December 2017 - January 2018
  • Day23

    Time to go home...

    January 18, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    Today it was time to leave fantasy land and head back to reality. We got the train back into Tokyo and after a coffee in Ginza we boarded the monorail to Haneda airport. Russell's friend Shoko came to see us off and we enjoyed a last taste of Japanese craziness by having dinner in a planetarium (at the airport) complete with a light show.
    I am writing this on the plane and the cabin crew have just announced its 29 minutes until we land in Sydney. We loved Japan. Some of us are already planning our return journey !!
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  • Day22

    The happiest place on Earth

    January 17, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    Ivy left her journal at the Disney resort, so until she gets it back, I have promised I would record all the rides we went on in my journal. So (in rough order):
    Pinocchio
    Snow White
    Star Wars Space Tour
    Pooh's Hunny Hunt
    Swiss Family Robinson Hut
    Raft to Tom Sawyers Island
    Beaver Brothers Canoes
    Splash Mountain
    Pirates of the Carribean
    The Carousel
    Peter Pan
    Tea Cups
    Dumbo
    Buzz Lightyear
    Monsters Inc

    It started to rain in the afternoon but nothing can really dampen the magic and unwavering happiness of Disneyland. Everyone smiles and waves (and in Ivy's case wishes her a Happy Birthday thanks to her special sticker), there is music everywhere, the smell of pop-corn, lights, rides, shops and fun ! We had a ball.
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  • Day21

    Fish market and Sumo

    January 16, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 11 °C

    A busy day today. We had an early start, packing up and checking out by 7:00 am to get to the meeting point for our tour of Tsukiji fish market. As it turned out, we were the only ones on the tour, and we had two guides as one was training. They were so nice and chatty that it just felt like we had hired some friends for the morning (knowledgeable and Japanese speaking friends). We walked through the outer market trying samples and getting snacks along the way. Tour groups aren't allowed in the inner market, so our tour guides dropped us off there and we went in for a quick look around. The markets are so busy so you constantly feel like you are in the way (which you are) but they are fascinating - rows and rows of every kind of seafood imaginable, huge hunks of tuna, live crabs, massive mussels and abalone. Even turtles ! Again, no photos allowed.
    Sumo was scheduled for the afternoon, but we had time for a coffee and to spend some time in the Hokasai museum, located near to the Sumo Stadium in Sumida (where Hokasai was born and spent most of his life).
    Sumo was quite an experience. We all sat in a little box on individual cushions. Although none of us really understood the rules it was amazing spectacle and hard not to become swept up with the crowd excitement - which increased as the afternoon went on and the big stars started to come out. Three well dressed women in their 60s were sitting next to us and chatted politely with me and Ivy in English. When a certain sumo came out later in the evening they went nuts - screaming and waving the banners they had brought.
    On the other side of us were some young guys who sounded English but turned out to be brothers from Canberra. They shared their (basic) knowledge of the rules, and we shared our wifi. Later we connected on Facebook so that they could send us some of the photos and videos they had taken. Travelling around as a young person must be completely different (to when I was travelling as a young person) in these days of social media.
    When one of the sumos won the second last round the entire stadium erupted !!! (we later found out it was a controversial result). All of a sudden cushions were being hurled around the stadium. The last bout started and we decided to make a run for it because I was worried about the crowds. Leave it to the Japanese, however, to have everything sorted. The crowds all went from stadium to station in an orderly manner and there was no problem getting on a train. We were back at the hostel to pick up our bags by 6:30 pm and by 7:00 pm we were in a taxi headed to the Disney resort and the greatest day of our lives...
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  • Day20

    The Ghibli museum

    January 15, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 7 °C

    This place is quite extraordinary. Every detail of the uniquely shaped building references details of Miyazaki's films and interests. There are stained glass windows with characters from Kiki, Ponyo, Totaro and all the favourites. There are spiral staircases and corridors joining rooms showcasing the history and techniques of animation, and the painstaking but beautiful (mindful) process from concept to film. You can't take photos in the museum so not much to show. We all spent an enjoyable morning, but felt the weeks of travel catching up on us and so we retired early to the hostel. We mooched around until early evening then joined a tea tasting with the hostel staff. We tried cherry blossom tea (a New Year special), konbu, green tea, sencha (the high quality leaves) and finally matcha (powder made from the bright green young leaves especially grown under a shade cloth to preserve their youth and tenderness.Read more

  • Day19

    Asakusa

    January 14, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 7 °C

    We explored Asakusa a bit more today. It is an older district with a bit more of a scruffy (but cool) vibe. The market streets have famous statues of Edo era figures, including one of a thief on the roof of one of the shops. We went to the huge Senso-ji temple in the morning, then took a look at the kitchen-ware shops along Kappabashi-dori. This is an amazing street with a huge chefs head at one end and all manner of kitchen equipment and knives etc. There are also shops selling the plastic food you see in a lot of Japanese restaurants - they are surprisingly expensive !!! But, I gather they are hand painted and quite a bit of work goes into them. A bowl of soup cost maybe $300...they are so beautiful I could not leave without buying something - so I got a tiny maki roll for the equivalent of around $30.Read more

  • Day18

    Back in Tokyo

    January 13, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 5 °C

    We woke up this morning to a beautiful clear day and an incredible view of Fuji from our balcony. It's hard to describe how special it is. I jumped straight into the hot tub to enjoy the serenity. Freezing cold outside - the water that splashed out of the hot-tub froze on the floorboards of the balcony !
    We decided to get the bus directly back to Tokyo (since our JR passes ran out yesterday anyway). We arrived at our hostel in Asakusa in the early afternoon. This is more like a youth hostel, but with family rooms as well as dormitories (Henry befriended a couple of young guys from Vancouver over Nintendo in the common lounge). There is a nice, friendly vibe here, even though it is much less salubrious than last night's accommodation.
    In the evening we walked to Skytree (past the giant poo aka Asahi beer building) and looked over Tokyo at night - so huge. There is a very interesting screen inside showing the town of Edo (pre-Tokyo). Even in the 1850s it was a city of a million people.
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  • Day17

    Fuji-san

    January 12, 2018 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 -7 °C

    Today just got better and better. We checked in to another indulgent hotel, with a view of Fuji from our room and a private onsen. We had dinner served in our room, all jumped into the hot tub on the balcony as well as the public baths, played Karaoke in the games room downstairs and then fell into bed.
    It is a moving and very special experience seeing Fuji so close. We are extremely lucky to have such a clear view.
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  • Day17

    Matsumoto

    January 12, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ -1 °C

    Last night was a little bit of luxury in a hotel in Matsumoto with in-house baths and fancy rooms and lounge. We all felt a bit scruffy lobbing in fresh from the snow in our hiking boots and carrying Henry's wet clothes in plastic bags. We got to do some washing and drying and the hotel staff put Henry's boots in their boiler room overnight to dry out.
    After breakfast, one of the impeccably dressed hotel staff members also helped us to package and send the gumboots back to the ryokan at Jigokudani. We also wanted to send one of the kangaroo scrotum souvenirs as we thought Katsuyoshi might appreciate it. Russell asked the beautiful lady to help him write out the description in hirigana. It took her a while to work out the word he wanted (ie scrotum). When she realised she did a quick "Hail Mary" then wrote out the characters on a hotel notepad.
    We then headed off to the Matsumoto castle. It is 6 floors of diminishing size and you can climb up from floor to floor via narrow wooden steps. It has been restored several times, but there has been a castle on that site (attended by a clan of warlords) from the 1500s. We imagined fully armoured samurai clanking through the wooden corridors and stairways.
    This afternoon we were on the road again, to Kofu, then Otsuki on the shinkansen and finally a local train out to Kawaguchiko where we are spending tonight for the Fuji view. It was so exciting sitting on the rattly old local train as Fuji-san hoved into view behind the houses and shops, white snow cascading down her sides.
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  • Day16

    Snow Monkeys

    January 11, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 0 °C

    Today started with another fantastic meal at the ryokan - boiled fishcakes with fresh wasabi, scrambled eggs, potato salad with gorgeous rainbow radish slices, miso, rice and mushrooms (lots of mushrooms). It snowed overnight so outside it was a winter wonderland of fresh powdery soft snow. We checked out of the ryokan and spent the morning at the snow monkey park. The kids went a bit nuts with excitement. Just before we were due to leave, Henry fell into an icy pond up to his neck. I still don't know exactly what happened and feel a bit sick about how it could have turned out. I suspect he tried to walk on the icy surface, misjudging its thickness !!$#@ Anyway, he managed to scramble his way out, and we took him back to the ryokan where Katsuyoshi and his wife let him have a hot bath in the spring and then made us all coffee and hot lemon drinks. They gave us towels and even some spare gum boots since his waterproof hiking boots were now completely soaking (and due to their waterproof nature not releasing any water from inside !).
    After that drama we made our way back down the mountain, retraced our steps to Yudanaka and Nagano (to collect our large suitcases) and then on to our next destination...
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  • Day15

    Jigokudani

    January 10, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 1 °C

    Well you cannot get much more different to the shopping streets and markets of Kyoto. Today we made it to Jigokudani and to our ryokan right up in the mountains. The ryokan is a 30 minute walk on a track mostly covered in snow and has been in the same family since it opened in 1864. The man presently running it says his family has been in the area for 500 years. He himself rarely leaves - perhaps into the city just 2-3 times a year. Otherwise, they shop locally and pick mushrooms and mountain vegetables. There are monkeys everywhere ! They are jumping from window ledge to window ledge and in the hotspring outside. The ryokan itself is pretty rustic, but seems warm and comfortable.
    The journey here was quite a feat - requiring Russell's logistical planning and my anxiety and time control (keeping everyone focussed and on task). We left Kyoto early and took the "Thunderbird" train to Kanazawa. From there it was a quick change (made it with less than a minute to spare) on to a shinkansen to Nagano, then a local train to Yudanaka. At Yudanaka station we got a bus to the Monkey Park and ryokan. Everything pretty much worked like clockwork until we fell at the last hurdle. We missed getting off the bus at the right stop and by the time we realised an announcement told us all to stay strapped in our seats as we were heading up the windy mountain pass to the top. 20 minutes later we ended up on the ski fields (Shiga kogen). Luckily we were able to get a bus back down without too much of a wait as I really did not want to be walking to the ryokan in the dark.
    Dinner at the ryokan was great fun. Our host Katsuyoshi-san and his wife were so friendly (and a little bit crazy). They served us a huge feast of fried salty trout, locusts, wild duck and mushrooms and cabbage and noodles in a soup that we cooked at our table on a burner. We chatted with our fellow guests who were also from Sydney - a brother and sister with 3 children between them (one Henry's age and two a little older). Our hosts then invited us into the lounge to play "Go" and drink cocoa. Apparently a new "Go" strategy was invented in Jigokudani (at the ryokan) and they are very proud of it. The kids all ran off to explore and play and Katsuyoshi-san brought in glasses of plum wine made by his mother. There was more excitement when his wife rushed in to tell us there was a "racoon dog" (tanooki) outside. She took out a bowl of food scraps and told us that sometimes if the coast was clear, racoon dog might go and get his family to come and eat. The coast was not clear however, because an old monkey barged in monopolised the scrap bowl.
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