A photoblog, where you become the phantom foreigner. Just choose your travel destination.
Roppongi Hills, Tokyo
Billed as “a city within the city,” Roppongi Hills is a large-scale, mixed-use development in Minato Ward, Tokyo. In addition to being the site of the Tokyo International Film Festival every year, this complex holds the Mori Art Museum, an open-air Sky Deck complete with a helicopter pad, and the Tokyo City View observation deck (which also hosts art exhibitions in its Sky Gallery).
These three venues are housed within Mori Tower, a 54-story skyscraper. In this gallery of 105 photos, you can see inside them. You can also see the 30-foot spider sculpture Maman; cherry blossoms in Mori Garden; and the winter lights display along Keyakizaka Dori, a street lined with Zelkova trees.
While there are better museum art pics to see in this separate gallery of 2015-2016 events at Roppongi Hills, the pictures here do offer a small Mori Art Museum scrapbook dating back to 2010, the year of the “Sensing Nature” exhibition, where works byTokujin Yoshioka and others were on display. Yoshioka also designed “Chair that disappears in the rain,” a piece of public art on Keyakizaka Dori.
Dining options in and around Roppongi Hills include Asian Kebab, the Salvatore Cuomo lunch buffet, and a branch of the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, which is famous for its soup dumplings.
The end of this gallery is devoted to pictures of a couple places within walking distance of Roppongi Hills.
Continuing down Roppongi Dori, the main street with an overpass on it, is the Nishi-Azabu location of Gonpachi, the soba restaurant that inspired the House of Blue Leaves in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 1. Veering off the other way, about a ten-minute walk from TV Asahi Headquarters, is Soul Food House, a restaurant that serves up a mean bowl of gumbo along with other American soul food.
One way of accessing Roppongi Hills is by taking the Oedo Line to Roppongi Station and riding the escalator up deep from underground. The next station on this subway line is Azabu-Juban, which provides more direct access to Soul Food House.
Roppongi Hills, Tokyo - 2015-2016 Events
2015-2016 saw a number of notable events take place at the Roppongi Hills complex in Tokyo's Minato Ward. This gallery of 85 pics covers an 18-month period there, from April 25th, 2015, to October 25th, 2016. It all starts with a mandala of whiskey bottles at Art Night Roppongi 2015.
Here you can see two visits to the sky gallery in the newly renovated Tokyo City View observation deck (first, to celebrate Star Wars Day, at the Star Wars Visions exhibition, on May the 4th, 2015; then, to catch Totoro, the Catbus, and a ship from Castle in the Sky, at the Ghibli Expo, during the final week of its run, in September 2016.)
You can also see the opening day of the Tokyo International Film Festival, in both 2015 and 2016. A Guided Photo Tour of this event is available over on the blog page. Be sure to check it out.
Finally, you can see some highlights from The 500 Arhats, a camera-friendly exhibition at the Mori Art Museum, where history’s largest painting was broken up into room-length sections among other works, in the colorful, grotesque, yet beautiful oeuvre of contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.
The 2017 Tokyo International Film Festival
This gallery is the repository for The Gaijin Ghost’s full collection of 80 online photos related to the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival. You may have seen some of these photos pop up in articles on Slashfilm, in posts on the Ghost blog, and in tweets.
2017 marked the first year that The Gaijin Ghost was able to attend the festival as a member of the accredited press: gaining media access to movie premieres, red carpet events, competition film screenings, and award ceremonies. After wandering blind into a soft opening of the restaurant chain’s new location the day before it opened to the general public, yours truly even managed to snag a free meal at Shake Shack.
In addition to actor Tommy Lee Jones (who is big in Japan), some of the faces in attendance at this year’s festival included director Steven Soderbergh, former Vice President Al Gore, and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.
There were also a number of Asian stars in attendance. Since some of those faces might not be as familiar to Western readers, this gallery uses select photo captions to identify people.
For more details, refer to the TIFF-JP wrap-up post over on the blog page (link pending). The main site for the film festival every year is the Roppongi Hills complex in Tokyo’s Minato Ward.
Since it is also movie-related and took place in the same venue earlier this year, you will see some pictures at the end of the Marvel Age of Heroes exhibition at the Tokyo City View sky gallery. Though not intended as a commentary on the state of cinema, giving Iron Man the last word in this photo gallery does serve as a reminder of how the world outside the film festival circuit is a blockbuster landscape dominated by superhero films.
Festival Director Takeo Hisamatsu and Festival Ambassador Kanna Hashimoto.
The mascot of the Pokemon franchise, Pikachu.
Director Naomi Kawase (Sweet Bean), a regular at the Cannes Film Festival.
Semih Kaplanoglu and Jean Marc-Barr, the director and star of competition winner Grain.
Chinese actress Jiang Yiyan, co-star of the competition title The Looming Storm.
Some New Yorkers have decried the "Disneyfication" of Times Square during the mayoral reign of Rudolph Giuliani in the mid-1990s. Over the last few years, something similar has been happening to the red-light district of Kabukicho in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Neon lights and a knock-off nickname would seem to invite comparison between these two places, too. While New York is famously known as the City That Never Sleeps, Kabukicho has been called the “Sleepless Town.”
Though the area still retains plenty of seedy aspects, especially as you venture deeper in, the outskirts have become increasingly more touristy since Tokyo won its bid to host the 2020 Olympics.
This is where the world-famous Robot Restaurant is located, as well as the Shinjuku Toho Building, which opened in 2015 and immediately became a magnet for both locals and tourists alike, with its state-of-the-art movie theater, and towering Godzilla Head.
Nearby landmarks include Hanazono Shrine and the dive bar maze of Golden Gai.
There is more to say about Kabukicho; if you are new to the area, you can brush up on it in this Tweetstorm Travel Guide. The Supplementary Guide, available on the Ghost blog, features added explanation, over and above what was published on Twitter.
Suffice it to say, while the Ghost’s wanderings often conform to a certain geographic pattern, this Godzilla-sized gallery of 150 pics is a little different in that you will find it criss-crossing all over the place within Kabukicho.
Completed in 2012, Tokyo Skytree is the world’s second tallest structure, with only the Burj Khalifa in Dubai rising higher in the sky.
With its antenna spire hitting a height of 634 meters, or 2,080 feet, the Skytree has supplanted Tokyo Tower as the chief site for radio and television broadcasting in the Kanto region. Like Tokyo Tower, it also holds two tenbo-dai, or observation decks.
The top deck, the Tembo Galleria, is the world’s fourth highest, with a ramp spiraling up to an apex of 1,480 feet. From late 2015 to early 2016, fans of the Skywalker saga could take an aptly named “Tokyo Sky Walk” through this corkscrew corridor, as the Tembo Galleria joined the Star Wars: The Force Awakens marketing blitz.
As you will see in this gallery of 55 photos, looking out the observation deck windows is a little like looking through a TIE Fighter’s cockpit window.
From the Skytree, you can see the way the Sumida River cuts through the capital, bending around, past the manmade island of Tsukishima, into Tokyo Bay. On a clear day, you might also see the sun going down in the background next to Mount Fuji.
Just around the corner from the Skytree, there is a Japanese restaurant named Kamimura, which serves Skytree tendon (tempura over rice, or in this case, jumbo fried shrimp, propped up lengthwise, over rice).
Tokyo Skytree is just one stop away from the Tobu Skytree Line Asakusa Station, in the EKIMISE building. The train is slow, however, and the distance is walkable: enjoyably so, if you take Asakusa Dori, a street that holds a marvelous vista of the Skytree.
Tokyo - Kappabashi Kitchen Town
In this gallery, you will find 30 photos of Kappabashi, Tokyo's kitchenware corner and plastic food paradise, where the peculiar physiognomy of a creature called the kappa also lurks.
Or you can simply scroll down, and immerse yourself in the stream of images below, experiencing the sights like a wandering traveller, set down in a different culture, without a guide.
Tokyo - Mount Takao
Located on the western outskirts of Tokyo, the 599-meter Mount Takao is probably a traveler’s best bet for a nature experience near the metropolis. The mountain is especially beautiful in the autumn, when the fall colors come out.
While there are a few steep places, Takao is a relatively easy mountain to climb, from top to bottom. Along the way, you can maintain energy by eating soba noodles and sesame dango (sweet skewered dumplings), both of which Takao is known for.
Landmarks along Trail #1 include the tako sugi, or octopus cedar, whose roots curl down like tentacles; a monkey park; a Buddhist stupa; and the gates and halls of Yakuo-in, a temple associated with the tengu, or long-nosed goblin, of mountain lore.
There are a number of other trails for hiking, or, if you want to eliminate some of the footwork, you can utilize the cable car or chair lift—the latter of which provides a slow, scenic ride, up and down the mountain.
See the captions in this gallery of 70 pics for more details. Mount Takao is accessible via Takaosanguchi Station, which can be reached by transfer from the Chuo Line or Keio Line.
View from the train at Takaosanguchi Station.
Map of the mountain, outside the station. This gallery draws info from English guide maps.
Maple leaves on the way to the trailhead.
The same maple tree, on a different day.
Soba shop street at the foot of the mountain.
Cable car station.
Trail #1 begins to the right of the station.
On the trail, trees tower over hikers.
Takao gets quite crowded on public holidays.
People move up the mountain in a long line.
The trail is less clogged on regular weekdays.
Looking back on the trail, on a weekday.
More maple leaves (called momiji in Japanese).
The first major lookout point.
From here, you can see ginkgo trees twisting in a yellow line, along Koshu Road in Hachioji.
You can also see Tokyo Skytree in the distance.
One of the steeper paved slopes on Mt. Takao.
Approaching the panoramic observatory.
Observatory view of the Chuo Expressway.
Surveying the autumn foliage over the trail.
Final observatory scan of the city horizon.
Down on the back terrace of a nearby restaurant.
Dining with a view.
A bowl of hot soba noodles.
The octopus cedar. Legend has it this tree curled back its roots to avoid the trailblazing of tengu.
Hikers rub this statue for good luck.
Entrance to the monkey park.
The monkey playground.
Japanese macaques, a.k.a. snow monkeys.
This species of primate is native to Japan.
In Nagano, there is a place where snow monkeys have carved out a niche bathing in hot springs.
Back out on the trail.
Joshin Gate, the entrance to Yakuo-in Temple. Not joshin’ you: that is the gate’s real name.
Lanterns flank the temple road.
Fork between the otokozaka, or men’s slope (left), and the onnazaka, or women's slope(right).
Guys may lose cred for accompanying gals to the right. But the women's slope is more scenic.
The two slopes meet up again after curving around a hill with a Buddhist stupa on top of it.
Plaques inscribed with temple donor names.
Black and gold sesame dango.
These dumplings are made from rice flour.
Closing in on the temple's inner precinct.
Tengu statues inside the gate.
One of the two statues. This tengu holds a hand fan, or uchiwa, to sweep away bad luck.
Main hall of Yakuo-in.
Ascending through the temple grounds.
Izuna Gongen Hall.
Past the temple, continuing the climb.
Roots lay exposed along the trail.
Nearing the summit.
People picnicking on the summit.
Glimpse through colorful trees.
View from the summit observation deck.
On the way back down Mt. Takao. Steep steps and sharp drop-offs mark the Inariyama Trail.
More towering trees.
Back toward the bottom of the mountain.
The cable car (Japan's steepest).
Riding back up. The cable car and chair lift are interchangeable on a round-trip ticket.
Line outside the chair lift station on Mt. Takao.
Riding the chair lift down.
The lift breezes by plenty of fall colors.
Final autumn vignette.
Summer hydrangeas on Trail #1.
Cutting across the mountain, to Trail #6.
Small shrine where Biwa Waterfall is located.
Suspension bridge on Trail #4.
The bridge is surrounded by lush greenery.
View from Takao's summit in the summertime.
Another summer visit is on the Ghost’s agenda. So this gallery may be updated in the future.
Tokyo - Shiodome Star Wars Exhibitions
As the release of a new Star Wars film every December becomes a new annual tradition, free-admission Star Wars exhibitions at Nittele Tower, in Shiodome, Tokyo, are also fast-becoming a new annual tradition.
In this gallery, you can see 110 photographs from two such exhibitions, where costumes from The Force Awakens and Rogue One were on display, along with specially commissioned artwork and installations like an AT-AT Walker.
Star Wars no Sekai, or, “The World of Star Wars,” took place in December 2015, while Mo Hitotsu no Star Wars Ten, or, “Another Star Wars Exhibition,” took place in December 2016. One can only hope The Last Jedi will garner a similar exhibition in 2017.
Shiodome is a place where vaguely indecent public benches form spotted human centipedes at the foot of skyscrapers. If nothing else, faces buried in backsides always serve as an interesting visual juxtaposition with the sight of a Taco Bell sign.
Shiodome is the location of Japan’s second Taco Bell (and its very first to serve breakfast). You can read more about “The World of Star Wars” exhibition and Taco Bell in Japan in this blog post, while Aomori’s glowing Star Wars parade floats receive their own separate write-up, in this post.
Nittele Tower is accessible via Shiodome Station on the New Transit Waterfront Line, known colloquially as the “Yurikamome.” Or it is a short walk from Shimbashi Station, which services the JR Yamanote Line and Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, among many others.
Tokyo - December 2017 Star Wars Events
In December 2017, as part of the worldwide publicity tour for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, actors Mark Hamill and Adam Driver, along with director Rian Johnson and producer Kathleen Kennedy, appeared at a red carpet event and stage greeting in Roppongi Hills Arena, Minato Ward, Tokyo.
Later that same month, Tokyo’s Nittele Tower hosted a free event dubbed “Shock Star Wars Exhibition.” This event was the third of its kind to be held at Nittele Tower since December 2015. You can see photos from the two previous exhibitions in this gallery.
December 2017 also marked the end of the Star Wars franchise’s40th-anniversary year. As such, it was a busy month for The Gaijin Ghost in terms of freelance Star Wars coverage.
In addition to this gallery of 60 photos, you can read more about The Last Jedi red carpet event and Nittele Tower’s “Shock Star Wars Exhibition” in this GaijinPot article,which was penned by none other than yours truly. And you can read these two Slashfilm articles, which were also penned by yours truly:
The red carpet event came at a time when the fall colors were out in Tokyo, which made the nearby Mori Garden in Roppongi Hills a nice place for a stroll. One neat highlight of the exhibition was getting to see the Star-Wars-themed Japanese folding screen that Rian Johnson helped unveil at Byodoin Temple in Kyoto earlier this year.
Check out this tweet series for more on Star Wars in Japan at 40.
Tokyo Disneyland - Star Tours
Other than the exterior of the ride building (and the obvious fact that the voices are all in Japanese) Tokyo Disneyland’s version of Star Tours - The Adventures Continue is not drastically different from the attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and other Disney parks around the world.
The Force is in the details, however, and in the interest of showing as much of the “Star Wars in Japan” experience as possible, this attraction gets its own gallery of 35 pics, as well as a Guided Photo Tour, over on the blog page, where these same images receive a bit of narration.
Halloween at Tokyo Disneyland
Tokyo Disneyland’s annual Halloween event runs from about the second week of September to the end of October. The theme for this event usually rotates every two or three years. In 2015, for example, the theme was that of a Halloween fair, while in 2017, the theme was that of a Halloween music festival.
With the park set to debut a new theme in 2018, this gallery offers a look back at some of the previous festivities, including two different parades, the Happy Halloween Harvest parade, and the Halloween Pop’n LIVE parade.
Aside from that, these 45 photos are focused mainly on decorative installations and rides with seasonal overlays, like the Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare. However, with the park now being open to guests in costume all throughout the Halloween period (previously it was limited to specially designated dress-up days), we may return to Tokyo Disneyland some future Halloween.
Christmas at Tokyo Disneyland
As a Christmas gift to Disney fans, this gallery showcases 45 photos from Tokyo Disneyland's annual "Christmas Fantasy" event, which runs from November 8th to Christmas Day.
Included are a glimpse at the Disney Christmas Stories parade in 2016, the Disney's Santa Village parade in 2014, as well as seasonal decorations, and a couple Christmasy character greetings.
You will also see a slice of BBQ Chicken and Mozzarella pizza, decorated to look like a Christmas tree. Captain Hook’s Galley in Fantasyland served this culinary delight. And you will see attractions with holiday overlays, like the Country Bear Theater and It’s A Small World.
(It's a Small World, however, is when The Gaijin Ghost’s camera batteries died.)
Whether you are planning a trip to Japan, or just looking to vicariously experience some of the Disney holiday magic, this gallery will show you what it is like in the park at Christmastime.
Tokyo DisneySea - Mysterious Island
At Tokyo DisneySea, Mysterious Island is the port located in the side of Mount Prometheus, the active volcano that serves as the park's central landmark.
This port is themed to the writing of Jules Verne, the Father of Science Fiction. The idea is that you are visiting the hidden sea base of his character, Captain Nemo.
Nemo's submarine, the Nautilus, is docked in the port, along with eateries like Vulcania and the Nautilus Galley, which hold the alluring smell of fried rice and gyoza sausage buns. More importantly, however, the port holds two Fastpass attractions.
Both rides bring Verne novels to life. One takes you on a Journey to the Center of the Earth. The other takes you 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Seeing the Nautilus again in a Disney park might hold a certain nostalgia factor for older TDS attendees, who regard the extinct Magic Kingdom version of 20,000 Leagues as one of those great rides of yesteryear.
Fans of the 1954 film adaptation of 20,000 Leagues, which still ranks as one of Disney's best live-action features, will appreciate seeing Cast Members here wear the same costumes that Nemo’s submarine crew wore. It as if they have stepped right out of the movie ... or you have stepped into it, with them.
While Arabian Coast is more than just “Aladdin Land,” Aladdin-themed attractions do make up the bulk of this port at Tokyo DisneySea. The one major outlier is Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage; you can read The Gaijin Ghost’s guide to that ride over on TDR Explorer. It will also receive its own separate gallery here soon.
Meanwhile, the 85 photos in this gallery are focused on the remainder of Arabian Coast, whose entrance bridge beckons with the smell of curry-flavored popcorn. Here is a brief breakdown of what you can see.
Starring Genie, Shaban the Magician, and the bespectacled boy Assim, the Magic Lamp Theater offers a 3-D show with live-action elements on stage. This is a Fastpass attraction, but on slow days, the wait time is often short enough that they do not even open up the Fastpass machines. If you ask a Cast Member, they can provide a device for English subtitles.
Caravan Carousel is a double-decker merry-go-round where you can ride elephants, camels, and different colored Genies.
The Casbah Food Court serves curry with rice and naan.
In Abu’s Bazaar, you can play carnival games for 500 yen. If you win, you get a plush doll. If you lose, you still receive a collectible pin as a consolation prize.
In Arabian Coast, there are a number of characters to be met: Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, Abu, and Jafar, along with Daisy Duck and Lilo and Angel in Arabian costumes.
Finally, the Agrabah Marketplace is the port’s resident gift shop.
Tokyo DisneySea - Indiana Jones Adventure
This gallery holds 50 photos of Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull and some of the surrounding spots in the port of Lost River Delta at Tokyo DisneySea.
Included here are a glimpse at the Yucatan Base Camp Grill—which is connected to the ride building and forms part of the same faux archeological site—and a glimpse at Lost River Outfitters, where you can see Indy’s iconic Fedora hat, leather jacket, and whip on display behind the counter.
Despite its name, the gift shop does not actually sell this outfit. But if you want your own to wear in the park on Halloween, you can order an authentic replica from Wested Leather, the company in Kent, England that designed the original movie jackets for Harrison Ford to wear in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Who knows, there may yet be an Indiana Jones impersonator lurking in a couple of these photos …
For more explanation of the sights in this gallery, check out this article over on TDR Explorer. There you will see some of these same photos appear as part of The Gaijin Ghost’s “Ride Explorer” tour of the attraction.
Tokyo DisneySea - Port Discovery
Located in the back corner of Tokyo DisneySea, Port Discovery is in a state of flux, as of this writing. StormRider, the opening-day attraction that gave the port its central theme, has now closed, to be replaced in May 2017 by Nemo & Friends SeaRider, a submarine motion simulator.
It remains to be seen how this will alter the port’s theming. In a future trip report, we will examine how the port has been updated with the arrival of Nemo & Friends; in the meantime, there are still a few small pleasures to be had in Port Discovery.
Aquatopia offers a trackless water ride aboard personal hovercrafts, while the DisneySea Electric Railway offers elevated trolley rides, across the park, to American Waterfront.
Apart from those attractions, the other main highlights, as seen in this gallery of 85 photos, would be character dining in the Horizon Bay Restaurant, as well as spontaneous character greetings, out and about in the port.
Port Discovery also has its own band, rocking some cool steampunk outfits, as their time machine determines which era they perform music from. If you have been walking the park all day, this might just be a good place to sit down and rest your feet.
Near the boundary to Cape Cod, you can see real ducks go waddling by, while you peel back the Donald Duck wrapper on your ukiwah, or lifesaver, bun. At twilight or at night, when illuminated, this "futuristic marina" looks especially beautiful.