It’s all over…..insert huge sad face!!!

As our trip comes to its end and I sit on the plane heading home writing my final blog, I reflect on all the things that made this trip so amazing, goes without saying hanging out and traveling with my best friend is a big part of that, but Japan is an awesome country, so I have listed below some of the highlights of this country and its beautiful people.

Shopping:

  • So many department stores, and international shops….plus it was sale time
  • Face covers when you try on clothes so no make up stains
  • When you purchase something they walk you to the door, hand you your purchase and then bow as you leave and say thank you
  • All the department stores have food halls in the basement, only downside was no where to eat the yummy food
  • Below if photos of Shinjuku train station, the busiest train station in the world, just in this photo are 4 department stores

Restaurants

  • The food was awesome and good prices
  • Always had a place to store your bag, either on a shelf, hook or in a basket…you never had to put your handbag on the floor!
  • Set menus….get to try a bit of everything
  • When you leave a restaurant, everyone says good bye to you, waiter, kitchen staff, chef
  • The popular places that had people que outside them, had chairs for people to sit and wait on, plus they have you fans or wet towels
  • Below are some of my favorite meals this trip

Toilets

  • You can touch a button that plays music or water noises while your in the loo – discretion music!
  • A baby seat in the loo so you can sit your child in it
  • A pull down stand in the cubicle to stand on if you need to get changed
  • They are always clean and have paper, and are everywhere, and are free

 

Transportation

  • So easy to use….well once you work out the Tokyo subway
  • Always on time …. except once, but that really is rare
  • On the bullet trains, all the seats face the direction you are traveling
  • Everyone queues, it's polite and orderly, people don't push
  • No one eats or drinks on PT….sometimes I didn't like this one!
  • Cars rarely toot their horns
  • Train conductor and trolley lady bow as they enter and exit each train carriage
  • No graffiti or gum anywhere, it's always clean
  • The subway had girls only carriages, so in peak hours you wouldn't be squashed up next to some stinky man
  • The subway sometimes feels like you walked half way across the city just to get to your exit…..literally mini cities underground
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    The people

    • So polite and friendly and happy
    • Smile back at you if you make eye contact
    • Customer service is because they want to, not have to!

    Vending machines

    • You can hardly walk 10 meters without finding either a convenience store or a vending machine to buy drinks at, very handy when everyday was over 30 and humid
    • We didn't see many food vending machines…..we finally found one, so for the novelty factor I made a purchase…..horrible food, was still frozen, I didn't eat it
     

     

     

    On the flip side, also a few things that we didn't like so much

    • They LOOOVE plastic….things come in about 3 layers of plastic, then they give you a plastic bag for it, even a bottle of water gets a plastic bag. In one shop Claudia said no bag for her clothing purchase, so they wrapped it in plastic…..
    • The no eating or drinking in public was actually annoying as we both need to eat frequently and often had to sneak snacks as we shopped or walked the streets
    • You could hardly walk a city block without seeing a Starbucks….seriously they are every where
    • That's a short list, as generally we loved this country and especially it's people, highly recommend you visit, can give you plenty of trips and recommendations.

    Well that's the end of another trip and another blog, hope you have enjoyed it, see you all soon

     

     

     

    Tokyo – just enough time for some more fun…and sake!

    Our last full day in Tokyo today, sniff sniff, holiday is almost over. Another hot day today, it was 33 today….mmm going to be a shock to the system when we get off the plane at Melbourne!

    Headed off this morning to see the Imperial Palace…..well the outer buildings and garden as you can't go into the actual Palace as its home to the current emperor and his family. Didn't actually get a photo of the palace, but did get some other shots.

    Finally, after all the parks/gardens we have been too, a grassed area….

    We then walked via Tokyo Train Station, which looked like it could have fit into most European cities.

    The plan for lunch was to go to another restaurant of the awesome burnt ramen we had in Kyoto…..after trip advisors blue dot directed us to the wrong spot (first time this trip, all other times the blue dot has been awesome), we then ask directions and found it……but it no longer is open, at all, closed down…..not happy!

    So a department store lunch it was sitting on the main street in Ginza, Chuo Dori, as it was closed to traffic. Lots of Japanese people out and about in their kimonos shopping in Tokyo's versions of New York's 5th avenue.

     

    It's a rather posh area in Tokyo….lots of boutique shops, fancy cars…we even saw a Porsche dealership. During the summer they have a number of festivals across Japan, we not sure how this next event fits into that, but we guessing it did. Along the street they had about 100 little wooden bowls filled with water, behind each stood a person, most wearing kimonos, then some chanting and drums and then at the same time they all throw the water up into the air…..sadly I missed the photo of them throwing it, but was rather funny.

     

     

    After a long hot day out and about, we popped into a bar for some cocktails….I needed a drink, it was hot!

    Afterwards we headed out to see the Chou Dori at night, suppose to be famous for all the lights, we thought we had seen better, but guess it depends what peaks your interest.

    Ok, cocktails…tick, final bits of shopping…..tick……all the major sights of Tokyo….tick. Time for our final dinner and some more sake. This was the best katsu curry of the trip….yummmo.

    Sadly back to the hotel to pack and get ready for our last day in Japan before heading home, one more blog update to come.

     

    Tokyo – last few days of shopping, eating and some sights

    Yesterday morning we decided to go check out Tokyo Bay and the area in Tokyo called Odaiba. Basically the area is a collection of entertainment centres…each with shops, restaurants and then some form of entertainment, for example movies, aquarium, Lego world, Madame Tussaud's. You can catch the monorail over as its on a separate island across the bay, the monorail goes over Rainbow Bridge, it's a great spot to get a view of Tokyo, well a small part of it anyway.

    It's a very modern area of Tokyo, with some rather cool buildings, this one is the Fuji TV Building in the background, with one of the entertainment centers in the foreground called Aqua City.

    They also have a beach here…….well, it's sand next to water, but with a sign that says no swimming or playing ball games…..not my kind of beach.

    Dinner was at a place recommended to us, well known for its soba noodles. We also had some scallop carpaccio and a fig salad……yummy.

     

    I enjoyed some different sake with my dinner, firstly a chilled sake that was served in a wooden box. They then over pour it so the overflow falls into the dish under, this is to represent abundance….I like this approach to serving a drink, no short pours here. It came with a side of salt….as the waiter said “like a margarita style”. First sip was interesting….as too was getting the last sip out….try drinking out of a square box!

    Next I tried the hot sake….this was served in a metal jug and the tiniest little cup, so lots of refilling the cup.

    We were out in an area of Tokyo called Roppongi. Had some cool buildings at night time, and lots of nightlife.

    The subway stops just before midnight in Tokyo, as its such a huge city, everyone catches the last few trains home, so like Cinderella we home before midnight, resting up for our official shopping day tomorrow.

    Woke to a beautiful day this morning, had some b'fast and headed to the shops……no photos of the shopping! The area of Tokyo we are staying in is called Shinjuku and is well known for its shopping, just within a few city blocks it has approximately 10-15 different department stores, you could literally spend a lifetime shopping here, we just allocated a day….and boy was it a long day, and somewhat successful.

    After a long day of shopping we just did dinner close to home…..mind you that still involves 100's of options. We did tempura, was not too bad. But we did have tempura sea eel….I never had eel before, so yet another food tick for this trip. Was really nice.

    One of the things I love about the way they serve tempura here, is the salt selection they have to accompany your tempura…..mixed herb salt, wasabi salt…all really yummy.

    After dinner we walked around an area nearby called Kabukicho, which is Tokyo's notorious red light district, apparently you name it, it happens here, just not for foreigners, plenty of dodgy guys and sexy ladies standing on the streets trying to persuade Japanese men into their establishments.

     

    Leaving Kyoto, back to Tokyo….2 days of food!

    Yesterday was our last day in Kyoto, after 10 days of being constantly on the move we had a relaxed day….slept in, went out did some shopping, had some lunch and then caught our bullet train back to Tokyo.

    We have seen a little bit about burnt ramen in Kyoto, so thought we should try it before we left, seriously we are eating our way around Japan. Not sure exactly how they make it but, it involved a huge flame from the chef cooking it. I had the burnt miso ramen….have to say the best ramen I have ever had.

    As train travel is very common here, at all the fast train stations you can get these little take away meals in boxes, like a packed lunch! They are all cold, which I found weird as some had noddles and chicken in them, others had sushi. As we traveling over dinner time, we figured we would have a 'train dinner box'. Also needed beer and some mini donuts for dessert.

    Got in Tokyo and had a quiet night in our hotel for the night, then this morning we headed to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market….it's main feature is the huge tuna auctions, but they only let in 120 tourists a day and you literally need to be at the market by 4am….pass, I like my sleep too much for that. But we still got their early in the morning to see them finishing slicing all the tuna and packing it up for transporting.

    This guy is literally using a saw to slice the frozen tuna, you can also see the frozen slices to his right.

     

    The market really is just like any other market, load, busy, people yelling and action happening all over the place, but they do drive these cool little trucks around….they are everywhere. They use them to take the tuna from the auction room to the wholesale market area.

    One of the other highlights of this market is the small sushi restaurants at the market where you can eat some of the freshest sushi and sashimi in your life, so sushi for b'fast it was. I got four different types of tuna, all tasted amazing.

    After eating our sashimi for b'fast we headed off to do some exploring around Shibuya and Harajuku.

     

    After a few hours of wondering and shopping, it was time for lunch…..it's been a while so when i saw a yum cha restaurant…..yummm dumplings, I had to stop.

    Finished the afternoon with more exploring the streets of Tokyo, along Omotesando…basically all the boutique international brands. Beautiful street and shops, just the price tags don't match my wallet.

    As we had eaten all day, we thought we would head back to Shibuya to check out the crossing at night time. I only have a basic point a shoot camera, so a little hard to get great shots, but was very cool, a very busy area at night time, filled with shops, restaurants and bars.

    It had been a few hours since we ate, so figured a late night snack and a beer would be nice, so found a izakaya near Shibuya. One of the speciality dishes at this place was mackerel cooked at your table by blow torch. Was really really yummy.

    Also in the Shibuya area are hotels called love hotels….it's a red light district, so maybe not so much love! But anyone can rent a room for a short time, 30, 60 or 90 mins or you can also book them for the night. Price below is about $30 for 90 mins.

     

     

    Day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima

    Very early start for today, alarm sounded at 6am…..practically the middle of the night! Anyway, on the fast train down to Hiroshima, only took 1 hour 40 mins. We firstly headed to an island called Miyajima, which involved a local train out of Hiroshima and then a short ferry ride to the island. The main attraction of this island is the floating torii that is in the water, it's the gate to Itsukushima-jinja temple on the waters edge. The torii was built out in the water as the temple was too sacred to be approach by commoners on foot and so you had to enter the temple via boat…hence entering under the floating torii.

    The temple itself was cool at its all built over the water.

    While we visited the temple we saw a wedding party having their photos taken, the bride looked immaculate, not a hair was out of place.

    On the island they have a number of wild deer, that are very tame, and they worn you that they will eat paper and other things if you leave it accessible. Was rather weird walking along the streets with deer roaming past you.

     

    We looked around the island a little and then headed back on the ferry and local train back into Hiroshima. Time for lunch, so we headed to the locally popular Okonomi-mura, which has 27 outlets over 4 levels all selling the same dish….okonomiyaki….yep more Japanese pancakes. These ones had noodles in them….have to say, they where really yummy, and went down nicely with a cold beer.

    Next we headed down to Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum (A-bomb Museum) which has a very detailed history of Japan and the impact on Japan and Hiroshima of the dropping of the nuclear bomb on 6 August 1945. Needless to say the museum had some confronting images and stories of the impact of being the first and only town hit by a nuclear bomb, lets hope it will be the last.

    The park has a number of monuments in it including the cenotaph which holds all the names of known victims, and each year on the anniversary they add any new victims who have passed away in the past year. The Flame of Peace is near by and will not be extinguished until all nuclear weapons are destroyed, sadly it might burn for a long time yet.

    Further on in the park is the children's memorial. This was inspired by leukemia suffer Sadako Sasaki, you may of heard of the book called Sadako and the thousand paper cranes, I know I read it as a kid. In case you haven't, when she got sick at age 10 as a result of being exposed to radiation when she was 2, she decided to fold 1000 paper cranes as its an ancient Japanese custom through which it is believed that a persons wish will come true. She died before folding all the cranes, but her class mates finished them for her. Her story inspired Japan and they still fold cranes today, with local children folding them and putting them on display at this memorial.

    At the end of the park is the most famous image of the Hiroshima bombing, the A-Bomb Dome. Photos of the town after the bomb show that literally the whole town was flattened except for a few buildings, this was one of them and today remains in the same condition as the day it was bombed, the bomb practically exploded 600m above this building and was the centre of the devastation.

     

    Day 2 on the bikes…..more temples!!!!

    Back on the bikes again today…..but today the weather is perfect, hardly a cloud in the sky, about 34 today. First stop today…surprise surprise, it's another temple! But this is one of the best on Kyoto….it's called Kinkakuji Temple, or Golden temple due to the top two levels being covers in gold leaf.

    One of the temples in the grounds had an English fortune telling thingy (technical term that one), anyway we been seeing people at all the temples, get a piece of paper and then sometimes tying it to a fence. In English we discovered that its a fortune and if you get a bad fortune you tie it to the fence.

    So we got one, mine said my fortune was 'quite good'…..mmmm that's not inspiring. It also said its better not to take the lead in anything….so Claudia, your in charge for the rest of the trip!

    Next temple on the list was a small one we stopped at, not that impressive, but at least it gave us a break from the uphills on the bike. It did however have a 5 storey pagoda, which was cool, but really hard to get a photo of it.
     
    As they say, what goes up, must come down, so after a long down hill ride followed by a long flat ride, we got to an area of Kyoto called Arashiyama, here was, you guessed it….another temple. We both getting a little templed out, but each one does offer someone different, this last one of Kyoto was no exception. The last temple we visited is called Tenryuji Temple. It has a beautiful garden, including a zen garden. You sit down on the temple veranda and look over the zen garden and contemplate life. PS. that's my foot contemplating more riding and walking!
    Next to the garden was a beautiful wooden path way, where you could stroll along and take in the gardens.
     
    Just next to the temple gardens is the Bamboo Forrest….which is exactly as it sounds, but had a walking track through it, was lovely and cool under the shade of the bamboo trees.
     

    On our way out of town, we stopped at the famous Arashiyama Bridge ove the Oi Rver. One last photo opportunity before staring the hour long ride back into the centre of town to return our bikes.

     

    While we have manged to eat a lot of different food in Japan so far on this trip, one thing we hadn't had yet was yakitori, so we headed out for dinner over in Gion. The place was cool, you sat at the bar and could see the chefs cooking, even the waiters made some of the dished right in front of you. First was a bowl of raw vegetables, never had raw eggplant before…was not too bad.

    The actual yakitori was delicious, crispy chicken skin with juicy chicken….yummmo

    We also had a dish called shabu shabu….which is just cooked chicken in a broth, was yummy.

    Time for some sake……sake by the wine glass….we been in Japan too long. We also got chatted up by some Japanese business men at dinner….well as well as they could without speaking a word on English.

     

     

    Riding around Kyoto….day 1

    This morning we woke to grey skies and rain…..doh, so typical the day we planned to ride bikes around town is the first day we get rain for the whole trip…oh well, it just water.

    Rented bikes…tick, dorky ponchos….tick, map routed out….tick….and we off. It may have been raining but it was still hot and those plastic ponchos do not breathe. Anyway, lucky for us it pretty much had stopped by the time we got to our first temple, Fushimi-inari taisha.

    It's one of the top attractions in Kyoto, it's famous for its toril tunnels, they where really cool.

     

    As we left the temple grounds we got approached by a tv crew….turns out we are going to appear on some Japanese TV show. They have famous japanese entertainers go to major tourist attractions and try ask foreign tourists questions in English about why they came to Kyoto.

    A few kilometers up the road, we popped into a temple our bike rental man suggested we visit, Shimogamo-jinji temple. They had a 3 day festival on which meant you got to walk through the waters at the temple….so of course we did!

    PS…the water was freezing, but at the same time very refreshing. As you walked through you had to light your candle and then place it on a stand at the end…..this was an extremely popular thing to do, we lucked out with our timing and pretty much walked through the whole thing without waiting, but they had robes indicating queues that stretched forever, so we felt pretty lucky to have participated.

    Back on our bikes and off to the next location, the silver pavilion, Ginkakui Temple…..this was one of the best we have seen, the gardens around the temple where just gorgeous. This gardener was raking the zen garden…..it took him ages just to do one line, he checked and double checked and re-raked it over and over again. Looked more like hard work then relaxing to me!

     

     

     

     

     

    Just for good measure, we did one more temple….this was was called Nanzenji Temple.

    One of the down sides to traveling is the need to do laundry, tonight was that night. Popped our laundry in the machine and headed off for a quick bite. We got back to our machine 2 mins after it finished to find a bunch, about 10, of Japanese school boys pulling our laundry out of the machine and laughing and looking at our clothes…..literally school buys laughing over women's underwear, boys will be boys, no matter the country!

    Day 2 on the bikes again tomorrow, i am really looking forward to it, I totally miss my bike….is that sad!

     

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