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Japan

Bike tour of Tokyo

sunny 7 °C

Morning comes and we rouse ourselves after up to 14 hours sleep. Some of us still look like the walking dead though. Breakfast is a varied buffet, basically Japanese, with a few western things to keep everyone happy. Volume is no issue, plenty for all.
This morning we have booked a bike tour around a bit of Tokyo, so we have to get to Naka-Meguro, right across town. The change of lines at Ueno was a bit of a hike – like most major city metros, although the schematic for the network shows two lines changing at a station, in reality the walk can be anything up to half a k. Out to the end of the Hibiya line, and down to see Neil at Tokyo rent a bike. From base, we head up through the typical local housing(very small to our Australian eyes) to Daikanyama, a low key and exclusive area, then on to Shibuya with the love hotels in the back blocks and its landmark crossing (not all that crowded at 11am on a cold day). Neil is giving us back ground as we go, helping us to make a bit of sense of it all. From Shibuya, we head up through Yoyogi park, looking quite bare at this time of year, to Harajuku and the Meiji Shrine. The shrine is a lovely sight with the copper roof and the huge cypress columns and beams.Out riding

Out riding

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu


After this peaceful interlude, we head into Takeshita Dori, the teenager’s street, although today there are almost as many tourists. We grab an oh so sweet crepe to keep us fuelled, and head off up to Jingu, where the big baseball parks are. Here Neil puts us into a batting cage and we show that Australians don’t know much about baseball, but we can hit fast moving objects.Moment of impact

Moment of impact

In fact, we are told as cyclists, we make great baseballers? The next part of the tour piqued my interest the most, as we head down through the Aoyama cemeteries. Here we get to see the burial grounds of some of Tokyo’s citizens. Some of the plots are simple, running the gamut through to mini Japanese gardens and bonsai landscapes.
From here we have a brief interlude in Roppongi Hills before a high speed descent down from Ebisu to get back to base. Four hours was well spent getting an overview of part of Tokyo.
Safely off the bikes (and admiring a new house in the back blocks of naka Meguro) we head down the street where there is a mega bike – a Surly Pugsley – and a ramen shop for us to have a go at. There is no point and order menu, but we have to buy tickets at a little vending machine and hand them over to get our food cooked – this way the cook does not need to bother with handling money. With the lucky dip concluded we dig in to a huge bowl of noodles to sate our hunger.
There was a bike shop nearby that I wanted to go to, and which I found easily enough, but it was shut today. This was going to happen a few more times. With no plan as to what happens next, there was a bit of a conference before we head to Akihabara, so G could see about taking a PS3 back to Australia. The stores people said it won’t work, and there was only a $30 – 60 saving anyway. Also asked at another place where they were showing much cheaper, second hand consoles, but the same story there.Akihabara

Akihabara


As it happened while we were in the area, I knew of a few model shops that I wouldn’t mind looking in...
In the end it was a bit later by the time we got back into bed tonight, may make tomorrow morning a bit of a drag...

Posted by lostagain 18:10 Archived in Japan Tagged cycling Comments (0)

A day in Asakusa

Back to Japan - told you we would

overcast 7 °C

As usual, we are still throwing stuff into suitcases when Mum arrives to take us out to the airport. Even still making lunch when the last bag is zipped up. No doubt I will remember what I have forgotten on the way.
We head off as L is getting a bit toey about her flight, but when we reach tulla it is quite deserted.
She is in, we are not far behind. L has no time to wait, straight on. Next it is time for G and I to head off to our SQ flight. The crew is lovely, but the Jumbo is showing its age, hopefully they will soon be overhauling it. Row 52 is right next to the galley – try to avoid that in the future. Had some good vistas over central Australia, but G complains as opening the blinds interrupts his viewing pleasure!
A number of empty hours in Changi as we wait for departure. This leg is in a nice shiny new Boeing 777 with the new entertainment system. Despite G’s enthusiasm, he has to try getting some sleep tonight or tomorrow will be a washout. In the morning as breakfast comes out, he does not look like he has slept much, and falls back asleep.
At Narita we head out and meet up with L and get ourselves organised – cash out of an ATM (28degrees card, no exchange ripoff or O/S ATM fee), hired mobile phones and got down to the train.
Last time we went on the N’Ex – Narita to Tokyo express, and thought it was good. But JR east suggest the Kesei line is better to get to Asakusa. So we head over there and once I have bought the tickets, we are off. Except I have bought the wrong ticket so we are doing the standard local train instead of the Sky Express. Thought it sounded cheap. As a guide:
Kesei Line train, Yen 1060, 75 minutes, limited express
N’Ex Yen 3000, 50 minutes, very comfortable though
Kesei Sky train Yen 2000, 45 minutes
G is immune to the landscape during the 70km ride as he sleeps on L’s shoulder most of the way – should have taken a photo. The trip is made more interesting as we cannot work out which train to change to at Aoto. One of the locals kindly points out my error and we are on our way. We can only drop our gear off at the hotel – room will be ready at 3pm. This is good, as it stops us crashing out there and then.
Essential Japanese cuisine?

Essential Japanese cuisine?


So we have a cruise around Asakusa – which starts as it always must, at mister donut. After a coffee that helped L appreciate instant, we are on our way, going through the Kaminarimon (Thunder gate) and battling our way through the street of stalls behind. Many of these sell Kaminarimon

Kaminarimon

touristy trinkets, but there are some making and selling rice crackers, biscuits and sweet pastries by hand in front of you. Free of this we are in front of Senso-ji, the large Buddhist temple. Senso-ji is approached through an outer gate which is imposing in itself, but passing through the main temple is revealed. In the foreground there is an area for making prayers and getting fortunes foretold by the random selection of a numbered chopstick from a container. L gets hers, but it is not good – her prayers will not be answered and she is out of luck for now. But bad predictions are not contagious as G tries his luck next he picks the opposite fortune – all good, every thing you touch will be gold. I don’t chance my arm and just get some incense to burn for good health instead. We have a look around, and she spies another fortune telling place and decides to try for a better prediction. When it comes out, it is the exact same fortune as the previous one – which freaks L out a bit.
Good Fortune!!

Good Fortune!!


Enough bad news for now, we head out into the beautiful gardens around the temple for a look and to try and get a bit of heat from the sun as well. It is (unsurprisingly) cold and crisp, but this does not stop the local girlies from wearing short shorts or miniskirts – not all with stockings either – they must be tough here!
Senso-Ji gardens

Senso-Ji gardens


We cruise around the neighbourhood – which away from the temple environs is what this is – a neighbourhood. There are some great little shops selling stuff like old style knives and scissors, another selling a myriad of brushes – most made of hogs or horse hair, kimono materials (we make to size).
But it is around 3 and we have to have some food, L locates a cheap and cheerful ramen place with a minimal menu, but we have great ramen and gyoza – just what we needed at the time, not least as it is hot and warms us up from the inside.
By now, the room is available to us and we head back to the Blue Wave. We get our bags and head upto out room – it is in a great place, with views over the Senso – ji, looks great. The room is not huge as a triple but would be great as a double or twin. Everything we need is here, except G has to huff down to the lobby to get Wi Fi. L meanwhile decides to lie down and rest her eyes. G, back from downstairs decides the same, and soon the room reverberates to the symphony of sleep.

Posted by lostagain 18:05 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Last day in Tokyo

overcast 2 °C

We started the day with another traditional breakfast – gave G time to get awake before we had to get everything packed away safely. It is a great rounded meal to start the day, but I am sure the average Japanese start the day with cereal or toast like we do.
We head into Tokyo station and around to the Imperial palace. Today we cannot get into the East gardens, so we have to be satisfied with a very pleasant walk around the outside of the moat. Weather today is again cold and crisp – I am dressed up as yesterday, and G has gone for the down jacket.
We are not the only ones here, there are a few tourists, but there are hundreds of locals who obviously use this as their daily run or walk – including a number of high school groups, some of whom were not enthusiastic about the exercise on a bloody cold day.
We know it is cold because the water in the moat is frozen over in parts, which has the swans looking a bit confused. The moat is about 15 metres wide, with sheer stone walls on the castle side which would have taken some work to get through. There are also some elaborate, but secure gates at the end of each of the bridges. As I say we could not get into the gardens, but we enjoy what we can from the outside.
Next we check out a few duty free shops in Akihabara, but there is nothing that we really want here, and I wanted Sennheiser headphones but only the local brands are available. Last look in the model shops, then we head back to the ryokan. On the way we find a vending machine selling - yes – pancake drink for the last time. At Homeikan we do the final shuffle of papers and stuff and get a taxi before saying goodbye to the team.
We head back to Narita on the N’Ex, using up the last day of our JR east pass. This has worked out well for us, and I would do the same again. As we head out on the N’Ex the departures board lets us know that we are well on time as the Jet Star flight is already 90 minutes late. At Narita 3 hours before original scheduled take off. They are not going to open check in for another hour, but we are 100th in line already. Get talking to some other snowboarders in the line. They were also in Hakuba, and went to Cortina one day, which they said had the deepest powder, but was a real schlep to get to. We get through, and another delay is announced. Nothing much in duty free (Bombay Sapphire is much cheaper then Aus) but we grab some food to snack on. At the appointed time we get to the gate and at least there is an explanation why the delay – a volcano has erupted in Bali and the flights have had to take a wide detour around. I am getting a bit jack of volcanos.
Finally the flight takes off for Cairns. No entertainment so I watch District 9 on the netbook. We meter out the food, none of which is healthy. The delay up and back means we will miss the appointed transfer time back home – the 4 hour stopover has disappeared. At Cairns we are told that the flights are held and are waiting for us. We get the baggage and run across to domestic. When we arrive, the crew say don’t rush, there are loads more to come. We are the first to arrive from our flight and there are loads more from the Osaka flight that comes in even later. Find out later that these delays are not unusual with Jet Star normally, but today they have been especially keen to wait as the airport is closed later in the day as Yasi comes through that night.
The rest of the trip is uneventful, just the weather changes – freezing in Tokyo to 30 and 95% humidity in Cairns to a dry 40 in Melbourne! We have had a great time, we are happy to be home, but we are also determined to get back to Japan for some more skiing, so watch this space...

Posted by lostagain 17:35 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Flea Market and Disney

snow -2 °C

Only two things on the agenda today, pretty simple really. We walk to Suidobashi station and catch the multiple connections to the Keiyo line. At Tokyo station, this means an 800m walk from the Yamanote line to the Keiyo line. We have had many occasions where the simple line map shows two lines interchanging at a station, only to find that means a 600m walk to the connection, in some cases being thrown out onto the street, as there are a number of different train companies around Tokyo.
We head to the flea market at Tomiokahachimangu Shrine to the east of Tokyo. There is a fascinating array of all sorts of stuff at the market which people can obviously sell on. There are people selling bits of jade, movie posters, sword bosses, pottery, coins, pins, used kimonos and yakutas, prints and all sorts of other odds and sods. It is fascinating, we pick up beads, coins and a votive tablet – I liked a small piece of jade but I thought the 5000Y asking price was a bit steep. We head on our way, picking up some sushi (surprise) and finding some cans of pancake drink (surprise, surprise) to keep us going. Next visit is the big one - we are going to see the Mouse.
At Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine

At Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine


I know it is the weekend but an online predictor said there would not be many people there today. Which just goes to show you cannot trust every thing you read on line – really! I would have also thought the weather – clear but cold, 7/0 degrees would keep the crowds down. No such luck – don’t come on a weekend if you can help it.
Started as always with Star Tours, funny hearing it all in Japanese. A bit of dithering on G’s part saw us wandering around until we ran into Roger Rabbit’s Car-toon, a new one by me and with only a 20 minute wait. By the time we had decided what we wanted to do all the Fast Pass slots for the day had been allocated so we had to wait it out in all the queues. So we went on The raceway and then to Splash Mountain. Next G wanted to go for a paddle in the canoes, which proved to be a mistake as the man two in front proved to be a shoveller, nor a paddler. As a result, all four rows of people behind him copped a soaking. G ended up with a wet leg and glove, which at these temperatures quickly made him very cold. To warm up we went into the queue for Pirates of the Caribbean, one of the shortest for the day. This is themed a lot more on the movie than others we have seen.
Just after the splash

Just after the splash


Next we grabbed a bit of crappy food, and as we sat outside eating it, it SNOWED in Disneyland! To warm up we cuddled up with a few hundred of closest friends in another line. My decision to wear 2 jumpers, hat and gloves was paying off. I was hoping the queues would start to dwindle with the snow or with the sunset, disappointed on both counts. We finished off with Monsters inc, Buzz Lightyear and I managed to get G on Space Mountain, which he loved. By now it was getting late so we headed for home.
It's snowing at Disneyland!!

It's snowing at Disneyland!!


We stopped off for dinner in our sushi restaurant, had another good eat there. Managed to find a vending machine with pancake drink on the way back, so G was happy. Started organising for the next day.
A fine feed of sushi

A fine feed of sushi

Posted by lostagain 06:46 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

No Giant Pandas and the Meiji shrine

sunny 2 °C

Up late this morning – some later than others.
We started the day by heading out to Ueno Park. Again it was clear and crisp with the sun shining. First stop was the Toshogu shrine in the park, where we see the first signs of real homelessness in Tokyo, with an area, neatly described by cones and barriers, where homeless people had set up there blue tarp shelters.Prayer tablets, Tosho-gu shrine

Prayer tablets, Tosho-gu shrine


Toshogu was our first Shinto shrine, has a good colonnade leading to it, and the Hiroshima – Nagasaki flame memorial to remind people to battle for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The shrine itself is behind tarps, and only a picture can be seen.
We head into the zoo next, and get a surprise – THERE ARE NO GIANT PANDAS IN TOKYO ZOO. Not that anyone mentions the fact until you get to the front window. The last one died nearly 3 years ago, a fact our guide book does not mention even a 2010 edition. We have gone this far so we are heading in anyway. The animal enclosures here are not too big, and some of the animals look severely depressed – the bison being a standout. It may also be the temperature – I don’t feel like being outside when it is 2 degrees either. We have lunch at the canteen, which is reasonable prices, and has a good volume of rice, so there is fuel for the day ahead. We scout out the most popular of the animals and do a quick tour. We see the lemurs who manage to jump away each time I try to take a photo. Last of all are the RED pandas, who are restricted to a small interior cage at the back of the giraffes, and they seem a little stir crazy.
No pandas at Ueno Zoo, but plenty of Gorillas

No pandas at Ueno Zoo, but plenty of Gorillas


A quick walk gets us to the Metro and off at Harajuku. Here we head over to the Meiji shrine. We enjoy the majestic cedar walk, admittedly with a few thousand other people. The massive torii to get through each of the areas are very impressive. They are each at least 12 m tall, and a reminder of how the Emperor Meiji was regarded. It must be noted that most of the historical structures in Tokyo are recreations after the bombings at the end of WW2 razed most of the city, but they have tried to be faithful to the original in most cases, with some modifications to materials used.
The shrine has a large flag stoned courtyard surrounded by a covered walkway where are posted many prayers and poems. There are some huge trees, and a large prayer wall where prayers can be written on tablets and posted for the priests to chant to heaven for you. On one side of the courtyard there is a wide expanse of stairs leading up to the inner shrine, and this is as far as we can get. Here, people make their prayers, and clap their hands to get the gods’ attention. The shrine continues beyond, but disappears into the gloom.
While we are there a traditional wedding party is led through the courtyard by some priests, looking very solemn for the occasion. The procession was very slow and deliberate, with the priests turning around when they reached the far side. A few words were spoken and then the priests scarpered, leaving the wedding party looking a bit stunned. We left soon afterthis, making our way back to Harajuku.
This is where the teens hang out and is where there are outrageous fashions on show. Well, it is supposed to be, today is just a crush, with more than its fair share of foreigners. We are getting nothing out of it, so off down a side street, but I get us lost and it is only G’s good sense of direction that gets us out as the sun sets.
Traditional Wedding, Meiji Shrine

Traditional Wedding, Meiji Shrine


I have a couple of wishes, so we head off across the city. Find what I am looking for, a bike shop! But they do not have any Japanese language cycling tops for me to souvenir. Disappointed, we head on down the road for another look for models as the other day was a washout. This time I manage to decipher my own notes to get us close, but G finds the shop. Inside Leonardo’s is an Aladdin’s cave of out of production kits, and I finally find a kit I have desired since I first saw it decades ago – a 1/12 Honda F1 from the 60’s, and it is cheap – especially with the 30% off sale today only. Somehow I restrain myself and I do not leave with shopping trolleys full of models.
Shopped out, we get home and have a hot bath before heading out to dinner. A recommended restaurant is closed, so we get cheap and cheerful instead.

Posted by lostagain 06:40 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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