coffee. yums

Iced coffee

Iced coffee

Udon

I visited the guidebook-famous Sankoku Ichi at Shinjuku for dinner before heading to the onsen theme park.

Sankoku ichi at Shinjuku

Sankoku ichi at Shinjuku


The interior had a vintage Japanese restaurant feeling with low ceiling, wooden floor, tables and chairs.

Katsu udon miso soup


Katsu udon miso soup


Separately I love tonkatsu (fried, breaded pork cutlets), udon and miso soup so I ordered the Nagoya-style udon which was a combination of all three things.

Unfortunately, the sum was not bigger than the parts.

My pork chop sat on top of my udon in a shallow dish of miso. The crispy fried battered skin was soggy because of the soup. The udon didn’t have much soup to go with. The soup was tainted by the salty tonkatsu sauce. The veggie which I don’t eat was left as decoration.

If I ever go to the restaurant again, I will chose a plain udon.

Room of Hotel Maruchu Tokyo

Stayed Hotel Maruchu, Tokyo review

The worse part of travel preparations is booking a hotel. Even with reviews, I’m never sure how a room would turn out.

Luckily, Hotel Maruchu in Tokyo turned out to be alright.

When I extended my business trip in September, I had to look for a place to stay. I found Hotel Maruchu online and thought that its location right next to Minami-Senjuu is great.

As a miser budget traveller, the 3,500 yen (US$44.5) price was what clinched the deal. In comparison, the price of a dorm bed at Sakura Hostel is 2,940 yen (US$$37.3).

The hotel was not too difficult to find. It’s just across the tracks of Tokyo Metro’s Minami-Senjuu station, and a bit more walking if you come from the JR station. There’s an overhead bridge with slopes to roll your suitcase around.

When I reached, the concierge was really enthusiastic and spoke a bit of English. I should have been ashamed of myself for not speaking more in Japanese. (Sorry mom!)

I chose the Japanese-style single room (which is also a two-person room according to the sign outside). The room is really tiny but I guess that’s what you get in space-constraint Japan.

Hotel Maruchu's 3 tatami big room

Hotel Maruchu’s 3 tatami big room

Amenities

There’s a Chinese saying, “A sparrow might be small, but it has all five internal organs.” The saying is a lot more poetic in Chinese, I assure you.

Well, Maruchu’s room is definitely has a sparrow’s innards. My room had a futon mattress, pillow, blanket fridge, TV, bathrobe, towel, a box of tissue, a table and a cushions. It also has free Wi-Fi, take that Marriott!

Hotel Maruchu's bathrobe and towel

Hotel Maruchu’s bathrobe and towel

Room of Hotel Maruchu

Room of Hotel Maruchu

Bonus! A clip of me rambling on about the room.


(I never managed to visit the cemetery because I got lost.)

Shared facilities

Outside the room, there’s the shared toilet and pantry.

The toilet has men’s urinals (though it will be really awkward walking in on a man peeing) and the cool modern Japanese toilets.

Hotel Maruchu's shared washroom

Hotel Maruchu’s shared washroom

Hotel Maruchu's modern Japanese toilet

Hotel Maruchu’s modern Japanese toilet

Hotel Maruchu's shared pantry and "makeup area"

Hotel Maruchu’s shared pantry and “makeup area”

Not included in the my photos is the public bath. For me, this was actually the main attraction.

In a public bath, you take a shower and bath with other people. Some people might feel uncomfortable about this but I actually like the Japanese’s nonchalance of other people’s naked bodies. As they say, when in Rome do as the Romans.

Do note that the bath is open to women at a shorter timing than men.

Misc

There’s a nice Japanese restaurant outside of the JR station which is within walking distance of the hotel. A 7-11 is a short walk away too. The streets were quite deserted at night when I walked to the convenience store, although I don’t think it’s dangerous for a woman to walk alone.

Minami-Senjuu is near Ueno Park but it’s actually a lot further to the city center. I didn’t like the travelling.

In a nutshell
Stayed at Hotel Maruchu, Tokyo
Pros: Enthusiastic concierge, cheap cheap price, cool Japanese room
Cons: Train station is far from the city center, people who are shy about being naked with strangers might not like the public bath, small Japanese room

Gintama Land at Ooedo Onsen

Being a fangirl at Gintama Land

During my trip planning for Tokyo, I was most excited about visiting the Ooedo Onsen Monogatari hot spring theme park.

It wasn’t only because I desperately wanted to soak in hot springs and to stay overnight there. It was also because my favorite manga/anime Gintama was having an event.

The onsen place and the anime company teamed up to bring us “Ooedo Onsen Suspense Theater” where visitors can participate in games to win prizes and most of all, enjoy our favorite work.

Ooedo Onsen suspense theater

Ooedo Onsen suspense theater

This post will be very image heavy as I want to show you everything they had at Oedo Gintama Land.

Another warning, you will probably have ZERO idea what I am rambling on and on about if you have not read Gintama.

If you have not read the series, please head to your nearest comic bookstore and buy yourself the books. If all fails, there are the *cough* pirated versions online *cough*.

Outdoor fun with Gintama cast

When my shuttle bus reached Ooedo Onsen Monogatari, I almost squealed out loud seeingthe giant blow-up of Elizabeth guarding the entrance in his yukata.

Gintama's Elizabeth in Yukata at Ooedo Onsen Monogatari

Gintama’s Elizabeth in Yukata at Ooedo Onsen Monogatari

It was close to 6pm when I arrived. The mini outdoor event would close at 6pm so I had little time to play around.

There was two photo taking stations there. One of posing with the police car of the Shinsengumi police force.

Shinsengumi car at Gintama Land

Shinsengumi car at Gintama Land

I posed with a fake bazooka and Okita’s favorite eye masks. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to get into the car.

Shinsengumi car at Gintama Land

Shinsengumi car at Gintama Land

Gin-chan’s broken down scooter was also there for photo opportunities. Too bad they didn’t have his helmet or it would make an even more awesome photo.

Gintoki's motorcyle

Gintoki’s motorcyle

Floating in the wind was Gin-san in his yukata. My inner fan girl was shouting really loud by then. The pink banner says they are selling salted red bean paste–the taste for adults–at 280 yen. I think it’s ice cream.

Gintama banners

Gintama banners

There was even a shop selling Gintama merchandise. Being the cash-strapped traveller, I couldn’t afford to buy the stuff which were pretty much useless even for decoration.

Shinsengumi Police Station selling Gintama goodies

Shinsengumi Police Station selling Gintama goodies

I did get myself one capsule. It was Katsura in yukata with a Elizabeth-yaki. (Too many jargons in this line!)

Gintama capsule station

Gintama capsule station

Entering Gintama Land

After having fun with photos, it was time to head into the theme park.

Elizabeth noren decorating the entrance of Ooedo Onsen Monogatari

Elizabeth noren decorating the entrance of Ooedo Onsen Monogatari

Another banner with Gintama characters greeted us inside. My favorite female character Sacchan was disappointingly not among them.

Welcome to Oedo Gintama Land

Welcome to Oedo Gintama Land

Welcome to Oedo Gintama Land

Welcome to Oedo Gintama Land

Welcome to Oedo Gintama Land

Welcome to Oedo Gintama Land

At the waiting area, they put up Gintama goodies. I was really tempted by the Gintoki yukata but the price was too scary for me.

Gintama goodies on display

Gintama goodies on display

Gin-san's yukata

Gin-san’s yukata

Gintama merchandise to steal our souls

Gintama merchandise to steal our souls

Exclusive Gintama merchandise

Exclusive Gintama merchandise

I think the partnership between Ooedo Onsen Monogatari and Gintama team is perfect because the theme park pretends to be a town in ancient Tokyo (Edo) and the comic is set in a fictional ancient Tokyo.

Gintama game

Gintama game: Yorozuya route or Shinsengumi route

Gintama game: Yorozuya route or Shinsengumi route

The highlight of Gintama Land was “Ooedo Onsen Suspense Theater”, a game to find one of the characters.

Shinpachi’s glasses was discovered by his elder sister, O-tae. O-tae was worried about Shinpachi and asked both the Yorozuya and Shinsengumi team to find her brother.

[Note: One of the running gags in the series is that Shinpachi=glasses. And the characters would talk to a pair of glasses as if it was Shinpachi,]

Lost & Found: A pair of glasses

Lost & Found: A pair of glasses

As a player, you buy a glasses pouch for 500 yen to play the game. I chose to be the Yorozuya intern while others can choose to be the Shinsengumi intern.

I went around the theme park, looking for the stamp stations. It took a while to find all five because I couldn’t decipher a large part of the instructions. X_x

While walking around, I found really cool cutouts and models of the characters.

For example, at the footbaths, Kondo Isao posed in only his underwear and covered with honey. It was from the chapter where they had to lure something in the forests.

Shinsengumi's Kondo Isao covered with honey

Shinsengumi’s Kondo Isao covered with honey

The very adorable but also very sadist Sogo with a bath towel.

Okita Sogo with a bath towel

Okita Sogo with a bath towel

A poster of the aliens also appeared at the footbath. Strangely, the lines say: “When you enter the baths, soak yourself up until your shoulders and count to ten before you COME OUTTTTT!”

Oi! What shoulders, this is a footbath!

The aliens from the bathhouse chapters

The aliens from the bathhouse chapters

Large panels like these appear at game stations.

Katsura at Gintama Land

Katsura at Gintama Land

Yorozuya panel

Yorozuya panel

Ryoma panel

Ryoma panel

Kamui panel and me

Kamui panel and me

Mini games

Besides the search for Shinpachi, there were three mini games along the way.

I forgot to take pictures of the fishing for water balloon games but I have the other two.

One of it was the paper fan throwing game. The player kneels in front of the two Styrofoam figures and try to knock it down with a fan, I failed at it and my fan flew way off the target.

Geisha game

Geisha game

I was much better at the anpan (red bean bun) throwing game. Each beanie bag of fake red bean bun flew into the holes representing faces.

Red bean bun throwing game

Red bean bun throwing game

At the end of the game, you will find Shinpachi. Turns out, the pair of glasses is not his. He also says angrily, “What do you mean I am not myself without glasses? No one goes to the bath with glasses, does he?!”

Found you, Shinpachi!

Found you, Shinpachi!

Gintama stuff all around!

Besides games, there were plenty of photo opportunities for Gintama fans.

Elizabeth deco

Elizabeth deco

At the center of the food area were lifesize cut outs of the Gintama gang.

Gintama gang in yukata

Gintama gang in yukata

Closer up of Gintama gang

Closer up of Gintama gang

Gin-san~

Gin-san~

Tsura-ko

Tsura-ko

I would have missed out Shogun in his underwear if I didn’t look up.

Shogun in his underwear

Shogun in his underwear

The other casts were higher up on the “second floor”.

(I really miss Sacchan and her crazy masochist self.)

The ladies of Gintama

The ladies of Gintama

Takasugi

Takasugi

Kamui

Kamui

There were also models, for example Gintoki in cat form.

Gintoki in cat form

Gintoki in cat form

And the super huge but super cute Sadakaru.

Sadaharu station

Sadaharu station

Sadaharu~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sadaharu~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Besides all the photo taking and games, there were also Gintama-themed food.

One example is Hijikata’s favorite mayonnaise with everything. The character loves to put mayonnaise on everything.

This poster advertising a plate of boiled ramen had to warn: “Please put as little as you can handle.”

Mayonaise ramen

Mayonaise ramen

I had a great time at Gintama Land. I wish time would freeze for me to stay there forever. But… Reality called, so here I am, back in Singapore.

Instead of moping, I should be grateful that I could be there. So I will be grateful and be wonderfully happy about the trip.

Until the next post!

-Yun Qing

#FoodFri Glutton in Kamakura + Tokyo

In case you don’t know. I love Japanese food very very much.

During my short work trip to Japan, I had a few days to roam around eating.

Instead of flooding everyone with too many yummy food, I’m splitting the meals into different days.

For today, we’re having meals from Day 1: Lunch at Kamakura and Dinner in Tokyo.

Day 1

Zaru soba at Kamakura Karari

Zaru soba with ten-don set


Zaru soba with ten-don set

I took a side trip to Kamakura on day 1 because my N’EX and Suica package includes the Kamakura stop.

I was really hungry when I walked on the streets of Kamakura. But I did not dare pop into casual-looking but surely expensive cafes so I wandered around.

I found several people waiting outside Karari. I entered the doors but was asked to wait outside and write my name on a piece of paper.

Kamakura soba restaurant kitchen

Karari restaurant kitchen

It was an open kitchen concept restaurant. The chefs fried tempura while the customers watched. The second floor was for tour groups so I was stuck downstairs.

The meal was great. I loved the free flow of cold tea as well.

Yayoiken at Minami-senju

Yayoiken at Minami-senju

Yayoiken at Minami-senju


The restaurant near my hotel at Minami-senjuu had coupon machines at the door (like Nakau!).

Katsu set at Yayoiken

Katsu set


I chose a pork chop set because Japanese katsu is delicious! There’s even unlimited refill of rice if you’re hungry.

Unfortunately, my pork smelled in a bad way. At least the miso soup was ok.

5 transportation I took during my travels

I rarely take taxis when travelling. One main reason is that I am stingy thrifty. The other reason is that it’s more interesting to take the public transport and see how the locals travel.

Train in Yogyakarta

Train in Yogyakarta
The ladies-only carriage was among the Top 10 Things I Love about Central Java

D and I were travelling from Jogja to Solo on the local train. Some of the ladies brought their own stools so they don’t need to sit on the floor.

The whole journey felt like a big party, except I was standing.

Public bus in Kamakura

Public bus in Kamakura
Japanese buses are efficient. They even have a timetable of when the buses come.

Biking in San Francisco

Biking in San Francisco
I love cycling and I love cities that embrace cycling. I rented an electrical bike and cycled to Sausalito from San Francisco. It didn’t matter that my bicycle chain fell off and I had to put it back.

Boat in Kuching

Boat in Kuching
A 50 cents ride across the river in the City of Cats.

Becak in Solo

Becak in Solo
One becak drive who took us from Jogja town back to our hotel didn’t manage to get any commission from batik shops and complained about us being “gemuk” (fat). I thought it was quite funny.

Indie Travel Challenge
This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.

Week 36 of the Indie Travel Challenge is all about photography: Share 5 photos you took during your travels.

Check out my other #indie2012 posts.

Exploring Tokyo’s red light district at night

Kabukicho in the day

Kabukicho in the day

I’ve wanted to visit Kabuki-cho in Tokyo ever since reading my favorite manga, Gintama. The characters live right on the streets of Kabuki-cho in a fictional old-Tokyo period.

Gintama Kabukicho

Gintama Kabukicho

I managed to walk around in the morning on Sunday. The place was crowded with fashionable people and amazing storefronts.

But I didn’t dare go alone at night because of the area’s reputation. From Japan-guide.com: “Japan’s largest red light district features countless restaurants, bars, nightclubs, pachinko parlors, love hotels and a wide variety of red light establishments for both sexes and sexual orientations. Explore with caution and beware of exorbitant cover fees.”

While I wasn’t prepared to head to Kabuki-cho at night, I wanted to visit Shinjuku’s 24-hour Don Quijote. When S, one of the journalists on the media tour, asked if she could join me to the crazy store. I said “Yes”.

I told her about Kabuki-cho and found someone to go to Tokyo’s infamous red light district with.

Neon lights everywhere

street of Kabuki-cho

street of Kabuki-cho

Kabuki-cho at night was different from day. In fact, the streets felt even brighter when the moon and stars are out than in the day time.

Building with amazing signboards

Building with amazing signboards

There were many backlit signboards, advertising the shop’s wares.

While some shops sold innocent things (food at konbini) and services (manga cafe), a lot of the others sold more mature items.

24-hour manga cafe

Innocent 24-hour manga cafe

Not sure what it is but highly suspicious

Not sure what it is but highly suspicious

There were a lot of “Free Guide” stores in the area. I peeped into one and saw a wall with photos of heavily made up girls which makes me suspect it’s another form of touting.

One of the many "Free Guide" shops.

One of the many “Free Guide” shops.

Speaking of touts, on the streets of Kabuki-cho, there were many well dressed young men in suit with fancy hairstyles. I assume these over-the-top fashionable men were touts who bring visitors to the nightclubs.

Since I looked tourist (and poor), none of them approached me for me to check my theory.

Touts at Kabukicho

Touts at Kabukicho

We walked around only two or three streets of Kabuki-cho, coming across interesting shop names such as “Ninja in New York”:

Ninja in New York sign

Ninja in New York sign

As well as sex toy shops. If you look close enough, there is a piece of paper with Nobita and Shizuka from Doraemon lying down half naked. I had a hard time comprehending why anyone would want to watch Doraemon cartoon porn.

Sex toy shop

Sex toy shop

Sexy shop

Sexy shop

After our quick turn, we headed to Don Quijote for late night window shopping.

I end this post with a rare photo of me in front of landmarks. (The biggest downside of travelling solo is the lack of photos with me inside.)

Me in front of the famous Kabuki-cho

Me in front of the famous Kabuki-cho

More posts on my trip to Tokyo to come.

Kamakura Daibutsu

Day 1 of Japan: Best plans change

Kamakura Daibutsu

Kamakura Daibutsu

Hello folks,

In case you don’t know, I’m now in Japan. I’ll be in Tokyo for a week for a work trip. The first two days are my free day and my real work will start on Monday evening.

Today, I went to Kamakura despite preparing for Yokohama. I found out that my N’EX and Suica package covers Kamakura so I decided to visit the ancient city.

I didn’t do much preparations for Kamakura (the prep I actually did for Kamakura was accidental and is part of the last bit on Yokohama that I photocopied from Lonely Planet).

It worked out of course, nothing a bit of walking around and getting lost won’t help (I hate asking for directions). Until tomorrow!

Floating udon

#FoodFri My love affair with Japanese food

Floating udon

Floating udon


When I was a kid, having Japanese food was a rare treat.

The Japanese restaurant that my family goes to most often started its business when I was just in high school. The place was different from the usual rowdy Chinese restaurants and had beautiful finished puzzles of Japanese beauties on the wall.

Each university vacation, my parents would take the family to the Japanese restaurant–Miyabi–for dinner. For me, Japanese food signified family.

Before my trip to Japan for summer school at the end of my third year, I read about the variety of Japanese food in my guidebooks. Back then, I didn’t understand why anyone would choose to eat wasabi. For me, Japanese food signified the exotic.

Today, I voluntarily scoop out the green spicy paste and mix a bit of soy sauce to it. I could slurp a bowl of udon/ramen as loudly as the Japanese businessman could. For me, Japanese food signified delicious meals.

Now, I am finishing this post at Changi Airport. In 8 hours, I will be in Tokyo where I will spend the weekend having fun before starting my business trip on Monday.

Even though I have not fully planned out my itinerary, I have made up my mind what I want to eat: sushi at Tsukiji, Monjayaki, udon, ramen, old Edo-styled tempura, rice balls from the convenience store and lots and lots of cheap conveyor belt sushi.

I leave you with this fascinating outdoor advertisement for a udon shop.

Other Japan eats:
What does fugu tastes like?
#FoodFri Silk pudding @ Tokyo, Japan
#FoodFri Breakfast @ Kyoto National Museum
#FoodFri Japanese fast food: Nakau

This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.
Week 35 of the Indie Travel Challenge is all about Food in Asia: You have to pick one country in Asia to eat from for a month. What country do you pick? Why?

#FoodFri Japanese fast food: Nakau

My #FoodFris are turning into Supper Fridays with all these late posts.

Today, instead of a dish, I want to show you something special from Japan.

Nakau is a fast food chain in the Land of the Rising Sun. They don’t serve burgers or fries but Japanese food such as noodle and rice.

Piping hot

We had these during our trip to Kyoto last year. The meals were not drastically expensive but my mom wasn’t very impressed by our second meal. I still can eat five more bowls of udon before I surrender.

Easy meal

Nakau machine <3

What’s great about the chain is that even if you do not know Japanese, you can order a meal. They have coupon machines with pictures of the dishes and the price. Feed it your cash and it will spit out a coupon. Pass the coupon as you settle down at the counter and the food will arrive very soon.

However, I’ve heard that single ladies do not visit such establishments alone. It has to do with gender stereotype. Oh well, it doesn’t apply to visitors, I suppose.

Hungry? More Japanese eats here: