Osaka/Nara

Monday, 9 July 2012

Osaka/Nara
After our trip to the mountains we got a cinema bus to Osaka and met up with the rest of Team GB in preparation for the Frisbee Worlds. We snuck me into Barry’s hotel room until my next couch surfing  starts. We haven’t seen much of Osaka yet, so far it looks like a city with concrete buildings and skyscrapers. So on Barry’s last day off before the tournament starts we hopped a train to Nara, the first permanent capital of Japan, about 40 minutes away. The town is known for its large park of shrines and temples and deer. The deer were considered messengers of the gods in pre Buddhist times. The deer are semi-wild and roam the streets looking for tourists to give them deer biscuits. Barry and I had trouble with our bank cards and were low on funds so we were not of any interest to them. And there was no way I was sharing our last packet of biscuits. They did manage to get one of Barry’s teammate’s map from his pocket though.
Todai-ji Temple was our first stop and is guarded by the Nandai-mon, two huge wooden statues that look quick fierce. They were quite impressive, I can’t think that I’ve ever seen wooden statues of that size anywhere else in the world.
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The Daibutsu-den hall is the largest wooden building in the world and houses the Daibutsu, the Great Buddha, one of the largest bronze statues in the world. At the entrance to the gate is a small wooden statue, also looking quite creepy and wearing a red cape. It is said that if you rub a part of the statue and then the corresponding part on your own body then your ailment will disappear. I’m still waiting for the enormous, itchy mosquito bites to disappear. I think Barry would say it was bollocks.
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The Daibutsu is the first Buddha we’ve seen in Japan and very impressive. It’s 16 metres high which is quite a lot of Simones stacked on top of each other. It was originally cast in 746 and has taken a battering over the years from earthquakes and fires. At the back of the building is a wooden column with a hole in the bottom. It’s supposed to be about the same size and one of the Buddha’s nostrils and if you can pass through it you are ensured of enlightenment. Barry is a bit suspicious of this.
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The rest of the park and town is full of temples and shrines and museums and roaming deer. We were all templed out and back at the train station just in time to avoid being soaked by the afternoon rainy season down pour.
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We met Barry’s school friend Iain and his Japanese wife and son for dinner in the evening. Had a nice dinner at an Izykaya. It was great meeting them and Barry seemed to have a good time reminiscing about the good old days (about million years ago) when he and Iain were naughty school boys who were always late for school.

Sorry for all the pictures on this post (most of them probably crap), I didn’t have time/couldn’t be bothered being more discerning in my choice.

Nagoya/Magome

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Nagoya/Magome

As we’ve been burning through the yen like nobody’s business in the few days that we’ve been here, despite the help of couch surfing accommodation (I don’t know how we’d manage without it), the overnight bus to Nagoya was a good way to avoid yet another trip to the ATM. The buses are really comfortable in Japan, some of them even have a personal cinema screen like areoplanes. The Willer Express bus pass we bought is about half the cost of the rail pass and a bit more flexible but probably wasn’t necessary as the buses are cheap anyway and there are always journeys run by a different company that you want or need to take. If I done my research better before leaving instead of vaguely flicking through the e-Lonely Planet, I would have known! We’ll probably break even, or just slightly ahead on the bus pass I think.

But we did get to Nagoya on the night bus, which is a big town in the Japan Alps, south of Tokyo. We immediately hopped another local bus and headed into the hills to a small traditional post town in the Kiso Valley, Magome. The one kilometre walk from the highway bus stop wasn’t taxing but although it was early in the day we could feel the temperature rising. We seemed to have left the rain behind us again, hopefully to stay that way. Magome is a really pretty village. The main street is made up mostly of traditional wooden buildings and Japanese lanterns. And a steep hill.

We weren’t feeling exactly refreshed when we arrived at the guest house at the top of said hill but good enough to face the day. We dumped our bags in our wee tatami room and hit the street and hiking trail. An eight kilometre hike began at the top of Magome linking it with another traditional village, Tsumago, on a former post road, the Nakusenko, which originally connected Tokyo to Kyoto.
Nagoya, Japan
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We got to Tsumago in the early afternoon, which is another traditional post town of dark wooden lattice buildings and Japanese lanterns. It was a little bigger than Magome, seemed more touristy and had a lot more expensive restaurants. I think the write up in the LP got the villages mixed up. What I read about the towns seemed to be the opposite to what I saw.
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It was really nice spending the night in Magome as there is only one guest house (Magome Chaya) so few people other than the local townspeople around after 5pm. All the street stalls were closed when we got back from Tsumago but the convenience store was open for us to grab some rice triangles (thanks for the tip Katie!) for dinner. We felt worlds away from Tokyo. The guesthouse had a Japanese style tatami room where you move the table and roll out futons for sleeping. We had various slippers and robes to use. In Japan, you never wear shoes inside but leave them at the door and change into slippers. In some places, like this guesthouse, you also have toilet slippers to wear in the bathroom. It’s a lot of footwear changes. We finished off the day with a long soak in the sento style bath at the guesthouse, a stroll through the deserted street at nightfall and fell onto the futons.
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Fuji-san

Friday, 6 July 2012

After the overwhelming size of Tokyo (and the expense, without even trying!), we thought it was time to get out of the big smoke so we hopped a bus to Lake Kawaguchiko near Mount Fuji. K’s House was an excellent hostel to stay in, they even picked us up from the trains station within 10 minutes of us calling so we didn’t have to schlep our bags around town through the heat (there was no rain in Kawaguchiko when we arrived, just sunshine). We walked around the lake that afternoon, failed in finding an ice cream, did find a random little shrine and pretty much enjoyed being out of the city.
Fuji Five Lakes, Japan

Fuji Five Lakes

Fuji Five Lakes
Fuji Five Lakes, Japan
Fuji Five Lakes, Japan
We had grand plans to hike up Mount Fuji but various factors were at play and our list of excuses got longer:
  1. Simone didn’t want to pay 200 yen every time she needed to pee.
  2. Barry’s old man knees might not have stood up to the journey, particularly with the Frisbee tournament looming. He’d have gotten up but maybe not now.
  3. Sorry, I mean, Barry needed to save his knees for the assault on the gold medal (also his knees are old).
  4. We woke up to rain and low lying clouds and wouldn’t have seen Fuji let alone any views.
  5. Simone didn’t want to pay 200 yen for a pee.
  6. If you don’t climb Fuji you will come back to Japan (hopefully when I have more funds to my name)!
So we hired bikes and cycled around the Five Lakes of Mt Fuji area. It was a bit drizzly but warm and pleasant for cycling. We did pause under a tree during a slightly heavier shower, watching the fisherman standing in the lake, casting their lines. As we waited for the rain to ease off, a little old man came up with two umbrellas that had been stored under his house for a very long time and gave them to us. They were a little rusty and had some leaves in them but they did the job. So we perfected the Japanese art of cycling with an umbrella. We’re pretty sure the man meant them as a gift and we should take them with us. So we continued along the lake, through a flower festival, up a hill, along another lake…
Mount Fuji Five Lakes
Mount Fuji Five Lakes
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At Lake Saito we got caught in a massive down pour and spent an hour or so reading and dancing under the shelter of a public toilet near the lake.
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When the rain finally stopped we wound our way back to Kawaguchiko along lakes, through the flower festival, over the bridge and back to the hostel. We cleaned up and dried off as best we could and caught a night bus to Nagoya, in the Japan Alps.

Hitting the Road

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Thanks for reading our travel blog. Hope you find it interesting. Sorry for any of the boring details. I’ve sometimes found blogs helpful on finding information about visiting a place and maybe one day, someone else will find my ramblings useful too.
Tokyo Nights
Leaving Edinburgh in the morning and arriving in Tokyo at 9am leaves you with pretty bad jet lag. It was hard staying awake on the two hour journey from Tokyo Narita to our hostel. Though on the plus side, our room was ready by the time we got there. We tried really hard to stay awake (okay not that hard) and instead of heading out for lunch we thought we’d have a short nap and go for a late lunch at 2pm. At 5pm we managed to drag ourselves out of bed and onto the streets of Uena in search of cheap Japanese food (probably just called food here). We got what we were looking for. Two minutes after ordering we had the most delicious miso soup, salmon, thinly sliced fried beef and pork. A good start to the trip.
We managed to sleep for a few hours in the actual night time like normal people but were up again at the crack of dawn. Spent the day walking in the glorious sunshine. Ueno Park was pretty disappointing. It has a few temples and shrines and the face of an old Buddha but was largely paved roads and few green spaces.

Shitmachi Museum was worth a visit. The best part was the kind old man who volunteered at the museum. He spoke some English and took us on a tour of Old Edo (Tokyo) downtown/’lowtown’ life, explaining the lives in the small Japanese house, bath houses, etc. It’s a very hands on museum where you get to play with toys so I liked that too.
Shitmachi Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Shitmachi Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Shitmachi Museum, Tokyo

We wandered around Asakusa neighbourhood too. The big draw card here is the Sensoji temple complex. There is an incense cauldron at the front which people stand over, rubbing the smoke into their bodies for good health. Barry says it’s bollocks, it’s just smoke.
Asakusa, Tokyo

Asakusa, Tokyo

Sensoji Temple Complex, Asakusa, Tokyo
Sensoji Temple Complex, Asakusa, Tokyo

Sensoji Temple Complex, Asakusa, Tokyo

Sensoji Temple Complex, Asakusa, Tokyo
Sensoji Temple Complex, Asakusa, Tokyo
We met our first couch surfing host that evening. Takahiro, originally from Yokohama, kindly let us crash on his floor for the night in the most expensive city in the world and gave us an introduction into Japanese culture. He took us to this local sento, public bath house. Most popular with older generations, this is where men and women meet to bathe in baths of varying degrees of temperature. Takahiro and Barry disappeared into the men’s side and I to the women’s. Takahiro had explained how it all worked beforehand and I mostly copied the old ladies, getting naked, sitting under a low showerhead with a bucked to soap off, lazing in the hot pools and steam room, recovering in the cool pool (not ice cold like at a sauna). Barry also enjoyed the experience. The boys side had a mild electric shock bath too.
The next morning Takahiro took us to a small local soba noodle shop for breakfast. I’m glad I didn’t bother carrying a jar of vegemite as a breakfast of muesli and toast is a thing of the past (Barry is too but for different reasons). Instead cold soba noodles and tempura is the order of the day. I really enjoyed it. Takahiro had other plans for the weekend so our cultural exchange was over as he sent us off to the Tourist Information Centre, which turned out to be the best tourist information centre in the world and probably should have been our first stop.
Went on to meet our second couch surfing host, Aussie James, who has lived in Japan for about five years. His flat has a great view of Tokyo Tower and Roppongi Hills. The skyscrapers are more what I imagined Tokyo to be. James took us out to Odaiba, a bay area of Tokyo with its Statue of Liberty and Rainbow Bridge which did not light up in Rainbow colours for us. We met Eri, a Japanese friend of James, for a beer on the imported beach. Another very Japanese thing was to head through the arcade halls, watching folk trying to win stuffed animals or play old school space invaders. Near the Toyota toy room (sorry show room) was another arcade where we spend about 20 minutes watching three guys have an electronic dance off. Only in Japan. Literally as that particular machine can only be bought and sold in Japan.
Odaiba Bay, Tokyo
Odaiba Bay, Tokyo
Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba Bay, Tokyo

Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba Bay, Tokyo

Odaiba Bay, Tokyo
We headed back to Roppongi for a late dinner (10pm is pretty normal here for a Saturday night) of more fab Japanese food. I can’t remember the names of all the dinners but funnily enough we haven’t had sushi yet. As we are too old for clubbing we went to a wee jazz club for a few drinks and home to bed around 3am.
The Tokyo nightlife kept us all in bed until about 1pm which solved the dilemma of what to eat for lunch. So after a brunch of bacon and eggs we went to Yoyogi Park. Just as we arrived the heat broke with a steady rain. It was a bit like being in Edinburgh except 20 degrees warmer. Yoyogi is famous for people hanging about doing their own thing, not necessarily busking, but drawing a crowd; rockabilly dancers, musicians, Frisbee players and painters.
Yoyogi Park, Tokyo

Rockabilly, Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park, Tokyo