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Showing posts from March, 2009

The long ride home

The final day in Japan is never easy, never relaxed. There is always so much left to do that it usually ends up as a rushed frenzy of activity rather than a quiet goodbye. We always leave with heavier bags and even heavier hearts. Departing the hotel on time has been a constant problem throughout this trip. Firstly we had to wait for a sleeping baby to awake (and who would have thought that we would ever complain about that) and then to be fed. In order to accommodate Alex and our own schedules we have missed many meals on this holiday. I was sad that we never sat down for a proper breakfast, one of the highlights of our previous trip . B's mission on this final day was to purchase rice crackers. Asakusa is the most popular place for rice crackers in Tokyo, but cannot be reached directly from Shinjuku. We boarded the Yamanote Line, but only made it as far as Ikebukuro, the nearest ToysRUs that we knew of, as B wanted to purchase some other Japanese baby items. On emerging from Ikeb

Sadness in Shinjuku

I'm so sad. This will not come as news to many seeing as my final full day in Japan was spent purchasing model railway components, perving at cool computers and buying a lunchbox. But that's not what I meant. I am sad because we won't be spending another night here in this hotel gazing out at the bright lights of Shinjuku, hearing the trains rattle below. It's always this way. There is so much left to do in Japan. I doubt that a year would be enough. Life back in Sydney seems so boring in comparison. I will also miss spending my days with B and baby Alex. I spent even more time with Alex today than usual. B went off for a two hour haircut today, so it was just Alex and I for that time, doing boys stuff like shopping at Sakuraya's model railway section and admiring panel PC's and mini-notebooks at Yodobashi in West Shinjuku. For most of that time Alex was very happy, gurgling and chattering away. When we met up with B again the three of us went to the expensive T

Shopping in Shibuya and Shinjuku

I love the variety of goods on sale in Japan. Take non-alcoholic drinks, for example. In Australia you can go to any shop and you have the same drinks available. The flavours are always the same, the variation is basically if the fridge is a Cadbury-Schweppes, Pepsi or Coca-Cola fridge. In Japan visits to different convenience stores in different regions reveal a variety of drinks on sale. Hence the hunt for Gokuri Grapefruit juice. I haven't seen it in Tokyo since 2007, but I found it in one shop in Fukuoka, one vending machine in Matsue. It's a myth that Japan is really expensive, at least in comparison to Australia. Yes, it has become more expensive for Australians travelling to Japan thanks to the drop in the value of the Australian dollar in comparison with the yen. However, it's probably not fair to use that comparison, because the effects of that change in value have not really been felt by consumers within each country, especially with the recession keeping a lid on

Bamboo, blossoms and monkey business

It's so good to be back in Shinjuku! It is our spiritual home in Japan. Actually it's not spiritual at all, it's totally materialistic, loud and flashy. But our day started in a highly spiritual place in the Arashiyama area of Kyoto. When planning this holiday one of the activities I wanted to do was to travel the entire length of the JR San-in line. We did manage the stretch between Masuda and Yonago while travelling to and from Matsue. Today we started on the initial segment from Kyoto on a local train to Saga Arashimaya station. Outside the JR station is the SL (Steam Locomotive) and Piano Museum. Interesting combination! Unfortunately, we had to put off a trip on the scenic tramway leaving from the museum until another time. Instead we walked from the station and towards the river. A variety of trendy and souvenier stores lined the streets. After a simple meal of pork sets (putting up with american tourists who were reading the guidebook out loud) we crossed over the Oi

Castles, tea and trains

Anyone who has only travelled on a Shinkansen and thinks that they have seen the best the Japan Railways has to offer is sadly deluded. Okay, the regional trains may not be as comfortable as a Shinkansen, but the often fantastic views more than compensate for this. We bought day tickets for the Matsue Lakeline Sightseeing Bus and covered most of where we had walked yesterday in much less than half the time. Our first stop was Matsue's castle, a rare original. We've already seen four other Japanese castles, but like them, Matsue's brings something original to the table. The intact castle walls, moat and gardens are gorgeous and the cherry blossom lamps were already in place for the blooming. Inside the wooden castle were impressive displays of samurai armour along with wonderful views of the city. By walking down the steep stairs backwards I felt safe carrying Alex. Adjacent to the castle is the Local History Museum. The captions appear to be in Japanese only, but the buildi

Art, gardens and warm feet

We set out to visit the world's best Japanese garden, but we barely set foot in it. That's okay, because it's designed to be viewed through glass windows. A local express delivered us to Yasugi with it's very wooden station selling all manner of local crafts and foodstuffs. From there the free shuttle bus took us to the Adachi Museum of Art. The museum specialises in Japanese artwork and ceramics, but is perhaps best known for its garden, consistently voted the world's best. Most of the garden can only be viewed from inside the museum building, the windows turning the view into an artwork in itself. It is a picture of perfection, carefully placed stones, perfectly raked gravel and meticulously trimmed bushes standing against a backdrop of mountains. The garden is scrupulously maintained by the museum staff, a video display showing one member using a handheld lawnmower to trim the grass. I was actually glad that we were viewing the garden from the indoors because th

Tsuwano go there

It is such a struggle getting out of the hotels on time. We had to race down the main strip of Yamaguchi in the rain rolling our bags noisily behind us in order to reach the station in time for our train to Tsuwano. It's the first day of wet weather on this trip, which messed up the photos of this beautiful route up through the mountain valleys of bamboo and pine forests. Little towns dotted the landscape with the cherry trees just beginning to blossom. Now and then a puff of pink was visible high in the mountains where the odd cherry tree had sprouted amongst the pines. The distance between Yamaguchi and Tsuwano is less than an hour on the fast diesel express train. There were advertisements and souveniers everywhere for the Steam Locomotive that plies the route during the warmer months, but unfortunately it will start next weekend. It was good to note that the Super Oki Express may be small, but it does have decent change table facilities onboard, unlike some of its more prestigi

Goldfish lanterns, soy sauce and a bridge to blossoms

I have a fondness for goldfish and I love lanterns, so how could I resist combining the two? Today we caught the train to Yanai where Kingyo Chouchin, or paper goldfish lanterns, are made. It was a journey of sniffles as Alex has given us his cold. I hate getting a cold in Japan, a country where blowing your nose is considered rude. At least it was a sunny day and the mountain valley scenery outside the local railcar to Shin-Yamaguchi was prettier during the day than the previous night's trip. The connections aren't great at Shin-Yamaguchi and there was about half an hour's wait to catch the Kodama Shinkansen to Tokuyama. The Kodama is an all stations train usually run by older versions of the Shinkansen. Not like the modern Type 700 that shot past us on the middle tracks, making a huge noise. From the port of Tokuyama we changed to another local train for the ride to to Yanai. The train was packed and I had to stand up with Alex on my chest most of the way. From Yanai stat