Bula, Pacific Harbour

This entry will over-use the words ‘hot’, ‘sticky’ and ‘sweaty’, so be warned. The first thing we noticed when we got off the plane at Nadi Airport was the heat. It was hot. 29°C, about 375°F, much like an oven.We instantly became sticky and sweaty.

We were greeted at Nadi Airport by a trio playing us a lovely welcome song. The Feejee Bee Gees, possibly.

Chore 1: buy a portable wifi device. Yes, buy. I thought we were renting it but the answer to the question “Do we bring it back to this desk?” was “No, it’s yours to keep.” I don’t know whether it’s 4G or Feejee 3G.

Chore 2: see if we can get Feejee money from the ATM, and we did, on the first attempt. Feejee dollars.

Chore 3: buy some sunblock. It was hot.

It was hotter outside. And because neither of us had slept particularly well on the 8-hour flight from Tokyo, we were both a little cranky too. For the first time ever, I was able to lie down and spread out over four seats, but I still found sleep hard to come by.

We located the bus to take us to our next place of accommodation, and when we saw one without windows, we thought, that’s great, cheap aircon. Our bus had proper aircon though, so less hot, sticky and sweaty. The entertainment for the first two hours of the ride was reggae, including reggae versions of songs that came from other genres, pop, rock and so on.

But just before we reached our final destination, someone put in a movie DVD: Rules of Engagement. Well, that brought me out of my torpor. Loud, violent, lots of swearing, ideal for the young families squashed together on the bus. I dozed a bit, but from the bus, we saw a horse (a Feejee geegee), a buffalo and a goat. Plus mangoes. Hundreds of mangoes being sold by the roadside. Quite a few mangos too.

Our destination was Pacific Harbour Post Office. Of course, we got off a stop early. Outside the Police Station. The officers were very helpful though, suggesting we don’t walk to our b&b in this heat with those bags, it’s too hot. We used their toilet and their phone and in the end, we took a taxi. Doug, our host, was expecting to meet us at the Post Office. When we phoned him, we got his wife, who was at home. A lot of confusion, made more frustrating by being all hot and bothered by the heat, and tired as well.

Doug’s a Kiwi, he showed us our place, and we had a lie down. No aircon here, but there is a fan, we’ll need that, he assured us.

He drove me to the local shop where I was able to buy a converter for the electric supply.

“Two seventy-five”, said the shop assistant.

I started counting out three $100 bills, those being what the ATM gave me.

“No, mate, two dollars, seventy-five.”

Tired. Not thinking straight. And used to the big numbers of yen in Japan, 100 yen is about 66p. $2.75 here is about £1.10. We’ll have to be careful about that.

There is no hairdryer. Liesel hasn’t not used one for eighteen years. I asked for a cheap one in the shop. No, mate. They don’t use hairdryers in Feejee, apparently.

The view outside our Pacific Harbour Airbnb

I went for a quick walk to the beach. It was 6.00pm and still light. In Okinawa, at 5.35, boom, out goes the Sun. It’s light here until about 7.45. And hot. I was sweaty and sticky so I had a quick shower before going to bed. It was still light.

The beach: hope this is high tide
I’ve got a loverly bunch of coconuts

The birds outside are loud. Bulbuls or songthrushes, it’s hard (for us) to tell, but this chap would make a terrific alarm clock.

A very loud songbird

Despite the heat and no aircon, just a fan and being a bit sticky, we slept well. Doug gave us a ten minute warning that he was driving to Suva. He’d offered us a lift, it’s 48 km away, so we left without breakfast.

His wife, Loata, drove along roads that varied between Surrey-style patched quilt and potholes, to quite nice surfaces for the odd couple of metres. The drivers here are mad, we’re now glad we didn’t rent a car. Suva was very busy and after being dropped off in the heat, we were very sticky by the time we’d reached the hotel bar over the road. Yes, the bar. We were one minute late for breakfast in the restaurant so instead, we were shown to the bar where we had a late breakfast or early lunch, looking out over the pool with the ocean beyond. Naturally, I had English breakfast tea: Feejee Tips.

Grand Pacific Hotel view

We crossed the road again and walked through the Botanical Gardens. Crossed the road! If only it were so easy. In Japan, everyone waited at crossings for the green man to appear, even if there was no traffic in sight. Jay-walking was strictly forbidden. Here in Feejee, in Suva at least, jay-walking is pretty much compulsory. You, well, we, stayed close to locals and followed them across the road: safety in numbers!

Pretty tree and lovely wife in the Botanical Gardens

It was hot in the gardens and we built up quite a sweat by the time we reached the Museum.

The cashier told us the fee, $10 each, and I pulled out what I thought was a $20 bill. But no, it was a $7 banknote: an easy mistake to make as they’re more or less the same colour.

The museum has artefacts from as far back as 3500 years ago. I found the boats most interesting. And the language, which seems very similar to Maori, even Hawaiian. Wai is water in all three. Waqa is a canoe here, waka is a canoe in New Zealand.

Waqa dura, two-hulled

The gift shop had aircon on, full blast. You hang around in there too long, and all the sweat will freeze on your skin, brrr.

Feejee is populated by people from all over the place. Indians were brought over as indentured workers in the early 19th century, and there is still a large Indian population here. After five years, they could either work for another five years to get the ticket home or, as many did, choose to stay to build a new life.

Indentured? Yes, they were all given false teeth on arrival.

The Queen and Prince Philip visited the islands in 1953 and were presented with this model village that people had slaved over for several months. Her Majesty donated it to the local museum.

Oh no, Philip, we’re not taking that thing home

In the wildlife room, we saw some dead animals. The butterflies are pretty but this beetle, which can grow up to 6 inches long, just looked wrong and creepy.

Xixuthrus heros – Heer

Too big for its own good.

We walked slowly back to the bus station: the last bus of the day left at 5pm and as I said, it would have been a long, 48 km, hot and sweaty walk back.

We went into some shops and bought some things to use on the beach: yes, we’d decided tomorrow would be a day on the beach. Also, some of the shops were a bit cooler than the streets.

I was a little dehydrated I think: I kept wanting to sit down before I fell over, so the mango smoothie was very welcome.

We also bought some vegetables in the large market, they call it a Flea Market, but it all looked like good produce to me. Even the mangoes. More mangoes. We could choose between sweet and sour pineapples. We took neither.

The bus ride home, despite the AC was, you guessed, h, s and s. And it was still too h when we got off to think about cooking or even preparing something cold, so we took a pizza home instead! Our first Feejeean pizza.

We couldn’t remember whether Feejee is north or south of the equator. I could have Googled it, but where’s the fun in that? It’s a well-known fact that water runs down a plughole clockwise one side of the equator and anti-clockwise the other. I couldn’t recall which way round, but never mind. In the shower, I watched the water to see whether, when it drained, it looked ‘right’, something I’m used to seeing, or looked odd. Well, the water pooled at the southside of the shower stall because the house is on a slope. Well, I say ‘house’, but ‘re-purposed shack’ would be more accurate. A bure. We didn’t come all this way to push water down a shower plughole with our newly washed feet, but there you go. It’s all an adventure. And if we drop something that rolls, we know we’ll find it in the deep south, by the kitchen sink.

Everything is s-l-o-w in Feejee: the internet, the electricity, the lifestyle. Well, everything apart from the traffic in Suva, that is. I had to come to the beach to acquire a signal strong enough to actually post this nonsense!

By now, you’re thinking, “Poor sod, the Sun’s got to his head. He was feeling woozy and now he can’t even spell the name of the country properly”. But if this spelling is good enough for the Museum Shop and History Gallery, then it’s good enough for me.

Feejee teehee

And $7 bills? Really? Yes, really.

Seven dollars – even more nuts than a quarter in USA
We are the Champions!

They were produced to commemorate the Fiji Rugby 7s team winning gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Hot Stuff

Our final day in Kawasaki was fascinating. No, not Kawasaki. Quasimodo. Kagoshima, that’s it, Kagoshima.

We enjoyed a bus ride and a walk to the Museum of the Meiji Restoration.

Waiting for the bus

Kagoshima is full of history. Everywhere you look, there are statues and placards commemorating historical events. The Meiji Restoration changed Japan. Imperial rule replaced the old shogunate political system, and the united country opened up to trade with other nations for the first time in 260 years. This whole thing was kicked off here in the Satsuma province. In the museum, we watched a very fast reconstruction of the events and again, we wondered, why did we know nothing of this from history lessons at school?

Honeymoon of (Reformer and samurai) Sakamoto Ryoma and Oreo

Unfortunately, no photos are allowed from the museum, so you’ll just have to go.

We walked towards the ferry port as we were going on a boat ride. Sakurajima is an active volcano just over the water and when we first saw it, it was having a quiet smoke.

Sakurajima

The ferry ride was easy. No tickets, you just pay when you get off. And on the way back, you pay the same person. It reminded me of the ferries in Norway where it’s just like taking the bus. Why the Isle of Wight Ferry has to be such a big deal, I’ll never know.

We were looking at a pamphlet and Liesel told me about a footpath that we could go and see. It said that at 100 metres in length, it’s one of the longest in Japan. I thought that couldn’t be right, we’ve walked along many, many footpaths longer than that.

“Bath”, said Liesel, “it’s a footbath.” Oh.

I thought it would be fun to walk the length of a 100m footbath, I’ve never done that before. But I did wonder if I’d be allowed to and whether I would, literally, get cold feet.

Well, I couldn’t and I didn’t.

It was hot water. Well, obviously: it’s just downhill from an active volcano. The natural hot spring was almost too hot. It took a while for my feet to get in but once there, and halfway up my calves, it did feel good. Liesel couldn’t take the temperature for as long as I did. Which is weird, because in the kitchen, her teflon fingers are much less sensitive to heat than mine are.

And, no, it was impossible to walk from one end to the other, thank goodness: too many little bridges and other obstructions.

The footbath or foot spa
Scrambled eggs

Meanwhile, the volcano was still puffing away. We went for a bit of a walk and some of the footpath was covered in cinders so it seems we were lucky today that the wind wasn’t blowing the dust and the fumes towards us. We found our way back to the Visitors Centre which was very interesting too.

This very active volcano has hundreds of eruptions each year and we now know why our Airbnb host had given us evacuation instructions.

Sakurajima
Here are the stats

I thought we’d finished with big vegetables when we left Anchorage. But no, we were in for a treat.

The Sakurojima big radish

The wind was changing direction on the return ferry, as the Sun was getting low in the sky, so the cloud above the volcano appeared totally different.

One more time: Sakurajima
More statues in Kagoshima

We still can’t get over how early and how fervently Japan is into Christmas. This tree-like structure outside the railway station is, apparently, typical of this part of Japan. Such a shame the bright colourful tree is almost outshone by the nearby traffic cones.

Merry Christmas, Kagoshima

What to do for supper tonight? Well, I didn’t like the look of this for a start!

Lots of fibre, presumably

And for an entertaining sight, watch someone eating pizza with chopsticks!

After returning home, I walked up the road to the local hot bath. As if I hadn’t been in enough hot water today.

This time, the guy at the counter knew why I was there. I paid, got soap and a towel and after washing and showering thoroughly, I joined four other, Japanese, men in the hot tub. It wasn’t as hot as the foot spa, but still hotter than a normal domestic bath or shower.

I had to get out after only ten or fifteen minutes though, I thought I was either going to fall over or fall asleep. The others, more used to things than I am, quite happily got out and straight into the cold tub. I can do that, thought I. No I can’t said my feet as soon as they submerged in the relatively icy water.

We had to be up early as we had a plane to catch. Jin, our host, had offered to drive us to the airport, for which we were very grateful.

One of the snacks we had with us was Wasabeef Chips. Wasabi flavoured crisps, or so we thought. But sadly, beef was involved in the ingredients. And chicken. And gelatin. Gelatin? In crisps? Why? Janice and Ray came to mind. Who remembers them and their catchphrase?

The flight to Naha Airport, Okinawa, was short and uneventful. And the blast of heat when we disembarked was very welcome.

It had become a little cooler over the last week or so, and quite a few locals, including Jin, had pointed at me, stroked my arm and enquired, “aren’t you cold, you freak?” I was still in t-shirt (or short-sleeved aloha shirt) and shorts while other folks were dressed in several layers of coats and fleeces. And no, I was rarely cold, usually just late at night outdoors.

We took the monorail to our next digs, which is, of course, at the top of the hill.

The futuristic monorail
The view from the front when it rained

The Airbnb is more spacious than the last one, we can spread our stuff out on the floor. But the ‘design’ is unusual to say the least. From the bed, you walk past the fridge on the left and a bathroom sink on the right, through the kitchen and into the shower. There’s a deep, square bathtub which we think can only be used to contain small children: you certainly couldn’t have a relaxing soak in it. But it feels good to be settled in one place for a whole week!

We came across a small park just down the road and enjoyed the entertainment. A Japanese guy with dreadlocks played some reggae from his laptop. But better than that were the Polynesian dance troupe, performing Hawaiian hula.

Hawaiian dancers
Hula and good singers too
Google bad Translate of the day

We’ve tried the rest, so we tried the best. Everest Curry House is run by a Nepalese guy who’s been here for two years, loves the climate as it’s similar to his home, but he hasn’t learned the local language.

The curry we had was (spicy) hot, just right for us. We opted for slightly hot, 10. The options went up to hyperhot, 100. That would have blown the top off my head, like that volcano.

Mariah Carey Sumo Wrestling

All I want for Christmas is to hear Mariah Carey singing ‘All I Want for Christmas’ on auto-repeat. Today, my wish came true. The siren called us down to the second floor for our breakfast. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any. It wasn’t included with our (admittedly cheap) hotel room fee. Nor was there an option to eat breakfast and pay later. Another example of a misunderstanding from a badly translated website. Hotel, you ask? Yes, we’re in Fukuoka for few more days and sometimes you can’t book an Airbnb for the exact length of time you need. So, we’re slumming it a bit on the 8th floor. It’s a quiet room except you can hear every other toilet being flushed: I think their effluent runs through our bathroom via pipes that think they’re sound amplification units.

But I did take advantage of the public hot bath. Not a real onsen, a natural hot spring, but as close as you can get on the 14th floor of a mid-town hotel. The hot bath was indeed hot. The one in the room next door was hot too, and it was open to the outside world, so on a cold day, you can potentially be snowed upon while in the hot tub.

I’d still like to experience a genuine, natural onsen, but that might have to wait a couple of days.

Colourful welcome to the arena

Today was a day for sport. We walked a couple of miles to the Kokusai Center to witness nearly eight hours of Sumo Wrestling. It was Day 10 of a 15-day Grand Sumo Tournament. And Mariah Carey was still in my head, possibly the most persistent ear worm in the world.

During the day, we saw over fifty separate contests. Each one is very short, preceded by lots of ritual. As the day wore on, competitors with increasing skill levels took part. The final 20 matches were from the Senior Division.

Very small audience early in the day

The Dohyō, the ring in which the contest takes place, is built anew for each tournament. The playing surface is clay and covered in sand. The men wear only a loin cloth, or mawashi, which may be tied tightly or loosely. The idea is to force your opponent out of the ring or to make him touch the floor with a part of his body other than his feet. It’s a mix of strength, weight, balance and strategy.

Not supposed to grab that bit

One of the skills most useful is hard to see, though, so if you’re squeamish, jump to the next paragraph. To prevent injury and pain in that area, sumo wrestlers are able to reel in their testicles to the safety of the lower abdomen.

Ritual before the contest

They all have their hair tied up into a top-knot, but each is a s lightly different style. Part of the ritual is to throw salt onto the Dohyō. This seems to be more common with the more experienced combatants. We saw one chap pick up and throw a huge handful of salt!

Not quite ready to go

The referees, or gyōji, wear brightly coloured outfits. They too are ranked and the most senior ones wear a sword because if they make a bad decision, they are honour bound to do the right thing.

Not always an equal size match

Some of the Seniors had their own group of rowdy supporters but there were a lot of westerners here too, like us, just for the experience. It was a great day’s entertainment.

Some of these are very popular
Curling is not the only sport with broom-wielders
Introducing the Seniors

Yesterday we went to Marine World at Uminonakamichi. As the name suggests, the place was full of fish. And dolphins.

Spider crab
Cleaning the rocks with your toothbrush

The ear worm on this occasion was Marina, Aqua Marina, from the old TV series Stingray. Look it up on YouTube and it will be in your head for the rest of the day, too. Unless you prefer Mariah Carey of course.

Sharks, Shrek and Churros

Remember, remember the fifth of November. Well, I always do: this year it would have been my Dad’s 93rd birthday. He never made it to Japan, but his ship was on its way when the war there ended, having, as he told us, finished off the conflict in Europe.

So here we are now in Japan, experiencing everything it has to offer. Including, this morning, a very slight tremor. I felt the bed shake and in the kitchen, the pot of cutlery toppled over into the sink.

Here’s a clue to the Japanese experience we chose to experience today:

The Harry Potter Universal Studios train that we didn’t take

Yes, Universal Studios Japan is a two train ride from our abode. The entertainment began early as we again enjoyed the announcements at Osaka Station. The musical cues are fantastic, no simple ‘bing-bong’ here, you get a whole tune. I recorded a few minutes and when I edit it down, I’ll have a brand new ringtone.

The young lady sitting next to me on the train kept sniffing. I wanted to offer her a tissue but that would have been a mistake. In fact, to sneeze or blow your nose into a tissue here is considered rude. Sniffing is much more acceptable. If you use a tissue, you have to (try to) be very discreet. I tried the sniffing method but that still feels wrong and rude to me.

Universal Studios was a five minute walk from the station and apart from the Japanese script on all the signs, we could have been in America.

Merry Christmas!

Another Christmas tree getting us in the mood

That is indeed the Sun shining through the star at the top of the Christmas tree. We heard Christmas songs during the day too. We headed straight for Jurassic Park and my first ride was The Flying Dinosaur.

The pteranodon is scary-looking
The ride looks scary, there’s even a safety net, presumably to catch digestive tracts that people lose

OMG.

That was the best/worst ride I’ve ever been on. Incredibly scary and I will never do it again. It’s the longest rollercoaster in the world, reaching speeds up to 62mph, there’s a 120-foot drop, you’re lying facedown, prone, you’re taken through 360° loops at least twice and, and, and, my palms are sweating just reliving the experience. Yes, it’s exciting, but it’s so fast, you can’t really see what’s coming, so there’s no anticipation. If you close your eyes, you might as well be inside the world’s maddest, fastest out-of-control tumble dryer.

I had to sit down for a while to recuperate from that. With a small cup of coffee and some soy beans.

The rest of the day was calmer: all good fun but much less frenetic.

The trio playing msuic was very good, and not playing Christmas songs which was a bonus.

A happy string trio

We were taken on an adventure in New York with Spiderman. Backdraft and Terminator 2 were both a bit disappointing. The former was just too much standing and watching people talk before a final few seconds of actual pyrotechnics. The latter was just too long a build-up for a couple of minutes of good special effects at the end. There’s a clever mix of film footage, real actors, lighting and effects but sometimes you feel that waiting in queues that long should be better rewarded.

Just a view of the water

Shrek 4D was very good. The 4th D is, I assume, the sensurround seating, you feel the horses galloping and the bump when you land hard. It was a very funny storyline too, even if we couldn’t entirely follow the Japanese dialogue.

As it’s so popular, we had a timed ticked for the Harry Potter Forbidden Journey ride. This was very enjoyable too, and probably the onlky time we’ll ever invade a game of Quidditch. Great stuff, and it was nice to see so many visitors dressed up in the Hogwarts School uniform.

Harry Potter’s battered Ford Anglia

Again, I told Liesel that I wish I still had my toy Ford Anglia from when I was little: it was blue/turquoise, the same colour as the one used in the Harry Potter films. I think I gave it to Garry next door.

Welcome to Hogwarts

Our churros were long, hot and very sweet, providing enough energy to keep going for three more rides. And bo9om. Five o’clock. Suddenly it’s dark. Twilight doesn’t get much of a look-in here.

Jaws entailed a nice gentle boat ride with the odd appearance of a shark. It really needs to see a dentist, though.

Boo!

We returned to Jurassic Park and again, I did the ride by myself. And yes, I did get wet: very wet. Liesel sent a picture of wet me to our grandchildren.

Mickey Drippin’ (as I used to be known)

And finally, at our second attempt, we went on the Minions ride. The ride was good fun, but again, I think the preamble was too long. Or maybe it just felt that way because we don’t know the language and consequently missed some very funny gags in the narrative.

We dined at that famous Japanese restaurant, Hard Rock Café, sitting at a table next to one of Beyoncé’s old basses, apparently.

We arrived home much later than anticipated. Probably fatigue and lack of concentration on our part meant that we didn’t notice that the train we were on had turned round and so we ended up paying a second vist to Universal Station. Oh well, it’s all an adventure, hey!

Dynamic Tokyo

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.

Low clouds – a bit worrying to start with

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.

Caw, what a racket this guy made

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.

Little basketball hoops

Not cute enough for you? How about this dragon?

Baby dragon on the side of a building

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.

Clever Logo Award – prize winner

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.

Tokyo Tower

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.

Old buildings and new ones

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.

Two teas, please
The bowl and yes, that is Mount Fuji in the middle

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.

Number 1 in a set of surreptitious wedding photos
Number 2 in a set of surreptitious wedding photos
Number 3 in a set of surreptitious wedding photos

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.

Kuromatsu – bonsai at the front, full-size tree behind

Umbrellas are an important accessory here but would you want to take yours inside a building? Lockable umbrella racks are located outside some venues.

A rack for your umbrella, ella, ella

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.

Cute kimono, and very polite
Also very polite and friendly
Sacred Tree over 500 years old

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!

Samurai warrior

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.

Beautiful boat on the river

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.

Our old friend, rickshaw
Buddhist Temple
Pagoda next to the Temple

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.

All Blacks and Black Scones

We rose early with the Sun, ready for a long walk.

Sunrise from our hotel room window

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’.

Japan v New Zealand All Blacks

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.

The perfume probably smells like old socks, anyway

Then we turned a corner.

Look: trees!

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.

Little Jesus bugs walking on the water’s surface tension
I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more
Koi waiting to be fed
Humans spoiling the view of a lake and its bridges
A pigeon dressed up for a day out

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.

White flower (no prizes for telling us what it is)
Pink flower (no prizes for telling us what it is)
The giant Tulip Tree, not in bloom this time of year
Pretty, speckled flower (no prizes for telling us what it is)

The roses in the rose garden were blooming lovely and some, such as the New Zealand rose, were strongly aromatic.

A gorgeous but aromatic rose

[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.

A packet of Oreos fell into the cake mix by mistake
Black Rock Scone – we got one just to make sure it was meant to be black and wasn’t just burnt

We visited the Tokyo Municipal Government Buildings where, from the 45th floor, you can see the whole city. Well, nearly all.

The twin towers of the Government Buildings
The Cocoon: reminds us of both Beijing’s Bird’s Next Olympics Stadium and London’s Gherkin

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.

On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji
This is the view today

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.

The medals will be made from recycled metal
Say hello to the mascots, Miraitowa and Someity
The actual Olympic and Paralympic flags (small version)

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.

Can of coffee – I’ll try anything once

We walked back towards our accommodation and passed this rather moving appeal for peace.

Love and 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.

The bells
Buddha
The Shrine

In total contrast with this elegant structure, here is something really unusual: graffiti.

Ugly 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.

Boy and dolphin: no idea what the story behind this is, either

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.

Kon’nichiwa, Tōkyō

The flight from Seattle to Beijing was delayed due to mechanical problems. This meant we had more time to pass at SeaTac and less time at Beijing, which in turn meant that we definitely wouldn’t have time to leave the airport and go sight-seeing in China for a short while. On the plane, we sat next to a kiwi lady who had lived in Beijing for several years and she told us about the smog. You can fly around the country in clear air then, suddenly, as you approach the capital, you hit a wall of brown.

The plane didn’t have plastic shutters over the windows: instead, they could be darkened to keep the light out. We were flying pretty much towards the west, but we lost the opportunity for good sunset photos.

That really is the Sun, through tinted windows

To paraphrase a David Bowie lyric: Where the heck did Wednesday go? We left Anchorage early Tuesday and would arrive in Tokyo very early Thursday morning. The day between was a very short period of time and the worst thing is, this will totally ruin my Fitbit statistics. How can I possibly walk 10,000 steps in one day when the day in question is just a couple of hours long and spent mainly inside the body of an aeroplane? I know, I know, this is even less significant than a first-world problem.

Crossing the International Dateline in this direction has had another unanticipated side effect. Liesel and I are now ahead of UK time rather than behind. This will take some getting used to. And to add even more confusion, British Summer Time ends this coming weekend.

Entertainment on this long flight was a multimedia experience. I listened to two (out of ten) episodes of a dramatised radio version of War and Peace. I read significant sections from the two books I currently have on the go (*).

I watched Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and it convinced me that this series of movies should perhaps become extinct. A nice surprise to see the old Detectorist Toby Jones in it though.

And, best of all, at last, I watched Hidden Figures, about the ‘colored computers’ who worked for NASA in the early 1960s, really talented mathematicians and engineers that happened to be black and female at a time when segregation was the norm. (A couple more years of Trump and we’ll be back there.)

Liesel watched Solo: A Star Wars Story and some episodes of The Big Bang Theory as well as some documentaries about Japanese wildlife.

One of the most ridiculous things is that the flight from Seattle to Beijing took us right over Anchorage. So we needn’t have got up so early, after all! Flying in Russian airspace was a first: but not having window seats, we saw less of Russia than Sarah Palin does from her bathroom window in Wasilla.

The cabin was sprayed with something that didn’t smell nice. But other than that, and the duration, I think we liked Hainan Airways. The cabin crew were really nice, and my new best friend is the Chinese girl who looked after me and my vegetarian needs.

We landed at Beijing, taxied for another couple of hundred miles and we still had to disembark in the middle of the runway and take a bus back to the terminal.

I think we would recommend Hainan Airlines

We found the gate for our outbound flight to Tokyo and made our home there for a couple of hours. Coffee and a muffin were had. Of course. And I learnt that the ¥ symbol is used for Chinese yuan as well as Japanese yen. Who knew?

We suddenly realised people were preparing to board the flight and, being British, we had to join the queue. No nonsense about gold members and business class going on first, one queue for everyone, this is China. But what a shame that again Liesel and I were separated by a few rows.

I was hoping to sleep but that didn’t really work out. These cabin crew members very friendly and helpful too.

こんにちは、東京

We landed in Tokyo about 00:25 Thursday, and were delighted at how warm it felt. We were dead tired, but being this warm in the middle of the night certainly lifts the spirits!

We found our hotel at the terminal, and were in bed within an hour. Even after a quick shower, the room was still too warm (!) to sleep in, until the fan kicked in.

Breaking news: in a first, I used the bidet for its intended purpose. It would have been nice if I’d been warned it was coming, but ooh, what a surprise. (Better than a hand coming out to wipe my bum, I suppose.) I’m not convinced, but it was an interesting experience.

We woke at a reasonable time, showered and checked out. The Pocket Wifi had been delivered as arranged so we should have access to wifi wherever we go in Japan. We are now both back on our UK phone numbers, albeit, if we use them, we’ll certainly pay for the privilege.

We bought tickets for the bus to Shinjuku Station. It was a very warm, bright sunny day and I think this alone made it easier for us to cope with the last tendrils of tiredness.

Tokyo wouldn’t be a proper city without water

It was a ten minute walk from the station to out next hotel, The Gramercy. Also known as The Godzilla Hotel.

Godzilla on the 8th floor of our hotel
Stoned Godzilla

We dumped our stuff and despite the temptation to lie down and go back to sleep, we went for a walk in the local area, to acclimatise and to find something to eat.

Fewer local people than anticipated were walking around wearing surgical masks and I’ve been too polite (too scared) to take a photo of them.

Lunch for me was jalapeño cheese toast and Liesel had scrambled eggs and pancakes with a sausage and other meat products. Typical Japanese fare.

We found apples on sale and we bought one. It’s huge, we’ll share it. I hope we can find some proper apple-sized apples next time.

The biggest apple in the world – and we ate it

We walked in a big loop back to The Gracery Hotel and then realised we walked around the less interesting parts of Shinjuku.

This young lady was cleaning the windows for her clients, a pair of moray eels, we think, maybe.

Window cleaning
Blue fishes

We always like random sculptures and this little chap blowing his own trumpet while riding a snail caught our eye.

Boy on a snail – I wish we knew the story

Riding a bicycle on the pavement seems to be accepted here, much moreso than at home. They go quite fast too, especially the old grannies. Younger, fitter people have found a brilliant way to carry two children around.

Child on the back, another on the front, marvellous

We went for a quick walk in the evening. It was dark at 5.30, very sudden and unexpectedly. Shinjuku is very busy, lots of bright lights, clubs, even English-style pubs. There are a couple of places that we’d like to visit, when we’re more fully awake and that need booking in advance.

Robot outside the Robot Restaurant

For supper, I had a pizza and Liesel had risotto. Typical Japanese fare.

We saw Godzilla from a distance too, not so scary that way!

Our Godzilla from street level

Looking at and taking photos of car number plates was an Alaska-based, temporary hobby. But when I saw two cars parked next to each other with mine and my sister’s birthdays, well, out came the camera, of course.

Mick and Pauline’s birthdays

The good news is that as we’re walking round a city rather than hiking trails in bear country, and it’s warm, I was able to wear my sandals today for the first time in several weeks. So, watch out for the return of tan lines on my feet.

(*) I am currently reading:

  • A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in our Genes by Adam Rutherford (in which I learned that I am descended from William the Conqueror).
  • The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (I thought I should read some Japanese literature and this is probably the very first novel, written in the early 11th century and first published in the 16th).