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JAPAN, here I come! (I'm BAAAACK!)

Cranky Dog

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[Phew, now that someone replied, I can split my original post into smaller ones]


Now for the detailed tour: Tokyo, Mont Fuji, Nagoya, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Kobe, Himeji, Okayama, Kurashiki, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Akiyoshido Caves, Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Beppu, Oita, Hita, Yoshinogari,Yanagawa, Ureshino, Nagasaki.


TLDR: Japan is worth visiting


Tokyo: largest city of the group (13M people), and oddly the most disappointing destination. Walked through crowded fancy store streets indistinguishable from New York, or Paris. The Imperial Palace could’ve been nice, but it’s not open to public, so distant pictures only. Ferry ride of Tokyo bay was nice, with view of the suspended bridge, though I grew up near a big one anyway. Saw one of the original Statues of Liberties (cast from the same mold as the original Parisian one, so more “authentic” than the one on Liberty Island). Went through an older traditional market, but big crowd and no time to shop. Our first tempura specialized restaurant (tasty!). Edo Tokyo national museum under an hour, so no time to read up on the history, but a few pictures of some swords/armor/kimonos. Walked by Asakusa Kannon temple. Visited the largest fish market in the world, though the part with the auctions isn’t open to travel groups, so we just walked the length of the outside stores. Also that busy downtown intersection with the diagonal crosswalk that we always seem to see on TV. It also has a statue dedicated to Hachi, the dog that kept waiting for it’s master at the train station every day, even when the old man passed away.


Mount Fuji: Among all the steep hills lining all the countryside, Mount Fuji stands alone! Definitely the iconic volcano shape with far smoother slopes. Drove up to the 5th level (out of 10 where the rest are only accessible by foot), and a quick visit. Unique souvenirs there were sake cups that look like upside-down volcanoes, and... Mount Fuji toilet paper? It was cloudy on top, so most of good views were from far away. Small cruise on a “pirate ship” on lake Ashi. A visit to Hakone sanctuary, where we got introduced to the hand purifying technique, where you grab a ladle from the spring, pour water on one hand, pass the ladle to the other hand, pour water over your other hand, then pour the rest of the water back on the ladle handle itself, purifying the ladle before putting it back. Finally our first night in traditional Japanese inn (Ryokan) with a hot spring (onsen). This is the kind of inn with tatami floors, sandals, low level table, and we had a traditional banquet for supper and breakfast. Of course, I tried the hot spring, maintained between 41-43C° (106-110F°), I think they had to cool the water to avoid scorching (digital thermometers everywhere). I also did the whole process where you scrub yourself clean before entering the water, and wore the onsen clothes to walk around outside (bath themselves are full naked). Had some nice warm soaks, before heading to the shower with cold water, before re-entering the pools several times for extreme relaxation. You had the option of the indoor pool, the open air outdoor one, and the individual outside bathtub sized ones protected from the rain. It seems the ladies side had a bigger pool, but the inn changed the sides every day. This was the most Japanese experience we had.


Nagoya: Different than other cities in the near absence of historical buildings, until they point out that it was nearly completely razed during WW2. Home town of Toyota. Visited the Toyota museum. Part show room (some models not available in North America), part school trip educational section. Unique souvenirs: mixes for curries inspired by cars? Models cars of all sizes obviously (including Initial D kit for those familiar with the manga/anime). Bought myself a small metal ruler shaped like a wrench. Visit to Oasis 21, an architectural concept for downtown areas. On the way, a stop to an observatory called Peace Park that oversees Mount Fuji (cloudy that day), it has a structure with a path lined with spirit guardian lion-dogs of many Asian countries (China, Korea, Myanmar, India, etc.) each design looking unique according to their country of origin. Bought a Mount Fuji fan as a souvenir.


Kyoto: Visit to Kiyomizu-Dera Temple (Temple of Pure Water), a large temple on a wooden frame. Outside, on a lower level is a fountain rumoured to give a melodic singing voice to any youngster drinking from it, and there was a line of youngsters for it. Later in the day, visited the Gion historical quarters, renown for their geisha. In the evening, a cultural show that demonstrated (sometimes simultaneously) traditional music, gagaku dance, geisha dance, flower arrangement, tea ceremony (with two guests from the audience, including me!), traditional comedy skit of a lord and his drunk servants and traditional bunraku puppet show (love story of a lady climbs up a fire bell tower to call back her lover). Heian-Jingu sanctuary, and the Ryoan-Ji sanctuary, famous for its zen rock garden. Fushimi Inari Taisha, famous for the path of Toriis (the vermilion arches, by the hundreds), and legend of the rice goddess that rode on the back of a fox.


Nijo castle, traditional shogun residence, known for the nightingale floors that “sing” when walked on (sounded like the metal squeaking of playground swings, but more musical and not getting on your nerves). Depending on the room, the wall paintings showed different animals. Tigers at the main entrance, to display power to guests, cranes or ducks at others for quieter discussion. Then a visit to the Kinkaku-ji, i.e. the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, a gold leaf plated villa. Technically a reconstruction since the original was destroyed by arson in the 1950s.


The Arashiyama bamboo forest, popular with newlyweds it seems. We even saw a couple in their traditional wedding garments with their own professional photographer. At a nearby train station, I found a temporary “kimono forest” display of hundreds of poles with kimono patterns (many repeating), and it led to small dragon wishing pool by the track (the tour guide was unaware that this was here). General view of Togetsukyo bridge ("Moon Crossing Bridge"). Finally, a 15 minute ride on the Shinkansen to Osaka. Since it goes at 260kph, it was 50km town center to town center in flash. Meeting another Shinkansen on the way, the 400m trains crossed path in 3 seconds (dang fast!). Only downside was that we were on the smoking wagon, and it smelled.


Osaka: Probably the funnest city of those I visited. You could feel a different vibe from the city compared to Tokyo. First castle we visit with a tall dungeon. Though it was converted into a modern museum (nearly all in Japanese only). There was a minis display of opposing armies that I tried to photograph in sections. Bought a key chain there. We visited the Nihonbashi street, famous in Japan for all the restaurants and very large signs of crabs, sushi, fish. With walking malls crossing both sides of it. Lots of Chinese tourists come here for shopping. Particularly for luggage, because it seems even Chinese think “Made in China” luggage is crap. For supper, we had Japanese style pizza, which is somewhere between a quiche and an omelet in texture, and one of the rare meals where no one could finish there plate because they kept bringing more and more food at the table (seriously, we reached the point where we were almost weeping in despair at the amount of food brought to us and knew would be thrown away).


Nara: Old historical commercial center, now a suburb of Osaka. Houses Todai-ji temple, one of the largest wooden temples of the country and has the largest Buddha statue (at 1500 tonnes of bronze), and several other statues. Also has wild deer everywhere! They’re considered sacred, and wander around everywhere. They’re quite tame and used to people (you’re allowed to feed them). Then a walk to the Kasuga Tai-sha sanctuary with paths lined with stone lanterns. Walk in historical part of town where we saw monkey good luck charms hung everywhere (looked like strings of hanging acrobats making a cannonball dive). A walk through a small shopping district is where I found a small knife store (elderly lady shop owner didn’t speak English, but I knew the words I needed), so I bought my nagiri vegetable knife (only three choices really, and the most expensive one was needlessly fancy). Back to Osaka, we had free time in the evening, so I went and walked along one of the street malls. Waled for blocks seeing a whole lot of pharmacies and fancy stores for the Chinese tourists. It’s only when I looked back that I found one of those giant crab street signs we saw the previous day that I realized I walked 4 km in a straight line from the hotel. Walked back, grabbed a burger for my mother (she stayed at the hotel).


Kobe: A stop at the White Crane sake brewery, with brief visit, a sampling, and nearly everyone bought some sake not available everywhere else (I got a few bottles for myself). Then a trip to a science museum preserving the Nojima fault that appeared during the major 1995 earthquake. The land visibly shifted several feet down and to one side. There’s even a home where the fault went through it, and a earthquake simulator ride where you sit in a makeshift living room and they simulate two earthquakes from the past. The weaker earthquake felt more powerful because it was near the surface. That region is apparently known for its sweet tasting onions. Of course, what makes Kobe world famous is its beef, and that’s what we had for supper, prepared for us by a chef on a hot plate right in front of us (what people usually think of Japanese restaurants). And t hat beef we had lived up to its reputation. They showed us the beef before cooking and it had all of the crazy marbled texture you would expect, and it was mouth melting tender goodness that even cooked well-done could’ve been eaten with a spoon. It was the level of tenderness one would expect from slow cooked well-marinated beef, but this was fresh cut in front of us and unmarinated. Now I’m forever sad concerning steak, because I am not getting anymore Kobe beef anytime soon (crazy expensive). Wagyu beef will be more easy to access.


Himeji, Kurashiki: Visit to the White Crane castle, lots of climbing in this one, and the most impressive castle yet. Parts of it are regularly shown in samurai movies (Akira Kurosawa movies for example). Particular in you see doorway heights shrinking to prevent enemy horse riders from charging in. It’s here that I learned the tallest part of the castle is made for the military, as a display of force seen from afar. A walk in Korakuen gardens, one of the three great gardens of Japan. Then a walk in Bikan historical quarters.


Hiroshima: Now famous for the WW2 bombing. Visited the Peace Park and memorial museum. Anyone well versed in the military history of the atomic bomb won’t learn much, but it’s popular for class trips. The history of the town itself is more interesting, and the traditions that came out of it. Like school children making paper cranes and stringing them up around the parks near a statue of Sadako Sasaki (among post-war vicitms of radiation induced leukemia at age 12, known for trying to fold 1000 origami cranes before her death and wanting to promote world peace.). Later visit to the Miyajiama sacred island. No permanent residents here (though lots of shops in the historical quarters). Tradition says you’re not allowed to give birth nor die on the island. Wild deer also live here, but no feeding allowed. This is where there’s an iconic big Torii that stands in the sea at high tide. Visit of the Itsukushima sancutary that stands in water at hight tide with a view of the Torii (and across the bay, you get a view of the Church of Scientology, right in the middle of the frame, ugh.). Bought my first Kit Kat bar of a local specialty (maple leaf shaped cookies filled with red bean paste), and a Daruma Otochi toy.


Fukuoka: Visit to famous 5 arched wooden bridge and quarters, then we had a private tea ceremony for us at the local university (from the club president and her students). How they manage to stand up from the kneeling position so effortlessly (men and women) is always painfully amazing (we have bad knees in my family). Visit to the limestone Akiyoshido caves (pretty, but poor lighting for pictures). We cross over from Honshu to Kyushu island and visit Kitakyushu and the Mojiko quarters.


Oita, Hita, Ureshino: Visit Dazaifu and the Tenman-Gu sanctuary. Drive short stop in Beppu, that has a crazy amount of hot springs. You can see steam everywhere and smell of sulfur. Visit the Blue Hell hot spring that is blue from cobalt (genuine rushing geyser here), it’s hot enough that tropical plants lily pads grow here. Then we seen the Bloody Pond hot spring that has iron oxides that makes it a muddy red. Visit to historical quarters of Hita (that has a Japanese sauce museum). Visit to historical ruins of Yoshinogari which shows the prehistory of Japan (talking about 400BC era), very different than everything else. Cruise of the canals in Yanagawa by pole pushed boat, even got some traditional singing.


Nagasaki: Final destination. Also visit of the Peace Museum and Atomic Bomb memorial park, with monuments from across the world. Visit to Glover Garden, the preserved home of the Scottish merchant that help launched Japan in the modern Meiji era in the late 19th century. The architecture really stands out from the traditional Japanese constructions. He married a geisha and was indirectly the inspiration of the Madam Butterfly opera. Finally a visit to Dejima island, originally the only point of entry for Europeans (mainly Dutch) for several hundred years. To this day, Nagasaki still has a small Christian population, churches, and Christian iconography everywhere. .


A note about the atomic bombs in Japan. It’s mostly accepted by modern Japanese historians that it was a necessary evil, as the infernal machine that was the military back then would’ve fought until the last man and put the country in an even worse situation. Of course, those who were direct victims of the bombs or close relatives may disagree.



Other interesting things:


  • A typhoon hit the country while I was there, but we were far enough to the west to avoid the brunt of it, so only some rain.

  • They also had national elections during the typhoon, so turnout was expected to be lower than usual.

  • I’m pretty good with chopsticks. And I ate just about everything they shoved in my face, with gusto!

  • Sometimes we ate at tables, sometimes sitting on the floor, depending on the type of cuisine, or style of restaurant. It was comforting to hear our own Japanese tour guide grunt while trying to sit on the floor.

  • The service industry is very well developed in Japan. Maybe they don’t give a broccoli about you, but they’ll politely hide.

  • It was sadly easy to tell the Chinese tourists from the Japanese locals just from the habits.

  • I took a lot of pictures of our traditional meals as they were just so pretty to look at.

  • I may look into Sumi-e ink painting to improve my skills.

  • I could’ve bought a sword, but just carrying it around would’ve been ridiculously complicated as it wouldn’t have fit in my checked luggage.

  • I still had money left over for souvenirs, but no more room in my suit case.

  • Air Canada managed to rip off a wheel from my suitcase when I flew in, so I spent three weeks with one wheel missing, an open hole, and an unstable suitcase. Since I kept changing hotels and was exhausted by the end of the day, it was impossible to properly fill all damage claim forms (and six different attachments on a website that accepts only three). So I had to do them on my way back. I did enough to at least open a file with then on my second day.

  • Tip for travelers to Japan. Get rid of your 2000 yen bills ASAP. Though they’ve been in circulation for nearly a decade, very few change machines accept them.

  • Lots of vending machines for drinks, cold, sometimes hot. Beer in some hotels. Sometime cigarette machines. But never for snacks (though there are plenty of convenience stores everywhere).

  • Other stuff I bought: a Daruma wishing doll; two decorative tins of green tea; art books of ukiyo-e artist Hokusai; illustrated guide book to Kyoto because we went through it too fast; souvenir stamp with my name on it.

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BTW, this is a Daruma Otoshi demonstration on what can go wrong:



In my case, on my second try... I broke the glass on one of the doors of my TV stand cabinet (the one that cost me $1000).


This is a dangerous toy!


...and my mother also bought one for the kids. We're supposed to play them during the holidays. I'll be keeping breakable things well out of reach of them.

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46 minutes ago, Cranky Dog said:

BTW, this is a Daruma Otoshi demonstration on what can go wrong:



In my case, on my second try... I broke the glass on one of the doors of my TV stand cabinet (the one that cost me $1000).


This is a dangerous toy!


...and my mother also bought one for the kids. We're supposed to play them during the holidays. I'll be keeping breakable things well out of reach of them.

Careful or you're going to get your own thread derailed with people posting their own dangerous toy experiences like those large metal tipped lawn darts that could be thrown hundreds of feet and impale people's heads or those pairs of glass balls on a string that  were meant to be knocked together to produce a clacking sound... up until the balls shattered sending sharp glass shards flying in all directions.


So yeah. Be careful. <_<



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@Cranky Dog I spent nearly 8 years in Japan working for Japex, the thrill has mostly worn off now and I haven't been back there. Apparently it's one of the countries that Mrs Beagle may be from.

I like your list but do you have to do Nagoya (yaaaaawn), it has to be the most dull of the big cities with the most unfriendly people. It's like Osaka on barbiturates




*UPDATE* Ahh apologies , you've already been. Glad you had a great time



Edited by Beagle
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Part of my brain is still very much in Japan. I've travelled around the world before, but this is the first time that jet lag affected me so much. I flew back home about a week ago, and my body still feels that 12 hour time zone difference.


I think I'm getting better, but I haven't had a proper sleep since I came back. Starting with a mix of over/under sleeping. Getting up at 2pm last Friday when my next flight was at 4pm (gasp!).


And since Sunday night, I've been having weird dream-like hallucinations in the middle of the night. Nothing scary, but really confusing. I go to bed at a reasonable time. Somehow I sleep 1-2 hours, then become half-awake, look around the room and don't recognize anything. Shadows look like Japanese architecture (nope, it's my books on my night stand), I imagine Japanese people/tourists walking around in the dark and somehow think I'm in a hotel or the airport, in the middle of the night.


Just last night, I kept imagining I was in a maze-like Japanese restaurant with no working lights, mostly with rounded walls, sliding panels, a plate with a bite size plate of rice lying in everyone of them. My mother (with whom I travelled) was nearby. We're trying to slowly get out to catch our flight.


Though I was technically awake and lying in a familiar bed, my brain struggled to recognize my surroundings in the shadows. The glow from my clock radio on my night stand, where my eyeglasses are now was a fancy dessert tray with a piece of sushi. I couldn't even recognize the pillow next to me unless I really concentrated, and it always felt as if there were people walking around, minding their own business, in the corner of my eye.


I knew there was a lamp over my bed, yet couldn't seem to find it without touching the wall. I manage to find the light switch, turn on the light, and let both my brain hemispheres accept that I really *am* in my familiar bedroom. I get up for a pee. Go back to bed. And the dream repeats at least two more times.


Being hungry in the middle of the night probably explained why I kept seeing rice everywhere. But this "sleep drunkenness" has been happening for the last three nights. Always seeing something of Japan in the shadows.


I wouldn't mind the dreams so much if I was properly rested the rest of the day. But with 12 hour work days, I still feel the fatigue in the middle of the afternoon.

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