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.


Day 6: The Kyoto Marathon

September 15, 2007

We crammed in so much today, got totally knackered doing it, but had a great time! Got up early and had breakfast at the hotel. We made sure we stuffed ourselves as we wanted to go through to dinner time without stopping for a big lunch. As soon as we got outside the heat hit us. It was quite sunny, but the heat was really hot, sticky and humid, and within 15 minutes walking the sweat was literally dripping off me (nice!). We planned out a route last night which took us around a few temples in the East part of Kyoto. Little did we know that we’d end up walking more than 10 miles today, virtually non-stop! I think we went through about 20 bottles of water between us.

First stop was Higashihonganji Temple. This temple’s main building was having some structural work done on it, but we managed to walk around most of it. Our guide book says this temple is the largest all-wooden structure in the world. The floorboards were absolutely massive, and felt nice and cool underfoot (you have to take your shoes off when entering any of the temples). We explored outside for a bit and then headed off to our next stop…

After another bit of walking, over the Kamo river, we arrived at the Sanjusangendo temple. This place was amazing, and its a real shame we weren’t allowed to take photos of the 1001 statues inside it. The main temple hall was lined from end to end with the statues, all looking eerily forward together. It was so cool. 🙂 Around the sides of the hall were other statues of the Buddhist deities, with little plaques telling you about them. This temple also had a really nice garden outside, really neat and tidy, so we sat down for a while near it and relaxed, took some pictures, and took it all in. Both of us could have stayed there all day really, it was that calm and serene.

Onwards to our next destination, and the 3rd temple of the day: Nanzenji Temple. Took a while to get to this one, as the map we had didn’t have all the road names on it, so we took a few wrong turns here and there, but eventually we got there after walking through the nearby Maruyama Park (where we saw this mad crow come and sit right near us and open his beak at us looking all scary like). Nanjenzi was big and looked cool, but didn’t really do anything for me. You couldn’t really go in any of the temple buildings, and there weren’t really any nice gardens to look at (well, we couldn’t find any), so we moved on.

The next temple, Ginkakuji, was at the end of what’s called the ‘Path of Philosophy‘, which is a nice walking trail that follows along a canal from the Nanjenzi area. We took some nice photos here and walked pretty slowly (we were knackered). It took us over 30 mins to get to Ginkakuji, but it was worth the wait and the walk. Not too many temple buildings were there but there was a definite peacefulness about it, and the gardens surrounding the main temple were beautiful. Lots of delicately groomed trees and plants etc, and the grass was more like some sort of mossy substance. At one point it reminded me of the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz… like it was all too perfect, sort of like a movie set.

By now we were getting really hungry, and really tired, and our feet were beginning to ache quite a lot, so we headed back to the hotel. On the way back we staggered through the Kyoto Gyoen National Park, which is home to Kyoto’s Imperial Palace. The park is massive, but we didn’t actually go into the Imperial Palace grounds. We might do that another day if we have time. Its one of the only places you have to get a visitors permit before you go to be allowed entry (and then it’s guided – only in Japanese).

After getting back, having a nice cold shower and changing into some non-sweaty clothes, we went out into Kyoto’s main shopping district and got some dinner (not a burger this time!!!). Tomorrow we’re going to Himeji Castle via the bullet train… we tired ourselves out today so we’re having an easy day tomorrow with only one ‘attraction’. Oh and we’re both sunburnt, so we’ll be covering up tomorrow! Loads of new pics here.


Days 4 and 5: Mount Fuji and trip to Kyoto

September 14, 2007

Jetlag caught up with us today… we were mostly knackered all day and were walking around like zombies. I think we over did it the last few days, seems like we’ve walked for miles and miles.

Got up pretty early and headed out to Mount Fuji on the JR train. The whole journey took about 3 hours of which we both lost count the number of times our heads bopped forwards and back as we kept nodding off. There were some good-ish views of Fuji on the train, but I thought I’d wait till we got there before we took any photos. As it happened those were the best views of it we’d get all day, as soon as we got there it clouded over :(. The mountain is actually insanely massive, and looks like something from a sci-fi movie. I can’t really do it justice talking about it here, you kind of have to see it. Oh well. We arrived tired and hungry at Kawaguchi-ko station and took a walk down to the lake. Took a few pics and had a sit down, then went to look for food. We eventually stopped at this Japanese restaurant that had the most miserable waitress ever. I had ‘beef and rice’ and Kate had mushroom noodle soup. Mine was lovely, but I think Kate didn’t really like hers. I tried looking through our phrase book for how to compliment the waitress on the food, to try and crack a smile on her ‘oh god I really hate being here’ face, but alas I could only find phrases about complaining! Settled up and moved on back to the station where we caught a bus to the nearby Lake Sai, which is supposed to be far less commercialised and offers ‘great views of Mt. Fuji’. Yeah, right. We got off the bus at a village that was totally deserted except for one woman who was gardening at the side of the road. The place was eerily quiet it was so strange – like something out of the Twilight Zone. We went for a walk and found a track that took us down to the lake where we took a photo or two and even got the video camera out. Unfortunately Mt. Fuji was nowhere to be seen… either we were looking in the wrong direction, or it was covered up in cloud. Headed back on the bus to Kawaguchi-ko station, then headed back to Tokyo on the train… sleeping most of the way.

When we got back to Tokyo we were starving so headed out to the Shinjuku district, which is a bit like the Picadilly/Leicester Sq. equivalent of Tokyo. All the restaurants out here seem to be on the top floors of department stores… seems a pretty weird setup, but I suppose once you know that its not really a problem. Had my 3rd burger of the holiday here (Japan does GREAT burgers btw), which came on a big plate with about 6 chips on it. Before heading back to the hotel, in the corner of my eye I spotted ‘Taito Game World’… lol… so we spent a little time in there, obviously, before we left. The Japanese are absolutely NUTS about videogames. They have entire plazas full of them, with like 8 floors packed full of different kinds of games. They all seem to follow a similar pattern: Pachinko (a kind of gambling game with ball bearings) and those crane-operating ‘grab a prize’ machines on the first couple of floors, then a ‘driving games’ floor, then a ‘fighting games’ floor with games like Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter etc, then there’s a ‘Print’ floor with games for girls, then a ‘multiplayer-gaming’ floor with games like Counterstrike, RTS games and some others. Totally insane. Even when you go on the metro you see most of the commuters playing games on their phones (they all have flip phones with big screens for playing games – I don’t think I’ve seen one non-flip phone since we’ve been here). After that, we stopped for a Coffee in Starbucks then headed back to the hotel and slept like a log for about 12 hours.

Got up at 10am, had to checkout by 11 so we got packed up pretty quick and headed out to the station, stopping on the way for a coffee and the worlds best ever chocolate croissant. Got our tickets for the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto and soon we were on our way. The Shinkansen trains are very cool – big and spacious, loads of legroom, air-conditioned… about 10 times better than the 1st class seats on british trains. It goes damn fast too, and it tilts as it goes round corners, which was very darts. I read a bit more of my ‘Shogun’ novel during the 3 hr trip, and ironically enough we actually got the best views on Mount Fuji out the window… better than we actually saw all day yesterday.

Arrived at Kyoto just before 3pm, and found our way to the hotel. Kyoto is cool. We went for a short walk and found a great shopping district with loads of weird and wonderful shops. One shop was particularly cool as it sold miniature action figures from all sorts of manga cartoons and video games. They had some good Final Fantasy figures and some Nintendo characters (both in small keyring sizes and mini-cuddly toys). I’ll go back there before we leave here and get some as prezzies. We actually saw quite a few westerners here too which was a surprise. In Tokyo I could count the number of westerners we saw on one hand, but here they seem more plentiful… maybe its because of all the temples, I don’t know. I certainly expected to see more westerners in Tokyo.

Anyway, we’re back at the hotel now, and going to plan what we’re doing tomorrow. Probably seeing some temples. I’ve uploaded a few more photos (not many tho) and a few videos. More to follow… probably lots of temple ones. Ciao for now!


Day 3: Ueno Park and Sensoji Temple

September 12, 2007

First up today was the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. It was absolutely tipping it down this morning, and even though I had an umbrella I was still pretty soaked by the time we got there. The museum itself had some really cool stuff in, loads of swords, samurai armour and weapons etc. plus lots of big long scrolls, clothing and artwork. Some of the artwork was really nice and we’re gonna try and find some in the malls/markets and bring some back with us.

On our way round Ueno Park a small Japanese man came up to us and chatted with us for (what seemed like) ages about the fact that Americans are paranoid of ‘crazy people’ and ‘terrorists’ etc. and that the British are very ‘expensive’ and ‘difficult’. It was hard figuring out exactly what he was saying, but we just nodded and agreed to most of it, and he didn’t really stop talking enough for us to respond. He was quite a character though, and before he left he pointed us round the corner to the pizza cafe, where we stopped for lunch. Seems like in most restaurants/cafes here its customary to clear your own table into provided bins (usually marked out for plastic/paper etc). After lunch we went around a few other small shrines in the park, then headed on the metro towards Tokyo’s oldest temple, Sensoji.

Walking towards the temple you go through a long street full of shops geared for tourists, all selling mostly a load of crap, but occasionally we saw some nice Japanese canvas/material paintings. We might get one of those when we come back to Tokyo at the end of our holiday.

Reaching the Temple I couldn’t believe how massive it was, especially the 5-storey pagoda. That was particularly cool… It reminded me of all the old Karate/Ninja/Kung Fu fighting games I used to play on the C64 years ago. Very picturesque. We spent a good hour here looking at the shrines and temples, and walking around the temple’s gardens. Then we went out of the temple’s grounds and popped in a Starbucks for a Frappucino before heading out to the Akihabara district, where there’s loads of discount electronic stores. Stopped there and went into a massive department store called Yodobashi Akiba. Soooo much stuff in there.. PCs, Macs, all game consoles, basically anything electronic. There was a big Wii section there, and saw quite a few games that aren’t out yet in the UK. Seems the Wii has taken off here much more than in the UK.

Went out to Roppongi Hills in the evening to try and find somewhere nice to eat. Man that place is ponsy! Its very posh… maybe we went in the wrong area, but it seemed quite deserted at around 8pm and all the shops/restaurants in the main plaza were really hard to find… sort of connected by these large windy corridors with the odd shop placed here and there. Very strange. Anyway after about 20 mins we found a Tapas restaurant with an English menu, so we sat down and ordered some food. There was only 3 or so things on the entire menu that didn’t have seafood in the title, so we went for those…. except the ‘Chicken Satay with Indonesian Rice’ had bloody prawns in it didn’t it, so I ended up with just chicken skewers in sweet chili sauce, and some chinese pork dumplings. Got an ice-cream on the way back to cheer myself up.

Well another nice but tiring day, our legs ache like crazy! Hopefully the weather will be better tomorrow. Haven’t decided what we’re gonna do tomorrow yet, as we’re just about to plan it… so stay tuned! 🙂

Just uploaded pics from today!