Thursday, November 24, 2011

Roppongi Hills

I went to Tokyo last weekend with a friend for a mini-vacation. Transport and accommodations were super cheap thanks to a great JR (Japan Rail) View package. The package included round-trip Shinkansen fare and a night's stay at an upscale (not business) hotel--in our case, the ANA Intercontinental Hotel in Roppongi.

Usually train fare from Shichinohe-Towada Station to Tokyo by itself is about 29,000yen (~$390 CAD) and the Ana Intercontinental starts from about 18,000 per night per room, but the package for both was 26,000yen!

Since the hotel was in Roppongi, we decided to do sightseeing around the area. I've never really had much of an interest in Roppongi mostly because of it's slightly seedy reputation as an ex-pat/foreigner trap. (I went to the Outback restaurant there once with some fellow JETs once, but that's about it.) However, other than the larger than usual number of hustlers on the street trying to drum up customers for clubs, etc., it wasn't really all that bad or even much different from other touristy parts of Tokyo at night.(Then again if I looked more obviously "foreign"perhaps my impression would have been different--like maybe the hustlers would've been aggressive/persistent.)

Anyway, we went around Roppongi Hills and were able to see a lot of things in a limited amount of time. Our timing was good since the streets were lit up for Christmas.
Our first stop (and one of the highlights of the trip for me) was "Le chocolat de H"a chocolaterie by the (apparently) famous Japanese confectioner Hironobu Tsujiguchi. (Japanese website:

It's definitely a place you go to splurge (a set of 3 chocolates matched to your choice of either coffee or black tea was maybe a little over 1000yen) but if you like chocolate and cakes it's worth it!

"maron" (chestnut) cake

chocolate soufle
After that we went to the Mori Art Museum, Mori Arts Center Gallery (Japanese only) and Tokyo City View (1800yen for admission to all three). The Art Museum had an exhibit on Metabolism: The City of the Future: Dreams and Visions of Reconstruction in Postwar and Present-Day Japan. It was interesting, but I don't really know much about architecture and the Metabolism style, while practical isn't particularly attractive to me.

I much preferred the The Dragon Quest Chronicle of a Quarter Century exhibit at the Mori Arts Center Gallery. Even though I've never really played the games, I enjoyed it because it was interactive. When you enter, you choose your character type--warrior 戦士, martial artist武関家, magician 魔法使い, or priest/cleric 僧侶--and get a quiz card to complete throughout the exhibit. If you answer the quiz questions correctly (the answers are fairly obvious) you get a small present when you leave! They also have a mini show/performance where audience members participate to fight and defeat a boss.
with my "martial artist" quiz card
quiz completion prize
Apart from the interactive aspects, the exhibit also brought back fond memories of old SNES (Super Nintendo) games like Chrono Trigger (same character designer, Akira Toriyama). It was also rather coincidental that there was a Dragonquest Exhibit on since prior to heading to Roppongi we had stopped by the Square-Enix Character Good Shop Showcase in Shinjuku and I had just been talking about how I love Final Fantasy but don't know much about Dragon Quest. (Ignorance about the games didn't stop me from buying a small "slime knight" stuffed toy and slimetower mechanical pencil, however.)
 After the Dragon Quest exhibit, we checked out the Tokyo night view from Tokyo City View. Unfortunately it was a rainy and slightly foggy night so it the view wasn't the greatest, but it was nice to be able to see Tokyo Tower and city lights.
By the time we left Tokyo City View, it was close to 11pm but it being Tokyo (and Roppongi) there were still plenty of places still open for dinner. We settled on a "spaghetti" place, "Spajiro"すぱじろう that was actually open until 8am. The interesting thing about the restaurant was that for the same price you could choose between a small, medium, or large portion of pasta. (I wasn't very hungry so we split a medium eggplant tomato sauce spaghetti and a tomato salad.) They also had a natto (with eggplant) spaghetti!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Art Station Towada - AST Grand Opening

Art Station Towada - AST Grand Opening
アートステーショントワダ エィエスティー (十和田市観光物産センター) オープニングイベント
Date: Fri. Nov. 25- Sun. Nov. 27, 2011
Time: 10:00-15:00
Place: Art Station Towada (on Old Rte. 4 (awning street) just south of the Aomori Bank, parking is on the west side between the Aomori Bank and JTB parking lots - see map)
Admission: Free
Events: presents ("art goods") for the first 50 visitors; free samples (mochi, juice, etc.); performance by nursery school children (Nov. 26 only); junior high school brass band performance (Nov. 26 & 27 only); etc.

AST General Information
Hours: Sun.-Sat. 9:00-19:00
Closed: New Year's Day (January 1)
Includes: tourist information center (観光案内); local produce/products shop (特産品販売); rest area (休憩スペース); food area?(厨房スペース literally means "kitchen space"), etc.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lake Towada Himemasu Festival

Towadako Himemasu* Matsuri 十和田湖ひめます祭り
(himemasu = kokanee, a landlocked variety of sockeye (red) salmon)
Date: November 5,6, 12 & 13, 2011
Time: 9:30-15:50
Location: Towadako-han Yasumiya Sanbashi-mae Hiroba (Lake Towada Yasumiya Plaza - in front of the pier) 十和田湖畔休屋 桟橋前広場
Admission: Free
Events: free ひめます汁 himemasu soup and hot apple juice (*limited to 500/day); shamisen & taiko performances; a 500yen sightseeing boat tour (湖上遊覧体験); etc. See the Yururira Towada site for a full event listing (in Japanese)