Category Archives: Japan

Some videos

I’ve taken a few videos at points over our travels. They now have a home on the web so I will share them with you. Click on the video name to view each video. In chronological order:

Gannets flying – I know you all didn’t get enough of the gannets with the crazy number of pictures, get your gannet fix with this video.

Pylons – Some telephone pylons taken on a train ride down in Dunedin on NZ’s south island.

Cute Japanese toys – My personal favourite, these toys are endearingly cute. We saw them in a toy shop in Hiroshima after having spent the morning learning about the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, it was a good way to cheer ourselves up.

Final thoughts on Japan

In short we were a little dissapointed with Japan. I’m sure it was once a beautiful country but it is now scarred by unsympathetic and relentless urbanisation that makes green spaces are rare commodity. In the big cities there is rarely interesting modern architecture to draw the eye and give the place a bit of personality. The only respite from the cities’ uglyness is the temples, many of which are beautiful, and there are a lot of them. But therein lies the problem, unless you are a templeaholic they become rather samey quite quickly and you can be left scratching your head for what else to do that may hold your interest.

We were also a little let down by the food, a couple of notable exceptions aside, we found it to be pretty bland and textureless – not to our tastes at all.

On the up side Japan’s star attraction is the people, they are the most genuinely friendly, polite and altruistically helpful nation of people that I have ever met. Almost everyone we met went out of their way to help us out from the old man in Hiroshima who showed helped us find the way to our accommodation (even though he didn’t know the way himself!) to the guide in the Kobe earthquake museum who was just stunningly warm and friendly and gave us a personal tour through the museum.

The public transport too is wonderful – the trains run promptly and regularly and go to all sorts of out of way places and they are also incredibly rapid. They’re not even particularly expensive, certainly comparable to the UK.

Bear in mind that these comments are based on having seen only a little of Japan, funds dicatated that we could neither travel more widely in the time or travel for longer so we base our judgements on limited experience. I am told that the far north and south are far less developed and that all things flora and fauna are given more space in which to thrive, this we would have liked to have seen.

Kyoto and beyond

Greetings all, it’s been a little while since our last post so I thought I’d do a quick update on what we’ve been up to.

We’ve spent most of our time in Kyoto. Like most cities in Japan it is nothing much to look at save for the odd temple or shrine cropping up here and there and even those after a while become rather samey. We went round Nijo castle in Kyoto which was pretty interesting and had some pleasant zen gardens and also did a lot of random street wandering which we’ve found to be a good way of discovering parts of towns that you may not otherwise have ventured into.

The best shrine that we have visited is defintely Fushiminari shrine just outside Kyoto in a forest. The shrine is actually lots of mini-shrines with loads of stone carved foxes at each one. The path to all these shrines has ‘gates’ along its entire length, there must be thousands up there. We did this walk in the rain which really added to the atmosphere at it got pretty misty up there.

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Back at the hostel we had a really fun night in with the other backpackers staying there and got very drunk on cheap Japanese beer. This was a mistake as our 48 hour hangovers would testify. Apparently the cheaper beer is brewed with chemicals instead of hops resulting in horrendous hangovers, we’ll not be making that mistake again!

We took a day trip out to Arashiyama too where we got attacked by monkeys who we later fed and went for a pleasant wander around back streets and bamboo groves. Arashiyama is one of the more attractive places we have visited. It also heralded the first day of spring, nice balmy temperatures and a cooling spring breeze, beats the bitter cold we’ve mostly endured for the last couple of weeks.

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We found Kyoto to be quite dissapointing, it’s attractions are really not that varied and revolve largely on temples which as I’ve mentioned get to be somewhat tedious after a while.

After a bit of confusion as to how many days there were in March resulting in cancelled and then re-booked accomodation and train tickets we now find ourselves in Kobe, scene of the massive 1995 earthquake that devastated the city. This may have been a good opportunity to bring some striking architecture and personality to the city, unfortunately it seems an opportunity missed by the town planners and Kobe is as grey and bland as every other Japanese city that we’ve visited.

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Our accomodation here is the certainly the dingiest that we have yet stayed in. Our bunk beds are like cots, the lighting is dim, the room cold, the corridors institutional, the staff un-smiling and the toilets smelly. The hot water and electricty is turned off between 9am and 5pm and there are only 2 showers serving the entire building. It is crap. On the up side it is cheap (for Japan) and clean for the most part. Unfortunately as far as cheap accomodation goes in Kobe it’s Hobson’s choice (been trying to get that phrase into the blog for a while!) and the ‘Kobe guesthouse’ was our only option. We’re not here much longer anyway as it’s off on the slow boat to China tomorrow. We should arrive in Tianjin at 3pm on Sunday, a mere 50 hours after we set sail from Kobe, we’re stocked up on sea-sickness pills and green tea flovoured kit-kats!

Sayonara Japan!

Hiroshima

Hope all is well with all you folks back home.

I’m enjoying Japan. I love cute things and Japan is cute world magnified. You should see me in those toy shops, some serious regression going on. John got rather excited about all the different lego available, you can even play with it in store. Mega! show_random($num=1, $tags=’bobafett’); ?>

We left Tokyo on Monday. Thanks Keith for a fun stay. It was into wider Japan all on our tods with no hand holding from Keith. Arch, scary! But quite exciting.

Mega exciting was the bullet train. I’ve never been so hyper about going on a train before. It was a huge monster of a machine with a bit of a strange duck billed front. Masses of leg room, a smooth ride and some serious speed. Oh if only back in the UK….. I need not continue.

We arrived in Hiroshima knowing that we would find it interesting but also a little scared of how it might make us feel. We exited the station looking a bit lost. Immediately someone stopped and asked us if we needed help and pointed out the tram stop for us. Nice. When we got on the tram we were studying our map. An old man was also looking at it with interest. He offered help and insisted guiding us to the very street we needed. He didn’t actually know where he was going and we had to persude him to take a different route at times. It was still really sweet of him and we arrived safely. This man was easily 70 years old and told us he was born in Hiroshima and had lived there all of his life. He clearly lived through the Atom bomb. We wondered what stories he might have to tell.

We were a little worried about staying at the ‘World friendship centre’ even though it was our first choice of accomodation. In the back of our minds was the concern that we might find the people a little overpowering. We needent have worried. It was run on a voluntary basis by an American couple. You got fantastic breakfast in the morning and could go and watch the news in the living room. It was a little like staying with relatives. We were made to feel really welcome. Thanks to Don and Pauline.

On our first full day in Hiroshima we set out to see what is known as the A-bomb dome. It’s a grand old building which has been left exactly as it was immediately after the bombing. It certainly stirred up the emotions, mangled metal and rubble really gives a strong visual impression of what the rest of the area must have been like. Many near by memorials in Hiroshima’s peace park were tasteful, simple and gentle in their message. The museum was admirable too. It starts by introducing you to the political context around the bombing. We found this to be pretty objective and a good introduction to the facts. At no point was there any goodie vs baddie insinuations. This part of the museum was the easy bit. show_random($num=4, $tags=’bomb, a-bomb, dome, peace’); ?>

The second half started to get harder. When you see personal stories, scorced childrens clothes, photographs of people with appalling burns and walls stained with black rain it’s pretty hard to take. I rushed the last bit a little as I was feeling physically sick. While I was waiting outside for John people were coming out and bursting into tears. We left for five minutes or so and braced ourselves for the art and photographic exhibition. The art exhibition was by various survivors of the bomb depicting their lasting memories. The visual images they presented and the commentary along side them were deeply personal and highlighted the psychological side of the aftermath. The tissues were certainly out after that, it was one of the most increadible insights into human suffering I’ve ever experienced. We were both almost speechless afterwards. It’s not something we could just come out and have a debate about, we’re discussing it in small chunks.

The amazing thing about Hiroshima is that it has a hopeful, cheerful and kind atmosphere. It’s an admirable city and we found it a rewarding trip.

We treated ourselves to half an hour in the toy shop after all of that. A temporary but necessary fix.

While in Hiroshima we also got out onto Miyajima, a mountain island, and did a little walking. It did us good but it was seriously cold and snowing a little on the top. We also went to a small English cafe selling Jacket potatoes called ‘spud love’. It was really cosy in there and actually a really good way to speak to some of the locals who were all really lovely. show_random($num=4, $tags=’Miyajima’); ?>

We’re in a 30 bed dorm in Kyoto now. It’s not as bad as it sounds and has free internet. All is well but we’re still in a very reflective mood.

Bye for now,

Viv xx

V

Hello from Japan!

For those that can’t read kanji that says ‘Hello from Japan!’, at least that’s what google translate tells me.

We arrived on Sunday and currently taking it easy staying at Keith’s in Tokyo, finding our feet in what is a radically different place to Australia (unsurprisingly!).

The journey here was pretty smooth and featured our first airport sleeping experience at Hong Kong that was actually pretty pleasant thanks to advice from http://www.sleepinginairports.net/ (thanks John K!). < ?php echo $falbum->show_random($num=4, $tags=’hongkong’); ?>

Japan is a very confusing place. I’m not sure if Japanese people are just used to the level of complication that abounds or whether it is just served up so they can have a good laugh at gaijin wandering about looking confused.

Here’s a list of things that have confused us so far:

  • The rail network is ridiculously efficient and blazingly quick, but trying to find out what sort of ticket you need to get is ridiculously confusing such are the number of different fares and train operators.
  • Taps. I needed instructions on how to use a tap (really!)
  • The kettle. Likewise, I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to use a kettle that had four buttons on it. There is no need for such complication in a kettle, all you need is one button for on, surely! Ironically you’d think that a kettle would boil water but the wizzo-kettle doesn’t even do that, it merely heats the water to a steamy, if not boiling, 98 degrees.
  • The shower. Granted, showers back home have had me flummoxed for a while before, but I’ve always managed to figure it out in the end. Keith had to show me how to use his, never would have figured it out for myself.
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Aside from being confused a lot we’ve really enjoyed our first few days here. We’ve been out and about a bit sightseeing in Tokyo. Watching the sun set from Tokyo’s answer to the Eiffel tower was cool. Looking out over the city in any direction all you can see is grey buildings until mountains or the river get in the way of the architects, Tokyo is vast. For the most part it’s also nothing much to look at, but is punctuated with the odd respite from the endless shops and offices in the form of temples. The buddhist temple Senso-ji and the surrounding low-rise district was pretty cool. The electronics shop districts are a gaudy sight too – endless rows of them with neon signs vying for your attention to step inside and look at all the cool gadgets and cameras advertised by brightly painted signs and posters. Viv bought a fancy new camera for a bargain price in one of the shops to replace the recently deceased one that had a terminal meeting with the coral sea back in Australia. < ?php echo $falbum->show_random($num=4, $tags=’tokyo’); ?>

Relative to Australia it is bloody cold here, about 12 degrees outside and as most of our clothes more summer orientated we’ve been pretty chilly, even when we do have about half of our limited wardrobes on to go outside! It should be warming up soon anyway with spring only just around the corner.

We’ll be hopefully heading on from Tokyo on Monday, assuming that all is well with our Chinese visas, to Hiroshima. In the meantime we’re enjoying the luxury of Keith’s hospitality at his dinky little flat. < ?php echo $falbum->show_random($num=4, $tags=’yashio’); ?>

Sayonara!

John