Sunday, July 28, 2019

Mimaru Tokyo North Ueno

Our room is perfect for a small family or group due to 4 single beds and a double bed with a small dining table; maximum of 6 people can be accommodated in our room. The toilet being separated from the bathroom could be an advantage rather than disadvantage due to obvious reason that one person can use the toilet while the bathroom is occupied.

Reception area

Utensils are inside the drawers

There is a small kitchen with fridge and utensils, perfect since the hotel has no restaurant or dining facility. The kitchen is ideal in case you intend to prepare your breakfast and midnight snacks. A small electronic vault is also provided in our room. Though there is a Handy Phone we find it easier to use our MAPS.ME app. By the way, when you use this app in locating the hotel it will direct you at the parking or backside entrance.
 


 

 
On our second day, the wife borrowed flat iron and ironing board while my daughter asked for power adaptor for her hair dryer. You can borrow these items at the reception. Light switches, power source and USB chargers are conveniently located at the headboard.

We didn't bother turning on the TV since we knew that English channels are not available in most Japanese hotels. We enjoyed more having nice chit-chat after a day of walking.

Our cozy dining area


Beds are comfy and bedding are pristine. Towels are replaced and garbage collected daily but no housekeeping until the third day. Be aware though that if you don't put the old towels inside the laundry basket in the bathroom they won't collect them, you'll start accumulating towels in the room. Toiletries such as razors, disposable slippers can be availed at the reception area.

The man drawback is the location; we came here from Narita Airport by Skyliner. It is a bit far from Keisei train station. Meaning, you have to walk for at least 15 minutes before you can board Skyliner. However, if you are using local Tokyo trains, the hotel is near to JR Ueno Station's Iriya Exit. No worries if the weather is fine, you will surely enjoy strolling from the station to the hotel but on our last day there was a slight drizzle. Lugging our trolleys, we walked fast up to Keisei station to avoid getting drenched by rain. In addition, there are less food shops around so we always shop at the convenience store outside Iriya Exit before heading back to our hotel. Thankfully, our kids are expert in ordering foods online; having lived at a condominium for several years during weekdays while in college, our kids have become expert on this matter. They downloaded Pizza Hut Japan mobile apps and ordered online. I waited for the delivery guy at the lobby; my only contribution to our meal.

Special thanks to our kabayan - they have one kabayan as reception staff - for guiding us on how to return back to Narita Airport by Skyliner.


 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Day Trip to Farm Tomita and Hill Town BIei

Arguably, visiting Furano is quite tricky and confusing if you intend to use public transport. So, the wife and I have decided to book online a family day trip through Chuo Bus.

The meeting point is at 2nd floor of ESTA building at least 15 min before the actual tour; since we have visited a couple of times BIC Camera shop inside this building during our previous toy hunts we easily found the place. Just to add, when you receive your tour voucher, the direction to the meeting point is clearly stated.

Tour Group L-1, Bus 2, Seat 27 ( 9AM )


 
We presented our voucher at Chuo Bus tour counter - it opens at exactly 7:30AM while our tour starts at 9AM - and received our tour tickets indicating the "group tour number," bus and seat number too. We waited for the staff to announce our "group number" while holding a big signboard.

We proceeded to the ground floor where our bus was waiting. The bus is big and comfortable, there is also free Wi-Fi on-board. However, there is no multilingual guide and no headsets provided for another language so we just enjoyed the sceneries.

First Stop - 15 min break

Mini Park at Prince Hotel

Wooden House at Prince Hotel

We had a 15 min toilet break in a "wooden barn" along the way. Soon afterwards, at around 11:30 AM we had another stop over at Furano Grape Farm. It wasn't grape season yet so we never saw any single grape on the vineyard. Our bus left after 20 minutes; the tour guide distributed discount vouchers for different attractions at Prince Hotel

We arrived at Prince Hotel at almost 12:30 AM. We had buffet lunch; the hotel offers wide variety of dishes and desserts. Don't hurry since the dining area is quite huge, you would never run out of food and place, just coordinate with your tour guide. After dining, we loitered around the hotel. There is a nice mini-park at the back of the hotel. We didn't bother to avail the ropeway since our bus would leave at 1:50 PM.



The Lavender Plants

We arrived at Farm Tomita at 2:15 PM. Unfortunately, not all flowers are in full bloom yet but nevertheless the entire place is beautiful and the lavender shrubs look pretty awesome. There are several types of flowers cultivated in the area. It was the first time the family has seen this kind of greenery. The ladies immediately started taking their IG shots. We tried their lavender flavored ice cream but the kids didn't like it, LOL. After an hour our group left the place.

Hill Town at Biei




Arrived at Hill Town of Biei at 3:40 PM. We paid 500 Yen each for a ride at Tractor drawn carriage. We have only 35 min here so we opted to take this ride rather than spend our time walking around the massive place. The same situation here, most flowers were not yet in full bloom.

Left the place at 4:15 PM for Sapporo. We had a short stop over at one of the tiny malls in the middle of nowhere. We disembarked near the Sapporo TV Tower and took our dinner at Tanukikoji shopping arcade.

All told, I am sure the place is pretty awesome when all the flowers are in full bloom. We visited the place on the last week of June. Even so, there were already plenty of tourists in the area.




 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Karaksa Sapporo Hotel

"Adjacent" is a magic word for a small family looking for hotel rooms with their kids. We seldom see adjacent rooms posted in hotel's websites. So the wife was ecstatic when she was able to book two adjacent triple room. However, the connecting door between the rooms was left unlocked; reception wouldn't give the key for this door and told us that the door would be opened or closed permanently during our stay for security reasons. The answer was obvious; wife chose it to be opened.

Hotel location is perfect due to its location. It is 5 min walk from Susukino train station (Nombuko Line) passing through Pole Town and Tanukakuji shopping arcade where the hotel back entrance is located. Also, the airport limousine bus terminal is around 50 meters away. Trust me, it is very convenient to travel back to the airport from this place as long as you know the time of arrival of the airport bus; we used our SUICA cards. Aside from that, Norbesa Mall is a stone throw away. This mall is "haven" for toys and Japanese anime collectors because you'll find here Mandarake, Jungle and Surugaya Specialty Shops. If you're a toy collector and has visited Japan then there is no need to explain about these shops otherwise you can "Google" this place.

Breakfast coupons and access card

Check-in was smooth; we were given breakfast coupons and e-card for our rooms and elevators.

 

Comfy beds with pair of pyjamas

Spacious room

Connecting door

Inside the rooms, wide flat screen is useless like in many Japanese hotels due to lack of English channels. The same with the free Handy Phone because we were asked to choose a "plan" before we can fully utilize its different functions. As usual, toilet is separate from the bathroom. We have a small coffee table and drink cooler (fridge) perfect for midnight snacks and red wines.

Power outlets and room lights control are conveniently located at the head board, the headboard lights are also dimmable. There is a portable humidifier inside the room; perfect for my youngest son due to his frequent nose bleeding whenever the air becomes too dry. Having opened recently, the bedding and towels as expected are still in pristine condition. The hotel also provides toiletries such as razors, toothbrush and combs, the only drawback is the reusable slippers.

The family enjoyed Asian breakfast staple such as rice and viands though breads and pastries are also provided. Staffs greeted us warmly every morning and we never run out of table. The restaurant serves only breakfast but you can have your lunch and dinner by reservation.

This is the second Karaksa Hotel we have stayed in Japan. The first one was in Osaka. Because of this, I can say that you won't regret staying at any Karaksa Hotel in Japan.

 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

"Willer" walking tour to Ghibli Museum, Japan

If you haven't heard about this "peculiar" museum then you aren't an avid Japanese cartoons or animation fan. I don't blame you because I have never encountered "Ghibli" works during my younger years too. Our kids suggested to include this place in our itinerary.

If you are living outside Japan it would be near to impossible to purchase admission tickets online because of limited numbers aside from being available in advance reservation only. Even when you're in Japan, you can purchase the tickets only at Lawson convenience stores. Aside from that, newly released tickets can easily run out in a matter of few hours. So, if you intend to visit this place you have to plan ahead since you cannot purchase admission tickets at the gate.


Willer staff at Kichijoji train station

Fortunately, the wife was able to purchase our tickets online through "Willer." As expected the cost is quite staggering compared to the actual price of the ticket which is 1,000 Yen only; we paid 19,500 Yen for 5 persons. However, our tickets are still cheaper compared to other third party/agents tickets. To sweeten the deal, "Willer" has included a "walking tour" at Inokashira Park which is right beside the museum. Their staff wearing pink vest waited for us at the train station. We were 43 in the walking tour group with different nationalities. Five didn't arrived on time so one of the staffs was left behind to wait for them. It took us around 45 minutes to walk from the train station up to the museum passing through the park; be aware that the distance you'll cover from the station to the museum is almost one kilometer so wear comfy shoes and bring water.

Preparing to enter the museum and waiting for our tickets

Museum

We left the train station at 10AM and arrived at the museum 10 minutes before it opens; admission tickets were distributed outside the museum.

Laputan Robot Soldier
 
At the rooftop - you need to take the spiral staircase

Once inside, you are not allowed to take photos or selfies except at the rooftop where you'll find a giant "Laputan robot soldier." This robot is from the first Ghibli Studio film entitled "Laputa: Castle in the Sky."

Inside the museum are sketches and drawings, 3D animation, memorabilia and other Studio Ghibli's produce; there is also a souvenir shop at the third floor. We bought "Totoro" souvenirs since it is the only character that looked familiar to us, LOL. Beside the museum is a small cafe.

We watched a free but very entertaining cartoon done by Ghibli Studio.

Visitors queue

Though the museum is perfect for kids and kids-at-heart but if you are not aware about Ghibli Studio then I suggest not to bother visiting this place because there are other places worth visiting in Tokyo. In addition, the place is quite far. From Shibuya Station you need to transfer to Keio Inokashira Line and disembark at the last station, Kichijoji Station. Be aware that since this is a local train it would stop at many stations so it would take around an hour to reach Kichijoji from Shibuya. However, there is a "Rapid Train" stopping at Eifukucho station; if you are running out of time like what happened to us we disembarked at Eifukucho and immediately transferred seamlessly to the "Rapid Train" to Kichijoji where the Willer staffs were waiting.

Since we arrived early we were able to enjoy the place due to less crowds; we stayed for a couple of hours only. Going back to Kichijoji station, we opted to take the bus since the ladies were tired. You may ask the museum staff regarding the location of the bus stop; there are two bus stops, don't wait at the bus stop near the museum entrance, you can wait for the bus going back to Kichijoji at the farther bus stop. There are plenty of local restaurants outside Kichijoji train station so we took our lunch here; the meal price here is quite cheap compared to other touristy places.

 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Otaru Music Box Museum

Long before we set foot at Hokkaido, Japan, the wife has been dreaming of visiting a famous shop selling locally made music box.

Searching the net I realized that the shop is called Music Box Museum and located in Otaru.

Long story short, we ended up visiting the Music Box Museum on our recent visit to Japan a couple of months back. It is located at the end of Sakaimachi Street if you are coming from the train station. Upon arrival at the train station get the free map to easily identify the places of interest in Otaru since there is no free wifi here. No worries since most of these places are walkable from the train station.

Sadly, Hokkaido was experiencing the worst snow in forty years when we were there so our time was cut short due to harsh weather.

At any rate it was one of the best places we have visited in Japan due to its uniqueness and the memories it brought back to me. I vividly remember enjoying the music box that my father - who is a retired seaman - bought for my mother eons of years ago. I kept on fiddling it so I can continuously watched a small ballerina rotates while listening to a hypnotic metallic melody.




 
 
Aside from being a museum, the shops also sells wide arrays of locally made music boxes

Antique musical devices

Creeky wooden floors at the second floor


As expected, the wife opted to survey the entire place first before deciding to purchase our music boxes. We bought a couple of small music boxes that now adore her souvenir display cabinets. Remembering how the music box looks like that my father bought for my mother I could say that it costs him a big amount of money by comparing it to the same design I saw in the shop; my wife even found it way beyond her budget.




Coming here from the station was no easy task during winter but when the snow is gone it would be very pleasant to stroll along Sakaimachi road since there are plenty of souvenir and food shops along the road. On our way back to the train station, we dropped by at "Le Tao," a local shop famous for its flavourful cakes and other pastries.

A couple of hours would be enough to enjoy the place.

Upon seeing our pictures, our kids are now prepping to visit this place in June. Fortunately, snow is long gone so we'll have plenty of time to enjoy the place.

Remember this, Otaru is famous not only for its canal; there are many interesting places that are worth visiting. Yes, together with our kids, we'll be back in Otaru in a few weeks.



  

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Hotel WBF Sapporo City, Japan

Due to flight cancellation caused by heavy snow in Tokyo we hurriedly booked online the last twin room of Hotel WBF while in Chitose airport, Sapporo City.

With our luggage, we travelled back to Sapporo city and searched for this hotel.

Check in was flawless; we were given breakfast coupons for 2 day and 2 bottle of water. Key card for the main door was also provided since there is no reception staff during night time.

I can say its location is ideal since it is near Tanukikuji shopping arcade and just opposite McDonald's. More so, Odori Station is a mere 3 min walk from the hotel.

Our room has massive twin beds; pyjama gown is replaced daily, basic toiletries are also provided but the reusable slippers were grumpy - I hope they sterilize or clean them. We have small fridge and air purifier/humidifier inside. The wife loves the "hotdog" pillow, LOL. Surprisingly, the handy phone is set at English language so we were able to use it outside.

Power outlets and room lights control are conveniently installed at the headboard.

Video on demand is also available including adult theme but you need to purchase 24 hour access at 4th floor.

They have a small cafe cum bar at the lobby. If yu avail their membership you would be given a discount to avail the "unli-drinks" for a limited time and this membership is honored in all WBF hotels in Japan. I don't know the complete specifics about the membership since I prefer to buy my alcohol shots at Lawson.

Unlike the other hotels we have stayed in Japan where we truly enjoyed our breakfast, WBF offers limited breakfast options. Aside from that, the restaurant is also small thus seats are limited as well.




Be aware though that there is one main drawback regarding our room.

I am claustrophobic so I can easily feel suffocated be it inside the plane, car or anywhere that has constricted space and limited ventilation.

It was the peak of winter at that time. Unlike other hotels we have stayed in Japan where you can vary or adjust the room temperature, this hotel is not like that. You can only change the fan speed; there is no temperature adjustment in our room. I don't know whether all their rooms are like that. I felt suffocated due to warm air inside. The temperature was more pleasant at the lobby.

Another contributing factor is the space. The two massive beds have occupied almost the entire room leaving limited space for you to move around.

If not for this factor, I can say that this hotel is almost perfect due to its location.

 

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Passport renewal at DFA Robinson Galleria for OFW


My passport would expire in December 2019 so I had no choice but to renew it in April during my vacation.

The most convenient place where I can renew my passport is at DFA office in Robinson Galleria.

Unfortunately, due to Lenten Season, DFA Galleria was releasing new passports after 22 days; no "express" service at that time. I applied on April 1 and got a claim stub for April 23. No worries since I would be flying back to my work in Africa on April 29.

To summarize this, here are some tips and procedures to follow:

1. Come early since DFA office opens at 8 AM.

2. The guard at the entrance would give you queue number and application form.

3. Wait for your number to be called.

4. Initial document inspection will follow. You have to photocopy your passport data page, work visa and arrival stamp. No worries since there is a photocopy counter nearby.

5. After this, you have to submit your passport and application form to evaluation counters.

6. Next step is payment at cashier window; I paid 950 pesos. You leave your documents here.

7. Final step is data encoding and biometrics (picture, fingerprints and signature); you wait for your name to be called. This is the most important step. Ensure that all data that has been entered is 100% correct. Anyway, you will be asked to check on the computer screen the actual data that will appear on your passport. Once you have confirmed that your data is correct you will sign an acknowledgement receipt attesting the correctness of your data; claim stub will be issued.

8. Return back to claim your passport. You need to hand over your old passport before your new passport will be given to you for signature and inspection. Once you have confirmed that your new passport is correct then that would be the time your old passport will be punched.

TIPS:

- This is a walk-in passport renewal; no need to book an appointment - it is a first come first serve basis.

- This DFA office is for OFW ONLY so they'll be looking for your work or residence visa. If you don't have any work visa then I have no idea what documents you need to bring to support that you are an OFW.

- No need to bring PSA birth certificate and picture, your old passport is enough.

- No wories for car owners, you can park at the basement and proceed to DFA office even if the mall is not yet open.

- Once you have received your new passport for inspection, double or triple check your data and look for any physical damage. Check also the sequence of pages - report if any pages are missing or in wrong order. Trust me, you don't want to face any passport problems during your flight date.

This is the most common question: Can I still use my old passport while waiting for the release of my new passport?

Yes!

Your passport will be punched once you have received and inspected your new passport otherwise your old passport is still valid. In my case, while waiting for my new passport, I used my old passport to process my OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate) and attached my old passport to my new passport by rubber band - avoid stapler; I am now back in Africa without encountering any problems in our immigration. Just to add, my colleague applied for a new passport and returned back to our work using his old passport; he would claim his new passport on his next vacation since you're allowed to claim your new passport within 60 days from release date. This is possible for my colleague since we have a 4 week / 4 week job rotation. Meaning, we work for one month and goes for vacation for another month. HOWEVER, if the validity of your old passport is less than 6 month then chances are the immigration officer won't allow you to leave; POEA won't issue an OEC as well, remember that.

That's it!

By the way, it took me less than 30 minutes to renew my passport and less than 10 minute to claim it. I got my first 10 year passport and probably my last since I would be retiring in a few years. This is what I call "change is coming," LOL.