October - November 2017
  • Day21

    Trip End

    November 9, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    What an amazing adventure we had in Japan. It certainly exceeded already high expectations. There's not too much more to add about yesterdays flight home. We departed Narita around 7.30pm on Wednesday night and arrived in Melbourne around 8am Thursday morning. It all went as well as you'd expect for a overnight flight, despite the fact that it was a relatively bumpy ride. Luckily the plane was only around three quarters full, so as soon as the guy in front jammed his chair back as far as he could, I could move elsewhere. I managed a couple of hours of 'half sleep', but by the time we slept at 11pm on Thursday night, I'd been awake nearly 40 hours.

    For the first time I can remember, we actually purchased a fair bit at the airport before heading home. The benefits of a high weight allowance and direct flight home I suppose. We picked up some plum wine, wacky flavored kit-kats (like melon and cheese), Japanese pastries and a couple souvenirs.The trip both felt like it went for ages, and flew by at the same time, such was the business of our days there and amount of experiences we squeezed in. I figured as I often do, I'd wrap this blog off with a summary of our time in Japan, with a few short lists -

    Kristofor's Top 25 of Japan

    25. Shinkansen: The infamous Japanese 'Bullet Trains' were about the most impressive I've ever been on. As punctual and efficient as all Japanese trains, these get up to speeds of around 320km p/hr and took us great distances around the country in no time. Extremely comfortable and roomy as well.

    24. Geisha Show Kanazawa: I still don't entirely understand the current 'Geisha' concept. We are assured that currently, there is no sexual aspect or prostitution that relates to services offered by Geisha. However, it seems peculiar to pay substantial sums to hire a traditionally dressed up lady to privately play the flute for you or tell you the latest knock knock joke. The show we visited in Kanazawa started off slow, but there was some laughter and amusement (and a near concussion for me) to be had from interactive game playing.

    23. Kyoto Train Station: It would probably come as a surprise that a train station made its way into my most significant Japanese experiences. Away from the platform, it had a jaw dropping 15 story open air concourse building with a dozen escalators, shops, restaurants and sky walkways.

    22. Iwatayama Monkey Park: We didn't see a tremendous amount of wildlife in Japan, so the opportunity to see these (semi) wild monkeys overlooking Arashiyama in Kyoto was a memorable one. The snow monkeys are essentially lured from the wild to this mountaintop spot at the prospect of being fed. You could get up very, very close and they seemed relatively healthy at least.

    21. Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine: Of the many Shinto temples we visited throughout Japan, this one in Takayama was probably the most memorable. Allegedly dates all the way back to the fourth century, it sits up on a hill overlooking the city.

    20. Owl Cafe & Owl Village Harajaku: A truly memorable experience to get up so close to these magnificent creatures. There were a total of 8 owls in total, which you could pet, hold and feed. Whilst the owls all appeared in good health, it was a little sad to see them tethered in captivity.

    19. Kenroku-en Gardens, Kanazawa: Known as one of the three 'great gardens' of Japan, these were a picturesque gardens including a lake, rivers, well maintained trees, ponds and lanterns. Arriving in the setting evening sun (wrong lighting) probably didn't do this spot justice. Whilst beautiful it also felt a little small and overcrowded.

    18. Mount Takao: A pretty spot about an hour west of Tokyo accessible by JR Rail. We took a cable car, chair ride and relatively easy hike to the summit here which offered spectacular views, a nice suspension bridge and a couple temples. The main track was staggeringly crowded for a week day though.

    17. Harry Harajaku Hedgehog Cafe: A memorable time getting to meet, hold, pet and feed worms to these spiky little critters. Less concern about their freedom, as they have all the companionship, space and food a little Hedgehog needs.

    16. Arashiyama Gardens: A famous and huge garden system located in the west of Kyoto. Most popular features included temples, lookouts and a bamboo forest. Also offered some really pretty autumn leaves. The area surrounding the gardens was extremely touristy and crowded.

    15. Kanazawa Castle Ruins: We enjoyed a beautiful sunny day exploring the ruins of the Kanazawa Castle. Whilst there are a few original spots, the majority of what stands here has been reconstructed after being destroyed by fire. Still a really enjoyable look at what it would have looked like hundreds of years ago.

    14. Tokyo Sky Tree: Who could resist the opportunity to travel up the Second Tallest Building in the World. Offers spectacular panoramic views of Tokyo.

    13. Shibuya Crossing: Famous as being the world's most busy road crossing, there was a special buzz about the entire area around Shibuya. Flashing lights, towering buildings, booming advertising, weird Pachinko machines and seas of people every way you look, we had a great time exploring this area.

    12. Disney Sea: Was still enjoyable despite being hammered by typhoon Lan the day we were there. We were thoroughly soaked before we even arrived, but thankfully most of the rides were undercover/ indoor. A great place with loads of original rides.

    11. Daitokuji Busdhist Zen temple: Not the most visually spectacular place, but certainly a memorable and enjoyable experience. A real haven of calm and peace and still essentially untouched for hundreds of years.

    10. Disney Land: Whilst Disney Sea probably had more adult rides, this was the bigger park, with the better vibe, more to do, and better weather on the day. Would have been even better if two of the main adult rides weren't closed on the day. Still spent a good eight hours here and the time flew by.

    9. Fushimi Inari Taisha (1000 Gates): Famous spot in Kyoto with a countless number of vermilion torii gates that wind up mount Inari. Plenty of temples, viewpoints, shrines, steps and people on the way to the top.

    8. Hida Folk Village: Most countries have them, a 'historic recreation village' which includes dozens of homes, buildings, tools and a snapshot of the lifestyle of the Japanese people over the years. Set in a really picturesque spot, this would have been even more striking if not for the downpour of rain. Really enjoyed exploring the historic buildings here and learning about Japan's history.

    7. Nijō Castle: Dates back to 1601, the spot of the rise and fall of Shogunate rule in Japan. The Ninomaru Palace had several spectacularly designed rooms designated for different waiting areas for different classes of people that would visit the Shogun. Whilst most has been recreated it was probably the best example of Japanese Art we saw on our trip.

    6. Hiroshima Memorial Museum & Gardens: An insightful, educational, fascinating and at times harrowing look at the impact of the bomb dropped in Hiroshima during world war two. The museum offers an excellent account of what occurred and amazing array of relics from the blast including a tricycle, watch, lunchbox and clothes. It was also amazing to see the remains of the Genbaku Dome, the shell of the only building to withstand the blast.

    5. Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavillion): A striking zen temple in Kyoto. This brilliant golden leaf coated structure, on the edge of a lake was one of the most beautiful buildings we saw on our trip and a real symbol of Japanese architecture (despite again, being a recreation after the original was burned down).

    4. Myōryū-ji (Ninja Temple): A place I knew little about before our trip, this was an amazing place to see. Sadly, no photos were allowed inside. This Buddhist Temple had countless sliding doors, trap doors, booby traps, hidden rooms and ambush spots. Nearly every stair, room, door and wall within moved. A real ingenious labyrinth, puzzle and maze.

    3. Lake Kawaguchiko (Mount Fuji): The absolute most stunning and striking autumn leaves I have ever seen. We were fortunate to enjoy beautiful weather and clear views here for our hike around Lake Kawaguchiko. We enjoyed views of Mount Fuji from all angles and an enjoyable return trip on the Mt.Kachi Kachi Ropeway.

    2. Miyajima Island: Gorgeous 'sacred' Island about an hour or so from Hiroshima. Understandably famous for its giant floating 'Grand Torii Gate' which changes with the tide, along with the neighboring Itsukushima Shrine, which dates back to the 12th century. The island offers countless hiking opportunities, most notably the views from the summit of Mount Misen. Dozens of peaceful, friendly deer roam around everywhere, undeterred by crowds.

    1. Himeji Castle: Arguably the most famous castle in all of Japan, and one of the most in Asia entirely. Probably the greatest 'wow' moment for me, even from a distance. The Castle towers above the neighboring town and it was quite awe-inspiring getting to its gates. A little empty and underwhelming inside, but it's overall grandeur, size, gardens and craftsmanship made it the most amazing spot of the trip for me.

    Top Five Hotel Experiences -
    1. Hotel Century Southern Tower, Tokyo
    2. Kyoto Tokyu Hotel, Kyoto
    3. Fuji Views Ryokan, Lake Kawaguchiko
    4. Ryokan Iwataya, Takayama
    5. Remm Roppongi Hotel, Tokyo

    Top 10 Culture of Japan
    + Nature of People; Genuine, honest, warm, polite, respectful, friendly, welcoming, kind (near always). Everyone is always acknowledged with a simple, respectful nod.
    + Cleanliness; Absolutely the cleanest spot I've ever been. Felt like you could eat out of many of their gutters. Almost zero rubbish, graffiti or dirt anywhere.
    + Japanese Toilets; No toilet experience will ever be the same once you have reached expert mode on Japanese toilet 'showers' - heated seats, water sprays, music and more..
    + Music Everywhere; trains, ATM's, lift doors, traffic lights. Every 9am, noon and 5pm cheerful music appears to designate that time. Sometime it's hard to know where it's coming from!
    + Efficiency of Trains; The rumors are absolutely true. 99% of Japanese trains arrive and depart to the SECOND, they pride themselves on it. The most efficient trains I've ever seen.
    + High Safety, Low Crime; I've never felt as safe and comfortable anywhere in the world. If you left a full wallet in an alley, you'd be more likely to have it returned full than stolen.
    + Cute Japan; Cartoon characters, stuffed animals, drawings, art, everything has a friendly, up-beat, happy charm about it. More cute things than I've seen anywhere before.
    + Vending Machines; are everywhere with cans of anything, including ice-cream. Not just cold though, I will miss my hot cans of (surprisingly good) Emerald Mountain coffee.
    + Japanese Onsen; Yes, getting naked with a bunch of strangers takes some getting used to, but these spa baths are extremely relaxing, with so much more variety than a regular spa.
    + Ryokan Hotels; A unique cultural experience. I loved the tatami, futon mats, yukatas and kimonos. Sleeping on the floor has never been more comfortable.

    5 Issues in Japan -
    - Lots and lots of sitting on the floor; it's a long way down to the ground, and sitting cross legged or kneeling, especially in a crowd, isn't much fun!
    - Small Size for everything; I mean I'm tall, but it could be even worse for some; small doors, clothes, beds, ride sizes (in theme parks). If you're over 180cm look out!
    - No Bins; Strange when you think how clean the country is, but you can walk around a restaurant area or market for hours without seeing any bins. Carrying rubbish isn't fun.
    - Seas of People; Big crowds can happen at a lot of places, but peak hour trains, some tourist attractions, the swarms of people at train stations can get overwhelming.
    - Obligation to Onsen; Whilst the communal bathing thing at certain places meant great Onsen baths, the obligation to do so (lack of showers in some rooms) can be a bit frustrating.

    Best of Food and Drink in Japan
    * Ramen Noodles - probably one of my favorite foods to come out of this trip, especially the spicy variety. Basically noodle soup, with other things like egg, pork, vegetables etc. The best Ramen was probably a random place at Takayama Station
    * Grilled Eel - Best fish of the trip, enjoyed at the Kanazawa fish market. In the first instance, I didn't even know it was eel, but that marinated skewer was incredibly delicious.
    * Tonkatsu - Japanese take on a schnitzel basically. Crumbed meat (often Pork) dish found in many places. Our best Tonkatsu meal was just Natalie and I in a mall in Kanazawa.
    * Sukiyaki Hot Pot - One of the best meals we had in Japan was an all you can eat (and drink) hot-pot experience in Shibuya (at the #3 rated restaurant of 80,000 in Tokyo). Basically a cook-it-yourself arrangement where you get different slices and types of meat and vegetables, throw them in a pot and mix away.
    * Okonomiyaki - A Hiroshima experience and specialty, Okonomiyaki (literally means ‘grilled as you like it’) and is a savory version of Japanese pancake, made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, meat/ protein and topped with a variety of condiments.
    * Steak - You can get one anywhere in the world, but we had a fantastic experience at Ikinari Steak House in Tokyo on our second night. Pay by the gram, choose your meat type, have the chef cut you a slice and cook it in front of you with many sides on offer. Standing only, but a great meal.
    * Canned Coffee - Hot Coffee, in a can, from a vending machine that actually tasted pretty good! I'm going to miss these back home, especially my favourite brand - Emerald Mountain.
    * Craft Beer - I loved the Nagahama IPA I found in a restaurant in Kyoto, but the best craft beers we enjoyed with Ben at Baird Tap House in Harajaku, Tokyo.
    * Other Beer - A decent standard overall, you can't go wrong with Kirin. I did particularly enjoy the favourite beer of our guide, Yebisu.
    * Other Drinks - Of the couple Japanese wines I tried, I found white to be decent and red to be below average but okay. My favorite discovery was a sake-liquor 'Plum Wine'. I didn't really get into Shōchū (Japanese Vodka) or Sake.
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  • Day20

    Animal Cafes in Harajaku

    November 8, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    We woke in Century Southern Towers in Shinjuku this morning for our final day in Japan. Still some excitement ahead before our evening overnight flight at 7.20pm from Narita direct home to Melbourne. We finished our packing, checked out, stored out bags and boarded the JR Line just two stops to Harajaku to spend some time at some 'animal' cafes. These places are not so much places to eat, but more places to pet animals. It started with Cats.. but now there's so much more.

    After a coffee and some weird cookies for breakfast, we arrived at the Musashino Owl Cafe just a short walk from the station. For a cost of around 2500 Yen ($30AU) per person, you could handle, pet and hand feed eight different owls, big and pocket sized. This was a mixed experience. Firstly, it was amazing to get up so close and interact with these stunning birds. They seemed relatively relaxed and calm for the most part. I did have my concerns about them being essentially kept tethered to a small space.. and a few spent a lot of time sitting almost wistfully looking through the window at the parkland across the road. I'm no expert, but they did appear to be healthy, well looked after and not stressed, alas many animals are kept as pets against their will and many in much worse conditions. It was a pleasure to get so close to them, and they clearly appeared to enjoy a head scratch or cheek rub. They also seemed well bonded to at least one other owl for companionship.

    Next, just a five minute walk away to Harry Hedgehog Cafe! A little cheaper and less to be worried about regarding the happiness of the animals. These tiny little guys seemed contented, with plenty of privacy, food, water, and two or three friends to cuddle up and sleep next to. They were tricky to pick up, especially when in a ball, having to get your fingers around their spikes and find their bellies. They'd either refuse to sit still or just happily fall asleep in your hands. We had a small bowl of meal-worms to feed them, which raised their excitement levels! I've never seen an animal go from extremely excited and energetic to a deep sleep within 5 seconds.

    From here, we spent another hour or so wandering around Harajaku, heading to the Design Festa Gallery to pick up a small art piece. We then explored the popular Takeshita Street, and made our way back to the hotel to pick up our bags from storage. We had about a 30 minute JR train ride from Shikoku to Ueno, and then 30-40 minute Keisei Skyliner Train ride to get us to Narita Airport.
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  • Day19

    Christmas in November at Disney Land

    November 7, 2017 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 15 °C

    A slow, tired start this morning. As at 10am we had absolutely zero idea or plan to go to Disneyland. Our only remaining plans were a half day at Harujaku. Perfect for our last half day tomorrow before our evening flight home. What would be perfect then to fill out a whole day of gorgeous weather, with minimal time to think, plan or consider? Disneyland it was!

    Sadly our treasured JR passes had now expired so we had to pay our way from Shinjuku to Maihama station (via Tokyo), around 800¥ each. Getting a day ticket proved pretty tedious and painful to get from the station, but we finally got there. This was our first major expedition within Tokyo station, and I cant stress how collossal it really is... its an absolute underground labrynth.

    We finally got to Disneyland just before noon and set about exploring the rides one by one. It goes without same that 21c, blue skies and sunshine provided a much more cheery backdrop than our earlier typhoon experience at Disney Sea a few weeks back. Further to our surprise, as of today, the park had rolled out the Christmas decorations and theme on a grand scale. So Christmas started for us on November 7th this year.

    The Park overall was a little more tame and aimed at children than DisneySea but the quality of rides waa overall pretty impressive! A few more adult rides were closed too (Startours and Thunder Mountain), which left only a couple exciting ones. No complaints about 'Its a Small World being renovated, that ride always was a recipe for insanity.

    Interestingly, for both the more adventurous rides; Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, I was sized up and pulled aside at the start of the queue for each. Height concerns you see... Japanese rides are evidently designed for shorter Japanese people. On both occasions I had to follow a staff member behind the scenes and attempt to have a test run, to see if I could squeeze/dislocate/manoeuvre my legs into the carriages. With minimal ligament danage I managed to get through both rides (which were heaps of fun). Tragically both these rides had some sort of breakdown (the Space Mountain one seemed really severe and induced staff panic) which led me stuck mangled into my seat for longer than Id hoped. Actually 4+ rides broke during the day.

    As for a brief run down of the rest of the rides we went on - Pirates of the Carribbean; a tame water ride with good special effects, Jungle Cruise; a cute boat ride with some robot animals, Haunted Mansion; a Nightmare before Christmas themed carriage ride through a haunted house, Peter Pan; impressive effects on a short flying ship ride, Monsters Inc; a carriage ride where you could activate effects by shining your torch on a monster, Pinnochio a carriage ride with good effects and Toy Story, a laser gun, point scoring carriage ride.

    The two other rides which were the most surprising were the Pooh Bear ride and the Snow White Ride. Pooh Bear had a 40 minute queue, and whilst a carriage ride, we were impressed by the uniqueness of its style, car movement and effects. The other Snow White, was shockingly dark. It looked like a ride designed for young children but was ALL dark, creepy, sinister and foreboding with dozens of random scares and loud noises. It had me laughing hard at its tone and understanding why so many kids came out in tears.

    We eventually got out of the park well after dark around 8pm. Exhausted, we got back to mall near our hotel for a Japanese-Hawaiian dinner before returning to enjoy our view for our last night. We're half packed now and ready for sleep. Just a few things to do in Harujaku tomorrow before we fly home in the evening.
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  • Day18

    Busy Shinjuku & Shibuya

    November 6, 2017 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    After a few hours of r&r in our hotel room enjoying the views of Mount Fuji at sunset, we headed out for dinner and to explore Shibuya crossing. We spent a bit of time researching on Trip advisor and found the #3 (of 80000+) rated restaurant in all of Tokyo was only 15 minutes walk away in Shinjuku, and affordable. The first challenge would be finding it..

    It took a while to do so, Shinjuku station itself is huge and the streets outside bright, busy and overflowing with signs, lights and information. After a bit of exploring, we found it. What a find. It was basically a "cook it yourself hot pot" type affair. Choose your meats, vegetables and away you go. All you can eat in 100 minutes. All you can drink (anything) for under $20 extra wasnt a bad idea either. We rolled out of there with happy bellies, wandered Shinjuku a while and then jumped on the JR rail to Shiboya.

    We got out at the Hachiko Gate exit, rolling right out at the world famous Shiboya Crossing. It was busy, but being about 9pm, not peak. The streets here were busy still, especially for a Monday night, lit up and aglow with advertising boards, T.V. screens and flashing lights. We wandered around the place abuzz, especially the Pachinko slot machine places, which may have impaired my hearing forever.

    Just two nights and a day and a half left of our trip, as we wind up a great holiday.
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  • Day18

    Mount Takao

    November 6, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    Today was the last and expiry day of our JR Rail Passes. They've served is well taking us all around the Honshu region of Japan, but we still keen to squeeze a little more value out them.

    We woke around 9 amd rather spontaneously decided to catch a train from Shinjuku station about an hour west of the Tokyo city centre to the base pf Mount Takao.

    Getting there was no problem, but whilst we'd hope to escape the surging seas of human crowds by getting into the countryside, they certainly followed us to our destination. There was 15 times the amount of people as I expected to find in a forest/mountain area on a weekday.

    Theres a cable car here (steepest in Japan) and chair lift that take you half way up the mountain. From there, theres 6 different paths up to the summit. We decided to catch the cable car first, and get chair lift on the way back. The cable car was jammed to capacity and the 6 minute ride reached a maximum steepness of 31degrees.

    At the top of the cable car we followed the crowds on the main path to the summit via Yakuo-in Temple. It was slow going with hundreds of people shambling along. We took in the views at the summit and decided to hike down to the chair lift by a different route; track 4 which went via a suspension bridge. It was much narrower, prettier and quieter.

    The chair lift itself was an experience where you have to jump on a conveyor belt at the right time and fall back onto your chair lift with no safety, security, belt or bar to hang on to. It was a pretty way to get back down and we headed back to the trains, returning to Shinjuku JR station in Tokyo by 3.

    The day wasnt to end there. After a few hours of r&r in our hotel room enjoying the views of Mount Fuji at sunset, we headed out for dinner and to explore Shibuya crossing.
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  • Day17

    Sky Views of Tokyo

    November 5, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    I was pretty impressed with our G Adventures tour and quality of accomodation, but lets just say our transfer to Century Southern Towers was a step up or two.

    We woke this morning at Candeo Hotel and had said goodbye to Mari (our guide) at breakfast. Then we made a half hour train ride on the JR Line to our hotel for our last three nights, halfway between Shinjuku and Yoyogi stations. We had a few hours wait to checkin so we dropped our bags at the 20th floor reception and went accross the road to explore a 14 story department store. We tried our 'once off in a different country McDonalds' routine, which wasn't particularly different, noteworthy or satisfying. About the same price as back home and always crowded in Tokyo. We managed to find a Pandora shop which Nat was certainly happy about.

    Check in time! Wow. We'd booked a panoramic room @ Hotel Century Southern Tower (got a good deal) but didnt expect this. In a city famed for its 'cosy' rooms where space comes at a premium, this was absolutely huge. On the 3rd top floor at level 33, it offered two giant windows facing two directions, around a King Size bed that offered spectacular views of the city. Its the best view from a room Ive ever had anywhere in the world.

    We unpacked and jumped on the JR for half hour east to meet Matthais and Sabrina (from our tour) at the Tokyo Skytree, the second tallest building in the world behind the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It was a good 25 minute walk from the nearest JR station, and we were unable to find our tour friends at the "suggested meeting spot" by our guide. In fact we couldn't even find a fountain. We headed up solo (4000¥ each) to catch the fading light from sunset by 5pm. It offered two viewing decks offering great views of the city, and a couple of glass panel floors. It was extremely crowded though and with the glass windows extended away from viewing platforms, crowds and reflection prevented photos doing the view any justice.

    We decended, had a quick dinner with Matthias and Sabrina, said our goodbyes, grabbed a quick custard filled, pastry thing and made haste back to the JR station to travel to Harajaku to meet Ben for drinks at a little craft brewery. Ah, Japan train efficiency, I'll miss you. Getting to Harajaku was delightfully efficient. Walking onto one train, getting off and walking onto another arriving perfectly on time. I thought we'd be 10-15 minutes late but we ended up at Harajaku 10 minutes early.

    We spent a couple hours with Ben at the Baird tap house enjoying a few very tasty craft beers. It was just one train stop back to our hotel to enjoy the night skyline views from our room before turning in.
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  • Day16

    Tour End in Tokyo

    November 4, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    After almost 2 weeks, our G Adventures tour concluded, back where it started at the Candeo Hotel in Uneo, Tokyo. Just a couple trains and hours took us from the base of Mount Fuji to Tokyo.

    There wasn't too much planned for today, so after lunch our guide took us around to a few places by JR Line and Metro trains.

    Sumo was out of season, but we did head to the station and area of their competition by the stadium. Next on to the Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa, one of the oldest places in Tokyo. It felt a little cheesy and touristy here, thousands of people, 100s of souvenir stalls, selfie sticks and fast food. Some of the temple buildings were nice but cheapened by souvenir stalls inside, vending machines, a mini theme park with roller coasters metres away and nearby strip clubs and topless calendar stores. Not exactly zen aesthetic.

    We then wandered drinking spots, sidestreets and shopping areaa nearby, riding wavea of crowds. On the way back to the hotel, Nat and I opted to leave the group to explore Akhihabara Electrical Town, a massive 9 story electrical department store. If its electronic related, they've got it. It was a bit like a Dick Smith or Harvey Norman store from Australia but 1000 times bigger. There was plenty of variety, 3-4 aisles of keyboards, rice cookers, gaming merchandise, popcorn makers, whatever you could think of. There seemed as many staff as customers. Nothing here was particularly cheap though.. and the biggest most expensive TV, a 75 inch UHD Panasonic that looked good but not extraordinary came in at ¥2.7 million, or around $32,000AUD.

    With sensory and people overload a factor, we returned to the hotel before 7 to meet the Group for a farewell dinner. As we arrived there appeared to be a cluster of people or gigantic European tour group arriving. Everyone looked unhappy. Their guide came rushing up to us by mistake panting, sweating, offering excess apologies and explanations.. poor guy. Hes in for a rough tour. Fortunately for us, we'd had a relaxed, punctual group without complaints or high maintenance. Dinner was fun and delicious, we shared all sorts of meat and fish dishes as well as a pitcher or four of beer.

    Tomorrow Nat and I are on our own for a few nights in Shinjuku as our trip winds up. Still a few fun days ahead.
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  • Day15

    Hiking Around Fuji

    November 3, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Mount Fuji is only open for hiking in July and August each year. In lieu of hiking to the summit, there are five lakes around its base that offer spectacular alternatives. One such lake being Kawaguchiko, our hotel located right by its edge.

    Todays task would be to hike around the lake. We knew it was a big one so we set out at around 9.45am. Within minutes, in a remote spot we were stopped by a local (perhaps going fishing) who struck up a conversation. In most countries, this situation would instantly raise caution and concern - whats he going to try sell me? Whats the scam? Whens he going to ask for money? In many countries this would be a valid concern, but not Japan. He just legitimately wanted to say hello, practice his English, welcome us and wish us well. Very refreshing.

    It was a gorgeous walk with stunning views of the lake, little temples, autumn leaves and Mount Fuji itself. After an hour or so we reached the Kawaguchiko Ropeway cablecar that takes you up and back from a viewpoint at Mount Fuyimidan. The summit here offered fantastic views of Mount Fuji and the lake, as well as a cute rabbit shrine.

    Once back down by the lake we continued our walk around until we reached the town of Kawaguchi. Being a public holiday today (Cultural Day - an equivalent of Australia Day), there was a huge marketplace with food stalls and music (seems they love Jazz in Japan). We picked up some grilled corn, dumplings, chicken pieces and a kebab like thing.
    By some miracle, we managed to find a bin (extreme rarity in Japan) and continued on our walk.

    The next point of interest we found was what looked like a nursery and cafe, with a variety of plants for sale, information booth, souvenirs and snacks on offer. It wasnt far from here things got a bit less fun. So far we'd walked by the lakes edge on a path but that was about to end. Much of the kilometres to follow we'd have to basically walk on the road and it was a tight squeeze at times.

    We knew this was a big lake, but we were about to find out HOW big.. huge, giant, seemingly endless. When we arrived opposite our hotel, thinking the edge was nearby, we were wrong, water continued to stretch on and on, without being sure of where the end was. By now my feet had started to ache.. mainly due to the wear, thinned soles and lack of support on my hiking boots.

    We pressed on, and on, and on, mostly dodging or being grazed by passing cars until we finally made it to the home stretch. By now, my feet were just about ruined and not even a random can of 'Gubunomi' a green lemonade with ice cream themed.. drink from a roadside vending machine could bring relief.

    By the time we got back to the hotel it was 5.15pm, half hour or so after sunset. We'd ended up walking around 25 kilometres and about 40,000 steps. Even more than we anticipated. It was the most we'd walked all trip. By the time I'd staggered into our room my feet were a smouldering ruin of blister clusters. My ankles were swollen and I had a bizarre rash around both ankles that burned to touch.. it looked like bites. I was also sunburnt and my shoulders ached from my backpack. Still, it was well worth it for all the views, discoveries and accomplishment of the journey itself.

    Of course dinner, an hour later was a decent walk away, just what I didn't want right now. It was a small restaurant by the lake where a sole gentleman played sole host, waiter, barman and chef for 11 people. It was Italian inspired food and mostly tasty enough. Hours later I dragged myself into the Onsen and subsequently fell onto my futon with bandaged feet. A gorgeous and memorable day. Tomorrow is our last full tour day as we head back to Tokyo.
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  • Day14

    Heading to Fuji

    November 2, 2017 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 11 °C

    Not too much to report today for what was primarilly a travel day. We took a total of four trains; 1 Bullet Train, 1 Express Train and 2 Local Trains to get us from Kyoto to Lake Kawaguchiko at the base of Mount Fuji. From a distance Fuji looked a little smaller than expected but its quite stunning and imposing when you get up close.

    A shuttle from Kawaguchiko train station had us at our Japanese Ryokan hotel "Fuji Views" by around 4pm. The hotel was certainly aptly named, offering a great view of the mountain from its front doors, as well as panoramic viewing rooms on its top (6th floor) level. Our room was impressive; tatami mats, futons and a balcony. We spent the remaining hour or so of dwindling daylights walking the park around the hotel.

    We spent the evening attempting to make oragami figures before enjoying a 9 course set traditional Japanese meal - very small dishes (included in G Adventures Tour). Some was okay, but most wasnt for me. I also tried my first ever Japanese wines, a glass of red and white which were decent though I favoured the white. This hotel also has a communal bath/ spa/ onsen (which involves mass gender separated nude spas) which was a relaxing end to the day. Tomorrow will be a hiking day we hope around the base of Fuji.
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  • Day13

    Castle and Gardens

    November 1, 2017 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 14 °C

    Hopefully the wet and windy weather is behind us now. Today was a gorgeous day for our trip out to Himeji, about an hour out of Kyoto by bullet train. All went smoothly getring there, and we were at the front gates of the castle before 10am.

    The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture and its not hard to see why. Completef in 1618, it consists of a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period. The most striking being the main keep, a six story, ornate, stark white structure raised on a hill that towers over the town of Himeji. It was awe inspiring to admire its magnificence on the hike up to the keep gates.

    However, getting inside the keep itself was slightly underwhelming. Shoes off, polished wooden floorboards, a lot of stairs (like everywhere) but nothing else really. Some weapon racks, a couple trap doors, and little else. So in summary, I guess Himeji is like a hollow golden peanut. Magnificent and shiny on the outside, dark and empty on the inside.

    We got through the entire castle, walls and garden in around 90 minutes without rushing. We walked back to the station via temporary (tents) and then permanent (shops) markets. The train had us back in Kyoto just before 1.
    From there, a waffle for lunch to tide us over until Arashiyama. We switched to a local JLT train and headed on our way.

    Arashiyama is a huge, popular mountainous park. It features a bamboo grove, many temples, dense forest and a monkey park. We covered a fair bit of it. Unfortunately it felt a LITTLE spoiled by excessive tourism, and the fading afternoon light (sun starts to set and fade by 2.30-3) didn't do it justice. We'd planned to grab more food here but on arrival (and pressed for time) it seemed food was pricey and exploiting tourism. We saw a poor woman get forced to pay 3000¥ ($35aud approx) for a plate of about 12 dumplings.

    We pressed on through the bamboo grove, which was dense and pretty with the afternoon sun shining through the bamboo stems. From there we veered away from the hoards of tourists into the park proper to wander around, finding a nice lookout. Some of the autumn leaves of the forest and turquoise streams were stunning.

    The last stop of the day would end up being the
    Iwatayama Monkey Park. I'd hoped to make it to the Inperial Palace by its last entry at 4 but we were here, and running out of time so settled for monkeys. It was a 20 minute hike to their hang out spot... a steep climb into the mountain. There were dozens of wild Japanese macaque (snow monkeys) living here. "Wild" in that they're completely free range/ unrestricted.. but lured here by the prospect of being fed. It was still nice to see them up close and get great views of Kyoto. The monkeys appeared in decent health at least.

    By the time we got down, back to the station and into Kyoto city again, the Imperial Palace was closed. I decided to try walk what looked around half hour to at least see its exterior but alas time, light, distance and the battered, blistered ruins of what were our feet, were against us. We headed home for a local dinner for our last night in Kyoto. Tomorrow we head towards Mount Fuji.
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