Thunderstorms featured briefly in one weather forecast but they never materialised. In fact, it was a nice day. We spent it indoors, mostly. One of us had a long lie-in while the other watched a couple of TV shows on her phone.
I read my book for a while and spent too long trying to fix a problem on my own phone: one in which email headers are displayed but not the body of the message. Yes, I emptied the cache, yes I turned it off and on again and no, the bug wasn’t fixed.
I did a few hours typing, we went shopping just up the road. Liesel concocted a delicious leek and potato soup.
I went for a quick walk myself, not too far, just downstairs, three doors along into the barbershop. It was great to get my hair cut, finally, after failing to do so in Anchorage. Neither the barber nor his wife spoke English, I spoke no Japanese. I think my sign language conveyed the right message: at least, I came away with a decent trim. I wasn’t seriously worried about the cutthroat razor, nor being turned into a pie, since there are no pie shops nearby. I got a free shoulder and neck massage too which I wasn’t expecting but that may be the normal service here.
We listened to radio programmes, mostly music, from BBC 6 Music, Radio 2 and Classic FM. I’m so glad we acquired the bluetooth speaker, it’s so much more pleasant to listen to than the tinny speakers in our phones.
I’m sure there are interesting Japanese radio shows being broadcast too, and I’m sure I’ll investigate them at some point. But for today, we just wanted something familiar from home.
As instructed, we aimed to meet up with our tour group at the Sunrise Tours Desk inside Avanti Shopping Centre, over the road from Kyoto Station’s Hachijo exit. It was a two-train journey again, and involved a fair amount of walking.
Our guide’s name was Yuki: this means ‘snow’: she was born during Winter.
Our bus had a ninja design, which was unique to Kyoto, and possible unique within Japan. It certainly made it easy for us to find our bus after every quick visit to a shrine or a temple.
The first stop was Nijo Castle, or Nijo-jo Castle, a World Heritage Site. No cameras are allowed inside, but we enjoyed walking on the nightingale floors. Much more musical than plain, ordinary squeaky floorboards: the sound they make when you walk on them acts as a warning to people further inside. An early warning of a possible intrusion, in the same way as gravel forecourts would give you away if you were trying to approach quietly.
The Golden Pavilion is very opulent for a Buddhist place of worship, but it wasn’t always a Temple. It is now a World Cultural Heritage site but it was initally built as a villa for a statesman. Rokuon-ji Temple takes its name from Rokuon-in-den, the name the statesman, Yoshimitsu, was given after his death.
Nowadays, only monks are allowed to enter the Temple, but we enjoyed a walk around the surrounding gardens, just the same.
The Imperial Palace is more accessible than the one in Tokyo, and apparently, there are still some people who think the capital of Japan should come back to Kyoto. The Emperor and Empress make use of the palace on odd occasions.
We had a quick walk around the outside, many of the buildings are of course closed to the public.
We used the entrance once used by the Shogun. The last Shogun gave up his power to the Emperor of Japan in the mid-19th century, here in Kyoto Palace.
Not far from the palace was the restaurant where we had a fantastic buffet lunch. I needn’t have worried that I would come away hungry. We chatted with Sue, from Melbourne, who’s in Japan for work but is making the most of her time here. We looked around the shopping centre too, but we didn’t buy anything. We could have, there were some beautiful artefacts and interesting objects, but we’re trying very hard not to acquire more stuff that needs carrying around. Very disciplined. So far.
A post-lunch nap wasn’t on the cards, obviously. We joined the afternoon tour for three more interesting places.
In the afternoon, our guide was Miyuki. Mi means beauty and Yuki means happiness. So Yuki means ‘snow’ and ‘happiness’. Good job English is more straightforward, not having words with more than one meaning, eh!
Heian Shrine was interesting. It’s Saturday, and some 3-, 5- and 7-year old girls were dressed up for their special day, receiving prayers for a good life.
Sanjusangen-do Temple is the longest wooden structure in the world. It is a National treasure. There are 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity simply known as Kannon. Each has 40 arms, each of which represents 25 arms. That’s over a million arms altogether, I believe. Again, no photos, but halfway along the line, I did light a candle for those who have moved on from this world to a better one. The Thunder God and the Wind God at either end of the Temple hall are a little bit scary.
On the ride to our final Temple of the day, we passed through some woods where the trees had taken quite a battering from two recent typhoons.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is at the top of a long, narrow, uphill road, and most people kept to the left. A nice mix of vistors such as ourselves and local people, dressed in gorgeous, colourful kimonos.
The Sun was low in the sky when we reached the Temple. We followed the one-way path: with so many visitors, it had to be organised this way. There’s a balcony at the top from which you can leap to the ground, 30 metres below. If you survive, you’re in for a good fortune. We didn’t try it.
Kyoto is surrounded on three sides by mountains. There is also a law preventing new buildings from being too tall, unlike in Tokyo. This means that when you’re high up, you really do get a good view.
As the Sun was setting, the colour of the Temple really came to life.
We walked back down the road to the bus, picking up a coffee on the way. Man, we was tired. We thought we’d be home soonish, but there was a traffic hold-up in Kyoto so we didn’t get back to the railway station for a very long time! Tired and a little bit fed-up now, not helped by queues in the cafés and restaurants just not moving forward. Tired, fed-up and increasingly hungry.
This was the second and final of the two tours arranged for us by our friend Yoshi in Anchorage. But it has confirmed what we’ve both always felt: that we shouldn’t try to cram so much into one day. We’d rather spend a long time at one venue than whizz through several places in one day.
Over three days, we’ve spent time in Osaka, Nara and Kyoto so we deliberately chose to take it easy the following day. We have a brochure advertising a tour of all three cities in just one day: that’s definitely not for us!
Nara was one of the places we particularly wanted to visit but as usual, there’s too much to see and do in one day.
We haven’t been able to find out the name of the Japanese art of knitting electric and telephone cables in the sky.
But this is what we see on our walk to our local railway station.
The trains cater for all sorts of people. There are ‘women only’ carriages which reinforces yet again how nasty and disrespectful some men are. But there are low hanging hangers for short people (hello Liesel).
Two trains later, we arrived at Nara.
On the way out of the station, we were engulfed by Jehovah’s Witnesses. One approached me and said ‘Hello, my name’s Hirokiro, I’m a Jehovah’s Witness, what’s your name?” I was impressed by his honesty. At home, we’re used to JWs offering a free magazine, asking what you thing about the state of the world, anything other than be upfront and admit what they’re trying to sell you.
And that wasn’t the end of the day’s nuisances. Nara is famed for the deer that live in and around the parks in the town centre. Quite nice to see the first one or two, but eventually, we were trying to steer clear. You can buy food for them, and some are so well bred that they bow in the Japanese manner for a tasty treat.
There’s an expression in Nara for when something is blindingly obvious: Does a deer poo in the High Street?
We dodged the pellets and the pee and perambulated towards the parks.
The first, Yoshiki-en Garden, was free for foreigners, which we appreciated of course, but we couldn’t see why they did this.
As you’d expect, it was very peaceful. There’s a Moss Garden which prompted me to hum the David Bowie song of that name (and to play the real thing for Liesel when we got home in the evening). We regretted not appreciating our own moss garden in Chessington, but we wanted grass.
There is great respect for old people in Japan, but also for old trees. They’re not averse to using props to help the oldies stay upright. (Trees, not people.)
We’ve been bitten a couple of times by insects, but we’ve not actually that many. A few flies, a couple of bees, and a bright yellow butterfly that’s followed us here from Tokyo. It usually flutters by too fast but I managed to catch it today in Nara.
Why have a boring old brick wall when you can have something as ornate as this?
A bit further along, we found Isuien Garden. It too was very pretty, and we can only imagine how colourful it would be in Springtime. Yes, we agreed we’d have to come back. But Autumn has its own colours too.
The gravel path was ok on the whole, but every one of the millions of stones tried to get into my sandals and a few succeeded. How the locals must have laughed as this Englishman holding onto a tree while kicking a foot as if at an invisible dog, shaking stones out.
We walked to Todaiji Temple, trying not to trip over the relaxing wildlife. Make yourself at home, I said. We are at home, he replied.
At this Temple, there were no restrictions on taking pictures. The Great Buddha resides in one of the world’s largest wooden structures.
The wooden guardians do a great job: the facial expressions are enough to frighten anyone away. But we were here with good intentions, so I don’t think they minded much.
Equally, they didn’t protect us from the hordes of school children practicing their English language skills. We were approached by several groups, each asking a series of questions. Where are you from? What’s your favourite animal? What do you want to see in Japan? We were given a small origami model by one of the groups, a cue to other groups that we’d been interviewed. Some of the older students, 6th grade, 11-12 years old, I think, asked: What is the goodness of Japan? Well, the people are friendly, helpful, welcoming, the views are stunning, we could have given a long list. Then: What is the goodness of your country? UK? USA? Hard to think of much positive in the heat of the moment, what with Trump and Brexit. So I think I said British weather was interesting. What a cop-out.
They were all very polite, though. We’d spent a day at Disneysea and the children there were all well behaved too: no tantrums, no siblings fighting, I don’t think we even heard any babies crying.
Walking back to the railway station, we passed some of these posts. They played announcements, maybe adverts that we couldn’t understand, of course, and in between, they played some nice, light jazz music.
Amongst all the modern shops, we found this cute little place. Is it a shrine? A private house? It’s a mystery, to us.
On the train back to Kyoto, we fell into conversation with a pair of doctors. The coronary specialist spoke reasonable English, the endocrinologist not so much. But we talked about the Japanese pilot who’d been arrested in England for being drunk in charge of his aeroplane. We showed each other pictures of our respective grandchildren: his two are a few years older and we saw videos of them playing an electric keyboard at home. What a nice bloke and what a pleasant way to pass a long train journey.
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.