Wow it’s been a while, hasn’t it! I’ve been on holiday…
So, in a ridiculously random occurrence, it turned out I was going to Hiroshima on the same bus and at the same time as one of my friends. So it turned into a surprise Brit-expedition to Hiroshima!
I can highly recommend NOT doing what we did, i.e. doing a double night bus via Tokyo (10hrs and then 13hrs). It’s a killer…
However, with a short dally in Tokyo (that included some early cherry blossoms) and a VERY long night journey to Hiroshima, we made it while still mostly sane!
Since we were in Hiroshima, it was only fitting that we visited the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Peace Museum. Both were horrific and moving…seriously. We came outta there really depressed but by then were able to check into our respective hotels. Also, I think I may have found the worst hotel in Hiroshima, I swear that room just about managed to fit a single bed into it. That was about it. I also had the wondrous (note the sarcasm) experience of having to use a public bath…
The second day was really drizzly, so as Brits we decided it was the perfect day to go to a castle, eat ice cream and okonomiyaki and then a temple walk through the forest. We were slightly soggy when we got back…
That day (well, technically 2am the next morning) also decided it would a great time for me to experience my first earthquake – and not even a small one. It was M6 when it struck, just off Oita prefecture so that meant it was at least M5 when it hit Hiroshima. It scared the crap outta me, and I didn’t move until it was all over. Ellie, on the other hand, almost managed to sleep through it.
Regardless, we still managed to be up relatively early, get the tram to the wrong port in Hiroshima, take another hour getting back into the city and getting the tram to the right port, so that we could catch the ferry to Miyajima. All before 12! Miyajima is an island with one of Japan’s ‘famous views’ – its floating shrine.
We also managed to trek up to the top of the mountain on Miyajima – seriously, it was steps ALL THE WAY! We got a view from the top, though so it was totally worth it! That and the ropeway trip back down the mountain…
On our last day together in Hiroshima, we decided to do yet another temple walk (cause you can never visit too many temples!), this time in the nearby seaside town of Onomichi. The town itself was very quaint, and had lots of old-looking touristy shops. It also had a ropeway, that led up to an observatory and few temples on top of a hill in the middle of the town.
It was another beautiful day, so we went up to the observatory, ate lunch looking out at the beautiful scenery and then set off for a couple of hours to see the temples on the walk. To get to the majority of the temples, we had to walk back down the hill, through tiny winding streets – one of which contained an art garden. There were cute little cat statues hidden along the path and, in Japan of all places, ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ by Robert Burns was painted on a wall…
We also stumbled upon a temple, where there were pigeons ambling around – we could also buy food to give them.
That night, Ellie carried on with her journey and the following night I headed back to Tokyo – my Mum and younger sister were coming to Tokyo to spend a week with me.
My week in Tokyo was lovely. For the first few days, we did a lot of toursity things – Tokyo Tower, Tokyo National Museum (the day it rained horrendously), Asakusa.
We went to Asakusa on my birthday (18th March), which also happened to be the day they held the ‘Golden Dragon Dance’ (Kinryuu no Mai). I only found this out through a Japanese website, it wasn’t mentioned in any of the guidebooks, but I can highly recommend it!
In the evening, we went up Tokyo Tower (I know, again…it must have been my third time there) to see the sunset. Admittedly, the best part of my birthday was being able to eat a Tesco birthday cake!
We also made a trip out to the famous temple collection at Nikko (about 2 hours from Tokyo by train). Oddly enough, like the previously mentioned Yuzawa City, Nikko also reminded a lot of Aviemore. The town was the home of the famous ‘See no evil, Speak no evil, Hear no evil’ monkeys, as well as a large number of lavishly designed temples and the tomb of one of the Shogunate.
That Friday was a national holiday and so we had organised to meet up with Mum’s childhood friend Fumiko, and her family. She had organised a wonderful day out at a few touristy places – Roppongi Hills, the Imperial Palace Gardens, a river cruise in Asakusa and finally back to their apartment for a delicious dinner. Alice and Mum tried sushi for the first time (Alice didn’t like it, I think, but Mum seemed to – I will never be a huge fan of it!). They also bought me a lovely birthday cake, which we all shared.
On our last day in Tokyo, we visited Odaiba (on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge). There was a lovely area full of retro shops, restaurants and gaming arcades which I and my sister enjoyed a lot. We had a go on a retro pinball machine and saw original Street Fighter, Gallaga and Space Invaders games.
We were hanging about Odaiba because, in the evening, they were going to have the annual ‘Tokyo Gundam Project’ show – an event where they project images onto the giant Gundam robot statue (apparently it moved one year). The show took place in the evening, so all the lights suddenly went out just as it started.
Mum and Alice flew back to the UK the next day and I got the night bus back to Akita, to get ready for the new term….
Well that’s all for now, I’ll try to get a post out during the weekend about our new arrivals. So until then, またね！
Days to go: 28
This final part of my ‘what to pack’ posts is mostly just bits and pieces that didn’t fit into the other categories. However a lot of them aren’t useless!
My little haul includes:
– A little taste of home in the form of my tin whistle and tunes book
– A very useful mini umbrella
– Travel Washing Line (because you don’t always wanna fork out out the dryer)
– Wind-up torch (a useful part of your ‘earthquake pack’ – I’ll do a post on this)
– Gaiters (very handy for when the snows appear)
– Pencil case with combinations of pens/pencils/sharpener (don’t forget this can’t go in hand-luggage)
– Travel Journal (for all those adventure memories you don’t want to forget)
– Condensed textbooks (yup, that’s Genki 1 and 2; Basic Kanji Book 1 and 2 in a notebook each)
– Mini Japanese Dictionary (not my favourite one, but it’s one I’d be able to leave behind if needs be)
On a side note, after all this is weighed up (including the previously mentioned items), I have a grand total of 16.3kg. My limit is 23kg, cue the little ‘happy dance’! Mum says I need to get a bigger suitcase since this fits in with only a little space left…..I’m protesting because my current suitcase is decorated with loads of Studio Ghibli characters…..guess I’m gonna have to start again 😦
Days to go: 31!
I’ve only been to Japan for a grand total of 4 weeks over the last 2 years, but there is so much I find myself missing while I’m back in the UK. Seriously, I get withdrawal symptoms the minute I get on the plane home. Attempting to copy stuff here just doesn’t cut it, either, it’s just not ‘Japan’ enough.
So in no particular order, my Japan cravings (which will be fulfilled the minute I get back into the country:
1. Osakan food
Ok, so I won’t be able to fulfil this one quite as soon as I get to Japan, but I’ll be working on it! Basically, some of the best food you will ever taste comes from Osaka – it’s the atmosphere as well as the food, since Osakan’s are ridiculously friendly! Some of the best Osakan food I’ve tasted is either Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki (and yes I know they’re not only Osakan but they are famous for them!).
I’ve tried making Takoyaki (rather unsuccessfully with a Pop-cake make) and they didn’t taste as good as when I made them with my host-family last year…Octopus covered in batter and then seaweed/dried fish tastes better than it sounds. I can’t wait have Takoyaki in Osaka again.
These are basically little sandwiches that are sealed at the edges and contain a vast array of interesting flavours: maple syrup and butter, hamburger, curry, egg. You name it, there’s probably a Ranchipakku with it in! My favourite is the hamburger one, it’s so yummy (mostly because it was eaten at the top of Mt. Rokko)
3. Manga at an affordable price/Book Off! stores
Book off. What can I say? I would live in this store if I could. It basically sells second-hand books and manga at ridiculous prices (100-500 yen), but the Japanese second-hand isn’t like the UK second-hand. We’re quite happy to give a book into a charity-shop/car-boot sale a bit crumpled, a couple of pages torn maybe. These books are in almost pristine condition!
4. Punctual public transport
If a train says it’s gonna arrive at 10.38, it will (unless someone has jumped on the tracks/there’s been an earthquake) arrive at 10.38. If the platform says the train doors will open at this spot on the platform, they’re gonna. Yes, there is the little issue of being jammed onto a rush-hour train, but hey! It’s fun, and you don’t have to hold on, just follow the flow of the crowd! Enjoy it (and it gives you and excuse to casually jab anyone in the ribs if they’re trying to grope you – yes, it happens!)!
5. The ‘gaijin look’
This can cover two phenomena in Japan. First is the obvious one – ‘gaijin’ is the slang for a foreign person and, outside of the capital, there aren’t that many about. Ergo, you’ll get stared at most places you go and it’s hilarious to watch people pretend they aren’t staring.
This is a great article about it: http://www.japanprobe.com/2011/10/03/fake-book-cover-why-do-japanese-people-stare-at-foreigners/
It’s also fun to listen to what people are saying about you (pretending you don’t understand).
The other ‘gaijin look’ is a less common, but no less funny, one. This is when two ‘gaijin’ catch each other’s eye (on a train/public place/etc.) and then fervently ignore each other in case you get asked for directions or something. It’s bonding in the worst way!
6. Colourful draincovers
These are a wonder in themselves (if you know where to look). Most places in Japan have their own unique design of sewer drain cover – they usually show a local landmark/speciality. I love it when I find a new one when I’m on some adventure.
7. 100 yen stores
Comparing these to £1 stored here in Britain is like comparing roses to daisies, it’s just not the same…I love shopping in hundred yen stores, especially because they are such good quality – and a great place to get cheap presents!!
What are gatachapon you ask? THESE are gatchapon. Those little vending machines that give you knock off plastic rings and swallow your one and only pound coin? Not in Japan. I saved up all my hundred yen coins and this is a fraction of the gatchapon I bought – there are pokemon ones, blue exorcist ones, hello kitty ones….they’re everywhere!
9. Real Udon Noodles
Udon stand full of random people, steaming hot bowl of freshly made udon noodles, the sounds of slurping echoing around you. Nothing better and don’t you go comparing them to cup-ramen or I will hunt you down!
10. CC Lemon
CC Lemon is the most amazing drink, mostly since the bottle says ‘with the power of 100 lemons in it’ (the cans have less than this, but they’re still pretty cool). If they weren’t 300 yen a pop, I would probably drink them all day, every day, but ho hum!
CC Lemon! I’M COMING FOR YOU!!!