For those who don't know, pachinko is a like a Japanese form of slot machines or pokies or whatever you call gambling machines. Being Japanese, it has to be way more advanced yet way more antiquated than gambling machines elsewhere. There also have to be a heap of stupid rules.Read More
If you are learning a foreign language, like Japanese, going to karaoke is good way to get practice. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m just thinking that because I’d rather faff off to karaoke and sing Arashi songs than do real study – but then again, if I wasn’t doing that, I’d just be faffing off playing spider solitaire or posting on facebook anyway so at least I’m doing something, right.
I think this would work for any Asian language since there seems to be a huge amount of Asian songs available. If you are studying a non-Asian language, like say Bulgarian, you might be out of luck. Or maybe there are a heap of Bulgarian karaoke boxes that I just don’t know about.Read More
Say you're planning a trip to Tokyo. You do your research and read up all the guidebooks and blogs. There's one problem with that though. The information you get is out of date and could even be completely wrong.
Things in Tokyo move slow. Until they move, then they seem to move really fast. I've been travelling here at least once a year for the past eight years and there have been some massive changes in that time.Read More
I often fly Jetstar, mainly because they offer direct flights between Melbourne and Tokyo. So worth it not to have a stopover.
A few times I've received a email from them before my flight saying I've been selected for an upgrade to business class. The upgrade is, of course, a paid thing and not a freebie. I've either not taken them up on the offer or have not been close to my computer to do it in time before but, for this trip, when I got the email I figured why not?Read More
I arrived in Tokyo and almost straight away caught a cold. This is becoming predictable. Why do I always catch colds as soon as I get to Tokyo? I know flying puts you at risk but I've caught a ton of flights lately and this is the first cold I've caught.
So, that's meant I've not done much. The TV in my Airbnb doesn't work that well so I couldn't even watch that -- and they were showing repeats of Hana Yori Dango on the weekend!
My Airbnb has been great though. I'm staying in Jiyugaoka. I actually changed my accommodation booking about 10 times. It's school hols and cherry blossom season so prices have been insane. I finally found this place for a reasonable (under $50 a night) price. The hosts are so lovely, they even left me some food when they found out I was sick. I wanted to rebook for when I return in June but it's already booked out, damn it.
I flew in on a Peach Airlines fight from Seoul that landed at 1am. Because transport is sparse at that time of night, I stayed at First Cabin at Haneda (an upmarket capsule type place). I'll do a full review later but tbh, wasn't impressed.
The main chore I wanted to get done here was sort out Arashi fan club membership stuff. I did that, even got a staff member who was lovely to do deal with (first time ever) and she gave me a Sakurai Sho poster. Woohoo!
Got to catch up with friends and even managed to get some karaoke done. Do you have any idea how hard it is to score a karaoke room when it's school holidays/public holiday? It's insane.
I was tempted to head to Shin Okubo to get me some Korean food, then realised I'm spending the next three months in Seoul.
In non-travel news, my sister and I have organised to have all our stuff taken out of storage and delivered to my Mum's place. My mum has had a mountain of bad health since I left the country (no connection, I hope), so my sister is staying with her much longer than expected. That means when I get home in July, all my stuff will be there. I'll have so many outfit chioices, I'll not cope!
Even after travelling to Japan a number of times (I can't even remember how many), there are still things I'm discovering to make life easier.
Lawsons convenience store has drinkable coffee. Family Mart convenience store has these drip coffee things (like a little box that you sit on your cup and pour water through). I'm not saying these options are the best ones out there. I'm not saying it's great coffee. But, in a dire pinch, it will get you through. There are many other convenience store coffee options but these are pretty much the only ones that won't have you wanting to pull out your taste buds.
Takkyubin! It's amazing. I've raved about takkyubin before -- you take your luggage to your hotel desk or the desk at the airport or even a convenience store and it gets delivered for you. No lugging it on overcrowded trains or through stations were no one will get the fuck out of your way and there is no elevator. But, even better, you can get delayed delivery. I'd always suspected as much but could find NOTHING on any of the web sites.
So, what does that mean? If, for example, you flew into Tokyo for a week then had a week of travelling around -- a night here and a night there on your JR Pass -- before heading to say Kyoto for a week or so, you could pack a small bag for that week of bumming around while getting your main luggage shipped. You travel free and easy.
Easy Airport Access
I discovered this by accident but, if you stay at a reasonably priced hotel,make sure it's near a more upmarket, fancy hotel. That way, instead of struggling through multiple train changes to get to the airport, you can just walk the half a block or so to the fancy hotel and catch the limousine bus to the airport.
Note: you can look on a map or transport planning app and think your route to the airport is going to be trouble free but more often than not, when you get to the subway station you can have a pretty darn substantial walk between the stations (up to a km). Similarly, your accommodation might be "near" a subway but a 2 minute walk to the subway might mean a 2 minute walk to the subway station entrance with a significant walk underground to the actual platform.
As i've mentioned, after my Airbnb experiences in Tokyo, i'd not use them again unless I knew the place was okay - ie. that it had been recommended by someone I trust or I'd stayed there before. It's unfortunate, because I do like having a whole apartment, but I don't want to experience turning up to a place to have it significantly different to the listing on the site (and filthy) again.
For longer term stays of over a month, I've found Sakura House really good and would definitely use them again. For shorter term, I think a hotel is the best option. My sister and I are thinking about picking one reasonably priced hotel chain (our last stay was at APA and we really liked them but there are others like Toyoko Inn) and signing up for their loyalty program so we get all the advantages.
Oh, and one small but important thing about Japanese hotels -- make sure they have year round airconditioning! I've stayed at a few places that turn the airconditioning off in winter and my room has gotten unbearably stuffy and hot.
- I moved out of the Airbnb in Chiba earlier. I said last week it creeped me out, well after I'd decided to check out, I was going to the toilet one night and, as I walked past the bathroom, I got a really strong whiff of like man sweat. It was even weirder because she had a kerosene heater and stored the kerosene in the hallway near the bathroom so that tends to overpower anything else. I don't get easily creeped out but, when I do, I find it really hard to sleep or function.
- i've also been finding it really hard to shake off this cold. I think I'm almost better now.
- Last Monday, I ran a big promo for one of my books. I sold buckets of books and sales are still going strong. If I'm frugal, I could easily survive the next 6 months on what I've made (very frugal).
- Writing is not happening. I've been trying but not hard enough obviously. Once I get to Thailand, it's going to be butt in chair until the word count is where I want it to be.
- Have you had places you want to go? Not the big ticket things but a cafe you've always meant to try out or places like that? Whenever I've caught the Sobu line train in Tokyo, I've looked at the Canal Cafe and thought I'd like to go there one day. Well, the other day, I made that a reality. It's about 10 minutes walk from my hotel so no excuses. My verdict -- it's lovely to go somewhere in Tokyo with an outdoor deck and nice scenery. My muffin was a bit stale though and the coffee was average.
- Today, I went for a walk and ended up at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. I've never been there before and figured it was worth having a look. Since it's Coming of Age day in Japan, there were quite a few visitors. There was also some kind of samurai type thing happening. I had no idea what it was about, people in traditional clothes doing stuff with swords -- just poses not actual killing.
I'd say it's more interesting than most shrines in Japan. It is on a much more grand scale. There was a very cool market with lots of old stuff in the walkway up to the shrine.
Ironically, you can apply to have private worship there, including the removal of evil spirits. I doubt that there are many spirits as evil as the war criminals buried there.
A new "first" for me this week -- I drove a car in a foreign country for the first time.
I've never really felt the need to drive when I travel. Most places I go have great public transport and, since I travel alone, the cost and bother of renting a car isn't worth it. But, I'd been to Kochi before and knew it wouldn't be so easy so my sister and I rented a car. I love in Japan that you can rent a car for a short period of time. We booked it for 8 hours which meant no bother about finding a hotel with parking.
It was all pretty simple really, apart from me leaving my international driver's licence at the hotel and having to run back and get it.
Because we had the car, we could head out of town to the Sakamoto Ryoma wax museum. I'd not been there before because it seemed like a a lot of bother but the drive was easy. Well easy-ish. I was expecting it to be much more tacky than it was. Still, it's a wax museum and totally creepy.
The wax museum is in a place called ACT Land, which is a bunch of random museums in one complex. When we arrived, an old man with a pen light directed us down this very narrow road with a deep ditch on one side to the car park. Totally scary driving and, once we got to the car park, we could've totally entered from the main road. Plus we were the only car parked there. Note: there were at least three old men with pen lights working in the empty car park. So Japan.
As well as the random museums, the place had a weird playground thing going on and a bulldog!
That night, we went to a restaurant with katsuo and clacker dancing. Woohoo!
The katsuo tuna in Kochi is so super delicious. It's seared over a hay fire then served with yuzu, rock salt and other stuff. We ate so much of it I had a sore mouth from the salt and yuzu for days. But I'd do it all again.
We'd actually walked by the place the night before and seen photos of the clacker dance (not the real name for it and not the kind of clacker dance you'd get in some areas of Bangkok) so decided to go back. After a few hours, we thought we missed out and asked for the check. The staff told us to wait a little while.
I'm like a 5 year old child -- happy with anything that makes a loud noise. So, when they handed out the clackers to everyone, I was darn pleased.
The next day, we headed to Tokyo. For the first part of the trip - Kochi to Okayama -- we had the Anpanman train! Woohoo!
So, after many hours of travel, we arrived in Chiba. The Tokyo-Chiba leg was the worst part of the trip, which makes sense considering it wasn't on a shinkansen or Anpanman train.
So then we had the whole Airbnb nightmare. Because we wanted to get out of there, STAT, well, faster than STAT, I booked the first place I could find online. We ended up at the APA Hotel in Kudanshita which I cannot recommend highly enough. The only criticism of the place was that my single room was a bit squishy for a five day stay. My sister had a small double though and that was tops. The staff were awesome, the rooms were great and it had the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in. In future, all other beds will be judged by that one.
As a bonus, we were 10 minutes walk from Tokyo Dome for the Arashi concerts!
The Christmas Eve concert was tops. After being to concerts at all five domes, the atmosphere in Tokyo is a whole different thing to anywhere else. People are just more pumped and ready to have fun. In Fukuoka, I felt at times like I couldn't cheer too loud because no one else was but no risk of that in Tokyo.
We also went to the last night, December 27th. We'd debated going or not but the last night is always special and I'm really pleased I went.
So, after 10 concerts and 5 domes, I thought I'd be sad to see the end of it but I really felt like I'd had sufficient concerts. Not too much, just the right amount.
Then they announced an arena tour! The same concert (Japonsim), I think, but at smaller regional venues!
So tempting but I think the tickets will be VERY expensive. Very, very out of my budget. I am going to ballot for tickets through the fan club but, if I don't get them, I'm not going to make the scalpers rich. I will be in Seoul when some of the concerts are on so it's not like it's a huge distance to travel.
Anyway, after the concerts, we moved again. Initially, my sister and I had planned to stay in the hell Airbnb in Chiba while she was in Tokyo then I'd move to another place in Chiba once she left. But then she decided to stay for NYE so she is here with me. The second Chiba Airbnb is nowhere near as bad as the first one but still very disappointing. The listing did not mention the host lived in the apartment and just went somewhere else during our stay. The place is cluttered and grubby (is bad housekeeping a Chiba thing?) and it seemed like she'd just walked out of the place, leaving it as is. The fridge was full of her food, the bins were full.
We both have bad colds now so have not being doing much but sleeping the past few days.
Note: sometimes, when I write about Airbnb experiences, it turns people off using the site but remember, I have been travelling for over 6 months and have stayed in a lot of Airbnbs. Some of them really lovely and great experiences, others -- like this one -- not so great.
Note 2: This is probably not the worst place on Airbnb. I've seen some rough places on there but, if people are honest up front about that, then it's fine. Some travellers just want a place to chuck down a sleeping bag with a roof over their heads.
I don't even know where to start with this. My sister booked the listing and she was the one who has had to deal with the host. Even before we arrived, the host acted weird. She told us she stored her supplies for the other apartments she rents out in the apartment we were renting and needed to come in and get sheets. The ONLY time she could do that was at 11am on December 25th. Yes, you read that date right. Just before lunch on Christmas Day.
We didn't want her going into the apartment while we weren't there and we had Christmas lunch plans we didn't want to change. Those solutions included her accessing the apartment for the two days before we arrived, when the place was empty. She started sending multiple emails a day, ranting about her shit and not at all willing to compromise. Reading between the lines, it seemed she'd had guests use the apartment, having booked for 2 people but with 4 people staying there. And she thought we were doing the same thing and wanted to check up on us.
She constantly told us she has a medical condition that meant she could only come on the date and time she wanted! I have no idea what medical condition that would be. My sister also has a medical condition -- and it is not helped by her being constantly harassed.
We contacted Airbnb and they straightened everything up. Then we got an email from the host saying that we'd made things bad for her and she'd had to miss an appointment at the hospital, blah blah blah. I'm not sure why, in those 2 days she had access to the apartment, she could only go at the same time as her appointment but not much she said made sense by then.
So, after a long, long train ride from Kochi to Chiba, we arrived at the apartment.
Okay, my biggest mistake was opening the door to that apartment, smelling it and not leaving immediately -- before the cab driver took off. But we had organised to have one of our bags sent by takkyubin directly to the apartment from Hiroshima and needed to wait around for that.
This is the listing on Airbnb -- https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4656074
This is what the place looked like when we got there:
The place had been used to store all her junk, including the tied up china cabinet (that was not in the photos on the listing). The first photo, second row down, shows what was under the rice cooker when I moved it! The other picture on the second row is the sink -- it had a hole in it (caused by a previous tenant, according to her) and she'd taped over it. How do you even make a hole in a metal sink?
The handwritten notes were on everything! Multiple notes saying the same thing and giving instructions like - if you use the kitchen, clean up after yourself.
There was a toaster oven with a note not to use it. There were even instructions on the toilet lid on using the toilet!
The pictures do not show the smell or the layer of grime on things. My sister said on the bed, almost catatonic, while I checked the apartment out. At first, I thought I could give the place a clean and make it good enough to stay in but even the cleaning clothes were gross. I'd have had to go to the supermarket and replace them all. Our payment had included a $75 cleaning fee.
After I'd poked around, my hands felt disgusting. I was too scared to use the bathroom in case things got worse but luckily my sister had anti-bacterial wipes in her bag.
Even though it was a freezing night, we had every window open to get rid of the smell. The musty smell got better but was replaced by an underlying smell of gross.
My sister's bed was as hard as a rock. When she first said that, I told her all Japanese beds are hard. Then I tried it. And she was right. The floor was softer than that bed. I have no idea how a bed could even be that hard (the reviews said the beds were "comfortable", I guess that is personal preference but there is a limit surely!).
To me, $75 in cleaning fees would be 3 hours of cleaning @ $25 an hour. The apartment looked like it had not had 3 hours cleaning all year!
I got on Booking.com and booked us into a hotel for a couple of nights while we worked out what we were doing (we'd booked for 5 nights and ended up extending the hotel stay to cover that period).
All that happened on the 23rd. We've contacted Airbnb but have not heard back from them as yet. I'm not sure if that is because of Christmas or what.
To be honest, I don't know what to think. if you look at the listing linked above, the place looks great and the reviews are good. There were a few reviews, either on this apartment or one of her others, saying it was a "bit dirty". To me, a bit dirty is maybe not dusting so well or even a couple of plates on the sink not washed up. There is a world of difference between a bit dirty and filthy.
I've found every Airbnb I've had issues with (this is the third), has had great reviews. I guess, I wouldn't book it otherwise. I'm not sure if those people are lying, they just have zero fucks to give because their stay is over, especially if it's just a few days, or if there is something dodgy going on. This host has tried to emotionally blackmail us with her "medical condition" but, to me, that's not my issue at all. We were charged the same rate as other apartments in the area, probably above average after the fees were added on.
I know that after you stay in an Airbnb apartment, you are asked to review to give feedback to your host. To me, this is entirely the wrong emphasis and reviews should be aimed at giving an honest picture to future potential guests. Yeah, you can give private feedback to the host but the public review should be for the public. People get too caught up in being "nice guys" to their host when they write reviews rather than being honest.
I like using the Airbnb site. Most of the time it's convenient to be able to prebook a place before I arrive and a lot of hosts take real pride in ensuring their properties are clean and pleasant. But, experiences like this cost me not just money but time. Once you arrive at a place and there are huge problems, you are left with booking something last minute, moving all your stuff and the stress of dealing with it all.
ETA: Airbnb refunded the money we paid for the apartment but no further compensation.
When we had the initial issues before check in, the girl my sister dealt with said to email her back if we had any further issues and, if she hadn't heard in 48 hours, she'd consider the matter resolved.
When we got to the apartment and realised it was impossible to stay there, my sister emailed her back. We didn't get a response for a few days. The girl my sister had dealt with had gone on holidays and didn't get her email until after her Christmas time off.
She's now saying we should've gone through the "correct procedures" on the site and, because we didn't, we can't get any further compensation . Even though she was the one who said to email her back.
She also said we should've tried to resolve it with the host. The host who'd been emailing my sister so often, it was become harassment.
Even with the refund, we are out of pocket $350 with what we had to pay for a hotel. We tried to book somewhere as cheap as possible but it was the Christmas weekend. Nowhere is going to be that cheap.
On top of that, we had all the mucking around with having to find a place last minute and the stress of dealing with it all. We also had to go back to the apartment to pick up our suitcase which cost money and time. That was our choice -- to leave it behind and pick it up later but the night we left, it was pouring with rain and we had no idea where the station was (we'd got a cab there).
My sister will never use Airbnb again. I've got a few places I've already booked but doubt I will use them after that, unless I have a personal recommendation or other guarantee that I'm not going to be stiffed.
Today I left Japan to spend a couple of weeks with my sister in Hong Kong. She's got a fancy apartment in the middle of the city - the photo above is the view from the balcony.
I've not really seen much except for the driver from the airport but Hong Kong is what I thought Tokyo would be like before I actually went to Tokyo.
So, this week's highlights:
- Meeting up with a friend on Wednesday to go to the Arashi bar in Osaka -- with okonimiyaki first, of course.
- Arashi concert on Thursday night. Awesome as always. You can buy Arashi MT in a different colour at each venue. I went early for the goods sales to get some -- it sells out fast. I waited in line for an hour then got around the corner of Kyocera Dome and realised I had at least another hour of lining up! Maybe two hours. I realised that I don't really care that much about masking tape.
- Friday I had one of the best massages of my life! If ever you are in Osaka, go to Bear Hug in Qs Mall. Not the cheapest massage around but you get what you pay for.
- Sunday, I went to a little izakaya near my apartment. I'd looked at the place a few times but hadn't gone in. Sometimes I just don't have the energy to play "gaijin". It was fantastic though. Cheese and chicken breast yakitori, cooking in foil (to keep the cheese in, I guess) -- OMFG yum.
I went to a co-working space this week. They are a great idea, in theory. I mean it's worth paying just to have a space with a proper ergonomic set up when I'm doing a lot of work on my laptop. That way I don't screw up my back. But then I think well I could get the same thing (without the free drinks) at the local library. Also, when you are sitting at a big communal table with a lot of random people, it's hard to write steamy scenes.
I flew to Hong Kong with Peach airlines. They are so cheap - it cost me around $150 AUD with the full options ticket (I'm sure it has some cutesy name) so I could take luggage and change my flight details if need be. I also got to select one of their "Pleasure" seats for free. I'm not sure where the pleasure came into it. I mean, it was an okay seat but I think the name sets up some expectations.
I quite like Peach airlines. They do sensible things like board people in window seats first. Since I always select an aisle seat and hate getting settled than having to unsettle myself, that works for me. One thing that irked me though is that they scan your checked bags before you check them. Not so bad in that I'd rather open and take stuff out of my bag myself than have some staff in the back do it. They are darn strict on batteries. Nearly an hour for bag drop, not check in just bag drop.