Japan · 22 Days · 116 Moments · April 2018

Three Weeks in Japan

8 May 2018

We caught the Narita Express to the airport. We had a good look around before we checked in. On line checkin allowed us to beat the huge crowd that was lined up at the checkin kiosks. We had a look at the duty free shops and we are now sitting at a bar with a great view sipping a G&T deciding whether to go back to the duty free shops.
The rain had finished when we woke this morning but the temperature had plummeted to 13°. We have had temperatures in the low 20s and above most of the time so it was a bit of a shock. We left our Airbnb and caught the train two stops to Tokyo Station, worked out how to use the coin lockers and had a good look around The station. There was an underground shopping mall with one street (Tokyo Character Street) devoted entirely to shops selling anime,manga and TV character merchandise. It was quite interesting.

7 May 2018

It’s raining in Tokyo now. It had been forecast all day but was late coming. We had been walking round with umbrellas all day and when we came out of the restaurant where we had dinner it had finally come with a vengeance. We got saturated on the 10 minute walk home even with umbrellas.
Don Quijote is a discount Department store a bit like Shiploads/Reject shop on Steroids. You walk in and you look around and you think “what the $&@!”. The place is full of everything you could imagine jam packed to the ceilings on all floors so it’s like a maze trying to find your way around. Fire safety obviously isn’t an issue there!
Our final day in Tokyo was pretty low key. We hadn’t really been into any Japanese Department Stores yet so we headed back to Shinjuku where there were quite a few. We stumbled our way around Takashimaya, Tokyu Hands and Odakyu but the prices were ridiculously expensive and most of the brands were Western apart from Tokyu hands but still expensive. To make matters worse I think I left our Bible (Supercheap Japan) in Tully’s coffee and didn’t realise until we were well away. Because it was our last day and because is difficult to find your way around (everything is connected either by overpass or underpass which is fine for comfortable shopping but a nightmare to find your way around. Often the phone GPS jumps all over the place making it next to useless.)We didn’t go back for it. Some tourist might get a little bonus. We tried to find Don Quijote but Apple maps led us up the Garden path until Mr Google stepped in to help.

6 May 2018

As it was although Yoyogi Park was humming with the Elvis dancers at the gate, a circus act or two, some drummers and dancers and a girl J pop singer and lots of people just chilling out, the Rainbow Pride section near the stage was so packed we realised that we wouldn’t get near enough to see anything so we walked around the various tents looking at the sights before heading back to the station. We weren’t disappointed at all because we’d seen the parade.
We knew Tokyo 🌈 Rainbow Pride was happening during the week and we were planning to go to Yoyogi Park later to see the finale. But Lo and behold just as we came out of cafe for a coffee shot there appeared down that very street the Rainbow Pride parade(which we didn’t know anything about). It was huge and seemed to go on forever. We watched for about an hour and half and took countless photos and movies. It was amazing. It made our day. We haven’t been to the Sydney Mardi Gras and this one was a real celebration as well but probably without so many floats.
After buying our ticket on the Narita Express for the airport on Tuesday, we took the train to Harajuku and the famous Takeshita Street. This is where Tokyo fashion begins (and ends according to some!). Cosplay and Lolita fashion shops and many young girls dressed in this style although I’m still a bit confused over which is which because I know nothing about anime or manga. I just know the emphasis is on cute with colours and make up and sometimes animal ears as well as Victorian and rococo type dresses and sometimes school uniforms. Takeshita Street itself was a mass of people as all tourist areas tend to be but the side streets and back lanes were much quieter with some interesting shops no so much for the cute young things.

5 May 2018

We had some “Where’s Wally?” moments on the subway. We were supposed to be heading for Shimo-kitazawa so we set off for Shimo station. Part way through the trip I realised that this was a completely different place and no where near our intended location. So on the fly we looked at our subway map and our book “Super Cheap Japan” and decided to head for Koenji instead. According to our book this is where all the cool, young people go to shop. No tourists apart from us. Just a nice vibe, plenty of cool young locals and a second hand/vintage clothing shop for just about everyone there! I’ve never seen so many. They weren’t cheap however but interesting to look through some of the bigger ones. Also some second hand record shops as well as many other quirky shops. We spent the afternoon and early evening wandering around taking it all in.
So we headed off to the Imperial Palace Gardens. These are the gardens surrounding the ruins of the once grand palace which no longer exists. The gardens are maintained and some of the guard posts still exist as well as the foundations of the Palace but nothing more. The rock size of the foundations were pretty impressive.
We were determined to get to the Tsukiji fish market in the morning to see one of the biggest fish markets in the world. And guess what... it was closed!! Must’ve been something to do with Golden week. So we just walked around the perimeter with all of the other bemused tourists. Looking at the restaurants and other fish market sidelines. Pretty ordinary really. So we didn’t spend much time there at all.

4 May 2018

Tower Records. Eight floors of music. One whole floor for J Pop. We went to the rock and indie floor 5. I could have spent thousands but bought nothing. If they don’t have it - it probably doesn’t exist!
We had our first taste of J Pop culture in Shibuya. Relentless advertising on billboards, screens and trucks doing blockies pounding out J Pop music 🎶. It was sensory overload!
We walked around some of the streets around the station soaking up the atmosphere. So different to Melbourne or Sydney.
We caught the Subway to Shibuya Station at about 4pm. What a contrast. The Shibuya crossing pedestrian scramble-the busiest crossing in the world. We even broke our rule and had a Starbucks coffee just so we could sit on the second floor and watch it unfold.
After a quick bakery lunch on the steps of Shinjuku station we caught the subway to Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens. The garden was previously the mansion grounds of a Fuedal lord family in the Edo Period and we struck it lucky-today was a free day. The were lots of people there enjoying the holiday but the park was so big it didn’t seem overcrowded. We felt like we didn’t need to see it all as we had already seen so many amazing gardens. It was incredible to think we were in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world although there was one building that kept poking itself above the trees.
After a fairly slow start we headed to Shimbashi station to buy our 24 hr Tokyo Metro ticket. Once we worked out which machine to use we headed down for the Ginza line which should have been a straight through to Shinjuku. Just our luck the Ginza line was partially closed so we had to transfer to another line part of the way through which meant a long walk through the subway up and down escalators and stairs to connect to the Maranouchi line. We were heading for the Tokyo Metropolitan Observation decks. Unlike some of the other towers in Tokyo this one is free. A 20 minute wait in line and then up the lift 45 floors to some amazing views. If you look really closely in one of the shots you can see Mt. Fuji.

3 May 2018

Then it was plain sailing to Tokyo station then two stops on the JR Yamanote line (the final time for the use of our Rail Pass) and then a 10 minute walk to our Airbnb. We found a supermarket for supplies near the beginning of the Ginza district and then Ramen near Shimbashi station which was so big we couldn’t eat it all.
Ah Tokyo! We finally made it. But not without a few hiccups. Being Golden week the 8 car Sakura from Hiroshima was packed. I had to stand for about an hour and a quarter. Sheridan was offered a seat by a nice young traveller. The aisle was wall to wall people and luggage. At Kobe we needed to change trains and we made our first mistake not checking the board and got on the the 10:26 Nozomi to Tokyo instead of the 10:29 Hikari. We had reserved seats on the Hikari! Someone was in what we thought were our seats. The conductor explained that we needed to change trains at Osaka(next stop) and go to platform 25 (it was actually 26). We had 3 minutes. We have never moved so quickly up and down stairs with cases( no time for escalators or lifts). We made it just as the train pulled in. Because I carried both cases I needed several minutes to recover once we had found our seats!
Train guard Hiroshima Station.
Women’s toilet line at Hiroshima station. You need to allow at least 20 minutes before your train.

2 May 2018

We don’t normally do drinks and dinner at our hotel but the rain forced us to break our golden rule. You can see the rain and umbrellas if you look closely through the bistro blind.
The rain was getting heavier and we were drenched so we decided to head back to the ferry. It was only lunch time and there was so much more we could have seen on a dry day but this was one day that we had to concede to the weather. A beautiful place even in these conditions so maybe we might come back one day.
There was also a spectacular 5 storey pagoda with adjacent building which were also worth seeing.
The highlight was the Itsukushima temple which not only was an amazing place built over the water but also was mostly under cover!
We knew it was going to rain on our day in Miyajima. We had been checking the forecast for days.... and rain ☔️ it did. All day. We knew there would be no point going up the cable car to the mountain, so we wandered around the town getting wetter and wetter. I was too tight to spend 500 yen on an umbrella but in the end it wouldn’t have mattered.
We caught the JR train to Miyajimaguchi then walked down to catch the ferry.
Breakfast at our hotel was very sparse compared to some of the other breakfast included accommodation we have had. We had to do a second course at the station before we headed for Miyajima.

1 May 2018

These trees somehow survived the bombing and have been transplanted in the Memorial Park. They are very twisted and some of the burn marks are still visible today.
One photo I did sneak was the damaged watch stuck on 8:15 the time that the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima.
There were so many different monuments to Peace in the Park including the Memorial Cenotaph, the Peace bell, the Peace Flame, the Children’s Peace Monument, the Rest House which was a shop at the time of the bombing, now a tourist information building and the Memorial mound. But the highlights were not photographable. They were the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It was difficult not to become emotional when reading and viewing the displays. Just like in Berlin so much I didn’t know!
The Peace Memorial Park was a very sobering experience. We started at the A Bomb dome, a Government building that was at Ground Zero with the bomb detonated 600m overhead this is what remained. It was decided to leave it as it was as a monument to the effects of the bomb. It was an eerie sight.
After we had checked in to our hotel we had a quick lunch and then walked towards the Peace Memorial Park - a must see for us.
Because of Golden week we tried to reserve seats for our trip to Hiroshima. We got the first leg to Kobe but had to go non reserved to Hiroshima. Luckily a very nice young Japanese woman travelling on her own offered her seat which had a spare next to it and was happy to sit next to somebody else. We have found them so friendly and helpful pretty much all the time.

30 April 2018

Downtown Gion at night.
We planned an evening walking tour of Gion so after the market and some shopping we caught the bus to Gion. The tour was dominated with information about Geisha (Geiko and Meiko-apprentice Geisha). But many other aspects of Japanese culture were talked about as well. Gion itself was fascinating but the photos don’t do it justice because it had started to get dark
We think these were rice balls with crab filling but there was no English, nevertheless they were delicious.
Nishiki market. The biggest market in Kyoto. Surrounded by a huge shopping precinct.
Kyoto station during Golden Week.
Building construction Japanese style.
Tofukuji temple a short walk from our Airbnb.

29 April 2018

On the train back to Kyoto we stood right behind the driver in his glass cabin. The drivers wear white gloves and do Interesting little pointing gestures before operating a particular control. It was also fascinating watching the train switch tracks during its trip something you don’t see from a side window.
By the river at Arashiyama.
The gardens of the temple were stunning. The photos say it all.
Shoes off in temples is ok until you stub your toe. It’s a grimace not a smile. Nothing like a refreshing chilled pickled cucumber with lemon juice to take away the pain.
Next was the Tenryu-ji temple. This is another UNESCO world heritage sight. It is one of the oldest temples in Japan. It started off as a Zen Buddhist temple but was taken over by the Japanese aristocracy. Then it fell into ruin for a period before being restored and now operates again as a working temple for Zen Buddhists.
We caught the train back to Arashiyama and went for a walk in the bamboo forest(along with hundreds of others) although as we got further in the crowds thinned. So many selfies and posing happening along the way.
We happened upon a small parade of floats drumming and chanting on the streets around our accommodation. No sure if it’s something to do with Golden Week which starts this week or not.
Our Airbnb came with free bikes so we decided to spend some time cycling along the Camo river this morning. There were many cyclists and joggers enjoying their Sunday morning.

28 April 2018

Once again using the buses we headed out to the Arashiyama area. We were much later than we planned due to our misfortune with the first bus. However we were so impressed and there is so much to see we decided to comeback tomorrow.
Green tea ice cream is actually quite delicious.
We started to work the bus system out so we headed for Kinkakuji. This time it only took about half an hour. Kinkakuji or Golden Pavilion is probably one of the best known buildings in Kyoto and is often synonymous with Kyoto in travel brochures and websites. Still it was a great site seeing it first hand.
The temple, being on a hill, also afforded some excellent views of the city.
The Kiyomizu-dera temple and grounds were pretty amazing despite the crowds. It is one of the many UNESCO world heritage sights in Kyoto and is part of the historic monuments of ancient Kyoto.
We walked to Kyoto station (about 15 minutes from our Airbnb) and bought a day bus pass. We planned to see the Kiyomizu-dera temple first and we wanted to get there early. We knew we needed to catch the 206 bus but what we didn’t realise was that it was a loop bus that travelled in both directions around the city. Our temple was about 5 stops in the anticlockwise direction. We caught the clockwise one! So much for early but we had about an hour and a half tour of just about every bus stop in Kyoto.

27 April 2018

Japanese food art. Each plate is carefully crafted to look exactly like the meal it represents in the right three dimensional proportion so you can see precisely what it looks like.
Kyoto tower from the station.
Train travel in Japan is very civilised. They all run on time so all the connections to other lines work. Every one lines up to get on the train. No one pushes in. They are spotlessly clean. There is no graffiti on the trains, in the stations or anywhere along the lines! The conductors and food cart staff all bow before entering and leaving a car and on the local trains station staff often give a special two handed wave as the train pulls out of the station.
Two contrasting views on the trip from Takayama to Kyoto.
Our final Traditional Japanese breakfast. We only knew what some of the things were. I suspect one of the unknown goodies may have been crab innards, as we saw this on some of the Japanese menus!

26 April 2018

More folk village photos.
The Hida Folk village. What an amazing place. If we had known it was this good we would have come here first! So in under an hour we raced around about 30 buildings in the hillside setting giving an idea of what mountain village life was like in the Hida region.
On the walk to the folk village area. We got a bit lost and it took us much longer than we thought so we arrived just under an hour before closing.
More Japanese box cars. One model, a Honda is even called the N Box.
The museum of festival floats was fascinating but no photos were allowed also. Takayama has a festival of floats every Autumn and Spring and the floats are massive (two stories high) ornate, colourful, oriental structures either wheeled or carried by many people during the festival so the doors to let the floats out twice a year need to be two stories high as well. Such a shame we weren’t allowed photos.
The Takayama Showa (retro 50’s and 60’s) museum was very entertaining, giving a good appreciation of Japanese popular culture of the day.
The Museum of History and art was very interesting but many of the exhibits had no English explanation. Also no photos were allowed.
Japanese breakfast then coffee at the Ryokan Seiryu.

25 April 2018

Dinner was Mexican at a tiny one man place run by a Japanese guy who spent some time in Mexico and was inspired enough to come back and start his own restaurant. It was authentic and fresh and washed down with some local sake.
We went for an evening walk before dinner.
It was time for check in at the Ryokan Seiryu. A little classier than the one at Kawaguchiko.
We headed to the old town. This place was rated as one of the top destinations in Japan last year and there were plenty of tourists about. It was hard to get a photo without someone in shot. Without the tourists and the trappings of modern technology here, it would be easy to imagine being taken back in time to a much simpler era.
We had our first Japanese curry for lunch. It was nice enough but probably a bit sweet for our tastes.
Many bridges cross the river.
We arrived in Takayama, found our way to our Ryokan but we were too early for Check-in so we left our luggage and set out to explore this historic town.
Our trip on the train from Kanazawa to Takayama was our most interesting so far. We started in the lowlands with lots of rice paddies then gradually began climbing with the countryside changing quickly and we started winding our way through steep forested valleys, past raging brown rivers full from yesterday’s rain. We passed through countless tunnels and over many bridges.

24 April 2018

We walked to the Naga-machi area which is where many old Samurai buildings still survive since feudal times. Strolling around here is where you get a sense of a bygone Japan.
Next stop was the Oyama Jinja shrine a Shinto shrine moved to Kanazawa in 1873.
Despite the rain we decided to walk to Omi Cho market the biggest in Kanazawa. It was extremely clean and didn’t smell like some of the Chinatown markets we have been to.
We knew rain was forecast today and it is not surprising as Kanazawa receives 192 wet days a year. The eastern entrance to Kanazawa station is fairly impressive and the letters and numbers on the signs in the photos are all mini water fountains which change every minute.

23 April 2018

When in Japan watch how the locals eat.
Across the road was Kanazawa castle. We were too late to see inside the building but we walked around the grounds of the impressive structure before catching the bus back to the station.
More garden photos.
It was too early to check in to our hotel so we left our luggage there and headed straight for the famous Kenrokumachi gardens one of the best known in Japan established over 300 years ago. They were amazing. I’ll let the photos say the rest.
After an impressive buffet breakfast we checked out of the hotel Richmond and made our way to the station. We caught the 10:07 to Nagano then our first Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kanazawa.

22 April 2018

Unfortunately we had missed the 4pm train back to Matsumoto and had to wait until 5:19 for a local train which took almost 2 hours to get back to Matsumoto. Another big day came to end.
More walking through quiet forested areas past rocky streams and we finally arrived in Tsumago. We had no time to look around because when we arrived at the bus stop the bus for Nagiso station had just arrived so we dashed and caught it.
At about the half way point we were beckoned in to a wooden building for a free a cup of green tea and a chat with fellow walkers and some very friendly hosts. This was the very same place we had seen on Joanna Lumley’s Japan.
There was still much blossom out and many bear bells to ring just in case! It was pretty hot by now so any self respecting bear should have been asleep under a tree or in cave!
So two hours late we caught the train for Nakatsugawa then the bus to Magome to start our walk on the best known section of the Nakasendo trail from Magome to Tsumago. These are two old post towns that form part of the ancient trail from Kyoto to Tokyo. This section is only about 8 kms and takes about 2 hours without stops. However with multiple photo stops it would take us much longer. The first part was uphill passing through the gorgeous town of Magome. Quite touristy but as soon as the trail proper starts most of the tourist disappeared and it wasn’t crowded at all.
Our best laid plans for today went out the window when we woke to find our phones weren’t charged and not only that the portable battery charging in the same Power Point was completely dead. The travel USB charger they were all plugged into had died during the night and somehow killed the battery but luckily our phones were still alive. We needed our phones for photos so we had no choice but to wait until 10 am (because it was a Sunday) for the nearest phone shop to open so we could get something to charge our phones.😠

21 April 2018

The trip back was the reverse transport and queues. We worked we had to queue 14 times altogether but there is no way around it when so many people want to see it. Luckily we made it back to Ogizawa in good time-time for Sheridan to be shown how to use the food ordering machine at the station by a lovely Japanese girl who had been to Australia several times. Back at Matsumoto we decided on cheap chain restaurant food close to the hotel. It was a huge but unforgettable day (thanks Bruce!)
The final leg for us was another trolley bus through the mountain to Murodo and the great snow wall. Here we were able to do the wall and panorama walk. It was amazing. Worth all the queues! The pass is only open from mid April to mid October each year and it takes 7-10 days for their machines to excavate almost 20 m deep snow so that the buses can use the pass.
The next stage is the rope way which takes you up almost 1000 m with no supporting pylons. It was a pity we were crammed in like sardines so we weren’t able to appreciate the view as much as we should have been able to.
Next we walked along the dam wall to catch a cable car to Korobedaira. Once again more queuing. Then the cable car takes you up 500m at rather a steep angle! At korobedaira there were some breathtaking views. This was the longest wait but at least there was plenty to see.
From Ogizawa you have buy a ticket for however much of the journey you want to make. We wanted to go to the snow wall at Murodo which cost about 9000 yen (about $110 so not cheap). The first leg is trolley bus to the Kurobe Dam. As you can see there were massive queues of people waiting to get on the buses.
After an early breakfast at the hotel we made our way to the station and caught the 7:48 train to Shinano-Omachi and then a bus to Ogizawa Station. This is the start of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route an amazing piece of engineering that allows people to travel by various means over and through one of Japan’s great mountain ranges. The bus trip to Oginawa was very scenic with the snow capped mountains in the background, over rushing steams, past mountain cabins and even dodging the occasional snow monkey.

20 April 2018

Dinner tonight was another gem. North Indian food by an expat Indian guy and his Japanese wife in another small restaurant. So good!
We are impressed with Matsumoto. It is a very neat, clean little city with some nice little features as you walk around.
It was a glorious Spring day about 22 degrees and we strolled around the castle grounds afterwards.
After we had checked in at the hotel we had a 15 minute walk to Matsumoto Castle, one of the many mainly timber castles in Japan. It was quite an impress building and well worth the fee hundred yen admission.
After an early morning bathe in the hot spring at the hotel we had a very unhealthy breakfast from the nearest Lawson and made our way to the station on the hotel mini bus. We had to buy tickets on the first leg to Otsuki but we were able to use our JR pass on the next two legs to Matsumoto.

19 April 2018

Dinner tonight was amazing. It was an Izakaya place (similar to Tapas style) called High Spirits which I found on Yelp. The place is small with Japanese style seating run by one guy on his own (no waiter) who prepares the food and serves it and entertains you as well in good English. He has been all over the world learning his craft (even Tasmania- he uses Tasmanian honey and Lavender syrup). The place is rated 8 on the best restaurants in Japan on Trip Advisor but it is not at all fancy and reasonably priced for what you get. You can checkout more about the place on Facebook. Just search for Izakaya High Spirits. Probably the best food I’ve ever eaten!
After a picnic lunch from the nearest Lawson we walked around the North Eastern corner of the lake to take in the last of the cherry blossom.
We took a boat ride on the lake and guess what? More shots of Fuji!!
Next was the Ropeway cable car to the top of one of the hills overlooking the lake. There were some spectacular views from the top. We certainly struck it lucky with the weather. I overheard an American tourist say(in loud voice) am I stereotyping? - that he know someone who had been to Fuji 3 times and still hadn’t seen it.
We walked around the eastern part of the lake then into town in search of a cheap breakfast but in the end had to come back to the lake for breakfast in a small cafe. We had a toast set with black tea but it wasn’t that cheap. The convenience stores (7/11, Lawson and Family Mart) are cheap and have good take away food but they generally don’t have seating. We couldn’t help taking more shots of Fuji.

18 April 2018

I have never seen so many little box cars. Just like SUVs in Australia they are everywhere.
We have arrived just towards the end of the cherry blossom here but there is enough left for some good shots. Also the lake is pretty special as well.
We knew Mt. Fuji was going to appear out of the clouds at some stage but after we checked in at our hotel we weren’t quite prepared for what we saw from our window and on our walk a bit later. No more words enough said!!
Our room is a traditional Japanese room with tatami floor mats and timber and paper window shades. Also we have to have a traditional communal shower and bath in the Onsen. Tomorrow morning will be interesting!!
It was raining steadily for much of the bus trip from Narita Airport to Kawaguchiko. It took about 2 hours to travel through one of the biggest urban areas in the world and then just as we started to climb the rain stopped and the clouds started to break up. After a rest stop we continued on to Kawaguchiko bus station.

17 April 2018

We found our shuttle bus stop for the airport hotel checked in and had a very late tea at the hotel restaurant. Tomorrow we catch the bus to Kawaguchiko.
We hadn’t anticipated the line outside the Rail pass office. We realised we should have come here first! We had no choice but to get on the end of the line and hope we got in before closing time. At bout 8:15 we were almost inside and the stopped the line right behind us and moved them all to another location so we became the last in the line. We don’t know if we were lucky or unlucky but at least we were going to get our Rail pass when we needed it!
The flight on the QF79 A330 was smooth and on time. Unlike our last Qantas flight we were fed and watered well! We landed about 6:30 pm as it was getting dark. No daylight savings in Japan. Through immigration and customs we then needed to find an ATM machine, BIC Camera shop for a SIM card and went to tackle the Japan Rail Pass.