MONDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2017
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2017 Japan

Kyoto And On To Tokyo

Back In Familiar Territory ….  A 2 1/4 hour Shinkansen trip saw us back in Kyoto for a return visit.  My fourth time and Liz’s third.  After a nice lunch in a restuarant near our apartment we headed for the Teramachi Dori Shopping Street in downtown Kyoto.   It is always interesting as you see locals and tourists seeking out bargains or looking for somewhere to eat.  We knew it was a public holiday in Japan but what we didn’t expect were the crowds.  It seemed everyone in Japan headed for Kyoto on a public holiday.  

Teramachi Shopping Street

Teramachi Shopping Street

There were people everywhere then out of the blue came a protest march which held up traffic and the crowds. We found out it was against  Nuclear Arms.   After a couple of hours of wandering downtown Kyoto we decided we’d had enough and headed back to the santuary of our modern but small apartment.

Protest march in Kyoto

Protest march against nuclear arms in Kyoto – Don’t think they like North Korea

We Jump On A Bus ….   The next morning after a bit of research we decided to take on the Kyoto bus system to explore the city.   Our first stop was the Ginkakuji Temple, sometimes called the Silver Pavillion.   The main feature of this temple is the magnificent gardens.. It was just stunning with the autumn colouring and the beautifully maintained gardens.   We then walked the “Path of Philosophy’, a 1.8 km path running along side a canal lined by cherry trees, gardens and restaurants.

Ginkakuji Temple,

Ginkakuji Temple and gardens – A magnificent display of autumn colours

Kiyomizudera Temple and Gardens

Ginkakuji Temple and gardens – A magnificent display of autumn colours

Path Of Philosophy

Path Of Philosophy – A 2 km walk along a canal

Back On The Bus ….     Our next stop was the Kiyomizudera Temple, but trying to avoid the tourists we came through the Nishi-Otani Mausoleum and cemetry.  An amazing uphill walk through the cemetary to finally reach the Temple and the crowds.  The route back takes you down a quaint little street with many gift shops and restaurants.

Otani Mausoleum and cemetery

Otani Mausoleum and cemetery

Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple

Our Next Stop ….   A must do in Kyoto is a visit to the Issen Yoshoku Japanese Restaurant as it serves only one dish, Okonomiyaki,  a delicious pancake style dish with all sorts of ingredients.  We then spent a bit more time walking some of the unique parts of Kyoto before jumping on another bus back to our apartment.  We really do have the confusing Kyoto bus system mastered.

Preparing the Okonomiyaki

Preparing the Okonomiyaki

Enjoying Okonomiyaki

Enjoying Delicious Okonomiyaki at the famous Issen Yoshoku Japanese Restaurant

We Return To Tokyo ….  Arrived in Tokyo, jumped on the subway and were soon checked into our apartment in Roppongi. Spent the rest of the day getting some supplies from the local supermarket then dressed for dinner as we met up with friends from Huntingdale Golf Club in Shinagawa, a couple of subway rides away. Great night with plenty of laughs.

Dinner with Huntingdale GC friends

Dinner with Huntingdale GC friends – Not sure why the young lady next to Rob wanted to be in the photo.

The Old Haunts ….  On our first full day we returned to our old stomping grounds, first to Asakusa, then to Ueno, great for shopping, then to Akihabara,  electric town.  Returned home for dinner then headed to the bright lights of Ginza. It was nice to revisit familiar territory and we felt really at home.

Asakusa

Asakusa Tourist Shopping Street leading to the Senso-Ji Buddist Temple

Ginza

The Ginza at night

A Day In Yokohama ….   Next day onto the subway in Tokyo rush hour. An experience everyone should have once in their life.  We arrived in Yokohama 45 minutes later and within 15 minutes were on a ferry heading for Yamashita Park. The ferry ride was a real eye opener.  Yokohama is a beautiful modern city with wide streets, parkland along much of the waterfront and lot’s of things for tourists to do.  We walked through two parks, then onto Bluff 99 where there are many European style houses, then down to Motomachi Shopping Street.  This street is Toorak Village on steroids.  Beautiful shops, boutiques, and restaurants.  We took a rest stop in the Renoir Coffee House, a Windsor Hotel style establishment. All very classy.

Motomachi Shopping Street

Motomachi Shopping Street – Very posh shopping area

On To Chinatown ….  Next stop was Yokohama Chinatown, the biggest in Japan.  It was a hive of activity and very classy.  From there we walked to the Aka-Renga Soko  (Red Brick Warehouse) previously shipping warehouses and now a tourist attraction with shops and restaurants.  It was then on to the Cosmoworld Amusement Park to ride the giant ferris wheel for an aerial view of Yokohama. 

Yokohama Chinatown

Yokohama Chinatown – The biggest Chinatown in Japan

Yokohama Harbour

Yokohama Harbour from the top of the ferris wheel

A Unique Experience ….  By this time we had hunger pains so we jumped on another train and headed for the Ramen Noodle Museum.  This turned out to be a real highlight of the day.  The museum is set in a mid 50’s Japan townscape with a number of tiny restaurants serving various types of Ramen dishes from all over Japan. After a beer in the courtyard area we settled for one restaurant, ordered from the all Japanese menu and was served a delicious ramen noodle dish.  What an experience.

Ramen Museum

Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama. A unique dining experience

Ramen Museum 1950's townscape

Ramen Museum 1950’s townscape

Another Day Trip, This Time Nikko ….  Once again we jumped on the Shinkansen for 50 minutes and then a local train for 45 minutes to visit Nikko.   This small town has a number of World Heritage sites which includes temples, shrines & mausoleum.  The biggest of these was the Toshogu Shrine and we spent around 1 1/2 hours walking this amazing shrine. Then onto the Futarasan Shine and back on the bus to the Shinkyo traditional Japanese bridge and a walk through the town back to the station.  An interesting day.

Toshogu Shrine

A small section of the amazing Toshogu Shrine

Shinkyo Bridge

The historic Shinkyo Bridge in Nikko

Our Final Days ….   Our final days in Tokyo were spent visiting Shibuya, a main shopping district, across to Odaiba Island to visit the Toyota Megaweb and the Tricky Art Museum. 

Trick Art Museum

Liz fighting a reptile in the Trick Art Museum

Now who's the biggest

Now who’s the biggest

Toyota Megaweb

A car of the future at Toyota Megaweb

On Saturday we visited the Koishikawa Korakuen Japanese Gardens followed by a visit to Ikebukuro Shopping District.   What an eye opener.  As big as Shibuya and equally as crowded. 

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Ikebukoru Shopping District

Ikebukoru Shopping District

Sayonara Japan ….   So tomorrow we sadly depart Japan.  This is an amazing country.  Friendly people, world class technology, a transport system the envy of the world and massive building complexes that interlink with train stations, department stores and shopping complexes.  At the same time it proudly displays its heritage and culture.

Christmas lights at Roppongi Hills near our apartment

Christmas lights at Roppongi Hills near our apartment

2017 Japan

Kyushu – We Travel The Island

A Day Down South ….   We started the day early by once again jumping on the Shinkansen for a 90 minute, 250 km journey down to Kagoshima, a beautiful, modern Japanese city.  We purchased a one day bus pass and jumped on the bus and headed for the Shiroyama Observatory which towers above the city.  A fantastic weather day provided us with great views across the city and best of all views of the active volcano, Mt. Sakurajima.

Mt Sakurajima volcano from the Shiroyama Obeservatory

Views over Kagoshima City and the Mt Sakurajima volcano from the Shiroyama Obeservatory

Back On The Bus …. Our next point of call was the famous Sengan-en Gardens established in the mis 1600’s.  These are beautifully maintained traditional Japanese gardens and with the autumn colours, trickling streams and the peacefulness made this a very relaxing place.   That was until we came across the filming of parts of a Japanese movie with many actors parading around in traditional Japanese dress.   It became an interesting interlude in our walk around the gardens.

Sengan-en Japanese Gardens in Kagoshima

Sengan-en Japanese Gardens in Kagoshima

Japanese actors in traditional costumes

Japanese actors in traditional costumes

Now Onto A Ferry …. Another short bus ride to the ferry terminal and we were on our way to the island of Sakurajima made famous by the fact that it has one of the most active volcanoes in the world.  Our one day bus pass entitled us to a tour of the island stopping off at many key vantage points to view the island and the volcano.  It was then back on the bus to return to the station and a leisurley 90 minute ride back to our apartment.

Across to Sakurajima Island

Across to Sakurajima Island to see close up the active volcano

An Early Start ….  Next morning we jumped once again on the Shinkansen and headed for Oita on the east coast of Kyushu.  From there onto a local train to travel to a small town called Yufuin.  This 50 km trip was fascinating as it passed through small villages, across mountain streams and rivers with beautiful autumn tonings everywhere.

Scenery from the train on the way to Yufuin

Scenery from the train on the way to Yufuin

Yes, Another Bus ….  We purchased a bus pass for a scenic tour of the town and visited a nursery, then a temple followed by a shrine.  The one hour trip was a scream as we were the only tourists on the small bus and we communicated with the driver in broken English with many laughs between us.

Our bus for the tour around Yufuin.  Plenty of laughs with the driver

Our bus for the tour around Yufuin. Plenty of laughs with the driver

Orchid display at the garden centre on our bus trip

Orchid display at the garden centre on our bus trip


Walking the Town ….   After our entertaining city tour we walked the main street of Yufuin which has many tourist shops selling souvenirs, local foods and a whole range of unidentifiable goods.  It was then back on the train to Oita for an overnight stop.

Yufuin main tourist street

Yufuin main tourist street. 1 km long and lot’s of tourist shops

The 'Garden Walk' in Yufuin

The ‘Garden Walk’ in Yufuin. Quaint little gift shops.

We Walk Oita ….   Oita is another modern Japanese city with wide streets and of course plenty of shopping.  Our hotel was at the end of a long shopping arcade so we took the opportunity to walk the length of this covered mall and take in the local atmosphere.

Our hotel in Oita for a night

Our hotel in Oita for a night – I think we left our light on.

We Visit Hell ….    Back on the train for an 8 minute train ride to Beppu.  Purchased another one day bus pass and was on our way to ‘Hell’.  That is the western name given to the Jigoku Meguri Hot Springs area in Beppu.   You purchase a ticket that covers the 7 main hot springs which are separated by either a short bus ride or walk between each.  You see geysers gushing out boiling water, boiling mud, steam and red ponds called blood ponds.  This is a fascinating area and presented in pristine gardens.   We even took a foot bath in the very hot thermal water.

The 'Hell' of Beppu

The ‘Hell’ of Beppu. This area is ‘Roturua, NZ’ on steroids.

Boiling mud pools at the 'Hell' of Beppu

Boiling mud pools at the ‘Hell’ of Beppu

Just to prove we were in 'Hell'

Just to prove we were in ‘Hell’

Now Into Heaven ….   From hell we literally went to heaven.  Another bus ride climbing further up the mountains to the Beppu Ropeway.  This ropeway takes you to 1300 meters above sea level to offer views over all of Beppu and Oita.  The autumn colours on the way to the top were magnificent.

Beppu Ropeway to 1300 meters above sea level

Beppu Ropeway to 1300 meters above sea level. Autumn tonings were magnificent.

One of the steepest ropeways we have been on.

Beautiful autumn tonings and one of the steepest ropeways we have been on.


We Return To Our Apartment ….    We then jumped on another train back to Fukuoka and our Airbnb after two fantastic days on the east coast of Kyushu.  Our final day was spent exploring parts of Fukuoka we hadn’t yet visited and the following morning onto the Shinkansen for our trip to Kyoto.

Shintencho Shopping Street in Fukuoka

Shintencho Shopping Street in Fukuoka. Dressed for autumn

2017 Japan

We Head South To Kyushu

Back On The Shinkansen ….   From Sendai we hopped back on the Shinkansen for the 1400 km trip to Hakata on the island of Kyushu.  This trip took just over 7 hours with two changes of trains so the average speed was nearly 200 km/hr including stopping at stations and two changes of trains.  Top speed of the Shinkansen is 300 km/hr. It is interesting to see the changing architecture to more traditional houses the further south we headed and the changing landscape from housing, rice paddies and factories to mountains and and oh so many tunnels.

Paddy fields

Rice paddy fields from the Shinkansen

We Can Finally Unpack ….   We booked an AirBNB in Fukuoka for 9 nights so we could finally unpack. This is our base to explore Kyushu with day trips as well as exploring the local area.  Our apartment is centrally located in Fukuoka so we can easily walk to many of the major attractions.  We stocked up on basic supplies at a local supermarket.  Always an adventure as it is all in Japanese but had lots of fun translating into English.  Thank goodness for Google Translate.   Cannot find tonic water in any supermarket but they all sell gin.  How strange.  

Dazaifu

Main street Of Dazaifu – Lots of Tourist shops

Our First Full Day ….  We awoke to a perfect weather day so took off early by train to a small village 20 km from our apartment called Dazaifu. It is a tourist town with traditional villas, museums, temples,  many gift shops and even an amusement park for children.  The town was established in the 7-8th century and holds a lot of history.  

Dazaifu

The beautiful gardens in Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine

Dazaifu Main Shrine

Dazaifu Tenmangu Main Shrine

A Canal Tour ….   From there we hopped on another train a further 60 km south to the township of Yanagawa.    This town is know for its canals and so we took a canal punting tour for 70 minutes.  Very relaxing and fun as the elderly punt operator insisted in singing under every bridge and made everyone on the punt join in.  This elderly punt operator does three round trips each day. 

Canal punt tour in Yanagawa

Canal punt tour in Yanagawa – Yes that is Liz on the right

Stopping for refreshments

Stopping for refreshments during the canal tour in Yanagawa

Nagasaki And The Peace Park ….  Another early start by train to Nagasaki to visit the Peace Park, the atomic bomb hypocenter and the Museum.  On the train we met this lovely young Japanese lad who works in Osaka and was visiting his Grandma.  He insisted on accompanying us for the day which was very nice of him. 

Statue in Peace Park

Peace Statue in the Peace Park. Right hand points skywards to the threat of nuclear weapons, the left hand asks for eternal peace

The visit to the Peace Park turned out to be a very moving experience as we met a survivor of the atomic bomb blast named Mr Inosuke Hayasaki.  He was 1 km from the hypocenter of the blast and was blown behind a large concrete pillar which protected him from the heat ray and blast.  Only 2 out of 32 workers in the Mitsubishi Arms factory survived.

Survivor of the atomic bomb blast

Liz meeting a survivor of the atomic bomb blast, Mr Inosuke Hayasaki.

We also had the opportunity to speak to another survivor who spoke very complimentary of the Americans who within 10 days of the blast came in with food, drinks and medical aid to support the survivors. 

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb replica – Nicknamed “Fat Man”

Atomic Bomb Museum ….   The next 1 1/2 hours was spent in the Museum looking at ruins from the blast, learning about the bomb and looking at many exhibits related to this devastating event.  I had the opportunity to speak with a couple of Japanese tourists at the Museum who admitted they were worried about North Korea and Kim Jong Un.

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

Up The Ropeway ….  In Japan cable cars are called ropeways and we always take the opportunity to use these in cities we visit.  Nagasaki Ropeway travels 1 km up the side of Mt Inasa to a height of 333 metres and at the top has a 3 story observatory offering 360 degree views of the city.  With clear blue sky and 25 oC it was a perfect day for this visit.

Mt Inasa Observatory

View from the Mt Inasa Observatory

A Day In Fukuoka ….  We awoke the next morning to rain as Japan experienced a tropical storm off the east coast.  Fukuoka was on the fringe of this storm so rain but no wind.  As a result, a day in Fukuoka was in order,  so we visited the Kawabata Shopping St and then on to Canal City, a massive shopping center right opposite our apartment. 

Kawabata Shopping St

Kawabata Shopping Street – Perfect on a wet day

Halloween – A Big Deal In Japan ….    During our time at Canal City there was lots of activities related to Halloween. Displays in nearly every shop, face painting, dress up competitions and Halloween related entertainment. 

Halloween In Canal City

Halloween celebrations in Canal City Shopping Centre

Late Lunch or Early Dinner ….  We then took the opportunity to have a traditional Japanese lunch called Katsu Curry.  On entering the restaurant you order via a vending machine where you make your lunch selections, pay and then take tickets to give to the waiter.  A very efficient system. 

Katsu Curry

Katsu Curry for lunch at Canal City

Sunday, A Day Of Rest ….   After a hectic 10 days we decided that Sunday would be a day of rest, well nearly.  We went to Hakata Station to book Shinkansen Tickets for tomorrow to go to Kagoshima for the day, a city at the southern end of Kyushu. We then went by train for a 3 minutes ride to Takeshita to visit the Asahi Brewing Company for their free tour of the factory,  and of course the complimentary beer tasting. 

Asahi Brewery in Hakata

The Asahi Brewery in Hakata – All stainless steel and no entry without special clothing and decontamination

This turned out to be a great experience.  The brewery is amazing and spotlessly clean with nearly all areas of the brewery made of stainless steel. The workers have to change clothing and go through decontamination before entering.   The beer tasting turned out to be a highlight.  Four different beers and full size 250 ml glasses.  Everyone on the tour was very happy by the end of the tour.  We may even go back next week for another tour. 

Asahi Brewery

Enjoying the tasting experience at Asahi Brewery

Asahi Brewery

Our guide demonstrating how to correctly poor a beer into a glass

We are now 5 days into our stay in Fukuoka.  From now on we venture further afield on the island of Kyushu.


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