Tag Archives: japan

Capsule Hotel 101: Hacks & Etiquette

Thanks to the relaxed visa requirements enforced by Japan about two years ago, it has become easier and more convenient for Filipinos to enjoy Japan. The upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo, slated for next year, has also seen a boom in new AirBnB’s, new hostels and new hotels being built — in fact, one thing I noticed is there are also a lot of new capsule hotels, especially around the Taito (where Asakusa is) area.

Capsule hotels were formerly a novelty — first gaining prominence in the early aughts for overworked, sloshed salarymen who missed the last train home. While Tokyo (and Japan) is considerably safe that you can literally plonk yourself on a train station bench to get some zzzz’s; capsule hotels provide a temporary respite with a clean, sterile bed, a place to wash up and brush your teeth preparing the harried salaryman to another day at work.

When it first gained prominence, everyone was fixated on the novelty of it all: the cramped, tight spaces was the stuff of nightmares for claustrophobics everywhere. A close friend even compared it to sleeping in a coffin.

Well, lemme break it down for you. A capsule hotel or sleeping inside a pod is very far from being inside a coffin — think of it as your typical bunk bed when you were still dorming in university, or a mean cardboard fort you used to sleep when you were five.

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I finally got to experience what it’s like to sleep inside a pod during a recent trip to Nagoya and Hokkaido with my sister. Our flight to Nagoya arrived at almost 6AM; following midnight departure from Manila. We landed in Chubu Centrair International Airport, (which is Nagoya’s main air hub) hungry, sleepy and a bit cranky since we’ve both been up since the previous name. After a quick breakfast, we weighed our options given that check-in was still pegged at 2PM: a) we could slum it at the airport and leave at 1PM so we could be at the city in time for check-in; b) leave for the city right away, drop off our stuff at the hotel and explore Nagoya or c) sleep at the airport first, freshen up before heading to Nagoya at noon. Of course, we chose C.

The solution to our problem came in the form of Tube SQ, a sleek capsule hotel located at the Welcome Garden on the first floor of the Chubu Centrair Airport. The friendly receptionist advised us that we could avail of their promo rates if we will book online – so, we parked our butts on the beaches nearest the hotel and started booking online. While the standard 3 hours rate was at Y2,900 (roughly PHP1,450), we were not above taking advantage of the Y1,800 (PHP900) 3-hour stay online promo. So, in between smiles and fiddling through the Japanese-language website, my sister and I were able to secure pods which the receptionist then dutifully honored. In case you’re wondering, here are the standard pod rates for the capsule hotel:

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courtesy of Tube SQ

Upon check-in, you will show your passport to the receptionist for record-keeping, confirm payment online and collect the key from the reception. The “key” was actually two keys hanging from a nylon rubber-scrunchy type that you can wear on your wrist for safety. You have a key for the locker where you will keep your stuff and another key which you will use to open the door leading to the ladies’ sleeping area. Before you head inside, you can freely pick a hot towel or wet wipe, a toothbrush kit and even hair ties on the side table near the entrance.

The first door you will likely see in the entrance is the women’s locker room. This is where you will deposit your luggage, coat and other stuff you have with you; and then change to the yukata provided for you. In the photo above, it’s the red top and pants neatly folded inside the locker. When staying at a capsule hotel, you are not allowed to use your every day outside clothes inside the sleeping area, hence the yukata. You will also need to change into slippers, and leave your shoes inside the locker. Aside from the yukata, you will be provided a bathrobe and towel in case you want to take a bath.

After changing: you have two options – you can take a bath or immediately head to the sleeping area. The bath is usually situated near the locker/changing areas; with a specific area for showers and for the toilet (should you need to do your business). The shower area also had beauty products (like shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner) per stall and a row of facial wash, lotion, hand soap on the sink, as well as cotton buds on the sink. There was also a row of blowdryers and baskets to keep your stuff in while you shower.

But since we’re really, really sleepy – we opted to sleep first and then freshen up later before we head to Sakai (which is central Nagoya and where our hotel was located).

Usually, capsule hotels have two large rooms, separating the men’s and women’s sleeping area. Tube SQ has a huge sleeping space and their pods are equally large as well. You will be allowed to carry your personal belongings (like a backpack or shoulder bag) inside the pod. Before parking your stuff just anywhere, look at the keys provided to you – usually, there is a number corresponding to the pod assigned to you.

The photo below was taken inside my pod, while I was trying to get work done before I become incommunicado for the day.

As you can see, it’s roomy enough to sit down and lay your stuff should you need to work. Inside each pod is a button to control the light and temperature; a hanger for your coat, an emergency flashlight, a small mirror, and really thick sheets and comfy pillows so you could sleep in peace. I was basically out of it for a good two hours, right after I’ve sent the email I was composing when I took the photo.  As someone who’s claustrophobic and hated tight spaces, I did not feel uncomfortable at all. Actually, I felt snug and comfortable and it was one of the deepest sleep I had. To think that just a few meters from where I sleep, planes were coming and going to and from the rest of Japan and the world. Instead of a door, we had plastic-like blinds which we pull down or up to open up to get in and out of the pod.

Promptly after three hours, we woke up and decided to head to the lockers to freshen up. We checked out as easily and went back to the concourse for our bus which will take us to the city.

A few things to remember when sleeping in a capsule hotel:

  1. Eating and drinking are not permitted in the pod area. Most capsule hotels have reception areas or dining lounges where you can eat in peace
  2. Silence and consideration for others are required when staying in a capsule hotel, especially when in the sleeping area. If you are with friends, avoid loud conversations. If you are on the phone, speak softly. Avoid unnecessary noises like playing music on your phone without headphones or rummaging for stuff in your bag where everyone can hear the loud rustling of papers or plastic.
  3. Observe cleanliness at all times. In the showers, clean after yourself and don’t leave used tissues or any stuff you discarded in the sink
  4. Basically, be considerate and always remember that you are sharing the space with other people.

 

So, if you have a Japan trip coming and looking for a cheap place to stay, why not try a capsule hotel?

 

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Neko Atsume: Cat-crazy people and their online cat collection 

Neko! neko everywhere!

Because being a budding cat lady in real life is not enough for me, I have also taken to collecting stray cats online. 

Presenting Neko Atsume (Cat Collecting), the latest online game that’s making a lot of nerds, game enthusiasts and feline slaves made. I blame CNN and Kotaku for making me aware that this game exists. 

The premise of Neko Atsume is simple. You collect the neighborhood stray cats and make your yard a veritable cat island by leaving them food and toys. You have the option of expanding your yard (eventually) using the golden sardines that the cats leave you as payment for your kindness.  To do this, the game has many options and tabs which shows tabs for identifying your cat visitors, buying food and toys, going back to your garden, etc. 

Oh, and did I mention that everything’s written in Japanese? The fact that many people are so pressed to slave through the game — nonwithstanding any working knowledge of katakana, hiragana or kanji– is a testament to the persuasion and power of cats. 

In real life, Sayuri my ever loving cat would leave dead mice on the foot of the bed as her sign of loyalty. A gift thy usually leads to endless screaming, cursing and pleas for the husband to dispose the corpse while Sayu is obviously snickering in the background. 
 

my first cat, ShiroNeko
 

 So far I already have five Nekos that pop in and out of the yard, playing with the balls I left and noshing on the sushi and kibble on the mat. Yes, if you are curious I named all of them: Shiro, NekoNeko, Mikel, Fred and Macho. Like any crazy human man, I check on them twenty times a day, flipping through the menu to see if I can add kibble or canned tuna. 

Meanwhile, in real life, Sayu and her daughter Scarfy are looking at me while I type this post. It’s almost past their bed time and they expect a quick snack of Friskies. 

A slave to felines, online and off — welcome to my life. 

New coffee and hang-out experience at St. Marc Cafe – Greenbelt

I love coffee. I love it so much that it has come to a point that I can consume more than five cups a day, and that a doctor had to tell me to limit the intake or else…

So, imagine my surprise when I saw a branch of St. Marc Cafe while window shopping at Greenbelt 3. Already an institution in Japan, St. Marc Cafe is well loved and famous in Japan for its Chococro (a croissant-type pastry filled with chocolate in the middle), its kakigori (shaved ice dessert) selections and premium coffee.

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St. Marc in Ebisu Station, Shibuya (photo from Yelp)

Apparently, this is already the second branch of the coffee shop in Manila. Under the management of Suyen Corp., the parent company of retail giant Bench, the first St. Marc branch can be found at the Mega Fashion Hall of Megamall. The Greenbelt branch opened in mid-February and currently enjoys brisk crowd especially during after-office hours.

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This is the first thing that caught my attention while the Hub and I were fixated on going to Chili’s. These plastic food displays are an art form in itself, and takes long hours while they are made by hand. In Tokyo, the streets of Kappabashi-dori, located near Asakusa is a go-to place to buy “sampurru” (from the english word, “sample”). Many tourists actually buy them as souvenirs.

It’s not easy getting a table because most of the tables are already occupied when we came in at 6PM. The Hub ordered the Almond Sugar Pie (P75) and a medium cup of Cafe Americano (P110), while I was set on one of the Matcha Milk kakigori (P230), being addicted to anything matcha flavored.

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We didn’t get the Chococron, the flaky croissant variant that St. Marc is famous for, but we enjoyed the Almond Sugar Pie with its buttery, sugary crust. We loved the fact that the crust was not too dry and their are bits and pieces of the butter flavor in every bite. The Americano, meanwhile, is a let-down for me. One, Japan is known for its strong, kick-ass coffee and I found the America a bit too mild for my taste. There was no distinct coffee taste and I can’t help but compare it to the Americano we always order in our favorite coffee shop (the one with the words “coffee” and “tea” on its name). For a medium-sized coffee cup, the serving at St. Marc is also smaller.

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My Matcha Milk was one big pile of finely-shaven ice, matcha and milk syrup, vanilla ice cream and a scoop of the red aduzki beans. In spite being tightly packed, the ice was not packed too tight. While the vanilla soft ice cream was not too sweet and just had enough of its flavoring, the matcha flavoring was too mild, there are instances when I can barely taste the flavor of green tea.

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We loved the interiors, which was painted deep shade of grey. The lighting was also a clever play on the cup and saucer combo we usually find in coffee shops. The cozy feel of the interiors, which was a far cry on the usual look of coffee shops in Manila, encouraged patrons to enjoy their coffee while catching up with friends or loved-ones. Somehow, this is a coffee shop that feels more intimate and personal.

Would you live here? Not for the claustrophobic and the faint-hearted.

Yes, one of my dreams is to live in Japan. Not just visit, but to actually live there.
But would you even consider it if this is your living space?

photo not my property
photo not my property

Nope, the guy above is not a small person stuffed inside the locker by bullies. He actually lives in that space, as featured in a Japan news program and picked up by this website. Called “geki-sema share house,” the building houses a common toilet for its tenant and lots of locker-type rooms built on top of the other rented to people who can’t afford their own house in Japan. However, note that the rent is not actually cheap going for Y55,000 and Y45,000 for a smaller room. In Philippine peso, that’s about PHP27,500 and PHP22,500 respectively, enough to get you a two bedroom house in a nice apartment. However, note that an actual house (and not just a shoebox) can be rented in some areas of Tokyo for the same price. The thing is, from what I learned from various Japanese lifestyle websites, renting in Japan is very complicated and expensive – with key money, rent money, guarantee money among many other things.

The guy has no space except for a tatami mat. In the article and in the news feature, it was explained that living spaces in Japan were sometimes measured according to the traditional means of using the sizes of tatami mats.

This girl meanwhile has a bigger space but her rent is also bigger (the aforementioned Y55,000). She has enough room for her mat, clothes and even a flat screen TV. She also has the luxury of a small window, ensuring circulation of fresh air.

I don’t know if I can live in a space this small, especially since I tend to be wary of small spaces. The walls also seemed thin so imagine the things you’ll get to hear if the guy living on top of your box is doing “something.” Besides, I am really crazy when it comes to using bathrooms so a communal bath room is really not possible for me.

You know, what this reminds me of? These guys:

All Hail, K!
All Hail, K!

All photos used (except for the locker aliens) are from this SOURCE

Mad Love

In honor of St. Valentine’s Day–where people dress in red and try to compete for candle-lit tables located in over-booked restaurants, serving over priced steak–I bring you this adorable albeit, obviously crazy way these hapless Japanese salarymen show their love to their wives.

Shout it out! Love drives people crazy!
Shout it out! Love drives people crazy!

By shouting their messages of love stark raving mad in front of a very amused crowd:

In a society like Japan who puts much emphasis on “what’s proper” and ultimate propriety, these brave souls obviously made their wives flutter like never before. They are part of Japan’s “Devoted Husband’s Organization” where members show their appreciation to the missus every “Love your Wife Day” which falls every 31st of January.

Aishteru Yo!
Aishteru Yo!

Here are some of their messages:

“I can fly higher because you’re with me. Please stand by me forever.”
“I’m sorry that I’ve gained weight over the last seven years,But that’s because the meals you cook are so delicious.”
“I’ll hug you very tight tonight, Thank you for your love.”

Awwww. As a married woman myself, I know there are days when husbands seem to evolve from the Prince Charmings we all married (and fell in love with) to pompous jack-asses that you want to gift wrap and send back to their over-protected moms.

But, there are also definite days when you are glad you are married to the bugger. It maybe simple things like him fixing you breakfast or cooking you Omurice for your office bento, or taking care of you when you are sick and/or feeling shitty.

I wish there are more events like “Appreciate your Wife Day” or maybe, “Appreciate your Husband Day” because quite frankly, more than the syrupy gimmicks of Valentine’s Day — it’s when you feel that you are truly appreciated and cared for that you feel most loved.

SOURCE here

The world is a few Google Map clicks away

Technology is a wondrous, wondrous thing.

I spent the day touring the streets of Ginza, Shibuya and then had a quick jaunt at Mt. Fuji. When I grew bored salivating the many amazing sights of Japan, I made a quick jump at Namsan in Seoul, and revisited my old neighborhood in Myeongdong. I made a quick stop at Nature Republic, trawled the streets of the Myeongdong Market then changed my mind again and strolled the pleasantly chaotic Nathan Road in HK, checked where we will be staying in October then made a quick jaunt at Chungking Mansions before ending the trip at the Avenue of Stars.

Amazing, I know. And impossible to do in one day unless you have Harry Potter’s Firebolt.

I was actually doing all these through good old Google Maps.

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A quick visit to the Tokyo Tower

I was actually doing research for my sister, who is Tokyo-bound this September for a seven-day vacay. She wanted to have an idea on how the hotel would look like and its surrounding neighborhood and I had the brilliant idea to look for it via Google Maps. After I managed to find her hotel, I thought about visiting my sister’s future neighborhood and boy—was I crushed and envious that I am not going with her.

From there, I just followed the many streets and little alleys around Ginza and had fun looking at the quaint restaurants and the people crossing the street. Before I knew it, I already had a look around Shibuya, Harajuku and Keio University neighboring areas. I also managed to lose track of time.

It amazes me how technology allows us to see the places we want to see, “to visit” them and enjoy the view while thinking what would it be like being there for real.

HK Nathan Road
Our little hostel is located here, Nathan Road between Bowring and Pilkhem Street

Of course, nothing comes close to being there and soaking the view for real, feeling the vibe of the place and the energy of the people. When I saw the places in Tokyo, the more I wanted to go. I knew that the reason why I can’t go this time is because I am penniless and I am afraid to go broke in the city I loved most. A part of me kept on telling me how pathetic it looked–seeing the places you’ve always wanted to see through Google Maps.

But then again, why not? It was never wrong to dream or hope or even yearn about things, people or places. Deep in my heart, I know, that the next time I’ll post a picture of Tokyo Tower here–it’ll be the one with me standing next to it — grinning from ear to ear.

Japan: Wanting you so bad, it hurts

Have you ever wanted something so bad, it hurts and it consumes your every waking hour?

I do. And this is my damnation:

my beautiful Japan
(pic not my property)

I never knew how much I wanted to go to this country, until the time when my sister called me last night to tell me she was booking tickets to Tokyo. Her best friend and travel buddy has planned a six-day sojourn, and since they knew how crazy I was for this country, had asked me if I wanted to join them.

Are they kidding? Of course, I want to…!

…except for the fact that I am still broke due to the unplanned Korea trip and the various implications of a grown up life that reeked of bills and pure suckiness. My sister was generous enough to tell me that she can advance for the payment of the ticket, but I have to wing my way to gather enough funds for my bank statement (a visa requirement) as well as the expenses to be incurred during the six-day trip.

A sad reality that I am certain I have no way of finding.

I have always believed that if it’s meant to be for me, it will find its way to land on my lap. Case in point? the Korea trip that I never saw coming.

Yes, it sucks that due to the past abuses of my countrymen, Japan had made it quite difficult for ordinary Filipinos (read: minimal bank account but gargantuan traveling dreams) like me to go to a country that I have loved for almost half of my life.

So imagine my surprise (and my sister’s) when I told her that I am passing up for this trip. I told her I couldn’t afford it. And it’s the truth–I don’t have enough money to fund this trip. And it will be grossly irresponsible of me to drop everything, forgo paying bills and insurance and leave my husband to deal with the possible mess that I will make should I choose to go.

In the end, the grown-up and sane cynical in me had to muster enough courage to say “no”. It’s the right decision I know, but it’s tearing me to pieces. And quite frankly, I know that this will haunt me for months until the time when my sister boards that plane and take that trip to Japan. The agony will not be over until the Cathay Pacific plane brings her back to Manila from her blissful six days gallivating on my city. Call me crazy or melodramatic, but it’s like being a spectator on a really cool party that you’re not invited to.

My sister, bless her heart, knew I was torn and sad and envious. She tried cheering me up by saying that the trip will not be same without travel-crazy, over-eager me. I know she meant it, and made her promise to buy me tons of Japanese fashion magazines, clothes and make-up. Oh, and the various flavors of KitKat if possible too.

I know my time will also come — to finally see, in person, the lights of Tokyo, to ride the shinkansen, to ogle in person Jun Matsumoto’s various posters announcing his weird endorsement for a brand of mascara, to meet them amazing Japanese, to taste sushi at Tsukiji. TO JUST BE FREAKING THERE.

So, like a good onee-chan, I will lend my baby sis the copious notes I’ve been saving for years, my so-called bible for the inevitable trip to Japan. I will brief her on the importance of getting the JR Pass, why she must go to Shibuya and why she should really try to go up the Sky Tree.

I know my time will come. Japan will wait for me.

(The funny thing is, I started crying after my phone conversation with my sister. I was that sad! The hubby took one look and maybe felt immense pity that he bought me a pint of ice cream to make me feel better.)