Week 8 – Japan

Japan Week 8

We made one train journey of 700 kms at an average speed of 200 kms /hour including stops and a train change. In Kyoto , which was particularly confusing because where we lived there were 3 lines and stations which criss crossed each other resulting in us catching the wrong train, whistling past our station on an express and trying to use my hotel pass card and getting it jammed. This is all part of the joys of train travel in Japan.

We moved to Nagano in the Japanese highlands, where the winter Olympics were held in 1998 and what a difference in the temperature, down to 13C. The first day we went by bus to Togakushi with the intention of walking but changed our minds as it started raining and got colder and colder. So we walked around the shrine and took photos of the fall colours before beating a hasty retreat down the hill.

We have enjoyed Japanese food and it is by no means all sushi. The variety and quality is enormous. Like sake there is so much on offer. We also loved the drink dispensing machines everywhere; they all work and they all give you the correct change.

Another cold and rainy day in Nagano so we stayed local and visited the local Zenkoji Temple , another large wooden temple and nice old area with specialist shops all around.
Nagano is a pleasant city, not too big, less people and lots of places to walk and in winter ski.
We went on a day trip to Obuse , a small town 30 minutes away . We just walked around a pleasant village with fruit, nuts and crafts in abundance. It’s a tradition in Japan to buy someone a gift, usually some food speciality from the region, all beautifully wrapped and presented.

Some things puzzle us about japan, there are no litter bins but there is no litter. People just take their litter home. Heated toilets are nice, even in public loos. The Japanese have this wonderful ability to make art out of gardens , furniture, and rooms. The road crossing lights all work and people religiously abide by the rules and the people take such a pride in their work and appearance. The bus driver wears his uniform with a white shirt and tie, the shop girls are all turned out spotlessly. We loved the bakeries; we never expected such beautiful, bread, cakes and confectionary.

There’s no aggression, only modesty and courtesy.

The railway stations are abuzz with cafes, shops, stores, tourist information and helpful ladies.
We met up with Rob and Yumi , Patrick’s cousin and wife ,and made an overnight stay in Hakone near Mount Fuji, we just a caught a glimpse through the clouds. The hotel was a traditional Japanese one with an onsen, a communal bath in a hot spring where you must follow a strict code of behaviour and etiquette. This was followed by a traditional meal, 7 courses , all beautifully presented and explained by the waiter. We then slept on a futon on the floor, followed by another onsen in the morning and a further traditional Japanese breakfast.
By now it was raining cats and dogs and we holed up in Tokyo for 3 days as a typhoon approached and then struck. It was a bit of an anti climax , just lots of rain and some wind one night.

Rob told us some interesting facts about Japan. With the state of their economy there is a continual housing recession for the last 15 years and houses are still worth less than now. The Japanese corporate world is alive and well, long hours ,and beery dinners with bosses. 34 million people live in the Tokyo, Yokohama conurbation. There are a lot of single people; they work long hours and are not socially set up to find partners. Rob earns Y2000 for one 45 minute lesson ,the students pays Y8000 .
Their flat costs Y150000 per month , furnished with 2 bedrooms.
Thanks to them and their family for entertaining us and making our stay in Japan so memorable. One last train trip to Osaka to catch our flight back to Kuala Lumpa and our Japanese venture is over.

Great memories from a great country.

Week 7 – Japan

Japan Week 7

I find the Japanese people very helpful, reserved, exceedingly polite , well organized ,modest, hard working and very environmentally conscious. Carol left her phone on the train and someone handed it in to the lost property office. On the tram a couple offered to pay the fare as we struggled to find change.

We moved to Saga , a small town close to the centres that we wanted to visit. We went by train to Nagasaki and the Peace Museum where the second atomic bomb had been dropped. More of the same as Hiroshima , harrowing photos and relics in the museum.
Fukuoka is an attractive fun loving town and we spent time sampling some of their food from stalls as well as an open top bus ride.

When travelling around Japan the scenery is much of a muchness , heavily built up between the green hills.
We travelled from Saga to Kyoto, we only had a few minutes to catch our connection and the place was packed with people scrambling on to the escalator. Patrick said “ We’ve got one minute “ and we arrived on the platform as the train doors closed , the guard blew his whistle and my last memory is the guard hanging out the window as the train passed by already doing 80 kms / hour. No problem , there was another one 15 minutes later.

We stayed at an Airbnb in Kyoto owned by a friendly American Barry who also runs a café and an English school. On our first day we visited 3 temples , Sanjusangen do, which had 1000 gilded statues of Buddhist ladies, Chisshaku Temple with beautiful gardens and rooms and finally Kiyomi Dera temple , a spectacular temple on a hill. This was very crowded, and lots of ladies and some gents wore kimonos and traditional dress.

Although the Japanese are world leaders in the manufacture of cars I guess many people don’t own one because it’s expensive , crowded, and congested on the streets. Many of the cars are small box like models that you rarely see in South Africa.
We took a day trip to Nara , a really nice place but very tourist orientated. The main temples and shrines are situated in a park with tame deer wandering about. We walked from the station to the Todajii temple , the biggest wooden building in the world and overwhelms you with its size. Inside is a massive bronze statue of the Buddah.

We walked through the forest to Kasuga Taisha shrine with rows of lanterns and then back to town to the station.
The train lines around Kyoto are very confusing and criss cross each other . A number of times we found ourselves on the wrong train or whistling past our station on an express. We didn’t know that a Limited Express stops less than an express. We have a JR rail pass but there are many private lines where this cannot be used. On one of our journeys on the Shinkasen we did 700kms at an average speed of 200 kms /hour including stops and changing trains. That’s like going from Durban to Johannesburg in 3 hours.
The Golden Temple is just that, a beautiful house covered in gold leaf next to a lake and beautiful gardens but the experience was ruined by hordes of people and school parties. Previously we visited Nijo Jo castle, a family Shogun estate.

Kyoto and other cities are well equipped to deal with foreign tourists , at the station there is a tourist information centre and with their help we took the public bus around the city.
With the decrease in population there are many apartments for rent, but many of them are tiny and crammed in together. It’s difficult for foreigners to work in Japan except as English teachers.

On our last day in Kyoto it was much cooler and a little rainy ; we visited Fushimi Inari Taisha. We climbed up a hill 4 kms to the top through 10000 orange gates and past a number of shrines.
We saw amazing sights in Kyoto and Nara which I will never forget.

Week 6 – Japan

Round the world 6

All went well with our flight and customs and immigration in Tokyo but then things started to go wrong with the Narita express that we were due to catch to our hotel. There was a surprising lack of information and people to help us and we ran round like headless chickens until we were told to get on the express train which we duly did and paid extra. This was our introduction to Japanese railways which continued to confuse and puzzle us thereafter.
We were staying first of all in Kawasaki, a suburb of Tokyo near Patrick’s cousin and this proved to be a pleasant town with a pedestrian shopping street and small friendly shops and wonderful food. In the evening the commuters flood off the train into the town to eat and drink in the restaurants and cafes, the men nearly all wearing a uniform of white shirt and black trousers and suit jacket as an extra. A bit of a treadmill and I’m glad I’m not on it.
It’s almost like going back in time to my mother’s life, many people don’t have cars and use bikes to get around and go shopping, sometimes with two children in chairs front and back of the bike. Streets are narrow and apartments small.
The Tsukiji Fish Market is a large warehouse full of octopus , live eels, tuna and all things fishy and fresh. Around the area shops were selling everything connected with fish and were jam packed with people. From there we walked to Hama Rikyu Gardens and took a boat ride to Asakusa and the temples there and market stalls. We then bumbled our way back to Kawasaki by train.
Looking at the map of the train and underground system is like looking at a bowl of coloured spaghetti but we managed to find our way around with the help of Patrick’s ap. But Tokyo station is intimidating.
The following day we visited the Emperor’s Palace and Ginza , the high value shopping area. Compared to China everything is neat, efficient, well ordered and controlled and spotlessly clean.
We bought a 3 week Japan Rail Pass enabling us to travel around the country. This was our first experience of the Shinkase or bullet train which didn’t start well as we were thrown off the first train because it was Nozomi as we are only entitled to get on Sakari trains with our passes. But the guard was super-efficient and helpful and wrote down the trains and platforms we must to get to Hiroshima.
People are friendly and helpful, if they see us scratching our heads they come over and ask if they can help us. In the main tourist areas there are English speaking guides to help you. Carol left her phone on the train one time, she went to the desk and someone had handed it in. A lady offered us cash for the tram when we were struggling to find change. Japanese people are helpful, reserved , exceedingly polite , well organized, hardworking and very environmentally conscious. Tokyo is the safest city in the world, children travel alone , even some quite small ones.
Hiroshima is a well ordered , attractive city with lots of rivers to walk and run along. The site of the atomic bomb peace park was near to our hotel and we first visited the museum and other shrines with many children and adults paying homage to the fallen. We walked around the domed building which still stands as the last building remaining. The images we saw are powerful, it should be mandatory for all politicians to visit the park.
The next day we went by train to Miyajima with a shrine in the sea and a cable car and a cable car to Mount Misen . In our wisdom we walked down the steep rocky path to the bottom but this was the first time we had got away from people and we relished the quietness and being in nature.