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Japan: Tokyo (Madame Tussauds Wax Museum)

In an earlier blog post, I had written about Madame Tussauds Wax Museum located in Hollywood, California. (https://wordpress.com/stats/insights/traveldreamscapes.wordpress.com )  During my recent visit to Japan, I had the opportunity to visit Madame Tussauds in Tokyo.

Madame Tussaud or Marie Tussaud was born as Marie Grosholtz in 1761 in Strasbourg, France.  She eventually settled in London and by 1825, opened the first wax museum on Baker Street. Today, the museum is a major tourist attraction in London, displaying life-size waxworks of royalty, historical figures, film and sport stars and famous murderers. The wax figures were once roped off from visitors but today the public can get up close and personal with the celebrities, dress up in costumes and take pictures!

If you are unable to visit the original London attraction, do not worry, Madame Tussauds has opened up branches in various countries including China, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Australia, the United States and Japan.

The Japanese museum opened on March 15, 2013.  It is located at DECKS Tokyo Beach in Odaiba, approximately 32 minutes by train from Tokyo Station. The museum has over sixty wax figures of world leaders, celebrities, music stars and other television and news personalities on display. You can mingle and have your photo taken with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, President Barack Obama, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, you name it.  The museum also features various Japanese personalities such as Prime Minister Abe, skater Mao Asada, television personality Matsuko Deluxe and the famous rock band, XJapan, just to name a few.

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Duke & Duchess of Cambridge

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Lady Gaga

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Audrey Hepburn

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Michael Jackson

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Akiko Wada

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Yuko Oshima (AKB48)

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Odaiba is accessible via the Yurikamome Line from Tokyo Station, exit at the Odaiba Kaihin Koen stop. DECKS is just a short walk from the station.

 

Web page:         https://www.madametussauds.jp/tokyo/en/

Location:            3F Decks Tokyo Beach Island Mall, 1-6-1 Daiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo

 

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Japan: Chiba (Chiba Port Tower/ 千葉ポートタワー)

Since their construction, the Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Skytree have been drawing crowds, both locals and tourists, for their magnificent bird’s eye views of Tokyo. But did you know that there is another tower where you can glimpse very unique views of Tokyo Bay and even Mount Fuji on a clear day?

The Chiba Port Tower constructed in 1986 stands at approximately 410 feet tall and offers 360° panoramic views of the area. Located in Chiba Port Park and rather close to the Chiba Prefectural Museum of Art, the tower was constructed to commemorate Chiba Prefecture’s population exceeding the 5 million mark. The exterior of the tower is covered with mirrored glass, which reflects the sun and makes the tower appear blue during the day.

The tower has four stories. The middle portion of the tower is hollow, which provides an interesting perspective during the elevator ride. When you enter through the first floor, you will find a souvenir shop selling items unique to Chiba along with an exhibition room, theater and a children’s room. Visitors take the elevator from the first floor to the fourth floor observation deck. The third and second floor can be accessed from the fourth floor via a stairway. There is an elevator located on the second floor, which will take visitors back to the first floor.

The second floor contains a special wall painting called Aqua Fantasy, painted with special luminous paint. After the sun sets, the painting is illuminated by black light and the objects in the painting appear to be three-dimensional. There is also an area called Lover’s Sanctuary, with seats set together in close pairs near the windows. Couples can purchase a heart-shaped lock and after writing their names on it, fasten it onto a window grate for all time. In a way, it is reminiscent of the lover’s bridge in Paris, the Pont des Arts, where couples toss the keys into the River Seine after attaching their locks to the bridge.

The third floor houses a coffee shop called Café La Plage. The shop can accommodate 50 people and it can be reserved for weddings and parties.

The main observation deck is located on the fourth floor. From here, visitors can see the Chiba Marine Stadium, Mount Tsukuba and the Chiba Zoo to the North; the Tokyo Electric Power Company and the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line to the South; Narita Airport, Chiba Prefectural Museum of Art and Chiba Port Square to the East and finally, Haneda Airport, Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Disney Resort, Mount Fuji and Tokyo Tower to the West.

From the middle of November to the end of December the exterior of Chiba Port Tower is decorated with 3,000 Christmas lights, which form a large Christmas tree.

The tower is somewhat underrated hence it is cheaper to access its observatory than its more formidable neighbors, Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree and the views are quite nice if you overlook the Keiyo Industrial Zone.

You can access the Chiba Port Tower via the JR Keiyo Line, exit Chiba Minato Station. From that point, your destination is merely 15 minutes on foot.

 

Pont des Arts, Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

Mt. Fuji in the distance

Mt. Fuji in the distance

View

Tokyo Skytree

West View

Rainbow Bridge

Web page: http://chiba-porttower.com/

Germany: Hamburg (Miniatur Wunderland )

If you are a model railroad enthusiast, Miniatur Wunderland (German for “miniature wonderland”) will be your Eden! Located in Hamburg, Germany, Miniatur Wunderland is the brainchild of twins, Gerrit and Frederik Braun and the world’s largest model railroad, with over 39,000 feet of tracks occupying over 12,000 square feet! The brothers set about in building the massive model railway system in 2000 and in August of 2001, they opened three completed sections to the public. The original sections consisted of Harz/ Central Germany, Knuffingen (a fake city) and Austria. Today, this miniature wonderland which is open 365 days a year has become one of the biggest tourist highlights in northern Germany.

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In November of 2002, the brothers added Hamburg followed by the U.S. in December of 2003. From 2005-2011 the exhibit grew to include Scandinavia, Switzerland and the Knuffingen Airport (modeled after Hamburg International Airport). There are currently plans to add Italy in 2015, followed by France in 2017 and England in 2019. In addition to offering different landscapes which correspond to various countries, the exhibit includes 890 trains consisting of up of over 11,000 carriages, 300,000 lights, 3,500 buildings & bridges, 215,000 trees, and 200,000 human figurines. Further the brothers have incorporated lighting which simulates dawn, daylight, sunset, and allows the visitors to view the entire display in a nighttime setting. All parts are built to a scale of 1:87 and much of the technology is custom-created as many of the stock components were not designed for continuous operation.

Each of the cities have their own attractions constructed in meticulous detail. Knuffingen, for instance, has firemen and policemen with working engines and sirens. The U.S. consists of a tiny Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Yosemite Park and Cape Canaveral. Scandinavia features the northern Baltic Sea which uses 33,000 liters of running water with low and high tide simulated every 30 minutes. Switzerland has a chocolate plant and an open-air concert with 20,000 concert-goers.

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Display of Miniatur Wunderland Modelleisenbahn itself

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The attraction has long waiting queues on Saturdays, Sundays, and during school holidays so plan to arrive early in the morning during those times. Only a limited number of visitors are granted access simultaneously to the exhibit in order to allow each guest an opportunity to enjoy exploring the different landscapes, so keep that in mind also.

Address:                    Miniatur Wunderland Modelleisenbahn Hamburg, Kehrwieder 4, 20457 Hamburg

Web page:                  http://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/

Hours:                        Daily from 9:30 am – 6 pm / Tuesdays from 9:30 am – 9 pm /

Saturdays from 8 am – 9 pm /Sundays and on public holidays from 8:30 am – 8 pm

Japan: Tokyo (Tokyo Tower Christmas Illumination)

Not to be outdone by the winter illumination event at the Tokyo Skytree, the folks at the Tokyo Tower host an annual Christmas Illumination display which begins in early November and usually concludes on Christmas. The winter spectacle is not over the top as some illumination displays in and around Tokyo tend to be this time of year. Rather, it is tastefully done and definitely worth viewing given that the theme of the display changes annually.

The Christmas Illumination display utilizes thousands of lights both outside and inside the tower. The lights are switched on at 4:00 PM and remain lit until 10:00 PM. Both levels of the Tokyo Tower observatory are transformed into an adult fantasy land with brilliant lights hung from the ceiling which combined with the glow of lights from the city below create a romantic atmosphere. Couples stroll hand in hand on the observatory levels taking in the beautiful views of Tokyo. A stunningly decorated and illuminated Christmas tree is the focal point of the display outside of the tower. Every half hour beginning at 4:00 PM, a Christmas tree light show takes place, synchronized to music befitting the theme.

The event is a unique way to glimpse a bird’s eye view of Tokyo City during the festive holiday season. Tokyo Tower is merely 5 minutes on foot from the Akabanebashi Station on the Metropolitan Subway/ Oedo Line. You can also take the Tokyo Metropolitan/ Hibiya Line to Kamiyacho Station. The tower is 7 minutes on foot from that point.

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Address:        4-2-8 Shiba-Koen, Minato, Tokyo

Web page:      http://www.tokyotower.co.jp/hot_topics/index.cgi?tno=2287

 

Japan: Tokyo (The Baccarat Eternal Lights)

The number of illumination displays throughout Tokyo seems endless during the holiday season! Yet, one of the more unusual ones takes place at Yebisu Garden Place from early November until mid-January. Known as The Baccarat Eternal Lights, the event which began in 1999, features a 16-foot Baccarat crystal chandelier comprised of 8,472 pieces of crystal illuminated with 250 light bulbs.

Baccarat Crystal is a renowned manufacturer of fine crystal glassware. Located in Baccarat, France, the company began in 1765 and manufactured all types of utility glassware including windows, bottles and tableware. The company did not start producing fine lead crystal until 1815. Today, it is considered the foremost glassworks in France having won medals at major exhibitions in Paris from 1823 onwards.

Yebisu Garden Place was built on the former site of a beer brewery and consists of roughly a dozen buildings and skyscrapers. It features a large array of restaurants and shops including a Mitsukoshi Department Store, the Westin Tokyo Hotel, offices, residential space, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and the Michelin three-star Chateau Restaurant Taillvent-Robuchon.

The chandelier is encased in aluminum and glass at the far end of a red carpet. A large Christmas tree can be found at the opposite end. Trees illuminated with tiny lights sparkle on each side of the carpet as you make your way toward the enormous chandelier.

During the lighting ceremony, which takes place on the first day of the event, there are live performances featuring an orchestra and choir performing at the foot of the chandelier. The chandelier is lit from 4:00 PM – 11:00 PM daily.

All in all, it is a rather romantic setting, appealing to couples who typically stroll together in town this time of year.

The Yebisu Garden Place is easily accessible from Ebisu Station (Yamanote Line) via the skywalk.

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New Mexico: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

It began in the parking lot of the Coronado Center Mall in 1972 with just 13 balloons and has grown into one of the largest ballooning events in the world. Today, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta takes place at a permanent site equaling more than 350 acres with over 700 balloons and 1,000 pilots. Further, the event draws participants from 22 countries including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Lithuania, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States.

The event takes place at Balloon Fiesta Park in early October and draws over 850,000 visitors to Albuquerque over its nine day duration. The fiesta is divided into two sessions: morning and evening. The nine morning sessions begin at 5:45AM and wrap up around 12PM. The five evening sessions begin at 1:30PM and end at 8PM (there are no evening sessions on some days).

In 1989, the Special Shape Rodeo was added and has become the most popular event at the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

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Visitors can walk amongst the unusual shaped balloons ranging from clowns to Star Wars characters and chat with the pilots. Each year there is a different theme and the sky is filled with balloons of all shapes and sizes creating a captivating spectacle.

If you are the daring type, you can schedule a balloon ride in advance by contacting RAINBOW RYDERS, INC. at: 1-800-725-2477.

In addition to the balloons, the event features a stage on Main Street where various bands and children’s acts perform.

For more information, visit: http://www.balloonfiesta.com/

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Japan: Kyoto (Jidai Matsuri)

The Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages), which began in 1895, is one of the largest festivals in Kyoto and takes place on October 22nd, the day during which the city became the capital of Japan in the year 794. The festival is in essence a historical reenactment parade with participants dressed in authentic costumes representing various periods and characters during Kyoto’s 1,074 year reign. The festival also commemorates the founding of the Heian-jingu Shrine, which was built to slow the city’s decline following the transfer of the capital to Tokyo in 1868.

The parade began as a small event with only six procession lines and has grown over the years to include twenty procession lines consisting of 2,000 participants and over 70 horses, which wind their way from the Old Imperial Palace to Heian-jingu Shrine. The procession is separated into historical eras and then further separated into themes. The parade begins with characters from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and continues in reverse chronological order until the beginning of the Heian period in 781. The festival’s honorary commissioners head the parade riding in horse drawn carriages. Following them are figures from the Meiji Restoration. There are marching bands with drums and flutes and soldiers who would have fought with the imperial forces, as well as some of the era’s most notable figures, including Sakamoto Ryoma. The largest group in the parade depicts the extravagant convoys sent by the shogun to represent him at important imperial ceremonies in Kyoto during the Edo period (1603-1867).

The Jidai Matsuri begins early in the morning with the mikoshi (portable shrines) carried out from the Old Imperial Palace. The procession starts in the afternoon and ends approximately 2 hours later at the Heian-jingu Shrine.

It is interesting to note that on July 25th, 1998, the 40th anniversary of Paris becoming Kyoto’s sister city, that the Jidai Matsuri was transported abroad for the first time. The procession began at the Arc de Triomphe and passed through such places as the Concord Plaza and the Louvre. Approximately 400 Kyoto citizens along with 260 Japanese residents of France joined local French participants in the parade, drawing over 200,000 spectators!

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Official Web page: http://www.kyoto.travel/kyoto_jidai_matsuri_festival_o.html