Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art – Japan Edition

Taking a break from my travel entries to do another weekly photo challenge entry. Time for some cover worthy pictures!

Was browsing through Japan Guide website yesterday and came across this Kyoto feature. Realised that I had a similar shot of Tenryuji Temple taken during my trip last year – taken from outside the temple where the room acts as a sort of ‘frame’ for the Koyo/Autumn Leaves. After some post-editing using Snapseed to submit this picture for a photo contest a couple month back, the colours looked pretty similar post-editing to the one highlighted in Japan Guide. Also mine was taken on 20th November 2013 …… just a few days apart. Nice co-incidence πŸ™‚

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Another one of my favourite shots, also taken in Kyoto …… when I was leaving Kiyomizudera. Unlike the 1st picture, no filter for this.

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And also my favourite ‘egg-yolk’ sunset shot taken on top of the Tempozan Ferris Wheel in Osaka. Similarly, no filter. Used this as the cover photo for my personal facebook as well πŸ™‚

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And one more …… this time from my 2012 Winter trip. One of my favourites as well of the Tokyo Metropolitian Government Building. Took this as we took the short walk from our hotel (Shinjuku Washington) to the observatory located in this building. The juxtaposition of the winter trees shorn of its leaves contrasted against the building was just perfect ……

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The original photo challenge entry here

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity

It feels like AGES since the last photo challenge entry …… and so decided that its time for one whilst taking a break from writing my next travel blog πŸ˜›

Decided to shortlist a few photos from my past travels (mainly my 2012 and 2013 Japan trips + my recent Hong Kong trip) that fits into the theme of Humanity.

Humanity, in dictionary terms means the following:

1. all human beings collectively; the human race; humankind

2. the quality or condition of being human; human nature

3. the quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence

 

December 2012: Japan Winter Trip

The quene outside mega popular Sushi Dai that has barely moved (even after we finished our meal at the next door Sushi Daiwa within an hour).

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November 2013: Japan Autumn Trip

One of my favourite shots taken at Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto. A large group of school children (probably from Tokyo) on excursion.

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August 2014: Hong Kong & Macau Summer Trip

We spotted a old lady selling egg-based pancakes at a corner shop in Senado Square (whilst on route to the St. Paul Ruins). To be able to do such a manual work, and facing the heat of the pans day in day out is a legend by itself. She gets my thumbs up!

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The original photo challenge entry here

Japan 2013: Day 12 Heading Home

DAY 12: MONDAY 25 NOVEMBER 2013

After ending the day late last night (my last night in Tokyo as well), plus having packed my luggage all the way till 1+ in the morning ….. abandoned all thoughts of waking up at 5+ to travel down to Tsukiji Market for sushi breakfast (Note: Tsukiji is just 3 stops from Daimon via the Toei Odeo Line).

The ‘target’ was to reach Haneda Airport around 0845 Hrs (estimate 2 hours before fly off time at 1045 Hrs) …… which means I have to check out and leave the hotel by 0815 latest – to factor in walking to Hamamatsucho (to take the Tokyo Monorail) + the 20-odd minute Monorail journey to Haneda Airport. (Sidenote: One of the key reasons why I chose a hotel at Hamamatsucho was the convenience of having the Monorail direct to Haneda) …… So given such near proximity, ended up snoozing my alarm and waking up at 0745 Hrs! Quickly got changed, did one last check of luggage and belongings and managed to leave the hotel around 0825 Hrs to began the walk back to Hamamatsucho with 3 bads in tow (main luggage + foldable bag for food shopping + my usual sling bag).

Managed to do some rackeying the night before and found an entrance to the Monorail platform at Hamamatsucho without having to climb stairs. Which in this case, is to enter via World Trade Centre! Why didn’t I discover this route earlier πŸ˜› …… so managed to made it to the Monorail station in 15 min (as advised by the hotel reception, the walk should take around 10 min. Only minus is that they didn’t tell me clearly the exact route to take and the entrance, so a slight minus once again for the Villa Fontaine staff). The Tokyo Monorial station had many many escalators that were very narrow in size (so narrow that I have to place my luggage in front of me) and had to go one by one before I got to the actual platform …… and then the 20+ odd min journey to Haneda, and I ended up reaching at around 0915 Hrs.

The airport was pretty empty for a early Monday Morning.

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As I have already done the online check-in via Cathay Pacific website 48 hours before fly-off, all I needed to do just to drop off my luggage. No quenes as well so it was a breeze, except for 1 thing ……

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Overweight luggage! 2kg more than Cathay Pacific’s stipulated limitof 20kg. I suppose after 11 days in Japan, with all the shopping (the extra bag itself is already 5kg), 20kg is not really sufficient. Anyway the ground staff (a nice Japanese lady) attending to me was so kind to waive off the additional baggage charges. One-up for Cathay Pacific! (Sidenote: Need to write a commendation email when back home)

Got some Royce chocolates at the Royce boutique before going into the Departure Gate. No quenes as there were not many international flights flying out Haneda around this time. Not much shops and restaurants inside the Departure area (the main shopping areas – Edo Town and Tokyo Pop Town are on level 4 and 5 respectively) …… but managed to find a restaurant to sit down and get some breakfast.

My breakfast/last meal in Tokyo – Chicken Chazuke. It is actually hot tea poured over the rice (with chicken). Interesting combo as this is my first time having tea poured over rice. For a breakfast meal, it does not feel heavy at all. Nice!

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More omiyage shopping (mainly for Shiroi Kobito biscuits) and one last coffee before I board the flight!

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Same as my fly-in, the journey back home includes a transit at Hong Kong Airport. And this time round, managed to finish off the last 15 min of Cold Eyes (recap: Day 1) via the on-flight entertainment …… with enough time to rewatch it a 2nd time + watch another movie as well, heh ……

There was about 3 1/2 hours before the return flight to Singapore at 2000 Hrs. Did had some thoughts about venturing out to Citygate (relatively near to the airport) for a quick exploration, but since I read online (prior to departure) that 3 1/2 hours stopover is way too short to travel into the city and back, plus the fact that I ended up going through the transit gate (rather than the immigration gate that leads to the arrival hall) …… this meant that I’m much better off just staying in the airport itself having a meal and enjoying the wifi. Just as well since I had 1 big shopping bag (from Haneda Airport) in tow with me and I don’t fancy lugging it around Citygate/HK mainland as well πŸ˜›

Having tried Tsui Wah during the last stop-over, decided this time round to check out the noodles joint next to Tsui Wah – Tasty Congee & Noodle Wantun Shop. When in HK, their signature wanton noodles is the way to go!

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A pretty small bowl at HKD$45, with only 3 small wontons but I suppose its a nice change after all the Japanese food πŸ˜› …… There was also little need to overly fill my stomach as there will be dinner served on the return flight as well.

The shops at the Departure Gate don’t really interest me, so spent the remainder of my time waiting, catching up on my whatsapp, my Appa Odiga videos on my iPad (airport wifi rocks!) …… And saw a beautiful sunset while waiting. Unlike the past 11 days, sunset in Hong Kong happens later at around 6 to 615pm.

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Just travelling in the skies took a good 1 day as I reached Singpaore on 0005 Hrs to mark the end of my holiday!

Japan 2013: Day 11 Roaming Around Tokyo Part 5

DAY 11 (CON’T)

Had no where else to go after dinner …… but while waiting for my food to arrive, whipped out my iPad from my bag and did some study of the metro/train maps.

Personal view of mine – anytime before 10pm is always too early to end off the night especially when you are overseas …… and so realised that from Hamamatsucho, it is just 3 stops from Daimon Station (Toei subway station right beside Hamamatsucho) to Roppongi – which means it is more than possible for me to pop by Tokyo Midtown for its signature Midtown Christmas illumination/light-up. And best of all, the Roppongi (Toei) station is just right outside Tokyo Midtown itself unlike the Metro station which is nearer to Mori Tower side.Β  Saw it last year and loved it, only slight bummer was lack of pictures as my camera battery died halfway. Why didn’t I think of that earlier, ah ……

And so after dinner, got back to Hamamasutcho and instead of exiting on the South side as I always do, headed towards the North exit instead, crossed the road and viola, Daimon Station is right there. Toei, being a private subway line, meant that the station is many many levels underground (as I keep going down on multiple escalators in order to reach the ticketing floor, and then another 1-2 more escalators to the platform proper) + having fewer traffic/commuters as compared to the more popular Tokyo Metro and JR Lines. Anyway a 170 JPY fare for 3 stops is not that expensive given that it stops right at Tokyo Midtown as compared to Tokyo Metro (which I could have changed at one of the JR lines). And so 15 mins later, around 1020 Hrs, it was back to Tokyo Midtown and the Midtown Christmas Illumination!

Instead of walking from the front of Tokyo Midtown (as I did for my previous visit), this time round, cut through from the building and onto the left side of the buildng where some of the trees behind the building are lighted up.

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There were also some nice light-ups on route to the centrepiece attraction – Starlight Garden. But as I have taken shots of those back in my last trip, skipped photo taking on this and headed straight towards the garden. As I reached, it was just in time for the start of a new show/light-up! (Note: The light-up and the accompanying music repeats in every 5 to 10 min intervals)

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Lights out for the 2nd half of the ‘show’ ……

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Did 1 round the garden. Same display …… but from the other end of the garden. The amazing thing about this display is that it utilises 280,000 LED lights to create that starry blue effect! Definitely one of the best illuminations I have ever seen ……

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And so after a 10 min walk around the Starlight Garden, that’s the end. Satisfied to be able to see this light-up for the 2nd time, despite not really feeling Christmas as yet as it is still November.

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Went back to the 24 Hour supermarket ‘Precce Premium‘ to get the small bites/snacks and the Japanese jelly that I bought during my last trip …… and had a great response amongst my family members. Then finally, its time to head back to hotel for a much needed rest (and packing) before my flight tommorrow morning!

Ending off my last night in Japan/Tokyo with my favourite hotel room supper – Suntory Premium Malt Beer + Fried Fish (bought earlier at Tokyu’s food hall at Shibuya)!

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Japan 2013: Day 11 Roaming Around Tokyo Part 4

DAY 11 (CON’T)

The main purpose of my visit to Rikugien is for the evening illumination. Rikugien is one of Tokyo’s best known and most popular autumn spots, thus penciled in as a ‘must-visit’ destination during the last lap of my trip in Tokyo. In addition, I will be in time for its famed evening illumination as well given that the autumn peak in Tokyo is towards late November to early December.

As highlighted in Japan Guide, there were many other popular autumn leaves/koyo viewing spots such as Koshikawa Korakuen, Icho Namiki (Gingko Avenue) and Shinjuku Gyoen …… but realistically, only had time for 1 autumn spot after slotting in the various day trips and other activities in Tokyo. On hindsight, with better planning and time management, I could have probably squeezed in another spot for a more complete autumn leaves/koyo viewing experience in Tokyo.

Back to Rikugien, it was very crowded given it was a Sunday. It was a very big garden though …… but unlike the evening illumination that I had enjoyed back in Eikando (in Kyoto), this one was too dimly lit. Not enough spotlights along the walking trail. If not for the massive crowd, it would have been pretty easy to get lost in the crowd :S

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It was so dark that I couldn’t really spot the Togetsukyo Bridge ….. but the trees surrounding the stream were pretty nice.

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Further up was the Tsutsuji no Chaya teahouse where one can stop by and enjoy some Japanese tea. But given the crowds, the dimly lit paths, lack of directions and my own impatience (the target was to get back to Shinjuku/Shibuya for shopping before 8pm where all the shops close) …… decided to end off my tour around Rikugien after just 20 min. Probably the evening illumination was not just as good / up to my expectation as the autumn leaves were probably just coming into peak, and the spotlights were not able to bring out their colour and character. In this case, a daytime view would have been much better, well ……

So left via the exit I came from (Main Gate) and walked back the route I came from to Komagome Station. Passed by the Someimon Gate (of the garden) where there were huge quenes. This was the gate/entrance that was so much nearer to the train station! And after looking at Rikugien’s map …… also much nearer to the key autumn viewing spots in Rikugien. Oh well ……

Boarded the JR Yamanote line and decided to head next to the Tokyu Hands @ Takashimaya Times Square in Shinjuku. The next best alternative given all the crazy protesting going on back in Shibuya πŸ˜› …… Got to Tokyu Hands a little over 7, to be greeted by this ……

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If I knew there were extended opening hours for Sunday, I would not have been so ‘stressed’ and rushed through Rikugien. Nevermind. Had a good time doing a proper walkthrough across this 5 storey outlet (not as big as the one in Shibuya) and got the stuff I wanted – gift exchange present + a box to store the Fancl collagen and Fujiya cookies (bad oversight not to have asked for/topped up for a box when I bought them). Then more walking at Takashimaya itself …… where I spotted an Uniqlo outlet and finally got a sweater and a Kobe Waffle snack at the basement food hall (while deciding what to have for dinner this time round) ……

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Went up to the dining level at 11F, saw that there was a Katsukura outlet but decided that I wanted to have Maisen still (after not having it last night :P) so it was a toss up being the Omotesando/Aoyama outlet (found out from the counter at Takashimaya B1 that this outlet opens till 10pm) or the more convenient Tokyo Station Gran Roof outlet. Did had the thought of going to Omotesando to see the evening light-up while on route to Maisen but having to walk through the crowded Harajuku + another 10 min walk down Omotesando Hills just to get to Maisen (which is what me & HX did in our year 2012 trip) is such a damper. There’s the option of a short METRO subway ride from Harajuku (Meiji Jingu Station) that will bring me to the edge of Omeotesando Hills (via Omeotesando Station) ….. but since the Omotesando Koffee joint that I really wanted to check out during this trip is already closed (they close at 7pm), decided that there is not much point going to Ometesando just to eat at Maisen. And so dropped the plan! Another add on to my ‘to-do’ list for future return trips πŸ˜›

And so, took the JR Chuo Line (express) back to Tokyo Station. Managed to locate Maisen this time on 11F of Tokyo Station Gran Roof and finally got to have my dinner a little over 9. Had quite a bit of yen leftover, and since I’m unlikely to do any more shopping, decided to splurge a little on this meal. Anyway I did note that the prices here were higher than that of the Omotesando outlet …… that’s what you pay for convenience I suppose πŸ˜›

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Rather than ordering a pure tonkatsu set, decided on a hybrid bento set where there is also a fried ebi, a small iberico pork (cooked) and tofu/vegetables on the side. Felt that this wasn’t as good as the tonkatsu that I had previously at Maisen Omotesando. Probably that + my meal at Katsukura had set a higher benchmark where tonkatsu is concerned πŸ˜›

Japan 2013: Day 11 Roaming Around Tokyo Part 3

DAY 11 (CON’T)

Right at the end of Ginza was Shimbashi. It was much nearer than I thought (just 5 to 10 min walk from Ginza 4-chrome and 5-chrome). Recognised the station by this bridge (i.e. the linkway to the Yurikamome Line platform) …… which means I’m on the right path πŸ™‚

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And so took 1 stop back to Hamamatsucho and back to hotel to drop off my shopping bags and down jacket, plus a short toilet and ‘wifi’ break before heading out again. It was already 430pm by the time I walked back to Hamamatsucho Station and boarded the Yamanote Line to Shibuya. Fingers crossed that I’m still in time to catch the ‘golden hour’ skyline change at the Shibuya crossing which will make some great photography!

Alas it was not to be as I reached Shibuya Station at around 450pm, and somehow got confused between various exits. Ended up exiting at a corner exit instead of the main exit that leads out to the Hachiko Statue.

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After a good 5 min figuring out the various traffic junction, found my way back to the main square where the Hachiko Statue is located. To be greeted by a huge huge crowd of protesters!

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Turns out this was a protest against a newly introduced state secrets law ….. and it is for real! People holding up signs (to express their discontent) and not moving (staying still) until the chef protestor gives commands/instructions. What an experience just walking through and experiencing an actual protest up close!

Given the crowds and the atmosphere, it was probably not wise to hang around there and continue taking photos (even the Hachiko Statue itself is all covered up with protest slogans) so abandoned the plan to walk further into Shibuya to do some shopping at Tokyu Hands (they have one huge building there which was also their very 1st outlet in Japan)…… and went into the Tokyu Department Store instead. There is also another huge food hall at B1, and full of people (probably it was a weekend + throngs of people like myself trying to get away from the protestors). After getting a fried fish snack, walked around the famous Shibuya Crossing a bit before managing to find a linkway that links to Tokyu Department Store (Level 2) and back to Shibuya station. Finally managed to put together some decent shots from various angles, hehe ……

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All in all, only manage to spend like 20 min in Shibuya and left. Looks like the dream ‘golden hour’/’sunset’ shots will be another addition to my ‘to-do’ list for future return trips πŸ˜›

Another reason why I decided to leave earlier is also to head to Rikugien Garden for the evening autumn illumination. Even though the last entry time is 830pm (still quite a fair bit of time), decided that it was probably better to get this ticked-off the list before getting my dinner and more shopping done. And so, it was another 10 stops down the JR Yamanote Line to Komogame Station – which took about 25 min in total.

Sidenote: Thinking about it now, I should have just visited Rikugien in the daytime instead as Komogame was only 5 stops away from Ueno (where I was at in the earlier part of the day). This is even more so after not being impressed with the evening illumination (to be blogged about subsequently) ……

The journey to Komogame was not long, but the locating of Rikugien was. Despite following the street signs and directions, walked and walked and did not see any garden in sight. Until I managed to successfully ask a passerby who is Japanese and a proficient English speaker! Minimal pictures at this point as Komagame is more of a Japanese town (as versus to being modern and with huge sparkling buildings like in Shibuya and Ginza). Saw a couple of eateries that I could have gotten some food from, but priority still remains getting to Rikugien asap, so kept walking, heh ……

And finally got to the entrance of Rikugien after another around 605pm! Pretty big park and pitch dark as well (as nightfall comes really fast due to Daylight Savings). Had to walk a bit more before I finally see some semblance of autumn leaves lighted up πŸ˜›

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Japan 2013: Day 11 Roaming Around Tokyo Part 2

DAY 11 (CON’T)

Continued shopping after a sumptous lunch …… and got some teas and dried seaweed. Saw Tokyo Skytree from a distance while walking up and down the streets of Ameyoko.

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Proceeded to locate the shop that supposedly sells green tea kit kat …… but after walking up and down 2 times, can’t locate it at all. So gave up the search and walked onto another corner street where there were many restaurants and food outlets. Spotted an interesting stall selling a fish-shaped red bean taiyaki pancake + also Odeo Sushi!

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It was getting really hot (it was 17 degrees and I had 3 layers including my down jacket) & crowded so decided to leave Ameyoko and make an unscheduled stop at Tokyo Station to hunt for the Kit Kat that I didn’t manage to get at Ameyoko. Luckily Tokyo Station is just 4 stops down the green Yamanote Line. Reached Tokyo Station somewhere around 220pm, and located the shop selling KitKat (which is right opposite Rokurinsha that I went on Day 1). Green tea kitkat also sold out! The shop assistant told me that the only green tea kitkat available would be at aiport (Narita/Haneda) and in Kyoto. So in the end, just grabbed 2 small boxes of rum & raisin kitkat instead in order not to make it a wasted trip πŸ˜›

Went up to Daimaru for a while to get away from the station crowds and for a breather, as well as to take off my down jacket since I was sweating (in 17 degrees weather, can you believe it). As I was at a corner of Daimaru resting, I quickly consolidated my shopping bags and realised that my bag of seaweed was missing. Sharks! Either I dropped it, or I paid the shopkeeper 700 JPY …… only to leave the bag there! I guess there is no point crying over split milk over a 700 JPY seaweed (around SGD8.89) which I can always go back to Ameyoko to buy again (if need be).

As I was sweating and still feeling heavy from sushi lunch, and since it was relatively straightfoward to walk from Tokyo Station right to Yurakucho …… and then to Ginza, decided to just do so. So instead of going to Meiji Jungu/Omotesando as originally planned, I will go to Ginza instead and hunt down the Meiji owned chocolate cafe i.e. 100% Chocolate Cafe.

Tokyo Station (Marunouchi side) on a Sunday afternoon. It was already 2.52pm and there were lots of people passing through the station.

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No other pictures as I walked as fast as I could to ‘cool’ myself down and to digest off my lunch. This time round, the walk was more straightfoward than Day 1 as I stuck closely to the train tracks (above ground) all the way till I passed by the restaurants/eateries under the train tracks itself …… and finally Yurakucho. Went onto the ‘Ginza’ side basd on road signs as indicated.

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After a close to 10 min walk (longer than expected), I’m finally at Ginza, and at the main Chuo Dori street. Recalled coming here quite often during my last 2012 trip, so its back to familar sights once again.

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Ginza is not only famous as one of Tokyo’s most upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment districts with numerous department stores, brand name boutiques, night clubs, cafes …… it is also one of the most expensive real estate in Japan. That is why many of the buildings are tall and narrow in size. Another marked difference is that since it was a Sunday, this meant the Chuo Dori street is closed to traffic (during weekends) and thus becomes a pedestrian zone for many to walk through (from 1200 Hrs to 1700 Hrs). You can even see people taking a break on the tables/cars/stools right in the middle of the road!

This was also one of the reasons why I wanted to come to Ginza …… to gain a different perspective as compared to my previous visit. And true enough, having many people walking on the traffic-less roads makes Ginza an entirely different landscape from the usually busy roads with heavy traffic.

While walking down Ginza 3-Chrome (the Chuo Dori street is a very long street), saw a busker doing a live puppet show as well.

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Continued to walk further down to 4-chrome where I saw another distinctive Ginza landmark – the Ginza Wanko (icnoic building with the clock tower) and the 11 storey tall Uniqlo that I shopped at during my last trip. Right opposite Uniqlo, the Matsuzakaya Department Store that we previously went is now torn down, and going to be rebuilt/redeveloped. Another icon of Ginza (Matsuzakaya was Ginza’s 1st department store) is gone and to be replaced by yet another concrete development.

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Stopped and sat down on a stool for a short break while trying to get the free wireless in Ginza working …… but it doesn’t work. And since I did not see any 100% Chocolate Cafe in near sight (note to self: should have jotted down clearer directions the night before/in the morning) …… decided that its better not to waste time to search. And since my bags (and down jacket which I took off and folded back into a pocket) were getting heavy, decided to finish the stretch of walk towards the next nearest JR Station – Shimbashi …… and head back to hotel to drop some bags off!

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