A Travellerspoint blog

Japan

Tokyo x 2

sunny 35 °C
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Before we get started, how much would you expect to pay for a hot café latte in downtown Tokyo? See answer below.

After a fairly seamless 6 hours of train travel from Hiroshima, with a train change at Shin Osaka, we arrived in Tokyo. After some Tokyo city train action, we managed to find our hostel just to the north of Tokyo city centre in Ueno.
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We managed to spend a bit of time on the train network the following day. Here is our train map to help us get around.....
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and, we didn’t need to go underground to negotiate the Subway the first time, but we did when we returned from Nozawa Onsen.
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The whole train network can be a bit confusing even for the locals, but we managed to find our way around pretty well. The trick is to find the most efficient way and internet is a big help for that. The JR Pass is also a plus as we passed through numerous train barriers without having to pay for individual tickets.

Our first port of call was the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices to get a view of the city - we did this on two different days and the photos show the contrast pretty well with pollution evident on the first visit.
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We also wanted to see Mt Fuji but not today. Here is what we saw..
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and it should look like this.
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Our next stop was "Thomas Town" for Cameron. The boys managed a ride on Thomas (more for Cameron than Lachlan!). Certainly not as big as some of the other places around however it certainly did the trick. We even managed to find a Diesel 10 to take away as a momento.
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Back from our Nozawa Onsen adventure and we find ourselves in a hostel not far from where we were. Tania and Cameron headed off to the local supermarket to get supplies while Lachlan and I visited the local temple (Senso-ji) to check out the sites. This temple is surrounded by tall city buildings, not that you feel it when you are there.
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The following day we headed off to the Imperial Palace to take in the sights. We ended up checking out the east side but decided to seek some shelter as it was a really hot and humid day and the sun was very strong. We also got some good photos of downtown Tokyo city skyline - the streets are so clean and there is minimal traffic around (due to the awesome train and subway system).
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Lachlan found a Pokémon activity (for the school holidays) where you go to various train stations to pick up ink stamps in a book - which we ended up doing.
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The boys then picked up a Pokémon book and a Pikachu hat prize once all the stamps had been collected.
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The following day we checked out the National Museum of Nature and Science - the boys had a great time learning about everything from dinosaurs to space. There were also animal exhibits and very cool but simple physics displays. The lack of English explanations made things a bit challenging, but it was still fun.
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After an ice cream special treat from Shizu and Erina at our hostel, we headed off to Shibuya to visit Shibuya crossing, supposedly one of the busiest streets in the world and also to see the Tokyo city lights.
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It doesn't look that busy in the photo, however this street can have 100,000 people cross it every hour. Photos taken from Starbucks - apparently it's the highest grossing Starbucks in the world.
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Tan and I found an unbelievable sushi restaurant where you can order your meal on computer and it comes out on a little table via automatic conveyor. So cool, so the future, just so Japanese!
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Anyway, back to that coffee. We bought a Starbucks coffee large size for 370 yen, which is about $4.10, on par or cheaper than in Melbourne I think.
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Although accommodation has been expensive, we can dispel the myths of Japan being ridiculously expensive. I would put it on par with any Australian capital and in fact we have been able to get meals for the four of us for between $15-25.

We are off to Seoul tomorrow for a week, stay tuned for our next instalment.

Posted by tollidaytravels 05:02 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Nagano (Nozawa Onsen)

sunny 32 °C
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We have taken a temporary break from Tokyo after spending two nights there. We come back to Tokyo after our weekend stay in Nozawa Onsen for three nights so we will publish our Tokyo blog after that.

So come Saturday morning we made our way to the station, hopped on the Shinkansen and travelled north west to the Japanese Alps to Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics.
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We put our bags in lockers and headed off to see the Zenko-ji temple while we waited for our next train. It was actually built in the 7th century (yeah, only the 7th century) and was actually nice to walk around. Here’s a few more temple happy snaps to soak in.

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As I am sure a lot of people can appreciate, once you have a visited a place you can always think of better ways that you could have got around or done it in a smarter way. That is certainly the way with us after discovering Nozawa Onsen.

We booked three nights at a lodge in Nozawa Onsen which we thought was very close to Nagano. We discovered was that it was actually another 12 minutes on the Shinkansen (just opened), or 1 hour on local train, followed by a 30 minute bus ride up the mountain. No problems, the directions provided by the hostel smoothed our way! In fact, there is an Aussie guy (Luke) with a Japanese wife (Mariko) who manage the lodge, owned by more Aussies who live on the Gold Coast. This place would be flat out in Winter, especially with Australians coming to ski in December and January (it’s actually cheaper to come here for a longer ski trip than to stay in Australia!).
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On the night we arrived, Luke and Mariko invited us out to fireworks at the local lake. The fireworks aren’t like what we have back in Australia, in that they would announce the sponsors and then have a brief fireworks session, followed by another announcement. This went on for about an hour and half and was pretty impressive. Summer is fireworks season in Japan, no particular festival, they just like to have fireworks!

There were a lot of resort towns upgraded for the 1998 Winter Olympics. We discovered that Nozawa Onsen was used for the Biathlon and for Ski jump, we could still see the runs and the infrastructure used. There are local ski champions and gold medal winners all over the village!

It’s a beautiful town to walk around with a lot of buildings having quite a European feel to them. There’s water running everywhere, springs flowing all around the houses, and veggie patches in every bit of available space (growing veggies and rice for the Winter).
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On our must do list was a visit to an Onsen, which is a public bathing house. Everyone in the town goes to the public Onsen (or they pay to go private) for their bathing each day. You walk in, strip off (no point being self-conscious!), wash yourself and you can jump into a very warm 42 degree bath for a soak; better in the cooler months than in on a warm 32 degree day. They are heated by mineral springs and some have a sulphurous smell – the boys weren’t too keen on that! A very common sight is to see villagers in their kimonos with a towel over their shoulders sauntering down to the local onsen!
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On our second day, we caught the Gondala to the top of Mt Kokenashi. It was a bit hazy but the views were impressive. The boys managed to play some mallet croquet, summer toboggan and there was a playground there too. It was really nice just to walk around and enjoy the scenery. Plus it was cooler!
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We stopped by the Ogama Hot springs where the villagers come to cook their eggs and veggies. Yes, the water comes out hot enough to cook food, about 70 or 80 degrees!
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Our our way we passed Henmei-ji temple and Yuzawa Shrine. Set in the old forest, with water flowing in streams, beautiful!
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We met an American family who have been living in Japan for 8 years. We ended up having dinner with them for two nights and having some great chats about their adventures.

We really enjoyed Nozawa Onsen and none of us wanted to leave. We would definitely come back here during the autumn months for the colours and winter for the fresh powder snow. Lachie has been wanting to go to the snow for a long time, a good excuse to come back we think!

Posted by tollidaytravels 00:25 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Hiroshima

sunny 33 °C
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We are now on the JR Pass clock. The pass lasts for 14 days, and day 14 sees us leaving Japan, so we have set ourselves a busy but not too manic schedule to travel and see as much of Japan as possible.

Day two finds us boarding our first bullet train (Shinkansen) from Kyoto to Hiroshima. It was an exciting trip and interesting to travel from Kyoto to Osaka in 10mins when our train up took over 30 minutes!
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We went past Kobe Station and thought of our Kobe at home. We finally arrived at Hiroshima.
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We have been seeing a lot of scouts around Kyoto sightseeing and we learned from an Australian contingent that there is a huge Jamboree on down near Hiroshima celebrating world peace and recognising 70 years since the atomic bomb was dropped. Unfortunately, we will just miss the commemorating ceremony but we certainly got a good feel from our few days here as to what the city went through.

On the same day we arrived we went for a walk to the A-bomb Dome and Peace Memorial Park. There is a lot to see here as we will explain with the photos following.

The A-bomb Dome was almost directly underneath the A-bomb (it detonated 600m above ground to cause maximum damage). This was what remains and several preservation campaigns have been undertaken to keep it to what it was after the bomb.
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This is just one part of the Hiroshima Memorial Park. Look for the ever-lasting flame and the A-bomb dome between the archway. 6_Hiroshima_War_Memorial.jpg
This is the Children’s Monument built to give comfort to the families who lost children. One girl, Sadako, who contracted Leukemia 10 years later and died at 11 years old believed if she could fold 1000 origami cranes she would live (based on a very old belief of the crane representing longevity). Unfortunately, she didn’t make it and her school colleagues finished the milestone for her. To this day, cranes continue to be folded to promote world peace.
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This mound is where the ashes of the unidentified victims are entombed. There is also a memorial to all of the Koreans (around 14,000) who were killed, as they had been brought to Japan to work during the war.
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The following day we went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum where there are some excellent and also confronting displays. The Japanese have taken the view of exhibiting the horror that occurred on the 6 August 1945 to promote Peace and Nuclear disarmament. The flame mentioned above will be extinguished when the last nuclear bomb is dismantled. There is a good replica of ‘Little Boy’ (the A Bomb) and a plan view model of Hiroshima city post detonation. At the end of the exhibit, we had an Origami Crane tutorial and took away our cranes to donate to the Children’s memorial the following day. Note the glass building next to Tania; this is full of cranes and there are similar smaller buildings holding cranes beside this one.
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Hiroshima is the home of Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) and was a must have on our food list. We went to the Okonomi-mura Village (3 floors of Okonomiyaki) and enjoyed a feast cooked in front of us.
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A few final things – here’s Lachlan in the hotel-supplied Kimono. Oh and we just happened to find the Hiroshima Pokemon centre in a shopping centre here which was a real hit for the boys.
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Tomorrow we catch the Shinkansen back to Tokyo for the next part of our journey. It will be a 6 hour trip, even with the train travelling so fast!

Posted by tollidaytravels 00:54 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Kyoto


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Well we can finally say we have reached our dream destination. Japan has been on our wish list for a long time and it hasn't disappointed so far.

After a great time in Bangkok, we landed in Osaka at 11pm. We always knew that it was going to be a tough day for the boys and having not been here before we really didn't know what to expect. They were exceptionally good (of course!) but hit the wall at 2am when we got off the airport bus just around the corner from the hotel. Cameron was totally over it!
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So, having climbed in to bed at 2:30am, we used all of our allocated time by sleeping in and checked out at 12pm to go and find some breakfast. We took a local train from Osaka to Kyoto where we had booked 8 nights to work out 'where to from here'. We had planned on spending about a week in Kyoto as we had a good travel tip that it was a must see destination.

We had no idea that Kyoto had so many shrines, temples and pagoda's but we were inundated with choices of where to go. Here's where we picked:

Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Gion District - a famous district of Kyoto showing traditional houses and lanes, and also famous for the Geisha that learn their craft there.
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Here's looking down the street. Note the lady in traditional Kimono. It is quite common to see both men and women dressed in traditional clothing and they are gorgeous!
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Ryoanji Temple founded in 1450 - note the boys sitting in front of a traditional Japanese Zen rock garden.
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Kinkakuji Temple - or "Golden Temple", covered in gold-foil and one of Kyoto's most famous temples.
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Tenryuji Temple and Bamboo Forest - built in 1339 and including a Zen garden of the same age. the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is very famous and was amazing to wander through.
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Yasaka Shrine and Chion-in Temple - considered to be the guardian shrine for the Gion district. The Yasaka Shrine gate is quite impressive at 9.5 metres high
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What's developing as a regular occurrence in each country is our boys ability to wind up having their photo taken with beautiful women.
Here's Cameron 'hanging out' with a couple of Korean Army First Lieutenant Surgeon's who had come to Japan for a weeks vacation.
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And, not to be out done, Lachlan accidentally winding up in a photo session with two gorgeous Japanese girls in traditional Kimono's. Oh Dad was so jealous!
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Our trip wasn't all about Temples and Shrines. We took a day out to visit the Kyoto Train Museum. The Japanese love their trains, and they did a great job with preserving some old engines, much to Cameron's delight! Apart from a very brief steam train ride, there were numerous steam trains available to climb over and play with. There was also a very good exhibit on how the train works. Something for adults and your everyday steam-train-loving 6 year old.
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Travelling requires a bit of flexibility while bookings need to be made and we had the boys do some schoolwork while we were sorting out our JR Pass and reservations - use any opportunity! They did a great job.
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But there is also time for some play and interaction with the locals..
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We saw a couple in traditional wedding gear while wandering around the Imperial Palace Gardens - the ladies always look stunning.
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After spending almost a week in Kyoto, we decided to activate our Japan Rail Pass and use our first day to go to Nara on a day trip. Nara is an easy 40 minute commute and is well worth a visit. As usual, there is a lot to see and we tried to hit the key spots.

First up was a trip to Kofuku-ji Temple (transferred from Kyoto in 710) and five storey Pagoda (built in 1426). The Pagoda is the second largest in Japan standing at 50.1 metres (it was pretty big!).
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On to our next site and you couldn’t help being inundated with deer that freely wander the streets of Nara. The deer were considered messengers of the gods in pre-Buddhist times and now enjoy National Treasure Status. We think that they are more focussed on the biscuit handouts they get from the tourists than their status, and they are pretty pushy in getting them!
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It was a pretty hot day, so we stopped at a visitor centre rest stop and found an Earthquake display. You could sit in a racing car seat and experience an exact recreation of three of Japan’s recent earthquakes. Tan couldn’t resist a crack at that. They also showed designs of new houses to resist the earthquakes.

We moved on to our final tour spot which was Todai-ji Temple which contains Daibutsu (Great Buddha). The Buddha was cast in 746 and contains 437 tonnes of bronze and 130kg of gold. The building housing it has been rebuilt twice (last 1709) to two thirds of its original size but it is the largest wooden building in the world. It is breathtaking to look at and hopefully you can get some appreciation from the photos.
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We have really enjoyed Kyoto as you can probably tell from all the photos! It is a must see destination if you come to Japan due to history and beautiful temples and gardens. The bus system has also made getting around very easy and efficient, the staff are also very helpful. The boys are now totally over temples, so much so that at the mention of another temple Cameron burst into tears! Luckily, we're moving on to a place famous, or infamous, for another reason. Hiroshima will be our next stop for a few days, we'll put our adventures in the next post!

Posted by tollidaytravels 01:25 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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