I think I’ve mentioned before that I am currently reading The Tale of Genji. It dates from 11th century Japan, a time and place with different moral values to ours. I’ve just got to the bit where Prince Genji has kidnapped a 10-year old girl mainly because she reminds him of an old flame. The museum dedicated to the book is at Uji, not too far from Kyoto and we spent a couple of interesting hours there.
It was a good walk from the station to the Museum on a bright, warm day. The gardens were very pretty too, more Autumnal colours.
The exhibits were interesting: some old copies of the book, a wall displaying the story ‘in a nutshell’ and some items dating roughly from the period of the story.
Unfortunately for us, there were very few captions in English, so while we could admire the artistry of the paintings and the crafsmanship of the ox-drawn rickshaw, we didn’t learn much about them. Also: no photos.
We did watch a 30-minute film, in Japanese of course, but there was no way they could do justice to the novel in a mere half an hour. Still, it’s fascinating to see a museum dedicated to just one book.
We walked back through Uju, visiting a shrine and a temple. Are we shrined and templed out yet? Almost!
Ujigami Shrine is, of course, another World Heritage Site.
We heard a steady drum beat and thought it sounded like the dragon boat races we used to watch in Kingston. After crossing the Asagin Bridge, we saw two small dragon boats in a short race. It had to be short because if they’d rowed much further, they would have gone over a weir.
The recommended route around the Byodoin Temple gardens was followed by most people. The golden phoenixes on the roof are relatively newly restored, but the orginals are on display inside. These date from the early 11th century. Older, even, than the Tower of London.
The local café in Uji was, we agreed, the best we’d found so far. The coffee was delicious, as well as very pretty, and the egg salad sandwich was magnifico.
The next café, the following morning, was good too, very nice toast. I do miss decent bread, so it’s nice to find some twice in a row!
We spent some time in old Kyoto, venturing up to the roof garden above the railway station. Then: we were up on the 11th floor watching the cruisers below. No, that’s not it, we were looking for breakfast there but ended up in the aforementioned café instead.
It was a short walk to Higashihonganji Temple, the biggest wooden structure in the world, it says. And it is a huge temple. No photos inside which is a shame, but the hall is huge. But it must be very cold in Winter, we thought.
There’s a large rope made from human hair as conventional rope at the time just wasn’t strong enough
This temple is also famous for its bell, which was rung for us on the hour. The reverberations last as long as the final chord in the Beatles’ A Day in the Life.
We then started walking towards Fushimi Inara Taishi with Google Maps on our phones each giving different directions! Mine seemed to know best, so we followed its route, over the river, towards Inari. It started raining a bit so we caught a train for the last section. But what a shrine that is, well worth a visit. The place is full of foxes and gates.
Foxes and gates: yes, that sounds like it ought to be a board game. I’ll get onto my lawyers rightaway to patent the idea.
The rain overnight was torrential, really loud and every now and then, it became louder. There was a steady drip drip drip somewhere that could have been someone playing a bongo extremely rhythmically and loudly. It was still raining when it was time to get out of bed. When I say, get out of bed, I mean, get up off the tatami mats that we were sleeping on.
I don’t know why it should be so much harder to get up off the floor, but it is. My theory is that Japanese people do this every day from a very young age, build up very strong thigh muscles and then become sumo wrestlers.
I was very glad that I spent much of my youth practicing the fine art of origami. A passing knowledge is required if you want to make filter coffee. The thin cardboard handles unfold so the filter bag hangs into the cup.
Our plans to visit Nachi Falls looked like they biting the dust. The rain finally petered out after 11.00. By this time, Liesel was engrossed in a TV show on her phone, and I was messing up Soduko puzzles again. I really seem to have lost the Soduko mojo lately.
In the end, I visited the waterfall on my own. Nachi Falls is 133 metres high, the tallest in Japan. It’s a train and a bus ride away.
At Nachi Station, I passed time waiting for the bus by going for a quick walk on the beach. The clouds looked adorable, so nice and cute: just fluffy children’s drawings of clouds, nothing like the big, black angry ones that had been precipitating all night.
There’s a fine memorial at the station for the man who brought Association Bootball to Japan. Again, I think my translating app needs some tweaking.
The bus ride to the falls was quite long, so it’s a good job we’d already decided not to walk it. The site, and sight, is stunning and greatly revered by the local people by the looks of it.
A lot of water comes down but only a small stream trickled by where the people gathered.
I started walking up the stone steps towards the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine but I could see the clouds were coming down fast and it was getting dark, plus I really didn’t want to miss the bus back.
The bus system is totally different from any other one I’ve been on. While people are paying the driver and getting off at the front, you get on at the back and take a ticket from the machine. If you don’t know what the fare is, it doesn’t matter, because it’s shown on the laser display unit at the front of the bus.
Your ticket has a number on it, such as 3 or maybe 6, and this number corresponds with the numbers on the displayed grid. Each number has an amount underneath which represents the fare you would pay if you were to get off at the next stop. But if you stay on the bus, you’ll see the amount increase underneath your number and thus, if you were counting out the money so that you could tender the exact fare, you would have to recalculate. It’s like watching the fare in a taxi go up and up at a ridiculous rate, only there are six such numbers. Well, six for a while, then, as the journey progresses, it turns into a 3×4 grid, that is to say, there are now 12 possible different fares for people to pay, if they each joined the bus at a different location and thus received a ticket with a different number from each other. And the fares don’t go up by fixed amounts, either, oh no, sometimes the increase is 30, sometimes 50 yen and occasionally there are other odd increments. Sometimes two adjacent numbers might incur the same fare for a short while. But there is plenty of time in which to count out the coins so that you can get rid of as many as possible, thus reducing the weight of money in your pocket. You want it to be correct. So when the time comes and you’ve arrived at your destination, you stand up, walk to the front, try to hand the driver the correct fare. But no. There’s a plastic box there into which you drop the coins along with the ticket. Inside this box, there is a slow-moving conveyor belt taking the takings to, presumably, some sort of counting and checking device. But that doesn’t matter because, as I said, the conveyor belt moves quite slowly, so by the time it’s sucked in your final coin and your ticket, you are well away from the bus.
Also, I don’t know if it’s because many of the roads here are quite narrow and so the buses have to be narrow too, but there are only three seats across rather than the expected four plus the aisle.
Liesel did some laundry, thank you, and then she washed some fish. Obviously, we couldn’t put fish in the tumble dryer, that’s a ridiculous thing to do, so where’s the best place to hang them up to dry? Oh I know: the railway station.
The following day, we packed and moved on to Kyoto. And not just to get away from the fish at Shingu station.
I realised that the Sudoku puzzles I’d got wrong were designated ٭٭٭٭٭٭ which is very, incredibly, almost impossibly difficult. I completed a few ٭٭٭ ones to prove to myself that I still had some basic skills and then, finally in the evening, I conquered a ٭٭٭٭٭٭ puzzle and celebrated with a minor fist pump.
But one thing I never did conquer in Shingu was this:
You think Google Translate is funny? What about Google Maps when it hasn’t a clue:
After dumping our stuff in the hotel room, we went for a quick walk. Yes: hotel. Something big must be going on here, all the Airbnbs are booked up and at Shin-Osaka Station, there were hundreds of students gathered, going somewhere. Another mystery, eh, Google?
We went on a pilgrimage today, visiting quite a few shrines. They’re all interesting, they’re all different, they’re all peaceful.
The names on the brochures don’t always exactly match the names on Google Maps, so sometimes, we couldn’t be sure exactly where we were. But that doesn’t matter: we had a very nice, strenuous walk.
As we set off towards the mountains, we were delighted to see a flock of birds of prey circling… we were curious but didn’t really need to see what they had their eyes on. Too small to be eagles, not fast enough to be falcons, maybe kites of some kind.
Let us know if you can identify it from the silhouette!
Here’s an interesting sign that invited us to deviate from our course.
It was a very steep path, rocky but covered with moss and leaves. After a ridiculously short time, we realised that this path wasn’t for us: hard enough going up, never mind coming back down. We never even got as far as the back of a cow.
We returned to the road, wondering what we’d missed seeing up the hill, but we needn’t have been concerned. Just round the corner, we came across a Buddhist Temple.
There was nobody around, so I don’t think it was open for business nor for visitors.
Wheelchair users must be made of stronger stuff in Japan, if they have to contend with ramps like this one. It’s probably for bicycles to be pushed up and down, really. There are a lot of cyclists around here, partly because, I’m sure, the roads are so narrow. A typical car from Anchorage wouldn’t fit in here.
We thought we’d walk up these stone steps, up the mountain. Only later did we learn that this was the path down which the gods came to Earth. It was steep, it was long, it was a challenge, we had to stop several times.
Here’s a delightful little shrine that we came across: this wasn’t the main attraction. It looks like somebody just wanted a small place to worship halfway up the mountain: maybe they just couldn’t climb all the way.
After a long climb, 538 stone steps, to be precise, on this warm, humid morning, we reached our target: Sessha Kannokura Shrine, or Kamikura-jinja Shrine, depending on which source you trust. My translation program couldn’t read the signs at all, so that’s no help!
We’d passed and been passed by a Japanese lady on the way up and at last, we all caught up with her husband. He very kindly took this picture of us, so of course, I returned the compliment.
The view over the city of Shingu towards the ocean was a fine reward for our exertions.
Walking back down was in some ways much more of a challenge. For a while, it looked as if we would step off the edge of the world, the steps were that steep.
The palms were very sweaty, and not just because it was such a humid day.
The man playing the flute near the bottom of the climb had left by the time we returned. I was looking forward to sitting down, having a rest and listening to him for a while before proceeding.
Apropos of nothing at all: who wants to see a mole with boobs?
And who wants to see a picture of a big spider? Huge, it was, with its several siblings, sitting there, overhead, waiting for flies or the opportunity to drop down somebody’s neck.
We walked around town for a while afterwards: it felt strangely reassuring to be back on a nice, flat, horizontal surface. A cute little café provided cute little cups of coffee and the cutest, titchiest little cream jugs in the world!
Watarigozen Shrine is just round the corner from where we’re staying and as well as being delighted by the small shed-sized shrine itself, our minds were blown by the bamboo growing behind: it certainly put our old beanpoles into perspective.
Kumano Hayatama Taisho Shrine is also very close. It’s on a much bigger scale, really impressive in its own right, and it was reassuring to see so many people paying respects and praying here.
The Nagi-no-Ki tree is over 800 years old and well cared for.
I put money into the box and picked out my O-mikuji, a random fortune printed on a strip of paper. I was surprised at how much text was printed there but of course, I couldn’t read it. Later, in the comfort of the Airbnb house, I translated it as well as I could. Suffice to say, I was relieved not to see something really bad.
We carried on walking and found ourselves by the Kumano River. By this point, the sky was getting darker, we wondered whether a thunderstorm was on its way a day early.
In one direction, more mountains and in the other, bridges over the river as it flows into the Pacific Ocean.
We went home via the tourist information place where we picked up some info for tomorrow’s trip. Then at home where, several hours later, it still hasn’t rained, by the way, we chilled: read, typed, listened to the radio, cooked, ate, and eventually, we’ll walk up the wooden stairs to Bedfordshire.
Today’s tour was just a small subset of our original idea, to hike from shrine to shrine on the Kii peninsula, several miles each day, for a number of days. That was probably too ambitious, and I think we’ve got the balance right, now.
Another day, another move, which means getting up at a reasonable time, eating as much food as possible for breakfast so we don’t have to take it with us and then packing.
My extra task was to walk up to the Post Office and send something home for a little chap’s upcoming birthday. That was a very hot half hour and I felt a little sad that we’d be on a train for much of the rest of the day.
I spent some time writing a thank you note for our host. She’d offered us a lift to the railway station, so it was the least I could do!
I just hope I haven’t written something incredibly rude, by mistake.
The ride from Shin-Osake to Shingu was nearly four and a half hours long and fortunately, we were able to reserve seats.
Liesel watched TV on her phone while I was entertained by books on my Kindle, my new book of (seemingly impossible) Soduko puzzles and typing. Tupingg on s train is trrribly difficult, sp I have up. And when I stopped, I was glad to see that the view from the train had vastly improved. No more concrete, steel, glass and bricks, pylons and wires. Just good views on both sides. Hills to the left, sea to the right.
We were right next to the sea for quite some time but on this occasion, we didn’t need to follow the instructions given on the card.
<ph more sea
There was a lot of damage, presumably caused by the recent typhoons. Some of the beaches were covered with broken trees.
We had a 1.4 km walk from the station at Shingu to our new Airbnb place. It was a long 1.4 km carrying our heavy bags and it was mostly uphill and the streets became more and more narrow, towards the mountains. Then we had a battle to open the the metal box that held the key. Then we had a battle to use the key to unlock the door. These tasks would have been so much easier if we’d been less tired and, oh, if only we’d had a cup of coffee!
While Liesel prepared supper, I walked back to buy some essential groceries. You can’t get nice big loaves of crusty bread here, it comes in packets of 5 thick or 6 less thick white slices which is ok for toast but a bit disappointing otherwise.
The house is nice and big but it was very hot when we arrived, so thank goodness for the cooling units. On the downside: mosquitoes. Grrr.
The host’s mother came by to say hello, well, to say kon’nichiwa, since she had no English at all. She gave us some Japanese coffee but it would have been incredibly churlish for me to say “Huh, thanks for the coffee, but where were you when we needed it? And why didn’t we get a lift from the station? Huh?”
The toilet has a control panel to rival Apollo 11’s. If the next entry on this blog is sent from the Moon, you’ll know I pressed the wrong button.
It’s a nice start to our first full day here in Shingu and we’re planning to go for a hike… well, we’ll see how that works out. Here’s the view from our house: gorgeous but steep!
Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning and the first thing that I saw was a video of Martha riding her bike. Yes, we are a little bit jealous that we’re not riding bikes right now. It would make a welcome change from all the walking.
Of course, it wasn’t really Chelsea, but that song just popped into the old noggin.
We planned to visit the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, which recreates buildings and streets to give an idea of living in Osaka in the past: this would be interesting and inside.
We also planned to visit Nagai Botanical Garden: this would be fascinating and outdoors.
In the end, after a slow start to the day, we went to the zoo. A no-frills zoo: no frills for us customers, and not many frills for the in-mates.
Yes, Tennoji Zoo was very cheap to enter, compared with London, Chester and Anchorage Zoos, for instance, and there was no big gift shop at the exit. So, with such a small income, it’s no wonder that many (most?) of the animals didn’t seem very happy.
The first animal we saw was a koala way up at the top of a eucalyptus tree. We don’t know if he had friends or family with him, but if not, he had a lot of space.
The pelican seemed happy enough, a nice big pond to swim in, but as with many of the exhibits, the wire mesh made it difficult to get decent pictures.
If we were kids, we might have taken up the offer to eat polar bear curry.
We were too scared to visit the aviary as the ducks are the size of bears. Plus, we didn’t want to be pooped on. Certainly not by a bear-sized duck.
Against expectations, the polar bear seemed to be the most contented of the large animals. He looked a bit grubby but was having a great time playing with his toys.
I suspect the green cone and the buckets are the food delivery system but even so, he was so much happier than the poor old thing confined to concrete at Chessington World of Adventures just a few years ago.
We were particularly taken by the huge rat pen. I mean, the pen was huge, the rat was just a normal rat.
Oh, it turns out this was a bear enclosure. The rat was eating the spectacled bear’s food.
A lot of the animals seem to require visual aids: here is a nocturnal spectacled owl.
Chinese wolves, one of the tigers and the giraffe all seemed to be very short of space which was a little depressing. The lions seemed resigned to their situation. Only one of the females was walking around in circles, the other two just soaking up the Sun.
The days of being allowed, nay, encouraged to ride an elephant at the zoo are long gone. Or so we thought.
The sad news is that the real elephant here has packed his trunk and said goodbye to the zoo. He’s in elephant heaven now hopefully with plenty of heavenly plains in which to roam.
Rhinoceroses mark their territory by scent, according to the sign.
The rhino we saw was slowly eating, and wasn’t afraid to dive in to the pile of grass horns first: he looked as if he’d just been for a swim with the hippos.
My phone has a clever app on it which can translate text into English. The results are variable: sometimes it makes sense but sometimes absolute garbage comes out.
And sometimes, you understand the message while the words displayed are just funny.
The zoo was very clean, no litter littering the place and just before we left, we saw a chicken being fed. We don’t know whose dinner the chicken was intended to be but what a strange sight after all the exotic fauna from faraway.
In the evening, I went through all the paperwork: maps, receipts, tickets, brochures, confirmations of bookings, boarding passes… and binned it all! Yes, the days of keeping paperwork only to throw it away years later are over! This is a major leap forward. (But, hedging my bets, I did take photos of it all, just in case, y’know…)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!