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From the Manga Kissa
Don’t know who’s interested in yet another Tokyo trip report but here goes. I’m paying for my trip in Australian dollars ($A1=¥84 approx) – saved from an Australian teacher’s salary so the budget is a tight one. This is my second trip on my own and my fourth altogether (the others I was part of a study group). I’ve tried to strike a balance between being well organized and flexible. I did get to do most of the things I planned, messed some things up and did some things on the spur of the moment. Two weeks was not long enough!

I left home by Qantas for the overnight flight direct to Tokyo, arriving at 10 a.m. I was quickly though customs and immigration and set about exchanging my voucher for the JR pass to begin the following day. There was a long queue for this but once done, I made it to the limousine bus counter with five minutes to spare till the departure of my bus. I’ve obtained yen at home (my daughter works in foreign exchange office and got me a good rate) so I didn’t have to find and use the ATM

The bus dropped passengers off at various hotels - you could see the beautiful gardens through the lobbies and soon enough the bus arrived at the Westin Hotel. I set off to walk to the Hotel Excellent Ebisu through a modern development of Ebisu Garden Place and along many moving walkways to the station and across the other side of the railway line. I couldn’t make much sense of the map I’d printed from the hotel website – I blame my printer  - so I asked at the koban and there it was, right across the street from the station. The hotel is your standard business hotel but the position was handy and there was a variety of fast food places and a konbeni right there next door. I dropped off my luggage and off to explore the locale. I went back to the Garden Place and up to the 39th floor for the views then back to the more downmarket and affordable area near the hotel for a gyuu-tamadon lunch. By then it was time to check in and freshen up and rest before meeting up with my friend.
She arrived soon after 4pm and we caught the subway to Roppongi Hills, another new shopping complex. My friend doesn’t get to this part of Tokyo too often and enjoyed browsing the shops as much as I did – in fact she bought a very cute little top.
We then went to a restaurant called Gonpachi which I had read about. The decor was said to be the inspiration for the restaurant in Kill Bill. We sat at the counter and had yakitori of various types and a very cool shrimp dish with spiky batter all washed down with umeshuu plum wine. We then had special soba noodles - we had seen them making the noodles as we came in. You dip the cold noodles in sauce and later they give you a pot of the water they cooked the noodles in and then you use it to dilute the sauce and drink that. It had a great ambience.

We then went and browsed some more and went to the 56th floor of the Mori Tower – a great view by night and especially interesting to see Tokyo Tower and the various ferris wheels as well as all the red lights atop the buildings. We followed up with
the exhibition at the Mori Gallery which was about Berlin. Afterwards we had tea at the museum café. I was horrified to be served a teabag in a paper cup, especially at the prices they were charging. I was fading fast, we caught different subway trains and I went back to hotel and a good night’s sleep.

In the morning I went to NakaMeguro just to fill in a bit of time and to stroll along the canal but as suspected, the sakura along the river are very much past their prime. I then went to Harajuku but it was raining so it was all a bit of an anticlimax – there were more tourists obedient to their guide books than there were cosplay kids. I strolled Omote-Sando , but I wasn’t in the mood for shopping, especially at this stage of the trip. I went on to Yoyogi Park but there was still no action so I went on to Shinjuku. I found a manga kissa so I could email back home. What a place! You could have lived there - they had showers, snacks and drinks available with microwave etc, and each cubicle had an armchair, TV and DVD player, slippers etc as well as the computer-I negotiated the labrynth of cubicles but the keyboard kept reverting to Japanese input and caps lock could not be turned off so it was very frustrating. I stopped off for lunch at a kaiten sushi place and had, amongst other things, tiny squid. Each piece had three tiny squid on top. On a whim I decided to visit Shinjuku Gyoen, which is a haven in the madness of Shinjuku. They may be the later blooming and less favoured types of Cherry blossom but there were plenty still blooming and for me - the Wow factor was certainly there. I treated myself to a maccha tea and traditional sweet at a tea house overlooking the garden which was served by a kimono-clad waitress. Just lovely.

Then I caught the Chuo and subway across town to Asakusa. I briefly visited Sensoji temple but the arcades of little shops are more fun and I was so long there I gave the river cruise I had planned a miss – it was still raining on and off and getting late and quite cold. So I moved on to Akihabara to find an internet café and finish the emails I had given up on in the other place. The first cafe I tried turned out to be a cosplay cafe with nerdy maid waitresses. I thought it was an internet café because there was a @ in the sign. They all wore librarian glasses and frilly aprons and it must have been a popular place because the queue went down the stairs quite some way ; didn’t join them. After finding the right place just a few doors up, I completed my emailing, blogs etc and returned to Ebisu where I had an ebi furai dinner at a Hawaiian restaurant near the hotel.
Hello Kitty Koinobori - Hello!!
As Hotel Excellent does not do takkyubin, I went around the corner to the konbeni (AmPm) in Ebisu and left my big case to be forwarded to my Kyoto hotel while I departed with my backpack for Shinjuku station - at 8.30 in the morning! Yes it was quite busy.

In no time I was on the Azusa limited express train bound for Matsumoto. This was one of the few times I reserved a seat. Gradually we left the outer reaches on Tokyo and were soon in the mountains. Its nearly three hours to Matsumoto but the train was very comfortable and I enjoyed the ekiben that I had purchased, though I couldn’t tell you what I ate. I know there was a quails egg and various mushrooms and pickles etc on a bed of rice. I even caught a glimpse of Mt Fuji. As seemed to be the case on this trip, as it was a travel day, it was sunny!

The reason for going via Matsumoto was soon justified because the sakura were in full bloom around the castle and overhanging the moat etc so it was a worthwhile diversion. Many families were having a picnic under the trees. I walked back to the station via the old town. In the little street where , when I visited in January 2004, they were selling hinamatsuri dolls in preparation for the Dolls festival in March, now they are selling all the stuff for Children’s Day in May. To my surprise, since it’s largely a festival for boys, they had Hello Kitty koinobori for sale. They are the large carp kites that families with boys display. I bought a set for my school. On the trip here, there are quite a few houses already flying their koinobori.

I gat back to the station and had to wait about twenty minutes for the Shinano limited express and it was about another hour to Nagiso. This is a very small station with country town atmosphere. Here we discovered that it was an hour till the bus to Tsumago so the American couple who has also got off the train and I agreed to share a taxi. Cost only a couple of dollars more than the bus for the three of us so it was lucky for me that they were there.

Tsumago is an old post town - like walking back in time and you feel a bit like you’re in a samurai movie especially later in the afternoon when the tour groups have gone. I got a bit lost finding my ryokan but the second time I asked directions, the old guy escorted me right to the door and then it was obvious why I couldn’t find it on my own! There were no signs and it was a tiny place up a path between buildings.

I had a tiny tatami room overlooking the river - quite noisy sound of water rushing by. After doing the bath thing I went down to dinner. A huge tray with 10 little dishes of various things, plus soup and rice and then after dinner I went for a short stroll through the town which is all lit by lanterns, There are no power lines or modern signage but unfortunately the odd car to spoil the authenticity. But it is an actual town, not a theme park.

Once again, breakfast was an array of tiny dishes and after that I set to explore the town again, including the Tsumago-juku Honjim where the VIP’s would stay when they were passing through – their retainers would sleep in the outer rooms to protect them. I walked a short way along the Nakasendo - the old road from Edo to Kyoto etc. My original plan was to do the walk to Magome but as I was alone, I gave up on the idea of walking the whole way. I only went a short way but it was very pretty. I lost track of the time a bit here so didn’t catch the bus to Magome that I meant to, so rather than wait for the next one and be rushing for the rest of the day, I got the bus to Nagiso and then two trains (changing from the local to the rapid along route towards Nagoya. This is one part I wish I had done better. I think the bus trip would have been more picturesque than the train was as there were a lot of tunnels. At Nagoya jumped on the shinkansen (unreserved seat) with five minutes to spare and as it was a super Hikari, I was soon at the next stop Kyoto.

I caught the Karasuma subway to the Palace Side Hotel and was relieved to be reunited with my luggage. Having checked in, I walked into Kyoto through the Imperial Place grounds (The hotel is of course, next to the Palace!) and along the Teramachi shopping street to explore Gion - I didn’t see any geisha but all the sakura are losing their petals and it was a pretty site in the dusk along the river and canals. I had dinner in a tiny little restaurant in Pontocho – a tempura set. Then I walked the long walk to Shijo station, just one block on the map but what a long block, and back to hotel by subway.
Momotaro, Momotaro and his kibidango
It was with the words of this song echoing in my brain as I visited the supposed home of this folk tale character, Okayama. I was up early and with the miracle of JR pass, walked straight from subway station and jumped on the next available Shinkansen to Okayama. Within 15 minutes we’d sailed through Osaka and no time at all (well, an hour forty minutes), we’d arrived in Okayama.

Well every trip has to have something go wrong! I had the choice of walk, catch the tram or bus to the castle and Korakuen garden My Lonely Planet said to catch the Number 5 bus and there it was, closer than the tram station, so on the bus I jumped. Shades of my trip to Pisa, it wasn’t long before I felt the bus was taking a rather indirect route!! And when the fare and the time suggested by Lonely Planet had doubled, and the semi industrial area looked quite unpromising, I felt it was time to bail out. And where was I?? I came upon a taxi fueling at a gas station and he took me by a most interesting route through tiny narrow lanes and along the river side. It looked like a scene from a Beat Takeshi movie -the kind of place the Yakusa dump their victims. But eventually I was at the gardens. One of Japan’s top gardens and it’s easy to see why. It was extremely beautiful and one can only imagine how spectacular it must have been last week with the sakura at their peak. I was there for two hours and used up my camera battery and more than one memory card. At midday they played the Kimigayo over the PA system and the cranes joined in.

There were many groups there enjoying their obento picnics with cherry blossom petals scattering down on them like snow. I had kibidango and fresh tea (as in the tea is grown right there) and I saw a wedding group in Shinto regalia.

I then had soba for lunch at a little restaurant overlooking the river and the castle. I crossed the river for a closer look at the castle which is called Crow castle because it’s black but chose not to go inside. I then caught the tram back to the station and then was on the local futsu train to Kurashiki. This is a small town/city about 15 minutes from Okayama known for a row of old houses along a pretty canal. The cherry blossoms here were pretty much over and the place was swarming with school groups. It’s very pretty but very touristy. I stocked up on Momotaro memorabilia - various trinkets and sweets etc. I enjoyed the stroll back to the station along a long shopping arcade of regular shops, and bought a few fabric pieces in a ¥100 Plus shop.

I was able to catch an express train back to town and then as there was still something left of the day I had the bright idea “Why not go to Shikoku?” You know, just so I can say I’ve been and crossed the Seto Ohashi bridge! Once again the train was waiting at the platform and I jumped on, hoping it was going to take me where I assumed it was! It was a very interesting journey to the coast through suburbia, semi rural areas and then a few towns before crossing the Inland Sea. The bridge actually passes from island to island and you saw many smaller islands (shade of Sweden though small fishing villages rather than holiday homes.) Then it got quite industrial. I got off at Utazu and waited for the return train. Had to wait gasp, twenty minutes and then I nearly missed it because the station master said five two and I thought he said five to. There was also a train at 4.51 which was a Shikoku train, It went and the next train was smaller, so I didn’t see it further up the platform and heard the sound of doors closing and ran madly up the platform and they let me on. I was right at the front so you see through the front windows as it went across the bridge. I easily made it onto the next available Hikari and back to Kyoto. Unfortunately it was still light so I didn’t see Akashi bridge all lit up which is apparently quite a sight and why it is called String of Pearls bridge. I left my memory cards to be stored on CD and went in search of dinner. Once again I had a tempura set meal but this one included chawan mushi and a few other dishes besides the pickles, miso soup and rice.

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    Are you who i think you are, w/new screen name? I appreciate your posting. Everyone does it differently, even the much-visited Tokyo and Kyoto. The first time I went to Japan I poured over many many trip reports of the few yrs before my trip, so one like yours would definitely have been reviewed. Plus, we go for long dry spells where no one posts and trip reports on Japan here. It is just that it is spring now, the rates have been low, and many gracious people are posting their reports at this time. Which is excellent.

    I admire your adventurous nature for getting on that train to Shikoku at the last minute. And I love your travel style, well-organized and flexible. I try to do the same and it really helps, esp. when weather intervenes.

    For a minute i thought you were going to do the Kiso valley walk. I want to do that some day but neither of my kids have wanted to do it on my 1st two trips, and like you I really don't want to walk it alone. Your description of Tsumago is wonderful.

    Thanks again!

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    emd, I don't think I'm who you tink I am with a new screnn name but I think I might be a friend of theirs! It was indeed the Kiso Valley walk that I had considered between Tsumago and Magome, along the Nakasendo highway. I've heard mixed feelings about how strenuous it is and how tme consuming. It's on my list of things to do next time. I wish I could say I got a low rate of the fare, but I did get the direct flight for cheaper than it should have been because of the agent's error. They actually expected me to cough up the difference- i was quite proud of my assertiveness in insisting that I pay the price quoted ( and I had already paid - that's when they discovered their error)

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    eigasuki, domo for your report. such spontaneity during the course of your travels. matsumoto is one of the places i would like to visit some day. i hear the soba is out of this world.

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    Day 6 - Arashiyama
    After it rained heavily overnight, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic as I set off for Arashiyama. Once again I jumped on the train just as it was leaving, hoping it was the right one, in particular one that stopped at the station I needed. It was full of school kids but not on their way to school. They were all on their way to Arashiyama on school tour. All Year Nine students do this and they seem to travel around in small groups without much supervision but are all well behaved and seem to be doing the right thing.

    So we all got off at Saga Arashiyama station and we all rushed across to the other station to board the Sagano Sightseeing Tram aka Romantic train, a small scenic train that travels up the valley.
    The trip was lovely as it chuffed along the side of the valley and along the river though there were quite a few tunnels. Of course the cherry blossom would have been better last week. At the end of the trip we jumped on a bus and then waited our turn to go on the boat trip downstream. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. It’s a small open boat with one guy with an oar and two with bamboo poles. I sat in the front seat and we went down the river through several cascades and rapids and long stretches of peaceful still water. It was so beautiful and so peaceful. At one stage I had let the plastic sheet slip a bit and of course that’s when we hit a big dip and I got soaked. The fresh maple leaves and conifers are a tapestry of colour interspersed with occasional sakura and azaleas. We saw cormorants and heron and even three monkeys drinking from the river and at one point there were huge carp kites suspended right across the river. When we got to the calm part, a boat came to meet us with snacks etc. It was all so tranquil and such a short time from Kyoto.

    Back in town I set off for the bamboo forest. Arashiyama is a beautiful well preserved and quite prosperous looking part of town with all the houses behind walls and hedges. There was a small temple to visit on the way and along the track, a man making mushrooms out of tissues. I stopped for a lesson and it was the one time I regretted not taking a video camera. I wandered further along the residential streets and visited a few temples. I guess I was in Sagano at this point. Along the way there was the occasional small shop with lovely quality souvenirs available. I bought a silk scarf at one of them. I returned through the bamboo forest before heading back to town and finishing up with a visit to the fantastic garden at Tenryuu-ji. Many pictures were taken that day!

    Back in the city I realized that all I had eaten that day was a breakfast bar, a grilled squid on the river cruise and a pancake. I made an exception to my no-fast-food rule and grabbed at meal at Lotteria. I figured it was Ok because I had an ebibaagaa (prawn) and a maccha shake. Feeling a bit tired, it was back to the hotel for laundry, a soak in the tub and an early night.

    Day 7 Markets and Mountains

    I set off early for the Toji temple market. Everyone in Kyoto was there and all kinds of things available for sale. I browsed, I sampled various pickles and other foodstuffs ( and was scolded by one guy for sampling his candied cumquats. (I did look out for ‘emd’ too, but didn’t see any mother-daughter combos!)
    I bought some child –sized kimono for ¥500 each and then really it was starting to get more crowded and to feel like all more of the same. I thought it was more expensive and not a good an atmosphere as the Kitano Tenmangu market I went to last time I was in Kyoto but maybe I’m just getting blasé.
    After being there a couple of hours I returned my shopping to the hotel and caught the subway to the end of the line at Kokusaikaikan and then the No 19 bus to Ohara up in the mountains. This is much more my scene and the rainy weather didn’t seem to mar the beauty of the mossy gardens at the temples. There is a row of shops and restaurants opposite the entrance to Sanzen-in where you can have a meal and enjoy a lovely view as you eat. Sanzen-in is the main temple and the gardens there were truly beautiful but I preferred the temple at Horen-in. The admission there included green tea and a sweet served as you overlooked a 700 year old tree with bamboos, maples, the occasional sakura as a backdrop. They say you cannnot tear yourself away from the garden and it is true. It was magnificent

    Then I went further up the hill to the next temple- Raigo-in. This was a steep climb alongside a rushing stream with mossy rocks ferns etc which was quite lovely. The temple itself was quite underwhelming but they do give you a brochure with a space for the souvenir stamp! There’s a short walk to the river and the waterfall. Along the way there way as man raking the path even though it’s in deep forest and seems a fruitless task. I’m so glad they don’t use leaf blowers, even though Japan is the home of Ryobi! On the way back in the bus I was amused by signs warning people to be careful of the monkeys,

    This was the halfway point in my trip and I was beginning to feel the pace and the effects of walking in the rain and cold all afternoon so when I returned to the hotel in the late afternoon, I just decided to stay there. I had dinner in the hotel restaurant, my first non-Japanese meal of the trip, and a quiet night resting up and packing and to get ready for the trip to Kanazawa tomorrow and felt much better for it. Sometimes you just have to slow down.
    Day 8 - Kyoto- Kanazawa

    After checking out of the hotel, but leaving my bags there, I headed to Fushimi Inari.. As it was quite early, there weren’t so many people so it was quite lovely going up the path higher and higher through this tunnel of red torii gates. Every so often there are small shrines and memorials - at one a mother and daughter were praying there were fresh flowers and candles and the smell of incense burning and as they left they were sniffling - very moving. You could catch glimpses of Kyoto so we were obviously quite high. At one point a team of young men in track suits, perhaps a soccer team in training or something, jogged down the path as I was going up - everyone of them bowed and said "Ohayaoo gozaimasu" to me - or at least the all-purpose "'ma-asu".

    Somewhere I made a wrong turn and came out in the town instead of returning down the path which was a bit disappointing because the inscriptions are all on the sides you see going down. I turned down the opportunity for grilled sparrow ( Me reading sign = suzume – isn’t that sparrow? Well apparently yes)

    As it was still mid morning I made another of those spur of the moment decisions to visit the town of Uji, home of "Tale of Genji" apparently. There are a couple of world heritage listed temples there The first stop was Byodo-in where the garden was just lovely with a pretty building and lovely lake with weeping cherry and a huge wisteria arbour in full bud and just about to burst forth in flower. There’s an interesting museum with good signage in English. I don’t recommend paying the extra ¥300 to do the tour of the Ho’odo building. You wait to go in a group and have to listen to the whole spiel and there really isn’t much to see. There’s a lovely walk along the river and I visited a Zen temple, Kosho-ji, where I seemed to be the only person there, and Ujigami shrine which left me feeling I must have missed something.

    I had a lovely lunch at a cafe overlooking the river and picnicking families. Green tea overload! Green tea somen noodles served on ice cubes with green tea mochi balls, followed by green tea icecream served with green tea jelly and red bean paste jelly and more mochi balls and a little jug of green tea syrup you poured over the lot.

    Full with that, I was lucky to catch an express train back to Kyoto then the subway back to hotel to collect luggage and was on the Thunderbird Express to Kanazawa by soon after 3. The train rushed past Lake Biwa and was soon on the west coast at Tsuraga where I previously had changed trains when I visited Obama in 2002. The trip up the coastal plain was interesting - Here the rice fields are flooded ready for planting and snowcapped mountains to the east. I arrived in Kanazawa just before 6 so checked in at my ryokan (the Murataya) which is in the city centre as were lots of young people out for a Saturday night. I had okonomiyaki at a little place near the hotel and there was a party going on upstairs. Then a group of giggling young women came down, one of them piggy-backing a very drunk friend who they ’dropped’ in the street outside while they waited to be collected by someone.

    My room is at the top of a very steep and narrow wooden staircase – quite treacherous in the slippers! Luckily my case was carried up for me.
    Day 9 - Gardens and Gold leaf.
    I began my day in Kanazawa with the obligatory visit to Kenrokuen garden which needless to say, being one of the most famous gardens in Japan, is both very beautiful and very crowded with tour groups, even at 9am on a Sunday morning. I spent some two hours there, including a green tea and sweet in the tea house, as is becoming a habit of mine. I then wandered the Samurai part of town which was so fascinating. You can actually see the grass etc in the mud walls. I toured a couple of Samurai houses/museums, one of which the Nomura villa, has a beautiful garden too- just lovely with huge koi carp which swam up to the verandah when people approached. They certainly knew how to live, those samurai.

    I then caught a bus to the station to organise my bus ticket to Shirakawa-go, burn pics onto a CD and have some tonkatsu for lunch while that happened. Then I caught the Furatto bus to the Higashi Chaya, an old Geisha district with lots of the old traditional houses still preserved. Even the toilet blocks blend in with the surroundings and are surrounded by beautiful gardens! I also visited the gold leaf shop where they give you a cup of tea with gold leaf floating in it, and there’s a tea ceremony room all covered with gold leaf, supposedly a replica of one made for Hideyoshi back about 400 years ago. They show you a video and you see them make the gold and then they give you a tiny square but you have to rub it in your palm and whoof, there’s nothing there!

    I then caught another furatto bus back to town. Furatto means flat, the floor can lower for handicapped access, and there are three different routes around town for 100 yen a go Very handy. Back to town and a bit of shopping and internet etc before Ofuro time (bath) Kanazawa seems a very youthful and forward looking city, where civic pride is evident. I loved walking down the pedestrian mall and seeing snow-capped mountains at the end of the street!

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    Kim will be bursting w/pride at your Kanazawa description....

    Very nice that you got out of Kyoto to Arashiyama/Sagano and Ohara. I loved both of them also, although we did them a bit differently. So lovely and so close to Kyoto, but so different.

    I agree about slowing down. It isn't always about getting and being somewhere. Some of the best moments in Japan are just about stopping completely, right where you are.

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    Kanazawa impresses as soon as you walk out of the station with the enormous wooden 'public art". I loved the mondo grass covered embankment at one of the major intersections. On Sunday morning as I left to go to Kenrokuen garden, I strolled the pedestrian street to the tune of "O COme All Ye Faithful"!

    In front of one of the City Hall there was a rally with lots of grops arriving, all bearing plastic bags filled with rubbish - a kind of Clean up Kanazawa Day or just the regular neighbourhood Sunday morning clean up.

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    A Trip back in time
    Monday and I’m off to Shirakawa-go. The helpful staff at the Murataya had not only organised my bus ticket but also the takkyubin luggage delivery for me- I didn’t even have to haul my case down the steep, narrow and windy staircase from my room. The minshuku in Kanazawa was well located in the middle of town but quite a way from the station. Although I had indulged in a taxi to the minshuku, without the burden of my big case I was able to catch the bus to the station. Of course the morning rush even Kanazawa style meant I allowed plenty of time - as in too much- so I had time for a coffee and a German pastry; not sure that the Germans would recognise it though.

    We were soon on our way and the trip was very interesting through a rice growing area . We climbed and climbed and then after a particularly long tunnel, there was snow! The terrain changed quite quickly and it was like we went back a couple of months - or years Apart from the massive engineering involved in tunnels, retaining whole mountains etc, and of course paved roads with cars, the countryside can’t have changed that much in centuries.

    At last we reached our destination and as we got off, the Italian couple who were also on the bus remarked "Why did they send us here?" I was thinking the same - though quaint, it looked like the sort of place you could see in a couple of hours, as in fact most people do. However I figured a quiet day without the temptation to squeeze yet another activity in would do me good.

    I left my bags at the minshuku and first climbed up to the scenic lookout. I went up the track which got steeper and steeper and nearly gave up several times. I was on my hands and knees pulling myself up and thinking “There must be an easier way.” There is – you can take a bus! Great view over the village which is famous for its traditional steep pitched thatched roof houses. At the top, having discovered I could have caught the bus, I still chose to walk back down the mountain. Back in wandered around, entering the museums etc and somehow managed to fill in most of the day. I found the open air museum the most interesting.

    As it was quite cold - did I mention that snow was lying all around? I returned early to my minshuku where I was the only guest. I had a huge meal as I sat between a kero heater and a solid fuel stove and watched a bit of TV. This was the evening that they had had to close a section of the Yamanote line between Shinjuku and Takadanobaba due to some fault in the concrete in an overpass which had caused the track to buckle. There was a press conference of course, at which the head honchos from JR bowed long and low in apology for the incident. I then had my bath, safe in the knowledge that I was first. Once again I slept to the sounds of rushing water ( Good noise, emd) as there was a stream just outside my room and the river is just on the other side of the house.

    I got up to a huge breakfast including the local speciality of vegetables cooked in miso paste on a dried magnolia leaf which cooks at the table on a small burner. And it was raining so it was good to get on the bus and on to Takayama. Once again it was an interesting journey along the side of a huge dam and some pretty amazing engineering has gone on here. It was actually snowing higher up the mountains but once again, through a few tunnels and the countryside and the weather changes and in Takayama it was fine though a freezing cold wind.

    I stayed at the Rickshaw Inn which is well located just off the main drag and halfway between the station and the part of town where most of the action is. My Japanese style room was huge and there was a nice lounge/kitchen area like a backpackers place. A good place for a longer stay or with kids. Maybe Tuesday is the day for everything to be closed because apart from the touristy areas it seemed pretty quiet with many shops closed.

    I explored the old part of town and then went to the exhibition hall where four of the famous festival gloats are kept, then did the walking tour around the part where all the temples are. Most of them weren’t anything special and many weren’t even open but the walk was nice. Then as it was cold and most places were shut it was back to the hotel for another early night
    Back to the Future
    I was up early for the morning market but whether it was the day of the week or time of the month or whatever, it was a low key affair compared to when I was last in Takayama. Once again the bitter wind put a chill on things, and as I wasn't in the market for pickled turnips or soba noodles or any more sarubobo (Little monkey baby good luck charm typical of the region) I called it quits and left on an earlier train to Nagoya.

    This is a very pretty trip through the mountains, all forests and a river running down the bottom of the valley which is the most incredible jade colour. We stopped at the Gero Onsen station and heaps of people got on there. This was one of the few times I bothered with reserved seats because I had to wait for the train anyway and it proved not only unnecessary but a drawback. The train has huge windows – that’s why its called the Hida Wide view, but I got the seat with the pillar behind the couple with the screaming baby and opposite a guy who promptly pulled the curtain across and went to sleep. Don’t know why I didn’t just go to the unreserved section and just choose another seat.

    At Nagoya I jumped on the first available Shinkansen which happened to be a Kodama as te next hikari was not for some time and I was restless just waiting. Bad move, as they stop at every station, seemingly for quite a while. However - after we left I realised I had left one of my bags on the platform at Nagoya. A lovely bag I had bought in Kyoto with my rainjacket and umbrella and a few purchases in it. Nothing I couldn’t live without but I didn’t want to just forget about them. The conductor had no English to speak of but I did my best in Japanese and he advised the best thing was just to go back to Nagoya and get it if I wasn’t in a rush as if they mailed it, I would have left Japan - or something. Anyway, I got off at Toyohashi, waited 10 minutes and got another Kodama back to Nagoya. No sign of my bag on the platform of course, railway security being what it is these days, but I asked the platform guard and was sent on a long trek out of the station and to the right etc. Just as it seemed unpromising and I was beginning to think I hadn’t understood the directions properly, there was the Lost and Found and after a bit of interrogation with the two non-English speaking attendants, there was my bag and its contents! The relief and it only took an hour out of my day.
    Then 10minutes later I got the next Hikari which only stopped at Shizuoka and Shinagawa and in two hours I was in Tokyo Station.

    I took the Maranouchi subway to the Toyoko Inn Korakuen but took a wrong turn and walked some way up the wrong street. It is of course quite close to the subway exit if you go the right way. I was very happy with this hotel here - has all the facilities someone on my budget can expect including free internet and it’s halfway between Tokyo and Ikebukuro and right near Tokyo Dome and a huge amusement park with an enormous rollercoaster Pity I didn’t get around to riding it!

    I went into Ikebukuro for old times sake (It’s where I had my first taste of Japan solo and there’s nowhere else quite like it. I went to Tokyu Hands and bought up big and had sushi at an amazing place where everyone yelled out their orders although it was kaiten sushi, I chickened out of yelling my order and just grabbed my dishes as they went past. I had no idea of the prices but it was a bargain. By now the shops were closed so I returned to the hotel.
    Yokohama
    The weather turned quite rainy today and it seemed quite pointless to spend good money on the planned trip to Hakone when it was doubtful I would see much of it or enjoy the scenic attractions.

    I spent the morning in Ginza where I was right on time for the opening of the Mitsukoshi Department Store. The greeters arrived at the door at 9.55 and gave the welcome speech and as the chimes of the big clock at the intersection chimed 10.00 and the big digital clock on the opposite corner indicated 10.00.00, the velvet rope was slipped aside, we were allowed in and every single employee was lined along their positions and bowed and greeted "Ohayaoo Gozaimasu Irasshaimasu" ("Good morning welcome" as we the honoured customers went past.

    I always love to visit the depaato food hall - theres no place like it, certainly the Harrods food hall and Galleries Lafayette en Paris pale in comparison. After all, the Japanese department stores have everything they have and all the Japanese stuff as well. We are missing out on a marketing opportunity somewhere Loquats are selling at $15 for 6! We used to let them rot on the ground when I was a kid. Of course these ones are totally unblemished.

    After that I hopped onto the Keihin-Tohoku line and JR railed it to Ishigawacho which is three stops past Yokohama to meet up with a friend. We had lunch in China Town and strolled the streets a bit, looked at the Chinese temple then went for a long walk to the foreigners' cemetery where many Westerners are buried and is apparently quite interesting to read the inscriptions - but it was closed. We then went to the Harbour View Park where there's a great view of the harbour and the Rainbow Bridge and Yokohama itself - on a good day anyway! Though the visibility wasn’t the greatest, fortunately the rain has eased off so it was a pleasant stroll around to Osambashi Pier which is a huge pier/ wharf/ meeting place/scenic spot with interesting wooden planking. There we rewarded ourselves for the long walk with coffee and cake and a good gossip (Me to tell of all my adventures, for my friend a chance to speak English and hear all the gossip from home) We then walked back to Kannai station and went our separate ways.
    I returned to Ginza to buy a large Kodomo no Hi washi picture I had admired earlier but didn't want to carry around all day in the rain etc. Then, cos I was too cheap to pay extra for a storage tube when I have my trusty Post Office tube in my case for just this purpose, I returned to the hotel.
    A Day with the Locals
    Well the weather certainly turned it on for my last full day in Japan. After all the cloudy and cool and sometimes rainy days, today the weather was just glorious, perfect for the planned trip to Chichibu National Park.

    First I caught the subway to Ikebukuro, which was pretty quiet considering it was 8.30ish, the train in the opposite direction was packed. But Ikebukuro station itself was all you read about. It’s the end of the line for my train and there were hordes waiting to get on, but all lined up five abreast in neat lines, standing right behind the yellow lines as constantly instructed by the announcements. There was a guard for every door of the 12 carriage train and when they gave the go-ahead, everyone calmly piled on. I then exited the subway and battled my way across the station itself through hordes of commuters all intent on getting the job done. The train to Tokorozawa was nearly empty but the whole train that had just arrived in from the burbs was apparently full So I was going against the flow!
    At Tokorozawa I met up with my friend and her three year old Yuusuke and we caught two more trains to our destination up in the mountains. Little Yuuchan is very independent - he's at that age when he doesn't want to hold hands or go in the stroller, he wants to walk ahead. A bit stressful on railway platforms. From the train we had quite a walk and little Yuusuke wanted to stop and pick tampopo (dandelions) Progress was slow but it was so quiet and peaceful it didn’t matter. It was his day out too! Eventually after we'd bought icecreams he condescended to sit in the stroller so we made better progress.

    Our destination is a park where the ground is covered with a sea of small flowers in pink white and purple etc Not unlike a display of everlastings in effect. Very pretty and swarming with day trippers enjoying a day in the sun and in the very pretty hills. All day I saw not a single gaijin.

    We enjoyed an lovely obentoo T had prepared and then Yuusuke started to get fractious Time to get going! Lo, he fell asleep as soon as we started walking and slept all the way back to the station and indeed right back to Tokorozawa. It was something quite different, off the usual beaten tourist track. It was a lovely way to finish off my trip.

    Some shopping and dinner on the way home and I got back to my normally peaceful station to find it teeming with the crowds just leaving Tokyo Dome after a big baseball match. Any plans I had to check out the area were completely disbanded. There’s a huge roller coater and amusement parks etc nearby, but I guess that will be something for another time.
    Last day in Tokyo
    My last day in Tokyo and, you guessed it, raining again. I checked out of my hotel and left my luggage there to be collected later in the day.
    I set off for my visit to a school where my friend works as an English teacher. Although it is Saturday and also a holiday for Midori No Hi - Greenery Day and the first day of Golden Week, Uehara Junior High School are having an Open Day. First stop is of course the subway. It's not unusual to see passengers asleep, sometimes with their heads fallen on total stranger's shoulders. As we reach Ikebukuro, the final stop for this train, there are several passengers asleep. As usual, as soon as the train stops, they snap awake. But one does not and I witness as a fellow passengers gently shakes the snoozing passenger. Then again. He waits - it appears they are not together. He shakes again etc. It takes a while to rouse the snoozing passenger but he is reluctant to just leave her there.

    I change trains onto the Yamanote line and at Harajuku, another change across to the Meiji-jingu-mae stop of the Chiyoda subway, and on to Uehara a couple of stops away. E has drawn a mudmap and of course the real world looks nothing like it and I can’t find any of the reference points on her map. When I find someone to ask, I have of course somehow got on the other side of the railway line so I go back but once again have no clue. So I hail a taxi - he doesn't know either but consults a map and off we go. He drops me at the school and it doesn't look promising - Not only is there no-one around but I'm sure E had said it was a new school. But it is also new for her, she has transferred to this school only recently. (Japanese teachers can only stay in the one school for about seven years and then they must transfer) This must be the old campus. I wander around, ask directions of a passer by and borrow her mobile phone to ring and leave a message that I at least tried. By now I am late and am just about to give up and apologise later, when I notice a basketball court and game involving schoolboys in progress. Can this be the new campus? Once again I ask and someone else is summoned who takes me over to the old school! Again? However there's an old custodian and between us all, I get a map and we phone the school to say I'm on my way and off I go again.

    I get there just in time to watch a bit of a Third Year English class and give the kids a short talk, which they then had to answer questions about. As it was an open day there were parents watching at the back of the room and at the end one mother, from Singapore, came up and introduced herself and thanked me for coming. The school is certainly brand new and is all modern and airy and spacious. Two weeks old. Has state-of-the art gymnasium and indoor swimming pool which would be the envy of the most exclusive private school in Australia and a multi-purpose astroturf sports field on the roof, marked out for running track, soccer field, tennis courts etc. The students seemed to very nice kids and looked very smart in their uniform.

    After her class finished, E had to take a small group to a badminton tournament so I headed off too, to catch the driverless train, the Yurikamome, which takes you to Odaiba. This is an area of reclaimed land with some very modern buildings - lots of apartments, shopping malls and hotels etc , very 21st century stuff. Of course it was teeming with families enjoying the public holiday by separating themselves from their money as quickly as possible, eating, shopping and participating in a variety of stalls like those at a carnival. After a quick look see I returned and headed to Hama- Rikyu Garden. Another haven in the heart of modern Tokyo. To celebrate Midori no Hi it was free entry but because of the rainy weather it wasn't at all crowded. They had the most amazing peony display. Then of course it started to rain so I gave up the idea of doing the planned river cruise and opted instead to indulge in yet another maccha and traditional sweet in tea house to finish off my trip in a relaxed and traditional way.

    Now I was starting to get anxious about what the holiday crowds would be like on the trains, so I abandoned thoughts of last minute shopping and returned to the hotel for my bags. Again there was something on at the Dome and it was just a sea of umbrellas, so I never did get to see much of the surrounding area. I grabbed my luggage and headed to Tokyo station where I was to catch the train to the airport, the Narita Express. Of course none of this took as long as I feared so I was much too early - there was some waiting at the station to do as well as waiting at the airport. I used up most of my remaining small notes and invested 200 yen in a massage in the most amazing massage chair while I waited. Bliss.

    An uneventful plane trip home - I actually got a couple of hours sleep and - home ready to plan the next trip - will have to be in autumn I think, to catch the foliage. All the things I didn’t get to see have to go on the list for next time. The mistakes I made are just stories to laugh at now. Actually I think my biggest mistake was not taking my own hair shampoo and conditioner! In my efforts to pack light I figured on using the supplies provided and I did, but my hair always looked terrible. I was inclined to blame the very new cut but as soon as I got home and washed my hair it looked and felt better. And, Pantene, it did happen overnight.


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