Day 13: Tokyo Game Show

September 22, 2007

I was quite looking forward to the Game Show, but in hindsight I wish we’d gone on one of the days where its only open to ‘business’ and not to the ‘public’. Right from the word go, at Tokyo train station, the train was absolutely packed with Japanese game addicts all going to the show… we were scrunched in like sardines. It got even worse when we got there… once inside the place was absolutely heaving, I kinda expected it to be, but not this bad! You couldn’t move. Even when you wanted to stop and look at a screen of a new game, an official would ‘move you on’… it seemed that unless you were in a queue to play a game, you weren’t allowed to just stand and watch. There were massive queues everywhere, on some games/stands I reckon they must have taken over an hour to get to the front. Crazy stuff. Even so, we managed to curb our mild claustrophobia for an hour or so while we walked around the 2 main exhibition halls. The best bit really was the PS3 stand. They had demos of the new GT game, and a few others, which looked really really cool. There was another game on display called Ace Combat 6 (I think) which had a great trailer playing on a big screen. That looked good too. Quite a few Wii games on display also (another multi-sports game, a baseball game, and a golf game), but most of the hall was dedicated to Nintendo DS games, and, surprisingly, mobile phone gaming! Like I said its a real shame it was so packed. I’d like to have played on some of the games but it was just impossible unless you were willing to stand in a hot and sweaty sardine-like queue for hours on end. Even in the ‘sales’ hall, where you could buy models/dvds/t-shirts and general game memorabilia, the queues were ridiculous. Eventually we had to get out of there, so we headed back towards the station and found a Mexican restaurant where we had a meat and salsa taco each. Had a bit of a browse in what was like the Japanese version of McArthur-Glen retail park, stopped for a blueberry-iced-yoghurt, then went back on what was a considerably less-crowded train to Tokyo.

Now I’m back in the hotel, writing up this blog post, and we’re gonna get ready to go downstairs to the Pizza restaurant for dinner. Bit of a disappointing day really, although it was good to see some of the new games that will be heading over to England in the months to come.

Getting up mega early in the morning, grabbing a cab to the station, then getting the Narita Express train to the airport. Flight’s at 11am, and we get back to Heathrow at 15:30 on the same day (Sunday). Kate and I have agreed that if we can stay awake we’re gonna stop at either Nando’s or Tang’s Imperial in Maidstone for dinner. That’s about the only thing we’ve missed here (apart from Samson and of course all our friends and family)… the food!!!

Day 12: Back to Tokyo

September 22, 2007

Had to be out of the room by 11am, so we had breakfast then headed off. The Shinkansen took about 3 hours to get from Kyoto to Tokyo (hmm.. I’ve just realised that if you say Tokyo over and over again you end up saying Kyoto over and over again) and this time we got a really good view of Mount Fuji as we passed it, as the sky was clear and the sun was shining. Its a shame we were on the wrong side of the train to see Mount Fuji properly (we’d have had to wait an hour for the next train if we wanted a seat on the ‘Fuji’ side), but even so we managed to see it ok through the opposite windows.

Once checked in at the hotel we went out to Odaiba again (we enjoyed it lots last time, and wanted to go back there for shopping). There were some great views of the Rainbow Bridge today, much better then the first time we came when it was all overcast. We shopped around a bit for a couple of hours, bought a few things, then went for dinner at the burger place (I had to go back there one last time!)… only this time I forgot to say “well done” so the burger came all pink in the middle and half cooked. D’oh! Oh well, serve me right for wanting another burger! By the time we got back to the hotel I was absolutely shattered, so I uploaded a few photos then got an early night. Tokyo Game Show tomorrow!

40 things about Japan…

September 22, 2007

1) On trains the ticket inspector bows every time he/she leaves a carriage to go to the next one.
2) Trains lean over when they go round corners.
3) Each train line has a little ‘jingle’ which plays when the train arrives and leaves.
4) When you pay for something in a shop, you put the money in a little tray instead of handing it to the casher. But when they give you your change, they hand it straight to you, notes first, then coins.
5) The 1 yen coin is so light that if you throw it the wind takes it (we found this out when throwing one into a fountain).
6) You can find drink vending machines absolutely everywhere. They all take notes as well as coins.
7) The flap at the bottom (where you get the drink out) goes outwards not inwards.
8 ) There are hundreds of different brands of mineral water.
9) Cold coffee is really popular.
10) You can get Green Tea flavour Haagen Dazs.
11) Every public rubbish bin has multiple compartments for recycling different types of waste.
12) McDonalds sell prawn burgers.
13) Everyone carries an umbrella because it is dual purpose – it keeps the rain off, or shades you from the sun.
14) You can leave your bike, shoes, umbrella etc out in the street and no-one will nick it.
15) Women all get their legs out, i.e. short skirts, high heels etc, but rarely do you see their shoulders or cleavage.
16) Women often wear long socks, especially black ones, some times over the knee ones.
17) Men’s fashion is quite girlie (long styled hair, flowery shirts, tight jeans etc).
18) People smoke, A LOT.
19) Diet drinks are rare.
20) There are very few fat people, but diet pills and supplements are advertised everywhere.
21) In Tokyo, we could count the number of western people we saw on our fingers. There were a lot more in Kyoto.
22) In restaurants, you always pay at a till, never at your table.
23) You never have to tip.
24) In department stores all the restaurants are on the top floor.
25) Many restaurants have examples of the dishes on display outside. They are preserved by some kind of ‘jellifying’ process which makes them look really unappetising.
26) In our hotel we were given the world’s tinest tooth brushes and toothpaste tubes which were about an inch long.
27) Many people walk ‘pigeon toed’. It’s mostly girls and often when they are wearing high-heels.
28) Everyone carries wet flannels around with them, to wipe up their sweat or cool themselves down.
29) Even though it’s really hot and muggy, the fashion is for lots of layers, wooly hats, long socks etc.
30) Lots of signs and menus are headed up in English for each section, but the details are still in Japanese e.g. menus read ‘appetisers’, ‘mains’, ‘drinks’ etc but you can’t tell what any of the options are.
31) Fast food restaurants and train station waiting rooms all have electrical sockets for you the plug in your laptop or anything else you want.
32) On the subway platform, there are marks where the train doors will open, and everyone queues neatly behind the marks, intead of bundling on.
33) You always get free iced water in restaurants even before you have ordered anything.
34) All the mobile-phones are flip type with large screens so they can play games on them.
35) You are not allowed to make calls on train or subway.
36) All pavements, subways, in fact everywhere public, has raised grooves and bumps on the ground to aid blind people.
37) People only have tiny dogs, which are often kept in handbags.
38) The phrase we have heard the most is ‘arigato gozaimasu’ which means thank you very much, but it sounds like ‘gato zaimaaaaaaas’.
39) Everything is advertised or promoted using young pretty girls.
40) Tokyo has been called one of the world’s most expensive cities, but we think it’s still cheaper than London!

Day 11: Kyoto

September 21, 2007

Had a very lazy day today, I think the week had caught up with us. After breakfast we headed out to see Nijo Castle, the last sightseeing leg of our stay in Kyoto. Nijo is different to all the other castles we’ve seen in that its all one one level, and the interiors are much more ornate with loads of paintings on the walls (some really cool designs). It’s also known for its ‘squeaky floors’, which was meant to guard against intruders. The castle also has a large moat surrounding it and some nice gardens within its grounds. We stopped at the souvenir shop after we’d walked around the castle but we couldn’t find anything showing the cool design we liked that we’d spotted inside the castle.

It was at the hottest part of the day (its barely rained at all while we’ve been here, in contrast to Tokyo) and we were all hot and sweaty so we went home to freshen up. Ended up having a kip for a couple of hours then we went out shopping in Kyoto’s Shijo district. I bought a tee-shirt and we bought some souvenirs and prezzies etc. By this time it was getting close to dinner so we tried to find that Mexican restaurant we spotted yesterday. A brief walk later we found it and guess what? It was closed! Arrgh! They have weird/random closing times/days here. So we went and had Beef & Rice instead (for the 3rd time at the same restaurant!). Stopped off for a coffee and hot chocolate before coming back to the hotel. Back to Tokyo tomorrow! Kyoto’s been a bit friendlier than Tokyo, a lot more westerners here, and the shops/streets are easier to navigate. Its also been much hotter here – not sure how much further south we are, maybe 100 miles or so, but its been hot hot hot from morning to night. Thank god for air conditioning and vending machines that’s all I can say!

Day 10: Arashiyama

September 19, 2007

Got up late today, and only just made it in time for breakfast before heading out to the Arashiyama District. We found out that we’d got on the wrong train the minute Arashiyama station zoomed past us – we must have got on the “rapid” service, which ended up taking us a few more stations along to a place called Kameoka. I remembered that in our guide book it said there is a 2-hour scenic boat trip from Kameoka to Arashiyama, so we though fate had intervened and we had come here for a reason! Along we trotted for 10 minutes getting all hot and sweaty trying to find the boat station, only to find that it was closed today! A short walk back to the station and a train journey later and we finally arrived at Arashiyama.

The guide book and the web site says “this popular touristy district…”, but when we got off the train it felt like we were in some quiet suburb of Kyoto that no tourist has ever set foot in. There were no signs in English, no “you are here” maps that we’ve seen everywhere else, no nothing! We followed the main road for a bit and just as we were giving up hope and were going to turn back, Kate spotted a small Torii in the corner of her eye! “Lets just go round this corner…” we said, and turning the corner we emerged into the Bamboo Forest (one of the placed highlighted in the guide book). The forest was cool, and we strolled through it for a while until we came across the area’s main temple, Tenryuji. Damn it was hot today, so before checking out the temple and its zen garden, we sat for a bit to get our strength back.

The zen garden was really beautiful, so delicately and neatly kept, with a big lake in the middle of it, loads of trees, bushes, fountains and statues, and a few shrines spotted here and there. It must take so much work to keep the garden in such a perfect state. We passed a few gardeners on our way round, and they seemed to be inspecting every tiny bit of earth picking up any rogue bits of leaf/dirt/grass. Crazy stuff. The garden did look amazing though.

Got back to the hotel a bit earlier today, so I uploaded the latest photos and we had a short kip before going out to dinner. We found a nice restaurant in the back streets of the Shijo district of Kyoto, overlooking the river. I had a grilled chicken dish with rice, and kate had a chicken curry dish. Was pretty good, not as good as Bikash, but pretty good. 🙂

After dinner, we went to get me another Egg Tart, and had a browse in the shops before coming back. One more day here in Kyoto, tomorrow we have 1 more temple to see, and then we’re going shopping. We spotted a Mexican restaurant tonight, so if we can find it again tomorrow we’ll go there for dinner.

Day 9: Hiroshima

September 19, 2007

Got up early today as we had to catch the 8:22 Shinkansen from Kyoto station. Another hot day today, we could even feel the heat on the way to the station at 7:30 in the morning. We decided that we’d visit Miyajima Island first off, so we hopped on a local train followed by a nice 10 minute ferry ride. The whole journey was covered by our Japan Rail Pass – really glad we got those, I reckon its saved us a fortune in fares! Some good views were to be had of the “Torii in the Sea” as we approached the island, and of the nearby Itsukushima Shrine and 5-storey pagoda. We made the most of the breeze on the ferry while it lasted, as it looked like it was the only breeze we’d be getting all day! Soon as we got off the ferry, we bought an icecream and as we walked outside the ferry terminal we got accosted by deer. It was brilliant! They really wanted our icecream and at one point Kate had 4 of them jumping up at her. They were really tame and not agressive at all. Kate looked like Doctor Dolittle at one point, and I took a few photos and a short video to capture the moment. 🙂

Moving on we visited the Shrine and took some photos of the big Torii (gate) in the sea. The shrine on this island is a really bright orange colour – more so than all the other shrines/temples we’ve visited, and the whole of it sits on stilts giving the illusion that its floating in the water. It was really hot by now so we tried to stay in the shade. Found some big lantern thingies which we later found out were probably big sake barrels.

After the shrine, we walked up through the village towards the ropeway station that would take us up to the top of Mount Misen. The ropeway/cable car ride took us right near the top, but there was a 30 minute walk if you wanted to go to the summit. We decided against this as it was baking hot, there was little shade, it was all uphill and we still had lots to do. The view was fantastic from the top of the ropeway station anyway. You could see all around Hiroshima and the surrounding islands/towns. There are usually monkeys at the ropeway station too, but the sign said that they’d “all gone into the forest for food”, so unfortunately we didn’t see any.

After getting the ropeway back to the foot of the mountain, we wandered through the shops back to the ferry port (I bought a miniature Torii in the Sea to put on my desk – couldn’t resist!!). Got the ferry back to Hiroshima (enjoyed the breeze again) then got on a tram to the Peace Park and the A-bomb dome and museum.

Seeing the a-bomb dome, the only remaining ruins from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, was mad – all the rubble inside is still there, its as though its remained untouched since the event happened. Scary stuff. We walked through the memorial park, where there are several statues/memorials for different things, and then visited the museum. I can’t really say we enjoyed the museum, it was more of a sobering/educational experience. They show graphical evidence of the tragic event, have lots of info on the bombs themselves (including a lifesize replica model of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima), plenty of stories from survivors, old burnt clothes and artifacts etc. We came out in a very sombre mood, and headed back to Hiroshima train station. We couldn’t get a direct train back to Kyoto, so we changed at Shin-Osaka and eventually got back to the hotel.

Despite the numbing effect of the a-bomb museum we still had a nice day, very different to all the other days so far. New pics uploaded, and a couple of vids. We’re having an easy day tomorrow visiting the Arishiyama District in Kyoto. Only 2 days left here then its back to Tokyo.

Days 7 and 8: Himeji Castle and Iga-Ueno

September 17, 2007

Our day to Himeji Castle started after we had a bit of a lie-in and some breakfast at the hotel. Himeji is about an hour away on the Shinkansen, and we were soon strolling down the main avenue towards the castle. We spent a bit of time in the gardens surrounding the castle before going in, took some pictures (and saw a really cute wild kitten). By the time we entered the castle itself it had just started to rain. It was really hot so a few drops was actually quite refreshing. Inside the castle it was all wood, and the doorways and room partitions were really low down – they must have been really small in those days! I can’t remember how many floors we went up, but I reckon it was about 6 or 7. It was roasting in there, but when we got higher up we kept stopping near the windows to grab as much breeze as we could. After visiting the castle’s main Donjon, we walked around the grounds, stopping to take a pic at the ‘Suicide Quarters’ (where they committed seppuku – basically gutted themselves with their swords!). As we came out of the grounds to go back to the station we got soaked from the rain as we only had Kate’s tiny umbrella to protect us. Got back to Kyoto and went out for dinner (beef and rice!). We stopped in the cool manga/model shop and I spent about 10 minutes trying to ask the guy behind the counter if he had any Battle of the Planets stuff. He just didn’t get it! I even drew pictures for him, and made the “Braaaaat toot toot!” sound! He still had no idea. Then as we were walking out Kate spotted a load of Battle of the Planets stuff right near the door. D’oh! Stopped for an ‘Authentic Egg Tart’ before coming back to the hotel.

Next day we got up a bit earlier as we had a bit more of a trip ahead of us, to Iga Ueno (famous for Ninja)! There was a lot of travelling today, and a lot of waiting about for trains, plus it was really really hot and sticky, and we both felt pretty crappy on the way back, but it was worth it as the Ninja stuff was really cool. 🙂 Anyway, after using my own ninja skills to navigate us to Iga Ueno, we entered Ueno Park and paid the 600 or whatever yen for a ticket to the museum and live ninja demonstration. The Museum started off being a tour (in Japanese) around a real ninja house… with things like trap doors, hidden stairs, revolving doorways etc… it was totally wicked! There were quite a few children there too, and they kept going “woooh” and “wooaahh” whenever the guide performed a sneaky ninja trick. Classic stuff. Following the house, we went through the museum where they had loads of ninja stuff to look at, such as weapons, lockpicks, tools, clothes etc. I even got to stand on some ninja ‘mud shoes’ (for walking across marshy ground). A bit later on we went to see the live Ninja demonstration, which involved 3 actual ninjas showing off their skills. The kids loved it, and the show really made everyone laugh. At the end they gave everyone (even the kids) the chance to throw some real shuriken stars at a target board. When it was my turn I actually hit the target with one of the stars. I didn’t hit it enough to win a tee-shirt though. It was probably a stupid tee-shirt anyway.

After the Ninja stuff, we went and looked at Ueno Castle, which was also in Ueno Park. This castle is a bit like Himeji castle that we saw yesterday, but is much much smaller, but it has some cool samurai outfits on show on the bottom floor of the main keep. We climbed all the floors in no-time, but it was about now that we both started to feel a little poo, from the heat/sun, so we decided to head on back to Kyoto. The train ride to and from Iga Ueno is really picturesque, and I wish I’d taken some pictures on the way there now, because halfway through the Ninja demonstration the camera ran out of battery, which totally sucked because I got no pics of Ueno Castle and the surrounding gardens either. Oh well, the camera’s fully charged now for tomorrow, when we’re up early and off to Hiroshima for the day.