「花見」 – Hanami (Cherry Blossom viewing)

Sumida Park

Well, the first day was kind of rough. I arrived at Narita Airport around 7.15am and immediately decided to exchange the JR Exchange Order with the actual JR Rail Pass. For those of you who didn’t know, JR Rail Pass allows you to travel using any kind of JR train system, including Shinkansen (as long as it’s not the special Nozomi train).

This pass has definitely saved me a lot of money since it’s practically impossible to go on your own in Japan without using the train most of the time. Of course, later on I found out that I still need to buy the Passnet ticket to use the subways since that area is not covered by JR.

Anyway, if you intend to go to Japan on your own (as in without tour guide or anyone to guide you), then I’d recommend that you convert some of your money into Japanese Yen. I can’t emphasize this enough for first-time visitors to Japan. Don’t believe anyone who said that you can find an ATM to withdraw money easily from your bank account.

The only ATM that most overseas visitors can use is Post office’s ATMs which are quite difficult to find. If you’ve been here before, you might be able to find the location of the ATM that accepts foreign card easily. But for a first timer, it’s a nightmare to find. This is especially bad on the weekend because the Post Office, which will normally allow you to withdraw money from your foreign account, is closed.

LanternSakuraSakura House

Because I couldn’t find an ATM that accepts my bank card, I ended up running from one area to another while carrying 3 luggage. Yes, it was very painful. Somehow, however, I managed to find the energy to walk over to a local park near the hostel where I am staying. The park, which is called Sumida Park just happens to have a Hanami celebration.

Everyone and their mother can be seen having picnic underneath the Sakura trees. I have to say that I had never seen anything like a Cherry Blossom. To say that it’s beautiful is an understatement. I still can’t believe that I get to see something like this.

I always thought that CLAMP exaggerates those sakura petals in their manga/anime so I was really surprised when I found myself being enveloped by these petals. When these petals fall, they do fall by bucketloads. The sensation of being covered by petals as you walk has to be seen yourself to be believed.

The petals are not the only thing to enjoy around this place. There are various stalls around the area selling the usual festival kind of foods such as Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, Chocolate-covered Banana, and Matcha (Green Tea) Ice cream.

Sakura Petals and LeafTakoyaki sellerToire

After wondering around the park taking photographs for 2+ hours, I decided to go back to the hostel because my body still hasn’t recovered from the jetlag and the ‘fun’ adventure where I got to find that elusive ATM. The room in the hostel is quite comfy. There is a cable TV in the place but the only anime I managed to see are the kiddy kind such as Zoids, Pretty Cure so I didn’t pay that much interest in them.


9 Comments so far

  1. Lyna April 10th, 2005 10:14 am

    Wow, everything looks so beautiful. Can’t wait to see more pictures =)

  2. Mianah April 10th, 2005 1:36 pm

    Wahhh….that looks so pretty!! I envy you so much for being able to experience that..!! T.T

    Glad to know you’ve arrived safely ^^ Everything looks so beautiful… ..O_O..

    I reccently saw some clips on sakura trees watching on a LA Vietnamese news program and I must say it looks STUNNING >_

  3. Mianah April 10th, 2005 1:39 pm

    By the way Menouthis-san, what camera do you use? O_O Your pictures are so vivid and clear >_

  4. Melissa April 10th, 2005 2:59 pm

    Those Sakura tree’s are so pretty, I love flowers. I also thought that manga/ anime exaggerated on those kind of things, but I guess we were both wrong ^_^U this is encourging me to want to go even more….let’s just hope I remember to pack a tour guide, lol, until next time.

  5. Menouthis April 10th, 2005 3:03 pm

    Mianah, the camera that I used is Canon Powershot A95. I’m glad the pictures look good. I have a hard time telling once I put them on my laptop since my monitor’s laptop has a rather bad lighting.

  6. Dan April 10th, 2005 4:59 pm

    Good to hear you’ve arrived safely. It sounds beautiful. Great pictures too. So you bought a new camera then?

  7. Menouthis April 10th, 2005 6:14 pm

    Yeah, I did. I can’t fit in my Sony camera into my already tight bag.

  8. oldcrow April 10th, 2005 9:36 pm

    Speaking as one who went to Japan for a “few weeks” in 1988 and ended up staying for nearly six years, perhaps the following is of use to you. Of course some of it may be out of date…

    ATM: If you had a CITIBANK account, then yes, ATMing money was a cinch. Not so simple for other domestic-USA banks. Citibank in Japan imploded over an accounting scandal a couple of years ago, so I doubt they’re still there–at least under the Citibank name. Your best bet today is probably to cash-advance from a (non-debit) credit card, or travelers cheques. I would usually exchange at the post office. No idea if things have changed. 15 years ago, a curious form of arbitrage happened over the fact that the exchange rates posted at the banks and at the post offices were updated at different times (an hour apart). You could convert a bunch of dollars to yen, make a mad dash to the bank, and exchange the yen back into USD for a profit. Run back to the post office, exchange…and so on til the hour was up. I knew a few folks back then that practically did this for a living. No idea if it still is going on today. Back then, the post office gave your the fairest exchange rate for dollars to yen.

    Transportation: OK, you have the JR pass. Cool. Most useful thing you have besides the passport. As you already have noticed, you should get the underground pass, too. Eventually I had to start paying standard fares once I had a work visa–$115 per shinkansen run down to Osaka (and another $115 back) is no fun, although for commuters the “repeater” ticket was nice.

    Speaking of transportation, get out of the city and up into the mountains whenever possible. A favorite weekend of mine would be a shinkansen/rapid trip up to Nikko, then up into the mountains to one of the hot springs resorts. These places were typically Y9800/night but were very nice resorts. Take the bus up to the lake along a switchback route, look down the side of the mountain, and marvel at how the bus driver manages to drive that route. ;) Might as well see the Tokugawa shrine, too. Escapes into the mountains were particularly nice during the rainy season as the sea level climate is just wretched.

    Food: revelation #1: you can actually live off the food at their conbenis. This was pretty much my diet for the first three months, until I’d sorted out what places I liked (in Higashi-Nakano, then later Saitama). That, and Mosburger fries. Once I’d tried the recommended places, I had a short list of favorites for sushi, steak, ramen, udon and the like. A pity I can’t remember the names now. Except for one bar in Higashi-Nakano: “Old Crow.” Since it was my nickname already, I just had to frequent the place. It was some sort of english-basement type pub.

    Revelation #2: McD’s in Japan still used beef fat for their apple pies and fries. Eventually I cut out the fries alltogether, but I probably represent 10% ofthe GNP on apple pies while there. ;) Revelation 2.5: KFC there had these rice curry balls with chicken in the middle. They need to have such things in the states!

    Of course everything in Japan can be had out of a vending machine, although for some reason the number of Dydo machines in the greater Tokyo area that sold pink grapefruit juice could be counted on one hand.
    On occasion you would encounter some ‘biergarten’ that would pop up on park grounds. Most of these were 1) cheap 2) excellent food. The beer was OK, I guess, but then I don’t drink beer, I drink Guinness. ;)

    Shopping for loot: I have this little paperback book, “The otaku shopping guide” I bought in 1992 or so, back when LDs were your video media of choice. I’d buy LDs, box sets, manga, whatnot and ship the stuff via EMS back to the states. The guide had all the usual places: Mandarake, Animate, Pony Toy (gone now, I think), Liberte and other shops in Akihabara..etc. I usually rolled a loot foray for electronic gadgets and anime stuff into one trip per month as getting the stuff back to the house was a general PITA. It is probably all changed now, but one could get off the Yamanote-sen at Akibahara, duck in the Ghibli store there in the station, go down to the street level and have some decent curry in a shop under the tracks, then delve into the catacombs hunting for parts. (Note: always buy the light stuff first!) Then it was time to head down the street and into the anime shops with the occasional look into various tech stores.
    This tended to take several hours. Make sure you’re prepared for most everything to promptly close at 7PM. A stop at the coffee shop above the catacombs for some caffiene, then onto the train with (by the end of my stay, I was using an aluminum flight case on wheels!) the goods.

    I wonder if taxis are still as hard to find now as it was then. Those, and public trashcans. Oh, and if the public restrooms that commonly feature ‘slipper’ toilets are too much of a hassle, just find a handicapped stall. Although, the restaurants seemed to favor the western toilet.

    OK, I’ve typed too long…it is just I can write for hours on this stuff. Have a great time. Don’t forget to er, study. ;)

  9. Tisha April 10th, 2005 10:15 pm

    Love all the pictures! Also, thanks for the little tips about Japan. I’m going to Tokyo in a month so they’re very helpful.

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