Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tokyo Disneyland

Christmas Fantasy at Disneyland 2007

I'm not a huge fan of theme parks and heart-stopping rides scare the shit out of me! You may be like me but I still think you should visit the Tokyo Disneyland at least once in your lifetime.

Me....well, I've been there twice (not DisneySea though). The first time was like 15 years ago, with my parents and late granny. The second time was around X'mas in 2007...I went alone...kinda in memory of my late granny...and I retook some of the rides that we were on. It was weird...I felt sad in the happy-happy-land. Anyway that's just me! Everyone else had big smiles on their faces....especially kids.

And better enjoy yourself 'cos it ain't cheap at JPY5,800 (~SGD93) for a 1-day pass! There are multi-day passes for between JPY10,000-15,000 (2-4 day passes)if you can't get enough of the fun. For absolute hardcore disney fans, annual passes are JPY45,000 (disneysea or disneyland) and JPY75,000 (for both parks). If you just want a quick visit to look-see and say that you've been to disneyland, there are cheaper passes for weekend after 3pm (JPY4,700) or weekday after 6pm (JPY3,100) visits. You can purchase your tickets at the ticket booths at the main entrances to the parks or you can also get the tickets from major travel agencies, JR stations and even convenience stores.

The nearest station to Disney is Maihama. It's really easy to get there by train. Refer to to see how you'd get to Disney from wherever you are. There are also some direct buses from Narita & Haneda airports, Shinjuku and Yokohama if you don't mind longer travelling time.

When you've reached Disney, brace yourselves for looooooooooong f-king queues! You need to queue for tickets, queue to enter the parks, queue to take the rides, queue for food/drinks/popcorns, queue to buy souvenirs and even queue to f-king go to the loo! Average queueing time for some popular rides are over 2hrs! Seriously...more than 75% of your time in Disney will be standing in lines. I always pride myself to be a very patient person....but Disney's queues are just beyond my patience limit.

The only way you can save some time is to utilise the FastPass option to some of the popular rides. What you do is to find the FastPass machine located near the ride of your choice. Then insert your Disney Passport into the machine to get a FastPass. The FastPass will indicate the time period for your you need only to return during the indicated time period to get on the ride via the FastPass entrance. Note however that you are only allowed one FastPass at a can only get another FastPass after a certain time (check your FastPass for when you can do so again) make your selection wisely. Meanwhile, you can spend your time checking out the other rides, do some shopping or perhaps watch the parades.

Apart from the rides, there are also many shops selling all kinds of cutsy Disney-themed products. The stuffs aren't cheap though....but most visitors seemed very willing to splurge 'cos I supposed you don't get to visit Disney everyday. If you are bringing kids along, be prepared to spend a bomb as there are just too many things screaming out to kids to want them. Even I couldn't resist buying a silly "Pirates of the Carribbean" head scarf and a pair of minnie ears! Food and drinks aren't cheap...and you don't get much options too. If I'm not wrong, outside food/drinks aren't allowed to be brought into the park (your bags will be checked at the entrances) but if you really want, it's not hard to sneak a few onigiris in the pockets of your coat.

There are numerous parades and performances in a day so do check out the event schedules so that you'd know where to be and at what time to catch them ,

I'd just walk to get around the parks but if you wanna save time or are too lazy to walk, you can take the Disney Resort Liners (JPY250/ride or JPY650 for 1-day pass) to zip around.

Huge Christmas Tree near the park entrance

Snaking queues at the ticket booths

The queue to ride the "Western River Railroad"

"Dumbo the flying elephant" ride during sunset

"Haunted Mansion" ride

"Grand Circuit Raceway" ride

"Alice's Tea Party" ride


"Beaver Brothers Explorer canoes" ride


The parades

Playing dress up
Shop till you drop!
Anything to make you spend $

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tokyo cheap eats

This is by far the best Okonomiyaki (cabbage pancakes) that I have eaten. Ameyoko street side stall

Kushinobo @ Roppongi Hills where we had the eat-all-you-can Kushikatsu and super high alcohol content shochu

One of the food floors in a departmental store in Ueno

One of the most expensive meals that I had eaten ~SGD200/pax. Kobe beef set.

Machine-made Japanese pancakes with red bean filling.

I must say the japanese have perfected the art of making desserts!

If you are a foodie looking for recommendations of good food in Tokyo...this post is not for you. I eat only to fill my stomach, hence I'm not very particular about what I put into my mouth.

I'm writing this to dismiss the myths that eating out in Tokyo will cost an arm and leg! I have had people asking me if their budget of SGD100/meal/person is enough *roll eyes*

Of course if you are feeling generous and want to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a'll no doubt be spoilt for choice in Tokyo. But for the average budget traveller, you'll be able to feed yourself in Tokyo without melting your credit cards or having to rob the banks!

And this cheapskate traveller will tell you where to find cheap eats (guarantee cheap but no guarantee that it'll suit your palate!):

Tachigui noodle shops

"Tachigui" means standing to eat. Forget comfort & ambience...this is fast food at its fastest! You zip in, slot your money into the vending machine, select your noodles and collect the dispensed slip, hand the slip to the staff, you'll usually get a choice of soba or udon, collect your noodles almost immediately, place your bowl on the tiny counter tables provided, slurp your noodles/soup while standing and you should be done in less than 5-8min max and off you go. These days, some bigger tachigui noodle shops will have chairs for you to sit. Such no-frill, fuss-free meals will usually cost between JPY300-500 (SGD5-8.50). I'd usually buy the simplest udon/soba for JPY300 (with some tempura beads or a slice of fried beancurd) and then add on a side like Korokke JPY50 (a deep fried patty made from meat/veg & mashed potatoes and coated with bread crumbs). Best of all, you'll get to enjoy a free flow of ice water or ocha at no cost. Such tachigui shops can be found everywhere...and especially near the subway stations.

Convenience stores "konbini"

Think I can find convenience stores more easily than I can find rubbish bins in Tokyo! I won't be entirely surprise if someone tells me that Japan has the most convenience stores in the world. It's crazy, everywhere you go, there'll be a 7-11, Lawson, AM/PM, Family Mart or something. Apart from the regular things that we can also find in our local convenience stores, the konbinis also provide banking (ATMs), copier/fax, ticket reservations (events, theme parks, highway buses), photo printing, bill payment and even delivery services.

And the konbinis also sell a very wide range of bento meals, snacks, riceballs, sandwiches, bread, cakes, instant noodles, oden etc. There are microwaves in the convenience stores and you can request to have your food heated up and sealed to keep it warm. Chopsticks are readily available upon request. The riceballs are usually priced between JPY80-120 (you'll probably need at least 2 of these to fill up your stomach) and bento meals are between JPY400-600. I'll usually buy a few of the riceballs 'cos they are so convenient to carry around and easy to eat...and I'll munch on them when I'm on the train or while sitting on a bench at the park.

Supermarkets and "food floors" at departmental stores

Although not as common as convenience stores, you should be able to find at least 1-2 big supermarkets in whatever area that you are staying in Tokyo. You'll find a wide selection of prepared food that are packed neatly in plastic boxes on sale at the supermarts. There'll be sushi, sashimi, salads, korokke (potato patty), karage (deep fried chicken), dessert, tonkatsu, spaghetti, curry rice, onigiri (riceballs) and many more food items. Everytime I step into a supermarket, I'll feel like I'm Alice in wonderland! You'll find that it's not hard to fill your shopping basket with enough food for a complete hearty meal for a budget not more than JPY1,000 (~SGD16).

Usually, a bento meal (with the full works) will only cost JPY500-600. The trick is to shop after 5-6pm 'cos that's when prices are slashed by 30-50%. There are also certain food items meant for immediate consumption (nearing expiry) which are sold for as little as 20-30% of the original retail prices - not that the food items aren't fit for consumption, in fact most of the items are still reasonably's just that the japanese' food quality standards are extremely high. Not all supermarkets have microwave for heating up your food. So if you are bringing your food back to the hotel, you might want to stick with those food that you don't mind eating cold.

In many departmental stores, the basements are usually designated food floors. And some of these food floors are so huge that there are separate food sections for the different types of foods. Be ready to be awed and utterly spoilt for choices. Prices are somewhat similar to the supermarkets but you get a greater varierty. Prices are also marked down in the evenings at around 5-6pm.

Conveyor-belt sushi "kaiten-zushi"

Ok, Singaporeans should all be familiar with this concept?! It's not unlike our Sakae Sushi, Sushi-Tei where you've all the sushi placed on different colored plates (different colors to indicate different prices) rotating around on a conveyor belt...and you just pick up from the belt whatever catches your eye to eat. When you're done, the waiter will count the number of plates and write you a bill.

There are many such kaiten-zushi places in Tokyo. The cheapest one that I had been to was only JPY99 per plate (SGD1.60). The average price is probably between JPY100-150 which is still cheap as compared to Singapore? Of course the premium plates can be up to JPY500. Ocha is free and free-flow unlike in Singapore where I have to pay SGD0.99 at Sakae Sushi!

Although snobs will frown on kaiten-zushi and say that the food are bad....of the many that I've tried in Tokyo, I must say that they were all much better in terms of food quality than our local Sakae Sushi! And instead of manually counting the plates, some of the shops have installed RFID chips on the plates such that the waiters need only to scan the stack of plates with a barcode reader and the bill will be totalled up in a matter of seconds!

Fast food

You'll find the regular giant chains like McDonald's, Wendy's and KFC in Tokyo. Personally, I find that the fast food from these chains in Japan taste better than in most other countries - including Singapore...probably 'cos of the stringent quality controls standards by the Japanese. But you want to be eating at McDonald's when there are so many other interesting things to try when you are in Tokyo?! If you want the affordability of fast food without appearing like a loser eating at Mac's while in Tokyo, you can consider the more "japanese" burger options such as MOS Burger, Freshness Burger, Lotteria, First Kitchen . For most of these fast food restaurants, you'll be able to get a very decent meal (burger+fries+drink) for around JPY500.

If you'd prefer rice meals i.e. Gyudon instead of burgers, you can also visit fast food chains like Matsuya, Yoshinoya or Ootoya and Sukiya Similarly for around JPY500, you'll be able to fill your stomach with a big bowl of rice topped with beef slices and some veg & egg. And water/ocha is usually available for free.

There are also restaurants that serve curry rice & tempura in fast food style like Coco Ichibanya and Tenya . For these joints, a satisfying meal will probably cost you JPY600-1000.


Well I'm not exactly a big eater but if you are one, there are many eat-all-you-can restaurants in Tokyo. The prices aren't exactly easy on your pockets as they usually range between JPY1000-3000 (lunch prices are normally much cheaper)...however, the fact that you can eat/drink all you want for a single price would render them reasonably good deals especially if you can eat A LOT! Such eat-all-you-can offers can be found in all kinds of restaurants i.e. indian, iranian, asian, nepalese, israeli etc. If you want to try the more authentic japanese food, there are 2 such joints that might be worth your consideration.

Mo Mo Paradise offers eat-all-you-can shabu shabu (similar to our local steamboat) for about JPY2,000/pax (inclusive of free flow of drinks/rice). If I'm not wrong, the lunch buffet is at half price. Unlike our local buffet places, there's usually a time limit, which in the case of Mo Mo, is 90min. So eat fast! Can't really recall the exact locations but there are 2 Mo-Mos near Sunshine City @ Ikebukuro

If you like deep fried food, then Kushiya Monogatari might just be your cup of tea. If you were to ignore the after-meal greasy smell on your clothes/hair/skin (that I totally hate!), it can be kinda fun. You get to pick what you like to eat, dip the skewered fish, meat and vegetables in batter and flour and then use the deep-fryer on each table to fry your own meal. Eat-all-you-can in two hours for about JPY2,500 (not inclusive of free flow of drinks). Everything is deep-fried so watch those calories. The meal goes best with ice cold japanese beer! I think you can find Kushiya in quite a few areas like Shinjuku, Shibuya and Shimbashi...but don't ask me where exactly as I'm not a foodie...I eat only what I chance upon.

Tokyo budget accommodations

Contrary to popular belief that Tokyo is a VERY expensive city to travel in or live in, there are actually many budget options for cheapo travellers like me. In Tokyo, I have stayed in the very best hotels as well as the budget accommodations. Of course, there are the hotels that'd cost over SGD400/night but there are also many that are in the range of less than SGD200/night.

And unlike poor quality budget accommodations that you often find in some asian countries, even the "star-less" inns/motels in Tokyo are extremely well-kept, clean and thoughtfully & tastefully furnished.

While there are some cheap hostels or budget ryokans that'd cost less than JPY4000 (~SGD68), or even cheaper capsule hotels, I'd usually stick to the mid-range western style budget inns/motels with ensuite and my budget is normally around JPY7,000-8,000/night (SGD119-136).

Here are some photos of the budget motel rooms that I had stayed in...although tiny (most of the normal rooms in 3-4* hotels are not very much bigger though), they are usually very cosy and comfortable.

A few things to note, first, double beds are tiny (just slightly broader than a single bed) and really not meant for 2 persons unless you don't mind suffering many sleepless nights! Second, if you are uncomfortable stripping in front of others and bathing at the public bath, you might want to avoid accommodations without ensuite. The bath area is often without cubicles/doors. It is probably just a row of showerheads and taps fixed on the wall and you have nothing but a tiny stool to sit your naked butt on to bathe!

This is a single-bed room in Toyocho Vista Hotel which is just less than 50m walk to the Toyocho Stn. Think I only paid around JPY7,000/night Yes, it's tiny. This is the other end of the bed.
This is another motel with double bed. Think I only paid around JPY6,000/night.
Most of the ensuite are small but as you can see, still very well equipped.

Below is a list of some budget accommodations as well as budget hotel portals if you are travelling on a shoestring:

Tokyo Inn


Japan Hotel Net

The Budget Hotels In Japan

Sakura Hotel

Nishi-Shinjuku Hotel

Super Hotel

Rakuten Travel Hotel Bookings

Tokyo Capsule Hotel Listing

Japanese Guest Houses

Kimi Ryokan (Ikebukuro - Tokyo)

Andon Ryokan (Tokyo)

Getting to and around Tokyo

Airfare from Singapore to Tokyo

Being the usual cheapo when it comes to airfare, I'd normally fly to Tokyo on Northwest Airline Depending on your travel period, NWA usually has some airfare promotions (normally during Nov-Mar period). Recently, the promotional fare to Tokyo was just less than SGD600!

As with most american airlines, do not expect high inflight service standards! The inflight food and entertainment is pretty decent nevertheless. But you'll have to pay for alcohol if you want some.

Occasionally, Cathay and Thai Airways would also offer special fares to Tokyo but with connections in Hong Kong and Bangkok respectively. I find the inflight food on Cathay/Thai Airways much more appetising though.

Getting from Narita Airport to Tokyo

In many countries, we are used to taking the cab from the airport. But DO NOT...I repeat, DO NOT take the cab from Narita to Tokyo...unless you have too much money or your company is picking up the tab. An ex-colleague of mine once told me that they didn't know and took a cab from the airport....they got a shock of their life when the fare came up to SGD300+!

There are many more affordable options to get to Tokyo from the airport... which one to choose will depend on your budget, whether or not you mind a longer travelling well as ease/convenience of travel mode.

I'll list down the transport options from the most to the least expensive:

- Airport Limousine bus

- Narita Express (NEX)

- Keisei Skyliner

- JR Sobu (Rapid)

- Keisei Ltd Express

If you don't mind travelling on a normal commuter train that makes numerous stops (hence taking a longer time to reach Tokyo)....and probably having to stand with your luggages in tow....choosing the JR Rapid or Keisei Ltd over NEX/limo bus will save you around JPY1700+ (approx. SGD29+).

I'd normally use NEX or the limo bus as I'd be feeling very tired after the long flight. Only on a few occasions that I used the Keisei Ltd. However, this cheapo has found out that there are ways to save on NEX or the limo bus!


Usual fare on NEX to Tokyo is approx JPY3,000. If you were to buy the NEX+Suica package for JPY3,500, your NEX fare will only be JPY1,500 as the stored value for your Suica card is already JPY2,000!

Limo Bus+Metropass ;

Usual fare on the limo bus is approx JPY3,000. The limo bus+metropass package will cost JPY3,100. Original price of a 1day open metropass is JPY600. So you already save JPY500. The 1day metropass will allow you unlimited rides on the Tokyo metro for a day.

Skyliner+Metropass ;

Normal price for skyliner+1day metropass is JPY2,520 and JPY2,900 for a 2-day metropass. The promotional prices are JPY2,100 & JPY2,480 respectively. So your savings are JPY420 for both.

Traveling within Tokyo

1 or 2 day Metropass

If you think you'll be travelling on the Tokyo Metro a lot, you can purchase the 1 or 2 day Metropass at Narita Airport (the passes are ONLY AVAILABLE at Narita Airport). 1 day pass is JPY600 and 2 day pass is JPY980.

JR Pass

This is like the mother of all passes! It allows you unlimited ride on all JR Group Railways - limited express trains, express trains, rapid or local trains, including NEX and the Shinkasen (except on "NOZOMI" trains). It even allows you to ride on certain JR buses and ferries. This pass can only be purchased by foreign tourists under the entry status of "temporary visitor" and available only outside of Japan from an authorized sales office or agent in your home country. Refer to this website for a listing of the authorized sales offices in Singapore

The JR pass ain't cheap at JPY28,300 (~SGD480+) for a 7-day Ordinary pass and JPY45,100 (SGD767+) for a 14-day pass (green passes are more expensive). If you are mostly just travelling within a particular city i.e. Tokyo, then there's no need for the JR pass. But say if you are making long distance rail trips i.e. Tokyo <--> Kyoto, then the JR pass is worth the investment because a normal return fare on the shinkasen for such long distance travel would already cost more than the fare of the JR pass.

Depending on where you are planning to travel to, there are also other regional passes that you can purchase If you are travelling during the school holidays, you can also consider buying the Seishun 18 pass

One very useful online tool that I swear by is the HYPERDIA digital time-table. If you were to type in your starting point and destination, select your travel date/time/type of seat/train will be able to generate a list of all the possible rail courses that you can take and it will also list down all the connections if any


If you need maps to plan for your Japan trip, do visit the Japan National Tourism Organization (Singapore Office) @ 16 Raffles Quay, #15-09, Hong Leong Building, Singapore 048581

Another good place to pick up maps is from the Tourist Information counters at Narita Airport - located at the arrival halls at both Terminal 1 and 2.

If you are my friend, I have tonnes of good maps that you can borrow.

You'll definitely need a good rail map to get around Tokyo effortlessly- ideally one that shows the Metro and JR lines. If you are travelling out of the city to the outskirts, you would probably need a greater Tokyo rail map as well. You can obtain such rail maps at tourist information counters, train stations as well as online:

Monday, February 23, 2009

In love with Tokyo...

Having been to Tokyo at least 10 times over the last 8 years, I must say this city really captures my heart and soul. There's just so much this mega city has to offer!

Here's a list of what I love most about Tokyo:

- super-efficient and well-connected rail system

- it's safe and I feel very comfortable travelling around even on my own

- it's clean - I've not come across a dirty public toilet in Tokyo

- the service that you receive at malls, shops, eateries is the BEST in the world

- most japanese people are very gentle, considerate and polite - old folks are offered seats on buses/trains, everybody queues, nobody talks too loudly

- it's a shopping paradise - anything that you can think of (or can't think of), you can buy it in Tokyo

- food/product quality standards are so high - i've never had a lousy meal, or bought a lousy product in Tokyo

- japanese people are creative - nothing is impossible, nothing is too weird for them.

- everything is within easy reach in this compact city - arts, culture, shopping, dining, parks, scenery, architecture

- the weather is great - not too cold, not too hot and the seasonal changes bring about the most beautiful nature scenaries even in the concrete city - sakura/ume seasons, autumn leaves etc

I'll be providing some Tokyo travel tips in my subsequent stay tuned.