A Travellerspoint blog

Japan

From Fukuoka back to Tokyo...

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Well after more than ten weeks on the road it was bound to happen... I'm a little behind on my blogging. I'm writing this from Lima in Peru. I had hoped to get this written before departing Japan but the days just got away. We've now completed our time in Asia :( and you can see our route below starting in Tokyo, making our way south before a few days in South Korea and then back to Japan as we made our ascent from Fukuoka up to Hiroshima and Nagano before our final few days in Tokyo.

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We spent our first few days back in Japan in Fukuoka, primarily as it served as cheap hub to re-enter the country. And honestly there isn't a whole lot to do so if you're travelling through the southern part of Japan by train you can probably leave it off your list. It was nice to spend a few days in a lesser known city and with an apartment in the middle of town we almost felt like bonafide locals. They've got a lovely park here known as the Marine Park Uminonakamichi which is located on a narrow cape. Its colorful and exotic flowers are its main attraction.

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Next up was Hiroshima. As you probably well know Hiroshima is regrettably best known for the atomic bomb dropped on it during World War Two. The Peace Memorial Park is not an easy place to visit emotionally speaking but it is a must in Hiroshima. It houses a collection of items salvaged from the aftermath of the bombing and features videos of Japanese civilians who survived but lost many family members and friends. I remember learning about this in school but being here in person it really hit home just how much suffering these people went through. 200,000 people died as a result of the bombing and even though it was more than 70s years ago their memory is alive and well thanks to people who live here and its visitors. You can see below a photograph of a woman paying her condolences and below that a memorial service at the Genbaku Dome, the only building that was purposely left unrepaired afterwards. We were fortunate to witness a school memorial with songs sung by children who made paintings and candles in memory of those who lost their lives. It was very touching and we were glad we could pay our respects.

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Hiroshima has much to offer as a destination. We enjoyed a really nice trip to Hiroshima Castle and a day at Miyajima, a small island off the coast and one of Japan's most visited tourists spots.

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It was a long trip north to our next stop in Nagano. It didn't help that our train got stuck by an hour and a half and although we had Game of Thrones to keep us company it took us a good eight hours to get there. It was well worth the trip though as it's a beautiful town and it gave us the opportunity to experience one of Japan's mountainous regions. Its home to the Zenkoji Temple, one of Japan's most famous temples.

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We were also able to visit the Snow Monkey park in the Joshinestu Kogen National Park. It's a conservation area that provides refuge to the monkeys and allows visitors to observe them up close without any cages or space restrictions. They are free to leave at any time but generally stay close by for the local onsens/outdoor hot spa! During the winter they bath in the water and although we had hoped to see them indulge in a natural jacuzzi we were out of luck given that summer is only around the corner. The monkeys are adorably cute and it was heart warming to watch them in action.

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On our final day in Nagano we checked out of our hotel in the city and took a bus into the mountains to a Ryoken, a traditional Japanese homestay. We had been really looking forward to this and it didn't disappoint. Sliding doors, matted floors, beds on the ground... it was as Japanese as we could have hoped for. We had the most wonderful host who cooked us a delicious dinner and breakfast the following morning.

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Say cheese... I think my clothing added about thirty pounds. #Don't judge me...

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The next day our host gave us a departing gift of matcha Kit Kats (green tea flavour) and then took us to a beautiful nearby lake and then a Ninja museum/escape house which was challenging and a lot of fun. She even took part too.

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Our host insisted on paying our entry fee into the Ninja attraction and drove us back to the city at no extra cost. This was Japanese hospitality at its finest and we couldn't leave our 10/10 review on Booking.com quick enough afterwards. If you're ever in the Nagano region check out the Yadoya Shiroganeya you won't be disappointed. There's even a little onsen so you can relax in a hot Japanese bath.

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Our final few days were spent back in Tokyo. We had packed so many things in only a few weeks earlier we very happy just to revisit some of our favourite areas in Shibuya, Shinjuku and Akihabara. We also checked out the restaurant where part of Kill Bill was filmed, very thrilling if you're a major fan like we are!

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And that concludes our time in Japan. We had the highest expectations and they were definitely met. There's such a variety of attractions, history, culture and quirky experiences on offer all we can say is get Japan on your travel bucket list if you haven't yet been! The Japanese people are the most polite we've ever met and as I said in a previous post you'd struggle to find litter anywhere, not to mention crime (not to say it doesn't exist). We could learn a lot from them when it comes to honour and respect.

So what's next? Well it's the tail end of the trip and as mentioned in our first entry Alberto is spending the next few weeks with his family and friends in Spain before we relocate home to Dublin. I've had South America on my list for quite some time now so I've signed myself up for a three week group tour with Intrepid Travel. I've been in Peru just a few days mostly relaxing but tomorrow is the first day of the trip. Sayōnara for now.

Posted by mattld 14:35 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo nagano hiroshima fukuoka ryoken Comments (1)

Kyoto & Osaka

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As fun as Tokyo had been it was an action packed few days and Kyoto brought us a welcome change of pace and a taste of old Japan. There hasn't been a 'super fun crazy robot show' in sight. Using the JR line it was a short two and a half hour ride south and we booked four nights here to allow some breathing room. It didn't take us long to realise that Kyoto is a beautiful city filled with quiet temples, sublime gardens and colourful shrines. I had heard of it from many friends who had previously visited and it's obvious quite quickly that Kyoto is a must visit.

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The first major attraction on our list was the Fushimi Inari-Taisha. Now how to describe this... it's a vast shrine complex filled with seemingly endless shrines gates spread across a thickly wooded mountain. It was built in the 8th century (!) and dedicated to the gods of rice and saké. Sure why not.

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We also visited the Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto's famous golden pavilion. It was originally built in 1397 as a retirement villa. Lucky for some!

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The third major attraction in Kyoto is the bamboo forest. It's just beautiful and you can really feel the sense of serenity as you're walking through it.

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There's also a palace and plenty of gardens to explore next to it.

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On Monday we arrived in Osaka via a short 30 minute ride. Osaka is Japan's third largest city and it's not a pretty city in the conventional sense. It's been overcast and rainy most of the time we've been here which hasn't helped either. When you walk through the city it all feels a little 1980s. Still though the main tourist hub spot of Dotonbori provides plenty of entertainment and is easier on the eye.

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Today we visited Osaka Castle, one of Japan's most famous landmarks and it was packed. We learned a few weeks ago that this particular week is known as 'Golden Week'. Most of the country are on holidays so we were lucky to find a decent Airbnb as almost everywhere was booked out.

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On a side note, one observation is that the Japanese are mad about their slot and pachinko machines! Particularly here in Osaka. It's almost like a private joke nobody is willing to let us in on. :(

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Unfortunately I came down with a bad cold for a few days so between that and the weather we've been resting up a little more. Overall it's been a welcome change of pace but we probably wouldn't have missed Osaka too much if we had visited it just for a day from Kyoto. Tomorrow we take a flight to Seoul, the capital of South Korea for five nights! It was not on the original plan but with the country enjoying a week of holidays we thought it wasn't the worst idea to take a slight detour thanks to some cheap flights we found online. We have no expectations one way or the other with South Korea so it'll be interesting to see what it's like.

Posted by mattld 05:18 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto osaka japan asia Comments (0)

Kon'nichiwa Japan! Tokyo

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Wrapping up our Everest Case Camp trek here's our walking trail from Luka in the south to Kala Patthar in the north and back down again. Phew!

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Truth be told we were very excited to be on our way to Japan as we have been looking forward to this for years. We've both been fascinated by the country for quite some time and this felt like our just desserts after the rollercoasters that were India and Nepal. Getting from Kathmandu to Tokyo was not as easy as it initially seemed and a reasonably priced flight involved a six hour stopover in Bangkok's airport where the air conditioning units had the audacity to break down when we were there. How rude. A speedy iPhone weather check confirmed it was more than 30 degrees outside in the evening so we had to take refuge on the floor in front of a portable fan unit that looked like a giant hairdryer. Only a few hours sleep was managed on the second flight and before we knew it we had landed in Tokyo with our eyeballs at the back of our heads. However, we had arrived! Wakey wakey.

We've been in Tokyo five days now and we're absolutely in love with the place. It's got all the quirky and crazy attractions we had hoped for, the metro is fantastic and thanks to Google Maps it's pretty easy to get around. Everything runs like clock work and the city is almost like a giant theme park. The streets are practically spotless and you could eat your dinner off the ground... a far cry from our previous six weeks. The Japanese are renowned for being one of the most polite in the world and even with a population of 13 million they're only too happy to help if their English permits and even if not their friendly smiles and warm personalities go a long way. In terms of budget it is certainly more expensive than where we've been but transport is cheap and there are low cost accommodation and restaurants available if you look for them.

Speaking of accommodation, we knew we'd have to give up regular double rooms in favour of cosier 'suites' shall we say and and that's not been a problem. We've been staying in the Shinjuku distract which is as central as it gets and decided to give one of the capsule hotels a go. It was definitely a bit of a culture shock but a fun one. You must collect sandals on your way in and immediately slip them on. Once you check into reception you're given two locker keys... one to lock your shoes away at reception and the other to store your bags. Only the backpacks we have didn't fit into the micro sized lockers so we had to store our bags behind reception desk and use the main lockers for what we'd need each day. This particular capsule hotel is for men only and each capsule allows enough room for one person. You've got a light, tv, ear plugs and water. The bed is pretty comfy.

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Showering is a culture shock because there are no cubicles! Enroute you must wear a two piece brown garment that can only be compared to something the High Sparrow from Game of Thrones would wear, albeit a clean one (if you haven't watched GOT... shame)! Again there are tiny lockers outside the showers and you must put your garments and towel inside. From here on in you are naked in a room full of Japanese men (and some other Johnny foreigners who are just as bewildered as you). You have the option to take a seat in front a mirror where you can wash yourself down with high quality shampoo and shower gel products. There is also a jacuzzi and a steam room. Now before you ask me have I lost the plot I must stress this is not something we were used to! But honestly nobody is looking at anyone and you have little choice if you want to get clean so you just go with it. The whole area is so spotless and the jacuzzi so revitalising that I enjoyed my second and third visits. Once dry you put your garments back on and had it not been for all the men's vanity products on offer it could almost be a scene from a prison what with everyone wearing the same 'uniform'. Even the toilets are polite... the lid will open automatically as you walk in, the seat is heated (how will I ever go back to cold) and there's at least a dozen buttons and options. I wasn't feeling adventurous enough to try them out but Alberto can confirm the warm bidet was 'magical'!

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As we arrived late on Saturday we had very little time for sightseeing and that evening we had a pub crawl around the gay district and it was a reminder after not drinking for so long what a lightweight I am as we were unconscious by midnight! I decided to completely ignore Alberto's requests to stop drinking fast and clearly peaked too soon. On Sunday we paid a visit to the Imperial Gardens and the Modern Art Museum.

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We also had our first look at Akhibara, the famous electronics and gaming district. As a former self-confessed gaming nerd of the 90s and still a relative fan today I was in absolute heaven. It's novelty central around here and we were naively escorted to a maid café where the 'maids' tell you they are '17 forever' when you ask their age and insist on calling you 'master'. It wasn't long before we were avoiding eye contact and making our way to the nearest exit before we had to pay a heavy cover charge. We'll be back soon we swear... seriously though it did make us wonder about whether this type of thing plays into something more sinister.

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There are also cat and rabbit cafés which are equally ridiculous.

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That night we met up with one of Alberto's old work colleagues, Kazumi. She and a friend were very kind to take us off the beaten track to a great restaurant only the locals would know and a handful of bars. Followed by karaoke... well it had to happen! And hey it's Japan so of course it involved fancy dress.

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On Monday we took a trip to Shibuya, renowned for its shopping and the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. Yes, in the world! We spent the day at a virtual reality park where we had the chance to try out eight different VR games over the course of two hours. It was a huge amount of fun and you can really tell that VR will only grow in popularity not just in Japan but across the world.

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That evening we visited the 'Ninja Restaurant'. There's no way to elegantly describe this only to say it's set in an artificial underground cave, your waiters dress and talk to you like their ninjas and for a very reasonable price you can dine on a range of very tasty dishes. It was far cheaper than true fine dining but it was certainly up there in terms of quality and originality. The funny theme only added to it not to mention the random ninja magician who appeared halfway through to further entertain.

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On Tuesday we met up with one of Alberto's friends from Melbourne Mar who is also visiting and we went to the 'Robot Restaurant'. Now it's not really a restaurant... you can buy fried chicken, churros and popcorn but you're not sitting down to dine. Instead you're presented with the craziest fu**ing sh** we've ever witnessed (pardon the language father) and it was hilarious, bonkers, mental and a sensory overload! We almost avoided this for fear of it being 'too touristy' but we couldn't highly recommend it enough. We had no idea what was going on most of the time but who cares!

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We also made a return to Akhibara... we didn't have enough time during our first visit to indulge in old and modern arcade games and buy some geeky souvenirs. We took some time out to have a pint and play Super Mario Land on an original Gameboy in the local pub. Japan, we love you!

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Today was our last full day in Tokyo although we'll have three more nights at the tail end. We took a trip out to the National Museum which I'll be honest was disappointing. Ok it had a poor draw coming after the robot show but we expected far more exhibits and only a few were interesting. Plus points however for the Japanese gardens out back. We had hoped to visit another attraction but after so much walking the past few days (excluding EBC) we needed some chill out down back at our hostel to catch up on some Netflix and write this blog entry.

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A quick shout out to our second digs in Japan, the hostel 'Unplan Shinjuku'. Now we couldn't even swing a cat in our bunk bed room but the whole place is as clean as a five star hotel, including the shared bathroom and showers (which have private cubicles). Tomorrow we take a train south to the cultural city of Kyoto via our Japanese Railway (JR) pass. Japan it's been 10/10 so far, and we can't wait to see what's next. Sayonara for now amigos!

Posted by mattld 06:40 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo japan asia Comments (4)

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