More?

The research says that you don’t really want to read about our vacation (see here),  but its too late to stop now.

Yesterday, we visited the Zōzō-ji temple….

And today, our last full day in Japan, we checked out the Tsukiji Fish Market, through which all things marine must go before arriving on Tokyo tables.

Guest post from Heidi.

OK folks… Here’s what you’ve been waiting for: Heidi’s take on Japan.

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I love Japan! It’s clean and safe, the trains and subways run like clockwork, the people are friendly and the food is delicious!

  • We’ve been here for almost 2 weeks and have seen 2 homeless people.
  • The trains and subways are wonderful. Fast, convenient, and punctual, they are a traveller’s dream. We really do have a lot to learn in North American. Just a bit of trivia … Tokyo’s Shinjuku station handles 3.5 million people a day (yes, that’s the correct number) and has 200 exits.
  • No one crosses against the lights or j-walks, but of course we do. We often left a local at the curb.
  • People are still allowed to smoke in restaurants. We often returned to our hotel smelling like smoke.
  • Japan is earthquake country (as we experienced a couple of nights ago). Every apartment building has a small staircase built into the outside of the building. There are red triangles visible on one or two windows on each floor of buildings higher than 3 stories; they are evacuation areas. Most disconcerting of all was the sign we saw at an intersection in the town of Arashiyama; it read “Evacuation Area for Tourists”. Yikes!
  • Did you know that Japan’s washroooms have heated toilet seats? They’re everywhere! I read somewhere that if the Japanese turned off the heating element on the toilet seats, the country could shut down a power plant. In many public washrooms, they only have cold water to wash your hands, but the toilet seats are heated! Not only that, most of these toilets double as a bidet. While I’m not against a stand-alone bidet, my gross meter flew off the scale when I noticed these toilet/bidet hybrids in public washrooms. Yes ladies, you can “refresh” yourself at the airport, shopping mall, local restaurant or even at a temple!
  • For some reason, the toilet seats on one of the bullet trains we travelled in were not heated. I guess they need all the electricity to power the locomotive.
  • Finally, the Japanese have embraced Christmas in every way imaginable. There are Christmas trees and ornaments are everywhere! The Japanese love consumerism and they have embraced the pomp and pageantry of the season.

We’re having a wonderful time in the wonderful land of the rising sun. It is different from Canada in so many ways, yet I still feel comfortable here.

地震 = Earthquake

Things got a bit wobbly in Kyoto last night.  Magnitude 4.2 earthquake at 10:30, resulted in some mild shaking in our hotel room at 10:30.  More here.

We got back to Tokyo in time to watch the sun set on Tokyo from the Sky View observation deck. I know, I know… a sunset does not a good photo make. But, some of the miniatures in the fading light turned out quite well, IMHO.

Boxing Day Torii

Our last day in Kyoto and we split up again. Heidi and I spent half the day at Fushimi-Inara Taisha, where thousands of orange/red torii (gates) line the paths up the mountain. It was crazy busy at the base, but like most tourist spots became more peaceful and pleasant the farther up the hill you go.

We came back to the Kyoto city centre for lunch, and took a chance on another tiny restaurant. This one had space for 6 customers (tops), while the chef and his wife work in a really tiny kitchen in the other half of the space. One of the other patrons spoke reasonable English and told us that the chef had taken over from his father, and that she had been eating there for 40 years. As usual the meal, sashimi, was wonderful.

This photo shows the chef and his wife in the kitchen half of the restaurant.

Another tiny restaurant

Xmas in Hiroshima

Yesterday was Xmas and we bulleted to Hiroshima for the day. Did you know that 2014 is the 50th anniversary of Shinkansen service in Japan. Fiftieth! Puts all other rapid transit systems, or (for Toronto) dreams thereof, to shame

Our time in Hiroshima was largely taken up visiting the memorials, there are many, for those killed by the first A-bomb in 1945. It was a sobering day. Hard to imagine what it must have been like, and why it was thought to be necessary.

We had lunch at a market in the city centre where there were 3 floors of small restaurants selling different variations of okonomiyaki, a crepe – covered in cabbage, bacon, egg and noodles. Cooked on the counter in front of you, and served with special sauce… mmmm, yummy.

Nara

      We took a day trip from Kyōto to Nara on Christmas Eve. The main attraction was the very impressive gallery of national treasures with a 1000 armed deity (must have been poetic license as it looked to be no more than 50). Oh and a gigantic (15m high) Buddha statue from the 8th Century, housed in a massive wooden building.  Oh, and a herd of 1200 tame deer.

Listen | Think | Accept | Practice | Believe

What happens at the ryokan, stays at the ryokan.

Today visiting temples in Kyoto

霜月 = Shimotsuki

Kyōto is cold. Colder than Tōkyō. That’s why December in Japan is known as shimotsuki, the frosty month.

We started with breakfast in the ryokan; in our room on the low table again.

Then we took in some of the sights in Arashiyama: Tenryū-ji (Zen temple and garden)…

…the bamboo forest…

…and Okōchi Sansō (gardens built by an early star of Japanese Samurai films).

Then a quick train ride to the Nijō-jō, or castle (dull) and the gardens (nicer).

Finally back for our final night in the ryokan.  Walking back to the train station, we passed a park with a pretty bridge, and a camera crew photographing a pretty girl.  I stuck my camera through the fence and took this shot.

Please go backward

You really shouldn’t laugh at translation mistakes, but this sign at the Arashiyama train station, in Kyōto, made us smile.

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Repositioning

Today we relocated from Tokyo to Kyoto, via Shinkansen.

In the a.m. we visited the Hama Rikyu Garden tea house for a cuppa.

Then we hopped onto the Shinkansen for a trip to Kyoto, at 250+ km.p.h.

Shinkansen

We arrived at the ryokan (guest house / inn) near dusk, but had enough time to visit the festival by the river.

Back at the ryokan, we changed into yukata (robes) for the 9-course Japanese dinner served in our room. Then, time for a soak in the communal bath, and back to the room which had been fitted with futons while we were out.

東京国立博物館 = Tokyo National Museum

AWB and CSB did their own things today, so Heidi and I decided to explore the Yanaka neighbourhood – which has avoided earthquake, fire and war damage, and is home to an active artistic community. Think Kensington Market, Tokyo-style.

We started in the Yanaka Ginza, and I got shouted at for taking a picture at one of the small shops… Didn’t see the “No Photography” sign until it was too late. We also stopped in at the home/studio of Japanese sculptor Akasuro Fumio (1883-1964) and a preserved sake store.

We ended up at the Tokyo National Museum, for a selection of Japanese artwork and artifacts. The best part was the absolutely beautiful building housing the “Gallery of Hōryū-Ji Treasures”. It is quite possibly the most impressive public building I’ve ever visited. So, of course, I felt the urge to add to my growing collection of miniaturized photos of museum lobbies.

富士 = Fuji

Yesterday was full-on tourist day.  Shuttled around the Mt. Fuji / Hakone area by motor coach, being let out every hour or so, just long enough to snap some pictures, or go for a cable car or boat ride, or get some lunch, or go to the bathroom.  Still, it was a good way to see Fuji, which remained unusually cloud-free all day, so we got some nice vistas.

We had dinner at a very traditional sushi place just behind the Shimbashi train station.  The place is full of small alleys bursting with restaurants and bars (and the occasional massage parlour).  It was Friday night, and salarymen were everywhere.  Every restaurant was filled with them, and many, many more out in the streets and alleys.  It was very cool.  After several attempts we found a place with room for 4 of us; on the 3rd floor above a sushi bar.  It was traditional low tables and leave your shoes at the entrance kinda vibe.  Somehow we managed to order with our very limited Japanese language skills- the only bump was that we ended up with an extra plate of sashimi.  So it goes.  Every table on every floor was packed, but we were the only westerners.  Had a wonderful time with the 4 of us.

Turning Japanese, just a little bit

Dinner last night was at “En”, an izakaya style restaurant on the 42nd floor of the tower next to our hotel.

This morning, we started our day like most Tokyo residents, on the subway.

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Near the Omate-Sando station we discovered the Nezu Museum, and its lovely garden.

And we ended the afternoon at Kabukiza, for one act from the 4 hour long evening kabuki performance. (You can line up to buy cheap, $12, same-day, one act tickets in the nosebleed section, with impossibly cramped seats and lots of rules and restrictions, to see if the experience is one you’d enjoy for a full evening)

And then there were four

It was a long day, 22 hours in transit actually, and we got just a little sleep on the plane. Andrew arrived at the hotel in Tokyo shortly after Heidi and I had turned in for the night. But, of course, we were thrilled when he woke us up and had a brief chance to catch up on the 6 months we have been apart. He showed us his tattoo.

This morning we woke to this view from our hotel.

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We took the subway to Asakusa and had lunch in one of the tiny restaurants in the area. Posed for pics outside after.

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At the Asakusa shrine we drew sticks to see our fortune. Mine was “the best fortune”.

Your gem has no flaw and it will glisten better when you polish
Good character by nature becomes much better when you polish yourself
You will become known better
You become wealthy and you may have a repeated stroke of good luck

Things are looking up.

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Look out…. There is a new photographer on the block.

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Inauguration

Turned out that ours was the first Air Canada flight via Boeing 787 from YVR to NRT. We got a cheesy pin to celebrate. New plane, same indifferent service.

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Life in Tokyo

We’re in the air, on our way to Japan for two weeks to meet up with Andrew.

Japan-Life-In-Tokyo

 

Pretty sure I still have this somewhere in the basement….