Sydney to Japan Trip 2

Journey                 # 13

Time:                      November. 2016

Beautiful architecture and clean, manicured gardens are a feature of Japan. This building is in Yoyogi Park, near Shinjuku, in the precincts of the Meiji Jingo Shrine.

Monday 7th November - Day 1
Arrived Narita after a relatively long flight with Qantas. We were both apprehensive about how to get rail tickets to Shinjuku, but needn't have worried, as Michelle's smiling face was there to meet us. About 90 minutes later, we arrived at their stop and walked the 2klm to the unit. It was dark and cold when we arrived, but we went to a local restaurant and had our meal. Chopsticks take some getting used to.

Nice old bridge in the park at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Shibuya.

Day 2
Michelle was working, so Cae took us to Shibuya and we walked back along the roads and came to Yoyogi Park at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, near Harijuku. There were children in traditional dress as well as adults and it was quite stunning to see. We didn't have nearly enough time to have a good look, but what we did see was awesome.

Giant spider sculpture at Roppongi Hills.

Cae had a dentist appointment and Michelle was going to meet up with us for dinner, so Beryl and I had a walk around Roppongi Hills shops to fill in time. Didn't get lost and saw some interesting sights and some expensive clothing stores, before meeting Cae at the inevitable Starbucks for coffee.

Arbor at the Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa. Enjoying a late breakfast under the vines.

Day 3
The following day, we left Shinjuku fairly early and caught the train to Tachikawa, to spend a few hours in the massive Showa Kinen Park. Most of the autumn leaves had dropped, but there was still plenty of colour and things to see. We even saw Mt Fuji from the train window. It was very windy and cold today but when a sheltered place was found, the sun was quite warm. We had a late lunch at Ikea, which was somewhat 'western' styled food.

Lovely Japanese garden at Showa Kinen.

Day 4
Today was a shopping day, as both the kids had to work. Beryl and I caught the train to Shinjuku and walked around looking for a few fishing tackle stores. I don't think she was impressed. We then found an outdoor food festival, which highlighted Turkish kebab stalls. We had to buy tokens and present an amount of them which equalled the cost of a kebab. It was interesting, but the kebabs tasted a lot different to the ones we get in Australia, which in turn would most likely taste a lot different to the ones you could get in Turkey. Beryl got to look at one or two shops, before we ventured back to the station to find a fishing super store at Okadaya. It was three floors of wall to wall equipment and I would need 3 days in there, rather than the 30 minutes I was allotted. Got my fishing line I was after and we went back to Shinjuku, where Beryl gave me payback, big time, by browsing two fabric stores while I waited outside. It was bitterly cold and windy and I am sure she was in there for several hours.

Giant beetle at Kitchen Town. Don't know what the significance was, but there are many unexplained things like this around Japan.

Day 5
Another shopping day, where the two of us caught the train to Ueno and walked around trying to find Kappabashi Street and Kitchen Town. There was just too much to take in and my intentions were to buy a high quality Japanese Santoko knife, but in the end I didn't get one. It was getting late and we still planned to go to Odaiba, Venus Fort Shopping Outlet. Interesting place, where we stayed to have an Italian Restaurant dinner. Back late for a well deserved rest.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.

The Great Buddha, Kamakura.

Day 6
Today, Cae took us to Kamakura to visit the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, which was set up in its current location in 1063. The main road to get there, was jam packed and it was incredible to see the occasional car trying to navigate through the multitude of pedestrian traffic. This shrine was set up by Yorimoto, who became Shogun and laid the foundation for 675 years of samurai rule. Kamakura was the de facto capital of Japan for hundreds of years. Intriguing history and culture. After we left the shrine we walked back to the station and caught a train to Hase, where we hopped on a bus and travelled to the Kotokuin Temple and the Great Buddha statue. This buddha was cast in the year 1252 and is in remarkable condition. It was getting late and we just made it in time, for about 45 minutes to closing. We walked back to the station and had yet another late arrival home.

Sensoji Temple, Asakusa.

Rickshaws take tourists around the sights of Sensoji market place precinct.

Day 7
Another day of visiting temples and shrines around Tokyo. Beryl and I hopped on a train and went to Asakusa, to visit the Sensoji Temple and shopping market. It required a couple of changes to different rail systems, but we only got lost a couple of times on the return journey, where we had to hop off the train and go back to where we boarded, to find the correct platform. The number of platforms and carriers going to the same (maybe) place, can be confusing. Anyway, we did manage to find the temple, which was completed in the year 645AD, making it Tokyo's oldest temple. We were approached by a group of four schoolboys, aged about 11yrs, who politely asked if they could interview us in English. We answered most of their questions, before a temple guard stormed up and yelled at them to go away. I said it was ok, but he then ranted at me in Japanese and insisted the boys leave. I found it very annoying and aggressive on the guards part. I was later told that some guards do not want the young people to associate with the Gaijin, which is quite racist, but common. We had lunch in a small park adjacent to the temple and them walked around in circles trying to find our way back to the railway station. All in all, it was an interesting day.

Shibaraku statue, Asakusa.
What the well dressed dog is wearing around Tokyo.

Day 8
Today, Beryl hopped on a train and visited Nippori 'Tomato Town' to take in her fill of Japanese fabric shopping, whilst Cae and I visited Electric Town in Akihabara. I wanted to get some camera peripherals and hard drives for my computer, but found the prices to be double what they cost in Australia. How can that be, when they are manufactured in Japan. Left there, disappointed, but met up with Beryl for lunch. Arrived at the restaurant, only to find that it had been booked for a private function. Plan b was to try a German restaurant, but it stopped serving lunch at 2pm and we wouldn't have made it back to Shinjuku in time. We ended up going to Times Square and had a very expensive burger and wedges. Food was good though.

Walking around Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens was very peaceful and the vibrant colours of the kimonos were accented by the autumn leaves.

Day 9
Today Beryl went browsing shops with Michelle for a while, then had to meet Cae to fill in some visa papers. Beryl and I went for a walk through the Shinjuku Gyoen National gardens, before catching the train back to Nishi Shinjuku station and walked to their unit, to meet up later for dinner.

Sengataki Falls, at Shosenkyo Gorge.

Maples add lovely colours to the cascades of the gorge.

Day 10
Today, Michelle, Beryl and I caught the train 100klms west of Tokyo city, to Kofu city and then a bus to Chichibu Tama kai national park. This park has a number of peaks rising to more than 2000metres and offers hiking trails and ancient shrines for the adventurous. We had a look around the tiny village, which displayed massive quartz crystal gemstones and jewellery. The pathway down to Sengataki Falls, revealed thousands of silver coins crammed into every crevice and ledge as well as in the water below. We then walked back up the slope, to the Ropeway taking you on a 5 minute, 1km-long ride, 300m up to Panorama-dai station, an observation station on Mt. Rakanji with views of Mount Fuji to the south, the Southern Alps to the west, and the Chichibu Mountain Range to the east. Michelle and I climbed up to the top of Mt Yasaburo, which is at the end of the mountain path from the station. From the top of that monolithic rock, there is a wonderful 360-degree view of Mt. Fuji, the Kofu Basin, the Southern Alps and the Arakawa Dam. Mt. Yasaburo is also known as a power spot, and near its peak, there is a crystal stone shrine where the god of wine is enshrined. We walked back down the gorge so that we could catch the last bus back to the station and started to get a bit worried that we wouldn't make it in time. No problem, we made it with 15 minutes to spare. Another long, but rewarding day.

Interesting gate at Toshogu Shrine

The Shinkyo Bridge, at Nikko

The Bake Jizo statues of Kanmangafuchi Abyss.

Day 11
Thursday was to be another big day for us, as Michelle, Beryl and I caught the train to Nikko and then bought tickets on the Heritage Bus, which took us to a number of locations, covering this vast area of temples and shrines. First stop was the Toshogu and Rinnoji temples, where both Shinto and Buddhist religions co-exist. The trees and architecture are just mind blowing and you can imagine you are in a different era. We spent some time looking around and taking photos of the wonderful Jinko and Maple leaf autumn colours, before heading off along the ancient stone trail towards the Takino-O shrine. There are many small shrines along the way and most are heavily covered in moss and lichens, which add to their ancient beauty. As this walk is uphill and along rocky paths, we didn't encounter many other tourists, which was a blessing. Getting tired of wall to wall humanity and rude behaviour. Walking through the cedar forest, we eventually came across a pretty waterfall, which marked the way for our return journey and the bus ride to the next location. We stopped for some lunch at a convenience store, near to the Shinkyo Bridge, or Red Bridge as it is more commonly known. From there, we walked through a small village, to the Kanmangafuchi Abyss, which had some lovely cascades and crystal clear, icy water flowing through it. There are a series of Bake Jizo statues lining the path to the cascades and they all had on red caps and bibs. There used to be around 100 of these, but some 30 or so were washed away in a flood some years back. A quiet and eerie place, where we only saw a couple of other tourists. It was getting late though, and we hurried to get back to the highway and catch a bus before nightfall. We got to Nikko in the freezing cold, so we were glad to finally get on the train, with heated seats and air-conditioning. Flopped into bed to prepare for the following day.

Mount Asama, an active volcano, spewing out gas and smoke.

Michelle, trying to be Marilyn.

Day 12
Today, we caught the train to Tokyo station, where we changed to the Asama Shinkansen bullet train for the two and a half hour trip to Karuizawa. On arrival, we then transferred to a bus for the ride to the Onioshadashi Park, which features a landscape of volcanic rocks that gives it a unique and rugged appearance. The park is shaped by volcanic sediment deposited there during the 1783 big eruption of Mount Asama. Onioshidashi Park also offers nice views looking over nearby towns and of Mount Asama on clear days. Located at the center of the park, is a temple dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy Kannon. A short distance from the park is the Asama Volcano Museum, where visitors can learn about the geography of volcanoes, as well as about plant and animal life on volcanic terrains. Visitors can also experience volcanic activity through a video presentation on large screens and by riding on a simulator. We did a loop walk and saw some shrines in the desolate landscape and saw big plumes of gassy smoke erupting from the, still active, volcano. It had snowed during the week and there was still evidence of snow in the sheltered areas. The huge bronze bell at the shrine, could be heard from a long distance, as worshippers tolled it for a single tone and the deep reverberation hung in the air for what seemed like minutes. A truly amazing sound. We had to run to make the bus back to Karuizawa Nagano, where we had a walk around the town until dark. We managed to find a small cafe which served huge crepes and the best coffee I have had in Japan. I would have liked to see how the guy made it, as it was a most unusual contraption. Glad to get back on the train for the long journey back to Shinjuku.

Nagoya Castle.

Day 13
We took off this morning and left Shinjuku, for a week away. First stop was Nagoya, where we had a bed and breakfast - without the breakfast - booked for the night. It was a cold and overcast day, but we had enough time to walk around Nagoya Castle for a few hours. This is set on a massive area and like all historical buildings in Japan, it was mind blowing. The castle was bombed in 1945, during WW2, but has been largely rebuilt in 1959. The displays of ancient samurai swords and black powder guns was awesome, as was the construction of the castle and outbuildings. Well worth the visit.

Beryl and Cae, walking along the ancient Magome to Tsumago trail.

Historic village of Tsumago.

Day 14
Leaving today for Tsumago, to overnight in a traditional Japanese Ryokan. Out at 7.45am and on the train to Tsurumai, then a change for another 70 minute train ride to Nakatsugawa Station and transfer to the Kitaena Bus for an arrival at Magome around 10.10am. Magome's main street is lined with wood and plaster Edo-style buildings, most of which date from the 20th century as the originals fell into disrepair or were burnt down in the frequent fires that affected both towns. A wooden watch tower guards the entrance to Magome and there is a reproduction of a Tokugawa shogunate notice board (kosatsuba), which lays down the law for approaching visitors. Among the rules and regulations posted on kosatsuba by the Tokugawa authorities were prohibitions against Christianity and rewards for turning in practicing Christians. I'm glad that is no longer the case. The death penalty was enforced for cutting down any of the area's cypress (hinoki) trees which were used for building the regime's castles and are still used for rebuilding the Ise shrine every 20 years. The slog up the first slope is quite taxing, but hordes of tourists make the effort and are rewarded with views over the valleys and township. Most turn back at this stage, but we continued on towards the historic town of Tsumago along the old Nakasendo trail, which linked Kyoto to Tokyo during Japan's feudal period. It is about 7.8 km from Magome to Tsumago and about 3 hours of leisurely hiking. The trail passes through forest and farmland as well as on the road connecting Magome to Tsumago. We stopped at a 250 year old tea house along the way and had a nice chat with the old gentleman who was there to offer us sour plums and green tea. He also gave Michelle a fertility token so that she would produce many children. We all had a good laugh at that. We arrived at the Hanaya Ryokan, but were a little early for check in, so walked into town for some sight seeing and a cup of coffee. Tsumago feels the more authentic of the two post towns as it suffered less from fire and began to be protected by the Japanese government in the mid-1970's after restoration efforts by the town's citizens in the 1960s, becoming a model for later preservation schemes in other areas of Japan. The delightful main street, which is closed to traffic, contains a variety of wooden and plaster Edo-style inns, houses, temples and shrines, with the surrounding, forested mountains as a spectacular back-drop. We caught the bus back up the hill to the inn and freshened up for a wonderful dinner. We got changed into traditional clothing and survived the unfamiliar seating on the floor. Our old western bones and joints are not accustomed to eastern customs, but we managed the chopsticks ok. Breakfast in the morning was just as nice and the food presentation is like artwork. If visiting Japan, it is a must to immerse yourself in the culture, at least part of the time. It was over too soon and we packed bags to catch the bus to the station and then on to the next stop, Nara.

Nara Park covers a large area and has many gardens and shrines.

Day 15
We walked to our accommodation from Nara station, to find a most spacious, beautifully appointed Japanese home, at our disposal. The place was spotless and magnificent, unlike some of the other BnB's we had stayed in. After unpacking and having something to eat, we headed off for about a 30 minute walk to Nara Park. It was a bit cold and windy, but we only had the one night booked and were due to head off to Kyoto the following morning. Nara park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer. Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara's nearly 1200 deer have become a symbol of the city and have even been designated as a natural treasure. Nara's deer are surprisingly tame, although they can be aggressive if they think you will feed them. Deer crackers are for sale around the park, and some deer have learned to bow to visitors to ask to be fed. The crowds were pretty impressive as well. It had been raining, so a lot of the area was a bit muddy and the deer didn't help matters. None the less, it was a pretty parkland and worthy of more time to explore. Back in the dark again and a good sleep in comfortable futons had us ready to depart in the morning.

These flowers in the Kyoto Botanical Gardens orchid house, were spectacular. They look as though they should be on an underwater tropical coral reef.

Okonomiyaki 'pancakes' made for a filling dinner at Kyoto.

Day 16
Today, we just walked around the shopping arcades in the morning and had lunch in one of the cafes. Michelle and Cae had to meet up with a friend, so Beryl and I went to the Botanical Gardens and spent a few hours there. The kids arrived late afternoon on hired pushbikes and we arranged to meet up in town, for dinner. Took us a while to get our bearings from our air bnb, but we joined the throng of people and eventually found the restaurant, thanks to Michelle's texting directions. It was a shoes off dining experience, which is the norm in Japan, and we enjoyed okonomiyaki pancakes.

Beryl, with a bunch of school kids, who interviewed her, as they wanted to practise their English.

Day 17
Today was a national holiday in Japan and we headed off to the Nanzenji Temple, whose spacious grounds are located at the base of Kyoto's forested Higashiyama mountains. This is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan. It is the head temple of one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism and includes multiple subtemples, that make the already large complex of temple buildings even larger. We walked to most of the main buildings and then found a narrow track which led up the mountain to several small and very old shrines. Only saw a couple of other people there, which was a pleasant change from the hordes, lower down the slopes. We arrived home around 5pm and went in to our favourite watering hole, Starbucks, where they had very comfortable leather lounge chairs looking out onto a very pretty temple and a colourful city skyline. Much better than sitting on the floor of our BnB and watching the clock tick away. I think we spent several hours each day in those soft chairs, whilst we stayed in Kyoto.

Arashimaya's Bamboo Forest is quite amazing.

Day 18
Today was Michelle and Cae's last day with us in Kyoto, as they had to return to work. We went to Arashiyama, a district in the western outskirts of Kyoto. The area has been a popular destination since the Heian Period 794-1185, when nobles would enjoy its natural setting. Arashiyama is particularly popular during the cherry blossom and autumn color seasons. The Togetsukyo Bridge is Arashiyama's well known, central landmark. Many small shops, restaurants and other attractions are found nearby, including Tenryuji Temple, Arashiyama's famous bamboo groves and pleasure boats that are available for rent on the river. We caught the train to Karasuma Oike station and then changed for Arashiyama, where we walked to the bamboo forest and then to the Nison-in temple. We also checked out the Togetsukyo bridge. The streets and attractions in this area was by far the most crowded ones we had encountered and at times you just couldn't move along the paths and roadways. There was also car and rickshaw traffic which had to contend with the huge volumes of humanity. Wow. We said our goodbyes to the kids and went back to the Bnb, ready to head out on our own the following day and hoping not to get lost.

The Fushimi Inari shrine is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. There are said to be in excess of 10,000 Torii gates in this shrine and it is a must see for travellers.

Day 19
Today was a shopping day, where we spent a lot of time running around trying to get a few items which were on our list. First up, we travelled by train to Kitano and walked several klms, to a street market. I think that they are the same, world over. Back on the train to Karasuma-Oike, where we went to various stores, including the Aritsugu Nishiki Market, to get a hand made Japanese kitchen knife, but the large variety, crowds of people and cost had me walking out scratching my head. Caught several trains and finally found the Figure Eight fishing store in Kuinabashi, where I bought some line, which cannot be obtained in Australia. What a massive store. Three stories and a huge floor area, where I needed a whole day rather than 30 minutes, to explore. Beryl had other ideas though and we were back on the train to find more important stores, like the Misuyabari Needle shop and the Namura tailor shop. It was almost dark when we arrived back to the unit and we searched around to find a place to eat. Found an Itarian Pizza place (correct spelling) and had a meal there. The menu was fun to read, as the descriptions of the various pizzas had me chuckling. The letter 'L' was transposed as an 'R' and the 'A hen loosens and it is a pizza of terriyaki sauce and mayonnaise about the body and a welsh onion' had me not wanting to experience that unusual variety. Pizzas were ok though. Back to the lounge at Starbucks, to unwind before turning in for the night.

Taking the rabbit for a walk. You can see cats and all sorts of animals on leads in Japan.

Day 20
We decided on a reasonably early start to go and see the Fushimi Inari Shrine before it was innundated by the crowds. We did get there later than we wanted, about 8.30am, but it wasn't too bad. The vermillion colour of the Torii gates stand out as beacons and the vast number of them is awesome. We decided to walk to the very top of the mountain, as most people turned back after the first terrace, which overlooked Kyoto and offered a terrific panorama. It was quite a tiring hike but the atmosphere and history has a profound effect when imagining the time and labour involved in building these places, thousands of years ago. On the way back down, Michelle messaged us and said a friend had told her about a nice coffee shop at the bottom of the mountain, so we found the Vermillion Cafe and had one of the best coffees to date, in Japan. The guy working there was an Aussie, who grew up in Cronulla, which is the area where I also grew up, so it was fun to reminisce with him. When we got back to the station, it was very difficult to get back to the platform, due to the huge numbers of visitors getting off the train. There were six or more attendants in uniform trying to funnel the hordes into some form of line, to enable some sort of movement. Glad that we got there early, as it was now 11.30am. We did mange to squeeze past and get onto our platform, which was also packed, and get the train back towards Kyoto. I would have hated to try and return on that train after lunch.

A part of the Golden Gai.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.

Day 21 and 22
Today, we left Kyoto on the bullet train, for our journey back to Tokyo. Arrived at the station and managed to find our way around this vast complex (and I thought that Shinjuku was a maze)and find the JR line back to Shinjuku and then the change for the train back to Michelle and Cae's unit at Higashi Shinjuku. We walked back and the wind was icy and the rain was pelting down. Cae met us half way and took our luggage back to the unit, while Michelle took us to a small bar to have real fish and chips. It was a fun place and everyone was friendly and wanted to interact. The next day, Cae took us back in to Shinjuku, where we had a look around the Eastern part of the station area. We went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building where we had our bags checked, prior to catching a lift up to the observatory. This building is often visited by tourists for its free observation decks which provide good panoramic views of Tokyo and beyond. The 243 meter tall building has two towers, and each houses an observatory at a height of 202 meters. It had been the tallest building in Tokyo until it was overtaken by the Midtown Tower in 2007. With favorable weather conditions, famous landmarks such as Mount Fuji, the Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Meiji Shrine and the Tokyo Dome can be seen from the observatories. Each observatory has a cafe and a souvenir shop. The North Observatory remains open later at night, making it a popular spot to catch night views of the city. On the walk back, we strolled down the Golden Gai. Golden Gai was known for prostitution before 1958, when prostitution became illegal. Since then it has developed as a drinking area, and at least some of the bars can trace their origins back to the 1960s. In the 1980s, many buildings in Tokyo were set on fire by Yakuza, so the land could be bought up by developers, but Golden Gai survived because some of its supporters took turns to guard the area at night. We walked down in the late afternoon, but it really comes alive at night. Typically, the buildings are just a few feet wide and are built so close to the ones next door that they nearly touch. Most are two-story, having a small bar at street level and either another bar or a tiny flat upstairs, reached by a steep set of stairs. None of the bars are very large; some are so small that they can only fit five or so customers at one time. Many are private and only open to members and the wealthy, apparently. Back home.

Mysterious Island, with its active volcano, at Disney Sea.

Day 22
Today was a big day. We are going to Disney Sea and Michelle is excited, big kid that she is. The train ride was just over an hour, but it wasn't too crowded and we got seats. The weather was overcast and cold, so attendance was expected to be down for this period, which is a good thing. What an amazing place. Despite all the fun rides, you can be transported back in time and countries by the reproduction and architecture. No time for leisurely strolling, as there is too much to see and experience in the one day - right Shell. We went on hair raising rides, such as journey to the centre of the earth and Indianna Jones right through to the adrenaline pumping carousell and Sinbads Storybook voyage. We had a really good time and left just before closing time. Our pedometers showed we had walked some 30,000 steps, so no wonder my feet were sore. We only just managed dinner before the cafe closed and arrived back home around 1am.

Bound for Botany Bay. Coming in to land at Sydney Airport, from the ocean. I can almost see our old house at the waterfront near the wharf at the centre of the photo.

Day 23
The holiday was over all too soon and after breakfast at Shinjuku, the kids bundled us onto the Narita Express bullet train, headed for the airport and home. Check in at the airport was much more streamlined than Sydney and the airport and restrooms were spotless - as is the case almost everywhere in Japan. On arrival at Sydney, the difference was distinct. Toilets were filthy and smelly at the domestic terminal and it was just plain dirty and unwelcoming. Home sweet home. After checking out the electronic log of our walking, it showed we had done over 200klm in 24 days. Whew!



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