A day in Kyoto

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 ninja themed bus

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.

Nijo Castle
The gate to the castle

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.

The Golden Pavilion behind a very pretty tree
Golden Pavilion and a pond

Nowadays, only monks are allowed to enter the Temple, but we enjoyed a walk around the surrounding gardens, just the same.

One of our least successful selfies
Throw a coin towards the tin, miss, try again for good fortune
The garden

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.

Wooden corner joint: no nails are used
Replica beach, ocean, island over there
The emperor’s motif is a chrysanthemum: here are some real ones
One of the smaller buildings
The gate used by the Shogun one, and by us today

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.

Heian Shrine and its courtyard
This family graciously let me take the picture

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.

The best I could snap through the bus window

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.

Not entirely comfortable taking this picture without asking, though
A street full of people

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.

Don’t look down
Jump they say
Miniatures

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.

Hiding in the trees
The view to the west: no skyscrapers

As the Sun was setting, the colour of the Temple really came to life.

Red Temple

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!

A day in Nara

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.

Knit 1, purl 1

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).

Low hangers

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.

Deer mixing with people like it’s normal

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.

Moss Garden

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.)

Lean on me

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.

Elusive Butterfly

Why have a boring old brick wall when you can have something as ornate as this?

A very pretty wall

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.

Isuien Garden – this is real, not a painting

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.

Gravel path
Liesel and a gardener
Just look at his shoes, so unusual
Oopsie: we peds got by, cyclists had to turn back
One of our better selfies
Thatched roof
Todaiji Castle

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.

Deer me

At this Temple, there were no restrictions on taking pictures. The Great Buddha resides in one of the world’s largest wooden structures.

Buddha: Live long and prosper

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.

Wooden guardian
The heads of two more guardians of the Temple

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.

A street post, not just a lamppost

Amongst all the modern shops, we found this cute little place. Is it a shrine? A private house? It’s a mystery, to us.

A very pretty little place on the main street

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.

A day in Osaka

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.

Umeda Sky Building

Merry Christmas!

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!

Merry Christmas indeed!

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.

Bridges on the Yodo river
Kuchu Teien Observatory

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.

Osaka Castle and a fountain

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.

A very pretty tree
Birds on a gate

We’ll never know what’s inside this time capsule as it won’t be opened until the year 6970.

Time capsule buried in 1970

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.

Some of the ‘bricks’ are huge

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.

Model depicting the Summer uprising
A gold fish

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.

A very pretty tree

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!

To Takatsuki

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.

This shopkeeper hasn’t quite got the hang of the 24-hour clock

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!

Martha and William being spooky
Martha (behind) and pumpkin (front)

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.

Our train arriving at Tokyo station

The seats are in groups of 3 and 2 separated by the wide aisle. There is plenty of legroom too.

Inside a bullet train carriage
Scrambled eggs, oh my darling, you’ve got lovely legs*

The ride was smooth and very comfortable. The highest speed we saw on my little phone app was 280 kph, about 175 mph.

Google Maps plus Speedometer

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!

(A poster of) Mount Fuji

We saw the sea for a a brief moment and eventually, we did see some actual rural scenery.

Fields whizzing by at over 100mph
Hills near Yasu
The sea at Atami-shi

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.

A shrine near Kyoto

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.

Shinkansen at Shin-Osaka
Escalator does a whoopsie

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.

Our pink Airbnb home for a week

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.

Wandering around Bunkyō

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.

Weeping cherry tree

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.

Bridge over the pond
Constant reminder that there’s a city outside the park

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.

Straw belt – the original debugging tool?

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.

This hut is more robust than it looks

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.

Autumn colours

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.

A fish out of water, well, not a fish
Fishes and turtles

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.

Liesel’s pumpkin latté

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.

The yellowbrick road

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.

Birdseye view of the rose garden

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.

Autumnal reflections

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.

A fifteen stone pagoda, count ’em

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.

A house in the English style

Even the rose garden could have been plucked from Hampton Court – apart from the Japanese text on the identity cards.

Roses

Number plate of the day, possibly the first car ever manufactured.

Number 1 car

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!

Number 1 rock star

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.


Disneytime

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.

Inspired design for Disney Train hangers and windows
So excited

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.

A fairly gentle roller-coaster
Liesel and Mick in front of the Jellyfish ride

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.

Very cute
Not often seen together: Jack Sparrow and Snow White (not sure about the guy between them)
Very cute princesses

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.

Liesel’s green dumplings
Fantasmic!
Mount Fuji (well…)

Bunkyo

Lazy Sunday afternoon. Hah, not really. Today was the day we moved out of top class hotel accommodation and on to where we’ll be for most of the time from now on: much cheaper Airbnbs.

We took advantage of the laundry facilities at the hotel, conventiently located next door to the smoking room, so that we could move on with a full bag of clean clobber.

The laundry cycle was quite long, so we partook of the hotel breakfast, a buffet, in which we only made two trips to the counter. I went out one last time to say hello to Godzilla, he said something nasty and I said, ‘alright, no need to snap my head off’.

Mick (front) and Godzilla (behind)

Packing was as usual, a bit of a struggle. There’s always that last thing that won’t go in. (Well, why don’t you put that thing in first? suggested my subconscious.)

We took a train from Shinjuku Station north-east to Bunkyo. The host’s name is Hideyoshi but it was her mother who met us at Komagome Station. While waiting for her to turn up, I went for a wander and bought some flowers to say thanks for the lift. Only there was no lift. We walked to the house along a narrow street, nowhere near as busy as Shinjuku. Mother (whose name I’m embarrassed to say, we don’t know) invited us out to lunch. We had half-made plans, but this was an opportunity to speak with a local for a while. She took us back on the train to a wonderful Buddhist, therefore vegetarian, restaurant, Saishokukenbi.

Saishokukenbi – five stars
A very happy and satisfied Buddha

Who wants to see an elephant made from balloons?

Welcome to Takeshita Street

There was one at the top of Takeshita Street which our new friend had recommended we visit. What a busy street: we thought we’d never make our way through the crowds, but somehow we made it. Lots of people dressed in, let’s say, unorthodoix clothing! They’re very fond of their cosplay around here and of course, inspiration from animé characters is very popular.

Lots of people here
Happy to pose for us
The shoes, though
Hairy little ones
Even the candyfloss is colourful
Not a universally popular president, it seems
He was singing too

We walked round the block to Yoyogi park, partly to get away from people, but also because there’s a shrine that we wanted to visit.

Not too bad a selfie by the gate

We noticed that on the paths, most people were keeping to the left. This fits in with our observations elsewhere. In Shinjuku, even on a pavement on one side of the road, most people keep to the left. This is disrupted when a cyclist comes by, but they’re mainly on the left too. On the escalators at railway stations, you stand on the left, which feels wrong and naughty and rebellious when you’re so used to standing on the right on London Underground’s escalators. But yes, here in the park, you walk along the left side of the path. Mostly.

Keep left seems to be the custom (mostly)

The Meiji Shinto Shrine itself was very peaceful, far fewer people than we’d seen at the Buddhist Temple yesterday. I paid respects to my lost, loved ones: money in the offertory, bow twice, clap twice, bow again.

Meiji Shrine

We found our way home OK, remarking on how cheap the train fares are compared with at home. Of course, our mental currency conversion might be totally wrong, and maybe we’re spending a small fortune on public transport, here. Mind you, we don’t often get a seat because all the trains are pretty full, even at the weekend.

On the street where we live

So back to our b&b, such a contrast to the hotel! We’re sleeping on a mattress on tatami mats on the floor. That’s OK, but getting up is really hard for us old’uns, it’s such a long way. The cooking facilities are minimal, but we’re only here for a few days. The toilet seat is heated and there’s another clever innovation: you can wash your hands in the water before it refills the cistern after a flush. (Just for those viewers who were wondering where today’s toilet news is.)

It’s a quiet street, just the odd domestic sounds from nearby.

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).