Tokyo Disneyland was much the same as Disney World in Florida (I’ve never been to California’s Disneyland, so I can’t compare). It was comfortable to navigate, even without Japanese; all sales transactions and the like were handled with ease. I didn’t have any sort of issues/emergencies, so I don’t know how well equipped they are to handle something like that in a foreign language, but I imagine they’re at least competent.
The rides and attractions were largely the same as at Disney World. There were a few differences: There’s a Western Land “Shooting Gallery” (I didn’t go to this), a Westernland Picture Parlor, where you can dress up in western style outfits (Western here meaning cowboys and such), Pinnochio’s Daring Journey (also skipped this…I think it’s along the same type of track ride as Snow White’s Adventures or Peter Pan’s Flight), Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin (a kid ride, skipped it), Chip n Dale’s Treehouse (a house for kids to climb through), Donald’s Boat (similar, for children), Goofy’s Paint n Play House (Also skipped this, it’s in Toontown…the description says, “Use the special paint applicators to help Goofy redecorate the room”, I’m not sure what that actually entails, but I bet it’s not as fun as it sounds), Monsters Inc. Hide and Go Seek (skipped), Captain EO…a 3D Michael Jackson film, SKIPPED, and Star Jets, in which you ride a rocket very slowly in a circle, and you can control how high or low you fly. There’s also a kids’ roller coaster in Toontown called Gadget’s Go Coaster, that was quite fun. It’s a kiddie coaster, but it’s fast and fun with a lot of dips and quick turns.
Some attractions/shows are available with English subtitles, but most aren’t. I went to see Mickey’s Philharmagic 3D, a show with a lot of classic Disney songs weaved throughout the show. It was actually really interesting and enjoyable to hear those songs in Japanese, and Mickey’s “Arigatoo, arigatoo” at the end of the show was super cute.
I would say the largest difference is the food selection. Food here is quite Japanese…expect to be a little disappointed by the churros at the food stalls, expect strange flavors of popcorn (curry, for example), the pizza is Japanese-style, there are spring roll carts, etc. There is some Western food available also, but from what I ate while I was there…don’t expect it to taste like normal American food.
Another difference is the souvenirs which are offered. They’re, again, mostly the same, but there are a few things that specify “Tokyo Disneyland” on them, or seem to be specifically Japanese. For instance, there are floor cushions for sale (which Japanese people use to sit on tatami floors), key chains with Mickey and Minnie in kimonos, school folders which show Minnie dressed up geisha-style, handkerchiefs with Japanese patterns on them, etc.
I’d pretty much always recommend a trip to Disney, to anyone. It’s the happiest place ever, after all. The staff at Tokyo Disneyland and the experience itself were wholly pleasant. Everyone was very polite and happy. The lines were long, but not what I would classify as insane. I went on a weekend in summer, and it was comparable to a day at Disney World during spring break (but it wasn’t as bad as Easter Sunday). If you want to go to Tokyo Disneyland during a summer weekend, I’d definitely recommend grabbing Fastpasses ASAP for whichever rides/attractions are a priority for you.
A trip to the beach is a non-negotiable for me during summer. A lake-beach will do, but an ocean-beach is a treat (considering I’m from Wisconsin). My friends and I decided to take a trip to Oarai (oh-ah-rye), which is the closest beach to our city in Gunma. It’s about 3 hours on the train, 3 hours on the non-toll roads (which we opted for, since we’re poor) and about an hour and a half on the toll roads.
The beach itself was probably underwhelming, as far as beaches go. The pros: It’s a beach, it’s an ocean-beach, it wasn’t so crowded that we were on top of other people, there was a tourist center across the road with helpful brochures (if you read Japanese) and even more helpful toilets and vending machines (any language will do for these amenities). The cons: The city was built up right along the beach, so scenery wasn’t whimsically nautical or anything, the water was cold (about the same as Lake Michigan in summer…so calf-deep is about all most people would want), the sand was brown (not cute brown…is there cute brown sand?), and the Indian men were desperate and determined. I’m unsure of why Indian men are so forward and persistent…are they like this in India? Do their women go for that? Do they think that their behavior is at all appropriate ever? Or are they just shameless bastards? I don’t have the answers yet and I’m not motivated to conduct any in depth research.
All in all, I’m glad we took the trip out there, since I’ll happily settle for just about any beach (provided it isn’t made of spiders or something equally horrific), but I can’t recommend it as a tourist draw. If you’re desperate for beach or to get out of Gunma though, it will do quite nicely.
In my opinion, Kinkaku-ji is a bit overrated. If you go there expecting to see the outside of a golden temple and take a short stroll around a pond and some gardens, then you will not be disappointed. I simply didn’t find a three story Buddhist temple covered in gold leaf to be that compelling. Seeing the sun hit a golden building is somewhat impressive, I’ll grant you, but there seemed to be no artistry to the gold leaf. It was just solid. It looked as though it had been spray painted on. One of the things that Kinkaku-ji is supposed to exemplify is how Zen Buddhist temples harmoniously blend into their surrounding environment…
It’s a bright golden building in the middle of a less than idyllic pond. Err….what?
It’s not a bad place. It’s good for a stroll. The gardens are gardens. There’s the obligatory green tea and souvenirs. It’s tolerable pretty. It’s just not jaw dropping majestic. Perhaps my expectations were too high for it. It’s alright. If you’re in Kyoto, you should probably see it.
Kodai-ji is another temple just down the mountainside street from Kiyomizu-dera and in the Higashiyama District, talked about in the previous post. Kodai-ji is worth a visit because it offers a few experiences which not every run of the mill temple in Japan has to offer. A large zen garden (with raked stones) is worth seeing, at least once when you’re in Japan. The other garden the temple has to offer is a “tsukiyama style garden”…which from what I can tell seem to resemble normal non-flower gardens: rocks, ponds, hills, trees, done, though the 16th century landscape artist who designed the gardens was a fairly big deal. There are two tea houses in the complex, a santcuary with a small shrine with impressive lacquer work (the finest lacquer work of the period, actually, which incorporates designs in gold; unfortunately you’re not allowed to take pictures inside the buildings), and several other buildings, including a mausoleum. The artwork and gardens are absolutely worth seeing and talking a stroll through, and most of the buildings in the complex you can actually go inside and walk around in, which is a nice change from most historic sites in Japan, in which most of the building is only viewable, and not walkable. (You will need to take off your shoes to enter these buildings).
The buildings date from different times, because of several fires over the years. The oldest are from the early 17th century, and the most recent was rebuilt in the early 20th century. Kodai-ji is named after a noble woman, Kita-no-Mandokoro (her honorary name was Kodai-in) who became a Buddhist nun after her husband died.
More information on Kodai-hi is available here, including hours, admission fees, and a map!
Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist Temple (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) that was founded in 780, though the current structures were built in 1633, including the Niomon (2-storied gate), Sanjunoto (3 storied pagoda), a bell tower and the two main halls.
“Kiyomizu” means “pure water” and the temple is named for the waterfall which flows on the eastern side of the main sanctuary. Visitors can go to the base of the waterfall (which lets out in a stone basic, though whole thing is very constructed ….this is not like a rustic jungle waterfall or something. The waterfall is divided into three separate streams, the water for each is supposed to grant something different: longevity, a good love life, and success in school. Visitors can use cups on wooden sticks to catch the water from the three streams and drink it to receive the “benefits”. Drinking from all three streams, however, is considered greedy and in poor form. The wood of the temple is crafted in such a way that not a single nail is used in the structure. The temple offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountainside and of Kyoto, particularly in spring and fall, when the temple almost seems to be floating in a sea of cherry blossoms or red maple leaves in spring/fall respectively.
I’d consider Kiyomizu-dera the best thing I saw in Kyoto, as far as temples/shrines go, because of the fantastic views, the expansive and varied temple complex, and its proximity to the Higashiyama district, one of the best preserved historic districts in Kyoto.
Higashiyama caters heavily to tourists, offering a variety of restaurants, cafes, pottery shops, clothing stores, souvenir shops, and specialty shops with local sweets, pickles (Japanese people seem to pickle everything), and crafts. Though the stretch of narrow road down the mountainside from Kiyomizudera through Higashiyama is only about 2km long, it’s quite easy to spend a few hours wandering the area. Yasaka Pagoda, 5 stories tall, is also along this street, and visitors can actually climb the stairs inside (usually pagodas can only be viewed from the outside).
Other attractions in the Higashiyama district include: Kodai-ji Temple (which I visited and will be covered in a separate entry), Yasaka Shrine (ditto), and Maruyama Park. More information on Higashiyama, as well as a map, can be found here: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3959.html
The Yasaka pagoda is open 10:00-4:00, every day of the year, and costs 400 yen (about $4). Kiyomizudera is open from 6:00-6:00, every day of the year, and costs 300 yen. The shops of Higashiyama generally close at about the same time as the surrounding temples, though stay open later during the spring and fall when “Illuminations” are held at Kiyomizudera.
More information on Kiyomizudera can be found here: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3901.html
Fujisan was definitely the most beautiful and breathtaking sight I’ve seen so far in Japan. It may even be my top natural sight that I’ve seen anywhere in the world (Notre Dame is my top man-made sight). I would classify it as a “Must See” if you’re in Japan and have an even remote appreciation for nature.
Fujisan is 12,388 ft, making it pretty damn impressive (though, for perspective, there are some peaks in the Rockies that rise into the 14,000-something territory). I think (having seen both the Colorado Rockies and Fujisan) that it appears more impressive because of its shape and the fact that it’s essentially standing alone. There are other mountains in the area, but it stands alone in the fact that no other mountains are garbled onto it. You can clearly see its mostly smooth, nearly symmetrical, sloping outline and it’s volcanic conical top. It makes it more beautiful, and seem more gargantuan, than any mountain I’ve seen before.
Fujisan is one of Japan’s 3 Holy Mountains (note that it’s called “Fuji-“san”, and not “Fuji”-“yama”, which is the normal suffix for mountain; “-san”is more respectful). Next year it will become a Cultural World Heritage Sight. Mt. Fuji is an active volcano (and as of early 2013 has been even MORE active…eek) but it last erupted in the early 18th century.
We took a bus tour up to the fifth station, which is at about the tree line, and as high as you can go by vehicle and during the spring. In the summer you can hike up to the summit, but those trails are closed in May. At the fifth station there are souvenir shops (where you can buy what I believe is canned air from the summit) and restaurants and a small museum, as well as picturesque views of the summit and the surrounding valleys and mountains.
We also stopped at a park with beautiful pink flowers (“ground” sakura? was the translation I got from my Japanese-speaking friend), and gorgeous views of Mt. Fuji. There were of course numerous food stalls open here as well, as seems to be the case anywhere in Japan that may have tourists. (You will seriously never go hungry in this country).
So, if I had to wrap this up with one resound piece of advice, it would be GO TO MT. FUJI. It’s awesome. You won’t regret it, even if you end up spending a little more money on a sightseeing tour than you wanted.