It was going to be a lovely day for our trip to Osaka. On the walk to the railway station, I was too slow to take a picture of the lady riding a bike with an umbrella (parasol) failing to keep the Sun off her face. And I was too slow to capture the bike with nice lace gloves where normal cyclists have handlebars.
We saw the Umeda Sky Building almost as soon as we left Osaka station. It was originally designed to be four towers, connected at the top, but in the end, only two were built. They are still connected at the top, so from certain angles, the whole resembles a glass Arc de Triomphe.
One of the first things we saw was a huge Christmas tree being erected. Halloween was yesterday and it seems to be almost Christmas here. One of the restaurants we visited was playing ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’. A muzacky version, yes, but, come on, it’s far too early for that sort of nonsense!
The view from the top of the tower was terrific, such a clear day, and a reminder that this one day in Osaka would not be enough for us. It’s a big place.
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed up to the roof garden. The recent Typhoon 21 caused some damage and this is now being repaired.
We walked over to Osaka Castle, which was visible from quite a long way off, being on top of a hill.
The walk took us through the park, in fact, past a number of people selling plants and flowers from their stalls. In the middle of the park, we stopped for a snack and watched the fountain.
We’ll never know what’s inside this time capsule as it won’t be opened until the year 6970.
The castle is built from half a million very large stones brought here from quite a long way, from all over Japan. The logistical arrangements must have been quite difficult. We saw no evidence, but suspect slave labour may have been involved.
The exhibit inside is spread over several storeys and I was reminded how inadequate my History lessons at school were. All this exciting, interesting stuff going on in Japan and all we learned about was the English monarchy, with the odd nod to people who may have affected the monarchy, such as Oliver Cromwell. Hardly anything about how ordinary people lived in England in the past, and certainly nothing about what was happening in Japan, China, south America, Australia, Africa etc at the time.
Walking back through the park, we stopped for a quick coffee, and watched the people. Further along the path, I saw a woman wiping a dog’s bottom. I was torn: part of me was ‘that’s disgusting’ and part of me was ‘good for you’. Then I realised, I had the dog back to front. She was in fact feeding it. But it really was a pushmi-pullyu of a pocket-sized dog.
We agreed that we’d have to come back and visit the Osaka Museum of History on another day. Liesel’s putting up with a lot of discomfort, pain even, and all I’m worried about myself is a slight crick in the neck and my feet ache at the end of the day.
On the walk back home from our station, Settsu-Tando, we walk over another, parallel, railway line. When a train’s coming, there’s an audible alarm for a few seconds before the barrier comes down. As soon as the back of the train has gone by, the barriers lift and we’re on our way. Compare and contrast with the level crossing at Hampton Court where the barriers come down far too early and stay down far too long after the train’s gone by. There you go: whinge of the day!
Our time in Tokyo is over. That went fast. We saw about 0.01% of what was on offer, including some of what we’d planned to see. But after more than 40 years, there is still a lot of London for us to see, so what chance did Tokyo have?
We packed, ate most of the rest of our food for breakfast and left a few bits in the fridge for the next people. Our final walk back to Yamagome station with full bags this morning was hot and sticky.
Thank goodness we chose to travel light! But everything is relative, and we could both do with travelling lighter, that’s for sure.
Interestingly, we noticed that on the stairs to the platform, we were supposed to ‘keep right’. The ‘keep left’ ‘rule’ doesn’t even apply to the whole of the railway system never mind the whole of Tokyo or the country in its entirety.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, our lovely Martha and William were enjoying preparations for Halloween. Thanks for sending the pictures so we can stave off homesickness!
The main task today was to validate our JR (Japan Rail) Rail Passes. The assistant was very helpful and very thorough, but what a palaver. We had vouchers and expected to be given real Passes. We didn’t anticipate that so many pieces of paper would have to be printed, annotated, highlighted, dated, stamped, signed, stapled, filed and when she started processing a Filipino’s form with my passport, I think I was quite justified in becoming a little worried. But, being British, I kept my mouth shut, of course.
Our Passes were subsequently stamped, that is to say validated, by the first ticket inspector we saw. We can’t use the automatic barriers, we have to show our Passes to a real person each time, in and out of a station.
The first, crowded, train took us to Tokyo Station. We then reserved seats for the second train, as this would be a three hour long ride on the Shinkansen service, the world-famous Japanese Bullet Train.
The seats are in groups of 3 and 2 separated by the wide aisle. There is plenty of legroom too.
The ride was smooth and very comfortable. The highest speed we saw on my little phone app was 280 kph, about 175 mph.
I think we were hoping to see more countryside once we left the metropolis of Tokyo, but the whole country seems to be pretty built-up. In some places, I had to look away from the window as the flickering of the fast passing buildings was making me feel a bit ooky.
We were hoping to see Mount Fuji, of course, but the train passed through a long sequence of long tunnels. The lady sitting behind pointed out Fuji, now way behind us, and while it was exciting to see it at last, in the flesh, it was too far away and I was too slow to take a picture. So, I had to make do with a photo of an advert at the next station!
We saw the sea for a a brief moment and eventually, we did see some actual rural scenery.
In the station earlier, I’d used another app to translate the labels on some of the snacks in the shops. For some reason, the English translation was displayed upside down. And of course, the phone is so smart, when you turn it round, it turns the image round too, so it’s still upside down. But we were glad to have snacks, as the on-train service was hard to pin down. At least two crew members pushed a trolley through the carriage, but so fast, it was impossible for us to flag them down. What was cute though was that every member of the crew who passed through the carriage turned round and bowed before they left.
As we approached Kyoto, the densely built cityscape became more dominant again. Amongst the ordinary structures, we saw the beauty of an old shrine standing proud.
The train was quiet and peaceful. There was nobody shouting the odds on their phone, nobody playing loud music through inadequate earphones, it was all very civilised. In fact, it’s normal here to turn your mobile devices to silent, and not to use them as phones while on board. So imagine how mortified I was when my Google Maps app started telling me where to go while we were on the train. It’s not like I was driving and had any control over where we went. Some apps are just a bit too up themselves.
Three hours on a bullet train and we duly arrived at Shin-Osaka station.
The escalator thinks it’s a staircase. It goes down for a bit, then it levels off and then it goes down again, as if it has to pause for breath halfway down. (Or, indeed, up.)
In the stations, and outside, we noticed that many people were dressed for temperatures far colder than we were experiencing. Did they know something we didn’t? I’m still in t-shirt and shorts and I feel fine. Liesel feels cold well before I do, so her cardigan was on and off almost as fast as a pulsar.
The third train ride of the day was only about 20 minutes duration. We went back from Osaka towards Kyoto, as the new Airbnb is halfway between the two cities.
At Settsu-Tonda station, we were met by our host for the week, Masako. She actually gave us a lift in her little car to our accommodation and of course, on this occasion, we hadn’t had time to buy flowers to thank her for the lift! Oh well.
The house was easy to find from the station and it is pink: it reminded me of our old house in Peterborough. Masako showed us round: we had the choice of downstairs or upstairs. We went upstairs as it seemed more private. Plus, we’d be further away from any karaoke activity taking place next door.
We have much more space here too: it’s good to be able to sit and relax on a sofa. There’s a decent kitchen with cooking paraphernalia. The cutlery drawer is mostly full of chopsticks, but I’m sure we’ll get by.
We had a quick walk back up the road to the convenience shop, 7-Eleven. Not convenient enough to sell fruit and veg, though. So I walked further along to a greengrocer where I was able to procure apples, bananas and grapes. No tomatoes, though. And yes, I did ask for English tomartoes and for American tomaytoes.
Our evening entertainment was the start of a sequence of Slow Sunday programmes from last Sunday on BBC 6 Music. Cerys Matthews, Russell Crowe and Guy Garvey all played some fantasic, relaxing music.
Our beds are components from an old bunk bed, so it’s quite hard to get out of them with sides higher than the mattress thickness. At least we won’t fall out. And we won’t be struggling to get up from the floor, either! We’re here for a week, hooray!
* Scrambled eggs, oh my darling, you’ve got lovely legs… apparently these are the original lyrics to Paul McCartney’s song, Yesterday. No prizes for finding another Beatles song title here somewhere.
After two days walking pretty much solely on concrete, we thought we’d do something different today.
We went for a walk, but we kept to the area close to our Airbnb. It has the feel of a village about it, you wouldn’t really know you’re in Tokyo.
Rikugien Gardens has manmade hills and a manmade pond. We walked around the park slowly, making us of the many benches on offer. We passed the tea house, resisting the temptation to have matcho tea.
The weeping cherry tree would of course have been prettier earlier in the year. The large American commented ‘oh shoot, this is like being outside’, purely because the toilet had no door and no windows.
Komo-maki is the fine art of putting straw belts around trees to catch and remove harmful insects, as they climb down looking for a warm place to stay for the Winter. Even these purely practical items are turned into works of art.
This hut is about 150 years old and it unusual structure includes pillars and beams made from rhododendron wood. You could almost imagine kicking the central pillar over, it looks so fragile, yet it’s obviously doing a great job.
While we’re pleased we got away from Anchorage just in time (it is now snowing there!), we do miss the Autumn colours. Tokyo hasn’t quite got that far yet, so when you see a red tree, you know it’s special.
There were, of course, plenty of fish in the pond, many of them hanging out by the bridges, presumably waiting to be fed. But it was a delight to see a couple of turtles in the water and one sunbathing. I hope he was sunbathing and not just starnded on the rock because I would feel terrible about not having helped him back in to the water.
We thought about walking around these gardens again but instead, decided to move on to the next one.
On the way, we stopped for a coffee and, as with most cafés and restaurants, there was a box underneath the seat in which to place our bags.
Some of the roads in this area aren’t wide enough to accommodate pavements, but those that do, just like in Shinjuku, have a tactile strip, presumably for visually impaired people. Follow the yellow brick road and you will be taken straight to the pedestrian crossing or another hazard.
In Kyū-Furukawa Gardens, we walked on more large boulders, some gravel, up and down steps, much better for Liesel especially than all that flat concrete.
The birds here were quite a bit louder and there were no ravens to drown them out.
As we crossed one bridge, there was a splash in the water. No, not one of us, probably just another koi hoping for a hand-out from a human. Being later in the day, there were many more people here, and passing them on some of the steps was quite challenging The ‘keep left’ rule didn’t always work.
It was here in the shade that I did some typing. No distractions other than the birds, some clanging over there where some construction was taking place, the sight of elderly couples and of young couples enjoying their time together. (I typed too soon. The raven is over there, cawing louder than a Deep Purple concert.)
Here is a 15-stone pagoda, but I think it weighs a lot more than fifteen stone.
This English looking house was designed by and English architect, and even though we’ve only been in Japan for a week, we felt it looked out of place. It’s funny how quickly different things, sights, buildings become the norm.
Even the rose garden could have been plucked from Hampton Court – apart from the Japanese text on the identity cards.
Number plate of the day, possibly the first car ever manufactured.
So far, we’ve avoided all Japanese TV, apart from a dodgy game show they had on the flight into Tokyo. But we had a treat in store. The evening entertainment back at our b&b was provided by David Bowie. His 2000 Glastonbury performance was broadcast last week on BBC4 last week and Jenny and Liam recorded it and sent it to us! I could have waited until we returned home, but thanks for sending it!
If you’re having problems with image sizes, sorry, you’re not alone, we’ve been having problems with the WordPress app: it’s been crashing a lot, lately and it doesn’t always accept our changes to images, so some pictures will appear huuuge while others may seem way too small. We can only view the blog on our phones right now, so we have to hope for the best, to a certain extent. Here ends the public service announcement.
So you’re thinking, ‘Disneyland, really, you went all the way to Japan to go to Disneyland, and you dragged your poor husband with you? Why, when there is all of Japan to see?’
Well we just couldn’t come here and not go, we’ve been to all the other Disney parks. I am a Disney fan. I love: rides, shows, characters, wearing Mickey ears, eating frozen chocolate covered bananas, et cetera. Luckily for me, Mick happily came, I think on the basis that he knew he would get coffee, ‘steps’ in without prodding me along, and ample toilet facilities.
Seriously though, we did have one tough decision to make; Disneyland or DisneySea! What would you do if you could only do one? Go with what’s comfortable or something new? We chose DisneySea, and it was great. Favourite attractions were Turtle Talk, Nemo & Friends SeaRider, and Mermaid/Tritons theatre. They were all in Japanese; we didn’t have a clue what was said but it was all kawaii, too cute for words. There were rides that we didn’t make it on, as the queues were over two hours long, or we weren’t sure our backs would survive. Instead we took rides which we wouldn’t have done ten years ago, like Jumpin Jellyfish and Jasmine’s Flying Carpets.
Halloween: Disney has a policy that you can come dressed for Halloween but only as Disney characters, and they must be wholesome, no altering your costume to get your boobies and bootie out there. The Japanese took this to heart and we have never seen so many princesses, chipmunks, Donalds and villains in one place. Smiles plastered all over our faces just watching strangers all day. However, I must say, going to the extreme of putting coloured contact lenses in was just creepy, but then it was Halloween.
In the end we walked over eight miles and stood in queues for at least three hours. We ate our way through the park: chips, dumplings, Indian curry, ice cream, tiramisu cake and coffee (not all at the same time, frozen bananas must just be just an American thing). We were exhausted by the time Mickey showed up for Fantasmic and fireworks and found it difficult shopping at the end, but you’ll be pleased to know, we did survive, it was a bloody brilliant day.
Lazy Sunday afternoon. Hah, not really. Today was the day we moved out of top class hotel accommodation and on to where we’ll be for most of the time from now on: much cheaper Airbnbs.
We took advantage of the laundry facilities at the hotel, conventiently located next door to the smoking room, so that we could move on with a full bag of clean clobber.
The laundry cycle was quite long, so we partook of the hotel breakfast, a buffet, in which we only made two trips to the counter. I went out one last time to say hello to Godzilla, he said something nasty and I said, ‘alright, no need to snap my head off’.
Packing was as usual, a bit of a struggle. There’s always that last thing that won’t go in. (Well, why don’t you put that thing in first? suggested my subconscious.)
We took a train from Shinjuku Station north-east to Bunkyo. The host’s name is Hideyoshi but it was her mother who met us at Komagome Station. While waiting for her to turn up, I went for a wander and bought some flowers to say thanks for the lift. Only there was no lift. We walked to the house along a narrow street, nowhere near as busy as Shinjuku. Mother (whose name I’m embarrassed to say, we don’t know) invited us out to lunch. We had half-made plans, but this was an opportunity to speak with a local for a while. She took us back on the train to a wonderful Buddhist, therefore vegetarian, restaurant, Saishokukenbi.
Who wants to see an elephant made from balloons?
There was one at the top of Takeshita Street which our new friend had recommended we visit. What a busy street: we thought we’d never make our way through the crowds, but somehow we made it. Lots of people dressed in, let’s say, unorthodoix clothing! They’re very fond of their cosplay around here and of course, inspiration from animé characters is very popular.
We walked round the block to Yoyogi park, partly to get away from people, but also because there’s a shrine that we wanted to visit.
We noticed that on the paths, most people were keeping to the left. This fits in with our observations elsewhere. In Shinjuku, even on a pavement on one side of the road, most people keep to the left. This is disrupted when a cyclist comes by, but they’re mainly on the left too. On the escalators at railway stations, you stand on the left, which feels wrong and naughty and rebellious when you’re so used to standing on the right on London Underground’s escalators. But yes, here in the park, you walk along the left side of the path. Mostly.
The Meiji Shinto Shrine itself was very peaceful, far fewer people than we’d seen at the Buddhist Temple yesterday. I paid respects to my lost, loved ones: money in the offertory, bow twice, clap twice, bow again.
We found our way home OK, remarking on how cheap the train fares are compared with at home. Of course, our mental currency conversion might be totally wrong, and maybe we’re spending a small fortune on public transport, here. Mind you, we don’t often get a seat because all the trains are pretty full, even at the weekend.
So back to our b&b, such a contrast to the hotel! We’re sleeping on a mattress on tatami mats on the floor. That’s OK, but getting up is really hard for us old’uns, it’s such a long way. The cooking facilities are minimal, but we’re only here for a few days. The toilet seat is heated and there’s another clever innovation: you can wash your hands in the water before it refills the cistern after a flush. (Just for those viewers who were wondering where today’s toilet news is.)
It’s a quiet street, just the odd domestic sounds from nearby.
Our organised tour of (some of) the great city of Tokyo began early. But since we’ve been waking up early anyway, it didn’t matter. The bad news was that rain was forecast for much of the day. In the end, we were extraordinarily lucky: dry and sometimes sunny, our day was very enjoyable even if, at the end, we were very tired.
We picked up the first bus close to Shinjuku Station. This is the busiest station in the known universe, with 3.6 million people coming and going each day through its 200 entrances and exits.
It’s pretty much surrounded by retail opportunities (shops) but the coffee shop wasn’t open that early, not even with that many potential customers.
We watched the people and especially their shoes. This would have been enough entertainment for the day. Everything from flat, almost ballet, shoes to thigh length boots with stiletto heels. One girl must take her shoes off a night and put them in front of aeroplanes to stop them rolling away.
And if that wasn’t enough fun: the bus seats had these cute little attachments in case we fancied a game of bus basketball en route.
Not cute enough for you? How about this dragon?
We arrived at the bus station where we met up with our tour party. I’m not saying all Americans are loud but you can pretty much guarantee that in any mixed group of travellers, the loudest speakers will be the Americans. And we had a couple. You probably heard them too.
Hato Bus is named for the white dove of peace and I have to admire the clever logo: a combination of HB and four doves.
The first stop on our tour was Tokyo Tower, where we met Hello Kitty and had a view of the city from high up. Again, Mount Fuji eluded us.
Yes, that was my first thought too: it looks like an Eiffel Tower knock-off!
The view showed buildings old and new. We learnt a lot about Japanese history, samurai warriors, the Shoguns, the emperors.
In fact, our guide, Atsushi, was very funny as well as very informative. He told us what to expect at the tea ceremony. We only had time for the fifteen minute version, not the full four hours, but it was an interesting experience. The little sweet was very sweet and the green tea, by comparison, was quite bitter. And as briefed, we told the the host that the tea was excellent, with lots of bowing.
The venue was Happo-en, a popular location for wedding ceremonies. There were at least three taking place today, and we nearly got caught up in a couple of processions. I don’t think we ruined too many wedding photos, though.
The gardens are very peaceful, and the bonsai trees are amazing. They really are little old-looking and gnarly trees, so much moreso than any we’ve seen at home.
Umbrellas are an important accessory here but would you want to take yours inside a building? Lockable umbrella racks are located outside some venues.
We visited the Chinzanso Hotel for a Japanese style lunch. The meat and vegetables were cooked on on hot plate on the table. My veggie meal was prepared behind the scenes, in the kitchen. We were given an apron to wear, and the waiters (is that the word?) tied them for us. Only the Australian lady needed it when she dribbled her ‘special sauce’.
This really was proper Japanese fare. My soup bowl was small, with tofu and vegetables. Then a bowl of rice, some salad items and more vegetables. All served with a certain amount of ceremony.
At this hotel, we encountered more weddings! And we saw a couple of young ladies wearing fabulous costumes and they were happy to pose for us, arigato.
After lunch, even I managed to stay awake for the ride to the Imperial Palace gardens. We were greeted by this Samurai warrior, who would give Stirling Castle’s Robert the Bruce a run for his money!
In another first, I purchased a hot can of coffee from a vending machine. Yes, hot, almost too hot too handle. It was alright, too sweet if anything. We’re hoping to find vending machines selling items other than drinks (or cigarettes): after all, that is what Japan’s famous for!
We were taken along the Expressway to Tokyo Port.
Unfortunately, our cruise along the Sumida river was not aborad this delightful looking vessel. Instead, we spent about 40 minutes down below and inside a normal, common or garden river cruise boat. Oh well. We lost count of the number of bridges we sailed under, with no two alike.
We walked along Nakomise Street with, apparently, 90 shops, mostly selling food items that we couldn’t identify. But we did try a couple of snacks. The deep fried, hot rice cake was surprisingly crunchy after beinmg dipped in soy sauce. The sweet bean paste filled cakes were different, but we probably didn’t need five for just the two of us.
We wandered around the Senso-ji Buddhist Temple in Asakusa but couldn’t really appreciate the peace with so many thousands of people around.
The bus took us back to Tokyo Station from where we took the train back to Shinjuku and our hotel. We were glad we’d booked the extra night here, we were ridiculously tired. We were meant to be carted about all day on buses and boats and yet somehow, we still managed to walk over eight miles. That’s OK for me, not so good for Liesel with her piriformis isssues.
We found a fast food restaurant where we had Japanese curry for supper. It was quick, it was tasty and only a five-minute walk back to our room.
We rose early with the Sun, ready for a long walk.
Poor old Liesel was in a lot of discomfort pretty much from the start, but despite this, she pushed through and we ended up with 8 miles under our belts. Just don’t tell her physio.
The view from our hotel window, as you can see, isn’t very green, so we thought a walk to the park was in order. And my goodness, how busy the streets are at 8am. Everyone’s on a mission to get to work.
On the way to the park, we saw this triptych and we briefly thought how exciting it would be to watch Japan play the All Blacks while we’re here. Sadly, we have plans for that day and in any case, as the website says, ‘all packages are sold out’.
Among other adverts, and there are thousands, we saw this one. Someone, please tell Louis Vuitton that there are millions of gorgeous Japanese girls here, you wouldn’t have to look too far to find one for your billboards.
Then we turned a corner.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Park has a long history, and is very popular both with locals and with visitors.
We saw some interesting animals, 0-, 2-, 6- and 8-legged.
Finding our way around was easy. The map we picked up included coordinates where any two or more paths met. These coordinates matched the descriptions on the posts at the relevant junctions. So easy and such a contrast to the bright, colourful maps you get at UK attractions which are useless for actual navigation purposes!
I think because we’ve been through Autumn once already, the trees appeared, to us, to be ridiculously lush with leaves. The flowers were gorgeous too.
The roses in the rose garden were blooming lovely and some, such as the New Zealand rose, were strongly aromatic.
[click here to smell the roses]
Yes, the park was very photogenic. And when it was time to wander back to the real city, it felt slightly anticlimactic.
Time for a snack.
We visited the Tokyo Municipal Government Buildings where, from the 45th floor, you can see the whole city. Well, nearly all.
I was hoping to see our hotel, and in particular, Godzilla, but unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything in that direction without paying to eat or drink something in the (expensive) restaurant.
One of the sights we want to see here is, of course, Mount Fuji. And today presented the first opportunity.
There’ll be more chances later on, of course.
On the way out, we stumbled across an exhibition about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. We thought we might come and watch, but we’ll have to decide nearer the time: it’s quite expensive.
At the top of the tower, I used one of the ubiquitous vending machines for the first time. I tried the Boss Coffee in a can.
We walked back towards our accommodation and passed this rather moving appeal for peace.
We wanted to see the Hanazono Shrine. Without realising it, we’d walked right by it yesterday, but it’s really well hidden, which is a shame for such a beautiful building.
In total contrast with this elegant structure, here is something really unusual: graffiti.
Back at the hotel, we had a rest. Liesel had a bath and I went out for another walk, to buy some apples (XXL only) and to confirm where we’re supposed to be early tomorrow morning.
In the process, I noticed how fast sunset is. I went into a shop during daylight, came out and it was twilight.
For dinner, we went to Solah Spices Tokyo where I had 16 vegetable curry and Liesel had aloo gobi. Typical Japanese fare. But, it was located conveniently close to the hotel! And, it was very nice food: very nice, very tasty.
If you’re not interested in today’s toilet-based section, please scroll down to the picture of a little boy standing on a dolphin.
I was suprised and delighted by the number of toilets we saw in the park this morning. And I saw one of the legendary Japanese toilets, which are at floor level, so you squat, do what you need to do, then try to stand up afterwards. I imagine you need strong thigh muscles, but at least there’s a rail to help. I will give it a go, sometime, should the need arise.
Most of the public conveniences I’ve used have no hand towels nor hot air dryers, so I come out shaking my hands dry. It seems most people carry hankerchiefs with them to dry their hands.
The toilet seat in our hotel room is heated. The first couple of times, I just thought the plastic seat retained the warmth of the previous buttocks really efficiently. But no: it’s heated. The control panel on the wall is not as complicated as Asa and Gideon’s X-Box controllers, but very nearly so. The first night when I had my surprise bidet moment? I now realise it was because I’d pressed the wrong button by mistake: I totally missed the large ‘flush’ button.
Today’s general observation: we thought many more people would be smoking here in Tokyo. There are a few smokers, and we’ve smelt them inside a large games arcade but on the whole, we haven’t felt the need to wear surgical masks at all.