Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A long overdue posting on our travels in Japan

I pretty much had this ready to post on the day we left Japan (23SEP) but once we landed in China I could no longer access any social websites...
First, here are a few notes from each day, followed by some overall likes & dislikes.
Keijiro Matsushima, A-bomb survivor
Staying at World Friendship Center, Hiroshima World Friendship Center
Interesting & thought-provoking talk by an A-bomb survivor at the Peace Memorial
Excellent udon lunch in arcade
A bit hot to stroll around Hiroshima Castle but mostly free
Beautiful Shukkeien garden - saw several people have professional photos made
Went to train station for JR rail pass exchange
Beer more expensive again
Were generally planning to go back to WFC to relax before dinner but saw people selling Carp baseball gear and found out there was a game
Walked to stadium and bought the almost-cheapest seats then bought snacks (edamame, dumplings, chicken) from a street vendor; our seats happened to be with the Carp Club; we were the only non-Japanese in that section; received gifts of potato chips & balloons for 7th inning release

Greg having symptoms of head cold -- runny nose, sneezing, tired
Talked more about our trip and the WFC mission with our hosts over breakfast
Train + ferry to Miyajima - deer, grilled oysters, bacon & asparagus on a stick, free cold tea at temple, drums & chanting & incense
Shinkansen ride - had to figure out where to stand on platform to board the right car for our non-reserved seats; actually made our 5 min connection in Osaka without running and had to change platforms using escalators; saw lots of rice growing & went through lots of tunnels
“backpacker double” in Kyoto hostel - tiny room plus bathroom is comparable to cruise ships, but size is clearly stated on website and it suits us fine
Ate good cheap curry udon at nearby 24hr restaurant; bought our own bottle of Kyoto sake to drink in our room
Did laundry, drank free sake compliments of hostel, used free wifi

Greg now definitely sick with cold
Met Kenyan (who lives walking distance from our hotel in Nairobi; Samburu tribe) while waiting for bus to temple
Lots more tourists & school kids everywhere
Difficult to find entrance to office to get “permission” to tour Imperial Palace due to construction
Saw real geisha in Gion near Kenninji temple
Sat on river bank at sunset, bats flying
Tasty budget takoyaki dinner from supermarket
Not any trouble riding buses if you pay attention and can read a map

Greg still sick
Ramen noodle bowls from supermarket for breakfast
train to Inari - Fushimi Inari temple/torii (gates)

Train to Uji - Byodoin temple (old wood bldg); sushi rolls for snack/lunch
Explored Isetan department store - 2 floors of food, free sake tasting, ramen restaurants, sky garden
Talked to Dutch/Swiss family at hostel - multiple times she has traveled around the world with her boys, now 13 & 15
Ate free “add hot water & eat” ramen bowls for dinner complimentary of previous hostel guest

Woke up with sore throat; Greg is feeling better but still coughing
Train to Nara - long walk (2km) to first temple Kofukuji, decided not to pay admission fee
Continued another 1.5km to Todaiji Temple and paid 500JPY each to see the 15 meter tall Buddha and the largest wooden structure in the world dating to 752 but rebuilt in 1692

Walked along the park near Kasuga Taisha Shrine but did not go all the way to it as it was hot and I was getting tired
Made our way back to the train station and waited for an express train to Kyoto. Single tracks also mean waiting awhile for oncoming trains to pass
Went to a ramen restaurant on 10th floor of Isetan department store for a late lunch/early dinner; the roasted pork was especially delicious
Returned to hostel around 6pm and did internet stuff in common room for a few hours; drank more free sake

I’m definitely getting sick with similar symptoms as Greg had but not feeling too bad
Ate raisin toast for breakfast
Took bus 5 to Ginkakuji in north-eastern Kyoto but did not pay to enter the temple
Walked the entire Path of Philosophy to Nanzenji but there wasn’t much shade and it was quite hot
Ate lunch at a cheap noodle/rice place near Teramachi Shopping Arcade but did not eat the raw egg
Strolled through Nishiki food market, tasted more free sake
Finished walk back to hostel -- meaning we walked at least 8km today!
Rested & used internet in common room
Walked to Nakau - budget rice/noodle place near our hostel - for dinner
Did laundry, finished our nice dry Kyoto sake

Checked out of hostel at 10:30am
Walked to Nishi Honganji Temple, observed morning prayers
Walked to Higashi Honganji Temple
Back to hostel to pick up bags then walked to train station
Ate takoyaki lunch on 10th floor
Caught 13:29 Hikari to Tokyo; bought a can of Suntory beer 270JPY on train
Managed the subway connections to Asakusa; found the hotel (name is not in English anywhere on the visible outside signage so I had to match up the Japanese symbols)
Walked back to Asakusa tourist info center for better subway map & other info; ate dinner at budget rice/noodle joint; walked Nakamise from Kaminari-mon Gate to Hozomon Gate to see Sensoji Temple
Started raining so we ducked into covered arcades and made our way back to hotel

Woke up feeling horrible; rested in room until about 11am
Took JR Yamanote line (using last day of our Japan Rail Pass) to Tokyo Station as Greg wanted to see the Imperial Palace; had to walk a long way in the direct sun/heat before we determined it was mostly off-limits; had budget lunch at Nakau by train station
Continued on JR to Shinjuku and walked many blocks underground, mostly on people movers, to Tokyo Metropolitan Government building for free ride to 45th floor observatory; too hazy to see very far

I was already pretty worn out at that point so we took the JR Chuo line back across town to Asakusa-bashi and walked to our hotel
Showered & rested for awhile then went to dinner; I still felt awful and wasn’t in the mood for much so Greg picked Denny’s (yes, the American chain); their menu was a mix of Japanese food and American food with a Japanese twist; I had something like ground beef topped with creamy mushroom sauce with a very small serving of vegetables and a few potato wedges
Stopped by Family Mart (convenience store) and bought something similar to an ice cream sandwich: a soft waffle-cone like shell enclosing a thick layer of green tea ice cream with thinner layers of adzuki beans and whipped cream -- YUM!!!
Took plenty of meds to help me sleep through the night

Alarm at 7am
Larger free breakfast than expected at hotel (musubi, omelet squares, hot dog, potato salad, miso soup w/veggies, lettuce salad)
Took subway to Ryogoku and bought sumo tournament tickets
Took subway to Tsukiji and walked around the seafood market -- much different than other markets I’ve ever been to: truly a working market with forklifts and other mechanical devices for transporting larger boxes of fish, men carrying Styrofoam boxes, fishmongers with huge sharp knives, blood everywhere, cigarette smoke, diesel exhaust from transport trucks; if you stop by a tourist info center first and ask about Tsukiji they will give you an instructional paper with all the do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts) and a disclaimer about it being a “serious business place” and “that you visit there at your own risk”
Weren’t hungry enough to eat any sushi/sashimi so took subway to Ginza; walked to Sony showrooms and browsed Uniqlo then got a closer look at a Nissan Leaf
Took subway back to Sumo Stadium - ate chanko (soup of mixed veggies & meats that the wrestlers eat), toured small Sumo Museum (current exhibit on past champions), watched matches from 2:30-6pm

Took subway to Akihabara area to see Tokyo @ night; walked Chuo-Dori past lots of anime shops & electronics stores “Electric City” amid the glow of neon signs and shopgirls in costumes
Took subway to Asakusa; I was wanting to have sushi but ultimately decided it was too expensive (mostly over 2000JPY for less than 10 pieces); ate a typical budget meal (500JPY) at an order-from-a-vending machine noodle shop
Came back to hotel to finish drinking sake & beer

free iced green tea at restaurants
Japanese food - takoyaki, okonomiyaki, sushi/rolls, udon, ramen, things on a stick
The things you can buy at the 100yen store: men’s dress shirts, men’s & women’s 5-pack disposable “panties”, women’s face razors, full arm length cotton gloves (for sun protection), almonds & dried fish mixed together as a snack…
JR rail pass
Fushimi Inari Shrine - torii
Daishoin Temple complex on Miyajima island
Staying at the WFC
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum & Park - talk by K-san (survivor), graphic displays of the devastation wrought, touching stories from parents who lost their children but later donated some of their belongings to the museum (student’s uniforms)
Riding the older-model Hiroshima streetcars (150Yen)
Shukkeien - a circular tour garden “in order to make the land allotted seem many times larger than its actual size, every part is rich in variety: here a remote mountain and solitary valley, here a broad seashore…”
Carp baseball fans
Free, informative tour of Kyoto Imperial Palace 1331-1869 but current version is c1854; but could not go inside any of the buildings or in the gardens
Excellent Kyoto bus map when you purchase 500Yen one day pass but buses take longer than you would think to cover any distance (versus 220Yen for one ride)
Many side trip options from Kyoto depending on what you’re interested in
Byodoin Temple - nice, small Hoshokan museum with good English descriptions included in entrance fee but not Phoenix Hall; I particularly liked the Worshiping Bodhisattvas on Clouds statues from the 11th century
Kyoto train station - shops, department stores, restaurants, Sky Garden
Area around Kiyomizu Temple - slopes, Gion, river paths
Todaiji Temple in Nara - wood carvings, 15m Buddha
Bicycles everywhere - but at 3000+JPY for a one day rental, not cheap!
Extensive public transport system in Tokyo -- almost too many choices!
Store receipts have a scannable barcode so that you can easily use your smart phone to automatically link to their website
“No entry is allowed for gangsters” printed on the back of our sumo tournament tickets
The rituals (most of which I didn’t understand) involved in a sumo wrestling match
Everywhere we stayed had an air conditioning unit in the room, thus allowing us to control the temperature which was crucial because it was so hot outside and most common areas of the hostels were not cooled.

Smokers everywhere, although there are designated sidewalk areas where smoking isn’t allowed
Always having to watch for bicyclists on the sidewalks
Heated toilet seats - it’s 33C outside for crying out loud!
Two subway systems in Tokyo which require different tickets or a combined all day pass for 1000JPY vs. 700JPY on one company’s trains
Despite requesting that our hotel room not be cleaned for the duration of our stay in Tokyo (3 nights), they changed the sheets, towels, etc. anyway -- so wasteful!
Hotel would not budge on 10am checkout time -- whatever happened to noon???
My PacSafe purse strap broke at the grommet while we were walking in Akihabara; luckily I had my hand on the strap and grabbed it when I felt it come loose so I didn’t drop the purse (containing my unprotected camera)

*** As usual, the link to my entire Picasa web album is embedded in this post's title. Here's the link to the Facebook highlights album:
Japan Highlights

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