Japan · 9 Days · 42 Moments · April 2018

Martin and Theo's tour through Japan

13 April 2018

As we fly up out of Narita in our JAL flight bound for Moscow and then Heathrow. I wonder when we will return. This is my Fourth trip and certainly the best. I really felt as if I was getting a little closer to understanding the complex, yet perfectly formed parallel universe that is Japan. All in all it's been a whistlestop of a trip but we've seen a lot and happily the weather has been ok with a couple of really hot days, quite a bit of cloud and of course that snow! Food-wise I wish I'd had more sushi. A word Michiko in Kyoto taught us is lodged in my mind. It's 'thank you' in the local Kyoto dialect . In 'Queen's' or I suppose Emperor's Japanese, the word is Arigato. But in Kyoto it’s 'Okini!'. If you say this in Kyoto, the locals’ often impassive expression transforms into a how-did-you-get-to-know-our-secret? sort of smile. And that's pretty much what I feel now. Not sure about Theo San. Intense torture wouldn't get it out of him . Or maybe I'll just steal his IPhone!
And here we are in the final moments in our room . The second pic shows what Theo does if you ask him to smile!!!!

12 April 2018

Finally and very foot sore we went back to our hotel in Asakawa. Lovely high level views of the Tokyo mast . We wandered out later to find a special place for our last meal and somehow ended up at a grilled offal restaurant. Big mistake!!!
I decided I wanted a cool Tee Shirt and Theo San agreed so we trekked over to Eastern Tokyo and the Harajuku area. This is much more teenager friendly, a bit like a cross between Camden and Carnaby street! Theo got a very trendy one from a shop called Beam T and I got just what I was looking for - a simple white t shirt with Japanese characters down the front. I am assured it reads 'English Gentleman'! If you look in the tv screen above the street you can just about see a shot of me taking the picture
Back in Tokyo, we dropped off our bags at the main station then went off into the city. It was very hot and we made the mistake of walking around the Ginza area. Too many high end shops you could see anywhere else in the word! Cool Sony Centre. Ended up at ShakeShack...Theo San's favourite!
Passing Mount Fuji again. Surprisingly difficult to photograph from the train . So much stuff keeps getting in the way!!
That night we got caught in a torrential downpour as we swapped hotels for the last night . Had Ramen under the main station - not that great. In the morning it was off to the station to catch the 09.05 Nozomi Shinkansen back to Tokyo. Sadly we discovered we list our guide book!!

11 April 2018

After a quick lunch we continued north to 'The Philosopher's path ' mile long walk which follows a small canal used regularly in the last century by a famous Kyoto philosopher. Sadly my phone/camera ran out of juice at this point. But I hope to add in some pics from Theo. The path Hughes the edge of the town where it meets the heavily forested hills. And peppered within these are several amazing temples particularly the Nanzenji temple at the start of the walk .
We then wound our way up a very touristy set of streets all lined with different temples enfingvup quite high in the wooded hills above Eastern Kyoto
Incredible ceiling paining of two dragons on one of the temple ceilings!
Here is a guy in the grounds weeding the moss with tweezers!! You see a lot of this going on in the immaculately manicured gardens all over Kyoto. Our guide Michiko had pointed out that in Japan, moss is a good thing . They have the same phrase ' a rolling stone gathers no moss', but here that is seen as a bad thing. You need more moss!!
One such temple we just stumbled upon is called Kenninji Zen temple. It was full of exquisite wall paintings and zen gardens
We then walked on to explore in more depth the back streets of ancient Gion. A maze of narrow medieval streets lives with old wooden two story houses. Every few yards there would also be a shrine or a temple. In one there was a queue of people waiting to crawl through a hole in a huge stone covered with paper prayers! Everywhere there are young women (and many men) dressed in traditional costumes
We toyed with the idea of going to Hiroshima but in the rather damp light of day it didn't seem like such a good idea, so we explored Kyoto instead. And what a sensible idea that was! Started with a rather indulgent breakfast at Dean and Deluca just around the corner, then walked a short distance to Nishiki Food Market. This maybe quarter mile of small food outlets s was just amazing. Many of the sold things that only get eaten in Kyoto (some pretty disgusting looking to be honest!). It reminds you a bit of rural France - tiny specialist shops selling nothing but (perfectly wrapped) horse chestnuts or radishes or bean cakes or krill ! Not too many tourists either!

10 April 2018

Incredibly thick green forest all around. Very different from European or US forests. Later we caught the train back and had a pleasant meal in an ancient wooden restaurant that specialised in grilled food. Odd selection on menu - I ordered shrimp and they brought one on a stick!!
We then climbed the steep grassy hill behind the complex for wonderful views of the complex and the wooded hills around it. Very popular place for Chinese and Korean wedding photos!!
This is the great Buddha Vairocana inside. Thousands of Japanese school kids surround it on endless school trips
At the centre of this enormous temple complex is the Toda-ji temple. The world's largest wooden structure built in 742. It's really collossal
The place is infested with hungry deer. They are supposed to bow before they are fed but most just attack you for these bran biscuits you can buy specifically to feed them. I had my bottom bitten twice and one ate half my map !! They are seen as spirits here and seem to have no threats to life or limb
Set out late after a leisurely Starbucks breakfast to Nara, a town between Kyoto and Osaka. Another world heritage site and Japanese centre of Buddhism since the 4th century. Lovely sunshine !!

9 April 2018

Finally on to Gion. This is the ancient entertainment area in Kyoto famous for its Geishas. Billions of tourists here though which did spoil the place Theo unwell with headache in evening so had quick dinner then bed
On then to Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion. Also a world heritage site. Next door Ryoan-ji temple contains some of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen. Fascinating Ze garden contains raked gravel and15 stones. Wherever you stand you can never see all of these and as been used by monks for centuries to help them meditate!!
Beautiful grounds with a good number of cherry trees still in blossom. Many women in traditional costume here. Plus lots of hungry ancient carp
Met Michiko at our hotel. A lovely guide who had years ago lived in Putney then the US. We set off with her for a half day tour Visited Shogun's palace first. Really incredible 600 year old, vast wooden building. All on one level where Shogun took part in all official functions.
Heavy snow in the morning before we set off to Kyoto Bit of a mix up at breakfast where we are placed on same table as a group of US tourists and given traditional Japanese breakfast! This was generally awful (fish paste, cold poached egg and pickles, but interesting sort of slurry of meat and veg heated on a big leaf above a hot candle individually at your table, was actually quite nice!

8 April 2018

Finally bed in this traditional Japanese room with futons (separated so Theo was overjoyed!) He went out like a light and missed the opportunity to don a kimono and sit out in a natural hot spring. You had to get there through an external door so it was a bit chilly!!
Lots of blossom here!
We ended up at a very famous Hida beef restaurant called Maruaki. Everyone told us you had to queue to get in do we arrived at 4.30!!! Amazing very fatty meat which you cook over a charcoal grill embedded in the table top. I had a lot of hot sake here ! But they also sold wine by the 'grass'!!!
We drop our bags off at hotel up above the town and then start wandering. Ancient wooden streets with lots of interesting shops and European style coffee places
Train takes us up deep heavily wooded valleys to Takayama. About 2 and a half hours. More cherry blossom as we get higher (the mountains are around 3,500m high. As we get to Takayama it starts snowing!!!
Passing Mt Fuji at 300kph (186mph). You do get a feeling of real speed , but other than this it's pretty built up the whole one and a half hour journey
After another sleepless night for both of us we left Innsomnia (perfect name as it turned out) at 07.15. Then taxi to Tokyo central station, a quick Starbucks latte for me and Theo's first ever frapaccinno, then onto the 08.00 Shinkansen bound for Nagoya!

7 April 2018

Finished our 3 hour ride then went to a great Ramen restaurant Had to catch taxi home since jet lag (and a beer) just shut me down for two hours early evening. Now getting ready for our bullet train trip tomorrow!!!
Cycled on to look at various sites, including a Shinto temple, Tokyo's main Sumo centre, Geek street (full of electronic gadgets) and finally the edges of the Emporer's palace. Can't get in though. Massive area surrounded by these huge moated walls. There was even a little cherry blossom left. Cherry blossom came out 10 days early this year.
We walked for 45 mins back to our hotel from the market then joined our second bicycle tour at 1.20. Had the same guide -Soshi (not, he was at pains to point out, 'Sushi'!). Joined by very nice family from Mexico City. Weirdly the wife had been to Sarah's international school (she was Canadian). They had two little girls who they pulled around on bike extensions. This first stop is back in Ginza, Tokyo's most expensive shopping street. Includes Tokyo's most expensive sushi bar - $300 each for 30 min stay minimum. Also a coffee shop that dusts your cappuccino with you portrait photo in chocolate powder!!
Tons of tiny restaurants and shops within the inner market (as opposed to the open access and hugely touristy outer market). Supposed to be the very best Sushi and huge queues to get in. But we didn't wait around. Not sure we wanted sushi at 11.00am!!
No sleep AT ALL! But up earlyish, relaxed breakfast then braved the subway system again to get to Tsukiji Fish Market when it opens to the public at 10.00am. The market is the biggest in the world and opens for trade at around 01.00an. Really enormous place with every type of sea creature you can imagine. Not supposed to take pictures in there for some reason!

6 April 2018

Back at Innsomnia and ready to crash!!
Dinner at Yakutsa sushi. Amazing taste. Lots of tuna, eel and egg. Made by the 75 year old owner (the bald guy ).
Cycle tour of Tokyo at night led my Sochi. Nice guy. Whizzing around fish market, Tokyo's pancake heaven, financial district and Ginza shopping area! Area under the bridge (Nihonbashi) is the dead centre of Japan!
Tired after an all night flight from London to Tokyo via Helsinki. Four hours from touchdown to bedroom where we discover there is only one bed. Theo freaking a bit and reclining on the sofa. Have to rest and get ready for our evening cycle ride. Hotel Innsomnia is pretty cool. Complimentary coffee from the downstairs coffee bar 24 hours