I’m in Japan – let me out of here!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

After about three weeks in Japan and depleting our bank accounts we were leaving Japan. It’s been fun, interesting and delicious. But very urban. There are areas of natural beauty but they are difficult to get to. And spending a lot of time in big cities, usually on a subway, isn’t my favourite thing. But I’ve loved the hot springs, the food and the people. If I go back to Japan, I’d pick cooler months and make sure I had more cash. Japan at the beginning of a long trip is probably not the best idea.

It was also raining when we left so we weren’t too disappointed when we left for the airport. However, there was a moment when we thought we might not get to leave! After joining a long queue for check in, we then spent 20 minutes trying to convince the woman from Jetstar Asia that we would leave Singapore within 30 days. But she wanted to see proof of departure. Luckily, we had booked a flight from Singapore to Vietnam for Monday but she wanted to see a printout. She suggested we got the public computers and print it but we had spent all our money on rice triangles and bananas for our flight. I eventually had to pull out my laptop and show her the PDF from Tiger Airways.

I couldn’t really understand it as Singapore is a hub for backpackers, many who don’t make any plans in advance whatsoever. And it’s possible to travel overland from Singapore without booking a thing. Just show up at the border and get a bus to Malaysia.

We had no problems and not a single question about our plans on entry to Singapore.

Our time in Singapore has been mainly about food. Staying with a school friend of mine, Cassie’s generosity never ceases to amaze me. Another school friend, Emily, is also in Singapore, ready to show us a good time. We’ve been taken into town to stuff ourselves with dumplings, to a hawker market to stuff ourselves with everything and today we were shown the luxurious side of life in Singapore and had afternoon tea at Raffles Hotel. Just to prepare, we visited the long bar to eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor before heading into the Tiffin Room for the main event.

Cassie didn’t mention it beforehand but I was delighted to find that it was an all you can eat afternoon tea! Bet Raffles regretted that by the time Barry and I were done. Not to mention Cassie’s boyfriend who will be known as 6 rounds Grant! (This doesn’t include the round that is bought to the table on a traditional three tier tea stand.) Apparently Singaporeans love to line up for a buffet. The plates were bigger than dinner plates too and I’m sure it comes as a surprise that we filled them up a few times. It was absolutely amazing. Who knew that curry puffs, dumplings and soy sauce would go so well when followed by Earl Grey tea chocolate mouse and passionfruit tart topped with a perfect raspberry?

Definitely rolled out of there on a bit of a sugar high. Maybe it was that and not the cold that made me dizzy!

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Thanks for everything Cassie, Emily and Grant!

Hiroshima or bust?

Sunday, 22 July 2012

After the luggage debacle we ended up staying another night in a very cheap hostel. By my calculations we still had enough time to get a night bus the next day to Hiroshima, spend a day in the city, then get a night bus back again that same night, in time for us to get on our eight hour night flight to Singapore. I was all set for this but when the forecast showed an 80% chance of thunderstorms in Hiroshima, Barry said no.
So instead we chilled out for a day and spent our last full day in Japan in Kyoto again, which has so much to see you could easily spend a week there.
We narrowed down the options and recommendations and went to Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple up a hill lined with pottery shops. Kiyomizu has a large main hall with a big verandah and other smaller shrines and halls dotted around the temple complex. At one small shrine you can make sure you have success in love by walking safely between two big stones with your eyes closed. Apparently you can have someone guide you but it means you would need someone’s assistance to help you find true love.

Barry needed my help but he made it to the second stone so I think he’ll be alright.

I did not manage to walk in a straight line AND Barry helped me but I missed the stone completely so it looks like I’m screwed.
Barry says it’s a bit silly.
After lunch we went to a Shinto shrine, Fushimi-Inari. The shrine complex is made up of lots of walking paths through the hills and trees. Most of the paths were formed by shrine gates, making it feel like a tunnel. I think there were about 1000 shrine gates along the way. We were there at the end of the day so there were few people, the light was fading and it was very peaceful. Kind of eerie at times too, especially when were alone and found ourselves near a small temple with a creepy statue. Japan does creepy statues very well.
In the evening we headed to Gion, the famed Geisha area. It’s a really pretty part of Kyoto, lots of traditional wooden houses, low street lighting and we even caught a glimpse of a kimono clad Maiko (apprentice Geisha) as she hurried from one tea house to her next appointment.

Kyoto on a national holiday

Saturday, 21 July 2012

After a lovely breakfast with Ian and his family, we headed to Osaka station to leave my bag in a locker and catch a train to Kyoto. We didn’t factor in the fact that it was a national holiday and every single locker in both of the parts of the biggest station in Osaka was full. We finally took it to Kyoto and left it in the luggage room at the station there. We also didn’t factor in the national holiday when looking for accommodation and discovered that there was not a hostel bed to be had in Kyoto. As it’s only 40 minutes from Osaka we decided to go back there for the night after spending the day in the former capital of Japan.

Spent the morning walking around the Imperial Palace in the blazing sunshine but weren’t able to get in to tour it because the office was closed for that national holiday thing. Shame.

So we headed to Arashiyama and walked through the bamboo grove. It was cool and green, dotted with small temples, and felt like a world away from downtown Kyoto. Although there were a lot of people, and rickshaws (with guys running with the cart, not cycling – pretty hard core), it was really quiet and peaceful. So quiet you could hear the mosquitos buzzing. It was a really nice way to finish the day before heading back to the mania of Osaka.

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Japan 2012 166

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We had a small disaster when we got back to Namba to collect Barry’s bag. The locker wouldn’t open.

Our original plan had been to spend the next day in Kyoto, get a night bus from there to Hiroshima, two days there, and a night bus back to Osaka. But we thought it would be a better to stick around to get our stuff from a locker security man in the next day or so.

We went to Kyoto in the morning for the Gion Matsuri, a festival held every year, which culminates in a massive parade of very impressive floats, made up in various neighbourhoods of Gion and Kyoto.

     

      

We went through early doors for the parade and watched them move (very very slowly) through the streets. The large ones weighted something like seven tons and were pulled by 20 or 30 men. As there are no steering rudders on the floats when they got to a corner everyone had to stop, put down rods of split bamboo, wet it and then heave the cart around the corner. It took about 3 big shoves to get the float pointing in the new direction and away they were again. Powerful.

 

It was especially impressive as it was so hot. It was only 9am but you could see the ice sculpture of a float steaming and melting before your eyes. I doubt it lasted until the end of the parade.

We watched the parade for an hour or so then walked on to Nijo-jo (castle), the castle of the Kyoto prefecture shogun of the 16the century. It was a really interesting building. Only one level, wooden, with lots of paper screen doors, tatami mats, painted screens and walls.

Some of the flooring is what’s called nightingale floors which squeak when you walk on them in a high pitched bird-like sound so that people can’t surprise you and lop off your head with a samurai sword I guess. Apparently a proper ninja can get across the floors without making a sound.

Barry and I are not ninjas.

The gardens were also beautiful, even if you couldn’t walk on them and sit under an inviting tree. I guess it was fair enough as it was a pretty ancient garden of rock pools and very old bonsai.

Then it was time to go back to Osaka to hang out at a train station and luggage lockers again.

Aftermath

Saturday, 21 July 2012

We had a bit of a wasted day recovering from hangovers. Dumped our bags in some lockers at the subway station and spent a good part of the day resting under trees, on prickly grass, in a very peaceful roof top garden of a shopping mall. It was quite bizarre.

We were feeling pretty good by the time we collected my bag (we decided to leave Barry’s rather large pack in the locker overnight) and went to meet Barry’s school friend Ian and his wife and kids. They took us for conveyor belt sushi which was really fun and tasty. We had to really hold back on grabbing every plate that rolled on by.

We stayed with Ian for the night and he pulled out some school photos. Back from a time when Barry wasn’t old. He even looked happy.
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Japan 2012 162

And Finally…The Results

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Got back to Osaka in time to see the GB Masters in their play-off game. Or so I thought. They had decided to play it the day before while I was hiding from rain in a lava shelter. They came fifth in the end. Barry doesn’t want to talk about it.

But we did see the mens open team win their semi against Sweden to get into the final for Saturday. They lost against the US and went home with silver medals. Apparently they are the first non North American team to get into the final in about 10 years. Usually it’s Canada vs USA.

There was a party at a karaoke bar close to the hotel. I’m not entirely sure how it happened but we ended up pretty drunk. Barry’s room mate in the hotel, Mental Ben, informed us that Barry stood at the end of his bed at 4.30am and said, ‘Mental, we’ve had too much alcohol. Just try to sleep through it.’